Starwoman

When I die, remember me like this:
a starwoman walking upside-down across the sky,
boots sunk deep in the muds of heaven.

And should you ever tire of the ground,
those barren streets and bone-white sidewalks,
resentful of the magnetic earth
that grips your ankles tight

look up, then. I will be overhead
near the Northern Star
winking as if to beckon,
come closer…

There will be a bird in my hair
and windsong on my lips,
I’ll be wearing the clouds like a skirt
around my hips

that swishes and dissipates
on my way across the sky
to Bowie.

The Investment

A found poem

“Stolen 18th Century Violin Recovered.” Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune.

A treasured 18th century Gagliano violin
has been recovered in the shadow

of a well-dressed man
with a nice smile and an offer.
I told him I have 4,000 violins

and am looking for another
when times are bad.

Coal Dust

To understand language, hold a book upside down
and squint until everything stops making sense.
English looks a lot like gibberish when you flip it
and grip it by its legs

or its tail, like a fish you’ve caught
with your bare hands.

If I stare hard enough, until my vision blurs,
words become an unnavigable fog.
There, I unlearn how to read,
how to pick the stitches out and unravel
words from their meanings –

to unbraid them from each other like hair
and laugh when they blow in the wind behind me.

Maybe literacy is a layer of skin you can shed
to dance again, light as a shadow,
in the fog where words are nothing
and cannot hurt you.

In the fog, you can’t see your hand
when you hold it inches in front of your face.
The mist eats the outline until you can’t even recall
what a human hand looks like
and everything becomes a shape
and everything loses its meaning.

But in reality, you can whisper fuck you, fuck you, fuck you
into a baby’s ear and they will smile up at you
as if you had blessed them.

Sometimes I think language belongs in the dictionary,
not in my head. Surely it would be nice
to forget these words:

mucus and rape and parasite.

But the language, it clings to my fingers
like coal dust.

And like a miner, I go again and again
into that terrible darkness
where it falls upon my face
like a thousand crumbs of earth,
or a thousand kisses.

Writing is About Saying No: An Announcement

dovesWriting is about saying no.

No to ideas. No to sentences. No to scenes and characters and themes that look good on the surface but just don’t fit into the heart of your story, no matter how hard you try to jam them through.

It means saying to yourself: no, you can’t leave with that story tonight because you have another one waiting for you at home. Put the drink down and stop flirting. Commit.

I have commitment issues – which, for a writer, means an innate inability to sit down and write a story until it’s finished. Lurking in the depths of my Microsoft Word files are many beginnings, a handful of middles, and very few endings.

Writing means never abandoning your story. Your story is your child. You feed your child and love your child and hold your child’s hand until it has grown enough to exist on its own in the big, scary world.

Writing is about choosing which ideas to turn away at the door because your mind can’t accommodate all of them. And if you do let them all in — succumbing to good intentions and the conventions of polite hospitality — you will starve, and your stories will starve, but only after they’ve eaten everything in the house, leaving nothing but bones on your table.

Writing is about waiting for the right idea. This means turning away ideas that might have the right faces but the wrong hearts.

But it doesn’t mean just saying no to the wrong ideas. It means saying yes to the right ones: yes, yes, forever yes. It means committing. It means sitting down, shutting up, and getting it done.

I am slowly but surely learning this. Ideas fly around my head like a swarm of doves, but I have only two hands to hold one.

I’ve been writing a novel, which mostly (for me) means saying no to poetry. And ultimately, it means that you will be seeing less of me on this blog. I will still write poetry, I’m sure, but not as much, and not nearly as often. Most of my nights for the next few months will be committed to writing — and finishing — this story.

I think I have found my right idea. It has a good face and a good heart, and though it doesn’t always say what I want it to say, it surprises me.

And for that, I think I love it.

Thank you, mywordpool audience, for reading and supporting me and my work. It’s an honor and a privilege to be on your computer screens — and one day, I hope to be on your bookshelves.

For now, I will keep Neil Gaiman’s words close to my roaming, wandering writer’s heart, and I encourage you to do the same:

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

God Is Not What You Imagine

The words that come to you tonight are not mine. Rather, I’d like you to enjoy the words of Neil Gaiman, my very favorite writer. And if you like those words, I recommend his haunting and brilliant short story collection: Trigger Warning.

“Don’t go digging in that graveyard for the kinds of old, the
mighty,
Or archbishops and their riches. They are guarded by Saint
Oran
Who will rise up from the gravedirt like the darkness, like
an otter,
For he sees the sun no longer. He will touch you,
He will taste you, he will leave his words inside you.
(God is not what you imagine. Nor is Hell and nor is Heaven.)”

Happy New Year, readers and friends. May 2016 bring you new words, new stories, and new imaginings.

A Wave Goodbye

Missing you comes in waves,
like naseau.

You were expecting something about the sea,
weren’t you – but we were nothing like the cresting of saltwater
or the calls of seagulls, lush and exciting.

We were more of a sickness.
Slow, malignant

but if you like the sea metaphor better
we can call it seasickness.

And if it’s seasickness I’m standing on the deck of a ship
staring out into the space where sea and sky meet
and melt –

which sends me lurching forward to vomit over the side,
violent and swaying.

And as my legs shake and my throat closes
and my lips spasm and my chest burns

I miss you.
Gasp, breathe.
I miss you.

Song of Rainwater and Stone

It was beautiful, and it was sad.
These two tastes have coincided so often
I have come to expect them in my mouth
like cream and sugar, like salt and pepper,
inseparable and incomplete without the balancing flavor
of the other.

You would love me if I told you why I cried into my pillow tonight
but for now I’ll keep these swollen eyes and trembling lips
a secret.

All you need to know is that
I was beautiful, and I was sad

and when the tears met the crevice of my mouth they tasted
like rainwater hitting stone,

stone that withstands a thousand years of wind and time,
stone that weeps with the sky.

Tell-Tale Head

My mind is a light with no off-switch.
On nights like these it leaves my body
and hovers like a ghost at the end of my bed,
kneading my sheets with restless knuckles
and staring at me in anticipation.

I want to tell it to calm down, to stop pacing,
to quit twiddling its thumbs and scratching at the door –
I’m trying to sleep here

but sleep, like an agitated cat,
never comes

and when it does,
only nudges my fingers
before darting again into the shadows.

My head is a heartbeat under the floorboards.
I grow familiar with the noise

but like Poe, am driven mad
by the drumming sounds of my own
hysterical body.

Birdseed

A stream of consciousness piece

I leave my heart open like a birdcage.
I am not trying to trap anything inside,
I am just tired of living in a world where
people who love each other don’t say
they love each other.

What is it like to not have a body? I want to ask the wind.
Does it hurt being everywhere at once?

My empathy is a drop of honey on the tongue –
it is sweet, but not enough to soothe a throat.
This world is so busy screaming its voice has gone hoarse
and I spend most of my time reading its lips

searching for the pain that is more than verbal.

My thoughts don’t fit neatly into my mind tonight,
or any night. If I take them and scatter them
like birdseed, will it lead you back to my door

which is open, by the way, swinging
and sighing on its hinges?

I don’t have the strength anymore to close it,
or to turn my back to those who knock.
I only want to hold each new face in my hands
and kiss its blushing cheeks, pink and soft
as a newborn child’s skin.

None of us asks to be born.
I imagine my not-yet hands pressing against the walls
of my mother’s womb
and falling through a trap-door into a world that is
not as warm as the human body.

I want to fall in love with someone with a heart like mine.
I want our hearts to speak through our ribcages to each other
and say, “My door is open. I will not close it as long as I live,”
because closing up is painful and wrong.

Ask the flower that, once open, can never retreat back into itself.
Ask the tree that can never take its roots back from the soil.

Like a pact, like a promise, give your heart away
and accept that it will not come back the same.

My fingers, once tangled in your hair,
will never be the same.

Tell yourself this is good, this is natural

and when you offer birdseed, open your palms
because you understand nothing can eat
from a clenched fist.

Why are you hesitant by the door
when it’s ajar

and why does a firefly in a jar
stay when there is no lid?

I have no answers, only this

door, open for the sake of
being open.

2015: A List of Reasons to be Grateful

You saw me graduate high school – standing on that stage
more stone than human, ancient
invincible and undying.

Thank you for teaching me immortality is a feeling,
not a state of being.

Then my first semester of college when I realized
the best learning doesn’t happen at desks, wooden and square –

but on the floor, dirty dorm room carpet,
sitting cross-legged with your friends
debating the existence of God.

Thank you for teaching me to listen more than I speak
and to give more love than I take.

In your waters I lost a friendship –
watched it succumb like a sandcastle
to the foaming mouth of a rabid sea.

Thank you for teaching me some things
stand at a distance but dissolve
at the first touch of closeness.

Through your eyes I saw a larger world

so thank you for Paris and stolen sunflowers
and my first time on an airplane.

Thank you for fresh pain and books
and people

and the chance to work with a literary magazine
and play in a string quartet

and for winning the “most likely to write a
best-selling novel” senior superlative

and for a new short story collection by Neil Gaiman
and discovering the band Twenty One Pilots

and for prom and a wedding and a new cousin
and an eighteenth birthday.

Thanks for all of it, even the bad parts.
Thank you for every new feeling.

Funeral Oration

Dear happiness, it’s me again.
You don’t come round nearly enough.
I’m right where you left me last time – by the door, my ears perked like a dog’s
for the rap of your knuckles on the wood.

More often I tasted your knuckles in my mouth.
At times you were more like blood and spit
than honey and sugar water.

It doesn’t stop me from mourning you
like a miscarried child,
and waiting for your face to appear
like an apparition in my window.

I lost you too early, and too young.
Sometimes I think I am bound to you
the way a neck is bound to a noose –

or is it an umbilical cord?

You tell me.
Am I clutching a lifeline,
are you guiding me like Ariadne through the labyrinth?
Some days I don’t know whether to follow the trail of breadcrumbs
or crumble to the floor myself.

Oh happiness, I know we had our bad times
but there’s room for you in my body now.
Trouble is, I don’t know where you’ve been these days.

I couldn’t pick you out in a sea of faces
so what name, then, do I give to this hollowness
in my belly?

What name, then, do I engrave on the tombstone
at which I am now kneeling?

Twitch

It felt like a tire stuck in the mud,
like a furious, roaring struggle
to get nowhere.

It felt like a pair of quivering lips,
like the mindless bouncing of a foot,
or a finger twisting a telephone cord
like a stray curl of hair.

You were movement without meaning.
You were a twitch – instinctive
and involuntary.

Like a knee-jerk,
like pure impulsive reflex

our love was all the quiet chaos
of a spastic muscle.

Similes for the Girl with a Dreamt-Up Name

The words feel fake in my mouth, she says,
after telling us her mother died in her arms.
I stroked her until she was cold.

I do not know what to do with such a confession,
or how to hold a knife when it is given to me.
I only rub her hand until it’s warm again.

She is something beautiful, something defiant –
like a vein of lightning across the cheek of a blue sky.
Her edges are not serrated, but softened,
like the place where a wall meets a wall
and becomes a ceiling.

The words feel fake in her mouth, but in the air
they collect like dust particles caught
in a beam of sunlight.

And what else can you say? –
when the sun rises and the clock opens its arms wide
while your mother dies in yours.

She is something bold, something unflinching –
reaching out to hold the hand that hit her.
Life, I’ve learned, will kiss you one moment
and kick you the next.

She never kicks back.
I quite love her for it.

Yes, her words feel fake in her mouth, but in my ear
they grow full and heavy and real.

Like something alive, flailing in the dust.

Like a flute that is hollow
until it is filled with sound.

How to Feel

“This is how to feel,” and I feel it,
hard, like a sunken stone in my stomach.

The wolf in my throat chokes,
gnaws it like a bone, raises its haunches
and howls with a blood-speckled maw.

You taught me how to feel
and I whimpered like an animal –

shot.

Now only the hunt.
Now only the endless trembling.

Is this how you imagined it?
The twisting of a head –
towards the moon or towards the dirt?

No. Only this:

shaking, shaking, shaking –
to see which breaks first:
your spine or my jaw.

Go

If your head has grown heavy and unbearable,
away to the woods to regain your smallness.

You have no more use for economic theory and manmade history,
trust me. Count the rings in the trunk of an oak tree
to learn all you need to know.

Teach yourself to shed this worldly skin, to crack this corporal shell.
These walls are bones that cannot hold you –
splinter away like wood
like an acorn bursting forth
you must go, you must go.

Like a candle flame on a wick
lean and burn in the direction of the wind’s choosing.

12/13/1937

Where is your armor, love?
You can’t drift onto the field
with nothing but the skin on your back.

It’s cold, and there are men
whose hands are colder still.
I can feel you trembling from miles away,
from years away.

Don’t you know you’re in a war zone.
Don’t you know what they do to children here.

I Am Just as Human as You Are

Too many times you looked at me like my fingers were grasping the switch
that would rock your electric chair.

No, I will not hold a life in my hands.
I am not your executioner or your liberator,
I am not your Christ.

Stop thinking of me as a raven in a graveyard,
my beak stabbing the ground, waking the dead.
Stop imagining me with the sky and earth in each palm,
bringing them together with a clap —

ground-shaker, thunder-maker, heaven-swallower.

I will not hold the world in my throat or on my back.
I will cough it out, I will thrust it off.
The only thing worse than being treated like an animal
is being treated like a god.

Too many times you gave me your heart to weigh against a feather.
Too many times you looked at me like I was Fate with her cruel scissors.

Slowly, deliberately, one by one

I lift away my fingers.

Litany of a Sunflower

“The sunflower is mine, in a way.” – Vincent van Gogh

As God loves his followers,
so the sun loves her flowers.
You’ve never seen disciples like these –
they raise and bow their heads to her,
they sway like women in church,
they never turn their backs.

The closest I ever came to a religious experience
I was hovering like a hesitant bumblebee
in the French countryside, the day
I tried to pick one from the edge of its field

I wrestled with its stalk for minutes
before my uncle eased my hands away
and snapped it for me.

Because my fingers were gentle and incapable,
I carried my stolen gift to a grave
in Auvers-sur-Oise where I laid it six feet
above a painter’s bones

and I swear he was breathing at my neck,
nothing heavy, nothing threatening,
just grateful –

gentle and incapable
of grabbing me by the wrist
and pulling me up by the roots.

I know you, I thought.
I know that hesitancy.

The realization came like water from the dirt,
it came to me earthy, it came to me holy,
pure as an epiphany at the altar.

This is the closest to God
I’ll ever be.