force of habit

my body weight too close to the edge
pops sheets off the mattress
every night
twined in dreams of struggle
i wake tangled in
percale knots

memories shove me
to the far side of the bed
your cold-rolled steel voice
my bruises shaped like gripping fingers
extra makeup, unlikely explanations

     Parents’ day, private school
     earnest conversations with headmaster.
     Smiling couple, half a foursome
     for Saturday tee time.
     Nicely dressed family, usual pew,
     early Easter service:
          scars hidden by sunlight.

i’d rather fight loose sheets
than you
i’d rather feel them
under me
than you beside me

a touch from you
no matter your intent
carries with it a force
i can’t afford to forget


An event, inexplicable

Freeze that moment:
look back at what has led you
to this day of destiny, of purpose.

Cast in today’s glow of new beginnings
what could have been random
can be understood differently –
as part of a larger plan
unfurling itself upon two people
before they even knew.

At that moment
fireworks didn’t explode –
rather a steady, gradual knowledge
began to take hold
and this event, inexplicable
by what you knew,
was understood by what you felt.

Each event, every step
led to this fulcrum,
when the balance swung
from friendship to love,
when scales tipped
in favor of sharing lives

This moment couldn’t have happened
any other way.



1964 altered

Pink pearlescent cateye glasses
brought my second grade world into focus.
My waist-long braids had been recently cropped
to a more manageable chin length, but a cowlick
still influenced rebellious bangs.
Baby teeth gave way to huge replacements,
their odd angles foreshadowing future orthodontia.
Thanks to McCalls patterns and mom
my Brownie uniform was my only store-bought dress.

That summer I gathered
backyard caterpillars,
stuffing them into pickle-scented jars.
Fueled by daily rations of leaves,
larvae spun cocoons.
Before long, silken walls thinned,
revealing chrysalises folded inside –
a yellow and black swallowtail;
an orange-purple harvester; or a Southern
pearly eye, dusty white.
After emergence, the butterflies would
spread creased, damp-looking wings,
then flap them slowly, preparing for flight.
I would unscrew a nail-holed jar lid
setting beautiful, fragile creatures free.

Also that summer, using a net fashioned
from a coathanger and a cone of white tulle,
I caught butterflies, examined their colors
with great longing,
and set them free again.


Meteor Shower

The clouds came that night,
the night the meteors streaked across the sky,
their tails pointing, always pointing,
to Perseus.

But I felt their presence,
felt you watching them
from a place you and I once shared,
a place where we’d made love,
and where we’d cried.

Without the clouds
I could have shared your view.

And so it was that I thought of you,
thought of our times together,
hoped for another chance to love you.
And went to sleep
only to startle awake when my fist
hit the headboard,
driving away any more sleep that night.

I sat outside, staring past the clouds,
pretending I could see Perseus,
Cassiopeia, Andromeda,

And you.


Fucking in French

Beside each other on the meager mattress
you tell me about Christmas Eve, alone
in Luxembourg,
when you heard the couple in the next room
make love all night long.

Eventually we emulate them
though it’s only October.


Another pas suel

They were always dancers,
the women you loved.
You imitated their moves, their steps,
but when their choreography got old
you’d dance away, using what you’d learned,
convincing yourself that artistry hid cruelty.

You’d spot another dancer
and start over to learn
a bolero
a soft shoe
a quadrille.
Then you’d leave,
waltzing away again.

I am not a dancer
and so saw a coward’s retreat
instead of a smooth glissade.

Backstage, Luckenbach

The wine buffet is just left
of the table with cocoa-rubbed wild boar
and mesquite-grilled axis deer.

The women in line ahead of me
could be twins: long, flat-ironed hair,
giant sunglasses,
skinny jeans and tall boots,
and the rest of The Look.

The wine guy tells these two
(who are younger and thinner than me):
That’s our plan! Free wine
to all the pretty women.

Amid much girlish laughter
he pours them generous glassfuls.
The women
drift toward the boar.

Which puts me first in line.

The wine guy gazes at something
far away and just over my head,
not acknowledging my existence.
After an awkward pause,
I say
“I’d like some wine, please. Red.”
He slowly refocuses
splashes a bit into my glass
while he tries to conjure up the other two.


The Final Elm

Maybe it was the house north of Steele Hill
or the one southwest of East Afton
but it was the one on a road so insignificant that even
the big atlas didn’t have a number for it

Maybe it was built in the 1930s, as the Depression wound down
or maybe it was built to house a returning soldier,
a once-young man ready for the simple life
of a high plains farmer

Maybe there were elm trees all around, once,
or maybe the trees were only lined up on the west side,
shielding the place from the unending wind

Maybe it was abandoned when the wife died
and the husband did, too, the next winter
or maybe the farmer went broke or sold out to a larger place

but the paint fell away
and the window glass did, too,
and the porch fell down
and the roof caved in

And then the final elm
delivered the coupe de grace
crashing through what was left of the structure
giving it a boost toward oblivion


The color of being old enough

Sixty-four Crayolas –
the box that tinted my childhood.
Midnight Blue was the best, the hue of juvenile dreams:
the color of Sunday stained glass,
of strapless taffeta ball gowns
with tulle underskirts, of glittering
gold-sheathed jewels, of being old
enough to stay up until midnight.

Rose window sentries guard the sanctuary.
Dust floats on cerulean shafts of light,
settling on pews, prayerbooks, penitents –
a bride’s benediction.

In a tumbleweed town, my blue-green dress
balances, for a moment, the raw
sienna sadness
oozing through adobe cracks of life.

A narrow band set with sapphires
rests uncomfortably on my finger,
the stones’ blue coolness unable to
calm hot magenta madness.

The pacific blue midnight sky watches
over my sleepless nights –
a bittersweet reminder of false Crayola promises.

Dancing at the Salvation Army

Cast off televisions,
two dented washing machines, a partly-unraveled
wicker chair, a sun-weathered
beach umbrella, and a rack of donated clothes
crowd the thrift store’s driveway.

An eggplant-colored gown
dusted with rhinestones
hangs at the end of the rack. The wind
catches the thin fabric, throwing shards of light
into the air. Invisible hands
lift the hem in a curtsey
as the dress begins its solitary dance,
backed up by the stag line
of brown and tan shirts
squashed together on wire hangers.