Sunday, September 1, 2019

Unmuzzled, Unfettered (a Cento)

Honey, you will lose your beauty,
going to be an old wrinkly lady
while we wait for the worst--
you're dead, nothing can hurt you.

Forever, women immolating themselves,
the prospect full as an old etching,
these tracks I've left
songs of love beneath disguise --
gum-snapping hard-girl dialogue.

I wanted to walk without clothing,
prepare for next year's famine with wine.
Like a pig in a trenchcoat I grew,
and not in the paths of high morality,
throwing myself forward with violence,
people passing without turning their heads.

It was sweet and lonesome:
the solitude of celibacy.

Now to stand still, to be here
not made of stone,
the days nouns: touch them,
hysterical birds rushing up the scale --
I will try those wings myself,
farther, a bit farther each time,
distance an absolute value
that keeps the world afloat.

Sources in order of lines, including title:

Mary Bast, "Tinker Toys"
Maggie Anderson, "Ontological"
Alicia Suskin Ostriker, "Wrinkly Lady Dancer"
Maxine Kumin, "New Hampshire, February 7, 2003"
Louise Gluck, "A Myth of Devotion"
Kate Barnes, "To a Skylark"
Sylvia Plath, "A Winter Ship"
Marge Piercy, "Tracks"
Kate Light, "Reading Someone Else's Love Poems"
Barbara Hamby, "Ode to American English"
Irene McKinney "Atavistic"
Linda Pastan, "The Cossacks"
Anne Sexton: "Rowing"
Emily Bronte, "Stanzas"
Jane Kenyon, "Depression in Winter"
Jane Hirshfield, "This Was Once a Love Poem"
Jill Bialosky, "Fathers in the Snow, 2"
Paula Sergi, "Vocations Club"
May Sarton, "Now I Become Myself"
Rebecca McClanahan, "In The Face Of"
Naomi Shihab Nye, "Daily"
Elizabeth Bishop, "Florida"
Muriel Rukeyser, "Waiting for Icarus"
Julia Kasdorf, "Flying Lesson"
Jessica Goodfellow Ueno, "1. Road Trip, A Pilgrim's Guide to Chaos in the Heartland"
Maurya Simon, "The Fishermen at Guasti Park"

This poem also appears in my collection Unmuzzled, Unfettered                                                                                                           

Friday, February 22, 2019

Food for Thought

Any aliens we speak to will probably think of us like we think of bacteria. Stephen Hawking
Why send happy signals into space?
The ones who hear perhaps are
avaricious, merciless.

Do we wish for Mother?
Not the earthly breast
that more or less sufficed --
beyond that, something
deeply loving, safety
to its full extent, the warmth,
the knowing, being known?

How foolishly we seek the stars,
eyes clouded by our deep desire,
how blindly wrong, assuming
as we do, a cosmic turn
toward something good.

Oh, look around -- though flowers
may come closest to an easy life,
some sun and rain, a little soil,
and voila, blooming for a day.
But animals? Catastrophe.
A weak design, the urgent search
for sustenance most hours --

Where's food?
Where's food?

The fallacy of seeking
comfort outside earth:
no reason to assume
these other beings grew
from different means --

Here, let me feed 
you, feed...

Will we be food?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

As Close As I Can Come

Stuck in a land of metaphor
word constellations constantly
changing what the earth
will not take back:
one barbed heart against another,
against the stone inside.

All those loose threads
patched, repatched,
impossible to match
at the seams.

Inevitably, answers about what to do
wait to detonate at each misstep,
forming me to myself, slack-jawed
with cravings for the cocoon
of games only two can play:

to turn on a single axis
until, bodies still undulating,
the dark snatches us away.

A found poem by Mary Bast, revived from
Janice Moore Fuller's collection, Sex Education

Before the Gulls Take Me Out

I have lost my map,
numb as the moon,
half wondering if April
will bring me to life.

To keep from going mad
I'll be a knife waiting,
a wolf at a live heart,
voice like a boulder,

before earth opens,
a wound,
Death looking on
with a casual eye.

A found poem by Mary Bast, revived from
Anne Sexton's collection, The Awful Rowing Toward God

Saturday, October 6, 2018


It was his gaze that held me fast
on the sea's edge in Scotland
when the sun crashed.
"American?" he asked, sidling.
He wished me harm.

I'd backed toward just this,
his cable-sweatered arm,
his Scottish brogue, his eyes.
He stroked my vanity
and wished me harm.

We walked, how foolishly for me,
away from all the drowning fires,
the families laughing, in the cooling
hush. Then premonition--
belly first, bile rising.

I taste it as I kill him with this
memory, won't have it be:
my young wrists held back,
his pushing, breaking,
coldly remonstrating, Quiet!

Now I kick, gouge,
hear myself not beg, not
bound in dark union,
have it not true I did not
kill him. A belated dirge.

(An earlier version of this poem is in my collection, Time Warp, 2015; an essay about the rape appears in one of my other blogs.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Time Warp

Time Warp: "A hypothetical eccentricity of time moving back and forth between eras." Past and future, present in the poet's life. Dinnertime as a child ("When we sat to eat I looked at Daddy first, sniffed the air, alert").
A marriage's Mayday distress call ("Earthquake. Sudden trembling, accumulated energy, quick release along the faults"). Questions of aging in Feuilleton ("Do I sit and wait until I'm rickety, particular about my cereal, my Scotch?").

Here's a sample: 
Languages I Never Learned to Speak
When I was small I lived
near woods, but never learned
the plants or birds
or trees: how smooth
and double-toothed
the alder by the stream,
the juicy hemlock’s tiny cones,
the mystery of seeds.
And acorns, while familiar,
held no hint for me
of red oaks’ slender
catkins in the spring.
I knew the owls, of course,
and hummingbirds, but missed
the warblers, the wrens.
I couldn’t name the spicebush,
whose soft yellow leaves
would tantalize my dreams,
and blackberries that stained
my fingers’ loops and whorls
could teach me only
e’s and y’s and o’s.

Sunday, April 1, 2018


A dark and stormy night,
bad to the bone, you're
caught red-handed in a cliché?
Draw the line
(enough to piss off the Pope),
fan the flames,
go for broke,
hold your own.

It's only a matter of time,
just a hop, skip, and a jump to
knock it out of the park,
land on your feet.
Make the best of it, this is
not the end of the world.
Older and wiser, you can
put your best foot forward.

Quick as lightning
rise and shine,
seize the day,
time is of the essence. The
unvarnished truth? It's in your
vested interest to
weather the storm when
X marks the spot:

You can run but you can't hide, you
zigged when you should have zagged.

Saturday, March 31, 2018


(Inspired by my painting below, which was inspired by Kim Addonizio's poem Divine)

Oh no, not the dark wood again.
I thought the last time was the last time--
two marriages, two divorces, and the big one,
the heart-stopper, anyone walking by knowing
how we'd love like never before,  
cocooned for more than a year,
my son saying I was the happiest he'd ever seen.
Yet somehow it was fucked all to hell.
Then another year of searing grief,
till finally only embers of anguish
watching all of us become old or dead,
writing, painting, letting my hair blaze white.
And then, god-damn-son-of-a-bitch,
again the dark wood.
Guardian of the Abyss hovering above
like a gold flame to incinerate what's left of my life, 
showing me a burning hell with skulls of men
who counted and countless men who didn't count.
That path's a hot zone.
The two ghosts on the right? Parents. 
And that sulfurous puddle beneath them?
I've tried to melt those ghouls with every pitch
in the Therapists' Unique & Wonderful Catalog of Cures,
but so far I've only disappeared
my mother up to her knees,
my father to his you-know-what,
their arms still tight across their chests
in the universal posture of NO.
On the left, what remains
of the family tree. Kind of bare.
But there's water and blue sky
where I'm headed,
so no bail-out, here I go
with my firefighting apparatus
to control the burn,
find the opening cones,
disperse seeds, restore the trees.
And fuck yeah, I'm crazy enough
to bump back again.     

Oh hell, here's that dark wood again, by Mary Bast

Friday, March 30, 2018

Sestina: Berserk for Barack

I cannot deify The Man                        
who makes jokes,                                 
negates a deeper pain,                         
hides behind a hollow                          
laugh. He should be, friends,               
the first to weep.                                   

How can he but weep,                          
hold out for humanity?                        
Climate deniers, no friends                
of earth, deny the joke's              
on them, souls too hollow                   
to sense our planet's pain.                   

The Pres should feel such pain
he can do nothing but weep.
Instead he hides behind a halo
while radicalized young white men
advance like a fatal joke.
His Hollywood and Washington friends,

his White House correspondent friends,
rather than mirror our certain pain,
retweet satirical political jokes,
while every one of them should weep
for gays, blacks, Muslims, women
going down the alt-right rabbit hole. 

This dark ground we tread is hollow
where our Standing Rock Sioux friends,
seeking the mythic Medicine Man,
suffer rubber bullets, cold water, pain
of ignored treaties instead. So weep
for them, too, while Barackobama jokes

with Jerry Seinfeld: You have to joke
about all the stupid stuff. Is this All Hallow's
Eve, world leaders tripping out of their minds? I weep
that Tuesdays he picks from a kill list. And friends,
his admin built more nuclear everything. A painful
question: where is our Nobel humanitarian?

In the coming sweepstakes our dealer's The Joker,
a man whose choices would make Allen Ginsberg howl,*
whose global-warming-skeptic friends will rewrite psalms to render pain.

(See also "Ah hah! This is a Sestina" with Carolyn L. Wright)

*I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness... Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of   Moloch...  Congress of sorrows!... Moloch whose blood is running money!... Moloch the vast stone of war... Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone!...

Moloch: the ancient pagan god of child sacrifice.
My President was Black by Ta-Nahisi Coates: " last conversation with the president. I asked him how his optimism was holding up, given Trump's victory... he said his general optimism about the shape of American history remained unchanged. 'To be optimistic about the long-term trends of the United States doesn't mean that everything is going to go in a smooth, direct, straight line,' he said."
Why on Earth is Obama Smiling? (The Washington Post): "This has been Obama's pattern. At times when passion is called for, he's cerebral and philosophical and taking the long view--so long that it frustrates those living in the present."
Keegan-Michael Key: A Farewell Address From Obama's Anger Translator

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Haiku: Things You Should Not Wear Outside Your Clothes*

Political views:
let them drive you to action
or they're wasted wind.

Yesterday's Gnocchi:
a delight, both taste and sound,
don't throw up your din.

Perfume: subtlety
is everything, linger close
to your secret sin.

Though it might intrigue
voyeurs, your navel: it's meant
for a private spin.

Bra's an exception:
when it stands for women's rights,
not if fashion trend.

No heart on your sleeve,
baby: they'll rip you apart --
find the one true friend.

* Thanks to Emily Hipchen for this prompt.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Villain Villanelle

a central casting pantomime
the worst actor center stage
but many others stand behind

myriad compromises signed
merely the face of deep malaise
a central casting pantomime

email hackers, secrets, lies
misogynist's childish rampage
and many others stand behind

the rich who want their pockets lined
cabinet heads, all depraved
a central casting pantomime

lest you and I lose our minds
impeachment fantasies backstage
but many others stand behind

always a cover-up, never the crime
at which villain do we rage
in a central casting pantomime
where many others stand behind

(See: "Donald Trump isn't the only villain -- the Republican party shares the blame," Jonathan Freedland, the guardian)

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Fall of Cities: Decimation

From a poetry workshop Ekphrasis: Writing in Response to Art with Caylin Capra-Thomas ("The Fall of Cities" my conversation with a collage by Sherry O'Neill; "Decimation" a coda inspired by Salvador Dalí's "The Burning Giraffe")

     The Fall of Cities

You are the memory of a city,
Sherry O'Neill
dark streets below windows
disclosing artificial light,
the minimalist image
of a warm shelter, murky roads
below the seeming glow
of spaces. You are vague,
the way all urban sprawl
ignores the blaze of creativity.
A perfect smoke-dream
of reality, amorphous blank walls
upon which stories flashed
are quiet, neutral, dimming,
all but one orange skylight,
one line illumined upward,
there a small gray square,
opaque, curtained, closed.

I am the image of the fall
of cities, no growth
here, no upward thrust.
I am the eyes and voice
Sherry O'Neill
of terror, knowing how
sequential blinking lights will
signal tragedy, impending storms,
devastation. Moving quickly,
mid-rise shadows flash by,
rapid slide show out of synch,
the faint idea of a living world.
What was, now disappearing,
openings becoming small
and smaller, the dark, deep
mass below already poisons
orange light of sun's reflection.

Salvador Dalí: The Burning Giraffe

They shriek a dance of grief,
all bounty now empty drawers,
sharp knives draining energy
from backbone, strength,
hands reaching in despair.

Like prehistoric animals we are
destroyed, our meteors now
politics and war, the Mother Dance
grown skeletal, depleted.
Civilization gone.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Lucy Out On a Limb

How she walked, how
the ground felt firm beneath
her feet, so tired of swinging,
she searched for home,
hips swaying on the trails.
She had bone, she had heart,
she was The Mother.

Her curved fingers gripped
arboreal limbs, years
of serious training made her
capable of flipping, she was
grounded, a gymnast, her
legs running every distance
with a mighty rumble,

yet she hesitated, took her rest
in trees, and died, falling.

[Limb Bone Structural Proportions and Locomotor Behavior in A.L. 288-1 ("Lucy")]

Thursday, May 18, 2017


According to Mona Van Duyn, in Firefall, the Duc d'Orleans held a contest for poets in the 15th century where each was to use the line "Je meurs de soif auprès de la fontaine," ("I die of thirst here at the fountain-side.")  

I left my cat for two weeks,
the sitter arriving sometimes,
distracted, as more time told,
by tempting strokes: a rock
band, his flame-haired girl,
three days on the road, smokes.

Thus abandoned, my furry
lap-muff, my plump breast-pillow,
bereft of spooning hopes, 
whiff of armpit, kneading inner arm,
looked long, then walked away
from water bowl and food.

His eyes, his skin, his bones
all spoke on my return:
I hungered for your presence,
Je meurs de soif auprès de la fontaine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

back then

backing away from
memories of you backslash
me, your backstab love

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Triolet: Hearts Mesh

Your skin sang a song of flesh,
first known sorrow of hearts' mesh
too soon torn by ego's quest.
Your skin sang a song of flesh
not now lost by shades of death,
my memory still is fresh.
Your skin sang a song of flesh,
first known sorrow of hearts' mesh.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

what my dust says about me

dander, drool
sloughed-off skin

crumbs, grit

skinny mites
chubby arachnids
tiny cousins
of spiders, ticks

forensic data
microbial squatters
ecological niche

Monday, January 25, 2016

from the Greek πλαγκτός (plangtOss), for drifter

My years still hold the girl
who smiled quietly, followed,
said yes, and yes, and yes

to the dying boy with one leg,
her moody pirate, her buccaneer.

Hijacked, she leaned against the rails
halfway between Paris and New York,

tuned to the rocking, even as she slept,
of deep sea fields and flickering diatoms,
luminescent glitter in the dark blooms. 

Did he? did he? others ask.
I tell of oceanic love letters, sparkling

neon blue, of being sea-healed.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


From my collection Time Warp:

To the Poet's ascerbic 
wit I gave my sour look,
our astringent discourse
a jawbreaker, spoiled.

When he said of my 
extremities You don't 
dance like a girl,
I floundered, clogging.

Now I stumble, you kiss
my long Texas digits,
prehensile foreparts,
and I toe out, a hoofer.  


Saturday, December 12, 2015


A tropical island made real
by stars, Andros afterglow.
Air and water, breath and tears
became names we gave our selves.

Star Nine and I held a twinned view,
ancient salt washing wounded eyes.
Ego danced with Shadow while
tears outreached the Loved Ones.

The Ancestor came, too, breeding
laments like a keening wind from Hell,
the twins shaking with its force,
asking How much farther, home?

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I hugged a stocker at the Millhopper Publix
standing next to the Woolite.
Smelling like fresh-cut lemons,
eyes big O's in a scrawny face,
he hugged me back fierce, the way
you would a stray dog.

A near hug, the young blond
in the office, his left foot in a cast,
eyes that made me blink, pointed
his crutch toward the storage room.
"Follow me," he said, and turning,
lost his balance.

My friend pulled on the shawl
I knitted her for Christmas,
fluffy wool of varied blue hues.
It took wing when we hugged,
enfolded us -- I kissed her
lips, soft as cygnet down.

Six foot two, my brother grows over
me by four years and seven inches.
He hugged me at the 43rd St. Deli,
my head skimming his skinny shoulder,
hanging onto his "Love you, Sis"
embrace until his dimples showed.

Saturday, my son called,
his voice a hug. Forty years ago
he walked alone to preschool,
face held up for air, a swimmer
sinking, holding back
the words, "I'm not afraid."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


(An enchanted creature who at certain times
can doff
her skin, accept a human mate.)

I had thought by some grave

misdemeanor to be doomed,
live as a selkie alone:
gentle shape-shifting,
uncanny eyes,

sometimes woman,
always mammal and lithe,
from my seal-skin singing
May no harm go with you:
Nar gabh olc ar bith agat.

Every seventh stream
I bask upon the shore,
yours the face I dream
when looking to the sun.

They say if you shed
seven tears at high tide
I will come to you
from Suleskerry,
and you have wept
a wave of poems.

If you coax me to your land,
if I slip off my coat,
will you hold it sweetly?
You, the pulse of my heart:
Ta tusa an chuisle mo chroi.

Published in Young Ravens Literary Review Fall, 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Au Contraire - Bilingual Ode to "W"

        i - L'histoire

I used to fancy  
the tabloids    chacun à son goût
when they featured
two-headed babies,
often sired by an alien;   c’est autre chose
or spontaneous human
combustion: a small room,
a man turned to flame
while lighting a butt;   pièce de résistance
a woman walking on the beach,
suddenly reduced to ashes,
having broken no apparent rules
of good form or taste.   à la mode
Over time the stories
changed to peccadilloes:   enfants terrible
a woman of good form
but questionable taste
shot with a well-known preacher;   faux pas
a politician, presidential
prospects trashed.   rapprochement
It was a joke among my friends    entre nous
that I could never run for President:
a misconception.

I wish The Man
had been my daddy.   dénoûement
I could have whored,
drugged and boozed
south of the border,   fait accompli
done coke at Camp David
and got off with a stint
of youth counseling,
a little cheerleading   à bon marché
on my way
to the white house.   noblesse oblige

     ii - Traduction du Français

chacun à son goût:     My own taste 
c'est autre chose:       leans to the left 
pièce de résistance:   so I'm dishing 
à la mode:                 about the fashion
enfants terrible:        for bad boys
faux pas:                   to step in it
rapprochement:         and still get the vote.
entre nous:                Between you and me,
dénoûement:             the plot is apparent:
fait accompli:            deny facts
à bon marché:           and strike the bargain
noblesse oblige:        that oils big wheels.

Mary Bast

Father Watches

(*imagined while gazing at Mary Cassatt's "Child with Red Hat")

the rosebud lips
he says   match them
and thus the hat

is not her head askew
turned right
her body    straining
to stay straight?

her rosy nose    cheeks
follow those
deep lagoons    those eyes

she does not look
at Father.

*Ekphrasis is relating one art medium to another...A descriptive work of prose or poetry, a film or even a photograph may... enhance the original art and so take on a life of its own.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Everywhere That Mary Goes

Ten little hoofed soldiers march
like human kids, catch my eye,
play King of the Mount atop
a stump grand enough to hold
two; the others leap aside.

I walk past. One leaves the mob,
runs close, bleats, then breaks away:
a brave, though slant-wise scoot,
his mother's deeper call a sweet pursuit.  

In late spring, I'm told, the lambs
will go to slaughter, bawling terror
and surprise: "Where are my mates
who slept so close, who gamboled
under skies of timber gray?" they'll cry,
their mothers keening through the night,
though I will hear what sounds like "Baa-aa!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

say it a thousand times

the child's game
a word repeated
over and over
until meaning goes

dish, dish, dish, dish
dihhh shhhh sssshhh
language of millennia

the word life leaves
with each descending
breath, a tone,
a loss
of flesh

flhhh shhhh sssshhh

Thursday, October 1, 2015


As truly as God is our Father,
so truly God is our Mother.
- Julian of Norwich
A haunting, near-death vision:
walled in a tiny cell, dressed
only in a kirtle and hood,

I am sane though difficult
to discipline, eremitic,
feeding on solitude,

singing Wiccan songs
with others dedicated
to a female savior.

Some of us are martyred,
go crazy, sleep away desire,
throw ourselves from high rocks.

All will be well, all will be well
in a world with room enough
for androgynous God.


I understand your Witch.
She stirs the cauldron:
bits of snails, sharp things
fill her brew.

I estimate her call: she feeds
your fear, she wants
your faint heart, craves it
living from your breast.

You seek her belly,
need her nipple, want
to turn into the Earth
of her, be guarded

as she lulls you, rocks you,
croons, and eats your soft heart.

Mary Bast, Revelations: Personal Poems by Cincinnati Poets, 1998

Monday, September 21, 2015

Who Are Mr. and Mrs. Clark?

(*inspired by David Hockney's "Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy")

she wants love   her eyes express
wretchedness   falling short of
beautiful though rich
her diamond earrings   hips/hands:
the man ignores earfuls
feet bare   hair long   beard traced
on chin   he eyes the painter
they've not moved in   or out
sparse vase/flowers   touch of
unplugged phone
blue lamp   crystal
would have been in baby's room
the air outside is
the table   abstract on the wall
his sweater
all blue
even Percy's white coat
tinged with it   but oh no
not her   blood   red   velvet gown

*Ekphrasis is relating one art medium to another...A descriptive work of prose or poetry, a film or even a photograph may... enhance the original art and so take on a life of its own.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Type O

The whole subject of vampires is sexy, especially for the virginal. Someone gives you a giant hickey, sucking till your legs buckle. Faintly Victorian, a prettier image than sexual congress. As needs go, thirst is next to breath, deeper than hunger.

I have a genetic link to nosferati. Bram Stoker was my great-grandfather, and we carry family secrets that would stun our friends. Google our surname and you get "Bram Stoker's Dracula." Not just any vampire. Our very own.

Historically, the name Dracula is not creepy. In Romanian history Vlad Dracula was an honored warrior. He did draw Turkish blood on the battlefield, but that's not sexy, except to girlfriends of recruits still muscling out the sleeves of their uniforms, showing off their shiny boots.
No, it's the personal touch that thrills, thriving on someone else's life-force. Bram Stoker, "Bramps" to the family, had been a civil servant whose sole literary effort had been the Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland. You get the symbolism - civil service, bloodletting.
Then he became sycophant to a tall, sardonic actor with long hair named Henry Irving, the first British actor to be knighted. Newspapers of the late 1890s lauded Irving's talent and intimidating presence, with only one line about "his long-serving manager, Bram Stoker."
Bramps wrote Dracula in his off hours. So he knew about giving blood. He was a universal donor.