Walking in My World While White

The man on the curb
with his socks pulled up high,
a Swisher Sweet parked in his mouth,

(no mask)

tells his friend in the car
that he wants to see this dog,
my dog, asks me what kind she is

then tells me

I don’t mean you no harm
I don’t mean you no harm

at least those two times, as if
I am making a silent calculation of risk
and whether I need to ruin his day

or end his life

by calling to say that I’m scared,
there’s just something off about him
my cellphone as weapon, deadlier

than anything he has
unless he has COVID
(but I only think of that


this morning I step forward,
say I know you don’t, twice,
at least (through my mask),

so he can pet my dog
and we can move along,
that much closer to 2021

and all it might bring us.



Why do I have to tell you this,
the surprising ways I failed myself,
failed all of us at 10 or 11 years old?

It’s like a picture of tiny waterfalls
where you can’t see the river system
just a twee little jigsaw puzzle of water
but you don’t know how it was crashing,
why I couldn’t save myself in time

I remember that green tile wall,
the prickly velvet of the bus seat
but not how old I was, or
where the bus was going (first
choir trip or second—?)

and when I tell the whole truth,
that’s when no one says


silence again
because a girl who was

wanted attention,
and when it found her,
when she was found
kept it for a while

pondered these things in her heart

Do I make you feel dirty, too?

He’s dead
I’m here

I’m the only one left to tell it



Or if It Was a Thing for Telling

I still lived in Little World then
Garfield books and the cabbage patch
a room painted peach, a box of seashells
a shoebox in my closet with a robin’s egg in it
a small world of other small worlds of boxes

so when he trapped me in the church kitchen
against the green tile wall, facing the double ovens
as my mother arranged egg-shaped candles
all down the long table in the other room,
when he smeared my glasses with the grease
from his cheeks, and then thanked me
for a kiss I never gave

I was as shocked as you are now, reading it

I didn’t tell because I didn’t know what to tell
or if it was a thing for telling. Instead, I went outside
to the church playground, to the top of the jungle gym

Little World

and I thought, Now I have a secret.
Everything has changed.

At last.



The game is to be tossed into leaves at the Halloween party.
a Coca-Cola bottling plant jumpsuit, a wolfman mask
You see? He is a funny monster now. It only feels like

boyfriend-girlfriend stuff.

The game is to ride on shoulders in summer,
around and around in a kidney-shaped pool,
your legs around his neck. Because you are


It feels like maybe you are a woman
in your mom’s magazine, in an ad for Tab
or diet ice cream bars,
skinny in a bathing suit.
You are in the sun, at last. Icarus.

Months go by, and something happens.

The game is that if you don’t want to be just in the chorus
in the Christmas pageant—if you want a part, like always—
you talk to him and he talks to his wife, and you are a camel.

By then, you are out of favor
but you can still ask for things
and get them



The world created limes,
and I didn’t know what to do with them.

I limn a whole other space
between spinal fluid
and sparks,

the candles everywhere

The Denver of my mind, or
a road, a hill, horses in snow,
Christmas lights on other houses,

but we’re not going home.

My mind is such a choir—Oh, Ginger,
Ginger, where are you now?

Where and how.


Does Found Poetry Count?

I spent a lot of time in the past week sifting through the project that I abandoned this past July — the one that’s referenced under my ridiculously cheerful photo here. It was good … I think. Or maybe it was all just a fun parlor game.

My concerns about what I wrote as part of that project are not regarding plagiarism; the phrases that I cut out (not literally, though I know that’s a whole thing) and then stitched together in new ways were so tiny that they don’t represent entire thoughts of any other writer.

My concern is this: Does a poem that is assembled from bits of stuff rather than — oh, I don’t know — either wafting in through an open window, perfect and entire, or being labored over for hours … I’m losing my train of thought, but anyway, does it count?

If I see interesting leaps where the poem becomes something dazzling that I would never have come up with on my own, is that enough for it to be a real poem? And if I have reason to believe that someone else using the same technique with the same material would come up with something completely different, was my mind present enough to say that this is my poem?

These questions are not meant to knock found poetry: I’ve read some great examples of it, and maybe you have, too — maybe without even realizing it. When it’s done well, I think the device often disappears, or it is just one clever aspect of a poem that also works in other ways. I know this about other people’s found poetry, but when I write it, I hold it suspect.

Do I need to get over this?


Here I Am Again, Again, Again (Part 2)

During the years that I have not been writing much poetry, I have found many ways (some better than others) to sublimate that yearning: tending a huge pollinator garden and raising butterflies, compulsive jigsaw puzzling, “Hey, why shouldn’t I binge-watch high-quality TV shows? Everyone else does.” Facebook.

One of the best, most enriching ways I’ve skated away from confronting my real creative self, and the way it most needs to speak, is by becoming involved with my local community theater group. Talk about ventriloquism! If I can feel some of that same satisfaction by delivering words that other people wrote, or by (my favorite — seriously, I love it) adapting a book into a script and helping it come to life, then maybe I never have to write another poem.

And if I don’t, then I never have to try to rub those sticks together again and find that they’re still just as damp, and confirm — again — that I just had that one spark, and that’s it.

This work has been satisfying, and real, even though it’s been a bit of a dodge. It has sustained me creatively and has also meant that I have a whole new community of good friends I would never have met otherwise, even though most of us live in the same neighborhood. I first came into it because my chapbook (my only one, remember) was made up of persona poems that lent themselves well to a dramatic reading. I intended to just direct that and then disappear, pretty much. But I didn’t — because I was fully welcomed into the group — and I’m so glad.

Most recently, I directed a staged reading (on Zoom, of course) of a very odd book of poetry, prose, and music. (I’m not going to mention it by name, for reasons, though the book has been out of print for quite a while.) My husband brought this book home for me this fall from one of the many Little Free Libraries near us because he thought it looked like something I would like. Indeed, this late writer shares a lot of my sensibilities and interests, and I thoroughly enjoyed the month or so that I spent adapting his book and directing others in how best to present the ideas that he no longer can on his own.

On the night of the reading itself, all of us (well, almost all — there’s always a crab or two) enjoyed this strange work and found ways that it connected with us, spoke to our own experiences, and enlarged our view of the world. Not once did I think that this writer didn’t deserve for his work to be presented because, while he achieved a decent measure of fame in his lifetime, he’s not as timelessly lauded as, say, Robert Frost.

Because it’s not a contest.

The theme of this writer’s whole book is the importance of being fully alive while one is alive, and that there is significance and dignity in even the smallest things that help us in that daily effort. If his words helped me feel that way for the month-plus that I worked on this project, if the actors and others I worked with felt some of that same vitality, and if all of us (including, or even especially the writer) gave our audience an hour of warmth, laughter, and contemplation on a December evening … isn’t that enough?

I was thinking about this while walking the dog this morning. What if, in a sense, I “adapted” my own work — meaning that I looked at my own writing as charitably as I do other people’s, sifted through to find what is the strongest and seems to work as some kind of whole, and presented it in a different form?

What different form? Ohhhh, a book is the most logical, and that way lies contests. But I promise, contests and prizes will not be the main point this time (a point — I am what I am). Instead, I hope to give my own work some of the same respect that I give to others’, to enjoy and admire some of it again, and to say that while it will always fall short of the goal — perfection! — it is also somehow enough. And real.

What’s next for this blog? I’m going to commit to one new post each week, whether it’s a poem, something like this, or a recap of any of my various dodges (for example, I finished a puzzle last night and am stalled out on Season Two of The Crown). It helps me to write like this, and if you’ve ever felt blocked in your writing or in whatever matters to you, maybe it helps you to read it. If it does, that would definitely be enough.


Here I Am Again, Again, Again (Part 1)

I’m just going to get this down, without any links or cleverness. My poetry writing has been deeply stalled out for a long time now, primarily by two events, one good and one bad:

1) winning a chapbook prize several years ago, and
2) the November 2016 U.S. presidential election and everything that occurred since.

It was a gift, an honor, and a thrill to win that contest and have a chapbook published. But as soon as it happened, it’s like I saw a tombstone in my mind. Seriously, I did — and on it was written the fact that this was the best and greatest thing I ever achieved in my writing life.

In the years since, I tried to prove that wrong by entering subsequent contests, the idea being that — though I’m not following the standard arc in many other ways (MFA, becoming a creative writing professor, etc.) — I would follow a standard path in which one prize led to another and another, and then I would sift through my little pile of chapbooks and assemble a book manuscript, and then that would win a prize and be published, and then … I would be a real poet at last.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, I entered one contest after another — $25 here, $30 there — and the most response I ever got was the slow, quiet golf clap of the honorable mention. Which, when added to the foul cocktail of insecurity that is my usual state of being, just served to further prove that my one win was a fluke and would never be repeated — and that therefore, I was not quite real or legitimate.

And then, the election. If you recall back when I was writing and posting a lot here, I like persona poems, weird themes, and funny tricks. Occasionally, I get into a confessional vein where I expose more of my real life. But I don’t do protest poetry well, or the kind of poem where it’s like “Lulling you with beauty/Painting a deceptively tranquil scene/Pulling the rug out from under you –/aha! — here is the ugly and violent truth.”

Guess how essential funny ha-ha weird poems have felt since November 2016? Yep. On the flip side, guess how self-indulgent and navel-gazing it has felt to consider writing about my own life experiences? Yep.

When babies are in cages, in all of our names, and I can’t write about that because I’m not good at it? How dare I write about anything but that?

OK, this has become a two-part post because life goes on around me and there’s more that I need to say. I will pick this up again later today because I’ve told myself I can’t do other, less essential things until I get this all out.