small stone 4 – water

i tried desperately to collect what i could in all my mixing bowls and pans, opened
the bathtub faucet and watched the stream weaken while the water outside
from the busted pipe bubbled up under the frontyard grass and lapped a course
down the driveway into the street. flowing away from my house, from the bathtub,
from all my efforts to contain it, from me.

small stone 1 – returning


i am so thankful
for your open door, although i insisted
getting in through the window.

i am sorry
it is broken; sorry
i fell through clumsily only to find you
waiting inside so porcelain
and calm; holding out to me
a warm cup of tea.

i am sorry i still believe
that a stubborn December
can wind us down, that i am not faithful
in the firm foundation that has held
up all these years.

oh, and i thank you
for the tea.

on my latest journey
i did not pick
anything out for you –
there was nothing
worth carrying home.

Departure – New Videopoem

This is partly in response to the weekly prompt at We Write Poems, but I’d been toying with it for at least a month already. The poem text is below the video, as well as process notes.


When the nurses wheeled you away
on the shuddering gurney, your simple body
steering down the corridor, your toes
pointing back at me like a little constellation

of stars, you gestured a goodbye
I didn’t recognize until later, and it was like
you’d already died, and I’d missed my chance
to honor that soft instant of your disappearance,

like a pilgrim slipping over a dark border.
And I realized I’d spent my life in avoidance
of such moments, never traveled with you
to the airport, or stood on a porchfront waving,

or looked in the rearview mirror while you stood
on a porchfront, waving. And that now
I’m more than halfway through my life,
and perhaps have done the most I can

of sweeping aside the crawling hours
forward towards conclusion, the end
not what I expected – no black bag of bones,
no hissing river spitting on an empty shore –

just a dusty shelf where your photographs
are stored, a dog-eared ottoman where I rest
my feet when I get home alone at the ebb
of another gentle, merciless afternoon.

Notes: My limitations – no decent video camera with which to film my own footage, my lack of decent video editing software, my iPhone Voice Changer app as my only source of recording audio – are starting to effect my level of satisfaction with the final product. Perhaps it’s time to get down to business and commit to learning new things, but for now, please forgive the highly pixielated spots in the video and go with the concept of it.

Finding the footage for this one was a bit of a bear, as it always is at the Internet Archives because their method of categorizing and organizing material doesn’t work with my brain. I found the video of Saunders dancing first, and “Romance Sentimentale” came along a few days later. Once I had those two pieces it was just a matter of splicing them together. Music was another matter, as I changed my mind twice when putting the visuals together, then two more times when I layered the poem audio over that.

Recording the audio was time-consuming, because this is a longer poem than I normally take on; as always I created the video first then fit the poem to the footage, and then recorded my reading in one take while watching the visuals to fit the poem into them. That doesn’t sound too hard until you screw up ten or fifteen times, or read the whole poem before realizing you forgot to hit ‘record.’ I’ve found that splicing together different readings or sections sounds uneven, so I always start completely over when I screw up. EVEN SO – I realized this morning I left out an entire line. It’s in the text, but I tried to splice it into the audio and it sounded out of place, so that line is just gone for now. It works without it anyway, even though I’d prefer it stay in there – I just wasn’t up to recording the whole poem again.

Occupation – Poem


September 1945, abandoned gun emplacements
line the shoreline on the island of Kyushu
like a million white flags of surrender.

has no need to surrender,

the city a monument
to defeat, a plutonium horseshoe
hammered onto its heart.

Bodies float like blossoms

of man-o-war in the harbor
as Marines plow
the narrow river
sounding the floor for mines.

Tankers from Mitsubishi Shipyard, loosed
by the bomb’s concussion, drift dazed
and purposeless in the docks, banging
like gavels
against the anchored boats.

is the smolder of bodies.

The living do not know
the war is over
and hide from the Allies for days.

Women are first to emerge,
swarming the barracks
for work, the soft staccato
of their language
converting chambers
into sad belltowers.

Every morning they wait for soldiers
in the showers,

offer knobby squares of rags
and bath towels. They
squat together in corners,
scrubbing the tiles,
while soapy residue
from the men mingles
with ammonia
in the center drain.

They are unshaken
by the nakedness of foreigners,
the transformation
of their shipyard
into military quarters, the bodies
still fused

to the pavement, the steely spikes

of burned-out buildings
like bones picked clean,
like broken fingers
pointing accusations at the sky.

They still bow
to the prowl of every Jeep
patrolling the streets –
as they did the first time
Allies rode to the town’s center
towering over scraps of shops and offices
to consider

clean-up and rebuild, consider

the enemy
and its abandoned plans to station
women and children
at the emplacements
in an invasion, consider Truman
and the Fat Man
that made their mission humanitarian,

the release of American prisoners
with gangrenous stumps
for legs,
consider victory and necessity.
It served them right.

Most of the men
thought this, did not discriminate
between the people’s bows
and Hirohito’s surrender
eight days late: families
in the streets, rocking
like roadside brush ruffled
in the power of their wake,
the bend of their bodies
a bending of the will, like the trees
blown back on the hillsides,
leafless branches charred
and curled like a baby’s fist.

And the dying
competing for treatment
with their wounds in hallways
of a hospital hollowed
by fire, and the burns
branding the skin
of husbands and children,
and the black hair scattered
like dandelion seed
on tufts of wind,

were only outlines,
shadow images,
ghost-etchings on walls
where flowers or fenceposts
once had been. But every morning

women were waiting
to launder their bedclothes.
Every morning women
were working
in the showers, stripping away
the evidence of occupation,
their silvery voices warm
and familiar as a kitchen’s clank
of pots and pans,

their bodies small
and colorful against the yellow pallor
of the tiles, vivid
and undeniable, like leaves
on the black skeletons of trees,
already throwing out
new branches, already budding open
with new blooms.

We Write Poems Prompt #80 – Bread Crumbs

The prompt this week at We Write Poems was to accumulate twelve words, then write little snippets in response to those words. As usual I varied slightly: I took phrases from a Facebook page commemorating a young man who died last year. In each little stanza there’s a snippet from a post someone made to his page, with my own elaboration added.

facebook pages for the dead

melody says
she has lost faith
since clayton died

while the new owner
of his name
reassures her
he is in a better place

post private jokes
remember the time

& his father leaves
for him to read
it’s been a year
& we still
haven’t cleaned
your room

videos uploaded
in the night
here’s one of him dancing

dimly lit
& flickering
like altars
in dark corners
this is how I’ll remember him

prayers commemorate
important dates
I’m thankful for your
continued presence in my life

interpreting dreams
as more
he spoke to me
last night

as we are prone
to do
I woke up
and I still felt him
in my room

Destroying the Orchard – Poem

Destroying the Orchard

Our parents took us there one winter
to visit a distant relative one last time
before she died – smatters of fleshy fruit
still sagging the branches, rawboned
boughs snarled as arteries. I don’t remember
who she was, or why she mattered,
but I recall the rigid rows of trees,
proper as stones in cemeteries,
each swallow of air a blossoming thorn
in the lungs as if each breath
were a dying one, the suck of soil
against our shoesoles like the garden’s
last gasp. Then one of us reached
to where a ruined fruit had fallen,
its heavy coat split and the bitter marrow
bared, then flung it skywards, a little sun
spinning above the skinny elbows of the trees.
When it returned, a joyous burst
curving back to earth, it awoke an urgency
within us for ascendance. Together
we bowed over and again, and vaulted up
our sticky gifts, arms stretched high
in adolescent genuflection, the strange sap
dappling our eyelids and our hair,
and we reveled in the generous violence
of our work, and we kept at it for hours,
gloriously destroying every rotten, wasted thing.

Grace – Poem


An old man, wheelchair-bound, is eating
in a back corner of the cafeteria, bits of food
strewn around him on the floor. A sturdy nurse
in a shapeless uniform thumbs his chin
with the sharp edge of a blue cloth napkin.

The man’s hands tremble, but he insists.
She does not argue, or take the silverware away,
but hovers near him as he tries to reach his mouth,
to slip in the spoon like a coin from a cautious mourner,
the mess on the floor ignored, left for an unnamed janitor

who will clean up later, without complaint, the sweep
of the steely broom a censer swinging from a chain, each stroke
a blessing for the world, the old man in his immutable chair,
the quiet nurse who wheels him away, gliding slightly
on her sensible shoes.

The Walking Dead – Poem

For the weekly We Write Poems prompt.

The Walking Dead

Once you slurred me the story
of your overdose – your heart
stopped on the cutting table
before the doctors brought you back
to life. You never got over it,
prone to random fits of rage as if
they’d failed to reconnect your soul,
as if your heart resented
the resurrection, begrudging its beating
as much as you dreaded getting out of bed
each day, rising only to the stiff hope
of another drink to recreate the escape.
How I wished you’d go ahead and take
your reservation in some dowdy afterlife
bar like you’d been trying so hard
to do for all those years, so you
could reminisce in a ghost-webbed booth
and knock ‘em back for all eternity, dirty
shot glass clacking against the decay
of your teeth, chipped and gray
as old bathroom tiles.