War Paint – Poem

War Paint

My sister never washed her face at night.
My grandmother smoothed cold cream
over hers in dutiful faith the makeup
would slide off like dirt on a screendoor
during rain. When I was twelve my father
grew a silver beard, unmatched
to his coal gray hair. My sister’s eyes
always rimmed in black, balls of tar
in the corners like that
of the family cat. Grandmother’s face
smeared with Vaseline – she must
have collected particles of dust in the creases
during sleep. Father shaving it off
when he saw himself in the Christmas pictures
that year. My mother never loved
the mirror, expressed disgust at its faces as if
she were opening the door to discover
the visitor, an enemy neighbor.

Trees – Poem

Trees

At a lakehouse in Brownsville owned
by my father’s company. It had a bow-limbed tree
we climbed easily. A gravel driveway
ground like bones beneath our soles.
And bunkbeds where we fought for the top.
Where my sister in the upper bunk stuck
a tape recorder out the window
into the branches during a lightning storm.
Next day she played it back and swore
there were angry voices whispering
in the tinny wind, made us listen
over and again until convinced. Angry
in that way a whisper can be louder
than a shout. The way mothers threaten
with their teeth set
together. We sat on the floor for hours
trying to decipher what they say.

More at We Write Poems

The Kitchen III – Poem

The Kitchen III

Then there were the times he laid himself out
like a wet sweater on the kitchen floor,
flatout as an ironing board, arms
corpse-crossed against his chest, not like
he’d fallen, just settled there like sediment
undisturbed in a dirty cup. There was Mother
above him, clapping her hands in attempt
to stir him from sleep, clapping as she did
during the cooking day to rid the excess flour
from her fingers. Clapping as if to applaud
the neatness – always her favorite thing –
with which he rolled his body out
atop linoleum in a slim, submissive strip,
prepped to ascend later, vampire-style,
before his children tripped over him
on their way to the refrigerator, or the rise
of day turned up the heat and burned his skin.

The Kitchen II – Poem

The Kitchen II

He’s had too much to drink again
my sister whispers, while he staggers
to the kitchen, staring
at the oven timer like an infant
discovering sight, steadying a hand
against its blinking light. My sister
is too young, she shouldn’t understand
such limits, shouldn’t speak of it
in a voice already losing
its silver, shouldn’t whisper
at me as if I’m a conspirator. Later
in the night the timer goes off
like a bad weather alert
or air raid siren detecting danger.
I get up to make it stop, expecting
to discover warmth, a towel on a burner,
forgotten chicken blackened in foil.
But there’s nothing. Just an angry rasp
in an airless kitchen with a dark
and empty heart.

The Kitchen I – Poem

The Kitchen I

I am one year closer to death.
On my birthday my father tells me this,
as we connect the pieces of track
to a super-raceway set, as we click together
each smooth strip to form a figure eight
that swirls across the kitchen floor.
He helps me guide the matchbox racer
through its twisting over linoleum,
its geometric mess some murky hell
into which we might flip. We study
for hours the speeding and slowing,
the skid and the spin, the restless gambling
with God. My father is like a god,
his grip on the joystick leaning in
to the inevitable, the slick swish past
the previously traveled, the one-more mile,
the one-last second. My father and I,
motoring one year closer to death.

Over the Tracks – New Videopoem

Over the Tracks

In summer we’d pitch our wishes to the tracks,
toss pennies between the ties and wait for trains
to come and lift them off like bells snagged
to the bumpers of wedding cars, engineers waving
like lonely grooms. Fenced behind chain-link and weeds
they trumbled past, the faded words SOUTHERN PACIFIC LINES
and carman markings, fat chalk letters that crawled
over metal like hungry slugs. They didn’t stop
when you were sleeping, they kept coming, the hooking
and unhooking, the banging together, the scraping apart,
the coupling and uncoupling like desperate lovers.
They shook us awake, pronounced arrivals into air,
departures etched like fading smoke against sad sky.
Some days we’d climb the fence, find pennies splayed out
among the blades or tucked into gravel, knicked from the force
of their journey, melted from heat. It would happen
to our souls, too – once we were old enough
to know it just kept coming, old enough to understand
the trip to a line’s end on a Texas summer night.

Notes: The footage in the video is spliced together from various sources from the Prelinger Archives – promotional videos about rail lines, newsreels, and home movies. This started out with over three hours of possible footage to use, so the most daunting part of the task was sifting through it and deciding what to use. Once that was done I ran it through Movie Maker, downloaded the train sounds from iTunes, recorded my voice into my iPhone, and transferred it to my computer. I’m curious if other people record the poem first, or create the visuals before recording the reading. I’ve found it works better for me to create the video first, with the poem in mind of course, and with me playing the video back and reading the poem to myself for timing’s sake. But when it comes to putting it all together, I like to record my voice while viewing the actual, completed video. So for this one, I just played the video while I read the poem and timed myself accordingly.

Circling the Lot – Poem

Author’s Note: Although I was inspired to post this poem in response to the prompt “Shame” at We Write Poems: (http://wewritepoems.wordpress.com/), it is about triumphing over shame, not succumbing to it. To me, it is a redemptive poem, one of strength, not sadness, fear, or victimization. I hope that comes across in the speaker’s re-visiting the park as the driver of the car instead of the passenger & the re-visualizing of the event to reclaim power.

Circling the Lot

Twelve years later
and the park is groomed
for recess when I visit,
flattened brown by sun
and power mowers,
strips of metal strung
together where fat mothers
sit and watch fat sons
hit pop flys while
the skinny girls cheer.

I drive the car now.
Circle the lot
in my white sedan,
wheels scrape gravel
that skins knees,
the circling a game,
a musical chair,
a cakewalk; a circling
that wants the winning spot,
the spot where he
would park.

He would circle
before stopping, light cut
with a headlight switch, dark
a blindfold as he circled,
spun me blind, directionless,
in his beige El Camino
with the slick brown seat,
pull me in, tight
as leather, stretched
like leather, blood
on the carseat, semen
he would scrape off later
at the carwash with
two quarters and a hose;

after the policeman
and his harsh, official light,
after pulling up his jeans,
after leaving the cardoor
open to take a leak
behind the bleachers,
after leaving my body
open to the tops of trees,
the rain, the moon.

Twelve years later
and I circle, thrust
headlights into darkness
like a flashlight through
a window, circle
to illuminate the lines
that mark the scene, circle
to recover the surety
of sound: the hush
of cars passing, the zip
of denim, groan
of carseat; the sound
of hands; the rip
of satin down thighs;
the sound of doorlocks,
idle engines; the sound
of mothers changing channels
in the dens of houses
behind the diamond; the sound
of baseballs in wet grass
like laughing, rolling moons.

Tropical Depression – Poem

Tropical Depression

Unlike other storms, Alicia
never wavered, never eyed

another destination, her satellite coil
of clouds blotting out

the TV radar screen, tracking westward
along the coast

towards the island
of our salvation. Headlights guided

a tourists’ line of retreat
on Seawall Boulevard,

windshield wipers clicked off
a steady stream of missed opportunities.

The scent of coconut oiled the air
inside our car, milky and nostalgic, the linger

of a summer already ended,
and all our little failures

swept across the glass
and puddled in the flooding street.

Damage – Poem

Damage

One summer I walked with a limp
because I wanted to be a cripple,
wanted a flaw to mar the appearance
of perfection we created on vacation,
charging from diversion
to diversion. All I saw
were the backs of their heads,
my mother and her frosted hair,
my father’s white socks
and the tubby ass of my sister
in her terrycloth rainbow romper
always smelling of crotch and hairspray
when she tossed it off at night
into a corner of the Hotel 6
where the silence followed us to Florida
from our home, the home
we never left behind, the home
that trailed us through Adventure Island
and the Congo River Ride.
That was the summer I wished
for cancer, for a tumor that couldn’t be
removed, a mass so thick and palpable
the damage could not be denied, forcing
an amputation, its replacement so false
and hollow my faulty body would thunder
through botanical garden trails, and shatter
the leafy chatter of our family’s last resort.