My grandfather liked to fry potatoes on Sundays,
peppery and thick with soft onions,
though he knew I did not care for onions,
people didn't seem to ask much then
children's opinion on food preparation.
My grandfather, who lived to pull crisp waffles
from the electric iron, though always soggy
by the time you ate them. Who loved a big stack
of Krusteze pancakes, cooked a little too black,
adorned by cold chunks of margarine and Log Cabin Syrup.
On weekdays, though, it was oatmeal,
thick from the pot, clumps of hardening raisins
softening as they were stirred in
with milk, with little rocks of brown sugar.
Occasionally, Cream of Wheat instead.
My mother rose later, with my brothers,
and breakfast from her was always a surprise—
though she loved toast the best. Cheese toast,
melted cheddar sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon toast,
toast with peanut butter, with honey, with butter and jam,
with a soft boiled egg quivering atop, sprinkled
with salt and pepper. Eggs, eggs so many ways.
Scrambled with hot dogs, with cheese. Poached. Fried,
yolk unbroken, toast to sop up that sunny puddle of delight.
We were a breakfast family, no "Just a cup of coffee for me."
Breakfast—to fortify your day, arm you for school, work,
occasionally, and for feverish stretches at a time, for church.
Different churches, different times. We moved in strange
cycles of devotion. But from breakfast we never wavered.
I've never understood those for whom food is merely fuel.
And I'm sure they've never understood me. How even a bowl
of sugar cereal, dug deep into a cartooned Saturday morning,
Lucky Charms or Captain Crunch or Frosted Flakes
or whatever had been on sale that week, could be a kind of devotion,
a ritual, richer than any of the churches we wove in and out of.
Or sometimes we just had it for dessert.
Don't even get me started on dessert.
First published in The Scarlet Leaf Review, April 2017
I was sent down to Mississippi
the summer I was 11, to stay
with my stepfather’s family.
Slow days in the soft, deep heat.
The smell of moss and green water.
Fishing from a drifting canoe
with a long bamboo pole.
The kind of languorous, Southern Summer
that he remembered.
Snakes, ran from. Fire ants, stepped in.
Watermelons, stolen. The slaughtered hog,
screaming. Corn-fried love,
and a slice of cake on the side.
Slowly, we’d drive the old Lincoln
down the weedy, red asphalt
to that white, white clapboard church,
or to pay an afternoon visit to the shady parlor
of some ancient aunt,
and we’d waive at all the black people
out the window along the way.
“Morning Mr. Johnson!” we’d waive,
and Mr. Johnson would waive back with a smile
from the porch of his unpainted house,
or his early-model Oldsmobile,
or from the side of the road
where he was walking with his grandson
and fishing poles. “Mr. Johnson’s
little boy nearly grew up at our house
when his Mama used to watch the babies
during the week. Yep, your Daddy
and Mr. Johnson’s boy used to eat
right from the same bowl!”
I’d try to picture it, that little tow-headed,
crew-cutted white boy, huddled
over the same bowl of grits or malt-o-meal
with a poor, little black boy in rural 1960s Mississippi.
Always, a big smile and a friendly wave, though,
for Miss Betty, or Mrs. Wheeler, or Mr. Sam.
And even as we had gone into Hazlehurst,
for one thing or another on a Saturday morning,
and had to wait to cross the cordoned street
as robed figures slowly marched past,
they whispered into my ear: “These people, the Klan,
what they believe isn’t right.” I’d nod,
then hear them say “nigger”
over sweet tea in the shady parlor,
as the ceiling fan turned, but moved no air,
in the late afternoon.
I released the dead mouse–
lured to the ruthless brass snap
by a dab of peanut butter–
and flung the burden of him
over my balcony in a gentle arc
and into the mouth of the waiting woods below.
Like so many of his cast down brethren
he would not be there in the morning.
Nature is ruthless in its letting go,
its taking, its reclaiming.
Life bursts forth from the loam
of beetle-eaten birds, pulled into
the sweet decay of damp leaves
into worm-ridden earth.
I took the mouse, the mysterious architect
of its demise, and tried not to think too long
during the twenty-step journey
from kitchen to balcony,
on whether it struggled, gasped slowly.
We, too, are the ruthless takers,
the letters go. We the flesh eaters,
who cannot have the mice
leaving trails of feces in the cutlery,
gnawing holes in our bags of rice.
Nature is ruthless in its letting go,
in planting the dabs of our own ends
within the dark cupboards of our bodies
and flinging us back down, often gasping,
into the dark and loamy earth. Like so,
am I now letting go if I invite you in,
then peel away your fingers
before I watch you fall?
Am I less, ruthless, if I tell myself,
surely, there is reclaiming in your landing,
that my need is balanced
by your sweet and leafy return?
Will I tell myself, over time,
that it was you who opened your fingers
and not I, regretfully waving
with my artfully unburdened hand?
Sometimes we fling, sometimes we are flung.
First published in Page & Spine, June 2016
Closely, look closely
and you will find her
hovering in the air
as I do, each night
easing her gently
back down into her tucked bed
careful, careful now
for she is a bit fragile
as floating people are
arisen from piggy-backs
from wide-eyes, wonder,
yet not fully ascended
into pimples and crushes
the receding into one's own
only the first tiny signs
nights of nameless tears
easy, easy now
still, she sleeps with rag dolls
gentle, gentle now
she also rolls her eyes
can you see her hovering
one arm in both worlds
can you feel her holding
back from the rise
it's what my heart wants, of course
even as I gently free her grip
now I better understand the fog
rising from a morning field
now my heart is filled with love
for the wave crashing on a rocky shore
First published in Firefly Magazine, March 2016
What The Math Teaches (1):
As I move away from the Earth,
The now of the little clock
on my weightless wrist
ticks faster than the one I leave behind
on my daughter’s nightstand.
The greater my proximity
to mass, the more time slows.
Perhaps this is why
I am always seeking mountains.
What The Buddha Teaches:
This teacup is already broken
and so I should rejoice.
What The Math Teaches (2):
Time is bound to motion.
Time bends as we move.
Move away, move forward
from sufficient distance
and I arc the trajectory of my now
toward your past or your future.
Simultaneous is only for us,
together, in this room.
I cannot know the content
of this clicking carousel,
so I must beware,
the sleepless nights of turning
over what is not my now,
the Kodachrome vortex
What The Mountain Teaches:
even mountains fold.
What Fatherhood Teaches:
I should have tried to harder
to remember more math:
she was born
and in the next second
I had to show her
the division of fractions.
Time is bound to motion.
Months can last for decades.
Decades can wash past
like a paper boat.
Also, she is a teacup.
She may already be broken.
First published in Riggwelter, August 2018
There is a subtle thrill to
passing—pulling smoothly around
to the left or right
past without disturbing the flow
and leaving behind those who
may can will not commit
to the pace of your destination.
The heart may even quicken
slightly at the small victory
of advancing, less encumbered by
those left behind.
We were told that, in
the moments before
we were passed,
expect such an acceleration
of the pulse—
a little resurgence
that might feel like a
was really the body's last
surge before finally, fading
in the last step of that
ten-month thigh-deep in wet snow journey
from strange pain to unexpected news but do not
panic to post-op recovery to all-clear to poison to
not all-clear to do not panic because
her weight her meds her hydration her bodily functions
her visitors her depression her pain
it's time to think more about managing her pain but do not
panic because right now, no choice but to keep it together.
There is no reason it so happened
to be me
at that moment,
in that small room filled
with so many she loved,
who was holding her hand—
two traitorous fingers held
against her wrist during that
long, yellow, uncertain, lip-wetting,
med-fogged, shallow-breathed day,
on duty with the little sponge lollipop,
the room still held close within her limp arms and dry lips and tiny moans,
her wearing the t-shirt of the company where I worked
(cut open up the back to ease its removal).
An hour later as we—my brothers, father and I,
lifted her body from the bed to the gurney
it was somehow clear:
was no longer
even as I had felt her heart quickening under my two fingers
my first thought was that she was circling back to us,
not noticing her accelerate smoothly past us to the left,
lingering just long enough for us to wave
and catch a glimpse of her eyes
in the rear-view
as she pulled away.
First Published in Wilderness House Literary Review, February 2016
I was the kind
who would be stopped
by Parrish colored clouds,
the rounded light of Vermeer,
the rendering of drapery.
Was soothed by the sound of water,
the scent of bergamot.
I even relished the pulling
of a fountain pen
from inside a jacket pocket.
But I’ve been whetted a bit.
Some loss is a stone.
So a measure, now, of silence.
The time to walk in trees.
I find myself laid newly low
by the terrible hardness of human hearts.
I admire spiders more.
I grow irritable with newness.
And Pollack has crept up on me,
those wiry sinews,
brittle bracelets of poured paint.
His declaration of independence
the unexpected texture,
thick at times as a coiled hose.
No pitcher. No virginal. No fruit.
It’s strange what can carry you.
How I now crave
the taste of mustard.
First published in Verse-Virtual, September 2017
Away you move
through green shadows
plunging through leafy canopies
disappearing around bends
dissolving in and out
of the sun-dappled day.
What shoots my heart
to its wet, red roof
quickens its beat
wills you back
until you reappear.
So this is how it goes now:
my soft gut demanding
can I keep you
from dissolving here
into these long, low afternoons
into the slanted light of leaves.
I can see your particles
as they begin to disengage
sparkling like silver in the sun
taking float from the firmament
the solids of your childhood
were always soluble, it seems
simply waiting for the right solution
the proper mix of acids and proteins
and forward momentum.
Your grandmother stands in Japan.
I've shown you the picture
the notched black and white photo
as radiant as when raised
dripping from its silver bath
chin upturned to the sky
glowing, glorious, short-skirted
on the ancient stone steps
long-legged and lovely
bright-faced and seeing
the world open like a lotus
like a temple, doors flung wide.
But I did not know her then
this luminous young creature
swirling into a new solid
my grandfather couldn't keep.
I first remember her this way:
as a woman, matte-finished
leaning against the checkered hood
of a Volkswagen Beetle
scarf-haired, smiling serenely
like a laden sunflower.
That lovely young girl left looking
like Edith, backward
toward the eastern shore.
The salted winds had long since
carried her away.
But mostly, she was shoulder-padded
elegant hair arrayed
and there's me
young and thin and bold
glossy as that photograph
our splendid heads leaning together.
Soon, I would launch
and she would meet the love of her life
how strange to see us both, dissolving
before each other's eyes.
It appears I can not stitch
the particles of you back together
with silvery threads of conversation
the things I search to say
to make you roll your eyes
back to me. And so it goes
then, Mija, like this
memories blur, and the albums
of stiffening cellophane
the worrying magnetic drives—
all filled with bright, crisp-faced
mothers and fathers
cousins and brothers and dogs
arms draped around each other
their conquering feet beautifully primed—
we were always wisps of silver
of ones and zeroes.
You may even, if you are very lucky
be able to hold your mother's hand
while the soft, fine particles of her
lift one last time into the evening air.
But even that you cannot hold for long.
What's solid never was
and always we have one thing only:
the breakfast we are making right now.
You flipping pancakes
the motes of us rising against the early light
the coppery taste of my shooting heart
Mom drinking coffee
smiling serenely like the sun
flinging open the doors of your day.