Bread

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Bread

That year we learned the true language of fear.
I baked boule and you haunted medical sites.

You said to arrive I must first depart
or be willing to suffer self-awareness. Let’s not

mention our pact just yet. My basic boule requires a
Dutch oven, 20 ounces of flour, water, yeast and salt.

At twenty I learned the finer points
of sausage-making, how to butcher chicken, and

that your hair smelled like dawn’s last flower.
Back then we owned the night. Now I harvest

wild yeast and sharpen pencils, make to-do lists,
pour Chianti, run numbers. I agreed

to your proposal. It would be a kindness, you said.
The pancreas produces hormones

and aids digestion. I chopped off my left thumbtip
and a year later the abscission point

still felt numb. After rolling the dough
into a ball, let it proof for an hour in an oiled bowl.

We shared a taste for sharp cheese
but never agreed on pillows. You loved

down comforters and found vultures fascinating.
Years together honed our lives

but we never considered what that meant. Score
the dough, bake it for 30 minutes with the lid on,

remove the lid and bake for another 15.
Kneading resembles breathing: in,

out. Rise, fall. Bright lights made your eyes water,
so I kept them dimmed. You swallowed

and said “Tell me how to knead bread.”
With the heel of your right hand, push down

and forward, applying steady pressure.
The dough should move under your hand.

Within minutes it will transform.

 

* * *

“Bread” was first published in Extract(s) in April 2015.

pillows

Clandestine

 

Clandestine

​How did you slip so deftly past those bottled
years, through my ribcage and into the safe
room never before broached? I am the little
stones you gather, the morning’s obsidian eye.
Though the wind’s unseen fingers caress you,
coveting in a way I cannot, my hand, warm
against your pale belly, knows the truth of
contrast and heat, of flesh and gnarled bark.
Unveiling these furtive moves, our love smelts
tears into nuggets, transforms nights into
blue sky, sultry chatter into celestial song.
Our secrets kiss the dark quiet.

 

“Clandestine” first appeared in Issue 6 of Kissing Dynamite. I am grateful to the KD team for taking this piece.

 

 

Mother’s Day (with recording)

 

Mother’s Day

The dog is my shadow and I fear his loss. My loss.
I cook for him daily, in hope of retaining him.

Each regret is a thread woven around the oak’s branches.
Each day lived is one less to live.

Soon the rabbits will be safe, and the squirrels.
As if they were not. One morning

I’ll greet an empty space and walk alone,
toss the ball into the yard, where it will remain.

It is Mother’s Day.
Why did I not weep at my mother’s grave?

I unravel the threads and place them around the dog.
The wind carries them aloft.

 

“Mother’s Day” was published in The Lake in July 2016, and last appeared here in May 2019.

 

My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.

 

 

My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.

Even in death she scraps the easy path, choosing thorns and rocks
over blossoms and a groomed walkway. On hands and knees,
scouring the floor with ghost water and a scrub brush made of ancient

thistles, her pale figure flares yellow in the kitchen. Mom, you don’t
have to do this, I say. You’re dead, and besides, I have a swiffer
in the garage. I can almost hear her humming a Ray Charles

song from an album back in the sixties, and I notice that the water
in the transparent bucket remains clear and at the same level no matter
how often she dips into it. What do you say to one who never replies?

We’ve long splashed through that puddle of contention, and though
wary of repetition’s erosive qualities, I resort to ritual, drop a piece of
kombu into a pot of water, bring it to a boil, remove it from the heat,

sift in a handful of dried bonito flakes and a few drops of soy sauce,
stirring it a few times. Then I strain the liquid, spoon in some miso,
add chopped green onion and a few cubes of tofu. I ladle this into two

black and red laquer bowls and set them on opposite sides of the table.
Hours later, the glow from the kitchen has faded, but I fidget and lie
awake, pain pulsing from hip to knee, and wonder if surgery is impending,

whether I should hire someone to temporarily mow the grass. How do
we reconcile reality with desire, with emotional drought and flood-swollen
creeks and the inability to draw together those things we desire most?

In the morning the floor is still dirty and the soup is where I’d left it,
at the sharp edge separating table from space, another stuttering symbol,
cold and unappetizing, smelling faintly of fish and muddy water.

 

 

“My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” first appeared in The Indianapolis Review, and was subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

 

 

 

 

Ghost, with a Line from Porchia

 

Ghost, with a Line from Porchia

In my dreams you manifest in a younger form.

If I were to give you life, what could I give you?

Your hands never touched these walls, yet you inhabit them.

As my language inters you, I am absorbed in yours.

Some gifts are simply not proffered, others are released.

My fingers retrace your name in both sun and shade.

The rain taps out regrets, regrets on the metal roof.

Dim spirit, faint soul. Root-land. Shoal. Mother.

Each visit signals the darkness waiting.

Your battle with language, with silence, invoked.

I stretch the word and weave this dirge for you.

 

* * *

Note: “If I were to give you life, what could I give you?is from Antonio Porchia’s Voices, translated by W.S. Merwin.

“Ghost, with a Line from Porchia” first appeared in Underfoot in October 2017.

Down and Away

 

Down and Away

How soon we lose the scent
of our first love’s

body, that odor of perfume
over sweat and uncertainty

and the overwhelming surge
into what will never again

be new. You shake yourself
back, wondering

if falling stars could choose
to rise again, whether

they would rejoin the firmament
or simply retreat deeper into the

ocean’s black, cooling, sliding
down and away, slipping

free of regret, evading forever
the sun’s long fingers.

 

 

“Down and Away” was first published in August 2019 at Trestle Ties. Many thanks to Juleen Eun Sun Johnson and Aaron Schuman for taking this piece.