We stopped panicking ages ago.
We take a deep breath.
One of us takes a turn
and we run the fire drill.
You want us in a crisis—
we get calmer—
we listen for the beats.
We can walk
on a turbulent plane
balancing plates and
babies on our hips.
We can direct you during disaster.
We can cover our heads,
protect our fragile necks,
and look you in the eye
while singing a peaceful song.
We know how to keep a steady hand
when cutting the wires.
We know this too shall pass.
We hum the song of the screaming siren.
We have skin as thick as walruses.
When it happens—
We do not cry—
we do not feel it—
those are luxuries
for a child born into chaos.
Those assigned to protect us
were those who sinned against us,
used us as shields, caught us
in friendly fire, or turned
and looked the other way.
a constant state
One foot ready to run
—smile at your teacher—
but keep one fist clenched
and over time it fuses
into our breath
so there are no
No shock when your bags
are in the car before
you ever unpacked them—
no hesitation in the middle
of the night—it’s time to leave—
time to keep the clothes on your back.
And your mother crying means you
make your own dinner and your
sister screaming means you keep
your eyes down—stay out of the way—
but be ready to pick out
the shrapnel— put the chairs back
on their feet—hold your breath—
don’t wake the bear— don’t crack
the eggs—don’t make him mad— don’t
cross the line— don’t cry now—don’t
need—don’t look up— don’t be
a kid— don’t let your guard down—
don’t flinch—don’t blink—don’t
We will walk through fire.
We will save your babies
and you can thank us
for pulling the earth up
on wide shoulders
or else the orbit will fail.
First published in Disorder: Mental Illness and Its Affects.
When you look at your sunlight child
baby girl with rainbow eyes
deep dimpled cheek to store your kisses
When you look at her wind-chime twirling
throwing her perfect young mouth
at your carpenter hands
How do you not lock them
around her kitten-soft body
throw her up on mountaintop shoulders
march through clouds, place her safe
far out of reach from giants, ogres
and demons with sweating jaws
How do you not gather armies
to fight in her name
at the mere thought of bruised knees
How, instead, do you wear lambs’ robes
pull her into your ice den
with your hands at her throat
cut words into her belly
fill her with stones
lay her in the river
as the hunter’s trumpet sounds
leave her in the current
let her bleed for decades
to grow old hating
both wolves and sheep alike
How then, do you howl at the moon
when your sunlight child turns black
when she cuts all parts of you off her skin
spits your dead-leaf name from her mouth
How do you howl at the moon
when she lets all her memories of you rot into soil
lets fungus eat all cells inked with your DNA
How do you not throw your own wolf body
into the river—kill the only beast she knew
before she grew claws of her own
First Published in East Jasmine Review.
Be here. Be centered. Be a girl on the verge of everything.
Be the wrong kind of naive. Be the wrong kind of experienced.
Be nestled in pine bench seats. Be as bright as fluorescent bulbs.
Be a mother cooking spaghetti. Be ducks in blue flower tiles.
Be a wall telephone, spiral cord stretched for miles. Be a
pimpled-faced teen. Be a former homeless child sleeping
in her own room. Be dancing on clean white sparkled
linoleum. Be a shy step-daughter. Be a visiting sister
towing another man behind. Be glass tabletop,
chipped edges for all night D&D. Be a pile of
endless dishes. Be cooking sherry snuck by
seventeen-year olds. Be cartoons. Be drawn
on the refrigerator door. Be gaping windows.
Be a kind of glue. Be her best memories.
First published in Like a Girl: Perspectives on Feminine Identity.
I stand on cinderblock walls barefoot
holding my hands out
over the edge.
He says he gave me his eyes
so I close them, walk brick to brick.
My heels, calloused, a line of infection
is growing. If it reaches my heart,
I will die at age seven.
I count to ten, then one hundred seventy.
South of me is demolition, a chain
of commune houses sunken into grass.
It is always so tall here.
The pain in my foot is muffled, a woman
held captive, screaming silent.
I toe-to-toe down the cinder line
towards our junkyard neighbor.
We built a fort into bamboo soldiers.
When we leave here, we will forget how
we need to burn everything still standing.
This place will not be for children, but
black tar parking lot.
That way, it won’t have to remember us.
Remember my seven-year-old hands digging
nails from my feet. A tree house
of death threats can die here or
lie buried under asphalt.
First published in In-Flight Literary Magazine.
It’s home movies on a reel-to-reel.
Light is always dim, pouring in
from thin covered windows.
He is carpenter, framing houses.
Long days in the sun tan his skin,
make him sleep late on weekends.
We play Ambulance anytime I bump my head,
scrape my shin. He lifts me over his shoulders
and mocks sirens rushing hurried to hospitals.
He lays me down like a patient and makes me giggle,
fingertips under the arms, across the belly.
For seconds, I forget.
I am a laughing four-year-old unafraid.
Until I am not. Until the looming frame of him
scrapes ceilings, pulls in the weight of rooftops
down into the darkest room, windows covered thick.
He does not lock his door. I play the secret game
of Find the place he is not. Stay quiet enough
and he won’t see you close the door.
He will not call after you.
Scratches flicker across film spliced memories
as the reel hums, tick-tick-tick-tick-tick.
First appeared in East Jasmine Review.
The newest issue of In-flight Literary Magazine is out today! I have two very different poems up, “What I Mean When I Say My House Is Now a Park” and “Paint”. One is a memory of my young childhood house that has since been demolished and the other is a lyrical poem. There are many other fabulous poets, including my friend, Don Kingfisher Campbell. Take a few minutes and read a poem for the first day of National Poetry Month!
The new East Jasmine Review is out now! You can download this lovely literary journal for the price of a fancy coffee. It is packed full of amazing authors such as: Sean Gunning, John Brantingham, Kelsey Bryan-Zwick, Natalie Morales, Michael Cantin, and Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo. I am especially happy that two of my poems based around my dysfunctional family, “Both Wolves and Sheep Alike” and “Drawing Maps for the Lost”, are included. You can download it for many e-reader devices or on PDF.
If I ever have children
they will never know me in my thirties
the woman checking it off
all the things-to-do
like a master’s degree
and home buying
like falling in love completely
and writing a book of how it ends
finding new community
and loving her whole body flawed
flinging open all the doors
and surrendering to the unknown next
If I ever have children
they will never know me in my twenties
the woman fighting against it
to save her own soul
find her own belief in God
and lose her given self
venture out from community
live alone, love alone
sort through the old baggage
give them names and abandon them
find focus for talents and energies
and heal the damage at all costs
If I ever have children
they will never know me in my teens
young girl trying masks
on and off each year
like too many friends
and partying far too young
like black dyed-hair and boots
sinking down through the cracks
sharp turn into a Christian life
and a radical-faced community
stepping through the windows
where she’d press her face to the glass
If I ever have children
they will never know me as a child
a broken girl holding
a green Picasso heart
running with one parent from the other
always leaving school early
memories in paper bags stashed
in the trunk of a broken-down car
with walk-in closets for the skeletons
and attics for hiding and running free
words swallowed in torn pieces
forcing her destiny as a poet
Originally published in The Mayo Review, also included in The Unnamed Algorithm.
Listen to the poem on SoundCloud, from Anchors CD.
A ten year old girl
stood in the alleyway
in white buckled sandals
that made her feel too tall—
like someone twelve not ten
like someone more carefree,
sandals for a girl who could just
be a girl and not—
one begging her mother not
to walk away,
pleading her only parent to stop
going farther down
into the alleyway dark.
Heels slightly wobble and tilt
on bare red ankles
on ten year old legs
always ready to run.
(Originally published in Disorder: Mental Illness and Its Affects)
Holding Barbie up to me, you said
“My mommy’s in jail”
and broke the strong girl face
that walked through my door.
I pulled Barbie up while you
cried in your thick five-year-old legs
dressed in pink four-year-old pants.
In two weeks you’d be six
starting first grade. You knew
your letters and how to write your name.
How to write “I love you, Mommy”.
You said you were mad at her
for going to jail, for doing bad things.
In my foreign home, you laughed
at SpongeBob and played
with unfamiliar toys. You should
have been in Santa Barbara
buying new school clothes—
instead you were with strangers
in Lakewood Mall Target
buying clothes for a six-year-old,
guessing your size underwear.
I took you to a fair at the beach
but forgot to bring cash,
so we stared at the things
that neither of us could have.
We danced in my backyard,
blew bubbles for the dog,
and sang the song, “Whooooo
lives in a pineapple under the sea?”
They found the man you called
Daddy One—or maybe Two—
but you called him a number.
You cried when I told you
he was on his way. His name
was on your birth certificate,
so he drove from Santa Barbara
over two long hours.
He cried when he saw you—
you did not cry when you saw him.
I kissed you on your forehead.
You left with Daddy One
and bags of new school clothes,
back to Santa Barbara.
In less than five minutes,
I returned to my own house empty
of your laughter, SpongeBob still
on the Netflix queue.
Originally published on Ishaan Literary Review