You Can’t Take This Away
The words I put down on paper are mine:
the envelope was addressed to me, and
I bought the pen with my own allowance.
Originally published on 19 September 2015
Penciling me in,
You planned your day around me.
I used ink for you.
Originally published on 29 September 2015
If I could open my chest
—a zipper would work,
snaps, perhaps a button or two—
I’d access my heart each day
and add a fresh coat of peace.
I’d keep it in a can
on a shelf in my studio.
It would be nestled
between the soft gel medium
and the Mirage Blue spray paint.
Of course, I’d use a natural bristle brush:
Expensive, yes, but my heart is worth it.
A gentle shake or two would be enough
to mix the creamy, shimmering liquid
and release the scent
of vanilla or violet or Autumn Damask Rose.
Removal of the heart would be the next step.
I’d do it carefully,
turning it over gently in my hands,
taking note of how well yesterday’s
coat of peace held up.
Then I’d apply a new layer,
ensuring complete coverage
and exhaling a word of gratitude
for its quick-drying formula.
Replacing my heart in my chest,
I’d zip up and breeze through my day.
Originally published on 29 September 2015
Will I be Able to Stop in Time?
The wheels of the rusted wagon
This hill is steep,
and my load heavier
than I knew.
Tightening my grip
on the cool, black handle,
I try to smoothly
pull my burden
over the rough terrain.
My destination is in sight—
no, not my destination.
Yes, I see the apex of the hill,
but the end I’m striving for
is not that close to the sky.
The back of my hand
sweeps a strand of hair
from my forehead.
I have finished my climb.
Folding my legs and
fitting my full-grown body
into my little red dinghy,
I pull the handle towards my mouth.
Then I scoot and shimmy
until I’m close enough
to the edge
for gravity to take over.
Originally published on 6 October 2015
110 Responsibilities, Enjoyments, and Expectations
At the moment,
I want to be alone,
Trying to recapture
How it felt to have
You so close to me,
There in his hands—
Thy princely dominion
There for anyone in the world
With eyes to see.
Thy people shall flock
To the small, white building
With the large, colored windows
There, near the lake,
Year after year,
In dwindling droves.
Adorned in splendor,
They’ll greet one another there as if
Something more than ennui has kept them away.
Of thy holy ones,
Thy priest proclaims
Their simple obedience,
Their Infinite trust,
And the world-changing
Moments of their lives.
There in the country church
The more-or-less faithful
Wonder how long it will be
Before they can flock to their next destination,
The next moment of splendor.
Originally Published 25 December 2015
This Place is too Small for the Three of Us
I will arise and go now,
For your hearth is cold,
And your cupboards hold nothing for me.
I thought I should have some peace here,
But that is a treasure you’ve buried,
And you’ll show me no map.
Your eyes are all a glimmer.
I caught a glimpse
As you turned from me to her.
The good-bye catches in my throat.
I clear it, then cough,
And embark upon a quest for my coat.
Finding a pen in my pocket,
I think about leaving a note.
Instead, I just leave.
My heels click on the grey pavement
That leads away from your door.
And I revel in the freedom I have found at last.
Originally Published 7 January 2016
In retrospect, I see the foolishness
of offering to enforce the rules
when I long ago stopped believing in theirs.
How does one cross the T’s, dot the I’s, and fix comma splices
when the world has been written in bad English
and the editor is only concerned with too many questions?
I appreciate boundaries and long to work within them—
unless, of course, they’ve been drawn by a salivating fool
whose speech defect and shaking hand describe just one dimension.
If your main character was created in a college lab
and thinks a kiss will send him to the bottom of the pond,
you’ll need to look elsewhere. Get another long pair of eyes.
Originally published 20 January 2016
Of Penguins and Prophets
The emperor is marching again.
We all know he’s an exhibitionist at heart,
a man with a flair for the dramatic
and a craving for adulation.
The crowd around me long ago learned to avert their eyes.
His sagging breasts and flaccid penis don’t phase them in the least.
In fact, I think some of them have contrived to convince themselves
that the sheerest organza covers the man’s protruding belly and stark white legs.
I’ve learned to retreat into my own head,
where I conjure images of a different man—
almost as naked as our tired tyrant—
wearing only ribbons of red and white linen.
A little boy once raised his pipsqueak voice
and announced what we all knew.
He was flogged for his innocent audacity
and made to march behind the bare ass assaulting our eyes now.
If I were innocent enough or brave enough or even faithful enough,
I, too, would raise my hand and raise my voice and raise my shirt
to receive the astonished looks, the nervous laughter, and the biting lashes.
Instead I’ll stand here and pray for strength or a gap in the wall big enough for me.
Originally published 21 January 2016
has descended upon
She shook off Daddy’s shackles
and has taken up with a gay man.
It sounds strange,
but when nobody’s wrong,
nothing is right,
and they make up the rules as they go.
1. Nothing bad ever happens
2. Love is all that matters
3. When you cry, do it loudly
4. Record every thought, move, and meal
5. Never hurt anyone’s feelings
Nonsensical to you and me perhaps,
but this isn’t about us.
Susan fears the responsibility that comes with freedom
and is desperate for more guidelines.
Five are not nearly enough,
but she strokes her long blonde braid
and comforts herself with the reminder that
she and her lover haven’t known each other long.
Besides, she’s very much aware of the problem
and is working to remedy it.
Little by little.
Baby steps will get her there.
Commercial breaks never go to waste;
every second is spent
If only the ideas would slow down so she could catch them.
They flit in and out of the light—
She has to be quick.
Almost got one—
No! It’s gone,
and her show is back on.
It’s all right, she tells herself.
In six more minutes.
OK, now. Go!
Closing her eyes usually helps.
She’ll corral them this time.
Being happy—she caught a glimpse of that phrase.
Smoking, public, soda—what does it all mean?
She tries to gather and sort.
Why can’t this be easier? she asks the mom on the screen.
Then a smile slowly erases that vertical line between her eyebrows.
Two days later, Susan is waiting to be buzzed through
the front door of Balsam Acres.
The small, frail body
taking up too little of the bed in room 149
Was she always so gaunt?
Soon enough, the vellum lids flutter open.
Susan smiles, and makes small talk,
but is careful to keep it short.
Then she clears her throat, gazes into the ice-blue eyes
and asks, How did Daddy write his rules, Mama?
Rules? the woman asks with surprising volume.
Rules? Why, he lived by only two,
and he sure as hell didn’t make ‘em up.
That can’t be right, Mama.
Nobody can live with only two rules.
The sock rule! Remember that one?
And, and, the going-out-with-friends rule, Mama.
What about those?
But Mama answers with only a snort
and turns her back on Susan again.
Originally published 22 January 2016
Cinderella at the Ball
She swept the floor
Originally published 23 January 2016
Allow Me to Surprise You
Frank the Salesman
tells me that people
will hear what I have to say
when they’re good and ready.
Some consider Frank a prophet,
but his news is old.
I heard it long ago,
when the rest of the world
claimed to know better.
Originally published 24 January 2016
Lost in the Woods
If words are tools
that break in the hand,
how do I build a shelter?
Originally published 25 January 2016
Portia sliced her thigh
to make a point about secrets
and nearly died for her efforts.
Thankfully, our relationship
requires less extreme measures.
I long ago forgot your deepest darkest,
and you’ve never heard mine.
Originally published 26 January 2016
There is No Place to Hide
only at the perimeter
of our minds.
Huddled near the fence,
we steal glances
at the diamond-shaped reality
beyond our grasp.
That’s the reality that looks
so very like our own,
except that it’s inhabited by
someone we don’t know.
There he sits.
There he waits—
in perfect peace.
We see his lips move,
as he forms one word.
But we shun his greeting,
pretending we neither see nor hear.
The fence is too high to climb,
but just around the corner
is a gate, and it has no lock.
Still we stand, shuffling awkwardly.
There he sits.
There he waits—
in perfect peace.
Then, one day,
one of us takes a step.
A step—not shuffling, not fidgeting.
The real deal, and we all saw it.
The stepper looks at us,
daring one of us to speak,
and is met with astonished, frightened eyes.
Finally she cries, “It was one little step, for pity’s sake!”
But she doesn’t take it back,
and everything has changed.
Originally published 29 January 2016
Maybe She was Only Waiting for Me to Look
Her braids take me by surprise.
Is this really my mother
standing in the lake
with her pants rolled
above the surface?
Who was this woman
who chronicled life with
her camera, her pen,
her scissors, and those
I’ve seen that
smiling face framed
by those ebony plaits
sitting on my sister’s shoulders
more times than I can count.
That need to fix the past, though,
in words, images, glue, and paper
does not reside in my sister’s soul.
It lodges in my breast
and ties me to a past
that stuns with connections
I had no idea existed.
Originally published 4 February 2016
My Own Notions
My sewing basket is a mess.
You didn’t know that I sew?
You’ve never seen
I’ve tried to show them to you,
but you must have had
something else on your mind,
and likely never noticed
the machine on the table.
So yes, that basket—
it is certainly in a state.
The threads are tangled,
needles poke when I lift the lid,
bobbins are empty,
and ribbons unravel.
Perhaps I have too many notions,
too little time to care for them,
not enough material to finish a project.
Even if I did, would you want to see it?
Would I dare show it?
Would you promise to do more than
thank me for sharing?
Would you give me your word
that you’d not point out
the mismatched thread,
the dropped stitches,
the crooked seams?
Originally published 8 February 2016
Mend on Wednesday
I have thread and needle,
jars of buttons, even a zipper or two,
just in case—
in case something valuable needs mending.
The problem seems to be
that I possess nothing of value,
other than my heart,
even if it’s labeled heavy duty,
is no use there.
A spool of love is what I need,
but I’ve looked,
and there is none to be found.
Of course, other offerings abound:
I can get Arctic White and Winter White,
but love is warmer than that.
Atom Red, Bright Red, or Maroon
might match my heart,
but the stitches would never hold.
Some want me to place an order for love,
but they won’t guarantee delivery.
Others assure me that they
can offer me love next week,
while the pushy ones
try to sell me something else.
None of it is any good to me.
I can accept no substitutes,
and I continue to hope
that I’ll find some soon.
So until I acquire the real thing,
I’ll pull my coat close
and hope no one sees
my threadbare, tattered heart.
Then I’ll pray as I button up
that no one asks me to use it.
Originally published 12 February 2016
Harold at the Phone Company
I was having telephone trouble,
so I contacted the phone company.
A garrulous voice that called itself Harold
let me know I had found what I was looking for.
“How may I help you?” he asked.
“I’m hearing voices,” I replied.
“What the hell?”
he muttered not quite quietly enough.
Then: “Excuse me?”
as he wiggled a finger in his ear,
like that would somehow get him better reception
or maybe change the words I had just placed in his tubes.
(At least, that’s what I imagined.)
“Let’s start again,” he told me,
in a tone too many use with children.
“You do know that you’ve reached the phone company,
and that I can only help you with problems involving your phone?”
“Yes,” I replied,
in a tone not enough use with the smarmy.
“I know who I called and why.
As I told you, I’m hearing voices.”
“Geez, lady. Can’t you give a guy a break?”
“I don’t like to complain,
and I can’t always explain.”
“When I pick up the phone,
I hear other people’s calls.
I know that Heather is leaving Philip
because she thinks she’s in love with Harold
—oh my gosh, Harold, not you;
I’m sure it’s another.”
(But I swear I heard him
choke on his own spittle.)
“Betty has cancer,
Joe lost his job because he drinks too much,
and Martha is having a crisis of faith.”
“Harold? Are you there?
Do you know who you work for
and why you answered the phone?” I asked
in a tone doctors use with the head injured.
“Yes. Yes. I’m here. Sorry.
How long has this been going on?”
“Well, how should I know?
I’ve never even met Heather.
But I don’t believe she loves him
—Harold, that is. The other Harold.
She’s just feeling neglected by her husband,
who works too much and talks too little.”
“Harold? I thought you wanted
to help me with my phone problems.
Are you still there?”
“Yes. Yes!” he barked.
“How long have been
listening to other people’s
I don’t think I like your tone.
But if you’d like to know
how long I’ve been subjected
to other people’s problems—
well, that would be my whole life.”
That is not what I meant.”
(His voice was filled with
all the contrition he could pump into it,
and that wasn’t much.)
“I simply want to know
how long you have had
“Since the day before yesterday,
thank you very much.
Can you fix it?”
“Yes. I’m sure I can,”
he told me.
“Are you sure
she still loves her husband?”
Originally published 14 February 2016