Monday, November 19, 2007


You already said you

Waited on an ocean for me

Cupped a sonata to your ear

While I let it

Slip away trust me it can’t

Slither too far because when

I run out the end of the dock

You’re still standing on the sand

Somehow stars play chess at night

But honestly it’s just the reflection

Off your glasses when you drive

Me home the car idles

An uneasy guard dog you

Hand me music as it spills out

Your right ventricle you appear one

-sided now and your voice is tinny

How exactly did you prepare

The turkey? Do you still shuffle

Cards in the bathroom line

Do you still use the bathroom

With my toothbrush staring

Starry-toothed into your glasses,

Which I spot from the end of the dock.

* after Frank O’Hara’s “Morning”


Sometimes I need to take my brain off the record player & listen to it skip because every now & then

You pop up you jackinthebox with a trombone

It would be nice if a little jazz every now & then

Could cure this internal beatbox but it’s more than your things I miss it’s the smell of your deodorant on your neck & that pause between conversations when we’ve talked ourselves into the record player it’s right then that you are intimately in you and

I am intimately in me every now & then

Your face gives me pause because it carries more than dimples & glasses they have always shone back other countries & other languages & other everythings where you & I could go together

I’d like to love you the way Frank loves Vincent but I was always more an impressionist than an abstract & the impression of your jackinthebox on the sill

Makes me dizzy sometimes & sometimes that pause

Returns to the back of my neck & you’ve arrived

In time to slow my brain down to a crawl.

[1] After Frank O’Hara’s “Poem: Ά la recherché d’Gertrude Stein”

* published in Catalyst, spring 2006

Yolanda Says I Can Write Whatever I Want

There is peanut butter on my t-shirt

Of Shakespearean insults.

Yolanda says I can write whatever I want.

So I want to say that Vicente Fox

is an appropriate name for a shivering Chihuahua.

A Shakespearean Chihuahua licks

peanut butter out of an egg cup.

I worry why my six speed bicycle

has an imaginary seventh gear,

one I wish could double as a transmogrifier

and turn me into the dog wiggling across

the table from me. Then it wouldn’t matter

that I smell like peanut butter and acrylic,

and that no matter how many times I braid my hair,

it slides out, wild and unruly, like

a shrew that Shakespeare once tamed.

In Memoriam

Mt. Shroud (Pantoums for Sarah Bishop)


I saw her last on an album cover

Her life a recipe for Mexican hot chocolate

Pinned up in her best friend’s coffee shop

I found her smile lying face up in the street

Her life a recipe for Mexican hot chocolate

She jumped a train from Portland to San Francisco

I found her smile lying face up in the street

Sometimes she appears in dreams, smiling

She jumped a train from Portland to San Francisco

When she fell I was in the Emergency Room

Sometimes she appears in dreams, smiling

My father later said, “Your body knew.”

When she fell I was in the Emergency Room

Pinned up in her best friend’s coffee shop

My father later said, “Your body knew”

I saw her last on an album cover.


In our family there are many cousins but few girls

I remember admiring her unshaven legs

Every mountain I see smirks like she used to

I thought of her while climbing Cloud’s Rest

I remember admiring her unshaven legs

When she slipped on my waterski

I thought of her while climbing Cloud’s Rest

The Oregon fog has become her shroud

When she slipped on my waterski

Some family law was observed

The Oregon fog has become her shroud

I picture her kneeling in my grandparents’ garden

Some family law was observed

Every mountain I see smirks like she used to

I picture her kneeling in my grandparents’ garden

In our family there are many cousins but few girls



Sunday, eleven a.m.

Aunt Cissy flirts

with the fridge.

She fingers a chilled

Corona, offers it

to the doily in front of me.

“Your father tells me,”

--she smiles, reapplies lipstick—

“you can have these now.”

* published in Spectrum, spring 2006

Sri Lanka

Still Life

Somewhere far away a wave

has flicked over cities offhand,

like her father playing cards.

Survivors peer out of the tv

with hollow cheeks.

In drier climates,

her classmates drive tanks,

salute a caricature,

because everybody knows that

all liberty is ransom.



There are times when you want

to squeeze the world in an egg cup.

Wouldn’t that be perfect?

You move aside the salt and pepper

and prepare to drain the Atlantic.

It’s not so big.

The sky is grand but the clouds

rein in the sun, shell over yolk.

You can roll the world in your hands,

all color coordinated continents

and chocolate dipped mountains.

You want it to be smooth,

but it crumbles.

You want it to be round,

but it slides across the table:

spilt milk.

The world jiggles, pops, sizzles,

burns, grooves, tingles, aches, longs,


messy, perhaps,

but more beautiful this way.

Eggs are better scrambled anyway.

* published in the League of American Poet’s A Treasury of American Poetry II (2005)


Autorretrato: a Granada Cycle


She sees statues on every corner

and sometimes her legs harden,

body frozen on cobblestone

where las viejas sell rosemary nosegays

and young men urinate after dark.

La Extranjera

She keeps bits of home in her cheeks,

rationing off the taste of tofu

so she can last through the winter.

She craves real lettuce,

food with earth still attached.

Mountains hold her in sometimes

when buildings are too tall,

grass so impossible,

shadows so forbidding.

El Cielo

Today there are no clouds.

They have traveled elsewhere,

carrying some part of her along.

We’re alike, she knows,

The clouds and I.

Anglo nomads,

staying long enough to threaten tears,

moving fast enough to catch the sun.

What’s Left Behind

There are no waves here.

No tanks.

Other things flood her:

cigarette oxygen,

hisses of los borrachos,

kisses on both cheeks.

For months afterward,

she’ll structure her sentences

to the rhythm of stiletto heels,

flamenco wails,

wave massage on foreign soil.


Eleven Travels


On the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria

I spotted a pair of eyeglasses

dangling off the platform.

I ran to the deck searching for the rest of the person.


I thought it unpatriotic to spell camping with a K

but Washington made up for it with colonies

of rapidly reproducing bunnies.


We reached a desert plateau worn down

by years of gods and their wars.

We rolled down sand dunes into the lap of Israel.


On Long Island I met three generations of Jews

who didn’t look like me,

sound like me, smell like me.

I preferred the crawdads in the pond

below the willow—

they were in kindergarten too.


Heath Shepard skinny-dipped in front of me

(my eyes were closed)
in the moonlight of
Lake Almanor.

He liked me because I outran him.

I liked him because he didn’t mind

not holding my hand.


Sometimes we ran in Lorca’s park.

Words fell with the leaves.

Trees are greener in another language.


Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Pepin, Wisconsin.

I begged my parents to take me to her Big Woods.

“Let’s make popcorn balls instead,” said my mom.

The molasses would have tasted sweeter

in a log cabin.


Once on the Sacramento River Dad cut the engine.

We drifted to the buzz of riparian radio.

Up between the dreadlock vines of river trees

a colony of egrets swayed—a white cloud.

When I waterski they follow me,

a train of wings.


I’d never seen a dale until Edinburgh.

In the woods, we found a small wooden door

carved into the trunk of a tree.

“For fairies,” Mary said.

A little girl stacked sticks nearby

to keep them warm in winter.


We biked through a banana plantation

and an angry shepherd threw rocks.

We sang in Hebrew when we found

the Mediterranean.

Every Passover I miss that exile.


My first day back in Santa Barbara

I found a pair of glasses in my neighbor’s shrub.

I’ve searched but I can’t find the rest of the person.


My Bed

Without you, it whines.

When you shut the door,

it paws at it.

I yank it by the sheets,

but it hasn’t yet learned to heel.

The longer you’re gone,

the louder it whines.

Under What

In your aunt’s house with her Himalayans

you wander in your new black boxer briefs

I’m in my Ghostbusters undershirt and jockeys,

feeling bohemian because we’re housesitting

in December in our underwear.

Your hand-size bottles of sparkling wine and

champagne adorn the hot tub.

I’m drunk on the sky.

You shower before getting in.

I can hear you singing.

Tomorrow when we’re in your car

you’ll sing Metallica and it’ll be

Terribly romantic.

Put another quarter in the jukebox,

I’ll say, and press on your polo shirt.

We have the room to ourselves,

a big green bed in someone else’s house,

and the blinds are drawn until one o’clock

the following day.

All your best friends still know you,

and all your best friends’ mothers

secretly wish you were theirs.

You bought me gold.

It’s odd that beauty has weight,

and you like it hung around my neck.

In the hot water you gaze at me celestially,

maybe because your glasses are on the concrete

maybe because I’ve never had sparkling wine

and it tastes so sweet with starlight.

Your hair is against the blackness

and your skin is against the wind.

What happens when feelings are tangible?

I could bake this beauty in the air,

let it cool on the western shore,

watch the aroma waft across the Pacific.

The cat is sleeping on my underwear.

You lassoed the moon.

We’re drinking it together.

Endings are always so much harder to write.

The air is lazy. The stars tuck us in.

We blink; bathe in champagne.

Perfect Day

Our bicycles are ready,

baskets full of peaches,

avocado-cheese sandwiches,

and thermoses of Canned Heat.

We blast Jamiroquai from a radio

generated by my wheels.

We make it to the hills by lunch.

Your glasses—they glint in the sunlight,

and your arms—how well they know

the knots in my back.

We peer out over canyons,

Baby Boomer biker gangs,

migrant farmers selling strawberries.

We pedal to the beach,

where plovers invite us

to stitch in the shoreline with our footprints.

The Gipsy Kings are interrupted by

a radio news flash:

George W. Bush has been lost in Katrina,

an ecological love affair powerful as Monica.

We can hear soldiers retreating

several oceans away—foxtrotting, now,

constructing libraries out of disarmed weapons.

In your glasses I can see it happen backwards:

a Kurt Vonnegut novel,

someone’s lost dream.

Together we eat peaches.


White Man Dancing

The crazy monkey in your skin

jumps up for attention.

Your biceps bulge,

fever spreads through your freckles,

constellations browning

your shoulders.

You say you don’t dance,

but when you see me here,

Converse staining the pub floor,

you reach for a banana.

On Flirting

  1. you know my name

  1. you sat next to me in class (two times)

  1. you initiated a conversation with me (of your own free will)

  1. you will soon forget

  1. probably already have

  1. shouldn’t have brought up Viagra

Since I No Longer Take Shots

If I wanted to

I could connect the dots

Along my abdomen

And the constellations that remained

Could light up more

Than the night sky

If I wanted them to

Body Map


According to Seventeen magazine:

You should present your thighs like filet mignon

in a miniskirt standing under the lamppost

just after midnight.

Barbeque sauce would help

if it had less carbs.


Who says your soul rents space in your forehead?

Why doesn’t it linger behind your knees

or drive up the interstate of your vertebrae?


Sierra Visher told you in fourth grade

that you had a pancake nose and

it flattened when you laughed.

So you stopped laughing in elementary school.

Sometimes if you flare them in front of the mirror

you can look up your nasal passages

right into your brain.

Your brother will later tell you

that those are just boogers.


Your hips are Darwinian and luscious.

Get dark red lipstick and a pencil skirt.

Keep all your notes in a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper.

When you get unwanted attention,

just swing your hips surreptitiously to the side,

and bounce your opponents to the moon.


Oxygen pulls you in and out,

A deflating balloon.

What else do you keep inside?

Phone numbers, candy canes,

Second hand smoke?



When she thinks,

she opens up her mind with a grapefruit spoon,

slices it into happy triangles of citrus flesh,

then drinks what’s left in the bowl.

When she lives,

she tills the concrete with a John Deere tractor,

unearths fossils from the asphalt world,

scoops up the ash remains, and burns them for fuel.

When she loves,

she picks apart the seam of her hairline,

unzips limbs from fabric patterns of skin and hair,

stands in a field during a sandstorm

to watch as her insides slowly unravel,

waits for her dust to settle on the reddened earth,

waits for a person with a mind like a grapefruit

and a soul like a tractor

to sculpt her into a sandcastle.

For Amy


Amy and I joked about eyebrows

in eighth grade because once you noticed one pair,

you saw them all: finely plucked,

fuzz spilling on foreheads,

monobrows like Frida,

usually on boys with glasses.

Suddenly our peers were reduced

to the bridges between their eyes.

Ballerina Amy was the first to date.

Zach would sweep her long red hair

out from under backpack straps, carry her flute,

and furrow his behemoth eyebrows.

I don’t know if Zach was in the room

when Mrs. Weetman read us the news

that final day of ninth grade:

“girl rescued from herself.”

Amy once wrote a poem

paraphrasing a Third Eye Blind song

Why don’t you step back from that ledge my friend

Hers was the first elegy I wrote,

Thursday before Christmas six years later.

The church was full.

I sat in the first pew with my best friends

from junior high and our geography teacher.

The pastor nodded toward us,

our backs as wooden as the seats.

At the podium the light poured

through stained glass.

Standing in the half glow,

I talked to Amy about eyebrows.

In Honor of Isla Vista

A Spiritual Poem in Five Minutes

When I think of spirit I think of Pirate

drinking on Pardal accepting a plate of Shabbat

dinner salmon on Friday night when he tells jokes

You kind of have to step back away from his face

so the spirits don’t get in the way.

One night his friend Abraham approaches us

offers to explain our Hebrew names.

“Ah, Shoshana,” he says to Shauna.

“Light.” “David—Strength.”

He peers at me through monocle eyes, says:

“Julia—from the English: Jewel.”

Pirate laughs so hearty from his perch,

clutching salmon to his chest,

coughing up spirits.

Angels and Things

Things an Angel Wouldn’t Do:

Bite hangnails

Wear mascara

Leave the gas on

Get a root canal

Things an Angel Wouldn’t Need:

Frequent flyer miles




Pepto bismol



My great-grandparents were Zionists.

In Israel, the desert was empty,

full of God. We rarely met Arabs.

At war protests, students wear


I feel full, empty of God.



I didn’t recognize his voice at first.

“Happy birthday,” he said.

I heard Jerusalem in his throat,

felt the cobbles beneath our

feet the one day we held hands.

My birthday is one week exactly

from the anniversary of his dad’s death.

Every time he speaks I have synesthesia—

see the Feather River in late May,

smell sunburn and sweet sweat of late afternoon,

hear Dave Matthews, oar slap on water,

feel finger on s pine. The day we kissed

he planted a seed in my chest. I’ve tried but

I’ve never managed to block the sun.

My Parents

The Biggest Piece of the Pot

One time

I broke your favorite pot

the kitchen was brightly lit
Steve Miller skipped on the record player
I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a

midnight and I was lying on Mom’s side of the bed
wondering how two people could fall in love again
after things break.

And then the university brought in a wrecking ball,
tore down Stroove Hall,
the dormitory where you met.

Mom was selling watermelons.
Dad had a broken toe
and a car with a flowered roof.

Vietnam murmured.
Tomatoes tossed in their sleep.
You and you were hardly we.

On Dad’s side of the bed
I felt indebted to that hall
those tomatoes
that year he lived in Iraq
the record player
that sunburned jet boat
those pinochle games at the lake.

How easily can things be broken?
Are they ever stronger afterward?

Mom and Dad crisscrossed tiles in the kitchen
discussing imperfection in a minor key.
I laid on Mom’s side of the bed
having snuck off with the biggest piece

of the clay pot.

I wanted to be the biggest piece
the one that kept them in that kitchen,
in that house on that shady road
just a mile from the wrecking ball.

Then the night flew in the kitchen window
and blew out the lights.
Tempers simmered with the Shabbat candles
still burning on the stove.
Steve Miller lowered his voice
the record player shut its eyes
the grapevines whispered against the pane.

I heard feet patting up the stairs
first one pair, then another.
You with your fortysomething ponytail
you with your swaying beaded earrings.

You were surprised to find me there
torn between Mom’s and Dad’s sides of the bed
holding the biggest piece of the pot.

"It’s prettier that way,” You said.
“It’s just a pot,” said You. “We can fix it.”

You, and You, and me, us three, laid there
becoming we.

First-Rate First Grade

First-Rate First Grade

Welcome to the Seaside Café

Try the macaroni

Necklaces spiced special today

Your maitre-d Tony

Will candlelight your card table

Tulips arranged as stars

Harmonize fairy tale fable

Of skyscrapers and cars

Today’s appetizers goldfish

Oscar Meyer wiener

Bologna catsup and relish

Watch out for Mabel-she’s meaner

Than an ungreased George Foreman grill

Sizzling fat through fractions

Monopoly dough on the till

Do we have your satisfaction?

Ignore Susie the sobbing chef

Step over the spilled juice

Hank serenades though he’s tone-deaf

Teacher towers like Zeus

Sit back, relax, put up your feet

Eat up before it’s cold

For service that cannot be beat

Just ask a six year old.

For My Father

On Your Thirty-Ninth Birthday

We walk on woodchips in October

while he sings the Beatles.

His hands are so large, calloused:

my baseball mitts.

Those same hands that place a waterski in my own,

that knead seven-year-old spines

whisper of sparrows

and gold nuggets every night.

This is the same man who illegally weights

our blue Weeblo race cars (we win)

and ferries birthday parties of six-year-olds

around in the green go-cart he built himself.

In winter he becomes Chanukah Harry

with a long martial artist’s braid.

Every summer he is the River King,

flanked by egrets and swallows,

a rooster tail pluming out behind him

as his body skids just inches above the water.

He tows cousins, endures every “one last time,”

follows teen rowers carving oar in eddy.

He sings the Beatles one rainy day in February,

injecting oranges with insulin.

He always leaves the sprinklers on too long

so we can sprint after leprechauns.

Hands so rough yet perfect for shaking.

Ocean child with windy hair, he sings.

Gentle Pop with holiday eyes, she sings back.

Happy birthday,

she loves you all across the universe.

Saralee's Waltz

Saralee’s Waltz

Every morning she resumes her love affair

with the piano lounging on the sleeping rug

as the light slips in beyond the highest stair

one arthritic palm dangles mid air

the piano holds its breath as flesh meets key

skating along the surface to an internal melody

Fingers play hopscotch across the piano

rewinding jump ropes from a Cleveland house

ten siblings crowded one bathroom in 1929

twelve dollar piano paid in monthly installments

She got a scholarship to Julliard in World War Two

The only musician with long hair and eyelashes

Raised two daughters and a farm read Marx Hallelu

Jah to the god she never believed existed after all

Where was he when her brothers were black listed

Morning rises on Sixteenth Street fifty years later

Her eyes decode the piano’s DNA, see beyond it,

Forgets McCarthy, forgets McNamara,

Sees below the bass, exposes the music raw

Filleting it, splaying its flesh on ivory.

Her fingers bleed on the keys and

She grows younger with every chord.



She was mummifying Barbies

the day I met her,

singing softly to herself,

burying platinum bodies in earth.

I sat under the crabapple tree,

crabapples falling in an uneven halo.

The first time she invited me to her house,

we dressed up like Laura Ingalls Wilder

in petticoats and tiaras.

One summer we found a cocoon in anise wood.

Budding biologists, we beat the sunset home,

emptied a liter of Coca-Cola,

inserted the leafy branch inside,

constructed the caterpillar’s castle,

our ship frozen inside a glass jug.

Embalmed dolls brushed aside,

we moved instead to fill the inanimate with life.

The orange butterfly cast off her coat days later.

We took her out to the anise field and watched

in awe as she flew out to Laura’s prairie.

Crabapples fell but did not crush the glowing halo.



Michelle and I are playing tornado

in the backyard when Dad comes home early,

before Mom calls set the table,

and Dad pulls us into his lap.

We giggle because Dad has foxtails stuck

in his socks and a flower pinned under one ear

and Dad is an engineer.

None of this matters once he flips open

his vintage lunchbox,

and inside we don’t see this morning’s

turkey-avocado but a black rabbit

the size of two five-year-old hands.

It eyes four wagging ponytails

and four invading palms

as the tornados are forgotten.

Late afternoon light highlights only

what is still green and what is black,

we race around yelping because

we’ve got new overalls and a

brand new bunny to parade around like

we drew him ourselves,

wishing Teacher would pin him up on the

chalkboard so everyone would know

that he is ours, the world is green,

and still unshaken from our dizzy young orbit.

* published on, summer 2006