Sirens and the Weight of a Boy at 4am


i’m stretched out on the floor
at 4am and the almost-one-year-
old on my chest bears a particular
heaviness the weight of a life
the weight
of a moment that is here
when it should be

his lips are thin and soft
his closed eyes pale ovals reflecting
the night light on the wall
behind us        his breath is warm
and slow and heavy and so
to everything
to every moment

outside on james street a siren
rises from a distance        closer
screaming through the window
screen through the rain through
the two of us and even through
the small curls that form locks
around my son’s ears     then the siren
carries someone’s moment away

leaving me there
on the floor at 4am in the yellow
burn of a night light
my small son sleeping on my chest
and i’m wondering how i got here
in this very moment

i think
on these things and before
I can disentangle myself
from that moment
that life
that universe
the rain starts up again
heavy and deliberate
and i


i am sleep

I Wave to Her Now (For My Mother on Mother’s Day)

That’s my mom in the middle, with her sister Kate and brother Omar.

I wave to her now
as we drive away
and my children call out
like hungry chicks
bye mimi! bye mimi! bye mimi!
and in that moment I remember
being a boy
waving to her from
the school bus as it stole me away
from our farm
she stood on the porch
with her steaming coffee and saw me
for as long as I could see the porch
she was still there
so that I imagined her perched there
all day
waiting for me to return

and in another memory
there she stands
at the sink
always the sink
in every hot house where we lived
without air conditioning moisture
oozing from the glasses of ice water
the lizards in texas
the flies in pennsylvania
and she stood there as if nothing was wrong
washing dishes
making dinner
standing there
talking to me with her back turned
soft shoulders
brown hair
and I never once considered
maybe she didn’t like doing dishes
maybe she didn’t feel like making dinner
maybe she would rather be talking
to a friend instead of
me, only a boy
but that is my mother
for you
I never felt the edge
of complaint from her never
the iron line of resentment.

I remember the day I climbed the bus
at the end of the long driveway
looked to the porch
and she was gone
for some reason or other
how all that long day I didn’t feel right
how all that long day I felt like crying

and I wonder now if that’s how it will feel
when she is gone –
like an empty porch
like a vacant spot by the sink

that’s not true
because I know
from experience
she will still be waiting for me or
talking to me with her back turned
her soft shoulders
her brown hair her voice
in the wind
or the sun shining through glass
or coming out of the lilacs she loved

I wave to her now
as we drive away
and in waving I remember

We Might Never Die

2014-10-06 19.40.50
It’s easy to believe
we might never die
on a spring day like this
leaves unfolding under blossoms
early bees lost in a strong breeze
the palest blue sky offering never-
ending life and promises I cannot hear
because I’m on the front porch
watching traffic go by
waiting for you.

Your shoes inside
the front door, where you always leave
them, conspire against me
blocking the way
tripping me up
reminding me every time I step inside
that another day has passed
without you.

You’ll enjoy the garden again
when you return
the spinach
growing inexplicably
in the middle of this city
like hope
the beanstalks curled
like the tender necks
of violins all in a row,
the peas stretching towards
their supports, and beyond that the pale
blue sky, never-ending. Those peas,
tiny shoots, so ambitious, yet
needing something else
on which to lean.

That’s me,
you know,
reaching for you.

When My Daughter Found a Crack Pipe in the Back Yard

There is rich, dark earth under
these streets. I know.
I saw it myself when the machines
dug up the asphalt, replacing the veins
of this city.

So we went out into the backyard
all seven of us
into our small patch of green
searching for that rich earth.
A gutted building looked down
smiled at us through broken
teeth, gashed
eyes, and we smiled back
toasted him with raised rakes

tore up the new grass
the barely-spring mud.
Shovels clanged against unforeseen
old bricks
a line of beams that used
to border a walkway
someone worked hard to build
now covered.

working on the soil where tomatoes
will soon grow
called out


What’s this?

In her pale palm, shining
in the sunlight,
hollowed out and jagged,
a crack pipe
filled with mud, it’s bulb
round and smooth
the stem mostly missing.

I told her what it was
because this is the world
this is where we live
and sometimes the easiest
answer to a hard question is simply
the answer.

Then I threw it in the trash
and kept digging
because sometimes it’s okay
to go back to pretending these things
don’t exist
at least for an afternoon
or until she’s a teenager.

We turned over old soil
cutting it open
lining it with furrows.
Cade planted tiny seeds one
after the other one
after the other one
after the other.

Sam and Abra
on hands and muddy knees
crept along the rows and
covered everything
and we prayed for death
unless a seed dies.

We took a deep breath
looked at the brown yard
the fresh dirt
the tell-tale rows.
Leo crawled on the patio,
brown smudges on his face.
He smiled
rich earth.

We exhaled
gathered our things
went inside

and prayed for rain
or whatever it takes
to get us out
of this present death.

* * * * *

Other poems:

What They Never Tell You
For Maile On Our Fifteenth Wedding Anniversary: A Confession

What They Never Tell You


There is something
no one tells you
while the guests are still there,
while the cake watches,
while the rings still feel
like something stuck between
your teeth.

What that thing is,
what no one tells you,
(during the toasts or the speeches
or the dancing)
is that you will need to
say those two words
and again

and again.

The preacher makes it sound
like it’s once-and-done,
but it’s

After the first fight,
for example,
the one that catches you
off guard,
you will have to say those two words,
and again after the twenty-seventh
argument about the same thing,
your tone, maybe,
or the smallest rolling
of the eyes.

And again
after the one hundred
and fifth
when you’re sitting on the floor
of your office
in despair
and she is in the room
or despairing, too,
over things you cannot name
and never could have foreseen.

And again
this time gladly
on nights when your hands
under the covers, live wires,
or when your child leaves
the room, and you
smile at each other with joy
there goes the two of you
and so much more
in one body.

Or when the little strip just won’t
turn. And the months pass
marked by what arrives
and what does not.

Until sickness and health
are behind you
and death has parted you.
One hundred
in every little way and every big way
in every glance and every sigh.

I do.

You know,
I say those words
every day, every minute.
I peek into the room and see
you sitting in the sunshine,
eyes closed, tired from every little thing,
and I whisper it to myself, though no
one else is there
to witness it.

No one else,
I do.