From Still Pilgrim


              To Be a Pilgrim

                  To be a pilgrim is to ring the stones

                  with the clean music of your best black heels,

                  each click a lucky strike that sparks a fire

                  to see by, that lights up the long and level road

                  you walk with no map, no stick, no wheels

                  to relieve you when your feet ache and tire.


                  To be a pilgrim own what you own,

                  stuff it in your clutch, lug it in your tote,

                  all the heavy history you’d like to lose

                  nestled up against your dead mother’s shoes.

                  To be a pilgrim you must be a killer

                  of myth, a new invention of desire.

                  Every pilgrim is a truth-teller.

                  Every pilgrim is a liar.


The Still Pilgrim Makes Dinner

It’s Mother’s Day and I have no mother.
She left and took my daughterhood.
It’s hard to lose us both, recover.
A double grief. A day to brood.

I dredge the chops. Fry them in oil.
I slice the onion, wet as tears.
I wear my sackcloth apron, soiled
by meals I’ve made for thirty years.

For ashes, flour upon my head.
For prayers, the rise of scented smoke.
My mother, who is five years dead,
lives in this meat, these eggs I broke,
this dish she taught me how to make,
this wine I drink, this bread I break.



From Lovers’ Almanac



“I was happy, happy, happy, happy, happy!”

             –Philippe Petit upon completing his high-wire walk

                                          between the Twin Towers, August 4th, 1974


                                      The day he tossed his line across

                                                  and tricked heaven

                                       was not a day like all his other days.

                                                  Walking tight along the wire

                                       he kissed the world’s abyss,

                                                  charmed the wind into thinking

                                       he had wings he could ride

                                                   if his ordinary legs should fail.

                                      He asked the sun to hide its eye

                                                   so the eyes in the canyon looking

                                      up could see him against the sky.


                                      So a young god eclipsed

                                                   an old for an hour,

                                      less than a sixth

                                                   of one day’s rise.

                                      No one would remember

                                                  the weather that day.

                                      All they would recall is the fall

                                                  the small man dared and delayed,

                                      how the towers swayed,

                                                  and after his mad dance

                                      how still they stayed.


From Waking My Mother

COVER_Waking_Sunrise_Original Font_Pale Gold

For Shadowment: Villanelle for the Solstice

Here, here in the crook of the year,
the crux and fix and flux of the year
light falls long across and dear.

Here in the ruck and dreck of the year
we glean and gather grace and gear.
here, here in the crook of the year.

Here is the neckbone of the year,
its knuckle sharp, its blade sheer,
where light falls long across and dear.

Hear the matins of the year,
the chant and praise of marrow fear,
here, here in the crook of the year.

Cheer the vespers of the year,
the prayers that rise from tongue to ear
as light falls long across and dear.

Clear your mind as night draws near.
Stead your heart and shed no tear.
Here, here in the crook of the year
where light falls long across and dear.

Our Mother at the Nursing Home

She smiles and says No Teeth!
for the 13th time.

A daughter trims her hair
and paints her 10 fingernails.

A daughter hangs 2 fresh
dresses in the half-closet.

A granddaughter lines white
dominoes beside her untouched lunch.

I read the Get Well cards aloud
for the 13th time.

Four women fussing over a fifth-
the one who started the fire
we tend in this linoleum-cold room.

Like the women who entered the garden
bearing spices beneath their robes

chatting of children and chores to be done
when they found the tomb

empty, the one they were seeking, gone.
She, too, is moving on.

And here we stand,
jars of spices in our hands.


Watching Dirty Dancing with My Mother

in the sad sleep of the nursing home,
we are both surprised by beauty alone,

by Jennifer’s new-found ecstasy,
the passion of young Patrick Swayze

as he glides her across the bare wood,
lifts her high towards the old god of girlhood

and sets her down, sure of her charm
each step beyond his circling arms.

Nothing can soothe her father’s frown
seeing his daughter as someone now,

no more the child she cannot stay.
Patrick, too, has since passed away.

None of us the beauty we used to be,
my mother, those dancers, me.



This trope a backwards living.
Such signage eases grace.
Un-becoming what you’ve been.
The falling of the face

it took decades to grow into.
It takes knowing who you are
before you start forgetting
what you’ve come here for.

The letting go a talent.
The carelessness a skill.
You’ll never miss your self.
The others will.



From Saint Sinatra & Other Poems


Saint Sinatra

“Saints are the most excellent of voices, the most brilliant of stars.” –Cardinal Avery Dulles

Croon to me, Baby,
blue-eyes smiling,

So Easy to Love
Night and Day,

skinny legs draped
in gabardine as you sway

sweet and easy, singing.
The mike your attribute,

lucky close to those lips,
In other words, baby, kiss me.

I’ve Got a Crush on You, Sweetie Pie,
You, Sicilian Saint of Song,

the one girls pray to when we lie
awake, pictures of boys in our heads,

each of them holy-card pretty as you
only In the Blue of Evening.

You and the Night and the Music
much more than we can stand,

we fall to our knobby knees,
genuflect to your smooth

slide down the scale of desire,
a true tune we know and can’t carry.

O Hoboken Hero of Eros,
Star-eyed Stranger in the Night,

Pray for us, Sinner. Sing us alive.
Take these Valentine hearts from our hands.

St. Eve in Exile

Here amid a field of light
You say my name.

And I am not she,
the girl You called Your own.

My mouth a cavern.
My chest an empty cave.

I am dry and dusty.
I am not wet or well.

Not the riverbed of love
You shaped me to be,

wide as a delta,
deep as any mine-

ful of diamonds,
not this common coal,

my birthstone, my rock
of heavy longing.

I am black with it
where You would have me white.

Ever a disappointment,
I grew breasts

where you shaped me straight and smooth,
spoke when you asked for a song,

agreed where you hoped
I would exceed,

climb out of the hole
You dug for me,

place where You planted
me in the dark

among creatures
who never knew my name.

You cut me in two.
I take half the blame.

What the Angel Said

for Fra Angelico on seeing his Annunciation, Chiesa San Marco, Florence

He spoke to you in blue, in the long call
of light from the top of a Tuscan hill.
Your hand answered, the quick sketch of a girl
taking shape before you knew she was you,
head uplifted, her angelful eyes
sure of what they see: being bodied true
as the stilled wings, the beatified sky.
What words might have passed have passed as air
sighed by the soul in the act of rapture.
Now there is only ocher and thin-skinned cream,
struck gold against the garden’s sudden green,
forever as present as it once seemed,
her hands crossed soft against her hidden fear
and angel’s breath still warm within your ear.


Moving house


Our favorite set, the operating room.
Our favorite plot, death by folly.

Poisoning by restaurant garnish.
Livers brined in bourbon and burst.

The killing argument.
The suicidal drive.

And Junior, the arsonist
who set him self on fire.

As if we defy natural causes,
predictable as gravity and night.

Claiming, instead, the flaming corpse,
the surgeon with his impotent scalpel.

The Atreus and Usher of Coal Town,
we lived and died by stories in that house.


Northern Nights

“What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?”
Robert Hayden

None of us could sleep those coal-black nights.
The furnace coughed deep in the cellar
until our father rose in the iron cold
his footsteps sounding loud through the quiet
house, five of us huddled tight in two beds.

We’d hear the turn of the handle, the chunk
and swing of the metal door unhinged,
the steady thrust of the rusty shovel
graveling against the binful of coal.
We’d hear him hoping in the dark for fire.

Then the sluff of slippers across the kitchen,
the oven door opening and the match,
and soon my mother’s voice echoing
up the steep stairs to our attic room
calling us to hot milk at midnight,

to slip on coats and scarves and hats and gloves,
to sit in the circle around the stove
bound together in blankets, two by three,
to watch each other’s heavy heads drowse
in the orange glow of that blue flame.

While our father cursed the furnace man below,
the smell of sulfur rising through the house,
as our mother worried wordless on the stairs,
we moved closer, wove our circle tight
against the cold that claimed them in the dark.


Other Mothers

Other girls’ mothers
sold Avon, Bee-line, Tupperware.

My mother took lovers.
Young ones. Dark ones. True ones.

The kind that came back,
parked their cars in the drive,

and slept in our house
night after night after night.

Other girls’ mothers
wore aprons, baked bread.

My mother slipped on stockings,
stepped into heels, and went to work

late evenings while we’d lie
half-awake in our beds.

We’d hope for peanuts, chips, mints,
small signs she’d remembered us.

Other girls’ mothers
didn’t like my mother,

grew green-eyed in the grocery,
cold-shouldered us at Mass

where she’d stay in the pew,
marooned, at Communion,

her black mantilla
shadowing her black eyes.

Other girls’ mothers
liked their daughters,

asked them questions,
listened for replies.

My mother would have thought
them amusing

had she thought
of other mothers at all.

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