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Showing posts from 2014


Look at the stars and
do not think of your own insignificance.
They are closer than you think:
let them sparkle between your teeth
and draw your lungs to stillness,
let the full night wind its arms
behind your head, and you will find
that eternity settles in
at the center of your body.

You know these are the same stars
in which Abraham counted his children,
the same lights that guided
slaves to freedom,
the same corded belt of the hunter called
Anu by the Babylonians,
Nimrod by storytellers in old Hungary,
Orion by the ancient Greeks —

they looked up and saw their heroes
and their gods, but tonight you
tilt your head back and think you see
the reflection of two eyes, blown huge
like a fractal's enormous patterns
beginning maybe
with little me, maybe
with tiny you.

Yours is the song of the billionth
atom in the crystal, the thousandth
tapestry thread, the fiftieth
mosaic tile, the thirteenth
puzzle piece, the first
mouth to speak of the infinite
thoughts that only
you can dream,

so release your heavy shoulders
and sleep sound, wrapped up
in this old comfort.
You may remember the occasion
of your birth, or of the world's
beginning . . .
you may remember that
long ago, someone took the time
to number those distant suns and
named every one.

A Kaleidoscope, Unfolding

There she was, staring.
Uneven eyeliner leaking, messy lipstick
traces smudged with careless removal,
hair curled asymmetric, and coffee-stained ruffles
crawling up her throat.
The girl in the mirror kept her feet
planted wide, for balance in 2-inch heels.
The light bent weirdly
around her shoulders, dreamlike.
She barely exists.

(Click, click—)

The triangles around her eyelids
danced, navy islands on the streaky
white of her face.
Her spongy nose fell off, blood-red,
and she stuck it back on.
She smiled and smiled:
in the warped picture, one painted corner
stretched all the way to her temple.

(—click, click—)

She'd changed to a plain tshirt and
old jeans, and her eyebags and beating heart
were beginning to show.
The girl looked down at her grimy hands,
charcoaled fingers cold and twitching
for an identical set to hold.
Ashamed, she jammed them in her pockets
to keep them still.


Her blurry features twisted themselves
unrecognizable, tongue bawling on fire
and ugly jaw set hideous,
while she clawed rags around herself
to hide the way her bones
had lost their skin.
The girl's eyes burned hatred dry,
and the ashes of her heart were pouring
out her open mouth, choking
as she yelled
endlessly, enraged.
She was screaming for murder.

(Is this it?
Me, at last?
But the light still
shimmers wrong—


My reflection suddenly
flared so bright, so beautiful, I put
my face in my hands and wept.

Miscellaneous Notes from Unwritten Chapters

It's a little past sunset, and
you and I are chilling on your front porch,
though our grandkids say that "chilling"
isn't a thing you do anymore.
The railing flakes with rust under 
weathered green paint,
and we've decided to ignore common
sense for a while and go barefoot.
My feet, brown from your unswept porch
and all dusty in the wrinkles, are cold 
because they're not used to socklessness and
the early autumn wind anymore;
your feet are warm because your fat, fluffy 
cat is lying on them.
Inside, your daughter and my son
(whom we betrothed at birth) 
are putting their youngest child to bed,
while their teenage twins play the Xbox 360
in your living room and giggle
at old technology.
"Do you remember," you say, 
"when we first wrote poems together?"
We laugh because we can't,
and because we've never stopped, and
because growing older is definitely
something to laugh about,
as long as we're doing it together.

We haven't yet 
looked Death in the face, 
but when we do, we'll laugh again
because it's just another chasm
that our Father's built the bridge across,
and on the other side
there are probably plenty of cats
and another creaky porch railing 
for us to put our heels up on,
as we talk about the way life's rhythms
turn out a lot like poetry,
and we'll age, like wine or cheese or
maybe ageless people,
into a glorious eternity. 


When I was born into night's darkness,
I came with my own bucket
of tar, gleaming thickly black and
brimming full to the edges, all
for me, all my own.

The tar was smooth on my tiny fingers
and richly warm in my mouth, so
I loved it at the start, though it
dried heavy and permanently deep;
I decorated myself with layers of the stuff,
savoring the little thrill
of its slow trickling and subtle warmth
in the moments before it
sank into my skin and crusted over,
turning me into a shadow
among shadows.

The first time I saw the glow creeping
at the edges of the city
I screamed and coughed up terror
for days. I'd felt it then:
the spark's inevitability,
the readiness of the whole blackened mass
to ignite and burn itself—and me,
all painted over with death's
hot, grasping hands—into oblivion.
I huddled back into the dark,
choking on crusty sobs and hating light
with every dried-up, thirsty bone
in my body.

Rain fell every now and then
and dripped off me, clear,
inking the tar with midnight blossoms
but slipping straight across the thick shell.
Nothing could wash me.
I broke my wrists trying
to crack them open against the cement step
of an abandoned building,
felt wet blood slippery on my skin
—for one merciful second it seemed almost
to melt the tar from within—
until it dried, too, more
stinking fuel waiting to burn.

As I grew taller, I shook to realize
my everlasting night was one immense
shadow, cast by an immeasurable
and swift-advancing morning.
Already half the city's streets were lit,
stripped naked in the harsh glare
of the imminent sunrise and
its inexorable draw.

Now, perhaps, you know
the rest of the story. Perhaps you, yourself,
have seen exactly how much blood
it takes to dissolve tar,
and can tell me how he silently took
the bucket from your heavy hands
on his way to the city square.
Perhaps you will always remember
the blazing cobblestones and
the shape of his blackened silhouette
as he met the fire:

knees bowed low and face set forward,
while the flames leaped into the sky,
licking up every trace
of tar they found, and leaving you
untouched, trembling,


I've got seeds in my pocket,
a tape measure in my hands,
and plans rolled up tight on tracing paper
in my backpack—all these for when
I end up where I'm headed, and it comes
the time to build.

In the land that will be mine,
I'll first find where the little creek flows, and
plant the maple with the crooked branch
that leans over the water, for fishing.
Then, the old oak with its plastic red swing
and the big mango tree, for climbing,
and tall hemlocks next to wide-limbed spruces,
for the children to hide beneath and play.

I'm bringing my sister's quiet street
to settle around the house, a long loop
wide enough for four to walk side-by-side,
barefoot on faded asphalt still leaking
the sun's warmth in late afternoon.
I'll make a garden, too, filled up with
vegetables and flowers alike, and
bordered by my mother's old butterfly bushes.
She and I will sit out there in summer,
reading the books she never
found the time to read, and with new eyes
she'll laugh at fine print with me.

Inside the house there will be a special closet,
for memories that only need remembering
once in a while.
My father's father will keep
his wheelchair in this closet, while he plays
Chinese shuttlecock out in the courtyard,
and my friends will leave
their hospital gowns—faded, worn,
smelling faintly of death—
folded neatly on the shadowed shelves.

By Streams

Years ago, it was warm and raining in the orchard
when we met. Children who didn't yet know what loneliness
meant, we were sown next to the river by the young hands
of our parents, setting us in the earth with love
and prayers. (Back then, none of us understood eternity
but we raced towards it anyway, our tangled

hair flying wild.) We're tall trees now, unfolding, entangling
where our sapling selves least expected to, an orchard
binding itself together in preparation for eternity's
storms of sorrow, of joy, of loneliness,
teetering on the invisible threshold of maturity—and love's
in the twining of our roots underground, our hands

held tight against the coming wind. The weather hands
us these moments every now and then, these exuberant tangles
of teenage happiness and the bold scent of a wide love
following you home on a cold rainy night, when orchards
seem invincible, when we have rejected loneliness
like children still blindfolded against eternity.

Once, ten days of moments turned my hours into eternity,
made solitude suddenly sharp and cold in my hands,
and silence unbearable. Was this true loneliness
at last? The heart's refusal, long after separation, to untangle
itself from phantom branches still twining in the orchard,
the mind's reluctance to pause in anything that it loves,

the soul's aching at absence, having learned so well to love?
Oh, bring me back to the river that wells up from eternity,
and twine my roots into the pattern of my father's orchard
where I am meant to stand forever, while we join hands
and hold each other tight. I think our parents meant to tangle
us together when they set us down, praying we'd never be lonely,

and here we are, the answer. We're a hedge against loneliness,
yours and mine and everyone else whose love
is blooming into breathtaking flowers, all joyfully tangled
through our branches. I must be tasting what sweet eternity
has to offer, more happiness than I can hold, so cup your hands
and drink the overflowing with me: it's raining in the orchard.

Years from now, even the loneliness of a withering orchard
will still know these promises. Held inside our tangled hands
and older than our souls, this love of ours outlives eternity.

Hypothetical On Falling In Love

Nobody goes head-first
down a cliff.
For you perhaps your knees
started it all, suddenly knocking together
and out and off the edge
before you even understood,
and your shins (kicking at
the couch-back as you leaned over,
happy) abandoned ship
soon after,
and thighs and ribs and shoulders
left you just as quickly.
For me I think my arm fell first,
a limb deciding permanently
it belonged around
another waist, and the rest
is easy to guess.
In any case, at some point
the heart capers far below, while
the head sits alone on top, calling,
wait, wait,
where have you gone
without me?

From the Roof

Huge clouds like thugs
bruised the sky (already red and 
raw at the seams), smothered all the stars.
Rain marched up through 
the parking lot till the front ranks
hit the church, cracking loud and hard.
From the roof we watched as
light burned vivid and curled electric, 
transient, like a glimpse of 
some seraph's wild hair.
The hot wind stuttered and
someone was calling glory, glory,
enough to fill the pulsing earth 
with thunder.

Would I Dare

To be a tree
planted once,
not thrice, not rooted
unsteady across
two oceans;
to be a dandelion
a trail of crumbs
leading only one way?

To learn that
a house is home and
believe it,
or else
set my home inside
your heart, assuming
you will always
To have never
thought of empty chairs
and wept,

to have never - !

To climb no mountains,
to yearn for nothing and
for nobody
would I?
Would I?

Thirty-Six Hours

I. Sunrise

Honey gold licked through the back van
windows, stuck warm to our clothes
and ran down our sleep-muddled hair,
took the jitters running indigo and itchy
through our veins and turned them
into light. Soft glowing amber
crowned every head with a horizon
of its own.

Maybe it was a blessing,
maybe the emblem of beginnings, rising
neatly at the inception of our journey
as if a marvelous coincidence designed
to soothe our fears and awaken our souls
with promised joy.
Maybe it was just beautiful.

The road flowed along like a golden river
and the tires rumbled like an old song,
and the sky brightened like an unbidden smile
as we drove on and on.

II. Sunset

There's a map on the screens
where you could watch the night move
across the ocean, you could
watch the night

Somewhere above the sea
we crossed the line that separates the
sun from darkness, we crossed
that elusive

You did not know it yet, but
you were a casual time traveler with
sleep truncated, a casual sleeper
traveling through

III. Sunrise

it was different, five thousand feet
in the air. like the dawn broke on that
flat edge and bled all over it,
deep crimsons and phosphorescent
orange almost too close up
and brightly neon to bear.

"my first african sunrise,"
said the man on my right.
mine too,
though the craters and hills beneath
were not african land nor african sea,
but dense gray cloud -
soaking in the day's birthing blood
till it was all innocent white,
and the sky faint blue again.
belonging to no country but the heavens.

lucky me, on the left side of the plane
as we flew south along the night's borders.
across the aisles they leaned over,
craned and cracked their necks
to taste a little of the new morning.
i drank it all up, mouth wide open
and throat aching.

IV. Sunset

Breathe, finally.
The wind can touch your face
at last, its fingers smelling of smoke
and diesel and somehow pride,
or freedom.

Do not close your eyes.
The evening comes with a welcome
of rain, cool and light as the day
prepares to sleep,
but you - you are not dreaming.
The bus is crowded and your
cramped legs are numb,
but the windows are wide open, so
look out at the dimming sky and

You have come so far, so long.
New terrain rattles loud in your sternum,
this old land's way of settling into
your heart, and though
the road seems endless, you know
that rest is near.

You have come so long, so far,
a traveler now with newborn night
sinking into your blood,
as we - the friends, the blessed,
the brothers -
drive on and on.

The Last Moment

Shall accusing eyes
burn your skin away, or
cutting words bleed you dry?
Shall angry hands beat and bruise
until your bones have forgotten
how to heal?

Perhaps, perhaps, and we -
together we would bear it all.

In the end
it is the untying of our wrists,
the image of a back
that will break us both:
ankles in slow motion and
shoulders shrinking steadily,

and a beloved face fixed
on the far side
of a neck that will not turn.


The human spent her childhood
in the early days of the moon,
holding hands and laughing through
the trees, spinning like young stars

on the ground until the moon awoke
rising to take her place in the sky,
she slipped her growing hands from
the human girl's with faint regret.

So the human wandered into dawn
and met bold, bright, handsome Sol,
bursting with youth and impossibly
charming. They danced and played

for hours, like children just finding
their feet, and for a long while
she neglected twilight, though now
and again she stood and looked

at Luna, all grown up and lovely
and so far away. When Sol found
it was his time to leap into the sky,
the human knew to let him go,

but she tilted her head back and
talked; she would not lose a friend
again. Sol told the girl of all he saw,
the forests, rivers, endless oceans

and one day he sighed, saying
I have found perfection. Lovely,
lovely Luna. How I wish . . .

But the human heard no more

for the sorrow drowning her ears.
That night she wrapped herself in
Luna's silent company, comforted
with the warm memory of laughter.

There were three words curling
on her tongue and she kept her teeth
shut. (Please don't) Sol was
a charmer, she knew, and Luna

could not be long in noticing. One
morning she stayed up to meet him,
and at their hands' first touch
the human's world collapsed,

crumbling and dissolving like
sugar in the sea. The girl cried as
she bid the sun and moon farewell,
teeth still (pleasedon't) shut.

Drawn up on shaking fingers,
she kissed them both before she fell:
Love swallowed the words
she was never meant to say.

A Gardener at Spring

This bed of flowers could
very well be my heart,
scattered with seedlings just
pushing their young green heads
into sunlight.

If only—I whisper, burying fingers
in the cool, dark soil—if only
the crocuses and lilies took
deep root in their welcome,
while the crabgrass knew to wither,

but in a spirit of timidity or
perhaps mischief, the seedlings
have learned for now to masquerade
in unity.

There are so many mysteries
in this fertile earth staining my knees:

Which must I tear out,
before they settle in and drain
my love's richness dry?

Where do I direct the rain,
to water those gentle flowers
still waiting to bloom?

Whose voice do I hear
softly over my shoulder when I am quiet,
whose trowel in my hands,
whose gloves working side by side
with mine?

To Miranda

The sorrow you leave behind
is that of a body missing its arm.
It is the disbelief of sudden absence,
the clumsiness of a crippling,
and the tormented yearning for lost wholeness.

For all this we weep,
but it, like you, has been overtaken
by miracles upon miracles:

that an eternal night, fallen on your eyes, has
instead become glorious morning;
that separation and anguish have instead meant
your soul's satisfaction at last;
that death's cold, strong hands can never shake
the hold of the One who lifts you from the grave.

(That all things, like you,
will be one day made new.)

Here is a joy painstakingly wrought
from agony,
a heart-wracking happiness
of hope born from deep darkness
and blossoming slowly into
blinding light.

You are loved,
and so we weep to see you go.
You are loved,
and so we know that you are healed.
You are loved,
and so are we, and

thus we'll meet again, for our stories
have been caught up together
in the joyful arms of our beautiful Father,
who died and lives, that you and I
might never truly die.


If you are to be
at all, you must be entirely
separate from me.

yours are the adventures, the
talents, the spheres of importance

and bold-cut destiny that I—
dwelling in modern insignificance and
this world's gauze-veiled

sense of purpose—can, literally,
only dream of; I will not mold
your consciousness too familiarly,

as if your existence were
merely an escape from mine. No,
you must be your own.

I'll make your shoulders about
as wide as my set, so I can learn
to craft the rest of you:

royal robes and heavier burdens
must lay across your neck,
such as I've not known,

but I'll slip more easily
into your skin, if our shoulders
are the same. Still,

I hope you'll be a mystery
to me,
a person complete in yourself,

a real girl for other girls to meet—
and after that, perhaps,
a friend.

In the Middle Country

Let me introduce you to a girl who is far away from home:
This is En-Yin-and-Davina,
whose name sounds like a song on the tongues of this culture.
Here she breathes in dust beneath a low red sun,
where city life has drained the color from the earth and sky
and splattered it on vivid billboards high above her head,
and splashed the stolen brightness into wrappings of strange food
in the supermarket and on the street.

She wakes in darkness to the sound of her own loud thinking.
Each day, it warps more into a different voice. New, but slow and accented,
mixing the words of two languages in patterns acceptable to neither.
She wonders which she wants to be.


They call me the one who looks like them.
They know I am not. It is only my face, my eyes, and my hair
that give them pause as I open my mouth.

Something insists that this shell of mine means I should belong with them.
Something else maintains that my people have always looked different.

(Of course, there is one small problem,
always this one problem:                                                   
I may call you my people,
but will you call me yours?)


Like the six-floor rhythm of this city's buildings,
Tuesday flowed quickly into Friday, but Saturday was an adventure
with the children, planting trees in the countryside.

We set those fragile saplings in the dusty ground and left our wishes there
for the tiny branches to bear when they grow strong and sturdy.
We watched those paper hearts, tied with yellow ribbons, flutter in the wind:
Let my child - I read with new eyes - grow strong and sturdy with this tree.

In that comforting moment I could have been anyone,
and anyone could have been me. Not that we had become the same,
but that I had burrowed through the layers of language and society
and found, strong and thick, a root of humanity to hold onto.
We all learned somewhere to love.


Later, having discovered
an unexpected sister,
everything became

Sometimes, forgetting, I lose
the sense of my own soul, as if identity lay
in birth or upbringing. Those, I saw, would take hold of me
and tear me apart from opposite ends.
But I am whole.

Let me introduce you to a girl who is far away from home.
Let me show you myself, caught now between two cultures but
a visitor in every nation here, an ambassador sent for life.

My people are a family scattered wide and far, close and near,
tied together with strings of blood.

We are calling out in every language:
come, sons, come, daughters,

let us go, rejoicing,
on the long journey
to our golden city.


You could be the opening chapter
of a book: the kind that quickly settles
behind my eyes, alive and somehow
just right.
A beginning that promises a traveler's
journey whose steps will wander
through the whole of my ribcage yet
never venture too far;
a momentum of happiness in uncovering
the well-formed art that sits best
in my hands, piece by piece,
page by page,
moment by moment.
You could be the outline
of a classic, a favorite in the making,
the slow and joyful discovery
of treasure.
Your hand could be the masterpiece
that, carved true, fits best
in mine.

Carpenter's Child

Like me and my body,
there are traces of your maker
pressed into the smooth lines
of your woodgrain; the child
of an unrestrained imagination,
you are nautical and mountain-born 
in form, yet stand among suburban
gardens like any drywalled home 
along this crooked road. 

I don't believe in ghosts, but I can feel
the history of four generations
hidden in the careful detail of the wood and tile,
the beautiful shape of hanging lights,
the thoughtful frame of your little rooms,

which I know would tell me everything
in time. I want to let your mind
meet mine, to lean on your staircases
and ladders until I know the 
patterns of you by heart;

I want to sleep on your floors 
and wake by your wide windows
until I open eyes to a brighter world -
but perhaps you've lived too long 
for that, and I too little. Perhaps 
after some time I'll 

find myself a younger sister of yours,
whose wooden walls and
narrow doorways still have room 
for my own memory
to fill.

In the Silence

In the silence of tonight,
do not forget what is true:

first, that it is right to mourn
for a fallen world that has
cursed and killed its loving creator,
but that his death last night
meant freedom from the guilt
that ran deep in your oldest veins.

second, that joy awaits you
in the morning - strength
to lift your heavy limbs, grace
to give your spirit wings, life
in him because he lives, he lives;
your King is rising from the grave 
for you.

Oh weary, weeping follower, know 
that light is coming after the dark, 
a glory shining greater
and brighter than the dawn.

An Important Conversation

Doom├Ęd captive in my dungeon,
("I am sitting on my luncheon.")
Very soon you shall be wishing
("Oh, my sandwich is all squishy!")
That your broken voice could shout, how
("What are you rambling about now?")
("Wow. Congrats. I'll get confetti.")

Shut up.
("What up! Hahahaha.")

You'll be WEEPING, you'll be WAILING--
("Do you care for parasailing?")
("Or swordfighting, Mister Ancient?") are getting very snobby.
("Maybe opera's your hobby. Haha!")

You are the worst at Pretend, ever.
("Your meter's off. Also,
I don't have a rhyme for that.")

Don't bother.
They were getting worse anyway.

On Identity

If anyone asks where I've been,
I'll tell them I'm a swamp dweller
learning to live in a palace;
that I was floundering nose-deep
and breathing sludge when he pulled me out;
that the touch of clean air
still chafes at my waterlogged skin but
I'm getting better at standing
on solid ground with my own two feet.

I'll mention that there are times
I feel the old swampweed crawling
at my throat, and though it promises
comforts of what I once called home,
it can't embrace me anymore.
On the days I let it spread and
tangle with the gold he put around
my neck, I am choking by nightfall,
crying for him until he comes to
tear the dripping vines away
and show me that they were broken
all along, ghosts who only
grew because I called them to.

If anyone asks what I've done,
I'll tell them I once killed the man
who rescued me and left me his
inheritance. I watched him
drown where I had stood, watched
the swampweed crawl into his
mouth and fill his lungs
while he looked straight at me
and forgave and

He gave me his clothes, his
name, his father, his house—
then, like morning incarnate,
he climbed out of the swamp
and gave me himself,
absolutely alive and
glowing with more love
than I ever deserved to behold,

so if anyone asks who I am,
I'll tell them, simply,
I am his.


Today, amidst drifting dust
and soft massed cobwebs,
I held pieces of a woman's life
in my hands. Her fragmented
history fossilized, small moments
emblazoned in faded sepia
and the script of old books.
I could not lay the pieces out
to read the whole story, but
it was enough to know
the worn, cleaned boxes I packed
them in would hold it all
a while longer,
for those who bear the traces of
that woman in their names and
in their faces, and carry all 

the tales of her
in heart and memory.

The Wall

Well, all the other kids have got
their pencils out. They've marked the spots
where iron crowbars, hammer swings,
spikes, and other pointy things
might best bring down this monolith.
Not me. No, I am numbered with
those who have lost their precious tools--
the clueless ones, the fools.

This bleak expanse wears little, just
the remnants of our feeble thrusts:
a crimson drip, a rusty scar
from shoulders torn and raw. We are
the prisoners of endless youth,
who rest our heads on kneecaps, soothe
our bloody hands with bitter tears,
and count the fading years.

Oh, I would sit and sleep away
my days. I'd catch the dreams that stray
from me like threaded mist between
my fingers, bind them till they're clean
as mountain springs and buttercups,
spin them gold and drink them up
till they are cold and real as rain,
and never rise again . . .

Yet something murmurs discontent,
a fervent voice that takes offense
at idle limbs and slumbering mind.
It cries: awake, oh sleeper! Find
your sight once more and look beyond
your dreams, see how the ancient bonds
have fallen from your wrists. You're free,
it calls, reminding me

that there is work still incomplete--
so pull me back onto my feet
and put your chisel in my hand.
A fool I am, but I will stand
and hammer at this wall with you,
if you will show me what to do.
If you, who brought down Jericho,
would teach me where to place each blow,

I know that I could tear it down.
Then at the broadness of new ground
perhaps I'll hesitate in fear,
but let me not forget you're near
and that I'll never walk alone
until I reach our glorious home--
so let my sleeping spirit wake,
and guide my hands till this wall breaks.

for you to know

i. (the ex)

your sister's boyfriend left
and she can't sleep anymore,
not with night always burning in her ear,
its palms frozen to her jaw and its
elbows splintering her chest,
made fragile from too many days spent
finding traces on the bookshelf, in the kitchen,
gaping with the emptiness of
being left behind,

and nothing i can do
could ease the aching of that
love ripped from her bones.

ii. (the parents)

forgive me,
both of you:
i know i've spit my share of poisoned words
that had no place inside a mother's mouth.

now yellow walls crack, all browning edges,
watching your father's beard turn grey,
his face wrapped with choking regret
and his callused hands, as he
waits for you to come back,
to say i'm sorry

my son, i am so sorry.

iii. (the remnants)

your sister's seven years thinner, and her
heart's been patched messily twice more
before you even think of turning around,

so some days
she braids my hair and i braid hers,
and i've tried and tried,
but i am weeping
for our broken fingers.


The vision of you, at first, appears
almost mythical: the unearthly guise
of perfection, the cold glare of near-divinity.
Your dress floating, as if out of the sunset
a young cloud blushed, and bowed to kiss
your feet, and shroud your towering frame.

It's no less startling as you draw near,
when dusk is drawn in shadows rising
around us. Something of you seems infinite
and inhuman, an entity of secrets
sojourning here awhile. Thus
in my mouth, your soul remains unnamed,

but morning comes, finally, to tear
the dazzling veil away. (Blinking, I realize
your eyes are level with my chin.)
Now in dawn's greying, at last I meet
your tired and gentle face--and there it is.
The quiet revelation of sameness.


is that
really a name?
it sounds like sauce:
    "I'll have the chicken in francesca,

(by that I mean
it sounds exactly as Italian
as it is, and I'm clueless
about the items on my menu anyway.
francesca salsiccia,
edoardo parmigiana,
eggplant antonio - ignorant
consumer that I am,
I'd be fooled.)

I don't know anyone
named Francesca. that's
probably why it sounds like sauce
to me, because there is no
solidity to its meaning
until I have a face,
a voice, and a mind
to call 'free one' and see
how well it fits,

so francesca means food
for now, endlessly silly
until a soul - palpable
and eternally interesting -
comes along to
give the name a body.

Haven of Light

You're a stranger, but I think
I've carried your crystal air
deep in my bones for
a long while.

I've glimpsed you
in childhood dreams and books
that never spoke of you
by name, but caught
the colors of your sky
and snagged a bit of
your life's vibrance.

Something in me knows that
my feet are made to learn
your wide roads,
my hands to build your cities,
my frame to fit
in the crooked branches
of your strong trees.

Wait for me, wait for me,
beloved stranger land.
There's a ship in your harbor
with my name on the bow,

and when I arrive
under the bright cloak
of a near-setting sun,
any unfamiliarity will bend
from forbidding to beautiful
to this deep sense of
belonging: I was born
for you.

Tonight, Taking Out Trash

On odd nights my brain
tips out its contents, tosses them,
tries to cram them back in

but when it's been too long
the memories drip like golden water
through the cracks,

mixed and muddled,
blurring into one another and
flickering behind my eyes

like dreams creeping into
wakefulness. Tonight the aroma
of burnt wood in night air

(just cold enough to
widen my eyes in gladness, not so
frigid as to forbid)

meant dark Maine forests
in summer, meant mountain sunrises
in Taiwan's autumn, meant

the waning of winter now
and the next year and the next.
Tonight the smoke wove

itself into my clothes and
mind, bringing the memory of one
beautiful day together with

all the others I have known.
Tonight I'll lie in bed and breathe in
the lingering, hazy scent

and drink my muddled
golden water like wine.

The Valley

Black are these drowning days; fierce,
the water's hands that claw my face;
cold, the accusing daggers
twisting in my ears.
Choking, bitter ashes fill my mouth
when I am hurled ashore.
Is this the place where Job once
mourned before?

and I ran to the whirlwind, shouted at
a father I could barely see.
        do you hear me?
        are you there?

Oh, my fingers and my feet grow weak;
my weary limbs could drop
away from me. But no, not yet.
These jagged stones may drink my blood,
but I am told
your voice lies at the top
of Zion's noble peak.
so I came up the mountain, waited there--
but only silence answered me.
        is this all?
        must I despair?
Here I cry, my feeble eyes
at war against the night,
my palms spread throbbing on the ground.
I shake and tremble, and I cannot rise;
here I lie, blind in the dark; quiet
I shall stay

                 until the sunlight
breaks open the day
and I can feel your hands around
my own, then: where have you been?
why did you hide?

You're crouching by my side.
I'm here, is all you say.

and I stood by Golgotha, listened close,
and there, again, I heard mercy--
    the sound more beautiful
    than I could bear.

For a Day

hold with me a
dim-lit memory:

remember snowflakes on your eyelashes, while
ice cracked under my hair,
and above us the looming sky
leaked tiny white teeth to bite our noses,

slush spattering your boots and
creeping down my collar - and we
went on and on,
too happy even to shiver.

remember a room breathing soft yellow,
which soothed the red from
our cheeks and mingled mutely
with grey in the corners.
the touch of solid wood
through dry socks,

a blanket draped
across three dangling pairs of legs,
tangling us together like
we'd never let go of our laughter;
the warm embrace
of a guitar's broad humming.

we sat, and smiled,
and sang the cold shadows
to sleep.

Things I'd Want To Tell My Daughter

Baking soda and baking powder are not interchangeable.
Cactuses need to be watered, too.
Boys are not icky, nor are they your world.
They will make fine friends
when you are both content to be just that,
especially while you are still young:
to call someone a brother, and mean it,
is a wonderful thing.
There is no shame in wanting to learn
as much as you possibly can.
Before you become good at something,
you must first be terrible. There is
no shame in that, either.
Sing while you vacuum; it is harder
for other people to hear your mistakes.
African violets will die if you pour water on their leaves.
When a friend first cries on your shoulder,
do not listen like a doctor,
waiting to prescribe the cure. Their pain
will break your heart, and you will want
nothing more than to fix it right there, to throw it
far, far away from them - but you
are weaker than you'd like to think,
and you cannot do it. The medicine they need for now
is the knowledge that they are not alone.
When you are seventeen and find it hard to believe
that I could have ever been your age
and felt what you feel,
read this again. I am seventeen now,
I can barely comprehend the idea of you, and
the breadth of my wisdom fits in a single page.
A few more things -
if you remember nothing else of what I say,
remember these.
Reading your Bible is literally like eating:
a day missed will leave you feeling starved,
but the hungry are only called to fill themselves again.
No one will be a better friend to you than Jesus;
no one will understand the depths of your weakness
as he will, and yet love you as he does.
Nobody made in the image of God
should ever receive your disdain,
no matter how much they may destroy.
You'd think that desert plants can go thirsty,
but cactuses need to be watered, too.

To Nicodemus

Every year - silent and
with little ceremony - my heart molts.
On my birthday, I line them up,

the fragile exoskeletons left over
from the years since I drew breath with new lungs,
and the first tiny shell split
down the middle and fell off, sighing.

I can see the contours of that old granite,
the outline of that first paper-thin membrane
reflected in the shapes of all the bigger skins
that follow, and echoing in me
to the smallest curves of my hands and feet:

sometimes, when the edges have grown too sharp
and someone's dark blood pools on the tabletop,
for a moment I wish I could crawl back
into my mother's womb and
start over, try again with a different mold,

praying that this time the stone
will come out smooth and white
and harmless in its reverberations -
but you and I both know what futility
we entertain, however briefly.

Our mothers and fathers cannot give us marble;
they know too much of cold blood, spilt and stale.

No, this was never what he meant. But if you
count the shells from all my heart's growing,
you'll find one more than there should be,
and hope (for me, for you) is in the reality of that
last cracked, broken rock. Some years ago

it fell from me, sighing, split
in two because I drew breath with new lungs
and opened new eyes to a dazzling glory,
and the new heart was strong flesh and
bright, living blood in a perfect frame that

echoes stronger in my body every day.
My hands and feet still follow
the old patterns sometimes, but it's
life and love that wins in the end, and I know

the matter of my birth
is settled.

Spring's Messengers

A house too long made sanctuary
easily turns cage, but it's a hot prison
that can settle heavy and almost pleasant
in your lap, until you nearly forget how
the wind and snow have formed harsh iron bars
to keep you inside (here or there--
you still flit between warm-bellied structures 
like a hummingbird among honeysuckle,
but without the flight's thrill, ignoring
the closed, unfriendly sky and frozen ground.)

You'll remember, though.
We are here at last:

the joyful unfolding of the first daffodils.
the touch of sun-soaked asphalt on your bare feet.
the whisper of a kind breeze through your hair.
a hundred little things to catch your eye
and tug your mouth into a smile.

Soon you'll slow down
to savor the slanting of sunlight across young grass,
the verdant taste of the mild air,
and the loud warbles of a young wren.

We are here at last,
reminding you to love
and breathe again.


The strings on my big brother's guitar
snapped at my hands when I first met them,
bit into my soft and quivering fingers
and droned, or rattled, with muted irritation.

Their disdainful murmurs:
only the strong can hold us tame us
make us sing - silly little girl,
what are you doing?

Briefly, I wondered the same.
I pressed and pressed on,
an agony of buzzing half-chords,
nails faltering across the strings
like young sparrows stumbling in flight,
my tender skin sloughing away, molting
so reluctantly into firm callus -

every now and then, the sharp light
of a clear note sprang forth
to steady my trembling hands, and so
I pressed and pressed on.

Soon, in the dark, smooth body
of the guitar, I discovered the deep echoes
lingering restlessly there and straining towards
my brother's bold voice.
Brazen with excitement,
I began to unleash them, but
slowly, sweetly, like the whisper and burble
of a creek in winter,
an attempt to mold the audacious sounds
around my own quietness,

and with the mounting strength of my fingers
I tamed the wild, loud thing a little,
though I knew it rumbled most happily
in my big brother's hands.

Someday I'll meet six singing strings
that are happy to meet me.
Their bites will be kisses under my fingernails,
their humming flares of bright clarity
as my hands fly strong and true
to fill that wooden body with gentle dreaming -

some days, then, I'll play hard and free,
so it knows the story of these scornful
strings on my big brother’s guitar,
that laughed at first, but patiently shaped
my feeble fingertips until they tapped
and slid and fit, like tiny magnets
finally finding steel.