You watch him
walk into the kitchen
for a drink of water
watch him turn
to open the cabinet
for a glass,
his profile sharp
against the soft pine,
and by now you know
he isn’t going
to offer to bring you
while he’s up,
and he helps himself
to a bowl of berries
before returning
to your side,
and you will say
something about the
beauty that still exists
in the world
because you are trying
to stay positive
in spite of being
but he won’t respond
he didn’t hear you
or he wasn’t listening…
either way
you are unheard again
as he focuses
his attention on the TV
which is advertising
male enhancement
between news stories
and you wish
there was some magic
potion to enlarge
his heart
which you are
beginning to realize
has always been
a few sizes too small.


It’s my twelve o’clock lunch break
in Brown County State Park
with orange October
glowing all around me,
and this picnic table offers me a view
of a childhood memory:
my brother’s tenth birthday party
was right here in this spot
when I was seven years old,
and Ziggy was on all the plates and cups—
a lovable, last-in-line character back in 1980
when the young girl who used to be me
never wanted to leave the park—
I wanted to stay in the woods,
or cozy up to the fire inside the lodge,
and I never gave a thought
to how I’d feel about having a job here
almost forty years later
or that such a job would indicate failure
once I was old enough
to have spent two and a half decades
trying to become someone
with talents and skills
worth more than minimum wage.
And finding out before lunch
that the boy
twenty-five years younger than me
was hired on at twenty-five cents more
per hour
causes me to feel one hundred percent
to walk back into that lodge
where all the fire inside me will burn out,







The Right Word

What is the right word
if the right word isn’t fair
when a man prepares to leave his wife
after thirty years together,
believing he has found himself
right at home
in the arms of a younger woman
who is about to leave her older husband
because of the way it feels
when she is standing three feet away
from this new man,
knowing that one day
they will close the distance
until there is nothing between them
but a kind of crime
committed in the name of love—
Somehow, fair
is never the word for what it means
when two people
have found happiness in each other
out of order, in the wrong sequence,
even if they move slowly and cautiously
toward the future they’d like to share.
And even if the children are old enough
to survive such an earthquake,
it still isn’t fair
that these two leavers should have
a second life to look forward to
when the ones they leave
will be left baffled and alone.
And who could blame the abandoned
for feeling bitter
as they witness someone else
revive in their loved one an exuberance
that’d been replaced long ago
with boredom?
Only a monster—
or someone who has experienced
the thrilling unexpected shift of love
from one body to another
would dare to call it right.





“An Out-of-Doors Study” by John Singer Sargent, 1856


I know exactly
how many of them
are out there
who would come
right now
if I called them
and they would happily
undress me
fuck me
with tenderness
and maybe even love me
but I am wasted
for another
for the one that ruined me
for the one that has never
had me
felt me
been close enough
to make me come
to my senses
and he is out there somewhere
like a cowboy
sleeping on the ground
wondering why in the world
I am so far away
and wondering
who it is
who gets to hold me tonight
and even though
I know exactly
how many men
are out there
who would come
right now
if I called them
the only one I want
is the one who knows
when to pull the trigger
and when to wait.





“The Parkman Outfit” by NC Wyeth

Street Corner

It’s 10:50 a.m.
and no calls are coming in
from employers
needing my un-degreed skills
to wash dishes or make beds
or sell shoes
or dispatch emergency vehicles
or cash paychecks—
and I haven’t had a payday in a while
but there’s still food
in the fridge and in the pantry
and the electricity hasn’t
been disconnected
and even though
I was only half-joking
with my ten-year-old when I said
I hope I can pay the bills this month
his decade on this planet
has been sufficient
for him to understand poverty
and to cause in him enough anxiety
to suggest we find some cardboard
and make a sign for me to hold
on the street corner
and he didn’t understand
why I said I would never do that
and I told him about pride
and he told me he’d rather me lose it
than the house we just moved into
and I told him that would be a last resort
and now it’s 11:00 a.m.
and I’m thinking about
that cardboard box in my closet
full of my childhood dreams
that could be emptied out
and repurposed with the irony
of a black permanent marker.





“Migrant Mother” by Dorthea Lange, 1936

Without Light

you almost reach out.
You almost make the call
that would undo
the tight little knot
you made
with the loose ends
that have been dragging
behind you
like the dead weight of love
after it can’t stand up straight—
so you leave the house
after dark
without a lifeline
without a light
hoping that when
you get back home
you’ll see him there
you’ll hear his voice—
and once again, you’ll glow.
But this is desperation,
and everyone knows
that nothing good
nothing you need
comes in this shape or size—
and nothing but the grave,
cold and forever,
is going to erase this need.








Like a prisoner
in a cell
I live in my imagination
because I can’t
walk into the world with you—
but in my mind
my dreams can make love
to my favorite memories
and for a moment
I exist in a kind of paradise
of happiness past—
that first night
around the campfire
where we celebrated life
with shooting stars
made of toilet paper rolls
and laughed so hard
the owls were beginning
to feel annoyed
and asked us
who who who
do you think you are
and in that moment we knew
exactly how to answer—
and nights like this
when I fall apart
in the absence of your love
I wonder
if I’ll ever see you again
and I begin to wonder
how many others
have loved so deep
they would walk
in opposite directions
with full faith
that they would meet again
on the other side of the barbed wire—
and by then
would be standing in their way.





Photo by Wilma Birdwell