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

A Poem’s Cumulative Power

I read somewhere recently that the hallmark of a great poem is that its power, or whatever it is you loved about it the first time you read it, doesn’t diminish, no matter how many times you read it — or words to that effect. And this is true enough. But there’s an even greater category of poem  — the kind you discover early and grows with you as you age. It resonates immediately, but its significance to you increases with each reading. One such poem, for me, is Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish.” I read it again today for the first time in several months, and it means more to me now than it ever has.

The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
– the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly-
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
– It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
– if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels- until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.