Parenthetical Courage

How close were you dad (here he peers
down plastic sights of a painted gun)
to the bad guys when you shot at them?

I had to say (I hoped) in a way
that would not forever break his aim,
I had to say (as hidden as the thing had stayed!)
that I never got that close.

But I was available,
I promised my apology,
had someone simply asked me to.

And that much was surely true
but that much was not enough
to burn me into some hell where
the blood of better men dried
and caked and made crispy
little cards of the sand.

That much was not enough –
as apologies never are.

Were you good at shooting dad and
should I close one eye when I aim?
You should aim I said
(he couldn’t know how blindly)
with every eye you can open.


I wrote this originally in 2010. I’ve made a revision or three, but it’s still hokey and cheesy in places, especially the end. Every now and then you just embrace the sentimental, and I don’t know a better time for it than the beginning of Fall. It’ll still be Fall here in May of course, and you can expect a very different brand of sentiment out of me at that point.

At Once Against and With the World

Autumn starts for me like this,
with an evening’s cold, capricious kiss,
chiding me to stay alert
that I don’t miss my turn to flirt.

I shuffle down the dim-damp walks,
with lamps on slightly swaying stalks,
shouldering the feathered leaves –
those brittle-falling summerthieves.

And here the hub of town comes near,
with its public houses pouring beer
colder even than the air.
Because it’s close and warm in there,

I go inside against the cold,
where I like to think we’re men of old,
and on every wooden bench and stool
sits a girl – an honored golden rule.

They’ve hung their woolen coats on hooks,
the boys are warming them with looks.
A suggestive stitch, a hopeful hem,
autumn’s stockings, October gems.

In here we work with noble tones
toward a sense of coming home.
Because man is tempted to his best
when woman is so smartly dressed.

When everything to do’s been done,
we wrap the prizes we have won
as close to us as we are able,
and leave the rest upon the table.

Warm within and cold without,
It’s easy to forget about
The discomfort we’re supposed to know,
And on our brazen way we go.

Fall is where the season’s heart
Truly shows the human art
Of marching out with soul unfurled –
At once against and with the world.

Care Package

I walk, post-war, 
        with ignoble carriage
                and this sheepish hunch

as if rucked-under 
        by flak-heavy packs 
                of hot laughing sands

that don’t have to 
        worry about missing  
                any of the coming fights

and drift to me like
        a sarcastic care package 
                sent the wrong way

by the desert to say 
        what comfort is home 
                and here have these

grit-bloody cookies and
        this hilarious picture 
                of me with three of your 

buddies from when you 
        were still in. Remember them?
                Guess which one is still alive.

But everything’s fine and 
        even when I really try
                I sleep alright and

the nightmares don’t come.
	But the packages do
		with fresh loads of jokes 

from a desert that mocks me
	like people telling stories 
                about a party that I missed.

Dinner Party

I am not more right.
I do not know better.
I just can’t run with the baton I’m handed
when my leg of the race comes up.
It is gross, the baton.
Slimy, and it smells of rot covered by perfume.
I cannot carry it.
I cannot wield it.
I cannot.

You can pass it between each other
because you carry it low
against your thighs
and don’t look at it
and instinct makes the transfer.
Instinct never smelled a corpse to know it.
It hasn’t the time.


Here’s another for the Morocco collection (sum total now 2 complete pieces, but a few more in draft form). Allison wrote a beautiful poem about Morocco and published it yesterday. Something she rarely does. I say only this about that: the first time you click that “submit” button is the by far the hardest. After that it’s just another thing that you do. Much like reading poems to an audience. The first time was brutal. The next couple were easier, and now that I have a few more that I’m comfortable with, I’ll pop out sometime soon and use them in an open mic somewhere.

You’ll read in Allison’s poem the impact that Morocco made on her, emotionally and spiritually and personally. I cannot say otherwise for myself. Something about my time there went far deeper than research, than mere information and entertainment and box-checking. And while much of that can be attributed to the country, the people, and our hosts, certainly as much comes from the fact that I did not enter Morocco defensively or skeptically. As I do at home with my family, I gave myself to Morocco, accepted it and processed it, and did not begrudge it for its eccentricities or the many moments of hesitation it presented. HAd I done otherwise, I culd not have written this poem, my first ever villanelle:









But First

Love, lead me through Moroccan streets
where the city burns behind its walls
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet

that gilds the dates on every tree
and lights my throat’s mosaic halls.
Love, lead me through Moroccan streets

to where my shadow squats beneath my feet
when the muezzin melts the merchants’ stalls
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet

that clings to bees on lacquered sweets
whose nectar drips a torpid crawl.
Love, lead me through Moroccan streets

to where old men call through Berber teeth
while the Moorish sun burns over all
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet.

I’ve come to meet the Amazigh!
I’ve come to climb the Atlas wall!
But first, love, lead me through Moroccan streets
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet.