poems by Rena J. Mosteirin

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Black Cats Dancing

Ice storm. Lights out. Let’s dance.
Can’t dance. My back has a pull like a stocking, a rip,
and I’d like to buy a new suit of skin now please.
Nobody, not even you can do
that for me. The tumor was the size of a fist, he said.
Your fist or mine? Everyone’s fist is a different size.

The fist came out of my back here and here and here.
Can’t count the stitches, there are too many
and I’m always looking at it backwards anyway.
I’m doing a pain dance in an ice storm.
My stitches turned into black cats dancing
where the tumorfist had been. The night had cold claws
too, the night pulled me open,
and all the good doctor’s stitches snapped.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Holidays

Click here:

The Artworks 08 Online Gallery

to listen to me reading some poems at Dartmouth in September.

Happy Holidays my beloved readers!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Sorts of Things Men Have to Say

This music sucks, the old one with the gun said on Thanksgiving in Maine.
Christmas music was playing everywhere. At the auto parts store,
the young guy behind the counter talked and totaled up
for the old man on line in front of us who carried a long gun.

Yeah, it’s okay when I come in, you know…mornings. But then
by the time I go to close up it’s killing me.
These are the sorts of things men have to say.
I ignore them both. I like Christmas music.

Did you see the cover of today’s paper? the old one said.
Not yet. What about it?
Kid shot his uncle in the leg.
Thought he was a deer.

That should never happen.
No, the old one agreed. That should never, never happen.

And then we were back at your house,
more Christmas music was playing and I held open the lid
of the lobster pot as your mother grabbed a live one in her glove,
and the knowing lobster thrust it’s powerful tail back and forth at us both,

pointing at us, casting spells that we too should be boiled alive someday.
I could hear it banging against the side of the pot
while the others went quietly. There were lobster rolls and chowder
and Christmas music. We talked about the kid who shot his uncle in the leg.

Turns out the kid was nineteen.
I have been thinking about that lobster for weeks.
That should never happen. I repeat it to myself.
But that’s just the sort of thing us killers have to say.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In these moments that are my heart

“…And love’s the burning boy.”

-Elizabeth Bishop

We’re so focused on prolonging life
I think it’s creepy, I mean
people aren't supposed to live this long.

Well, I for one enjoy being alive.

Oh, I wasn't talking about you and me. I guess
I was more talking about people in comas.
They shouldn’t be living long lives, in comas.

My father was a doctor and said that everyone in a coma
was struggling to stay alive. They seem dead, but they really want to live.

Yeah. How could he tell?

He says we are all hanging on to life,
we don’t let go, that’s not how it happens.

What do you mean?

Death is just abandonment. It’s when life misplaces you,
your spirit is forgotten and you become more dream then real.

I wrote a little poem on an index card for you and then lost it.
I will try to remember it now
but it’s too late—I have already packed your envelope
up with chocolate chip cookies and honey sticks
and a copy of my novella and a card.
I think this is how the poem went,
but the original words were better, I spent

a few hours on about twenty words for you and now I have lost them.
This is what I can remember: Firewater seems impossible,
because fire and water hate each other. But we have seen it,
the happy hazard drunks parading

down the streets in small towns. Love’s
the burning boy, and our friendship is firewater
below deck on the burning ship
singing stupid made-up birthday songs

it doesn’t matter if the blaze
bursts, right now it’s a wicked glow
just a shine, a radiant guest, an admirer
and we are the admired. Yes. We are luminous,
laughing and kissing the inferno on the lips.

I lost another poem last night.
I saw it in my head, just before I went to sleep, the whole poem
title and all, typed up on the inside of my eyelids
(which is how a laptopbrain sees)
and then my dream took it.

I try to write it down now, but I can't,
all I get is this:

iron meaning

worthless meaning

instead of meaning

meaning? missing? iron? eye?

And it had such a perfect last line, too.
a line full of joy, that turned into a little stream
and lead me out to the ocean,
to a dream where white and black whales
swam with me and I touched one, on the tail.

That must have been the exchange,
one poem that turned into five whales and they swam to me
in the ocean that is all of my dreams, where the poem
might wash up on the shore someday

and I will pick it up with my whaletouch hands,
dry it off and bring it back, maybe it will keep
if I cling to it somehow, cut through the skin of my dreams with the poem
still in my hands, still read-able
to type on the computer, awake and real,
real hands that will never touch a whale.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Heart-Rot and the Dynamite Shack

This isn't a giant maple, it's just got heart-rot
so the inside's hollow, see in here, and these knobs
grow out like that because the tree's all fucked up.
You ever get heart-rot?

Here's the dynamite shack. Back when they blew up everything
around here, this is where they kept all the dynamite
so it wouldn't get wet. Found a dead deer in there one summer,
a whole deer, except for it's skin.

See how this tree was all wrapped in barbed wire,
and one day the tree just started to grow over it. See here,
now the rusty barbed wire is just part of the tree. That’s the opposite
of heart-rot. Someday these trees will eat the dynamite shack too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nick Trail's Thumb

Please buy a copy of my novella Nick Trail's Thumb, available now through Kore Press!




Or come to a reading and buy it there. Check my website for reading dates and times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Blue Jays

The blue jays are eating the decorative corn
we put out front next to the pumpkins, that’s the last thing
I jotted down at home. Now I am on the train
going south to New York. Out the window there are colorful clothes
in piles in the woods and a place where someone hung up a bed sheet for privacy.

We’ve already had the first and second snow.
There’s a blackbird shaped speck on the window next to me.
I watch the trees and fields and mountains and river
pass quickly making lines in my sight
like a record spinning on parallel lines that are really songs.

The black speck on the window
fools me sometimes into thinking that it’s a bird
keeping pace with the train. I haven’t even left Vermont
and already I am looking forward to coming back,
when the train pulls me into the station and you are you,
I know how it will feel, that hour and that sound.

Monday, November 10, 2008


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Monday, November 3, 2008

Diner Poem

Kids ask for made-up things in their funny little-kid voices,
exactly the way birds would if birds could talk
and make-up things. I saw a blue jay this morning in the backyard.
He looked like he had snow on his tail
but all the snow from last week melted away
and of course, the melt-water froze so things are slippery,
and maybe that’s just the way a blue jay tail is. Dark blue with white spots
like a slice of blueberry pie dolloped whipped cream,
or the emerald Atlantic and snow.

I am sketching wedding gowns on my napkin
because in May I am going to be a bride. A young bride.
I write: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
That is not a poem. I have syrup on my fingers
like all the other diner poets before me.
The fat lady behind me is really excited about the pie:

Did you see that pie? He just brought it out.
Yes, bring it right over please.
You’ve just settled more questions then the United Nations, my friend.
I just called Jack about the blueberry pie, Fatlady says
as she clicks her phone shut. He’ll be right in. Did you hear there was a fire
in White River Junction last night?

I am sitting at the diner alone, listening
to other people’s conversations and pretending they’re my conversations
and they could be. The woman in the booth behind me is no longer
talking about pie:

Yeah, it makes a difference that you slept with her.
Just saying.
What do you mean I should have gotten the eggs?
What’s wrong with French toast and pie?

Then her Jack walks in for the pie and she’s all excited again.
Jack walks straight up to the counter and it makes me happy,
even though I am not Fatlady and this is not my Jack.
It is way too easy to sit in a diner alone with coffee and pretend
the life you’re listening to is yours.
I want them to talk more about the fire last night, but they don’t.

I take the money you left on the table
and walk to the counter. I was hoping
that if I stayed here writing poems
on napkins it would lead to something profound.
But this poem just wants to be wanted
like a warm blueberry pie, a pie so blue and so beautiful
and smelling so good, that it’s worth calling your Jack,
and he comes. A pie more important then a fire.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Little Invisible Spiders

I was tricked.
I thought
If you leave me
I’ll kill myself

is what they all say
when they want
to break-up.

That's why I didn't take him seriously.
It's time to stop writing poems about that now.

You read my poems
to me, they feel like little invisible
spiders stuck in my hair. I am going to write a love poem that is not creepy.

September 2006

We eat cashew-tahini French toast with seitan sausage, tofu scrambled with vegetables and pancakes with real syrup. We have the Gypsy kings and Amelie and talk of the beach house and American Beauty. I wrote a napkin poem as a snapshot of our little hippie breakfast place in Vermont

and then I lost it. I was thinking a lot about Frank O’Hara that day and I was sorry I made you listen to Old Dirty Bastard in the car. Remember my feet were cold, and you unlaced your sneakers and took off your green-and-white striped socks and put them on my feet?

October 2006

The closeted homosexual poet to my left nods his head vigorously when I speak of Henry Adams. I bet Henry was a top. But that’s not what I’m saying in class, I am talking about chaos and I think of you who loves Cortland apples, like Henry Adams probably did and I think about Clover, Henry’s sweet wife who killed herself. You explain how the Adams memorial has no gender, and you give possible reasons for Clover’s suicide. One reason is that she didn’t get to attend Harvard like Henry and the rest of the boys. That’s not the reason Marian “Clover” Adams killed herself. Had she gone to Harvard she might have done it sooner.

November 2006

Sitting beside the road watching the cars go all wonderful
on me, what a day, everything makes me happy
because I am in love

I am crazy and I am a liar. My paranoid little invisible spiders
begin to dissolve. I couldn’t even begin to know
how to love you and yet I do. I do. I do.


Ladies here at the public park are gossiping in the cold
about a baby at the zoo. 50 pounds, they say, and five feet.
I want to go over there and ask them what kind of animal
but I’m not brave enough and maybe they’d get mad
at me, and look, they’re walking away anyway.

Confession: I eat important words for breakfast.
For lunch I eat SPAM e-mail sandwiches full of nothing-words.
I find queer counter-politics
and runt Newfoundland puppies in the same place.

They’ve discovered a link between bellyfat and dementia.
It’s actually a plot against women. It’s another way to convince
them that they are clinically crazy and unquestionably ugly.
I think about the conclusions I have drawn this morning.
Too much coffee makes my feet sweat, even on the cold days.

I was at a bachelorette party where there were construction paper penises
on the wall and a punchbowl full of pink clit. I can’t tell
if it is snowing or if there’s just something frozen blowing off the trees.
I hope I’m not shaking too much. In some mythology
there is a river where you can drink the water
and it makes you forget everything. I’ve been there.

I will miss Chicago and all of the intentional
imaginaries. Construction paper penises
seem like a sort of kindergarten pornography. Chicago is too cold
and everyone here is confessing all the time
and everyone here has forgotten about forgiveness.

Pamela’s Pancakes

Pamela made pancakes for the man who had raped her.
As the snow falling on the other side of the window pulled
the coldness from the air. It held hard at the chill
and it seemed warmer then it had been in days.

He was in the bathroom when she reached under the kitchen sink
didn’t even really have to think about it.
Pamela plop-ploped the rat poison into his half-full mug
and covered it over with the rest of the coffee.

The snow falling on the other side of the window
pulled the coldness from the air after holding so hard to that chill.
The air seemed warmer then it had been in days
when she opened the window a little to let the stale smells out.

Pam was friends with a girl who had been raped but didn’t remember.
Pam had an extra ticket so they sat side by side
and watched yet another woman ravished. Delightful, the critics said, beautiful.

Far worse not to know where the strange sickness comes from,
to know why you can’t stop running until you are home.
They went out for coffee after the show.

The last night I was in New York, the girl said,
I dreamed some metallic bloody smell in the air,
and I realized I was chewing glass
a whole mouthful and I couldn’t breathe enough to scream.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

With Me

Jump with me brilliant into the waves
waves that jerk you in cold and cripple

cripple and curl when they hit the sand singing
singing of red chairs in white rooms
rooms in churches full of clear wet flowers and colorful dry tears.
Run with me wonderful up to the coffin come,
come back baby, come back I whisper at the corpse cold

cold like the ocean is here. I want all the red chairs in the room to light on fire,
I want you to be alive with me.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Like Midnight

You can’t find the door. Clue:
in a videogame you would just have to go through the wall.

I made myself into a barn and burned down.
Now I have no door. I am the space between breaths

and the blindness of sleep. Can we just hug for an hour?
It is so good to see you. Your hair is so dark

like midnight it is all I can see. We met at a party where I was invisible lace,
that is to say, only holes. Luckily you are the kind of person who can see

spiderwebs in the woods at midnight. A handle
a hinge and a pull.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Moose

I lived for almost a month convinced I was dead
and singing songs that didn’t make sense. You say it’s okay.
I like the sound of that. Will you be my main character?
I want all my new poems to be about love.

We are driving up to Maine
when we pass a motorcycle on its side
half-covered by a big black stained blanket. The driver is down, got
one arm around the guardrail and the other trying to gather up the road
in a backwards hug. The cops aren’t there yet
just some guys in jeans and sweatshirts who wave and rearrange the traffic,
directing us past the brutal place
where everything gets slow and silent and terrible.

That moose was huge, you say finally.
What moose? I didn’t see a moose.
I just saw a blanket.
I am worse then blind. I saw a man drowning
in the ocean once and he just looked like a big, white fish. I looked away.
I didn’t understand why so many were running
to the water, like some sort of backwards shark attack.

Worse is when I see things that aren’t there. Just black
flutters in the corners of my eyes. Spider, moth, bat, ghost shadow hallucinations.
How can you want someone so damaged?
I am just freaking out now
and you take my hand.

You say it’s okay,
which is code for
sometimes it’s better not to see the moose.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Only Cure for Stage Fright

      I was going into fourth grade but my mother told them that I was going into sixth. Admission to the Southport Camp for the Performing Arts was difficult and required lying. It was a little white lie, she said, because I was gifted and it was cheaper then the out-of-doors camps, and not goody-goody like girl scout camp, and I wasn’t tough enough for sports camp. My first day of camp was a nightmare because I thought they all knew I was lying when I said I was going into sixth. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head saying: Acting camp teaches you lying, don’t worry! And, here’s where being overweight works to your advantage! She was right of course; skinny kids always look younger.
      I made friends with some of the younger kids, but I felt very shy, even more shy then usual, because I was haunted by the thought that at the end of the summer we’d be performing a show for our families. Thinking about it too hard made me feel sick. Every time the camp director gathered us around to talk about THE SHOW I would try as hard as I could to tune him out, but it was almost impossible to tune out the two worst words--THE SHOW—because he shouted them, and put his hands next to his face and wiggled his fingers. This is called jazz hands.
      Sandy Lee was the dance teacher and I loved her. She sported short-shorts and a long mane of blonde and grey hair that tied back in a ponytail holder that she always twisted a long ribbon around. The ribbon was usually pink. Sandy had wrinkles and the deep voice of a cigarette smoker. She claimed to have been a member of the Rockettes at Radio City. That was a very exciting thought, one that made my mother snort and say, yeah, right
      Sandy made us lay down the carpet and visualize our bodies all tensed up, and then release the toes! Release the feet! Release the ankles! All the way up to our neck and head and eyes and I would almost always fall asleep when we did this, but she never yelled at me for falling asleep. In fact, she said that I was probably doing it too well, and that’s why I kept dozing off. I felt stupid, like everyone would know I was a baby, a lying baby who still needed naptime.
      There was a big fat man with a big beard and a big voice who sat behind the piano and taught us songs and he was jolly but there was this rim of terror to him. Like if we’d been practicing a song for a long time and still weren’t getting it right, he’d slam his fists down on the piano keys and shout that we were never going to sing the song again, and sometimes that the song was ruined forever, for him. The first time he did this, I started to cry a little, but I was safely in the back of the cluster around the piano, so nobody noticed.
      THE SHOW was something we were writing ourselves, the director told us. He was not only director of the camp, but director of THE SHOW and he did acting exercises with us and yelled at me when he would find me curled up asleep behind the piano. I had one line in the show. It was in this song and dance part where we were singing, “If I, If I had a million, million dollars, tell you what I’d do…” and my line was, because I couldn’t think of anything better to say, and needed to have a line in the show: I’d like to go to visit Barbados.
      I picked Barbados because my Uncle Bob had gone there on his honeymoon the year before. I was the flower girl at his wedding, which meant I had no lines, just a fancy white dress and that was perfect. I wept a little when they said their vows because my grandmother was weeping and everything was so beautiful and there were flowers everywhere. "It was the best day of my life," I said very seriously when asked how I’d liked the wedding.
      I had the feeling that THE SHOW was going to be nothing like Uncle Bob’s wedding. For one thing, I didn’t have a costume. We were supposed to wear cut-offs and white tee shirts, at the director’s behest. That was not fancy. I thought the former Rockette might protest, but she didn’t. I saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular the year before, and no one was wearing cut-offs. I wished horseback- riding camp hadn’t been too expensive. I could imagine myself astride a great black mare, galloping down the beach, in proper tan horseback-riding pants. Maybe I’d even have a little black cap and riding crop. I would love horses, I decided. And horses would love me.
      Perhaps I should have tried to change my line in the show to “If I had a million dollars I’d go to horse camp instead of this camp.” My mother was outraged at my line when she finally heard it. She said that Barbados was a cheap place to go, and the idea that I would want to go there—to Barbados of all places! Why not Europe? What about that sweet little girl whose line was “My family and I would cruise ‘round the world” the one with the red pigtails—didn’t I too wish to cruise around the world? I would have changed my line if I knew it was going to upset my mother, but I didn’t know. All I knew was that Uncle Bob said his honeymoon there was the greatest, and brought back this wonderful wind chime made of shells with whales painted on them.
      Not being in the show was not an option. The director told me that the only cure for stage fright was to get out there and perform. Sandy Lee said I should look out at the audience before the show started and imagine everyone in their underwear. The music man was indifferent to my plea. He told me to sing quietly when everybody else is singing, and if all else fails or if I forget the words, just relax and lip-synch.
      I started writing furiously that summer. I thought that if I could just prove that I was good at one thing—anything else, I would be okay. Anything that wasn’t singing, dancing or acting games, and I would be fine. So I wrote a novel in a marble notebook, about a thirteen year old girl (because that seemed to be the right age for falling in love) who meets a boy who turns out to live on her street and he lies about his age and steals his parents car and they go out on a date but the cops pull them over because he can’t really drive, so then the main character gets grounded for the whole rest of her summer, but on the upside, the bad boy moves away shortly after the disastrous date, and a new boy moves in, a very cute new boy. I filled every page of my notebook and when I was done, I decided I was an author and though I didn’t talk to anyone about it, I felt much better about being the worst singer, dancer, etc… I don’t need any of this, I told myself day after day—it’s the literary life for me!
      So of course I was unprepared for THE SHOW when it finally came and I tried to hide behind the piano and the director caught me there and scowled at me and I said, please, let me go, I have to go to the bathroom, and he didn’t believe me, and thought it would be worse to have to pull me out of the girls room, so he said, “Use it!” and pushed me out on stage. I had no idea what he meant by use it, and luckily the first thing we were doing in the show was a dance where I was in the back row any way, and then small groups (that I wasn’t in) were performing scenes from plays. So I figured I’d have time to go to the bathroom before the song with my one line in it. After I said my line, I want to go to visit Barbados, not knowing how it would make my mother cringe, I would sneak out and find my parents car and wait for them in the parking lot. Maybe I could convince them to get me ice cream.
      Just as I thought about ice cream, my stomach began to rumble and I wished I was in the bathroom. I half-heartedly did the rest of the dance number and then as it ended and I went to sit with the kids who weren’t in the small groups on the side of the stage. When I sat down my stomach felt much better. So much better in fact that I forgot about my stomach entirely and just watched the scenes. Some of the people in the scenes were pretty good. Some were terrible, like Kiki Wilson pretending to cry and honk-blowing her nose into an old lace handkerchief, making the audience laugh when they should have been sad. One of the older boys was cute but I was too scared to talk to him, and now the summer was over and it was too late.

      When I stood up for the group song with my one line, my stomach rumbled so loud that the other kids on stage glared at me, and I really wanted to cry and run away to the bathroom, but I didn’t and all of the sudden I was in the front of the stage, holding hands with the other kids who suck at theater, and one by one, we were singing our lines, our responses to what we’d do if we had a million dollars and I couldn’t hold the shit in anymore. My underwear ballooned out as Henry Pendleton sang that he would help starving children. I could smell it as Allison Wong mimed jumping on a trampoline and said she’d get a trampoline for her backyard.
      And then I mangled up my line with my eyes were full of tears and my face twisted up with the pain of extreme embarrassment. The audience laughed. Then it was the girl who’d cruise ‘round the world, and then our line walked backwards (thank god) while another line of wishful thinkers came out holding hands and beaming. I got to the bathroom supporting the shit with both hands, praying to God to at least not let any of it fall out of the stupid cut-offs. I took off the shorts and the underwear and put them in the toilet and cried until Sandy Lee came in and I explained to her what happened, and she gave me a pair of her old sweatpants and said something about the show must go on, and disappeared.
      I hid in the bathroom holding Sandy Lee’s pants until the applause from the finally died down and then I quickly put them on and ran to the parking lot, where I hid behind my until my parents came out. They offered to take me out to ice cream, but all I could do was hide my face in my hands and cry.
      Later, when I was talking about it with my older brother Marc, the only person I spoke to for at least a week, he said, “Well, at least now it seems like you’ve cleared the way for yourself, as an actress I mean.” I looked at him and frowned. He continued, ”Cause, you’ll know a show is good if you don’t shit yourself.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

the end of summer fabulous (9.03.03)

The red barn girls are so summer fabulous.
My name is high
crazy and no sleep
and everything I eat comes out like diarrhea,
comes out like I’m in love.

I pause his film
at the flash of his face at the end,
he's taken out all the frames where
his face is not obscured
by a hand so
How do you know it's him? she asks. I just know.
The way I know he’s hijacked another pirate ship,
and never coming back.

You can have the red barn back,
but it's full of continents
and nothing can grow there
and it gets cold at night now.

I sit shrouded in cheap blankets in the dark,
listening to my theme song on repeat,
which is to say, it’s just me and his name
in the dark over and over again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Longer Side of Warm

We paint hot-shaped things
in Vermont on summer days catching winter aromas
when the white moths and petals flying from the blossom tree are tricking
us into thinking about snow.

It’s not hot, but it’s on the longer side, you say.
The longer side?
Of warm.

I was talking to Ilya Kaminsky in Robert Frost’s barn (which is full of cold smells)
and I told him poets don’t need to hear. Poets can read minds.
And he laughed at me and said:
Poets read books. Books!

Books are just big national fictions, I want to say, where scientific conclusions
have no authority. Look at the Bible.

Look at Prof. B—, I can only see him from the back, but he’s leaning uncomfortably
close to the professor from Greece with those big hungry eyes. He’s about to slather
that guy in Teriyaki marinade. Okay, this is what I see on B—‘s bedside table:
a Sherlock-Holmes-style pipe, an ascot and a bad wig, which he regards as a fashionable toupee.

Or he’s not what he seems
and beside his bed rests a bong, a birthday cake and a romance novel.

Those are the options. Pick one.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sugar ribbons down me in my America

The first sign is Jason who sells the books. He’s gone crazy.
He’s talking to himself now. Saying perfectly appropriate
things like
we’re really glad
you guys could make it, but he’s saying them to the air.
There’s no one there at all. The sky thunders
(without the usual space between) thunders.
Maybe it’s a poem from the sky or the end of the world
or the coming of a great and loud ambassador,
with pearls for us like:
if a ripe plum falls into your lap, eat it.
the cow who drinks falls down.
The ambassador leaves you a hank of hair as a promise.
Then he says:
Look at the word whale.
Look at all the great, legendary, gallant failures, my father and your father.

Sitting outside the coffee shop smoking cigarettes in her dirty flip-flops,
she makes a cloud around herself mostly with her lackluster
thoughts and flowery perfume:
I think he told everyone not to talk to me.
They don't really know me. They're definitely talking shit about me. My hair looks like ass.
Then she turns to you:
Does your mom read what you write for the school paper?
I’m thinking about going down to New York
this weekend to get a new dress for the formal. Everything I have sucks.
Sometimes she says the opposite of what she means,
because what she means is too fucked-up
to say. She’s trying to say that she loves you, but what comes out is:
Have you ever played a game called cleaning lady?

If I had any money in my pocket, I would put it all in your basket,
he says.
(Sometimes he drives for hours and forgets to buy gas
and doesn’t have any real money ever anyway—that’s why
he doesn’t make it all the way home
and calls me collect with some drunken story
that I don’t believe but I always go and find him.)

If I lick the maple glazed walls of New Hampshire
my tongue would get stuck in the gaze of your wealth,
he says.

(If you say it out loud,
I will hold you accountable for making it come true.)

I am a cruller fresh from the deep fryer
making everyone uncomfortable because I can speak.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Things You Don’t Say in Front of Boys

I was maybe thirteen then, about the age of the lifeguards
here at the lake. I am alarmed at how young they are,
like maybe they would have the muscle to pull
me out alive, but if I didn’t make it
they wouldn’t be able to understand until much later,
at a shrink’s office where they might rescue the memory from their unconscious
and then all of their problems would unravel around my death.
But that’s only if I drown here today, which I probably won’t.
Twelve years and four states away I was thirteen
on Long Island and my mother was taking away all the fun of summer skirts
one day when she came home from the supermarket
flipping me a few plastic packs of pantyhose, I read aloud:
Her eyes widened and she hissed Shhhhhhhhhhhhh
like I had revealed a family secret, equal parts important and embarrassing.
She gestured quickly into the living room
where my fifteen year old brother and his friends were playing Nintendo
and I wasn’t sure why they weren’t supposed to know.
It’s because pantyhose is a trick
and because there are things you don’t say in front of boys.
My mother was terribly fond of saying that, usually in a whisper
an all-capital letters whisper, followed by a sage nod.

One of the young lifeguards seems to be sleeping
and the other is working on her tan and there are no waves anyway
and suddenly some pizza gets delivered so we go over to the table
with the sign that says:
and the volunteer lady talks to kids about invasive water weeds.
Milfoil looks like feathers on a red stem with a white root.
It was originally imported to be in fish tanks
and now it’s taken over everything. The way she explains it
makes it seem like it crawled out of the fish tanks, out doors,
over driveways and down the street to the lake. And now
the town has hired two guys to spend their summer picking it out by the roots.
They are the stars of the 2008 Volunteer Milfoil Pick
which consists of the volunteer lady, about ten little kids, and us.
We take a raft out into the water so we can pull our Milfoil haul on it,
and we’re twisting the long strands around all the way down to the silty roots
until our ears are full of water and the pizza looks like it’s getting cold
and we come in and dump our dirty feathery pile
near the guys who have been hired to do this all summer, they
look stoned up close and we stand around eating pizza with them
while the lifeguard whistles and shouts
Maybe we chat about Milfoil and the town and the story
I wrote when I was in Maui, the one coming out in September
to the general reading public and they ask what it’s about and I mumble something
about crystal meth addict neighbors or something like that
and we start chatting about drugs in Maui and it struck me that if
I was thirteen now and this was my town, my beach, my Milfoil problem,
these guys might so easily become the center of my summer.
My friends and I would talk about these two guys—
one has a piercing through the center of his nose and the other has a sort of
dreadlocked mullet-- yes Mother
I took it to heart, and let much of my young life revolve around older boys
before I could even talk to them, years before
I first snapped the control tops over my belly and cringed,
the way my mother would cringe if she saw these Milfoil pickers,
the way she did at almost every guy I brought home. Almost.
But the one she liked is dead and everyone loves you but before
I had you, I had control top tortures and one-sided crush tortures—
NO PUSHING! The lifeguard yells, and the cheese
on the pizza is cold and rubbery and you are joking with the Milfoil guys
and I am twenty-five now and we
got all this good stuff at the farmer’s market this morning;
sheep cheese and fresh eggs and horseradish sauerkraut
and strawberry preserves and local maple
syrup and yogurt and kale and tomatoes.

Thank god food isn’t torture anymore.
A minute on the lips
forever on the hips,
my mother was known to say.
NO PUSHING! Whistle, whistle, whistle.
The Milfoil pickers go off in their motorboat
and I can’t know which one I would have picked at thirteen
to have a crush on, but I know I would have, the way I know
that when something lucky happens, like a shooting star
to this day I wish for love, that’s what I used
all my birthday wishes for, I was
never really specific, just love, love, love.
Moths ate holes in the back of the gray sundress I’m wearing now
that swishes against my bare legs, I live
wrapped up in love, I got my wish. I got it!
This morning I was awake before you
for about an hour and I read poetry while you slept
and when you woke up you sang
You Are My Sunshine
to me and I almost cried
because I’m still not used to being this happy.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Smeared and lonely-thin panes of window glass
surround the screened-in kitchen where the fly paper curls down
down down
like a crooked finger
beckoning towards something you know and do not want to take or talk about.
Be careful not to breathe the dense smell.

He wears a smeared deep smile,
his red lips hurt your eyes
like too much light on a headache or a high.

In the closet, you keep the pants that he put his hands on and pulled
until he turned you into nothing
just an arched back like a bridge
between the past and the mornings of no-sleep
which makes the day full of
middle-of-the-night fears.

Addictions will always come back to you like well-trained dogs or
boomerangs thrown correctly. Like lovers,
who too easily hop into a creaky old bed and smile,
ignoring the smell of the spouse, still warm.

In the green room where everything is green, he is having sex
for the first time
with you on the emerald colored waterbed.

He keeps his eyes open when he kisses you.
You like the way the waterbed rocks back and forth.
You are house-sitting, which means smoking the big glass bong
on the green room’s wobbly water bed, and then it seems like
you two just accidentally kissed and now this.

Two weeks later, when you are no longer house-sitting on Long Island,
and his parents take him to visit relatives in Brooklyn,
he will hop out of the car early and find your backyard where
he will stand below your balcony waiting for you to come out for your morning cigarette.
You will see him standing there
behind the rosebushes your great-grandmother laid with her patient hands.

He will wait and when you see him standing there
he’ll say he didn’t want to wake you, and
he’ll ask if he can come in.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


The mountain rises, dances you slow
pulls you over into the green corner then
locks you out so it’s just you and the animals and the morning smell.

The mist makes it all just a flat and tall backdrop.
The mist covers from the river
all of the ways
up the peaks and erases the hills.

For this world they made all the trappings, you know
the museum stuff—
the clay figures, the beads and bowls and bangles
and knives. For this.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Waiting on the fire escape while you call the police to report that your car has been stolen

Three backyards away they turn off the light that shines on their little rectangle of lawn where I used to think they kept a huge stone Buddha statue, but then when I looked in the daylight I saw it was just a funny old grill. If you see it lit from the side at night you might be inspired to meditate. And why not? Surely Buddhists have made it to the south side of Chicago by now. Especially with all that shit going down in Tibet. Our neighbor across the alley, he calls himself Snoop, he slinks out of his apartment into the night, plashing the puddles like a stoned child. A car jinks by. Honks at Snoop. Sup? He calls himself that because he looks like Snoop Dogg, who lives in California, not Chicago. This fake Snoop Dogg helped us move our stuff out of the U-haul when we first got here. I was so happy that someone was being nice to us. It made me feel like we were moving into a friendly neighborhood. But then fake Snoop Dogg asked for money and you gave him ten dollars you had in your pocket and he sneered at us and left. Sometimes when we’re walking down the same street I say hello and he looks at me funny, like he’s trying to place me, and sometimes he says hello back and sometimes nothing. It’s just like the fake Buddha a few rectangles over that I might have prayed too once or twice before I figured out it was just a grill, and this is just a ghetto.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Fort

You pull a clean sheet over our heads and the mattress on the floor
becomes our fortress and our whole world. I want everything.
My mistakes don’t feel like mistakes anymore.

I went to sleep hungry so we went to an apple orchard in my dream.
All of the apples were within reach. The trees had reached
a previous agreement with us. In exactly two weeks we are moving
to Vermont and I will turn twenty-five.

When we get there I want to sleep outside and let the moon shine on us.

I love you so much that I would put a cockroach
in the middle of my forehead and call it my third eye. Sorry
I woke you up in the middle of the night
to come to the bathroom but I needed a witness. I had never seen a cockroach
that big in my life. His name is Chicago. You crush him
with your oldest shoe.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Rules

Rule number one: Leave the dreams in your head.
Don’t drag them out so much. It is wrong
to bring dreams out of your night-head, to this day-page,
to pour them out into the morning with your coffee in this sunny little apartment
listening to
who knows
which way the wind blows folk songs.

I would love to feel like a painter again.

My mother (oh here she is again!
are all the poems going to be about her? oh hell cat,
all? all?) she used to tell me not to be an actress
because it was too hard and there was too much competition
for those sorts of jobs and then I wanted
to be a painter and she discouraged me from going to art school
with much the same reasoning, but now I am a poet. It’s hard too.

I am moving soon and
I have packing anxiety.
I have bad dreams about my stuff.
I have too much.

Crazy mother. She’s she still wears her engagement ring.

Maybe I should stop writing down what she says,
but her voice, her voice.
Maybe I should stop writing all together
and just make paintings now.

There’s one painting I won’t let myself make. It looks like this:
one packed suitcase,
easy to carry
with one nice dress
and one good pair of pants.

The first rule of running away is
you do not talk about running away.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bone, Shell, Plate

Sahan’s electric orange
eyebrows in the motherland
words on the flat-screen flashing:
for women of the Hollywood
Sahan’s motherland…

I felt the birdsong thrilling my mouth,
puffing out my cheeks and letting go.
I am a harmonium.
My stomach fills and I push, it feels like
something between my eyebrows is a fully-formed
poem already and maybe you can read it out of the whites
of my eyes like an orange-word acid trip on
the bone white, the shell white, the white plate of my eyes.

There used to be a way to make wallpaper
by grinding up the leftover bones and shells and plates,
adding water and making it into a chunky paste, then
brushing it on the walls to keep the heat in.
That’s how important heat was.

It seemed significant that I had lived sixteen years and never seen anyone who was not my mother go completely crazy. Outside one’s own bones crazy. There was something so reassuring about seeing someone else loose it. It made me happy to see, happy through the terror of being the one in the seat beside him as he swerved preventing the other car from going down the street, jumped out with the crowbar in his hand in one move, like he was used to it, and started screaming that someone was going to die.
I recognized the tone of his condition.
I recognized the people in the car we were blocking. I waved.

I saw his corner cubicle once. It was so unfair. He has to live his life there. All of it. Once he took acid as soon as he got to work and spent the whole day staring into the concrete corner. Staining it with his disgusting angry hallucinations. I want to crush up important bones and paint his walls over and over again. Until the pictures he sees when he looks at nothing are mild and pretty like
a calm lake,
an orange-breasted robin in the springtime, or fresh
eyebrows perfectly waxed.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Can you die from a broken heart?
Don’t tell them that.
I almost died of a broken heart once.

No, you almost died of a drug overdose.
Yes, that’s right, a broken heart.

That’s what they’re calling it now?
When has it ever been called anything else?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On Line at the Fair

Someone’s dad would SUV us to the feast of saint something-or-other
on the YMCA baseball diamond park and we’d all say thank you
and hop out and pull down
our cropped tops and pull up
on the belt-loops of our low-slung jeans with our thumbs
and remember to remember our purses and fluff out our car-hair.
We got online for tickets, as soon as we saw the top
of the dad-mobile pull onto the street in line
with the other tired parents going home to
a wife and a movie with the cell phone glowing on the table next to them
(knowing they’d get a call before 11 begging
for one or two more good hours, and they would have to say
no, I’m on my way to pick you up now)
we’d light up our cigarettes as soon as we were sure he couldn’t see us.
It felt like we couldn’t breathe until we were smoking and coughing and
cool in the dim parking lot streetlights. Waiting on line
for our lives to start, waiting for something to do with sex,
and for drugs better then cigarettes. Everything was preparation
for a few moments of carnival-ride excitement
reality was waiting in line, adjusting our clothes and coughing.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I like you

Que horas son mi Corazon?
-Manu Chao

Remember at college when I lived in the basement of the place at 3 Webster avenue with Mark Root and I would climb out my window to the dirt and pebbles foxtrot parkinglot and put the speakers on my bed so my friends and I could dance barefoot like hippies to Cat Stevens in the summer sun?

I remember dancing in that parking lot behind the house with you to a Bob Dylan song the frat next door was playing.
It was evening and you were leaving—going back down to Amherst, so we held each other tight and danced like old-fashioned romantics.

Sometimes it felt like a movie about college. Not the sort of movie that’s funny cause white kids call each other “homie” and try to find girls to have sex with.
Ours is the sort of movie about college that they made in the eighties, where the kids were all graduating to some beautiful future so one of them has to die. And then they all cry about it, but move on gracefully saying:
only the good die young, which is total bullshit. We both know
beautiful deaths are only real in nineteenth century French novels set in sexy stormy Paris.

I think Hanover, New Hampshire is the most romantic place in the world.
That’s where we fell in love. You filled the river with fish who sang to me,
ducks who paddled next to me as I swam and told me all of your good qualities.
When it rained, it rained rose petals and soft presents that you picked out.
We wouldn’t leave bed for whole weekends at a time.
I love you Roo, you’d say. Roo is a cute nickname that is from a eighties TV show
about koalas. You and I are going to turn into koalas and get married someday, and
French novels will dance in the parking lot with Cat Stevens.

I can almost see them now from the window in my old basement room,
where I sat singing to you before I met you:
mi gusta la noche, mi gustas tu
I like the night, I like you.
What time is it, my heart?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Laundromat Poem

9am on a Sunday morning on the south side
of Chicago at Kimbark Laundry, I am sitting across
from my fiancé who is not talking to me.
He is looking at the machines, at the TV, at his thesis. I made a painting
of him last night and this morning it was on the floor, bounced
around between laundry baskets.
Now our four loads spin in soap.
We each carried one full basket here.
He didn’t want me to come, doesn’t want my painting to hang on the wall and
doesn’t want his parents to read my book. Most of the laundry is his.
He never wears anything more then once without washing it.
I think often about going to California, though I know he wouldn’t come with me.

I make a gesture across the aisle, my two hands pressed together like a heart.
He walks out the door. When the laundry machine first starts up
I look through the cabin window
as it tumbles for a while and then the soap bubbles come. Then the spins.
It comes out cleaner, older. No dog would know its smell.
He comes back with a chocolate croissant from
the nuns next door. He breaks it in
two halves and hands me the bigger share.

They are finding asbestos in Lake Michigan. Ass-bestos! This
made her mad and the fact that he won’t take her out for dinner, well
I don’t think I even have to say it, but
(of course) she took three of those pills she usually takes for anxiety
(she usually only takes one) and it’s so bad right now she can’t even read the titles
of the books in front of her
and she doesn’t even care.
She says, is it possible to wonder
about something that you know? Is it possible to wonder and to know
at the same time?

Sit down, honey. That’s me talking. Afraid she’s going to fall over.

It’s snowing again. I don’t really want to write about it or
play in the snow, I want to read, but the book I want to read is at work
and I am at the laundromat. Big snow in March. Big March snowflakes.
I never want people to see this poem. I always want people to see my poems.
Google is down, maybe they think that’s okay on Sunday mornings
maybe they think the people who don’t go to church don’t deserve Google,
all I can do now is go to Facebook and look at stupid boring-on-purpose
blurry hipster pictures of guys in nerdy poses
with thin blonde girls pretending they don’t care, pretending they don’t see the camera.

Is this a poem yet? Or am I going to go
back through this bullshit to try and find the very best words and try
to put them in the best (short)order like this:

big march snowflakes

Things I never want people to see me write about:
blurry hipster pictures of guys in nerdy poses with thin blonde girls
pretending they don’t care
playing in the snow
in France
on Saturday mornings
because Google is down. Oh Google,
is this a poem yet?

Maybe when I cut out all the talk-y bullshit that holds it together
the poem just seems short and chopped on purpose, like a bad haircut—
a short bob with bangs made by placing a big bowl over the head
of your poem and praying to some god or ghost
(like maybe Frank O'Hara from up there in heaven) to guide the scissors.

My hands are cold typing on this keyboard, didn’t realize I had to bring gloves to the laundromat in March. Maybe I will go to bed when I get home.
I am wearing my engagement ring on my thumb
because it is so cold that my hands have shrunk a little bit
and my skin feels all tight and cracked and dry.

I can’t believe it’s snowing in March. Big fat fucking snowflakes.
I wish it would stop. Do I think in poetic language or am I just faking it?
Am I doing this wrong? You sort of did the bagels wrong. They were toasted too long
and were a little hard and scraped the delicate skin by the gums of my bottom teeth.

Look at the snow! You say it’s pretty and go back to your work.
Did you really look? It’s like snow-globe snow. All big and feathery and wild.
Maybe if we get a horse I will name him “Old Feathers” yesterday
the best name seemed to be “Magic Bear” but it all depends on what sort of animal
the horse most closely resembles and if we move back to Vermont. I do
miss it there. Maybe our next place will have a laundry machine.
I don’t think we’ll be able to get baked goods from the nuns there though
(there might not be any nuns at all)
and then how will you tell me you love me?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Straight in the Eye

Sometimes I feel like I am made of sunshine. Sometimes
I hear all the things that call. Swings on the playground
back and forth and I hear the birds all speaking different languages,
and when I am very quiet and pulling a teabag up and down
in hot water, making the cotton string vibrate just a little bit, I can hear
an almost-silent high note. You should always look photos straight in the eye

to make sure they're not lying. His eyes show a vast pain.
Did he take that with him or is the pain still in his eyes,
just buried underground now? In the photo
he is sitting next to me outside at night in a black tee shirt. I am wearing white.
On the back of the photo it says in red letters:

I am starving to the point of hallucinations
one ocean and two years away
from the country of your suicide.

Monday, March 24, 2008

playing telephone

I was in Manuela home and she told she was no feeling so good.
When she no feel good, she believe something going to happen...

Abulea can’t hear me respond, so she just keeps going,
when I try to respond, she goes ah-ah yie, there’s something wrong on the phone,
I can no hear you, and then she keeps talking.
It’s different with my mother; she can hear me respond,
she just prefers to talk. Occasionally she pauses to ask direct questions
and when she does this, I say one sentence, two at the very most
and she immediately misconstrues my sentiment:

So you see Dad as a moldy humidifier?
That’s how I read the poem you e-mailed me this morning.
I didn’t really have that much time to read it though.
I just cooked two chickens. Good white meat leftovers,
so I can make Marc a nice chicken salad for lunch.
I pack his lunch, did you know that? And breakfast goes in the bag too sometimes.
Uncle Peter is jealous, he says- do you chew it for him too?
He’s just jealous that Peter, cause no one ever did that for him.
He makes fun of Marc, says you’re 26, you live at home, your Mother packs your lunch?
Jealousy is a green-toothed monster. Green.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Orozco Murals and the Disco Queen

In the basement of the big library next door
the murals come alive and talk to the ghosts
of Wheelocks and Websters past. You can see them
peering in the windows of your dirty kitchen

in the basement next door. They all tell you not to waste
your time dedicating all the poems.
The dead don’t care. The living don’t notice.

Who cares who
this poem is in memory of?
Your kitchen poems always burn anyway
and the smell gets caught in your hair.
Each word gets a quick microwave minute.
You are addicted to the cheap cook of the microwave.

Once you thought you could kill yourself by holding your breath.
You woke up in a hospital with big dark ants crawling up the walls,
argued your way out and flew back to America the next morning.
You went straight from the airport to fill up a shopping cart

in the harsh rectangle bright yellow cat-eye supermarket, you inhaled
so sharply the label flew off the can you were holding
right into your mouth. It tasted like wood and like melting.

You can have anything you want, they told you, so
you danced all night at the disco party and then
took a beautiful stranger back to your basement room.
Of course, the Wheelock and Webster ghosts looked away politely
but the Orozco murals danced right through you.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

On line at the department of motor vehicles

my pious mother met a holy man. He could see the enlightenment
of the others in the room, he knew who had gone to India seeking
the very sort of guru who sits behind the desk at the DMV in New York from nine
to five every day (except weekends and government holidays).

The guru is everywhere, he told her. In everyone as in no one, no where
if not here, no one if not you. My mother’s silent cross
hangs around her neck and they smile knowing smiles at each other.
I wonder, my mother says to the holy man,
if you’ve ever sat on one of those elephants
like in that movie Monsoon Wedding?
I’ve always wanted to ride an elephant.

And he writes this on a piece of paper for her:

from the city
that buzzes
with machines

to the country
that hums
with bugs

what do I need
silence for

She thanks him. And she mails it to me
on the way home. I tape it to my fridge here in Chicago and miss her terribly.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

the polish bar

Your mother says, go to the Polish bar
down the street, that’s where all the young people
go on Thursdays. Kathy from the deli,
she goes every Thursday night—
stop picking your nose!
You’ve got to stop that immediately!
Your father laughs. Does it taste good?
He doesn’t know why your mother wants you at the bar.

Who does she get it from? Your mad mother cries.
From you, who eats his toenails!
What you’re doing right now is something despicable,
a work of the Devil. And you’ve got to pray on that.
Your brother does evil in his sleep.
It is the work of the devil! Pray! Pray!

Central park is filled with orange flags now
like warnings—this is what it will look like
when the park is roped off for construction
of strip-malls and superstores. Kathy from the deli
doesn’t pick her nose. She invited your brother
to go on Thursday night to the bar, but I told him not to go there…

Yesterday in Manhattan you went to a music shop
with your brother, asked if there was a bathroom.
Your mind was filled with orange
flags—The Gates—still, and the voice of your mother.

One day they will sell the park too
is that what this art is supposed to mean?
No public bathroom here, sorry.
The park will be full of buildings like this one
where you can’t even use the bathroom if you don’t buy something.

The old Italian man behind the counter looks like a girl
you used to smoke cigarettes with down by the river
who spoke lovingly of Italy, and of her father’s music shop.
You tell her father the name of the river
he lights up like a match was struck on one of his smooth cool guitars.
Bet he’s never seen her smoke a cigarette or pick her nose.
He gives you the key to the bathroom. You say thank you.

You don’t write poetry anymore.
You can’t even read. You don’t speak Polish.
When you ask, well drunk, how much you owe
they don’t tell you just give you another beer.

Lisa-Lisa Listless and Sarah Sit-Still and Doctor Disease
all tell you to drink up
they have been here drunk for years
kept getting drinks they didn’t want
waiting for the bill, while one, long ago desperate
tried to sneak out the bathroom window and was shot.

It was a stray bullet from a gang member
trying to scare an old lady looking at him the wrong way.
She thinks I eat too much pie, he thought.
Pulled out his gun randomly just to scare her
squeezed off a shot or two and
just like nothing killed Shelly-Sneak-Out-The-Window
then his cell phone rang so he didn’t hear her yell or fall
he lit a cigarette and spoke loudly to his Daddy
while the ladies at the bar talked about loosing Shelly.

I guess that’s what you get when you don’t pay.
So you all stay, waiting as the
pretty bottles go back and forth between the glasses
and the old wood shelves, the bartender never gets tired or curious,
he makes drinks for years and years until the money you came in with
is not enough anymore.

Holding drinks in pretty hands
with rings and painted nails they say
Hello Hello Hello again, Hello you- over and over introducing themselves.

Every Saturday night is the same. Saturday night is everynight.
You decide to live here, where the
glasses clink clink clink
like words in another language you knew once and then forgot.

Friday, March 7, 2008


In the swamp where snakes curl and heat rises in
visible waves from the heavy water and termite nests wrap
around tree trunks, there is a tiny old boat tied up
to one of the gnarled roots pushing
out, above and into the dank water. Painted
in sloppy red letters on the side: Mighty Gideon

somehow still floating as the river passes low
south toward the ocean to see the sun disappear and
the lights in Port of Spain rise, all tropical and urban
as the heat pushes through into evening.

This is her boat. The girl who talks with snakes and stars,
a new pirate in an old world.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Remember climbing into my little bed with me
and pretending it was a spaceship and that
the only thing we were allowed to bring on the trip to the moon
was candy and I described all the different candies I would
bring and what they would taste like and where I would put them
in the cupboards on the ship?

Big grape gumballs and endless knots of licorice and Cadbury cream eggs
I called you Lina, that was your secret name, remember
staying under the covers of my spaceship
until I fell asleep or cried myself to sleep? Remember, I was too sensitive.

Sad songs would make me cry. Oh Mom, when I closed my eyes
at night I saw your face behind my eyelids
coming in close to kiss me, the most dazzlingly beautiful
sight in my whole universe. The very moon I wished on.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Sweet and Sour

Maybe the whole point of dreams
is to remind us not to take ourselves so damn seriously,
you say as we walk down 57th street
where car exhaust and snow mix in my mouth. It tastes like bacon.
It tastes like cold cancer. The sidewalk snow is yellow and sandy.

It’s so cold that it’s almost warm. This could easily be
a desert, but then the sign says walk, and we walk
and it’s just dirty snow and not sand.
The homeless man calls the cop brother, Hey
brother, where’s Carl today? The cop ignores, walks into the Valois.

Are there homeless people in the desert? It seems more noble
to be homeless in a romantic place like the desert.
Wasn’t Jesus a desert-hobo? No, he was a carpenter, that’s right.
I have sweet and sour cravings. We part at the Midway.

I love my silly French perfume, I have been wearing the same kind for years
it is both sweet and sour. I wonder what you are thinking now,
I am at work, you are at work.
I am listening to The Mango Song and not doing anything.
Your hands and feet are mangoes, you’re gonna be a genius anyway...
Are you doing exactly the same thing?

Sometimes I walk down 57th street with people who are no longer alive.
Remember when I had that nightmare
and you gave me your hand and pulled me awake
but when I really woke up, you weren’t there
and I was so surprised your ghost could find me in my bad-dream place.

Not really a ghost, because you are still alive, yes
more of a soul then and not really a ghost.
I walk down the street with ghosts
less and less these days.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Foal Pony

opens from mother-water, breathes air
for the first, thinks water doesn't rattle me
salt and fresh, rivers feed on mountains
oceans full of rivers
flow as the fresh foal falls forward
into life for the first everything
and breathes air.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Gun Roo

Last night I saw you give
a CD by Immortal Technique
to yourself from ten years ago, a guy
who randomly came over with friends.
He is a squatter in Grand Rapids, Michigan,
a town he lovingly refers to as "Gun Roo"
and has a Dead Kennedy's patch on his jeans
and you have a Dead Kennedy's tattoo
on your leg that you put there yourself
and filled in with India ink.

Okay, so ten years ago you weren't that guy exactly.
But you both have DK on your legs. The first
time I saw your tattoo I thought it was homage
to Donna Karan. I'm glad you gave that CD to Gun Roo.
He slapped a slap-bracelet on my wrist.
It cut me a little bit and today I have a welt.
He carried his stash in an old McDonalds bag
because it covered up the smell. What do you think
is going to happen now that Castro stepped down?
How is that going to effect the squatter population of Gun Roo?

I love you so much. You and your old India ink tattoo,
me and my janky old heart.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cake and Coffee

This delicious coffee is so hot and bitter. The cake layers
are yellow, air and light and whipped cream and curls
of shaved chocolate. Happy Valentines Day.
I know it’s late, but I love you so much.
The cake is not symbolic, I assure you.
I got an e-mail newsletter from Midwest Living. In their tips
on reviving old Valentines Day classics, they explicitly said
the cake must be real. Not a metaphor
or a meta-cake or the idea of a cake, but the cake itself.
Let’s move back to the country.
Let's be one of those middle-of-nowhere couples
who sit on their porch in the twilight in their funny pajamas and read
or maybe I’ll wear a moo like Abuela and make tea in the teapot.
And all the strangers who pass by will be invited in
for cake. Our well water will have the mountain flavor,
like the air does there. It will show up in our tastes and in our textures.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hoops and Pearls

The world is a bowl of pudding, so put on your best earrings
(the silver hoops) and your pearls before sinking in.
You try to look through it but all you see is the skin.
Poke it and the skin clings to your finger and lifts.
It is a good cool weight on your tongue.
It sings when you taste it, it sings beer-drinking songs.
You are making Kenny Hoffernitz, your dentist in Queens
uncomfortable as you explain this. He simply asked why you don't floss.
The world is not a bowl of pudding, he says
it's a minty fresh mouth. Kenny tells you about his kid.
She plays soccer aggressively, she is getting out all of her hostility now
and when she settles down with Mr. Right, Kenny will
teach his grandsons how to be dentists.
They will be iconoclast dentists, born to pull rottens
out perfectly on the first try, he says
and then he tells you to leave his office, because you
have been glaring at him since he rejected your pudding hypothesis.
Roobear, he says, Get out!
When your mother comes in for her cleaning she will hear about this
your lack of dentismal deportment (his words)
Ich bin darüber nicht erfreut, he'll say in slightly new-yorked German
and his tools will respond first by dancing and then by swinging
large mugs of dark beer to and fro with gusto.
Your mother will laugh and say; high is the life, Kenny!
Which is a literal translation of a birthday song, it sounds awkward in English
but it's true. And then she'll tell him that her children are geniuses
and so is she. And he could be to, but he flosses too much.
Flosses the genius right out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nick Trail's Thumb

Rena Mosteirin

Rena Mosteirin
Kore Press 2008 Fiction Chapbook Award Winner
for "Nick Trail's Thumb"
chosen by final judge Lydia Davis

Rena J. Mosteirin is a graduate of Dartmouth College, where she majored in English and Creative Writing. Rena's focus was on poetry and her mentors at Dartmouth were Cleopatra Mathis and Cynthia Huntington. Rena won the Sydney Cox Memorial Award, the Grimes Prize and the Class of 1954 Award in June of 2007. Her poetry appears in Farmhouse, Green Rock Publications, The Stonefence Review, Untamed Publications and The Blue Light Newsletter. Rena is a joyful feminist, currently working in a non-profit library consortium in Chicago.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lady of the Midway

Found a poem by Cleopatra
Mathis in the Denver Quarterly from 1983 today.
I saw her name on the front as I was about to shelve it up
in the climate-controlled (which means cold) cave
where there are no windows and no one goes
just me and the poem and it’s February
still so much winter and I was born
in 1983 so that makes this copy of Denver Quarterly my age
and Cleopatra’s poem is called February Thaw.

Oh darling, I broke one of your pretty blue
wine glasses this morning when I was leaving the house
it just sort of fell off the counter, okay I tapped the
cutting board behind it just a little bit by accident
and luckily it fell forward on the pink rug by the sink
and so it didn’t shatter but broke a clean three way split.

I was crossing the snowy Midway on the way to work
and a woman walking with her little boys on the thin plowed path
yelled at the boys to let me pass. “She shouldn’t have to walk in the snow.”
The woman shouted. “She’s a lady.” A lady. And they single-filed
behind her and I smiled like I thought a lady would and said
“Thank you” in my best impression.

And then I found the poem at work and then it was break
and I stood in front of the snack machine which only ever
has one tempting thing for me- the Big Texas
cinnamon roll. But the name really puts me off. What is so good
about being big, Texas? Most of the snacks are just gross plastic and
some of them have been there forever like the books on our shelves
that nobody ever requests. Maybe my life
will mean working here forever in the vending machine and poem kaleidoscope
and Cleopatra’s thaw poem made me cry. When the snow
is gone will anyone call me a lady on the Midway?
There is something so grand about that stretch of snow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Violent Librarians

One night on Long Island when I was fourteen, an old furious Haitian matriarch who had probably saved for a long time to pay for her daughter’s sweet sixteen, stood up and said with a heavy accent, If you got beef, take it outside. I was under the table with the rest of the cheerleading squad. I’m not sure who went under the table first, but it seemed like the best idea after the first shot was fired. It happened so quickly, I didn’t really see the who and what of it, but I could guess the why and how. And then the police arrived and it was time to go. My new shoes seemed wasted on a party that ended so fast. I didn’t really feel scared till later when Dad was sitting on the couch reading the Sunday paper and read about the party and called me into the room. Why hadn’t I called home for a ride? Why I didn’t I tell him about it?

At another sweet sixteen, Henry and I ran away from the party to the hill by the middle school with the track that was made of recycled sneakers. I had taken off my uncomfortable black heels, the shiny ones with the straps, and left them by the basketball court before the cops came. I don’t know how they knew about us underage drunks trespassing, maybe they heard the noise from the party and were just checking out the surrounding area. When they came it was dark and we were up on the hill where the track stretched a quarter mile across the field ending at a small road. We didn’t run because we didn’t want them to see us. It was dark, and we rolled away. We rolled like logs across the field for a quarter of a mile to the road and my black lace dress had loose green grass poking out of it, and when we got back to party all scared and grassy, I realized I forgot my fancy shoes by the basketball court. So I took my chances and told Dad the truth when he came to pick me up, about where my shoes were, and he drove me to the middle school and they were right where I left them and he never told Mom anything.

There was a drive-by shooting outside the library where I work, a decade after the first sweet sixteen I attended which ended so abruptly. This shot was fired at three-thirty in the afternoon; I was shelving books off a cart deep in the second floor stacks where there are no windows. I didn’t hear anything, I was listening to Tori Amos, like I did in high school, and when I left work and walked home I thought about my shoes and how the water gets in them when I step in puddles, but they are really cute shoes and then at home there was an e-mail about the shooting and when I came into work the next day they gave me a red plastic whistle. A rape whistle. So do I blow this if I think someone’s going to shoot me or after I’ve been shot, in order to attract attention to my dying self? The library was too cheap to spring for handguns, I guess. Imagine that, the library ladies leaving work with their guns at the ready. And when one of us gets fed up by you and your overdue books? Will some expert then say on the news that librarians have a naturally violent nature?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Love is like a little tree

When we started we were so tender and nervous
small kindnesses were vital, they still are.
When we started, I would stay up all night to look at you.
Last night I looked at your body with thunder
rolling in flashes over you, making pools of moonlight
all smoky blue in your definite shapes while you slept.

Abuela once said, love is like a little tree,
you have to feed it and it will grow branches to protect you from the rain.
When the thunder stopped, it started to snow
last night and you left me a love note on the bedroom door this morning
you taped it up so I would see it first thing
because I had been crying in my sleep.
When I woke up it was all silence and snow.

Your note said:
You are special and wonderful –
I love you.
Please take the day off if you need it –
Drink soup, tea, eat an orange.
Smile. Take care of yourself.

And the room is bright this morning
because everything outside is coated with last night’s snow.
I call in sick and stay under the covers, eat ice cream for breakfast, right out of the carton, watch a movie on TV. I call Abuela,

she wants to talk about my “bad cousin,” because “we have to be with reality.”
The bad cousin had to pawn the playstation for diapers, Abuela says.
What is a playstation? Is it like a VCR?
I tell Abuela yes, it’s a VCR so fancy you could get many nice diapers for it.

Abuela says the bad cousin is lucky
she has such a thing to sell, back in the old days
if you have a lazy husband and two babies you have to work
when the babies are asleeping, sewing dresses for Mary Hoochie-Poochie.
I tell her I want more lines about love,
because I am writing a love poem, and without hesitation
she says: if your husband is a perfectionist
you must keep the house very clean.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Heath Ledger is Dead

Out beyond ideas of rightdoing
and wrongdoing
there is a field.
I will meet you there.

I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up
-Frank O’Hara

Once I got a kitten for my birthday
and named him Rummy, even though I was allergic
to hair from pets like the big gold dog Muffin,
who lived the backyard and garage mostly
but had to be put to sleep anyway five years before.

My brother told me I had killed the dog,
with my allergies. I couldn’t sleep.
I called the kitten Rum Tum Tugger,
Rummy for short, not Rumi like the Sufi poet,
which I think is pronounced Roo-me.

Rummy was soon married to a friend’s cat,
the lovely Socks and we all fell in love
with the slightly-freckled Heath Ledger collectively--
me, my friend, the cats, everyone. We loved the long dark hair
and the accent deep in his man-voice.

Rumi says it’s a field
but maybe it’s a very sunny apartment
where Heath Ledger will meet God
and she will love him with a thirteen-year-old-girl heart.
When I first heard it on the news I was out
somewhere and the TV said it was drugs--
oh Heath Ledger we love you get up!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Apples in Nightgowns

My child-sized great-grandmother had special witch-words meaning
don’t make a mess. It sounded like bah-tz. Don’t bah-tz, she said
in the kitchen in Queens in a language that used to be spoken
only in one specific district of Slovenia before it was called Slovenia,
and she hated a mess, especially in the kitchen. I wonder if there still is a place
called Gottschee. She made apple strudels there and apple-in-sleep-frock dumplings
(she called them afpel-im-schaf-rook) before her hands were arthritic,
and she died before the place she came from was called Slovenia.
She was tough till the end, tough on Grandma who was raped at sixteen,
the consequence of coming to America
during world war two speaking something that sounded like German.

My great-grandmother rolled out her dough
on the big wobbly wood kitchen table till it was just thin paper,
like the skin on her old hard hands and as the dough got longer, going over the edge
of the table like thin pale fabric waiting to become a see-through dress for apples.

She worked in a factory for many years to buy this table and now she’s dead and I
don’t know what she made in that factory that I’ve walked past so many times
I forget to see it anymore and it's been closed since before I was born,
and no one remembers her recipes anymore. I guess she thought
she was teaching me to cook and speak her dead language
but I can barely remember her old words or
what apples in nightgowns taste like anymore.

Her husband left her for Canada and she brushed butter over
the dough with rough love like she did then before she had been abandoned
and before her daughter went crazy and went away, and she brushed butter over
after she had been abandoned and my Grandma, her daughter, came home and went to dances
at Gottscheer Hall and got married. Great-Grandma rained raisins and thin apple slices
and brown sugar democratically over the dough while I made a mess in her ancient kitchen.

Twenty years later
at a college
in the country
at an apple orchard
on a date

by all the apple trees and the war that I couldn’t see from New Hampshire
but knew was going on (or maybe I was just date-nervous)
I ate all the apples I could, till my stomach hurt and I bit my lips
to keep from crying or vomiting, and asked you nicely to take me home.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Welcome to Chicago

My neighbor bit a hole in an old rug I left hanging on the fire escape. It was my first week in Chicago. I took the rug out there to beat it and the dust flew out making clouds like cluster flies. I left it there for a while and did something else and when I came back there was a round human-mouth shaped hole in it. The squirrels could never have made a hole that big in the rug. They have small ratty mouths. I think my neighbor Jeff is jealous of the squirrels because the downstairs neighbor feeds them. Mostly it’s just birdseed and sunflowers, but sometimes it’s also fancy nuts like walnuts and cashews. Jeff can’t afford fancy nuts.
The squirrels probably watched him do it, but they can’t talk and tell me about it. He was out there on the fire escape smoking a cigarette and looking stoned when I came back out for the rug and discovered the hole. He blamed the squirrels right away and then said, “Well you don’t want a rug with a big old hole in it, do ya?” And I shook my head no, and sat down and lit up a cigarette and looked at the rug and looked at Jeff. He stroked the rug and raised his eyebrows at me. The rug was sad. There was nothing I could do really, I didn’t want the rug anymore. He asked if I was going to throw it away and I said, “Jeff, if you want the rug I suppose you can have it, but I really wish you hadn’t bitten a chunk out of it like that. I mean, I can’t even believe you put your mouth on it, man.” He laughed at me a little bit, thought about denying the whole thing and then changed his mind.
“I’ll make you a trap to catch the squirrels if you want. Then you can get them back.” He seemed to think that was an equitable solution.
“Yeah Jeff, thanks.” I stubbed out my cigarette and headed inside. My boyfriend was pissed about the rug, but there was nothing we could do. As it got colder the squirrels got more tenacious, and would come right up to us when we were reading on the fire escape. I read on the internet that the best way to get rid of squirrels is to spray wolf pee on the places they like to go. Wolves are the natural predator of the squirrel, the website said. I thought about that for a while and then I peed in an old lemonade pitcher and diluted it with water and took it out to the fire escape with me. I had a turkey baster and I filled it up with the watery pee and squirted it at the squirrels that bothered me. It seemed to keep them at bay. I could hear Jeff playing guitar bad and loud. Playing Hotel California in his funny little studio apartment, probably sitting on my rug with the bite-hole. Singing the wrong words with his big stoned mouth. Laughing at his own farts. We haven’t had that, beer in here, since 1969...When he came out for a smoke, I sprayed him with turkey baster. I told him it was water and he asked me to spray him again, this time he opened his mouth.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

No Gateway for Grandma

In the New Year I don’t want to blow
my Christmas cash city-side, I want to go to the dentist
when I get back to Chicago, back
to trying to get a health plan on part-time library wages
and full-time tooth pain. Doctors don’t know
what to do with Abuela who is bleeding on the inside
from the Daypro she takes for her arthritis.
She’s been told not to take it anymore
but when we go to Jackson Heights to visit,
she takes it so she can stand-up easily.

I tell her marijuana helps with arthritis, but she says no,
she can’t use it because it’s a gateway drug. Maybe
I'll make her pot brownies anyway and pretend
not to notice when she starts to say stoned-out things.

I should probably try to start paying back my student loans
instead of going ice skating, or getting Abuela high
even though it looks like it might snow a little,
and that is the most romantic time to skate, and you

are feeling a bad sort of claustrophobia on the border of Brooklyn
and Queens in what my mother calls the ancestral home
and you call the funny farm. Ridgewood.
The name does have a funny farm sort of feel to it.
Your parents have a real farm in Maine. Buckfield. I am learning
to type poems on my tiny new iphone screen.
Will our someday-children make fun of me for writing that
as though it were a real line in a real poem?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Sleep til noon when you can.
Plant the tulips.

How would you like Ralph Nader
to be characterized in our textbooks?

May you sleigh and fly.
The Hindu Kush, the diesel fuel.

Pomegranates. Juiced. Seeds.
Do the watermelons give me health?

A staple from a copy of the new yorker was substituted
for a needle, and popcorn was strung.

Are you John McCain?
Do you support this message?

This poem is composed of lines from Dave's blog about impressive things which struck me as particularly poetic. I selected and arranged them, but did not change the lines at all, except to capitalize some letters. So I didn't actually "write" this poem. But Dave didn't write it either. This brings up questions of authorship, as does my spam poems and the poem I wrote from Marc's e-mails. What do you think?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Cup of Coffee In New York

“No coffee can wake you no coffee can wake you no coffee can wake you no coffee”
-Elizabeth Bishop (from a poem fragment in Edgar Allen Poe and the Jukebox)

Went home for Christmas went
out to get a cup of coffee at night
and the place gets robbed by a guy I dated in high school.

Why did I come here expecting love, when all I really do
in New York is pay to be crowded in and
everyone I know is either too pushy or too depressed to be pushy?

And was this really
all caused by a man
on an airplane
on his knees?

And of course Mike
dead so very long now
couldn’t meet me at the airport.

And was this really
all caused by a man
on an airplane
on his knees?

And of course Mike
dead so very long now
couldn’t meet me at the airport
couldn’t wake up to forgive me.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happy New Year

Here we have the sign which inspired the title of this blog. It sits on the bank of the Connecticut River in Norwich, Vermont. James E. Dobson took this photo.

Check out Farmhouse- one of my poems is in the new issue.