A tenderness grew in me
beyind all porportion
like a tangled vine
Nothing you could see
such as initals scaring a tree
but the desire claimed there
to be entwined
in something permanent
the way the sea
in all its motion
can't let go of the sea
published in humanaobscura
War Orphan, Poland, 1948
after a photograph by David Seynour
She looks at you as if she’s been startled.
Behind her is a blackboard,
and she’s holding chalk that’s drawn
this maze of intersecting lines.
What she’s drawn when asked
to illustrate the word Home.
Was she remembering the barbed wire
of the concentration camp she was in
after her parents died. Who has
bought this dress that looks like velvet,
the huge bow keeping hair from her face?
The drawing you had hoped to decipher
will be erased. For now, it exists
without an entrance or exit
for there’s no door, no window, no ground.
published by Consquence Journal
Man in a Cardboard Box
after a photograph by Tom Gralish
He is sitting in his shelter near a cab stand,
and looks the way you’d expect—
worn face, uncombed hair, torn shoes.
He wears a thick jacket.
He’s eating something—
spoon in one hand, bowl in another.
It’s January in Philadelphia.
His name is Walter.
The photographer wanted to know
how it was for the homeless
on the street and discovered
a community, that there were
enough vendors who were nice
to them, enough steam grates, a liquor store
nearby, lots of commuters.
Wherever they live, whether on fire escapes
or in alleys, sun is their warmth,
rain their shower, and it’s
coming down now—
people on the sidewalk
walking under umbrellas
looking straight ahead
except for a few who reach
for coins as they pass outstretched hands.
published in Book of Matches
Starving Child and Vulture
after a Pulitzer Prize winning
photograph by Kevin Carter Sudan, 1993
The naked child
with white beaded necklace
has sunk to his knees on the ground,
his head almost touching
the barren earth.
A vulture lands nearby,
and you with your camera
wait for it to move closer.
but you do not go to him,
warned not to interfere for fear
of spreading disease.
Then, the world’s cry
when they see this image
that stays in their minds
wanting to know what
happened to the child.
And the outcry that you continue
to hear until one day you
drive your truck beside a river
and tape a hose
to the exhaust and sit
inside with your last letter.
There will be no more
photographs, and slowly
all will become silent,
even this river
in South Africa.
published in Kakalak, 2021
From "An Instant out of Time"
Set in the midst of furrows.
A small house. No smoke from the chimney,
no people. They tried to hold on.
Oh, yes, next year's crop will yield,
and the dust will cease.
One child after another,
Dust Pneumonia threatening death.
Finally, the people moved on to Oklahoma
where conditions were the same,
then to California: No Oakies Allowed.
Now th efields are silent,
no sound of tractors.
The price of wheat falling and falling.
What might be left inside the house?
What wasn't necessary,
wouldn't fit in the jalopy.
The straight road ahead.
Signs to count the miles.
Stories for the children
to ward off hunger.
The mother saying, Soon.
Still Life with Bottles
for my husband
after Monet, 1859
Come sit, share the bread with me, spread it with butter, there on the pewter dish. Pour the wine—we won’t need the carafe of water, but maybe later the apricot brandy the sun is hitting now, spreading its shadow across the table. Bring cheese, and there are apples in the kitchen in a basket. Red wine is your favorite, earthy tannins that preserve. I want to tell you of the new sadness, how the heart can fold like a flower at sunset. You, who’ve lived with me so long, having studied my face, desired good things for me—lift the bottle and pour, then my lips will taste like yours. Don’t worry about the white cloth if anything spills, it will wash. This knife isn’t sharp, just tear the baguette—bread made to last only a day. Now I can tell you, while all is quiet, the walls surrounding us, making us close in this small space.
published in Yemassee
I was wearing an orange maternity dress
that summer morning, standing at the airport
that would take you to Vietnam.
I wasn’t yet twenty-one.
Our parents never said how foolish we’d been
to marry, having done so themselves
in a time of war. I watched you
go up the steps of the plane,
put on your sunglasses
and turn to wave.
Should I have thought
I might never see you again?
The armor of youth.
I barely remember driving home,
only the comfort of the bed,
the antique dresser with mirrors
across the room. Somewhere someone
was mowing. I knew I should get up
at some point, the baby’s foot
a knot in my stomach.
Outside were lilacs, hollyhocks,
hydrangeas. I could make a bouquet,
but I didn’t. Night came with its cool air,
air you were flying through.
A small lamp on, a moth at the screen
In its camouflage.
published in Up from the Depths:
Haunted Waters Press