The Exile Speaks of Mountains (published in Little Patuxent Review, Summer 2018; this poem was chosen as Runner-Up in the Enoch Pratt Library’s 2018 Poetry Contest for Maryland residents)
Hospitality, Birth of the Girl Child, Remnants of Empire (published in Pen In Hand, Winter 2017; “Birth of the Girl Child” won 2nd place in the Maryland Writers Association’s Annual Poetry Competition 2016)
Re-Entry: An Internal Monologue (guest blog post on Rocky Re-Entry, January 2017)
Cameo (published in St. Katherine Review, Vol.4 Number 3)
You hold a ready lens to each scene and verse
waiting for yourself to come into focus: you’re Joseph—dreams,
Judases for brothers, final recompense for your hurts—
or Moses— eyes searching watery walls you’ve stepped between
for shadow creatures, fissures, but on you walk, aware of trust,
scanning for evidence of God in the seams—
or perhaps an exile returning from Babylon—the crust
of years falling from you, the shofar sounding its jubilant note
as the last foundation stone settles in the dust.
Yet what if you are not the favored son, but one who woke
from dreams, number twelve in line for daddy’s attentions,
trafficked for debt or indifferent profit, smote
by an obscure hand, no dancing exodus
rather, death by your stripes in the shadows of a limestone
mausoleum, born one generation too early for deliverance?
What if exile makes such bitter work of your bones
and brittle heart, the others must kiss you and depart
to witness the stones’ rebirth, while you remain alone?
The initial taste of meekness is tart
as you adjust to your bit part.
Creative Luxury—Beyond Maslow (essay published on antler’s blog)
The Truth About the River (published in Welter, Fall 2104)
Everything Is a Departure (published in Bloodstone Review, Issue #1, May 2015)
Cicadas—East of Eden (published in The Penwood Review, Fall 2011)
Bazhong, Sichuan, China
Mid-summer I crested the ridge
of the hill behind my house, the bare brown shoulder rising
naked above its garment of summer growth
and encroaching city. My breath hummed
with the music of the full sun
as an iridescent body magnetized my eyes
to itself: skewered by the sun’s full rays
against a dry trunk it heaved and accordioned
itself in and out, up and down.
I leaned in, not breathing because
of the power of that voice
that is not even a voice, how it could consume
the span of earth and sky and then cease,
leaving everything shaken, changed.
Before, I never searched them out, unnerved
by the sheer terror of that volume, sounding like
everything in the world, threatening
to blast me off my feet, then
swallowing into sudden silence.
I averted my eyes when trapped
in that screeching bubble of space.
Now I hungered to know everything
about them: spider-veined transparent wings,
tymbrals contracting to amplify sound
through a hollow abdomen
such that permanent hearing loss could occur
if it were right next to your ear.
The Chinese have a saying,
shedding the golden cicada skin:
escaping danger by using deception or decoy
because of the empty husks left behind,
clinging to the bark of trees.
Or the repeated shedding of illusions
until what is real is left.
The last time I saw one up close was
early fall, festival time downtown and a giggling,
mini-skirted young woman thrust
a wooden skewer into my son’s hand.
The magnificent body was pierced
through and scorched.
I held my breath and he held his arm out away
and we both flinched when a leg moved.
My gaze spun around the square–
the cruel lollipops in hands everywhere–
and I remembered I had read China is one
of the many places where cicadas are eaten.
My son rushed after her, mumbling bu yao,
I don’t want it, and he wiped his eyes and grabbed my hand
I want to go home, he said.
And we left, and what was left with me
is this: that we all keep failing utterly
at our original vocation.
Chengdu Pastoral (published in Gulf Stream Magazine, May 2013)
The Coveted Gift (published in Off the Coast, May 2013)
Last month I was given this gift,
deceitfully wrapped in white
linen and delivered word-by-gentle-word
by my doctor with the tired eyes:
two months to live,
staring up at me, unblinking, innocent
as only death can be.
And that was the moment when
the life-breath of everything ever created
lifted me on hushed, thick wings, enabling
me to cast my scream upon the waters:
I have all the world to give!
Now, instead, I am merely going
home, empty-handed; but you—
even now!— show me your splayed palm
while your other fist clenches
tight, kneading a sharp hole
in the small of your back.
Your concealed palm perspires
with unspecified guilt,
hiding the coveted gift: you.
Suddenly I am without want,
running over with pity.
Speak Like Rain (published in Tiger’s Eye Journal, Summer 2013)
“Speak again. Speak like rain.” –Kikuyu farm youth to Karen Blixen, after listening to her recite verses of poetry to them for the first time. (Out of Africa)
Speak like rain, sister,
those smooth, plump drops that beat
water-rhythm on our chests—
words shaped like the curve
of an ear, the cup above the lobe—
fill it again.
Speak again, the rain
has been too long in coming
and this scorched sod waits;
words flew on wings and
summoned the plovers hunting
for new grass.
Speak like rain, play
those tricks with light and clouds,
hope and dry craziness;
words that smell far away
like the sea drifted here just now—
tasting of salt.
God’s Sermon at the Eucharist (published in Time of Singing, Spring 2010)
Weekly your mantra contains truths
dropped from your lips—
stones that produce
no ripple, nothing
to disturb the placid surface—
no soul-searching, no fury
at injustice, no grasping greed,
only the cold comfort of this
chalice at your lips
and the timid, nagging wonder
that wine should taste
so like plain