Coffee Shop

that woman is broadcasting her phone call
like a distress signal sent
from the deck of a sinking ship

that man is slurping his soup
like a thirsty retriever before the water bowl
after a full day of fetching frisbees

isn’t it clear that
I’m trying to find the words
that will one day save the world

don’t they understand
that my creative process
requires being around people
without actually being around people


originally published in Praxis Magazine


Rediscovering Adrienne Rich

My niece, a high school senior, recently shared a poem she wrote for an English class assignment modeled after Adrienne Rich, and I was inspired to revisit her work. This one takes my breath away in at least three places. I hope it does something for you.

From an Atlas of the Difficult World

I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.


dryer vents blanket the air
in a sickly soft sweetness
a cracked coin roll scatters
quarters like scared cats
into the cobwebbed crevices
beneath the vending machines
a rust-pocked metal trash can
overflows coin-op coffee cups
beneath a ceiling mounted tv
shouting the nightly news roundup
of missing persons and murder
smokers huddle on the sidewalk
cigarettes flickering like fireflies
endless earbuds and cell phone scroll
everybody here but nobody really here
little private thrills that build into needs
like cracks in the skin unseen begin to bleed
like caffeine and nicotine igniting in veins
the promise of pleasure, the promise of pain

originally published in Door is a Jar – Winter 2017

Publication Announcement

Excited to have my poem “Laundroland” in the winter issue of Door is a Jar Magazine. Especially cool to appear alongside a longtime favorite poet – Richard Jones.

“What Changes” by Naomi Shihab Nye

My father’s hopes travel with me

years after he died. Someday

we will learn how to live. All of us

surviving without violence

never stop dreaming how to cure it.

What changes? Crossing a small street

in Doha Souk, nut shops shuttered,

a handkerchief lies crumpled in the street,

maroon and white, like one my father had,

from Jordan. Perfectly placed

in his pocket under his smile, for years.

He would have given it to anyone.

How do we continue all these days?


Source: Poem of the Week: “What Changes” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Recitation in Six

brace yourself for morning
peer out between the blinds
could be a plague of frogs
or snow falling sideways
more likely it’s stillness
and a chance to observe

today I’ll rise early
and turn on some music
the New World Symphony
a long time favorite
so familiar and yet
still so full of secrets

Paul chastises my taste
calling it commonplace
no point in arguing
he’s been impossible
since that last publisher
passed on his manuscript

Brahms envied Dvorak
his melodic gift for
spinning variations
like symphonic snowflakes
what’s good enough for Brahms
is good enough for me

and the last thing I need
as I savor each note
like California wine
is Paul disrupting my
search for meaning in the
silent spaces between

Why Poetry?

I’ve had some level of interest in poetry for as long as I can remember, but in recent years, it has occupied a position of much greater significance in my life. As with any topic of deep interest, poetry inspires questions, not the least of which is why. Why poetry? Why does it mean so much to me, especially when so many other people just can’t be bothered?

Poems have the power to draw us deeply into unfamiliar contexts. Take the following poem for example, in which the author, a child of biracial parents, imagines a lighter-skinned version of herself.

Natasha Trethewey

Certainly it was possible — somewhere
in my parents’ genes the recessive traits
that might have given me a different look:
not attached earlobes or my father’s green eyes,
but another hair color — gentleman-preferred,
have-more-fun blond. And with my skin color,
like a good tan — an even mix of my parents’ —
I could have passed for white.

When on Christmas day I woke to find
a blond wig, a pink sequined tutu,
and a blond ballerina doll, nearly tall as me,
I didn’t know to ask, nor that it mattered,
if there’d been a brown version. This was years before
my grandmother nestled the dark baby
into our creche, years before I’d understand it
as primer for a Mississippi childhood.

Instead, I pranced around our living room
in a whirl of possibility, my parents looking on
at their suddenly strange child. In the photograph
my mother took, my father — almost
out of the frame — looks on as Joseph must have
at the miraculous birth: I’m in the foreground —
my blond wig a shining halo, a newborn likeness
to the child that chance, the long odds,
might have brought.

Few scenarios could lie further from my own experience, but the poem allows me into its private world with such immediacy that I imagine myself in the speaker’s place. I ponder the same questions she does, and I begin to feel what she feels. The context is unique, but the emotions it inspires are universally human. In the space of one short poem, I’ve imagined life in someone else’s shoes – someone with a background far different from mine. Every new poem offers this possibility.

I would argue that there is nothing we need more as human beings than to connect regularly with this level of depth, particularly with people from unfamiliar backgrounds. Article after article will tell you that despite the best efforts of technology, we live in an age of ever-increasing social isolation. Developing a poetry habit can help to bridge this disconnect, and as with any learned behavior, lasting change requires repeated exposure. The ultimate promise of poetry, as Jane Hirshfield writes in her book Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, is that “by changing ourselves, one by one…,” we might also change “…the outer world that selves create and share.” It may be a cliche to suggest that poetry, or any art, has the power to change the world, but to my ear, it’s a cliche that rings true. Poems have tremendous potential to inspire both personal and social change.