Tag Archives: inspiration

Anti-Vacation

I ran, but reality hunted me
all the way to a remote beach in North Carolina
where, in the widest water of the world,
a mother lost her child.

No, I was not safe even there
where I sank down into the sand,
a body yearning for early burial,
my hands swirling in the tide pool like
slow fish.

Peace and quiet.
These were the two words I held in my mind like a prayer,
a plea against gunfire and terrorists, trucks and Trump,
racial tension and the raping of women.
For a week, I wanted to be spared
the horrors of humans.

But the mother howled and howled like an animal,
fell to her knees in the surf and let loose
the ghosts in her throat.

There are no safe spaces left to us.
No movie theater, nightclub, city street,
no concert or lazy beach.

There is no vacation from our histories
and bodies and endless thoughtless
tragedies. They follow us everywhere,
like the eyes of a cat in the dark.

It became a story in my head then.
Where was the beginning, middle, end?
The narrative arc? The climax and resolution?
This woman could not stand on the shores of my mind
screaming forever.

I needed closure.
I needed the story.

So I turned back – because I had to know –
did she find her daughter?
Was this an ending I could live with?

How horribly selfish of me,
how innately artistic of me
to make this all about myself

but even the sun beat down like the eye of God,
because He too needed confirmation:
was this His fault?

There is no vacation from the horrors
that creep in every corner
like rats and fleas with black death
in their teeth.

The story goes like this:
she found her daughter.

But long after they were gone
I stood looking out into the dark water,
trying to make sense of its coming and going

and to find some word of comfort in the cries
of a single seagull circling
overhead.

What to Write Poems About

At fourteen I wrote them about glass and coffee
and self-identity. Like a bird I screeched my sentience
from telephone wires.

At fifteen I wrote poems about writing poems,
an embarrassing amount, really.
Like any honest teenage writer
I was more enthralled with the idea of art
than art itself.

“I’m a poet,” I announced to a world half-listening,
and roasted those words until they were overdone
and rough as leather. I admit, in those early days
I did not know how to be tender.

At sixteen I turned with a hardened heart
to the way of Plath, depression, darkness
and macabre feminine ballads.
That was no place to stay

so at seventeen, having passed through the
three levels of novice writer hell,
I dug in my nails and crucified myself
on paper.

And now at the ripe age of nearly-nineteen
I write them about spiders and alcoholics,
violins and violence, ocean waves and
wavering conviction

not to mention
feminism and France and sunflowers
and goodness and God
and you.

Meeting Michelangelo

You should never meet your heroes.
Ah, but how many times have I heard a stale cliché
and proceeded to ignore it?

A month ago today I met the author of The Book Thief
and stood like an ant before a mountain,
trembling in my bones beside
the fullness of him.

Who was I, to this man?
I knew every crack and crevice of his story
and he did not even know my name.

He was about my height, actually.
He was not ancient and he was not towering,
had neither black cape nor scepter
nor raven perched upon his shoulder.

He was not grey and wise,
he did not have marble universes in his pocket
or shoot fire from his eyeballs.

I had wanted to convey in pure poetic genius
that his book carved me into a person
the way Michelangelo chipped away
at marble and found David inside

but all I managed to do was hold out my copy
and stammer, Thank you.
Thank you so much,
for this.

He did not – as one might suppose –
strike me with lightning.

Rather, he put his arm around me.
The hand that wrote my favorite novel
hung for a moment around my waist
as he told me he cried to write the ending
I cried to read.

How human he was, then.
How the stone crumbled, with a single tap,
to reveal a face just like mine.

Bird and Worm

Before the bird eats the worm
it looks to me for forgiveness.

How do you tell nature it is not evil?
How do you promise there is nothing barbaric
about the way it stabs its beak into the earth
and uproots a body?

The animals were the first
masters of war, after all;
before we had rifles and bombs
they had tooth and claw

and knew how to strike a weak spot –
throat and eye and
soft underbelly.

But I was wrong about the bird.
It was not asking for forgiveness,
it was not even looking at me.

Nature, it seems,
does not need permission
to be what it is.

NaPoWriMo as Cardioversion

For Johnny, and the resurrection of our creative selves.

Today’s poem rests atop a precarious
pile of essays and to-do lists
and unfinished emails.

This, I have to remind myself,
is the important work

this: my art,
the heart of my life,
that I must sometimes shock
back into beating.

Spring Cleaning

Your mind is a house with all the curtains drawn.
Don’t you know I would come marching,
feather-duster in hand,
to clear away the dirt and the darkness,
to put away the dishes,
to replace the bone
your dog has been gnawing
for months now.

But instead, you are there,
in your body, and I am here,
in mine

and no amount of dusting
can fix a rotting floorboard
or a ceiling nearing collapse.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.