You think you know me: meretrice, cortigiana,
whore—a girl willing to shed her corsets,
serve the artist’s opulent eye. And it’s true:
getting by on a scullery’s wage, the few
coins tossed for a back-alley tryst
won’t stop my stomach shriveling
to grape-size, won’t keep my curves
this plush. I’m heavy cream in these sheets,
tresses tickling my breasts with their rills
of coiled gold. Naked here, nunneries are distant—
a cruel, irrelevant joke. Crude as a noble lady’s
life, stuffed away in her marital tower,
bereft of news or geographical sense, stiff
black gown and rosary inspiration for nooses.
Perhaps you think I lack propriety; I’m too
sexy to be chaste, and those women behind me,
craned over il cassone, frantic for my tossed
dress, are instructed to guard my shame.
So you’ve ignored the ring d’oro,
lights up my teeniest finger, my faithful
spaniel Fido, snoring away at my tapered feet.
Perhaps won’t believe when I touch myself
down there with one hand, pink roses
bloom in the other. That my husband
summoned this portrait, the word goddess
a radiant jewel dotting the crown
of my yes, yes, yes! Anymore than you
might admit, Dear Viewer, as I gaze
from the canvas, and your eyes refuse
Again, the dream where I run away.
Having shed my Good Doll life,
I tuck myself downtown: slum
dog vestibule, the song of my neighbor
retching next door. Through tobacco-stained
glass, brick chimneys stacked like cakes
sugar the skyline. Now the silk pillow
of a cloud floating past. No one knows me here.
I’m bland as an apricot: six to one,
half a dozen to another. I should be afraid
but cockroach caulking doesn’t scare,
nor the fact my children hate me,
my stomach growls, nor the endless
trickle and seep of brown water
from upstairs, the stain on the ceiling
I see each morning my eyes
pop wide as magnolias. I no longer speak,
though my mouth is stuffed
with words. It’s the equation of
a dragon spewing fire in reverse:
I inhale flaming vowels, digest
smoking verbs. My arm becomes a tail,
my pen, the striking tip. When ink
touches paper, this page, she burns.
~ Spillway 2, 2010
Hawks circle fields near the highway
homing in to catch the scent
of animals deep in the high dry grass.
So many wildflowers in bloom,
watery purples and acid yellows,
I’m dizzy in my car
blazing up the California coast:
Santa Barbara, Pismo, Salinas,
nicknamed The salad bowl of the world
with its patchwork plots
of endive and spinach,
the almighty artichoke
in whose honor Norma Jean Baker
was once crowned queen.
So fresh in her red gingham blouse,
remember? Her elation,
her perky, generous D cups
held up to the leafy bulbs
as everyone cheered. If only
it stayed so rosy, the tough layers
unstripped, the heart left intact.
If only you weren’t topless
on a gurney, Rachel,
under the scouring glare
of hospital lights,
your own sweet breasts
offered up to the surgeon’s blade.
A hundred miles north
of where you are right now
I’m a slave to this shifting view,
anything to avoid the thought
of your chest picked clean,
tender globes that fed three mouths,
now poison the body’s crop.
So I’ll imagine birds and flight
as the elliptical sweep of sharpness
cuts the pale sky of your chest,
steel beaks of surgical tools
carving out the flesh cream,
making smoke of tumor meat—say goodbye,
pay my respects
and picture them floating up,
slipping through the ceiling cracks,
two blond angels,
beyond the moon’s milky scar,
they spread their innocence
over the lustrous scrim of L.A.,
those brave, radiant girls
wave and then they’re gone.
~ Finalist, Rattle Poetry Prize, 2009
After the good doctor finished suturing my gums—
periodontal deus ex-machina of scalpel,
thread, a trapdoor flap of cadaver flesh
stitched to the eroded ridge of my incisors,
he paused. As if to let me ponder,
consider the foreign meat
he’d just served
to the upper room of my mouth—
jellied tidbit, a red membrane morsel
some kind donor pledged
before exiting this life.
I said nothing. Spit the last mucous stream
into his paper cup, my tongue
finally at rest in its numb cheek tomb.
What was there to say? Hadn’t I
been taught to taste the blood,
eat the body of an unknown brother?
And to what purpose
if not for mystery,
for human communion
with every sister
roaming this frail and fallen planet?
Here’s to you, nameless one,
for inking the little O
on your DMV form,
for prettying up my smile,
giving me a sturdier bite.
We’re family now.
May the words of my mouth
be worthy of your end,
your great gingival sacrifice.
Asleep in the earth
or at sea, drunk
on the watery abyss,
may you decay
in all the right places
and be glad
as I am, for the feeding.
-- Passages North, Spring 2008
What my daughter calls it—the line
we cross when this life ends,
the last grass trampled
under hardening arches
before the cliff runs out, before
stepping into air. That night
we snuggled after tubs
she said it—hair a damp curtain,
daisy p.j.’s, the two of us cross-legged
on the quilt, my disintegrating Hanes
revealing the sloppy V of curls,
a two-inch scar from groin to thigh.
“You’re a little closer to the edge, Mom”
she repeated, touching where she knows
sour fruit’s been plucked,
the bad tumor nut. Skated a pinkie
along the red dermis ridge—keloid dash
that is neither a mouth turned up
nor down. Not moon of approval
not arc of misery
but an expression hammered flat
Then we opened a book
and found a fairy tale to read
even darker, more outrageous than our own.
-- Finalist, dA Center for the Arts, 2007
Good Friday Kiss
The choir door left open, we slithered in.
Moving through the musky stacks
of bibles and unlaundered cassocks
we lay down behind the altar—
our bodies an awkward tangle on polished wood,
a snake with clothes on,
when he pulled me close, whispering his love.
Still, it wasn’t the airless sanctuary
or the dead I could hear humming
inside the church’s empty pews.
No, it was Adam’s hands that made me cringe
the first time his lips touched mine—
twelve years old and asthma sickly,
the dry, scabbed flesh and little cloth gloves
he wore to cover pink ointments
that oozed in a line down his wrists.
I looked up and saw the cross floating overhead,
draped in black chiffon for today’s Good Friday
like a negligee or widow’s grieving veil,
and suddenly revolted by the cotton-coated touch
of his fingers brushing my cheek,
I rolled away from him, forever.
What did I know of suffering? The flesh
pulled taut and stapled, the human canvas
rubbed to transparency?
How my taunts would come to crucify this boy,
my young heart shifting in gusts
so fast from like to loathe—
“…more important than truth.”— C. Bukowski
You will rise. You will walk from the kitchen
of your demon-scorched dreams,
hear the cool song of larks trilling. Though
the night was a dagger—blood-lusty, twisted—
here is the dawn breaking a sweat
across your pillow, a long yellow massage
for your litany of wounds. Get up. Breathe.
Adorn thy radiant self and consider
the barista on your street, how he brightens
at your face, familiar and wise. Maybe it comes down
to this: a nugget of kindness fished
from misery’s stream, a sweet steaming cup
in your hands without asking. And as you wander
the day drinking each new pain,
your tired eyes bent to the boldest print:
mothers wailing - a distant village
where mud has buried a school; more politicians
with their fat pockets, feeble hearts -
now this homeless here
and his one dead eye
begging change from a blanket
he swears is magic, will deliver him someday
to the lap of God
he says, so crazy
you might as well believe him.