Category Archives: Poetry

Poem Too Gross to Read

I woke up once to the sight of vomit
pouring like an upside down fountain
from a camper on the top bunk
down to the floor where it blossomed
into a stunning mess, ten feet across,
almost perfectly round.

Nothing about it was beautiful.

I was the counselor so I had to clean it up.
I half-heaved a thousand times at least.

Imagine waking up to vomit every day.

Imagine the thing that makes you gag the fastest.
Someone else’s vomit? Someone saying vomit?

One time when I was swimming laps I saw
a giant loogie floating below me, sinking
slowly toward the filter. It had tentacles
of slime coming off of it. It was green.

You know how we say “I just threw up
a little in my mouth” to joke that something
strikes us as horrifying or just bad news?

My son says that every day. It’s not a joke for him.

He just now choked on what he’d regurgitated.

The disease that causes his nuclear reflux
is hard to pronounce and not commonly known.

Because the pain’s inside of him some people think
it’s mostly inside his head or that he’s lying
or exaggerating or maybe just an unpleasant child.

What he has is invisible and what they can’t see
they can’t believe, apparently, but I wonder
if they could see this: maggots sliding and oozing
inside a jack-o-lantern. More maggots

inside a pus-filled cut in the arm of a woman
whose plane crashed and she wandered in the jungle
for weeks and her feet blistered and bled and cracked.

That one time in honors math class when the weird guy
popped a big stinky zit and it sprayed onto
all the really smart students next to him.

When the sad girl threw up on the bus
and it ran down the runnels of the rubber mat
and the bus driver poured the pink sawdust on it
which was supposed to soak it up but just made it worse.

I would do anything for my child.
I would write something I can barely stand to read.
I would ask people to read it and if they said no,
I would ask them if they know how lucky they are—
they can choose to avoid the thing my son can’t avoid.

Asking for a Friend

Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?
How do you know when you’ve crossed the line?
Thanks for your help. Just asking for a friend.

Wow. One matchbook collection more and you’d be in
a clutter monkey reality show of your own.
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?

And if there is a demarcated line, can
you live inside the shape you’ve bent it in?
Thanks in advance. Just asking for a friend.

When your life falls apart, what does that mean?
Will your house ever be clean, ever again?
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?

What if you remember one scary time when
one of your cousins seemed way too interested in
your secret parts. Asking for a friend.

You don’t recall his touching you like that back then.
So why his interest? You were so scared. So why?
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?
(I know you know it’s me) asking for a friend.

—–

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(This is actually an organized spot in my house, where we store paper to recycle and reuse. But it LOOKS messy.

 

 

Lying Awake After Six Hours of Sleep and Finally Admitting That’s All the Sleep There Is

It’s pretty early to be thinking “How
can this day be redeemed?” But when you draw
from a deep well of self-loathing, trust me,
you can ruin your hours well in advance
of inhabiting them. Insomnia is
such a fucking waste. Of time,
of course, and energy, and the sheetness
of sheets,  so innocent with their way
of seeming cool and warm as needed.
Note also: I wasn’t asking
“How can I redeem this day?”
Well, no. Because that would indicate
some level of control. A modicum.
I very well may sleep
a little better tonight.
I could stand outside
and get absorbed
in how very gold
the goldenrod.
But some days there is no resolution.
There is just the question of redemption
and the passing of time and giving up
or almost inadvertently
having an o.k. but unredeemed day
that will not count on any list
of very good or very bad
days of any description at all.

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Rotten Apple Yoga

Apple, apple, mother-fucking apple.
I tried counting, the way counting
can be meditative. I got to five.
Listing colors worked a little better:
yellow, red, green, brown, black,
beige, rust, orange, peach, pink,
dark red, dark brown, white, off-white.
I modified some poses to enable
picking rotten apples simultaneous to
breathing, just breathing, well, mostly breathing.
Cat pose, cow pose, quad stretch—those worked best.
I talked to my right wrist as it began to hurt
and then my left when I shifted.
My knees both hurt but not at once.
“Hello tightness, my old friend”
I’ve begun saying to my lower back and hips,
but not tonight when I was gleaning
from below the apple tree I loved
when we bought the house but which now I hate.
Somehow my familiar pains were simply not
there tonight. It’s standing and sitting that hurt me
most, not crawling on my hands and knees,
putting all those apples into one broad, galvanized bucket,
one five-gallon cat litter bucket, and then aiming
so many more apples onto an old bed sheet.
I started saying apple, apple, apple, in my head,
apple, apple, apple, two apples, three apples,
another apple, apple, apple, apple.

This task I loathe is loathsome largely
on account of the symbolic baggage that grows
prolific with the apples:

I waste resources.
I am a woman from whom things get away.
I don’t keep up. My ambitions don’t match my energy.
I am lazy. The person I thought I was 20 years ago
when we bought the house is not the person I am.
I have a million mason jars I don’t fill
with anything
but dust.
The mother-fucking tree isn’t even on our property.
Why am I the only one who worries about attracting
yellow-jackets? Why haven’t I hired someone to prune it?
Why haven’t I sabotaged it so that, dead,
it would have to be cut down? Why won’t my husband
prune it back the way the orchard pictures show?
Why won’t he cut it down?

Why don’t I remember to put out the organic fly traps
in time? Why don’t I make applesauce every year?
Why don’t I pick up the few apples that drop
every day and add them to my compost pile?
Why don’t I have a compost pile at all?

I am an awful person. I must be.

I thought all those thoughts. I tried not to.
But I thought them anyway.
And when I thought those thoughts, I also thought,
my t-shirt’s riding up. I’m not going to pull it down.
What if someone sees the white expanse of belly
and hip laid bare right at this very moment?
And then I thought so what if someone sees?
None of what they see should be a surprise.

Each time I thought those thoughts I also thought
apple, apple, apple. Red. Blood. Brown. Apple.
Rabbit carcass. Or possibly excrement.
Apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple.
Then I was breathing deep in my big belly,
the belly this shirt’s too small for,
breathing in and also out, a little longer out,
and in again, the rotten smell, the cider smell,
the smell of apple after apple, apple, apple.

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I’ve written about this tree before, a poem called “On Conscientiousness,” which I see myself lacking.

But there really were moments tonight when all that was in my head was “apple” and my body was just a body that existed to move rotten apples from one place to another.

I’m not going to say nirvana, but it was not loathsome or even particularly unpleasant. Interesting.

 

 

Poem for a Cold Spring Which I Somehow Entitled Grace

This was published a very long time ago in Tar River Poetry. I am now motivated to try to ascertain if Tar River Poetry still exists. [UPDATE: It does! Here’s the 30th anniversary issue--I published there almost 30 years ago.] It’s always so misery-inducing when spring is cold. I don’t care how much I love British mysteries set in cold, wet, beautiful places. I don’t want the place I live to be cold and wet and beautiful in APRIL. I want warm and wet and beautiful.

This was long before I met my husband, long before I had a son. But I was babysitting a lot. I’m curious now where these girls are. What happens to the children of writers with interesting names?  (I actually am invested in that question now.)

I’m reading this tomorrow on WRCO, Richland Center’s radio station.

_____
GRACE

Hymns don’t work on this baby–only torch songs
bribe her fussing into sleep. I’ve planted
Lady Day deep in her downy head:
“Summertime,” mostly, though it’s a cold spring
in Montana, nowhere near humid enough for blues.
Her sister sleeps upstairs, rousing choruses
of “Amazing Grace” still bouncing off crib slats
like a holy mobile set loose.I stand guard, willing
my notes into warmth until the windows bead up
like a glass of tea, my voice ungainly
and stubborn as a weed. I don’t believe
nothing can harm them, but tonight nothing will.

______
“Summertime” is one of the songs I’ve always sung to my son. That and “Blue Moon.” I tried adding “Tennessee Stud” to the mix but I can never remember all the words. My husband sings a version of summertime that is medley with “Whipping Post.”

Two things strike me about this poem now (well, lots of things, but I have to save something for the radio show). First, this was before I started writing a lot of sonnets, but it seems to me this wants to be a sonnet. Second, I had nurturing to spare back then.

Things That Feel Like Two Bricks Scraping Together

Strep throat, when you swallow, but that’s more of a
crash than a scrape. Or a crash then a scrape.
“There’s a wall in my throat! Pull back! Pull back!”
but whatever I just took in through my mouth says
“I’m going! Maybe it won’t be so bad this time”
but it is. It is bad every time.
 
Akin to nails on a chalkboard but not quite that
(and there are whole generations now for whom
that phrase means absolutely nothing),
infelicitous phrasing can sometimes turn my neck
to the side a certain way and those tiny, adorable
bones inside my ear scrape and because they are
right there inside my ear it sounds like bricks.
 
And when my son was still in diapers there were times
when I was changing him and he was being wiggly
or crying or otherwise developmentally appropriate
that I knew the resentment I felt could be overcome
with love but I resisted feeling that love, I fought
to hold onto the pain. There was a tie between
love beyond measure and something beyond annoyance
and they scraped at each other. Hard.

______

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We used cloth diapers. Over and over and over again.

Brushy Creek Runs Through It

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The beautiful Brushy Creek on the campus of UW-Richland.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” Norman MacLean A River Runs Through It

“It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free”  Elizabeth Bishop “At the Fishhouses” 

Running water changes everything
and nothing. You can stand on the banks and count
the number of trout you see in Brushy Creek

just like you’ve done for half a century
or more, fishing or just thinking how
running water changes everything.

I like to pause there and pretend every morning
that some of my stress is floating away and down.
The number of trout you see in Brushy Creek

does vary, depending. I confess I’ve never seen
a single one, but that doesn’t make me doubt.
Running water changes everything

about a place. It gives our landscape meaning.
It shows us how to shift some things without
running the risk of harming the trout in Brushy Creek,

without giving up the goal of learning
who we are and what our genius loci’s all about.
Running water changes everything
except the number of trout you see in Brushy Creek.

 

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Post script:  apparently it’s BRUSH CREEK, not BRUSHY CREEK.  I think maybe I knew that at some point.  Or maybe not.  There’s not a sign anywhere, and I am very texty….  And I don’t hear well… But really, no excuse. I’ve been here since 1992.  I really ought to know better.  But I ain’t changing the poem because Brushy Creek scans better than Brush Creek.  Honestly, I think it should be Brushy Creek.  I might keep calling it that and see if it catches on.