umbra

night and day i speak to the sky
crows line telephone wires
as if witness to this,
this reaching past cumulus clouds
this wish to be carried past pain
past the past pressed upon each day

at the shore of my pacific
sand shifts under my feet like fickle hearts
ever moving toward something new 
like you lost to me now
mere ripples of sound and motion
abacus beads
adding subtractions

bowed limbs
like question marks
punctuate the air
cleave the mystery of
paths harder to forge this 
muddied season

despair falls upon me like rain

uncharted

he walks under the bridge   destination uncharted

a strapped and zippered keeper of possessions
hunch his shoulders, yet it’s his gait
that speaks the weight he carries

come night he knows cold concrete
freedom in borderless dreams

until the cacophony
of morning traffic wakes him
& he walks another day   another day…

would that he stay in those dreams

• • • •

Part of a project, Seattle Poetry Grid, developed by Washington State Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna, 2018-2021

maybe god rides a harley

for iafay

across night i travel to sterile rooms 
where crises play out under harsh fluorescence. 
where the aftermath of a single moment
is a staccato of scissors 
cutting clothes from torsos,
medics working in orchestrated chaos —
the stuff of late-night news.

a clock on the wall ticks
each moment a lifetime.

i pretend to read yesterday’s headlines 
set my shallow breath to sounds around me: 
knitting needles   coin-fed phones
street traffic dissected by automatic doors

a doctor’s footsteps…
i look up to read your fate on his face. 

• • • •

Published in Magee Park Poets Anthology, 2017

looking back

for joan simmons

we shared a Southern California sky from opposite sides of the city
the lies of our lives hidden beneath play

i wonder now if our reverie didn’t meet
in that place no one dare name

if you saw my wicked dance with death
too his seduction as your own

i ask myself
what did we talk about how did we meet why did we drift apart
how did i come to learn of your fate so long past?

we splashed about in the same fickle currents
yet i emerged and you went under

i imagine you like Woolf, slowly and with purpose
walking into the water

but i know you chose a gun instead 
leaving others to pick up the pieces

no doubt about their trigger fingers

• • • •

Published in Magee Park Poets Anthology, 2015

inside out

come spring, you abandon the garden
cling to reasons for moving past this breath.

my gaze wanders to a cobweb in the corner —
i can’t say how long it has been there.

outside, the wind is a frantic heart.
inside, the air, still as death.

• • • •

Published in So Luminous the Wildflowers, An Anthology of California Poets 2003

coda

cruel memory’s stubborn resolve rises & falls
like incantations      you ride the pitch & tone
through nameless days.

i could tell you the course of a river can’t be changed
but you’ve seen his face in its quiet reflection
felt the pull of shifting streams.

some days you are the strength of those currents
others lost in their fickle eddy knots in your hair
too long uncombed.

it matters not if it’s water or song      this swell of chants
unlikely visitations       only that it brooks your sorrow
of those last days when even your love could not save him.

you tell me you’ve been where the river once flowed
banks alive now with black-eyed susans      how it’s their spring
not yours     how their hollow eyes hold your gaze.

innocence long buried in unmarked graves, you ride the rapids
of an uncertain future. as for love     there is less of it now
but more need; even the poets have lost their way.

• • • •

Published in Spillway #13 2007

prayer beads

quiet as the dawning sky, i sit
anticipating birdsong, unsure about the sun.

this stillness, my pilgrimage.

at memory’s pool
i kneel, drink in your visage
mindful not to disturb the surface,
alter the spell with even a ripple of need.

you leave gifts at my door —
bits of song;
slightly faded photographs;
pages torn from an unfinished manuscript;
untitled maps.
i cannot decipher them without you.

i have caught you like rain on my tongue
released you in beads of sweat
returned to the quiet again and again
to light candles, burn sandalwood
remember what i know.

in pools of light i hold your words, a rosary,
feel your desire in the smooth roundness
of each bead, cast prayers of strength,
wait for a sign.

• • • •

Published in Magee Park Poets Anthology 2009

tango

past & future tango through the hours
of a father who soon won’t know my name,
mother in stage-four reprieve.
this cadence of crises plays
in the background
like an old 45 on repeat.

in the quietude of morning, foghorns hold me
like bowed notes of violin & cello;
i stand mute within an opus
of memories; past & future tango by.
coda looms in the wings.

this year finds spring pushed aside
by an aging winter’s arias of snow & ice.
these long nights at a cold window
evoke years syncopated by estrangement,
tempo of anger & silence, rest & repeat,
past & future’s blithe tango through our lives.

soon the seasons will settle,
as did life between us.
i will say the things i need to say,
those things i’ve told myself will lure songbirds
back to the garden.
those things that will let me
place an LP on the old turntable
& tango effortlessly into tomorrow.

• • • •

Published in A Year in Ink Anthology 2013

pas de deux

we sit, poem between us,
debate the power/virtue/use
of first-person & third. you seek definition,
want to hold these words closer,
know them     know me.
table between us, we sit
as if on separate shores
art/logic
try to gauge the river’s depth/temperature/current,
what it might take to reach the other’s shore,
prevail the eddies,
traverse the stones
without losing balance
or direction
or each other.

• • • •

Published in don’t blame the ugly mug anthology 2011

winter’s approach

if i could read the grains of sand
on just one beach
i would know the prayer songs
of sweet salt breezes
the hidden truth of tidepools;
i would know everything & nothing.

asleep on the couch
your dreams flutter
escape to the roof next door;
i wonder if they too watch
the exquisite death of rose petals
falling to the ground.

surrounded by your quiet slumber
i forget the frailty
of this moment & the next;
doors that stick in winter,
unanswered mail,
the mourning of dahlias
ruined by first frost,
hobbled by the cold
like bones.

• • • •

Published in Volume XVII (2006) of Green Hills Literary Lantern