These Are But the Outskirts of His Ways


I could kill you he said and I knew it was true

but I played for him upon my instrument


of longing          a plastic kazoo nothing too

fancy and when I rode he rode right there


beside me         Look up he said a canopy

of trees I saw a steel trap jaw on a loaded


spring triangular teeth each ten feet wide

at least I cried   at this point       flowers


wholly disinteresting I colored them anyway

five loops held together by a balled up center


I stood straight as a flower in the slap of the sun       

The sun wore black sunglasses    so I couldn’t


see his soul               an advertisement

for tropical things vacations and juices


a spiky ball on a chain going slow like a lasso

around God’s head         My song a jingle


rising like heat clinging to corners begging

God down         begging      one more time


around the block                before dinner      

The Understudy

High spring. The sounds at their

utmost registers. I am building

a language with my bike. Shame


makes the wheels go, shame

pumps its sick jet fuel.

I am flying over tiny hills with moats


of purple flowers. My fantasy

is evidence. My fantasy is a white skull

gleaming through a bed of mulch.


I let go of the handlebars and beat

my chest with shame’s gorilla fist

until the trees get in my way.


Nancy Drew before me, Nancy Drew

behind me, Nancy Drew on all

sides of me, Lord hear my prayer.

The Unicorn in Captivity


Cold metal bowl of rainwater,

rusted leash attached to a stake

in the ground, I am grateful for

anything. Hello, my name is

Grateful For Anything. Hello,

my name is Missouri. Rottweiler.

There was no fence. Still, I stood

at the edge of something, looking

out. There were no visible

wounds. Still, something bled

and I couldn’t tend to it.

There was no fence, there was

no leash. Still, I stood at the edge

of something, looking out.

There was no blood, it was just

the juice, dripping from the fruit—

pomegranates—that hung

from the dirty trees and burst

and marked me in jerks from above.



 There will be simulated lightning

and a monologue of great sway,

a final admission of heartbreak.

There will be no stage. Denied that

too. I’ll hold a cardboard shield

covered in foil, thrust my elbow

outward with intent. It will be

a school night. There will be bleachers,

a modest audience, a concession

stand brimming with Twizzlers.

I will beg you to love me in a scary

public kind of way. Red stains

will start to show through my cloak.  

I so love the world, I can't let go of it.

I keep putting my face in it—

the crease in a pop-up book.

I slobber on the dimensional, I lick

the rough bark of that tree.

Someone will lose an eye.

Someone will lose both eyes.


Mother Daughter Story



Because the harrowing

was over, we thought

we could fall in love again,


we thought

because the siren’s red light

grew so warm


when slid like paper through the closed blinds

(she had closed them out of instinct)

and the white flash


had a kind of magic to it, going away

from us, growing

quieter and quieter


that everything would be fine—


We thought we were fine,

our bodies untouched,

our heads still on


though he had told us


(Unless unless he said and said—)


Though we had made ourselves


and then even smaller


than that

inside the room where we hunched

over our lives


(pathetic fires

on a windy plain)—

I held hers and she held mine


until we became the same


so the mother could never hold


the child again, they were just

one big blob

of flesh and meat, meat and fear


even in peace

as she moved through a room

to vacuum while I watched TV


it was like her hands were my hands, her feet

my feet—

And then the season changed


and with it the trees

so it was like we were living

in an entirely different world


so there was hope, you see, and

we thought in this way

we could fall in love again,


face to perfect face.

My First Job



was at a chocolate shop            dipping fruit into a vat

of liquid fudge                            a teenage witch


with scoliosis                              slumped beside

her giant cauldron                    and like a witch


I lied to children                        telling them

they had enough money          in their twisted plastic baggies


of dirty dimes                            and greenish pennies                 

for two or three cookies         when in truth               


they could not afford               even one                                  

Growing up                                my rich aunt                             


once said to my mother           Your kids act like

they’ve never seen                     an Oreo cookie


an insult from which                my mother       

never recovered                          the shame


of her children’s                          wild hunger

noted by another                        mother


My job before                             I was a mother

was at a chocolate shop           and I was young  


and all alone                                inside my hunger                      

like little Hansel                        in his dog cage

lots of milk                                   lots of butter

Nothing else to do                     but eat

they couldn’t seem                     to make me stop

they even installed                     a video camera    


but still I rose up                         from my swivel chair                

behind the counter                     and I walked                             


slowly slowly                               toward my God                        

who loved to see me                  daily gorge                               


review the hours                        of grainy footage

loved his wayward                     daughter’s       


solo pleasure                                her witchy logic

and his daughter’s                      daughter   


getting fatter                                by the day.

Labor Day



Jelly for your bread and an

ostrich feather fan upon your

stinging face. Sing grace my tenor, turn your

eagle eye from my

primitive rage, the tenet that I

hate to break but broke.


Please. Plenty before and after will

eke a limbo stick for me

to master and I will master it—

enough to earn some love, to win the

race I do not want to race.


Modesty, your perfect face, it’s you

I bend for though I veer, I

strike my silver

helmet upon the devil’s

lip, ache and swing, rise and beg.

Employ my heart, its abundant meat. It

reeks for you. It does not fake.



Splendor in the Greenish Grasse



He grew up at the beach

watching the meth head ocean’s reckless clawing at its own

pocked face, wave after wave pounding

his already pounded head.


I grew up in a creek,


a former show dog, washing myself with my own tongue.

Betrayed for money. “No skill to see the Sunne”

and “verie moodie.” Early-mauled

by the devil’s bright claw


entering me repeatedly from above.


We escaped together at thirty-two and made love

for such a collection of hours it turned into a glory of days.

Rolling in the clover

behind the witch’s house


passing the poisoned apple


between our happy mouths.

Spitting the juice of Flintwoort out and laughing from our pits.

His lamb curls, the long vein

inside his long warm neck, filling itself—again, again—


And just like that


life came to me—me!—

an aberration

with no claim

on this particular earth.


Behold, her beautiful dark black head.


All poems © My SECOND WORK, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2020