To-Do List

Leave your windows open.
Wake the birds with your singing.
Be first to apologize and last to leave parties.
Make music amid the cacophony of universal gibberish.
Protest something.
Say “I love you” to someone who will not say it back.
Embrace feminist doctrine.
Avoid churches.
Worship in libraries.
Pet every cat you come across.
Vote.
Engage strangers in philosophical debate.
Read Russian literature.
Taste your words before you say them.
Cry at funerals.
Plant your seed of creativity where the education system will not uproot it.
Befriend anarchists and revolutionaries.
Initiate conversation with the sky.
Knock before entering.
Compassion over condemnation always.
Pens over guns always.
Make to-do lists.
Write poetry instead.

Something Less than Naked

He says “Take off your skin,”
so I do – shrugging off the weight of myself like a coat
that never really kept me warm, anyway.
He stands behind me and helps me out of it,
pulling off the sleeves, fumbling with the buttons and zippers
until every bit is peeled away to reveal the
floating mass of bones I’ve always been.
Not naked – something less than naked,
something secret and private and personal.

He says, “Let me see your insides,”
so I show him – prying back ribs to expose a frantic heart
trapped like a bird too long in its wire cage.
He says, “You are more than any sorrow that has laid its hands on you,”
bending my bars and inviting me out.

He puts his hand on my skull,
claims he can feel its thoughts moving right under his palm.
He puts his ear to my lungs,
swears he can hear the last echo of the Big Bang deep in my core.

He says, “You are older than the universe itself. Tell me how it’s been.
Tell me how you swallowed history, coughed out its wars
and made your peace with the rest of it.”

He says, “Show me how you click on and off again.”
He says, “Tell me about the first time you ever flicked a light switch and
what it meant to hold darkness in your hands.”

He says, “Bring your body to my doorstep – leave it on the mat with your shoes.
Come with your thoughts and heartbeat only.”

I’m barely down his street, thinking my thoughts and beating my heart
and he’s already pulling his door open with a smile left over from yesterday
saying, “Girl, I could hear that parade from a mile away.”

In Dreams We Also Die

Last week a boy said to me before class,
“I had a dream about you the other night. We died in a car accident together.”
I drove with him once, in real life, the night he told me he hated being alive
and I wanted nothing more than to kiss the sentence off his lips.
One hand on the steering wheel like an itch – the night he could’ve run us off the road
but didn’t.

In dreams we look for picnic blankets and cherry blossoms
and instead I brought you blood, a shattered windshield,
a bouquet of broken bones.
Like the pen that drains its ink in the middle of a thought
I am always running out of fuel and
I’m sorry I couldn’t get you someplace better.

I’m sorry we had to lay the blanket down here.
I’m sorry about the lack of cherry blossoms.

In reality I haven’t talked to that boy in weeks
but our dream selves are lying dead somewhere
hand-in-hand, staring sightless at the sky
and I will carry the weight of it with me always.

But anyway, it was just a dream.
Silly me. Silly us.

I told you once in a dream that I loved you.
You licked your thumb thoughtfully, flipped
through the pages of your dream oracle and mumbled
“Interesting. I wonder what that means.

My World Was Created in Fourteen Days

A memory waiting to be remembered
taps me politely on the shoulder first,
then shoves me hard –
pulling my hair, tugging my shoelaces,
forcing me back into a pile of my past
where I land on the soft July grass
that grew me like my mother’s body,
bringing me into the world a second time.

This is where I was reborn and raised:
this little college campus that held me in its heart,
swaddled me in the warmth of its people and its poetry,
fed me Ohio sunshine and baptized me in campfire smoke.
I watched sixteen years unfold in the span of two weeks.
I watched my feet grow farther and farther away
as I grew into the sky like a vine twisting its way up a tree,
the only growth spurt that ever mattered.

Those fourteen days, like the fourteen lines of a sonnet,
coming together to tell the story of my renaissance period.

I am not sure I believe in an afterlife,
but if it exists, I hope mine is this:
fourteen students and a writing instructor
biting the tips of their pens,
sucking the world in through their teeth
and blowing it out like cigarette smoke,
the kind that’s harmless as water vapor,
the kind you could never, ever die from.

Stardust

“I stared up at the ebbing quarter moon and the stars scattered like a handful of salt across the faraway sky…” – Billy Collins

I love them, the astrophysicists,
with their multiverse theories and galactic models
and ways of explaining the stars.
I love to sit at their feet – a reverent toddler
in a room of buzzing adult conversation –
listening to them go on
in words I don’t understand
about black holes and dark matter,
the mechanics of space and time.

I of course have my own theories –
a vague belief that stars have hearts like ours
that swell as they exhale their hydrogen
in a small, sad sigh.

Because of course it would be sad, burning out
after ten billion years of watching time unfold.
Of course it would feel a bit like turning the TV off
in the middle of your favorite program.

I look out my window and see a flurry
of broken hearts poking holes in the sky –
hearts that have long stopped
beating in ancient chests.

I too have impressive abstract ideas.
A true observer of the universe, I’ve studied and
catalogued recurring behavior in a dream notebook.

Infinity, for example, likes to crouch hidden behind a nightstand
upon which rests a single book of poetry.
Love-struck, it plants a passing kiss on the hand of the girl
who reaches out in the dead of night
for one last conversation with Billy Collins.

The Poetry Section of the Local Library Grows Ever Smaller

The poetry section of the local library grows ever smaller.
I return day after day to stand under the flickering lights,
watching the deterioration of the shelves
as they starve and shrink and finally collapse into a heap on the floor.

I assume it is the work of a thief, coming and going in the night,
his arms cradling the volumes, the anthologies, the collections
that no one will ever read again.

Today Shel Silverstein is missing.
I blow a kiss to the empty space as a final salute
before returning to my car, defeated.

Every night a new set of words is hauled away,
carried out like a sack of dirty laundry to clear space for
dusty memoirs and eight copies of Knitting for Dummies.

Today, near closing time, I caught the thief
tiptoeing by, casually slipping T.S. Eliot
into the pocket of his oversized trench coat.

I followed him home, waited for him to
retire to bed before sneaking down to his basement
where those lost books huddled together like kidnapped children.
With all the compassion I could summon, I touched my hands
to their trembling spines and whispered low:
There are still people in this town who need you.
Come home.

Staring Contest

What does it mean to have vision?
Like, REAL VISION?
You clutch my wrists like I have answers
And you can shake them out of me.
I’m afraid “vision” means a lifetime of
Staring the world in its ugly face.
I should warn you that the world never blinks.

It hurts to see,
I say, as I pass a pair of surgical scissors
From my hands into yours.
It hurts to cut your lids off and
Live with open eyes forever.

Poet and Beast

It’s not about dropping words like stones down wells,
Listening to the clanks and clunks ricochet off the walls
As you hover near the edge, pleased with your senseless noise-making.

It’s about dropping yourself down the well.
It’s about human skin against stone –
That warm slap that wakens the blood
And can be heard for miles.

It’s about getting inside, you know?
Crawling into the English language
Like a wounded animal and
Curling up beside its pounding heart.

That’s the music.
The steady thump, thump of it going on
In its endless monologue.
You sync your words with the swelling of its lungs
And hope they sound like keys of an accordion
Breathing in dust and bellowing out clouds.

The beast at the bottom of the well
Has never bared its teeth at me.
At night I bury myself in its fur and
We move as one – a slow,
Steady intake of breath.
In the dark, when it’s hardest to tell
Poet from beast,
I can almost convince myself
We’re of the same body.

The Flowers that Grow in the Midst of Hell

“Because the world is so full of death and horror, I try again and again to console my heart and pick the flowers that grow in the midst of hell.” ― Hermann Hesse

I follow him into the midst of hell,
For he leads me not into the fire,
But into the gardens –
To pick Satan’s most wild flower
From right under his nose.

My rebellion, my love –
I wear it in my hair always.

Ode to Dorian Gray

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us.
What matters is the part we choose to act on.
That’s who we really are.”
No, sorry, that’s a Harry Potter quote.
I hope you won’t mind me sending vibrations down
The literary crossing of threads.

I want to meet your parallel universe self –
You know, the one that didn’t exchange his soul for eternal youth.
He might look like my great-grandfather,
The one who spent his life carving clocks,
Filling his house with hundreds of them,
A chorus of bombs
Ticking away the seconds of his life.
He might hold one in his shrinking, wrinkling hands
And smile like he’s been given a gift.

But that’s not the person Wilde wrote,
And that’s not the person I’m writing to.
You made Time your enemy –
Locking it away in the attic
Instead of spreading it out
On your walls.

I know you recognize yourself in me
Like the father that can see his own face
Along the curves of his daughter’s –
Watching himself repeat in time.

And yes, I have been afraid of death.
I’ve stayed up all night
Contemplating my bedroom ceiling
Sick to my stomach with the thought
That I might not wake up to it again.
Those were the times I put pen to sandpaper
And scratched my psyche away.

I’m not so naïve as to deny
The raw materials are there.
All it would take is a Lord Henry
To come along and sculpt them
Into a monster-looking thing
Of clay, and hair, and dry skin –
One with jagged teeth and
A wicked grin.

Because the essence of monster
Is in both of us.

I think the difference between you and I
Is that I cracked my monster –
Wrote it poetry to chew on
And broke its teeth.
You gave yours legs and
Taught it to walk.

Humanity from Afar

I prefer to peer at humanity
From behind my mother’s back –
Behind a veil of protection,
A window that looks out onto rain
While shielding me from it.

I walk through the long hall of history
With my eyes fixed on its pictures.
I stumble through a sea of trash
To touch my hand to the painting
Of a long-dead artist,
To clutch at it like my last connection
To the race I come from.

Tell me I’m not alone.
Tell me there’s someone else
Who loved the sun, the moon, the stars
And that they laid them out on canvas
For me to find again.

Show me humanity created something
Worth looking at.

Invention of the Sunrise

“He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.” – Jean Luc Godard

Why?
Why did I pitch myself
Into it,
Headfirst off the diving board
Into the kiddie pool,
Why did I ignore the words at my feet:
Shallow water?

When the bottom is one-dimensional
I convince myself I can peel back
Its husk and hit another layer.

I stare into blank concrete
And think
There has to be more to this.
I clutch a phone
And shout over its static
I think it’s trying to tell me something.

There are beginnings
At the end
Of endings.
I go in search of them.

Wait for me.

Why?
Because I’ll tell you what it looks like.
Let me be your window to Armageddon.

The blood from my recent diving accident
Has seeped through the floor
Into a ceiling beneath

And Jesus God, it’s coloring

The sky.

*Update: I’ll be gone for a trip this upcoming week but will return January 2nd. Have a Happy New Year, everyone!

Outgrowing Vision

Life is a rotating assembly line of eyeballs
And trying on each pair until one fits.
They are a bit like shoes, I suppose –
Getting worn down and bent out of place
With the traversing of roads and time.

That’s life, too.
You trip on your way out the door
And the heel of your shoe snaps.
You open another door
To find your lover in bed with your best friend
And there’s a hazy cloud in your line of sight
That was not there before.

At what point did you outgrow your vision?
Or when did you shrink inside of it,
The curve of your pupils shying away
From all you wanted to avoid seeing?

So here we are at the eyeball fitting factory.
Choose your color and size.
Customize your cornea – determine exactly
How much light to let into your head.

The trick is to pick your eyes
Like you’d pick your shoes.
Pick the eyes that make you feel
Like you can outrun the world.

When Asked About My Creative Process

This is what works:
Lure your poems out of the shadows
With breadcrumbs, cooing softly
At them like some lost baby bird.

Don’t circle them wielding a knife.
Don’t try death threats
And blackmailing.
Refusing to be held hostage,
Gnawing through bars
And raking themselves over barbed wire,
Poems would rather be bloodied and broken
Than trapped down in your cellar.

Don’t try scaring them.
Don’t wave flashlights in their faces
And try to blind them
Into running into your arms –
They’ll grow new eyes
And always colder ones.

Don’t try death and resurrection.
Poems lay limp when you shove
Stakes through their hearts,
Never alive long enough to utter
Insightful dying words.

This is what I’ve learned:
Collect the wood when you find it.
Stand where the sun shines fiercest.
And if – if you can rub stones just the right way,
Build fires.

Then wait to see if any come out of the dark
To huddle around you for warmth.