10-Line Tuesday

March 20, 2012

on the eve of Spring
I saw them, kissing on a sidewalk bench. I’d left the movie
with my heart in my throat, a story about beating the odds,
an impossible alliance forged from accident and luck. The way
they leaned into it, I would have said it was new, their bodies
making fervent contact, his arm clutching her shoulder blade,
her drawn knees tipped, as if drunk, into his torso. Sometimes, a moment
holds our contradictions perfectly, the tentative and unafraid,
history and hope threading in one touch. I drove on, thinking what it meant
to lean into the risk, how loving always drives the wager.
The moon was nowhere to be seen, but the stars were everywhere.

March 13, 2012

ashes of old lovers


It was a gag gift, a novelty purchased at a mid-summer tag sale.
I’d thought, originally, to send it to a friend who was trying to close
a particular chapter of history. It seemed like a fitting container, a vessel
to safeguard memory, ceramic testament to the risks she’d taken. But I suppose
I was thinking of my own stories, tales of love long gone which nevertheless
had left fragments in their wake, tiny shards of grief, dust particles of injuries
sustained by a heart waking up to its wingspan. I kept the jar in the recess
of a bedside shelf, buoyed by its humor. But this morning, something in that breeze
parched my throat. I didn’t want this graveyard near me anymore, even if I can’t forget.
But a space needs to be made for what’s not written yet.

February 28, 2012

peeling apples
"Write as if you were dying," the teacher tells us. "Because you are."
I'm trying to wrap my mind around this, having spent so many years
shrinking from death, holding it back by the brute force of my own terror.
Now, I'm to act as if it were right here, hovering dangerously close to my ears.
What about the languorous thread of minutes I had been so bent on teasing out,
the slow, meticulous laps in the pool of an examined, marinating life? But then,
one morning, peeling apples for sauce, I find myself hypnotized by the spiral route
the skin takes, the sudden nakedness of flesh, the knife going through again and again.
And just like that I'm wedded to the task like my life depended on it, full of new fidelity
for these fleeting beauties, in love even with loss. And I knew there was nowhere else to be.

March 6, 2012

the language between us
Not in the way of verbs. Not like the exchange at the post office, the weighing in,
the request for faster service. Not like the bartender taking an order, or the saleswoman
proffering a selection of black dresses. Not like a hand rising in a classroom, the answer
tipping out of the mouth. Not like directions from the gas station attendant or
telling the time to a stranger or the pleasantries of the checkout clerk. Not like previews
in a dark movie theater, the assault of a soundtrack. Not like the stoic delivery of news
anchors or the urgings of the gym instructor or the televangelist booming from the stage.
Instead, the language between us threading through the cracks, in air and breath and page
and all the nuance of a simple, single glance. Our tongue is split in half, our body into thirds,
love pulsing in the center of it all, a beautiful failure of words.

February 21, 2012

not hunger exactly

I’m thinking of the train hobbyist, showing me an early acquisition,
the way he held the car with such delicacy and reverence, fingers barely
touching the sides. And though it had been years since he’d begun his collection,
his whole body lifted into the story as if lit under by flames, passion clearly
marked on his pinking cheeks. And I remember how two nights before
I’d stayed up so late digging for words, and how each one, surfacing, married me
further in the larger poem my life was writing. There is something at the core
of each of us, the engine revving when we advance unapologetically toward joy.
It’s not hunger exactly, but some magnetic earth-pole drawing us to center,
a quiet room where our own love lies tender and eternal, calling us to enter.

February 14, 2012

hold me close and let me go

Confession: the room sometimes too cold, sometimes a furnace.
One day woozy with the spell of love and another, itchy
with escape. You wish you had a crystal ball, knew when the kiss
would tumble off the cliff and into the churning river that carried it away.
You wish you could anticipate each change, large or incremental,
that shifted your heart to the right or left of its blushing bull’s-eye.
All you know is, the see-saw tips from transient to transcendental,
the fulcrum leaning from the breeze. You don’t know how or why,
but then again, nature’s full of paradox, stormy followed by serene.
The winter grass, frozen shut, still clinging to a trace of green.

February 7, 2012


“What is it you hope for?” she asked. We were talking about love, how a story
had dismantled these last weeks, and whether there was still a chance,
the winter warm enough to ground the roots again. I saw the slight worry
in her face, and though I knew enough about the changing weather of romance
to find peace in the conclusion, I hadn’t thought of what lay further underneath,
the narrative my heart was writing, the soul-poem of my deepest yearning.
My mind went blank. The words locked up behind my teeth.
The present tense is exactly that, taut with so much NOW. But what was burning
to be born? What seedling wish was carrying the plot? The question opened like a book.
It’s hard enough to close your eyes, but tougher still to look.


January 31, 2012

the contradiction

Between the first and second half of Monday, I can tell you
I was a trapeze artist, swinging and somersaulting through a thousand
different stories. No one could have guessed it, watching me order coffee
and a toasted bagel, then following my footsteps to the post office where I
calmly handed over a package and paid the two dollars to send it.
Under the visible, ordinary transactions—the phone calls, the conversations
with inquisitive neighbors, the purchase of milk and eggs, the request
for a doctor’s appointment—we are skittish as birds, full of opposition
to our earthly circumstance and yet, simultaneously, married to it, anchored
at the feet. We stay and we go with each breath. We live and we die everyday.


January 24, 2012

the movies

In the movies, the new lovers would circle the city, arms roping
around each other’s backs, their stride perfectly even, the tempo
of their conversation lilting like a song, and the audience, hoping
for their own sweet story, would lean from their seats as the glow
of evening descended. Time would stand still when the kiss
finally came, the swish of trees serenading, and even the hot dog vendor
belting from the sidewalk would stop to watch, and be healed. But this
isn’t how it works, the heart intemperate as early spring, bruised and tender
from all the tumult it sustains. Still, the reel plays and we swim in their desire,
fused by want and lit by fire.

January 17, 2012


Her fingers could not handle the finer points of the clay, and so the face
warped into a caricature with oblique white ovals for eyes and improbably
round lips. There wasn’t much to the skull or the ears, and hardly a trace
of the jawline that marked her own silhouette. She was simple and doughy,
the roughest of creatures, but such is the beginning that marks any beginning:
vague outlines, hopeful guesses at proportion, an innocence of form and shape.
The hard work will come soon enough, of course, the ruthless attempts at getting
it right and the self-flagellation that ensues when failure hits, the way we chew and scrape
at our own tender insides. So she will do her best love her now, this uneven, funny being,
and hold her for exactly what she is: blameless and forgiving.

January 10, 2012

the drift

Sometime last week, after the revelry of the new year had passed,
that bright resolve to steer the ship of my life in a freshly purposeful direction
was dismantled by sudden doubt, like a flash frost blinding the windshield.
I wandered the morning half-awake, wasting good daylight on a section
of a tricky crossword, mindless with my meals, stingy
with love. I could feel it, momentum draining out of me, trouble troubling
the water, and all my proclamations about change and opportunity
fell silent as old rocks. The day tumbled on, without visible meaning,
until bed, when a sliver of moon rose behind the house. It wasn’t an answer,
exactly, but I understood this: A journey calls for sea, not shore.

January 3, 2012

slowing down

In New York, I spotted the gym-goers on the third floor, racing on their treadmills
toward dinner reservations or a show or some wild idea that told them 30 minutes a day
on the "mountain climber" setting would fix it all. The whole city was breathing
hard, it seemed, moving on hyper-speed, but it would be a lie to tell you
I leaned back from the quiet perch of my own stillness to observe the mad rush
as if it were a weekend’s entertainment. I didn’t. Inside, I’m on a parallel clock,
fashioning deadlines for everything. Now of course, I’m at the beginning again,
and the itch for a solid finish at its itchiest. “This will be the year I…” goes the familiar
refrain. Meanwhile, the sky slips toward evening, an edgeless nuance of shifting color,
and I watch as winter birds glide toward their potential, steady and serene as ever.

December 27, 2011

poem for unfinished business

The sticky, the oily, the irreconcilable. Shelves dusty from disuse,
yet bearing so much weight the house feels pulled under. What has gone
sour still puckering the mouth in memory. The body shaken loose
from its moorings despite persistent reminders for stillness, and the mind whirring on
and on about a collection of stories broken down the spine. And so, a ceremony
is undertaken, a fire built to create a semblance of farewell, the last
bits of unease coiled into strips of paper and thrown in. I’d like to say
this will do it, close the book for good, but really, what will make the past a past
is to tell it I am grateful for what it gave, a map from which to chart the better trip.
To hold the pain in tenderness is to release its grip.

December 20, 2011

in the thick of the living

I forget to say it, forget to tell you everything that made me
light up or shut off or grieve or celebrate or want to throw the last
log on a dying fire or drop out of sight or shriek the words completely
out of my skin or crawl under the lowest branch and sleep or blast
into space or build a mountain from scratch or swing, sloth-like, between
branches or fling myself into the open sea. The million incremental changes
in a day, in a week, the month billowing with epic transformations unseen
except by a singular, naked eye that bears down with each breath. It knows
like no other. That filmy second we were lost or luminous or brave.
We will carry certain secrets to our grave.

December 13, 2011

black ice

I can’t help thinking about that patch on the road
spinning my car in a half-circle. How the trip home became
something else entirely in the flash of a second, the snow suddenly
ruthless, the truth sharp and irreversible, the wreck
bearing down in the dark. Perhaps there is no other way
we would have it. To anticipate loss is to unsee the million ways
the day is lit with voluminous fortune. The mint that settles our stomach.
The stranger who opens the door just before the grocery bag gives way.
An empty park bench resplendent on the city grass.
An unseen hand on our lower back, steering us from broken glass.

December 6, 2011

a story
for Amy Williamson


The café was on 85th and Broadway. We ordered French toast
from the tall, elegant waitress with the accent. My father was wearing
a blue shirt. There were flecks of powdered sugar down the front.
Outside, December was hovering in limbo, unsure of where it was.
Your son had just turned 13. I was five months away from 40.
The holiday sales were in full swing. We walked to Port Authority
in time for your bus. Construction sites drilled holes in our conversation.
I was envious of your blue raincoat, your black boots, your tan.
You were carrying yourself with an almost unbearable grace.
The sky was heavy with near-rain. It was an ending. Or a beginning. Or both.

November 29, 2011

only the bear can tell

I didn’t see it at all, coming back to the house, the hulking body
motionless at the far corner of the yard. Were it not for the dog, let out
for a late-night run, I would not have known it there, quiet as it was on the grass.
But then a battle of barking began, and the animal rose on its legs and made as if
to attack. The dog was gathered quickly back inside, but it was hard to pull myself away.
For a moment, we both were still, this wild thing and I, exchanging a stare of curious
uncertainty, our collision in this plot of neighborhood an interspecies accident.
Only the bear can tell what he was doing there, exactly, but I can say
I was looking at everything I hadn’t quite made peace with.
His eyes were glinting in the dark. The choice was clear. I locked the door behind me.


November 22, 2011

the place you thought you knew

Snow isn’t far behind. I can tell by the stillness in the air,
silence threading through bare trees. Months ago, I would have said
winter wasn’t for me, all these years on the mild California coast
and the thought of this kind of chill enough to send me packing.
But the fear of cold isn’t the same as cold itself, which - I see now -
has shades of warmth to it, pockets to slide into, a comfort
possible only through proximity. Now it’s hard to imagine much else,
and I see all the ways I’ve fooled myself with dread.
Geography is an illusion, and weather mutable as dough.
The map inside will tell you everything you need to know.

November 15, 2011

in the middle of kissing Jenny

Past wet flesh, past the mechanics of pressing one set of lips
against a second, past the yes that marries this moment, a black hole
spins you through tunnels of history, reuniting you with wounds
you can barely remember sustaining. Loss trenches your mouth then,
guts it raw, and you recognize the deep pockets of grief you’ve hidden into.
You could not have imagined the beginnings of love to be so redolent of death,
but that’s how it hits: a new universe expanding while behind it,
your last life obsolesces, papery as ashes from an old fire. The kiss,
like a gust of air, blows everything back, and saves you. It’s not a dream.
The whole room turns and opens, the hearth of your heart wiped clean.

November 8, 2011


More than a week later, downed branches still litter the streets,
but traffic hums as usual, the clatter of shopping carts, the drive-through
at Dunkin’s, laptop screens glowing with refreshed Facebook updates,
the ATM’s blip and flash, political campaigns leaping back into
the ring, a fray of new headlines. I, too, find myself in the delirium of habit,
the spin-cycle wash that churns one day into the next, frowning at gas prices,
throwing out good leftovers, avoiding the laundry and everything that follows it.
Outside, the snow lingers, flecked with half-leaves and whatever else
the storm left behind, and I’m thinking of the power outage, leaning into you
for warmth, the sound of our lungs so close, the darkness binding us like glue.