it was supposed to be black
an absence
an occultation
an eclipse

but I looked closely

into the center
where your iris

pulsed open
and closed
and chose a middle distance
an aperture that worked

and it was not black

in its penumbral light
an iridescence of
loose fish scales

hummingbird throat

newly-flaked flint chip

new enough not to know
how not to cut

and so it did
but you never noticed

you went on
pressing and seeking

while the edge of your hand
went on and opened

a horizon of blood
a new eye
the fresh white you

of you



maybe this finds you
in the morning

as you awake

before the parts of your body
find each other

before your thigh becomes tan and whole
before your bones rope with muscle and blood
before the longbow arc of your back
belongs fully to you

maybe in that space
in the morning
as you awake

some of you

is mine



I want one thing
from you

the story of the scar
that arcs
across your shoulder

the one half-hidden
by the narrow blue strap of your dress

comet's course
orbital bow

I want to hear you
tell it

as I watch the space

between your eyebrows
as you decide
what to hide



they punctuate my mornings
these small, folded pins
punched and tensioned steel, waved and capped
flung into the world by the millions, invisible and forgotten

until they pile by my window
along the lip of the sink
in the dusty right angles where bed meets floor

they alight
the small and large, all subtly glistening shades of straw
of earth and cave-dark

after you leave
after coffee cupped in your hands
and sheets still-warm and smelling of you

they find each other
and clumsily, slowly
form a nest
in the high center of my chest


This should be easier

but then there's your back
its arc and angle

its fine downy hairs

the fact that you've never seen them

and that I always will


smudges, dog-ears, and softened spines

I would be reckless with you

wanton and tender

the way I am
with a book 
I have just decided to keep


a lovely line

There were fireflies
in the neighbor's yard, 

so I held you up,

and I held on tight.
       - Jon McKiel


Botanical Peregrinations

I carried two leaves
across the country,

tucked into a book about primitive shelters,
or some other anachronism.

Two leaves
of tulip-poplar,
lobed like a cat’s face.

You laughed when I mentioned the similarity.

I wanted you to see why I would bother,
why I cared.
So I tipped the knife into the green, pliant branch.
The ash-gray bark split for you,
waxy cambium and the grassy scent of
slow, pulsing life.

Your fingers plied the sheath apart,
and you leaned,
and looked up.

By then, those cat-faced leaves
had turned the color of the sun,

and they lay all around you,
all around us.

The two leaves I carried
are brown,
pressed in glass,

and hanging on my wall.


There was that graying fence rail, dried and splintered and stretching on.
The long grass, nodding its head, dead and searching.

The shadows thrust and flung themselves into their meeting spaces,
to whisper and collude. 

You were there too. In greener times.
When we measured the shadows with the spans of our hands.

And there was the hem of your dress, lovely and worn.
Shaded beneath it, your knees together, calves pressed and pressing.

You were shrugged shoulders and too-red cheeks.
You sat upon that fence rail, gently to avoid the splinters,
gently because you only know gently.

Then you were gone.
A cactus wren, briefly alighting,

anchored to a foreign sky.

Under an Oak

You should have seen yourself
in the rough light and reddening stones
the way your eyes dropped and lifted

The way you couldn’t look at me
after you did

You should have seen yourself
dusty ankles crossed in the shadow of the bench
toes marking regular ellipses in the dirt

The way your breath and mine snagged on
every branch and burr
of the unformed space between us

I don’t know what you would have seen

Would you have seen the way the sky split
and purpled above you
Would you have seen what that meant to the shape of your face
To the light in your lifted eyes

I think about what you would have seen
If it would have resembled what I saw

If it would have sung in the same way

or at all



I saw that it was a lot like a dandelion
in that you could blow away its feathers

and still eat
its bitter, earthy heart.


half-acre summer (a revised meditation on a thunderstorm)

I had fallen asleep,
nose inches from the window’s screen.

     A deep roll, a sky belch,
     roused me.

Already the afternoon sun is blanketed, overwhelmed, gauzed.
A seeping, leaden heat rose,
tethering the clouds to the earth,
      the earth to the clouds.

The stand of black locust hangs over the fence,
a huge, lush ambassador of the forest and of time we know nothing about.
It begins to sway now, like some leafy landborne anemone:
     shimmering tendrils tugged
     by the gathering wind.

Another roll and I am fully awake to this awakening.
Building with deliberate, unwavering pacing
toward some action both incomprehensible
and entirely mundane.

It is felt in the resignation of the trees’ branches, which submit completely.

It is felt in the air’s dead anticipation:
     soon to be cleft, rent.

     The grass waits.
     The terracotta tiles wait.
     The fence waits.

The sky opens as it blackens.
As the clouds release what gave them substance and form,
billions of fat drops are lost in the grass,
mark the tiles, coloring them all as one.

The world flashes incandescence,
arcing meaningless majesty -
     delivering the chest-felt sound moments later.


Michael and Mary

My brother takes the cage from the mantle and places it on the hearth.
We watch them twitter and hop,
branch to branch.
They dip their heads in the water,
shaking as though they fervently disagree with our plans,
spilling and dripping onto the newspaper,
darkening the brick.

I sit on the edge,
turmeric-stained kitchen towel on my lap.
We watch them for a while, noticing the blackness of their eyes,
the glory of their coloration,
and the baffling, perennial nervousness that only small birds, rodents, and the abused seem to share.

As my brother reaches for the gate, they each find a corner,
avoiding an imminent reaching, grasping, petting hand.
They experience no hand and instead see a rectangular space
where no wire exists: an opening, a hole. The air that their kind so readily recognize.

Blue and green, they burst from the cage.
Their clipped wings and life of resigned inactivity cause them to veer and surge unpredictably,

but this is what we love.

In their panicked escape, they dive and arc, roll and crash.

We chase them with desperate joy,
towels in hand,
pretending to be unable to reach them,

only to prolong our pleasure.


On Wing

I, the shrew
you, the owl
wings of cotton batting ribbed by tendrils of hollow bone
and radiant silence
a god
swept and folded between branches
orbs fixed,

talons unhinged


On That Day

It will be so much smaller than you thought.
No seas will part, no tempestuous maelstrom will consume, no sparking flames will engulf.

It will devour nothing and frighten no one.

It will be smaller than that.

The splinter coming free,
       the damp impression your socks leave above your ankles,
the part where the horns come in.

The serrations that edge a blade of grass,
       the horrible tenderness of a bruise,
and the enmeshing of feathers’ barbs
       because without it
       there would be no flight.

Like watching yourself take your first steps.
Like coming in from the rain.

It will be like this.
    Small, precise, and palpable.


bone mills, candy bars

I had always thought that when death came I would want my body cremated, reduced to between five and six pounds of chalky ash.

Now, though, I hope to be enrobed in chocolate.

I’ve always wanted to be someone’s crunchy, nougaty center.


Dear Lucy,

Though within recent weeks that hussy Ardi has stolen your limelight, for me you will always remain the one.


An Admirer


Of Hands and Backs and Feet

There’s that thing I want
the one that’s so simple

and elusive.

The one that has your weight on my back
pressed and much too warm
until there’s no space between us
but there’s the warmth and that laughter that comes out hard and sharp
because I can’t really breathe.

The thing I replace with things that
are much too complex
but far easier to reach.

The ones that sully my hands
and busy my mind
and leave my heart alone.

There’s that thing I want
that has me talking about hearts
as though they are something more than gory pumps.

That thing, the one that has me
thinking about bare feet in the rain
you, perched atop that low wall so you were taller than me

the way your hands on my shoulders weighed nothing.


The best thing about my day

Sitting on the benchtop - me at the tail end of my popsicle, he just nursing his. Long shadows stretched across the field. We talk about the birds, the black ones.
They’re called crows.

    Yeah, crows.

You know, they’re really smart, crows. They can recognize people’s faces. Like if they saw you a lot they would know it’s you.

    Why do they bother those small birds, then?

I don’t know; maybe they’re trying to keep their food to themselves.

    Well they’re not smart if they kill those little birds, then.

My popsicle stick, now partly chewed into splinters reminds him of a cigarette. I worry about locking up and about his mom coming late to pick him up. He’s been the last kid here for fifteen minutes now and I’m just subbing so I have no numbers to call, no key to get back into the room. We just wait together.

    I’m so lucky.

Why do you say that?

    Cause I get to be here with you.


Corny Love Poem v.1

It’s now, he thought.

He had been in bed,
half-covered, entirely naked, and fully awake.

The water ran;
she was up.

It's now, he knew.

It wasn’t when they awkwardly met through Judith.
Awkward because they could each see the other look away
and hear the other fumble
and trip over tongues.

It wasn’t when they first made love
or when they first fucked,
when they could feel each other fumble
and trip over tongues.

It was almost the time he saw her at the store, unexpectedly.
She was scrutinizing the shampoo aisle with her arms crossed,
one leg kicked out, heel planted – exasperation as tableau.

He slipped behind her,
kissed the nape of her neck as his hands slid under her jacket
and wrapped around her into familiar warmth.

He felt her tense – an involuntary spike of panic.
But it was so brief, so sharply and immediately curtailed
as his fingertips and lips pressed into her.

She just stood there as her heart slowed and eyes closed.

They walked out palms pressed desperately together.

It was almost then,
but it wasn’t.

It was this morning in bed,
when the running tap had pulled him from sleep.


Micheltorena & Bath

The top of his face was clipped by the bulky lines that described the window’s frame. Perched atop my bicycle, waiting for the light to turn, I saw him pull up and look over. His chin and cheeks were mottled with white whiskers, trimmed and neat. He wore navy blue coveralls and at his neck a fresh red handkerchief peeked out.

His window rolled down and I missed what he had said as I was focused on the red, waiting for green.

“Pardon?” I wheeled closer to the car, an early eighties Volvo four-door that looked to be well cared for; loved even. I could see his soft, kind eyes now, and the muted smile covering teeth that may or may not be his own.

“Is that a racing bike?”

My humble scratched and dented flat-barred bike is a terrific commuter, as utilitarian as a nice pair of scissors. I live in a city where every weekend hundreds of bicyclists take their ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber and titanium racers to the streets, sheathed in lycra, boasting calves the size of small cooked turkeys. Their wheels cost more than my entire ride; I pedal a Toyota Camry among F1 cars

“No, it’s basically just a commuter. It’s fun, though,” I answered honestly, if remarkably dully.

As he smiled in response the light turned green and my spindly legs carried me through the intersection much more quickly than the old Volvo’s drivetrain could. As he passed me he waved.

What strikes me is that he rolled down his window and asked; he asked a simple, benign, pleasant question at a red light. In a world that can provide a person with so many reasons not to, this man’s experiences had led him to something else. His seventy-some years of life had left him with this lesson: reach out and smile.

He drove away gifting this lesson to me, the steel blue of his car blending with the sky.


Seat 3A

The turboprop thrums outside the window; the blade tips churn feet from my head.
As we boarded one of the crew slowly inspected each of the prop blades with a flashlight, presumably searching for evidence of impending failure, of nascent fissures, signs of metal fatigue.
I sat and imagined what that kind of failure would mean. How the blade would instantly and explosively detach, fling itself toward the cabin, shred the aluminum like vellum and spray debris into what would in a moment become unrecognizable as my face. In the moments that would follow, I would quickly die from blood loss, diving toward the earth in this riveted coffin, lobotomized and dully unaware.
I’m not sure what it was about flying into LA tonight, but I had the swelling sense that I had never before seen anything so beautiful in my life. It being LA, that clearly wasn’t the truth, but there was something different about how I saw this descent: I had never seen something so ugly look so beautiful. I’ve always been awed by altered scales, by the unceasingly remarkable disparity between human settlement as viewed from above and as viewed through living it, but I’ve also always viewed these expanses of development as blights, as ever-expanding scars, hiding the real beauty and possibility of the soil and water underneath.
Well tonight it was different. Broad constellations of light created massive, divine continents divided by arteries of headlights and taillights that flowed like surging platelets. At points these stars are shrouded by miniscule clouds that hug the ground in small huddled groups. The stars expand outward, climbing into blackness at the foothills, drowning in the Pacific.
I watched in awe as the halogen white and arc-sodium yellow stars shifted and burned. My view at once obscured and illuminated by the polished aluminum cladding of the engine, the pulsating red underwing bulb, and the immaculately spinning propeller…carrying me home.


Henri-Marie Beyle

I wonder where the air goes when I see your face,
from what dark spring silence spills.
Where do tact and reason flee to form their crumbling, reedy nest?
Why do they return after you’ve gone, emboldened and girded;
only to scuttle away again, carrying bright blue thread and decaying roots?



In that room, it was only men.
It makes sense in a room where bodies burn – just men.

We came in behind the moss-green curtain, following the casket, men and boys. We came in, but we didn’t walk. Walking is something you do on your own – just two feet. We had twelve feet, and eight feet. We hung from each other’s shoulders and stained each other’s lapels.

My memory of the screaming has diminished; I can’t remember the texture or nature of it, just that it carried us. Few of us had ever actually wailed before (except as children) but here we had to. Here, we had to see what the hospital hadn’t shown us, what the eulogies had kept hidden.

We also had to do our job. The man who walked had a job to do as well. He knew about the feel of the casters on the floor and the heat of the green-enameled furnace. He knew about death, but not our death. He knew the song, but he couldn’t sing with us. He did his job and we waited.

Before we came to this room, my uncles did for him what my mother and aunts would soon do for my grandmother. They bathed him, preparing him. They washed the man who had stretched a family across an ocean and carried it, cupped in his hands, into two new generations. The man who waited with us when the whistle blew and we came out, dripping.

Behind the curtain, behind the man who knew our song but was deaf to it, we followed the casket. Inside, weighted by dozens of thick and dewy marigolds, he lay cleansed and prepared as hand lay upon hand, lay upon hand, lay upon bright red button.


Dudes, Dust, Day

This past week was not one of my best. It was interesting and daunting, but very far removed from nice. As Wednesday ended, the delayed weight of the past few months of new responsibility settled upon my shoulders and hung from my eyelids; I felt finished. In her typically mundanely miraculous way, though, my mom called just as I began to brim with self pity and lapse into sleep. I spilled my worries and she helped clean them up. As she restated everything that should have been obvious to me, I realized my reasons for self-abuse (not like that) were fairly unfounded and entirely useless. I felt better and went to bed…

I woke up at 4:30 feeling inexplicably spry. I raced to fill two mugs, one with coffee and one with oatmeal. I dragged the blanket and pillow onto the couch and in a strange bout of romantic, insomniac delirium, was brought to tears by a Steve Carell movie. Twice.

At some point I decided that what I needed was to go camping. Sleeping on the ground, kindling a fire, pissing in the dirt, rocking in a hammock, and thinking about nothing but shelter and sustenance would reorganize something inside me that needed reorganization.

Saturday morning, after spilling and then sitting in cornbread at Cajun Kitchen and buying a wig, Allan and I decided to leave later that afternoon for a campground in Ojai that I’d been to years before. I ran to the art store to buy some supplies while my clothes dried and my pack sat half-full. We bought some food and left.

My peerless navigation put us about 80 miles off course, though we hadn’t trekked too far before realizing we had neglected to bring the one thing that we actually might have needed to survive: water. So we compromised by stopping at a Vons and camping at Lake Casitas. We settled in and talked as the coals warmed, the air cooled, and the sky and lake purpled and dimmed.

The first time we truly noticed what was to become a consistent source of astonished amusement was when we caught the tail of a conversation: “Yeah, so there’s this dude on a stepladder bangin’ a horse and he gets kicked off.” Our neighbors, a gaggle of dudes who were quickly tumbling down the hill of life, gaining speed as they bumbled into ruddy-cheeked, beer-gutted, callously conservative middle age, had made their presence known. Allan noted that they seemed to have been the kind of guys who had only aspired to join fraternities, and so they had now created their own. I disagreed, thinking that instead they were still living that life in the moments that their bosses and spouses allowed. They still threw red plastic cups into the fire, called each other faggot if any two of them were standing together for any reason, made jokes about Jennifer Lopez’s ass that were at least nine years stale, and skirted around any form of reasonable, human conversation.

I know this seems judgmental, perhaps bitterly and snobbishly so. It might be, but we tried not to construct stereotypes. The dudes simply grabbed our hands (faggots) and stacked the bricks themselves. In the end, I can do no better than tell their story through their own words:

“So, I’m at Niagra Falls, youknow, and Niagra Falls is like fuckin’ Vegas.”


“Yeah, man. Like fuckin’ Vegas. I donno, there’s lights and shit everywhere. So I’m walking around with my wife and I’m fucking drunk as shit ‘cuz the company’s paying for it youknow. We go into this store and I see this shirt with this stick-figure dude on it and he doesn’t have a head and at the bottom it says ‘NEED HEAD.’ I laughed my fuckin’ ass off man. There was these two lesbians standing there and I showed it to them and those bitches got mad and walked out the fuckin’ store, man. I showed it to my wife and she nearly popped the baby out right there.”

This was followed by the touching story of how he left his wife at the hospital so he could go home and change because he wanted to be sure he was wearing his hilarious dinosaur fart joke t-shirt when his second child entered the world. Apparently his clearly unreasonable wife didn’t approve.

Saturday night went quickly as we ate, talked and fed the fire. Luminous R/C planes wheeled silently above the lake, tiny knowable UFOs.

I woke up with the dawn and jogged a very small arc of the lakeshore. I waved past fruitless fishermen and interrupted the hunt of a few sagely patient, stark-white heron. After coffee and oatmeal the day began to warm. I sat in my poorly-hung hammock, read and thought of nothing else. I sat and experimented with charcoal until at Allan’s suggestion I began my “sick dragon.” While he diligently helped clean the remnants of dozens of past campouts, Allan found an incredible artifact:

After a few hours our tents came down, we filled our packs and drove back up the coast.

This post seems to be one of those things that can't end elegantly, and so it has to simply end. Maybe then I'll just let it end on a soapbox: take a day to do the thing you love. You might find it gives you a hell of a lot more than you thought it could.