Poetry: AV12-Poetry


The Ears of My Toes

This morning, my deaf brother
Pokes me on the shoulder.
When I wake he mouths:

The room is filled
With the scent of baking bread
And the slant of morning light
Scraping through the open window.

Outside the window, a man
Jack-hammers the sidewalk.
Inside the bread, cumin
And roasted green chilies
Harmonize like the Tao.

Last night, after my brother arrived,
Thunder shook the house like a gong
And rain played timpani on the roof;

My brother stood grinning
Eyes shut, fingers splayed
Daddy Long-legs style
Along the wall.

How could I have drifted off to sleep?

And now, in the morning light
My naked feet—
Cool against the knotted grain
Of the plank floor—
Listen as the jack-hammer’s music
Floods into the ears
Of my toes.

Death Stairs into the Fridge

There used a to be a little cupboard
Where I kept my death
It stayed there for years
Between the Maalox
And a box of stale crackers

One day
While reaching for a flannel shirt
In the bedroom closet
There he was on the top shelf
Peering down at me

It went on like that for decades
Always there
As I was dreaming
Behind the shut door
Nuzzling unworn sweaters
And smelling of mothballs

He climbed down from the shelf
And settled into the couch
Before the picture window
Staring out at the barn
Where my childhood bicycle reposes
Vines winding clockwise
Round its rusting spokes

Evenings I sit beside him
Passing popcorn and beer

But this morning
While sipping coffee
In the kitchen
There he is

Staring into the fridge
Thrumming his lip
And tapping his foot

one for hiding under beds.

You’ve left Dorothy in chiffon and beaten. Last year the magazines extended
your subscription for being a valued customer. Daily vitamins are stored in
moisture resistant canisters and sweaters are packed with mothballs. You’ve
eaten in your closet with the sweaters. Sandwiches, alone, and a nursery
rhyme about pretty maids in a row. They say “bone soup.” There’s an Asian
root shaped like a heart. Tragic stories lack bathroom scenes. You say
fucking feels alliterative, Tetris blocks falling at increasing speed.
You’ve held babies and lost orgasms. Faith, blanched. TV’s on. The ocean
never looked bigger.


Kitchen smells of vacuum dust and mother’s full of silent virtue: she saw
boys with Anglo-Saxon names like Chad and Luke hold hands, going no place
but some death valley where they read fiction by saintly whores not yet 16,
both sick on subtle syntax and wayfaring blues, Dylan knew. Bottle prophets
ridicule but boys that love drink strong. Still curious, he’ll lean across
your arm and ask, you’ll know—the music swells, Blue Bayou on the radio,
kids in cars smoke thin reeds as mothers paint their nails.

All I Wanted to Know

was that the old VFW Hall was near the lighthouse.
I looked in the window by myself one early morning,
stray cats leaping at my feet, focusing on the bright
light hitting the wooden rafters, determined we
could cover up the bingo board. And then,
actually standing inside it the day before,
I started crying, at the stains on the grey carpet, soldiers
from the Great War frozen in the trenches upon the wall,
your Mother (not usually given over to clairvoyance)
saying she could feel the pain in that place.
So we married on the porch of the beach house instead
despite the rental instructions expressly forbidding it,
me nervously holding a bouquet of roses your father
fashioned from a grocery store cooling case, tied
together with ribbon from Melissa, borrowing
the words of others, even words from our better
and best selves to promise what only the foolish
and wise sometimes do: that when we are past
this hour and done with all sentiment, we will
return—two sullen strangers standing at the edge
of this evening listening to the talk and laughter of
those we love, incredulously watching ourselves
turn to say one last goodnight before heading up
the stairs in search of our daughter.


The last curve of road before the wooden gate
where firewood blooms. Faint strains of music.
Forgiveness growing in the ashes of argument.
The one right word, gleaming. The deep blue
throat of the gold rimmed china cup. And I,
I who have been witness to dull sorrow,
but also privileged to the heart’s inexplicable
lifting, say a hundred times a day, let it rise.


What came before–where once was flesh      heat

                                                 where once was heat

vacuum. There was a time when we did not exist

                                                 before we burst

into flame or flower. First of two vectors in a dyad:

                                                 the state of twoness.

Two things. Two people engaged in            ongoing


the interaction itself. Scoot over                  make room

                                                 for me.

Your mouth–your name–the grammatical


between us. The words we need not say            or cannot


The way a secret whispers its own name      or offers

                                                 its own reason

for being–the way a kiss begs to be a promise.


for Reva McDaniel Huey

Your voice like dry leaves.
     Your skin the color of water.
          Your black trunk

that smelled of the Southwest,
     desert honeysuckle, soap tree, hackberries–
          that bore its fruit of Yahtzee dice,

small blue candies,
     magazines with pictures of places
          none of us expected to see.

You made the rounds
     of your children’s homes -
          no more than two years in one place

until my father could bear no more,
     moved out himself
          and left you his apartment.

Was it restlessness
     or stillness brought the disease?
          Yes, I know better,

though if I’m to be honest,
     assigning blame
          was an act you understood.

You didn’t know me
     the last time I saw you.
          You tried to speak,

words evaporating
     before they formed meaning,
          the shape of steam

over a well-traveled teakettle,
     the false promise
          of tangibility.

I hope you are comfortable.
     At peace, maybe.
          Even feel at home.

That trunk–big enough to hold a body,
     a place we could hide
          and wait to be sought.

The Shrine

I leave the heart of the toilet paper roll,
the cardboard cylinder, out on the bathroom
counter again. My wife finds the evidence
of my crime and insults my slovenliness.
She insists there can be nothing simpler than
to throw it out. She’s wholly unsympathetic
to the fact I get distracted because
I do my best thinking between wipes.

My father sat and sat in his own private
chamber, alone in his own foul world,
raising his thoughts to some engineering
feat or a sticky problem of mechanical
malfunction. He planned and designed
on the throne. Now eighty two,
a neighbor came over and found him
passed out on the bathroom floor, low
blood sugar. The last thing he remembers
was getting dizzy. Before he went to black,
he might have been propped up there
for days, trapped, slowly puzzling out
how to get his life some desperately needed
oil and grease before it wears down.

I, though, am quick about things during
the process of extrusion, preferring to linger
afterwards in my final triumph and in
my inspection regimen. If there are many
men who see faces in clouds, why not one
who sees the work of Picasso in
his brown period smeared across the folds
of bunched-up toilet paper?

I do not know why my mind wanders
when tasked with throwing away
the remnants of the roll. Perhaps I’m thinking
big things this week. Where else can one
think uninterruptedly, without confusion?
It is shrine and ceremony dedicated to
one of my epiphanies. Please, I beg of you,
do not reject it simply because I don’t
have the heart to rid myself of this
seemingly useless core, which
on any given day, may still have
a thousand and one other uses.

Survival of the Fittest in Rio Vista

Through the slant drizzle slowly chiseling
the Humphrey the Whale monument,
we walk the riverbank of the Sacramento,
looking for treasure. We cross the US 12 bridge,
my son fighting his instinct to pee off
the side. He finds a stick to hit the steel girders
and throw into the water. Just after,
a fishing boat full of men dressed in fatigues
passes under, no birds or deer with them.
This is the land of near misses, hunters and
the hunted. Something tells me here
I shouldn’t try to preserve innocence,
shouldn’t try to hold too many overt opinions.

We discover the carcass of a plastic ball,
some snarled monofilament that we joke
could be magic. If it could catch anything
in the world, my son says he wants a crappie.
A crappie. With an o sound I correct,
remembering my Midwestern nice. But Romero
confirms he learned the short a sound too,
like in California. I tell my son he should wish
for a way to get us out of this crappy weather,
as we head for the eighth wonder of the Delta.

At Foster’s Bighorn Café we sit under the elephant,
the largest stuffed mammal head in the world.
One of its tusks weighs more than I did in
high school. The old African has hung there
since long before that. He has been there
more than fifty years with his friends:
timber wolf, hippo, rhino, giraffe, cougar,
grizzly, salmon, platypus, hyena and
the jackalope. It’s nice to see they have
a sense of humor about it, so I joke there are
more heads in the kitchen–some of
the short order cooks who didn’t measure up.

It’s the opposite of a zoo, a whole season of episodes
for some kind of taxidermy channel. It’s the ultimate
dream for a blogger cataloging skulls stuffed with
nothingness. Clearly, the sense here is life and death
are the only major entertainments available.

We gnaw our fish and beef, use a straw to blow
root beer bubbles. All our troubles are whistling
down the Sacramento. We commit to being
the kind of animals whose brains raft along
in our heads, looking for the treasure of
some diversion. We find it here in one of the bar’s
patrons who’s narrating his near misses,
then wishes for how he’d like to go,
motoring out beyond the Golden Gate in a boat
full of Kessler’s. When he’s drunk all of it,
he’ll shoot a hole in the bottom and become
one more member of God’s studio audience
who can clap and comment and laugh at
the parts where it all gets so delightfully absurd.

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