Poem with lines from John Donne’s “Meditation XVII”


I walk through the corridors of my self, tricked
out in ego uniform. I trail the end of a night-

stick along the vertical bars separating me into
isolated cells to contain my many selves I have

judged unready to be seen in public, ones rumored
to have erred, others likely to appear inadequate.

In order to keep so many confined here to my own
private Alcatraz, the ego-guard in charge of them

can also never be off-duty, never has permission
to take a break, to rest, relax the tense knots,

the kinks that over-vigilance works into muscles,
into sentences, into nights that might otherwise

hold sleep and starlit dreams. I have lost track
which of my voices was confined to isolation when,

how long each has been down here, and for what
offense against the relentless despot in my head.


And here the despot comes! Flanked by pretensions,
he descends partway down the metal stairs into

the darkness of the prison, come to announce his
latest plans for all the inmates, how they might

earn the right to see the light of day and breathe
fresh air again. But first, they must make their

obeisance and express their willingness to work
as conscript labor on the despot’s latest project.


The nightstick dragging on the bars is a mallet
pounding on a xylophone. Taken alone, each note

is sharp and harsh, but as each one hangs sullen
in the air, other notes gather near it until

the tones are stacked and sandwiched like shades
of colored light, a chord of rainbow, sundogs.

“…one chapter is not torn out of the book,
but translated into a better language; and every

chapter must be so translated…” Slowly, one
after the other, the inner inmates turn their

faces toward the despot. His mouth still shapes
commands, but any sound he makes is drowned by

these new harmonies blending from the cell-bar
xylophone notes. The air begins to vibrate with

hope, tones soften from xylophone to marimba,
are sustained in shimmers, promises, and inner

whispers that race from cell to cell until all
voices in me are raised in affirmation: there

are no mistakes and no mis-givings, and nothing
but nothing only nothing remains hidden forever.

In response to Joseph Lisowski’s “Shadow Self/Dante Dream 10-13” and Dave Bonta’s “Surveillance Society,” with help from John Donne.

By yon bonnie banks…

for my mum, with lines from the traditional song “Loch Lomond”

If we swim to shore,
escape the frame,
we shall not meet again.
Jean Morris, “Sea Dream

When Scottish blood gives up its ghost, that ghost goes home first, mother,
before it journeys beyond — the Highland Gate’s at Perth, mother.

Potato blight caused famine, there were only oatmeal rations.
Did Scots become thrifty gleaning history of dearth, mother?

Wool roving (sheep shucking) dyed and woven into clan tartans.
For identity, check the kilt strapped about the girth, mother.

Ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, / And I’ll be in
Scotland afore ye…
but Loch Lomond is not Tay’s Firth, mother.

Baa black sheep, dark rumor, our ancestor immigrated to
this continent from prison, came in a convict’s berth, mother.

Scots have the reputation of pinching every penny twice.
For haggis and bagpipes, sheep belly’s pennyworthy, mother.

Grandfather was fond of puns, lowest form of humor. Double
entendre is a frugal fun, it’s not spendthrift mirth, mother.

Below Perth the River Tay is tidal. If Perth is Heaven’s
Gate, do all Scots reincarnate, come back in re-birth, mother?

When I was small you read me poems and taught me to recite them.
I wrote this to thank you for teaching me a Word’s worth, mother.

Before the Harvest

When I was small, my friends and I would sit
beneath the mango tree and learn to comb
hair until it stood up loose and fluffy, then plow

a straight line down to the scalp and separate
the field into even sections, slowly plait each
into a close, straight braid. My own thin blonde

hair was a frustration — how I secretly envied
my friends their gleaming ebony that could,
at our young age, be plaited into elegance!

My own hair could be brushed and braided,
and it was, but it would not stay neat through
washing, the plaits would loosen, tangle, grow

into a mess fit to nest a chicken. But envy is
even uglier than unruly, steals from the eyes
and smile whatever beauty might otherwise

reside there. I resolved in tight silence, to let
it go, to instead celebrate each time we sat
to braid and found Jumma’a’s hair grown

longer during its most recent time in narrow
rows, found it each time closer to a length
that would permit a woman’s style, a wrap

and sculpting with black thread into a form
and beauty that would be uniquely hers.
We were young girls, then. We took comfort

in the patient, loving touch of one another’s
hands, this ritual that would carry us through
as bodies changed and destinies diverged.

After Robbi Nester’s poem “The Long and Short of It.”

This Cold Ache

for Dave and Mark Bonta

This cold ache, this longing
to belong — orangutans have
already begun to step into
our filthy shoes, have bred
until their habitat is stressed;
recently, two of them turned
against another, ganged up

and beat and killed her, our
first occasion of witnessing
their females commit murder,
so now we aren’t unique in
this respect, the earth does
not need us to manifest this
option, does not need us as

a repository for the bloody-
minded string of X-genes. Our
services may no longer be
required. This cold ache, this
longing to belong — and now,
your brother and another well-
versed in Australian aboriginal
territory and ceremony have

unraveled the old Prometheus
myth — we’d thought that fire
was ours uniquely, a secret
cleverly hidden in a stalk of
fennel, stolen from the gods.
But fifteen observations of
brown falcons and black kites

lifting and relocating burning
twigs of brush to other places
to smoke out their prey —
and this behavior may well
predate our own successes
with such flames, our own
discovery of the handiness

of lightning strikes, the trial
and errors with which we
learned to wrap the embers
from a smoldering tree up in
shag-bark and green leaves,
carry them to where they’d
be useful in preparing food.

So we are not unique in this
thing either, and may not have
even been the first; the gods
from which we stole that fire
may well have been birds;
clearly, the earth does not
need us to manifest this option,

does not need our bodies to
preserve the DNA of pyro-
mania. Our services may no
longer be required. This cold
ache, this longing to belong —
and now —

Inspired by/in response to “February idyll” by Dave Bonta, and two articles: “The Dark Side of the Red Ape” and “Crafty Australian birds may be resorting to arson to smoke out their prey.”

Ghazal with an abundance of water

So much water, why not share it?
—Margaret Hasse, “Water Sign

In the beginning, the only thing present before water
was divided from sky on Day Two: Voice moving o’er water.

He wrote the textbook (literally) — during engineering
the River Lea, Manual of Hydrology, Beardmore water.

In drier climates people are frugal with water that’s left
after washing dishes, irrigate gardens with chore water.

Coconuts grow in the tropics. Whether green or brown they are
coveted treats, a cache of sweet liquid, hidden core water.

Lead. Vanadium. Arsenic. Uranium. Revegator
was a crock cure in 1912, snake oil treatment, ore water.

On the Zambezi River, a traveler can hear it from
forty kilometers — the Victoria Falls roar WATER!

The moon tugs on the edges of the earth’s liquid blankets, kicks
them off, pulls them back, over and over, these tides of shore water.

Tension on the Red Sea’s bank when the slaves were fleeing Egypt —
how to cross? Moses made a path, raised a staff, tore water.

Imagine if we were made of wool, if like the Wicked Witch
of the West we shrunk when we got wet, then we’d abhor water.

Little statue — supposed to be modeled after a ballet
dancer. She refused when she learned Mermaids only wore water.

Rumbling thunder. Terrifying lightning. Wind ripping tree limbs.
A mythical hammer is pounding the heavens: Thor water.

HOLD FAST or an anchor or a heart with MOTHER — sailors get
tattoos. One wanted a wave, fresh ink on shoulder, sore water.

The concrete floor hid a reservoir that filled with rain water.
The house stayed cooler in summer — clever way to store water.

Utah promises adventure of all sorts —- climb, hike and ski,
river running tours that raft the rapids, splash white Splore water.

Hydration Carrier, intimidating name for canteen.
Nalgene flask in a tactical holster pouch, Condor Water.

Children are playing out in the heat. They have a hose and a
bag of balloons, they are laughing and filling up war water.

Everyone is under some kind of pressure, from you and me
to scuba divers. But should we measure in torr or water?

Black, white, advection, hoar, window or rime — all are sorts of frost.
No matter the terminology, they all are frore water.

Dolphin Safe says the tin, a bold claim, a hope porpoises can
find their way out of nets should they swim in albacore water.

Twenty sher, forty lines, forty days, forty nights. Halima
knows Noah declined an encore, he wanted no more water.

Ghazal with second thoughts

with lines from Luisa A. Igloria’s “Depth of field” and ending with a line from The Book of Flight by José Angel Araguz

In the evening he wants to sink into sweet dreams, featherbed of thought,
but caffeine too late keeps him awake, careening on the sled of thought.

Naked lady on the half-shell, ancient goddess, just created.
Most demi-gods were born of lust, but Venus, love, was born of thought.

She is excited and keeps interrupting you by accident.
Forgive her this froth – she has just tapped the barrelhead of thought.

Twisted into a simulacrum of a lotus blossom, you sweep
tracks of uninvited guests away, erase any tread of thought.

Augustine determined that humans have souls because our skulls are
too small to fit the things we can envision, the wingspread of thought.

At last, / there are times / when it can actually / be as simple as that.
How often you long for a return to childhood joy instead of thought!

Here, Halima reads poems – will they guide her like Hansel and Gretel?
This page is a tablecloth, words the crumbs from the dark bread of thought.

Preserving an Independent Reality

I envision the room where you spend those
other days, the ones you don’t believe. Does
it hold a sofa, sink-holes straddled by blue
plaid cushions, red lines of Murray of Atholl
tartan diagramming equations from the theory
of relativity?

If it does, invite me.

I would much like to migrate into such
a living room,
perch on the edge of space-time,
compliment the contents of the empty
frames displaying nothing on the wall.

In response to Dave Bonta’s “Believer.” Title drawn from a quotation by Hermann Minkowski.

Seriously Fine

Carry my feet away homewards
Where it takes more than two days
To fully learn to love the land,
Where we rely on hands more than reason —
Except it would be seriously fine
If we had some mechanical means
To shell the peas. If we did, our evenings
Would be free to meander with the creek
And fish, and we’d be rich indeed.

In response to “Bit parts.”

Ghazal with lines from The Book of Flight

One day someone will say to me: “To hell with you and your stars.”
That will be a dark day.
When someone curses you and your stars,

Indigo clouds will gather and weep, pour fathoms of water.
The ocean is full. Something must move out to the tide pools: shore stars.

Spiral galaxies fall toward each other out where there’s no up
Or down. Vacuum-trapped, they still play Red Rover, Tug-of-War stars.

No up, but equine abundance in space: nebula horse-head,
And sign Sagittarius, galactic alpha-centaur stars.

Some were flung skyward by the old gods, heavenly haven from
Powerful lechers. Untainted, eternal, pure folklore stars.

For children, the mouths of such legends are thoroughly soap-scrubbed,
Painted on film, where headaches are rings of bluebirds and sore stars.

Too soon, children grow, are tangled in troubles resistant to
Soap scrubs. Some take up arms and uniforms of war and corps stars.

Wrong or right, they go. And then, they fight. And either live. Or die.
Or are taken hostage, forced to act in films with captor stars.

Indigo clouds, then, gather and weep, pour fathoms of water.
The ocean is full. Something must move out to the tide pools: more stars,

And sand dollars being flung like bad alms, neither hand knowing
What it is doing. These crack and reveal: white doves and core stars.

One day someone will say to me: “To hell with you and your stars.”
That will be a dark day.
When someone curses you and your stars,

Stand on the deck, send a dove out to seek, tell her to look for
A supple sprig of Jacob’s ladder—tell her: bring azure stars.

While we are waiting for her to return, while we are braving
The dark, Halima reads by fireflies—those ghost-(f)lights of your stars.

In response to Luisa A. Igloria’s poem “Trusting the Process.” Lines in italics are from
The Book of Flight by José Angel Araguz.

Fourth Sense

I stop for several moments,
permit my spine to straighten
against the inch of foam

that tops the hardwood board
I have upon my bed in lieu
of mattress. (My husband does

not like unyielding, he calls it
the torture rack and instead
submerges nightly in a pillow-

top’s embrace.) But it is
here I reconnect with my own
surface, the meter and a half

of uncured leather I wear
daily. I close my eyes and in
the blindness stay completely

still, try to find each hinge
by focusing attention where
I think it is, sonar-pings

sent into darkness, waiting
for an answering ache or itch
or tickle. Then I move along,

still sounding in the dark,
seek out and find an ankle,
an elbow, a hip. I scan and

map these surfaces I have
ignored all day, volume on
the touch-sense turned down

low. I let attention brush
each joint for just a moment,
give each one a quick

permission to emerge from
the repression, then move on,
hold fast upon the rack:

while joy—like the rush
of an incoming wave—
kisses all my skin.

In response to/inspired by Luisa A. Igloria’s “A dress:“, ending with lines from Robert K. Johnson’s “Eighty-five.”