A Reading Recommendation

To they who scale apple trees and shake the branches until fruit falls,

I say: read the collected poems of Robert Frost.

If you take your tea in the morning hours, this is for you.

If you have ever wondered why birds sing in the day

and cicadas scream at night, take this.

Take it if you love December sun and August rain,

if you delight in the misplaced and the nonsensical.

If a firefly has ever caught you.

If you have ever watched an egg fall from a nest

and lunged to save it.

If you forget names but remember faces,

if you forget words but remember feelings,

if you forget the shape of the body but remember

the touch of its flesh — I have just the thing.

To they who live for the crunch

of leaf underfoot and apple under teeth,

I say: read the collected poems of Robert Frost.

Everything I Wanted to Say to Him August 11th at the Local McDonald’s

I was ten minutes late to the best night of my life —
the night I sat across a booth from a boy in plaid
who, in a moment of pure poetic clarity,
told me God is a place.

((But more about that later))

Across the table, I studied you like a student
confronted with a new philosophy.
I wanted to take you apart and see how you worked,
hold your gears in my hands and watch them turn,
is there a beating heart at the base of this machine?
Hey, I see you –
past the anarchist, past the guitarist, past the angry wayward poet,
I peel off the skin and get to the core of your apple,
the cream, the vanilla, everything that is sweet and milky about you.

But hey, can you take me to God?
Do you have His address?
Can you drop me off on the doorstep
and ring the bell?

You see, the Christians – they’ve got it all wrong, you say.
I’ve stumbled across God in grocery stores
more often than in churches,
I’ve seen His face more clearly in tree bark than in stained glass windows.
God is a park bench every homeless man stops to rest his broken beaten body
God is a car with a stalled engine, abandoned on the side of the freeway
God is a dumpster on the corner of Despair and Anguish Avenue
where humanity throws away its hurt and its suffering –
to understand God, you have to crawl in and sit amongst the garbage –
I have been inside the mind of God,
have you ever been INSIDE God?

Your eyes are electric with the question
they pick me up and turn me over like an hourglass
and I watch in amazement as my sand starts flowing
who knew time was so alive
who knew it could be resurrected
who knew flipping everything upside down
could get you running properly again?

You’re too busy dismantling my world
to see how hopelessly, stupidly in love with you I am –

because you’re ME turned inside out,
and I want to understand you the way
a skeleton craves understanding of its body –
how do you hold it all IN?
You are an inversion,
an upside-down, inside-out,
tangled knot in a ball of yarn
and I want to see everything
from your perspective.

Where do you end?
How deep do you go?
You are a well I could drop a stone into
and never hear it hit bottom.

God is a noun –
person, place, or thing –
you remind me that God is a concept
we’ve never stopped trying
to slap a label on.

Oh, and thank you for pulling me outside
after we had already said goodbye
and pointing upwards and saying
LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL THE SKY IS RIGHT NOW
and it was a curtain half-eaten by moths
and Van Gogh’s Starry Night blue –

God, did you know how beautiful you were?
Your eyes glistening like a child seeing a firefly for the first time
your hand callous and sweaty over mine
because you couldn’t leave, you couldn’t drive away
without showing me the sky first.

Did you mean it when you said God is a place?
God is a place, you said,
God is a place –
well, I’ve been on the hunt –
find me in your local graveyard,
tripping over tombstones –
searching for a living voice
in the lost land of the dead –

In France I drove through a field of sunflowers,
their heads all raised in the same direction
as if looking to heaven for answers –
so when you think of sunflowers,
I hope you think of us

and that night we stood shoulder-to-shoulder
beholding that blessing of a night sky

I don’t think God’s a person,
I think He’s somewhere you are –
and there we were standing
in God’s beating heart

You told me God is a place –
I think God is a McDonald’s parking lot
and tonight I’m coming home to Him.

I must apologize for my extended absence. I’m starting my first year of college, and it has left little time for poetry.

Musician in More Ways than One

Sometimes I forget I am a musician –
the way an ant probably forgets
it is an ant.

It comes as postscript,
once I’ve already introduced myself and the words
“I’m a writer” have been repeated
to the thousandth person to ask.

I wonder why I consider it
a P.S. at the end of my autobiography –
this ability to hold a violin
and somehow convince it to speak –

and then I remember how it feels
to hold a pen over paper,
so much like holding a bow over strings,
and I realize there is more than one way
to make music.

Love Letter to Janet Fitch’s White Oleander

On the inside back cover
of my library-borrowed copy
is a list of everyone who has ever
checked out this book and loved it enough
to claim temporary ownership.

The names lined up neat and orderly
as items on a grocery list –
people brought together by happenstance,
sliding their names one after the other
like beads on some invisible string.

I cast my eyes over the crowd
that has gathered here,
listen to their whisperings:
“God, what a story.”
“So beautiful I cried.”
“I thought I was the only one.”

It is a family I would like to be a part of
so I add my signature to the stack,
scrawling it out like I’m painting on a cave wall –

in the hopes that I may be preserved here,
that someday a girl like me
will run her fingers across the ancient ink,
these sloping As and Ls,
and know that someone
once cradled this book before her —
passing it into her hands
like a baby to its mother,
as if to say

This is yours to love your whole life.

Poem-Picking

I pick poems from my mind
like berries from a bush,
reaching to where they grow thickest –
those far-up places they can stretch out
and whisper to the sun.

Some days the bush is bare,
leaving me to scavenge
the spoiled and rotten fruit
at its base.
Some days the berries are
bursting with juice and
I’m just too tired
to lift my arms and
harvest them.

And some days,
on a day like today –
when the sun smiles
and the breeze lingers –
I emerge triumphant
from my garden,
a basketful of them
swinging by my hips.

Greetings! If you are reading this, I am currently in France, where I will be exploring and picking poems for the next four weeks . My blog will remain active, as I have four more pieces scheduled to publish themselves, but I will not be here in person until late July. See you then!

Bearing Witness

I wish to look at the world
the way my cat does:
unflinchingly,
often for hours as a time.

I wish my eyes could
sit in my skin like that –
glossy marbles floating
in the black universe of his fur –
forever bearing witness,
forever documenting
the happenings of my backyard.

It astounds me —
how he can stare into the heart of a window,
refusing to turn aside

even as a bird is torn to shreds
on our front lawn,
chirping for mercy
at the talons of a hawk,

how he can watch with cool detachment
while I, with my human heart,

look away.

Eggshell Heart

Day after day you pick at your heart like an eggshell
or the way a vulture might pick at roadkill,
peeling back the membrane, the layers, the skin.
Feel this, you instruct it,
pinching its fleshy softness between your nails.
Feel that, you say,
pointing to the bird lying dead on your lawn.
You press your thumb into its sides
until it bruises purple –
watching the color bloom
violent under your fingers.
You tell it to ache.
You tell it to throb.
You tell it to do
its goddamn job.

Mouse and Snake

Once in ninth grade
my class huddled together
as the science teacher lowered a mouse by its tail
into the snake terrarium.

My peers whooped and hollered,
their faces bright with horrific glee
as I, social recluse, finally saw it:

the ring of humanity,
and how I existed on its fringes.

Neither the feeder nor the fed,
but the observer
of the violent order of things,
wringing her hands and watching in mute horror
as life swallows itself.

To Live the Way the Fishes Do

Always the sense that I didn’t appreciate it enough –
This poem, that my eyes skim over
In the early hours of the morning
Like skates across the surface of a frozen pond.

Always the sense that I could’ve dug my heel in –
Cracked it and observed the fish at the bottom
Circling in their own cadences,
Darting in their own directions.

I read it aloud to taste it.
Perhaps if the words sweep over my vocal chords
Like water over a set of gills
I can begin to understand and
Live the way the fishes do –

Here at the bottom of the pond,
Here at the bottom of the poem,
Alive in the bowels of this lifeless thing.

Different Breed of Poetry

My friend Logan writes the kind of poetry
that eats itself –
that gouges its eyes out
and fingers the bloody caverns.

His is a poetry that’s fascinated
with the empty spaces in its body –
poetry with a mouthful of cavities,
that spits out a tooth
with each sentence it speaks.

I want to write the kind of poetry
that roars in the face of such obscenity –

instead of whimpering
and lowering its head
in disgrace.

Hunger

The need to break the world down into bite-size pieces
you can fit in your mouth – to taste every continent,
wrap your tongue around every rock,
melt with your saliva the lines we have drawn in the sand,
the idea that human can be separated from human.
Lie with me in this non-space, this no-man’s land.
You are drawn here the way insects are driven toward light
with furious hunger, the insatiable appetite
to consume all there is to be consumed
at a table reserved for no one.
Do you know what it means to crave?
You feel it along the lining of your stomach,
the way you’re shrinking from the inside out.
Let’s have a picnic.
In honor of every famine, every time our plates were empty,
let’s dine.
Break bread and drink wine.
Let’s eat in honor of everyone in human history who ever went hungry.
Take the food you need, take the love you need
on this checkered cloth we have laid over the earth
upon which weary travelers have stumbled for eons
in the endless quest for nourishment.
And once you have torn the last bit of meat from the last bone
with your cracked and crooked teeth
tell me if you feel better.
Tell me if you understand now.
Once your body has fallen silent and the universe along with it
tell me if you look to the stars, to the moon, to the space in between –
if you reach out your hands like a beggar digging into his pockets and
beg for your hunger back.

Mist

I feel emptied
like a perfume bottle
that’s gone and spit its
last lavender-scented breath.
After years and years
of puffing away,
attempting to mask
the stink of the world,
my last cloud of sugary mist
clings to the air,
desperate to clean it.
My words are bleach
seeking to purify –
filter and refine and sanitize –
succeeding only in yielding a stench
sickly sweet and somehow
worse than before.

Incapable of killing bacteria,
I float with it.

Reverse Gravedigger

An extension of my last poem.

My job is that of a reverse gravedigger.
Instead of burying people, I unearth them –
hold up their bones and announce: Here they are!
Look, they’re not gone! They lived, and it meant something!
The dirt under my fingernails is testimony
to how long I’ve been scratching at coffins,
trying to extract evidence of life.
It’s comforting to assign each skeleton an identity.
This one here: Queen Elizabeth I, my inspiration as a woman.
And these ashes: Van Gogh, my inspiration as an artist.
Perhaps someone will dig up my own ribcage one day –
cradling it like an ancient relic, swearing it once held King’s heart,
or Gandhi’s.
And maybe that’s all life is:
scavenging through graveyards,
holding each skull up to the light and
giving it a name.