Skip to content →

Category archive for: Poems

You Come for Fear

You come for fear of the other men,

the ones who wait at the port

for the ship to dock.

You know they want

a sea captain. You know

that my waist is still supple,

my legs still strong.

You know how much money

I send home but you know

how much the men at the port

waiting there leaning on the ropes

think a captain has when she returns.

I’ll come home,

walk down the unsteady board

to you, the wind on your face,

your hair freshly washed.

Smelling not of salt and yeast,

the thick smells of the ship

and its women.

Smelling like earth,

peppery and warm,

you’ll wear your good jacket.

We’ll walk together

home to the stew you’ve made,

to the house carefully arranged,

the fiddle in the corner. I’ll wait for you to play;

I won’t ask. I’ll start to clean up.

You’ll take the fiddle to the back.

You’ll play, the fiddle so small

in your hands, face bent over it, eyes closed.

You’ll play the ancient song

that makes a woman’s legs grow land-bound

and unable to go to sea.

The rite that rarely works but could.

You’ll play, your large hands, one black nail,

one blood blister, the calluses and notches

in your finger tips, the song too long,

too hopeful and strange, too much

in it of what we know is wrong,

sinful even to ask for.

I don’t want to be at the prow of a ship.

I don’t want the women waiting

for their orders. I don’t want the gasping

deaths of the fish dumped out on the deck.

I want the pagan love song

my husband plays to keep me here.

from Having Been an AccompliceFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

In the Polar Regions

Long from home. Glaciers capping the hills

like false teeth. It’s not just the odd meat

we’re carving, clawed flippers and flightless

wings, or the long-churned distance to any news of home,

any first-born or failing parent. There

are other signs this place is foreign. The ship

converses with ice packed around it, groans

and squeaks, an occasional outraged crack.

It takes a particular man for this, you know,

able to be short-sighted for months on end.

The air is constantly aluminum with snow,

and my mouth, too, tastes of metal. Salt

of iron seeping from my weakened gums.

Each morning, I pack drift around my tongue

to freeze the soft flesh holding my teeth.

It all goes to slush—ground underneath

our tents, my mouth, the knack for conversation.

Walking west, five of us have fallen

to dangle alongside cliffs of ice, the thin crust

breaking into chasm easily, as if such sudden transformations

were to be expected and we’re the fools to be surprised.

Only a thin rope holds us to the surface. Hanging,

there’s nothing to do but stare at the blue contours of freeze

and tongue our loosening teeth, test the stringy roots

that hold them, wait for a tug from the ones left above.

from Approaching IceFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Proprietary

In a precisely lighted room, the CFO speaks

of start-to-start dependencies.

Says let me loop back with you.

Says please cascade as appropriate.

It’s that time of morning; we all can smell

the doughnut factory. If scent were white

noise, doughnuts would be that scent.

The factory won’t sell at any price.

The building next to it burns the animals

we experiment on. I have worked

on a few preclinical reports in my time.

The rhesus monkeys become

so desperate that they attempt suicide,

over and over again. I am legally obligated

to spare you the particulars.

How could things be any different?

Here many choice molecules have been born.

Here. This pill will dissolve like sugar.

Your last five months will be good ones.

from ProprietaryFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2017
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Temple Solstice

Glinty as spittle,
prink of shortest-day sun

straddles the black ridge,

vault whose ancient pewter speech,
parsed by cloud-cleaved

pulmonary geese, pulsed leaves,

draws me into ohmming hemlocks,
saint’s sleeves,

vulnerable resinous wrists.

Beyond or suffused with pain?
Both. Even the moon

does not speak my language

as many times as we’ve conversed.
Comb me, tricked-up wind.

Quick, before you change your polar name.

from OrexiaFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2017
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Gainesville

When it started, I had been in Gainesville for three days.

They called him the Gainesville Ripper, which sounds comical, all but the ripping.

His name was Danny Harold Rolling. It was August 1990.

Five of them were slaughtered.

I spent evenings huddled in the dorm rooms of my girlfriends.

There were lots of p-words tossed around, don’t be a pussy, say a prayer.

When he was convicted, they sent him to Starke. What a name for a town.

One drove slowly through Starke, a notoriously student-unfriendly place.

Whites were all right to stop there.

Rolling had lobster tail before the injection, an excellent if slightly clichéd choice.

Red Lobster on Newberry Road was relatively fine dining. I spent much of the nineties in Gainesville.

Got two degrees and STDs in Gainesville.

“The nineties sucked,” Marisa Tomei and Mickey Rourke declared in that ragged film The Wrestler.

No shit.

The nineties sucked, for me, in Gainesville.

There was the gay bar, the University Club, where I wore my J-Crew shirt, the Evil Flannel, where I danced and swallowed whatever the fuck.

We dropped Blue Monkey and stood on the balcony in the rainstorm.

I was the shirtless teeth-grinder in the corner with the lizard.

I was the tweaky late-night stroll by the green power plant.

I was the kid in the stacks of Smathers Library falling hopelessly in love with the poems of Donald Justice.

I fell in love, or what felt like love.

With gin.

With Salems. With a boy.

We moved downtown.

We moved into a two-part apartment complex, one blue, one pink.

We had a wedding, in 1993, and my parents came, and they stopped at Publix on the way and got a couple party platters.

The wedding was in our pink apartment.

Michael Hofmann, who lived in the blue, described it as “live-oaks and love-seats, handymen and squirrels, / an electric grille and a siege mentality.”

An alligator crawled out of Lake Alice and ate a little dog on a leash, said the Gainesville Sun.

I walked on Payne’s Prairie with Debora Greger, in winter, and imagined King Payne, the nineteenth-century Seminole Chief, on a white horse.

The egrets were white. The heron was blue.

I narrowly escaped the controlled burn.

from ProprietaryFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2017
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Your Objective

In a given situation

Your objective should be

To act as much like yourself

As possible. Just imagine

How you would act

And act that way.

A good rule of thumb

Is, try to be similar

To who you really are.

But keep in mind

That there’s no way

To perfectly replicate

Yourself at all times.

from Glitter BombFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2014
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Darling, Your Are the World’s Fresh Ornament

Darling, you are the world’s fresh ornament.

Ne’er a bigger bloom could a seeker find

Than this that you, dear fool, have on displayment.

The displacement of my gentle mind

To boudoir regions, gaudy cunning luxury,

Has my old self-substantial petrol in short supply.

To run this rearing gal, the new polished buxomry

Demands a man-the night’s auto reply

To teenish hungers doesn’t cut it.

Give me tender pullings of the world one way

And another, and I’ll give right back.

That’s the way to increase, to fight the lack.

from Having Been an AccompliceFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Hide Out

Briefest reflection

two children’s faces in the spring,

a brother and a sister with filament hair, and beyond their heads,

a house on the hill, all of it battlefield. These two go at it

every day, shoveling the red dirt out and roofing it with plywood,

resourceful, army canteens and hatchets hooked to their belts, nails between

their teeth. Oh, how he protected her,

how he stood against their father when he freighted down the long hall,

oh how he bent his head like a shield while she cowered.

Now in the pit they’ve tunneled, in the house they’ve rooted out,

he digs his fingers in her. He’s strong,

made for coming like a second coming. She’s

made for taking it, taking all of the earth into her body.

In a year, her brother runs away across the country

   back to Texas, no more war.

Back at the house, the walls ache. The doors of the rooms barred shut.

Their father’s footsteps rattle the threshold, shotguns

leaning against the bedframe, loaded and cocked.

She still snuck into the woods at night after her brother had gone

to the covering their own hands built,

where they once leaned against each other in the dark, the whippoorwill’s

                 song

balled and trilling in the fists of their hearts.

from ThrustFind Heather Derr-Smith’s work in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2016
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Would I Be Able to Stand

Would I be able to stand

a horse charging past?

The earth changing fast under its hooves,

the body slick, enormous.

I think I wouldn’t flinch.

But even in thought, in quiet,

long after the horse had gone

shrinking up over the hill,

I wouldn’t know you.

You, coming close

enough to graze me.

from Having Been an AccompliceFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.