Queen Arlene

I’m watching Lucy bite into a wax apple,

her jaw clenches shut and her eyes bulge

when she realizes it’s stuck

I can almost hear my grandma’s siren laugh

pierce through the cackling audience


I can see her sprawling toothy grin

pinch her cheeks tight beneath bouncing red curls

Her shirt is still caked with flour and

she pecks like a chicken at the scraps on the stove.


She hasn’t had a hot meal since she was a childless nurse

She’s too busy pacing and darting and stirring and sweating

She’s quick to tell her husband to get out of the kitchen

and even quicker to steal the punchline


She doesn’t talk much, but I follow her

around like a curious bee, trying to keep up

with her buzzing spirit


One day I’m watching her wipe the sink

when she asks what kind of cake I want for my birthday

I show her a picture I saw in a Barbie catalog,

the cake hugs Barbie’s tiny frame

in the shape of an elegant ballgown

She tells me she doesn’t know the recipe


Suddenly I’m nine and

she calls me to the kitchen for breakfast

Barbie is centerstage on the counter

with a flowing white gown made

of marbled cake and cream cheese frosting.

Her plastic arms dangle delicately over

a pink ribbon hem and she smiles at me

as if I’m invited to the ball.

My grandma’s face is downturned as she flips the pancakes,

trying to conceal a giddy grin.


If she would look up, she would see my eyes

are no longer fixed on the cake,

but on the nurse who healed an aching heart

with some frosting and a ribbon


I am the princess of a broken home

but she is my homecoming queen













And just like that

I’m back on the switch,

feet dangling over the edge,

the trampoline below

a milky fog beckoning

in hushed tones




the sky always opens in those moments,

its Jericho jaw swallows

the last kiss of regret

on my lips

as it steers me to Jordan


my thoughts of you span

the wings of condors

like black silk cutting through

the mist of that final morning

in Georgia, before


I don’t listen to the valley’s echo

any more than I listen to my own heart









I used to crouch in the dark

as if no one could see the light

trapped in my eyes


if I stayed down

no one would know

who put me there


when I finally saw you

when I really saw you

I realized I didn’t want to

back you into a corner

like she did to me


I wanted to bleed out

in vibrant, sunset red so you could see

how beautiful I could be


I am always scared

I keep pace with mice in cupboards

and blush when the sun steals glances

because I went without it

for so many years


yet here you are

in a room without blinds

and a house without corners









Another bird wearing

a prayer on each feather


Just like a dream,

but here I am in a seedy hotel bed,

another paper cup of bitter brown,

a tear in each pull


I used to lock fingers with the oak

in our front yard.

Today I locked eyes with that chesty hawk

and then with that wine-stained woman

wearing three decades of grief


She gave me six years with her stare

and I held her gaze like the oak

held my hand before I knew

how to hold my own


Now I hold my own

so I can hold hers, too




My eyes swell in a watery fog

imagining mammoths drowning in black tar bogs

Frantic limbs reaching for

the familiarity of home,

the final vision of that place as you sink


Sometimes when I’m sinking

I tilt my chin and discover the color blue

as if I had never seen it before.

As if I had lived my whole life

through tinted lenses and

god herself had broken them before me just now.

A final breath sits in my lungs

waiting for me to release it


When I finally let it go

I am on solid ground again

and I know that vision of home

every mammoth sees just before

its goes limp and accepts that

it was just a feeling,

the one I feel right now

as I go still


That is why I don’t fight anymore

I just let storms chase me

and fill my lungs with tar and

paint the whole world black when I cough


Because when the sky clears,

you can wipe up your mess

with the back of your sleeve,

and you realize you’ve never seen color like this,

not really.





“Go gather the kindling”

I stomp off into the brush,

knobby knees knocking me off kilter,

greasy hair matted to my neck.

This place has been scoured and smells

of sour milk and burnt plastic,

but I like that I can race my thoughts

around the pavement on training wheels

(I’m too old, but who has time

to teach a little one balance and courage

when you yourself are struggling to find it?)


You don’t speak except to remark every so often

on the splendor of the stars,

or that skunk that nearly

marooned our hard-fought fire.

What I wish I could tell you

is that I see the years to come.

I know we still won’t speak,

but we will always have these river grounds

in the recesses of our hearts

That quiet place where we COULD be quiet

Where screaming didn’t permeate 

our every cell and kill the calm.


I always thought of you as a snared rabbit

and I was some patch of parsnip 

waiting for you to notice me

so I could be your sustenance,

however small.

Daughter in the details.

It’s not so much that I was overlooked

so much as you were trapped.

We all were.


Someday you will find me

You will say I have grown

And I will say you are free.









I am overripe

soft at the nape

hard at my core

I am too much too little too juicy too dry too pruned too bruised too fleshy too bare


I was left on frozen ground

but still I am warm enough

to melt memories into pennies

and throw them in your well,

wishing you could see what I have always been





I grabbed the water

It dripped and slipped

through fleshy, wrinkled routes

while each finger thought “10 and 2”

as if safe ever meant security

I chewed my cheeks

and wished some stiff bristles

would hug the insides of my teeth

and cleanse my speech long enough to be heard


maybe I’d rather be in the rain

instead of catching it



un ravel ing

the thread fed through

the eye of the needle,

needed and depleted

shouting down the corridors

of her own throat


“pull it together, don’t choke now”



a Venetian courtesan

bare back basking in the white heat

for the amusement of an elementary imagination


tired of being twisted,

patching broken brains

aching since pulp


meanwhile, the world folds and

seeks the safety of her back pocket,


“carry me, steady me”


but she’s

u    n      r a   v     e     l    i         n     g



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