Every Other Pepper

Every pepper is not like every other pepper,
you know.
All peppers were not created equal.
There is a scale for intensity of heat,
or we can always arrange them by color,
which is not the same thing.
All peppers grow where a flower used to be.
That might be enough similarity.


A dVerse Poets Pub prompt based on a photo of an arrangement of peppers by Emily Blincoe.


Not My Cigarettes

It remains there, the pack of Marlboros on our back steps,
as proof of all of our righteousness, our nonsmoking
and our nonthieving. It’s been at least five days.
I looked in the pack one day. Quite a few left.
Some affinity swims in my DNA, but it’s submerged
under memories of yellowed curtains, bloody noses,
the constant fear of losing my mother. I know just
what a cigarette would feel like between my fingers,
the filter end firm yet yielding. But I left them there,
and so did everyone else, the unspoken Hey, are these
your cigarettes? lingering in fall air. Who could ask
such a thing? Would I go upstairs to the mother
of two little boys and ask her if she smokes? Tonight,
I’m doing laundry. I pass them on the way down,
again on the way up — not my cigarettes. Yours?


French Exchange

I was awkward and she was beautiful —
more so than the school picture she’d sent,
which led me to believe that she was awkward, too —
so when Celine arrived in Ohio with her black hair,
olive skin, and I swear to God, golden eyes,
I had to hate her at least a little.
So she befriended my mom instead, and maybe
it would have been better if my mom had visited
Caen and Paris the next summer, not me, because
I was still as awkward and she was still as beautiful.
But there I was, so I dreamed in another language
of flaming skeleton men playing violins in the sky,
and I went topless when I shouldn’t have gone topless
(I understood the permission but not the grammar)
and double cheek-kissed people needlessly.
Here is the old man in the wheelchair
on the cobblestones, playing a Casio keyboard
where maybe you expected an accordion.
Here we are at, What’s it called? The place
with the artists, not far from the white church
where I heard a busker singing, Cecilia, 
you’re breaking my ‘eart? (A stranger gave Celine
an ice-cream cone just because she was beautiful.)
Here I am, topless on a beach in Deauville,
about to get the sunburn of a lifetime. Here I am
on the plane home, wearing new clothes
purchased on street corners, trying to figure it out:
how to be a whole new person in my same old life.


Today, dVerse Poets Pub prompted us to write poems about travel.




A Found Dog and Lost Glasses, Another Dog

Do better than this,
the dreaming dog
at the other end of the couch,
your glasses returning to the earth
somewhere, unseen,
while the dog you didn’t choose
is not yet on a couch,
has nothing. What determines
the making of a choice?
Picking up one thing, laying down
another, or mislaying it?
A found dog and lost glasses,
another dog neither lost nor found.
It’s the in-between that gets you.
It’s the in-between.




Anthem of the Seas

I wish I were what you are,
my Anthem of the Seas,
cleaving into the storm
without care, a floating city
where all the life vests
have life vests — no one left
unsafe, alone — where we are
all sick together, all well
together, and then
through the worst at last.


At dVerse Poets Pub, we were asked to make a wish, and then I happened to see a story on Facebook about a cruise ship that keeps finding its way into tropical storms.


Darla, Just a Girl from Kentucky

Darla dances on tables,
showing her monkey face
and the scar from her latest
hysterectomy. She may have
children somewhere —
she doesn’t know or can’t say.
She used to hunt with small
men, for lions, she says;
she was sent on a riverboat
as a gift for the pharaoh.
Like most Americans,
Darla confuses genealogy
and autobiography, assumes
she can’t be loved without
a story better than her own.