Selections from Requiem for an Orchard

  1. Meditation with Smoke and Flowers  [+]

    It is Monday and I am not thinking of myself. My son, asleep
    in his stroller, the dark conifers holding nothing but their scent.

    I’m walking him to the place where loggers have cleared thirty acres,
    leaving only ash and stripped tree limbs. The light now comes

    to the places once dark—and now wildflowers where once
    the moss grew thick and complete. The flame of something around the corner

    and I’m thinking of the wild tiger lilies that line this gravel road below my house,
    how they clump together, their stems bent down from the weight

    of their flowers. How mouth-like they are, and how
    their speechlessness makes the road quieter. Each flower is a surprise,

    like the flaming tip of cigarettes in the dark. I think that the road
    cannot contain all these mouths, though there are mythologies held

    in check by the tongue. Like the story my father told me
    about his father in war time, and how his own father forced him, with the threat

    of a beating, to go under the house for a cigarette from a Japanese foot soldier
    bunkered down. I can see my father’s small trembling hand,

    outstretched to this man whose face is mud-caked, smelling
    slightly of fire and lubricant for his rifle. The smoke from the soldier’s own

    cigarette takes the shape of the underside of the house and I imagine
    my father can hear his own father above him pacing.

    But this road now, is free of smoke. The logging trucks have taken off
    for the night and the tree remnants have smoldered into nothing

    but charcoal. The wreck of everything is a vacuum, so too the wreck of a village
    after war or the floor boards above a son’s head in fear of his own father.

    Here, though, there is nothing to fear. The wheels of the stroller on gravel
    is the only sound and the idleness of the excavation trucks harkens to

    someone asleep in the uneasy dark. No, I am not thinking
    of myself. I’m thinking of an agreement my father must have made

    with himself years ago when the houses were burning
    into bright bouquets in the nighttime. How, perhaps

    he swore he would not beat his own son while somewhere
    in the afterlife his own father smokes and paces. Perhaps

    there are no flowers in that place. Perhaps the lone soldier
    through with hiding, crawled out after the guns had stopped

    and dusted himself off, the sun striking his face with its unreasonable light.
    I’m thinking of my son, asleep, and of the wild tiger lilies. How frail they are

    in the new light. Why they come. Why they spring up, unannounced as suddenly as the promises we make with ourselves when we are young.

  2. In Defense of Small Towns  [+]

    When I look at it, it’s simple, really. I hated life there. September,
    once filled with animal deaths and toughened hay. And the smells

    of Fall were boiled down beets and potatoes
    or the farmhands’ breeches smeared with oil and diesel

    as they rode into town, dusty and pissed. The radio station
    split time between metal and Tejano, and the only action

    happened on Friday nights where the high school football team
    gave everyone a chance at forgiveness. The town left no room

    for novelty or change. The sheriff knew everyone’s son and despite that,
    we’d cruise up and down the avenues, switching between

    brake and gearshift. We’d fight and spit chew into Big Gulp cups
    and have our hearts broken nightly. In that town I learned

    to fire a shotgun at nine and wring a chicken’s neck
    with one hand by twirling the bird and whipping it straight like a towel.

    But I loved the place once. Everything was blonde and cracked
    and the irrigation ditches stretched to the end of the earth. You could

    ride on a bicycle and see clearly, the outline of every leaf
    or catch on the streets, each word of a neighbor’s argument.

    Nothing could happen there and if I willed it, the place would have me
    slipping over its rocks into the river with the sugar plant’s steam

    or signing papers at a storefront army desk, buttoned up
    with medallions and a crew cut, eyeing the next recruits.

    If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I could be anywhere,
    staring at a hunk of asphalt or listening to the clap of billiard balls

    against each other in a bar and hear my name. Indifference now?
    Some. I shook loose, but that isn’t the whole story. The fact is

    I’m still in love. And when I wake up, I watch my son yawn
    and my mind turns his upswept hair into cornstalks

    at the edge of a field. Stillness is an acre, and his body
    idles, deep like heavy machinery. I want to take him back there,

    to the small town of my youth and hold the book of wildflowers
    open for him, and look. I want him to know the colors of horses,

    to run with a cattail in his hand and watch as its seeds
    fly weightless as though nothing mattered, as though

    the little things we tell ourselves about our pasts stay there,
    rising slightly and just out of reach.

    First published in The Chattahoochee Review

  3. If, Given [+]

    If given a horse, a palomino, I’d ride
    the high dunes to meet you at sunrise.

    If there were no horse, only shoes and sand, I’d start
    with the left foot and with the right,

    I’d drag a path for you to follow.
    The yellow storms would not pursue because

    the law between us is holy. If there was water
    and no desert, I’d sail for each celestial cluster

    perched in the spiritus nebulae—
    the planetary bodies, blemishes

    of your skin. And if there were no compass,
    I’d steer by shadow. I’d light a kerosene soaked arrow

    and fire into the sky. I’d watch the parabola of flame
    defy the worldly dark in the tongue of what must be

    the end of paradise. And if there were no paradise,
    then I’d be the horse. I’d bolt

    as though the stables were on fire and you,
    you would hold the bridle . . . you would ride.

    First published in Pistola

Selections from Furious Lullaby

  1. Hour of Dawn  [+]

    We hold ourselves in contemptuous sleep.
    The light covers us with little tongues,
    making us conscious of bed sheet texture.

    Wearing the evening’s chime around our waists
    as we turn, we are aware of ourselves—
    music strikes in day time from our throats.

    Our bodies coax a story sunrise
    cannot disrupt as we pass from shade
    when morning calls, thinking only of scents

    from orange blossoms, low brush
    and flowers . . . trembling citrus—
    these are sepulcher-white moments.

    Asking for a respite from ourselves
    and hearing nothing but grinding teeth
    we choose to stay asleep. In the low dream

    dawning, the moon disintegrates
    into a fingernail. The sea washes up
    a cowrie shell holding narratives:

    who we were when we mused, kissing
    mouths. We turn and are broken
    by our body’s rising and breathing.

    The hour of dawn holds us still. We mute
    our breaths and read into the pearled inlay
    of sea shells and half-open blooms from dream.

    Eyelids clench facing the sun and we fade.
    Our skins warmed away from dormancy
    gleam, star-like and far. We are gathered

    back into the things of this world and turn
    away from the sore-red sun, moved to deny
    who we will be when we are awakened.

    Originally published in From the Fishouse

  2. My Dearest Conflict  [+]

    Urged, I chose to celebrate the body
    with rocks and stilettos.
    I’ve hollowed the tips of my bullets. I’ve poisoned
    the mouthwash.

    Look at these hands—at the heart,
    they’re contemplating God. God, they think, can drop
    a branch without warning.

    Spare me
    your sympathy, dearest. Spare me
    the discretion of an overdone murder
    or the secret of the sinister man you’ve willed me.

    What good is it to be overdone without the rest of the story?
    What good will you be with your hands behind your back
    and your legs
    bound as in predestination?

    Think—rain. Think—a man in a black shirt at the back of the bus.
    There are eyelids at work here.
    Dearest . . Dearest.

    Let drive the rock you’ve sharpened to fury. Let fly the blade
    to my suspect body. I suspect everything will thank me for this.

    So thanks. Again, thanks.

    Originally published in Painted Bride Quarterly

  3. Constricting Aubade  [+]

    The geese are a dark purple as they pass over the lake.
    There are too many crystals glinting in the early sun
    which blind the fliers but not enough to throw them.

    The arms of the formation remind you of a schoolmate
    who was born with a deformed left hand,
    the thumb and small finger stretched outward
    with three missing middle digits.

    You are frightened by this memory
    as one who happens upon a machinery accident.

    The shadows of the flock burn
    their arrows over the ground in their haze and yours.

    The winter comes. The early memory of the child with the hand
    plows past the horizon. The grasses along the lake
    will grow frantic and freeze. Soon you will wake me
    and tell me the story of the geese, how they sounded
    like small voices in a storm.

    Originally published in Siren

Selections from Names Above Houses

  1. School Years  [+]

    They last long for Fidelito who is not of this earth. With its alphabets and loose-leaf, sheets of construction paper, oranges, blues, lunch boxes, crepe-paper, paper maché, the teacher talk and rasp of chalk, long division, multiplication, pronunciation, spelling and quelled hungers at lunch hour, the recesses of chase the girls/boys, catch-as-catch-can, freeze tag, war with rubber balls and big red welts the size of baseballs, war with a deck of cards, war of pencil breaking, or tether ball, kick ball, being goof balls in back near the coat racks, learning to cuss and whistle at the same time, saying Jesus, Mary, Joseph, holy, holy, holy . . . Lord, the girls who dare each other to kiss Fidelito, as he sits in the corner, dazed, watching birds in the frozen light.

    Originally published in Third Coast

  2. Origami Dove  [+]

    Fidelito at his school desk, secretly folds paper into a gift. The steady scale of Fidelito’s fingernail as it glides down paper to make a new edge, the sound when bathers kneel in shallows.

    Fidelito stifles the crinkle as the beak he makes bends in thirst. It wants to drink like the school children in their rows who press their backs to wooden desks, and bend their necks the way swans do, watching themselves drift away.

    Now the folded bird wants to fly. It beats its white heart in Fidelito’s restless hands.

    A chalk scrawled alphabet creeps like peeling wallpaper.

    Something spoken goes unheard the way a crooked line in a signature spells boredom or a note tucked under the body of an origami dove reads desire. Messages sail into air and Fidelito with his right hand cupped to his ear moves forward into that sound. He hopes to catch that one dry voice in a choir of something small enough to sit in his palm.

    Originally published in Third Coast

  3. At Sea Domingo Learned to Steady His Hand  [+]

    By holding his right arm by the wrist. And so Domingo shaves, straight-razor in the right hand, his boy Fidelito at his side, the fog of the mirror settling into the harbor, and the left hand gripping tight around the right wrist. He feels as if he holds a rope to secure himself from floating away, as if he holds the arm of someone fallen overboard.

    The faucet’s slurred talk: a hair the drain could not swallow, the sounds of a wet-deck’s sway as sea-storms rock iron ships like empty plastic cups in the wind.

    Fidelito’s father, his eyes filled with boats and sailors boots steadies himself by spreading his feet wide like the stance of a man guarding a door, like a man whose balance is turned by wave-crest and spume at the hull side. The blade’s prow cuts through the Pacific, past the mountains of his face like a tiller, like the furrow of his boy’s forehead in surprise when Domingo cuts himself and the water in the sink blossoms.

    Published originally in the Crab Orchard Review