If Not for Silence

If Not for Silence

In their mad Sufi dance words whirl off tongues

loose as hot snakes as we struggle to speak with rudiments—

mostly we quarrel, walk away, but sometimes manage

to weave them like a lovers’ embrace beneath that open-voweled moon,

which vacillates between  the startled suck of air through pursed lips

and a night so long that, shy, she slips beyond the sun’s unerring watch.

Words electrify nerves till air feels like a panther lapping our luminous skin,

but it is silence that exposes our fiery hearts to serpentine tongues,

silence that would strip our marrow if not for the pulsing muteness

of flesh kneading flesh, of snakes and stars and moon-shackled seas.

Thank you to the editors of Hot Flashes 2 for first publishing this poem.

Hot Flashes

Touch

Touch

flicker-soft hand flashes

daylight  starlight

hand to cheek

skin palmed

my ring that non-transgressable line

but this

snow-blind animal need

shared by grooming apes

and dogs sleeping entwined

the feel of sun of flesh on skin

has never been about sex but that

animal need to know we are not islands

or stones tossed out to sea, as we

breathe the same air, molecules shared,

pulse to pulse

in this brief habitation of skin

Thank you to the editors of 5AM for first publishing this poem.

5AM

What Surprised Me Most

What Surprised Me Most

beneath surgery-bright restaurant lights

was the unspoken collusion of employees and patrons

to ignore the bone-defined man as he tapped thin-paned glass to beg for food.

He shoved skeletal hands toward his gaping mouth as if to fill the gnawing

we could not imagine while digesting pasta and merlot rather than

our muscles to survive as this man’s body had, his hollowed face

pleading as he mimed across the chasm of language, culture, class.

After the waiter returned our leftovers, snug in styrofoam,

I took them across the restaurant, my legs heavy beneath reproach’s

hypnotic weight from those unwilling to squander rules of etiquette

that weave the fabric that insures our warmth as others freeze.

Once outside I saw him, through my breath, accept a dollar from

two spike-heeled women as they scuttled from a restaurant across the street,

yet money’s a tool for future trade, no immediate relief for the churning gut.

Drunk with hunger, he wavered in the crosswalk till a horn startled him

back to the curb. Waving, I caught his eye, offered the bright box. Our eyes

locked yet he wouldn’t move, suspended in a code more compelling than

hunger’s desperation, a code older than the south and dangerous as asphyxiation.

Cloaked in privilege, I left our paltry leftovers on the metal bus stop bench

and returned to the restaurant’s glare, each of us visible through glass walls.

He sprinted across the street, gulped what would have been tomorrow’s lunch,

threw away the box, and returned to the window beside us.

He smiled, waved, tried to thank me, but I saw him only peripherally,

embarrassed to accept gratitude for so little before he walked away.

Thank you to the editors of decomP magazinE who first published this poem.

decomP

The Expectations We Bring

The Expectations We Bring

You will cradle the small of my back, draw

my tongue, my flesh, to your mouth, bring

me to the edge of death, of life, each night.

Laughing, we’ll prepare roasted peppers,

transparent layers for spanakopita,

swordfish coated green with pesto,

and talk while our children play.

I will massage your long-muscled

back, read you to sleep, soothe you

when nightmares or fevers come.

You will always love me; we will say

each other’s name as prayer

and the answer to prayer;

I will listen to your every word,

even those unspoken.

But what of nights when my skin grows

cold, your muscles plaited, our names

catching in clenched throats?

Thank you to the editors of MPC Anthology VI for first publishing this poem.

MPC

The Possibility of Hands

Possibility of Hands

I hold your hand

palm up, lace your

fingers with mine,

stretch the palm wide

so my thumbs can press

tight muscles into pools

of softened warmth;

open, your hand could

slap a child’s face,

brush away crumbs,

press the sternum for

resuscitation,

shape the sides of

a porcelain bowl

while fingers curved could

pull a trigger—crosshair

parting the bridge between

eyes, press rounded keys to

blow jazz through

brass, suture severed

flesh with catgut and needle—

within this skin

no purpose but life.

Thank you to the editors of Poets for Peace and http://lit.carayanpress.com for publishing this poem.

Inception

Inception

She asks,

wants him

to be the first.

As if the other

were a ripened peach,

easily bruised,

they time their movements

to the ancient

pulse of

hearts

then

seas.

Sharp tears through

hidden flesh

steal her breath.

They stop,

begin again;

relentless clock counts towards curfew.

Soothed by his hot sweet breath,

she rests in his embrace—

linear time shifts to the relative distance

between innocence and experience;

she arches,

accepts whispers

fingers

lips

as he eases her through

surmountable pain.

Her chrysalis rips,

new life emerges:

the harsh sun

scent of clary sage

wings drying in a warm breeze.

Thank you to the editors of Hot Flashes: sexy little stories and poems for first publishing this poem.

Hot Flashes

Conjuring

traced path

Conjuring

Pursuing the brilliance of scarlet macaws, the insides of blood oranges, a blue so deep wind scrapes spray off the crests of waves, I remember the shock of blue against black in the face of our Siamese cat who had asthma like me. The runt of the litter, he would play till he collapsed, a hump of fur, sides heaving, mouth open, eyes closed, thin high wheezes accompanying each impossible breath. I’d massage him when he wheezed and couldn’t understand why he was put to sleep. In the following weeks I hid in my room when I had asthma, scared the next time it would be me. Or that I’d be sent away like my older sister who rarely called and was only spoken of when I asked, though I knew better. She juggled oranges, made dimes disappear before pulling them from my ears, and tickled me till laughter and her fingers were all that existed, masking even that keen longing for my father’s return.

I’d watch for him on commercials with tall smiling men holding their daughters and in the families saved by Casper and Mighty Mouse. I craved him as other kids told how their dads were lawyers like Perry Mason, doctors like Kildare, or were so strong they built houses and carried their kids around piggyback. I knew if I were good enough he wouldn’t be dead anymore. He’d come back if I did what I was told, was nice, always smiled. I felt him in the large arms of men and reached for him as I placed my feet on top of another man’s huge shoes, my arms stretching up, our hands holding as he walked, my feet and body shadowing his beneath uncontrolled laughter. My father became my guardian angel after I stepped alone onto the red ant nest hidden in rattlesnake grass. I screamed as their teeth tore flesh till large arms swept me up and carried me to cold water to dampen the hot sting.

Stinging like the night I packed my suitcase and ran away. Three blocks later I stashed my pink case, heavy and awkward in my six-year-old arms, behind Melissa’s neatly trimmed hedge. I didn’t know her well enough to ring the doorbell. I was unexpected, uninvited, yet she was the only girl whose house I recognized as it got dark. Peering through the opening between ivory drapes, I saw their dining room table set for dinner, her brothers playing beyond, and was startled by her father when he turned the corner of the outside of their house and asked what I was doing. Scared to say I’d run away, I asked if Melissa could play. As he pulled the long metal rod off the chain link fence, inserted it onto the sprinkler unit, and turned the water on full, he told me it was late, I should be home, out of the dark. I nodded, walked toward my house till he went inside, and then returned. Hugging the shadows, I watched them talk and laugh as her father cut thick slices of roast beef. I stared through that narrow lens of window and strained to hear words, learn their language.

When it got too cold, I went home. My mom, draped in diamonds and a low-cut red-sequined dress, was about to leave for cocktails. She said she knew I’d be back, that I had nowhere to go. I went to my room, pulled toy soldiers out of my closet, set up the lines of defense, before she called me back, told me to fix the lower hinge, loose and squeaky, on her bedroom door. I tightened and oiled the hinge just as I would later tighten and oil the wheels and handlebars on my bike to ride the fire trails behind our house. Rubber scraped from my soles as I skidded round curves and clutched my handlebars as firmly as I had gripped the barrel of the rifle when I was seven. Aiming for cans, I pulled the trigger, my shoulder mottled blue, yellow, green, from the rifle slamming against my too thin body. But I kept pulling, conjuring my father in the activities of men.

And myself in the motion of animals. I would leap over objects with the fierce gallop of horses, move with the stealth of the great horned owl that rose like an apparition across a too huge autumn moon, or run with the cunning of the mouse beneath my red plastic wheelbarrow. Our best mouser couldn’t squeeze her tiger-striped face under the barrow so she placed her front paws on top of it, perhaps to jump, but it tilted and moved forward. The mouse paced itself to remain underneath so our cat stopped periodically to sweep her clawed paw between the wheels unsuccessfully before returning to her hind legs to push farther. Near the cabbage plants the mouse darted into shadowed green. Tracing my finger through air, I tracked the means of escape.

Thank you to the editors of Kalliope for first publishing “Conjuring.”

Obrigada

thank you iris

Obrigada

What if the first word we learned

in another language

was not toilet, how much,

or even where, but instead

thank you;

would we see past lines of experience,

the stumbling of innocence,

broken teeth, exquisite eyes,

to each person’s essence,

the miracle of existence,

and be grateful for a form

that could say gracias, dhanyavaad,

tak, xìe xìe, spasibo, danke, shokran?

Thank you to the editors of Marin Poetry Center Anthology VI for publishing “Obrigada.”

MPC

Hounds

houndsjpgHounds

When first approached, their

tails gently thump thump thump

yet I have watched these hounds

shred deer to bone licked

clean by ferocious tongues.

Sleeping, they seem no more

than lanky pups, glittering

canines concealed, but virile musk

urges them awake, famished,

no longer kenneled in dreams.

Thank you to the editors of California Quarterly for first publishing “Hounds.”

CA Quaterly