Wednesday, June 09, 2021

octopus or vampire

Do you ever feel like someone is always asking you for something?

You are standing in a room and octopus arms are coming at you from all sides?

This is how I feel right now. EVERY DAY. Almost all day long.

It is exhausting.

My hard drive is full - I cannot contain any more useful or useless information. I am tapped. I don't have anything else to give.

Yet, my parents want me to weigh in on every single decision they need to make. AND to reserve the right to reject absolutely everything I say in response to their demand.

The dog drops the toy on my toes whether I am cooking or talking on the phone or trying to do something else. If I ignore her, she taps my foot, my leg, anything exposed, with her wet nose and then looks up at me.

Every once in a while, I can hide in the bathroom, but it only works sometimes.

I try to get a long walk in every day. It's generally the only truly alone time I have, but it is also not unfettered. The cars rev their engines at me as I cross the street even though I definitely get across the street faster than they could walking. The dogs rush me if they are allowed to be in their front yards. I greet people as I walk because it is polite, but it is another invasion of my private time.

I am exhausted.

I have nothing more to give.

We hear about the emotional vampires. But does anyone ever tells us not to give in to the marauding octopi? 


I started the day out relentlessly cheerful.

It's been a hard week ... starting with getting back to work after 8 days off. So, you know, a pile of email, and any number of "crises" that are really just the consequence of people not handling their business, literally, because work is business.

Beyond the work re-entry, home re-entry was just as bumpy. 

I returned home to find both octogenarians not feeling well. 

Part of me felt that they were just trying to make me feel guilty for taking a few days for myself.

But, the biggest part was just worried.

My dad's health worsened over the next few days ... all seemingly inexplicable symptoms. His head hurt, and then his left side below his eye was swollen, his ear hurt, and then his whole eye was swollen. 

My mom remembered him saying something about feeling he had been bitten by a bug. He could neither remember being bitten or having said anything about it.

So, in case anyone was wondering, memory issues of octogenarians make them very unreliable narrators of most things except their childhood memories (which of course are also unreliable but in a different way). My dad is especially unreliable because he hates doctors and hates demonstrating any weakness... so it is very difficult to get him to say how he actually feels. So much so that I have to rely on his blood pressure spiking to know he is in pain.

Monday night we ended up in the ER. Even though during the day he felt fine because, of course, I asked him how he felt, several times.

You don't know me, so  you will just have to trust me that I spend most of my waking hours trying to keep my parents healthy. And I have done a good job, if I do say so myself.

But this time, the roadblocks we have faced trying to get him care and figuring out what exactly is going on have made me feel like a failure.

Worse - I feel like the universe is telling me that I am not good at caring for him. It is not an emotion based on reality. I get that. But I am exhausted. And I am my only cheerleader, so when I lose hope, it is a big deal.

I spent the bulk of the day at the edge of tears with breaks to speak sternly with many people standing between me and actual health care professionals. Let's just say they know at this point that I have zero fucks to give.

I feel like I am ending the day defeated.

This is distressing on so many levels. 

I have tried to bring my vacation vibes back into my "real" life. I have held my head high through several days of really challenging issues (I didn't even enumerate the work woes here). 

But now I feel defeated. 

I feel like I need to just say, I give in. I give up.

Why does the universe feel the need to beat me up and put me in my place all the time? That's what I need to know. It feels like there is no need to keep trying to hold my head up when I just get whacked back into submission.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

 Menace to
~Taylor Johnson

after June Jordan

Nightly my enemies feast on my comrades
like maggots on money. Money being my enemy

as plastic is my enemy. My enemy everywhere
and in my home as wifi is

a money for me to reach my comrades
and kills my house plants. My enemy

is distance growing dark, distance growing
politely in my pocket as connection.

I must become something my enemies can’t eat, don’t have
a word for yet, my enemies being literate as a drone is

well-read and precise and quiet, as when I buy something
such as a new computer with which to sing against my enemies,
there is my enemy, silent and personal.

Copyright © 2020 by Taylor Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

 Along the Border
~Jasminne Mendez
                                        after Idra Novey
On a dirt road
On a drive to el campo
You found a batey
I cut the cane 
We sucked on a stalk
You gave me your arms 
I swam in the river
We locked the door 
Then the lights went out 
And the radio played 
You fingered the pesos 
I walked to the beach
We fried the fish 
You ate the mango  
I jumped in the water
We bought the flowers
Then the migrants came
And you bartered for more 
Then the sirens blared
And they were carried away
But we didn’t stop them 
Then the ocean swept
And the palm trees sagged
They were foreigners
We were foreigners  
And we lived there

Copyright © 2020 by Jasminne Mendez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Not Poetry Thursday, for Mother's Day

 My Nothings
 ~Ama Codjoe

You, who have bowed your head, shed
another season of antlers at my feet, for years
you fall asleep to the lullabies of dolls,
cotton-stuffed and frayed, ears damp with sleep
and saliva, scalps knotted with yarn, milk-breath,
and yawns. Birth is a torn ticket stub, a sugar
cone wrapped in a paper sleeve, the blackest
ice. It has been called irretrievable, a foreign
coin, the moon’s slip, showing, a pair
of new shoes rubbing raw your heel.
I lose the back of my earring and bend
the metal in such a way as to keep it
fastened to me. In the universe where we are
strangers, you kick with fury, impatient
as grass. I have eaten all your names.
In this garden you are blue ink, baseball cap
wishbone, pulled teeth, wet sand, hourglass.
There are locks of your hair in the robin’s nest
and clogging the shower drain. You, who are
covered in feathers, who have witnessed birth
give birth to death and watched death suck
her purple nipple. You long for a mother
like death’s mother, want to nurse until drunk
you dream of minnows swimming
through your ears—their iridescence causing
you to blink, your arms twitching.
Even while you sleep I feed you.

Copyright © 2018 Ama Codjoe. Used with permission of the author.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

 Duplex: Black Mamas Praying

Antoinette Brim-Bell

Black Mamas stay on their knees praying. Cursing

the lies folks tell ‘bout how the world don’t need you—

“The world don’t need you” is a lie folks tell themselves

when they step over blood gelled black and slick.

Folks step over black blood gelled and slick to get

on with things—don’t bring bones to the cemetery.

Bones in the cemetery, hear the prophecy:

—together, bone to bone—tendons and flesh—skin—

bone to bone—tendons and flesh—skin—together,

four winds breathe into these slain, that they may live—

—breathe, four winds, into these slain. That they may live—

Calling forth prophecy is no light work, No—

but, for Joshua, the sun stood still—the moon stopped.

Black Mamas stay on your knees praying—praying—

Copyright © 2020 by Antoinette Brim-Bell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Poetry Month, Jenny Xie

 To Be a Good Buddhist Is Ensnarement
 ~Jenny Xie

The Zen priest says I am everything I am not.
In order to stop resisting, I must not attempt to stop resisting.
I must believe there is no need to believe in thoughts.
Oblivious to appetites that appear to be exits, and also entrances.
What is there to hoard when the worldly realm has no permanent
Ten years I’ve taken to this mind fasting.
My shadow these days is bare.
It drives a stranger, a good fool.
Nothing can surprise.
Clarity is just questioning having eaten its fill.

Copyright © 2018 Jenny Xie. Used with permission of the author.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Poetry Month, Diannely Antigua

~Diannely Antigua

Outside, an abandoned mattress sags with rain
and the driveway turns all sludge when I remember
I could’ve died eight years ago, in a bed
smaller than the one I share with a new lover
who just this morning found another grey hair in my afro,
and before resettling the wiry curl with the others,
kissed the freckle on my forehead.
I admit, I don’t know a love that doesn’t
destroy. Last night while we slept,
a mouse drowned in the rice pot
I left soaking in the sink. I tried
to make a metaphor out of this, the way
he took the mouse to the edge of the lake in the yard,
released it to a deeper grave. It was
an anniversary, just my lover
taking a dead thing away, taking it
somewhere I couldn’t see.

Copyright © 2020 by Diannely Antigua. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Poetry Month, Claire Meuschke

 zero in on
~Claire Meuschke

I turn on a light in a room I pace away from
take comfort behind neon signs    nested in wires
an errant mirror propped against a commercial strip
or cradled awkwardly in the elbows of a passerby
my legs become their legs
mushrooms came before us needing no light
now they clean up oil spills    rebuild biomes
ripped green awnings of my youth have become
sleek noun and noun stores like Gold and Rust where 
you can buy boutique sticks    stones    dead flowers
I’m more turned on by the defunct Mustang
its turquoise alive in the rain    nostalgia is dangerous 
turquoise that took millions of years to form   mined up
when there was one woman per one thousand men
Jin Ho threw herself into the bay when she learned
she would be sold into prostitution
threw herself not jumped so even in history she is 
an object possessing herself in an act of dispossession 
you make everything about yourself    
as if there’s another realm where I am real
if only    there was something essential    
an oil I could purchase that would reflect only you 
in my floral wrists shielding my eyes
here    take everything    my social security number
my hope that the rush of a population will crash

Copyright © 2020 by Claire Meuschke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Poetry Month, Khaty Xiong

 The Seven Prisms of My Blood
~Khaty Xiong

after Yvan Goll

In the absent oils of your eyes two brown ores
resting leisurely on the view of your children.

You uncoil casually. My hand slipping
to the west and what was felled fills me

until I fall forward injuring your already dead arm.
I am so sorry. Our wills in a twist. Electric.

Some pulse between the gurney and the distant coffin.
My camera shutter clicking wildly around my neck.

Back home tus rab hlau searches for your hands.
The soil to harden. Rapture on the way. Onions

sprouting passionately as neglected gardens do.
The seven prisms of my blood bursting through my ears.

Your living children still living. Your garden goddess
drying the last goods in her shrine. With spring-like

precision the sun weeps until I boil. My head cracked
in four places. The ribbed earth catching fatal drops

of your blood or mine. You beseech me but in my time
I’ve slept away the sun. The underside of distance.

But I behold you now in this cool church and for a ransom.
I photograph you again and again. Your form crystalizing.

Your parted mouth a new annex to the ancestral house.
Your bones at the table. O how fair the jaundiced skies.

You get up to close that clear brittle door.

Copyright © 2020 by Khaty Xiong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Poetry Month, W. S. Merwin

 The Wings of Daylight

 ~W. S. Merwin

Brightness appears showing us everything

it reveals the splendors it calls everything

but shows it to each of us alone

and only once and only to look at

not to touch or hold in our shadows

what we see is never what we touch

what we take turns out to be something else

what we see that one time departs untouched

while other shadows gather around us

the world’s shadows mingle with our own

we had forgotten them but they know us

they remember us as we always were

they were at home here before the first came

everything will leave us except the shadows

but the shadows carry the whole story

at first daybreak they open their long wings

W. S. Merwin, “The Wings of Daylight” from Garden Time. Copyright © 2016 by W. S. Merwin.

 from “Please Bury Me in This”
 ~Allison Benis White

Now my neighbor through the wall playing piano, I imagine, with her
          eyes closed.
When she stops playing, she disappears.
I am still waiting for the right words to explain myself to you.
When there was nothing left to smoke, I drew on my lips with a pen
            until they were black.
Or is this what it means to be empty: to make no sound?
I pressed my mouth to the wall until I’d made a small gray ring.
Or maybe emptiness is a form of listening.
Maybe I am just listening.

Copyright © 2016 Allison Benis White. Used with permission of the author.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Poetry Month, Vanessa Angelica Villarreal (it might be a repeat)

 Corpse Flower
 ~Vanessa Angélica Villarreal

Yesterday, the final petal curled its soft lure into bone.
The flowerhead shed clean, I gathered up your spine
and built you on a dark day. You are still missing
some parts. Each morning, I curl red psalms into the shells
in your chest. I have buried each slow light: cardinal’s yolk, live
my trenza, a piece of my son’s umbilical cord, and still you don’t
A failure fragrant as magic. Ascend the spirit into the design.
My particular chiron: the record that your perfect feet ever graced
this earth. Homing signal adrift among stars, our tender impossible
What have I made of your sacrifice. This bone: it is myself.


Copyright © 2018 Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. Used with permission of the author.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Poetry Month, Aldo Amparan

 Aubade at the City of Change
~Aldo Amparán

In this city
each door I cross
in search of your room

grows darker
than the sky, this silver
dome of morning spread

across the urban smog.
Country dark washes the city
light off the outskirts

& beyond

where you sleep in hiding,
where your face
wrapped in gauze

shines like sequin
in the lingering moon-drizzle.
I reach for you

at the corners of the clubs,
inside motel rooms,

where rent boys tumble
perspired bed sheets,
doubling you, your maleness

your hipbones sticking
to my thighs, hard

stubble of your legs
scratching. The night I followed
a strange road, looking

to forget all this, starlight
spooled the gravel ribbon
leading back to the city

behind me, back
to the hospital room
where I last saw you—

Tonight, I’ll rest
on this road, I’ll look back
to the city of change

where one year
two skyscrapers lifted, a park
shed trees

for new thoroughfares,
& an old cinema
erupted to rebuild itself

in its place. I’ll stay
on the pavement,
suspended in time

like the broken sign announcing
You are entering ______, (a name

changed two years ago),
& I’ll wonder
if the hot breeze

blowing the nape
of my neck
is your unchanged

breath rising like candle
smoke from the city.

Copyright © 2021 by Aldo Amparán. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 4, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Poetry Month! Tanaya Winder

 Becoming a Ghost
~Tanaya Winder

Ask me about the time
my brother ran towards the sun
arms outstretched. His shadow chased him
from corner store to church
where he offered himself in pieces.

Ask me about the time
my brother disappeared. At 16,
tossed his heartstrings over telephone wire,
dangling for all the rez dogs to feed on.
Bit by bit. The world took chunks of
my brother’s flesh.

Ask me about the first time
we drowned in history. 8 years old
during communion we ate the body of Christ
with palms wide open, not expecting wine to be
poured into our mouths. The bitterness
buried itself in my tongue and my brother
never quite lost his thirst for blood or vanishing
for more days than a shadow could hold.

Ask me if I’ve ever had to use
bottle caps as breadcrumbs to help
my brother find his way back home.
He never could tell the taste between
a scar and its wounding, an angel or demon.

Ask me if I can still hear his
exhaled prayers: I am still waiting to be found.
To be found, tell me why there is nothing
more holy than becoming a ghost.

Copyright © 2020 by Tanaya Winder. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Poetry Month, Ada Limon: she must be reading my mind

 Give Me This
~Ada Limón

I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.

Copyright © 2020 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Poetry Month, Jesus Castillo

 ~Jesús Castillo

          Dear Empire, I am confused each time I wake inside you.
                        You invent addictions.  
          Are you a high-end graveyard or a child?
                        I see your children dragging their brains along.
                        Why not a god who loves water and dancing
                     instead of mirrors that recite your pretty features only?
          You wear a different face to each atrocity.
          You are un-unified and tangled.
                        Are you just gluttony?
                        Are you civilization’s slow grenade?
           I am confused each time I’m swallowed by your doors.

Copyright © 2018 Jesús Castillo. Used with permission of the author.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Poetry Month, Lynn Melnick

 When Bad Things Happen to Good People
 ~Lynn Melnick

You can only hear you look like a hooker so many times
before you become one. Spandex was really big
the year I stopped believing.
I babysat for the rabbi’s son, Isaac. There was luxe carpet
in every room of the condo. Isaac liked Legos
and we made a pasture and a patriarch and lots of wives.
In his car in his garage the rabbi handed me a self-help book
and put my hand on his crotch, ready to go.
I didn’t care.
I made good money.
Isaac lived to be 180 according to the bible.
Isaac is the only patriarch who didn’t have concubines.
Isaac is 30 now. Modern scholarship tells us
the patriarchs never existed. Experience taught me
the patriarchs are all we’ve got.

Copyright © 2019 Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Poetry Month, Traci Brimhall

 ~Traci Brimhall

I scare away rabbits stripping the strawberries
in the garden, ripened ovaries reddening
their mouths. You take down the hanging basket
and show it to our son—a nest, secret as a heart,
throbbing between flowers. Look, but don’t touch,
you instruct our son who has already begun
to reach for the black globes of a new bird’s eyes,
wanting to touch the world. To know it.
Disappointed, you say: Common house finch,
as if even banal miracles aren’t still pink
and blind and heaving with life. When the cat
your ex-wife gave you died, I was grateful.
I’d never seen a man grieve like that
for an animal. I held you like a victory,
embarrassed and relieved that this was how
you loved. To the bone of you. To the meat.
And we want the stricken pleasure of intimacy,
so we risk it. We do. Every day we take down
the basket and prove it to our son. Just look
at its rawness, its tenderness, it’s almost flying.

Copyright © 2017 Traci Brimhall. Used with permission of the author.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Poetry Month, E E Cummings

 ~E. E. Cummings

I will wade out
                             till my thighs are steeped in burn-
ing flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
                                                                 with closed eyes
to dash against darkness
                                            in the sleeping curves of my
Shall enter fingers of smooth mastery
with chasteness of sea-girls
                                                  Will I complete the mystery
of my flesh
I will rise
                After a thousand years
              And set my teeth in the silver of the moon


This poem is in the public domain.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Poetry Thursday, Poetry Month! Rafael Campo

~Rafael Campo

I used to dream of living here. I hike

a trail I know that at the end opens

to glorious views of the city I did

live in once, when men my age kept dying

while I learned how to diagnose AIDS.

Some dreams don’t come true, and some dreams become

nightmares. Across a field that smells of sage,

a few horses loiter. I want to think

that they forgive me, since they’re noble creatures.

They stamp and snort, reminding me they know

nothing of forgiveness. I used to dream

that someday I’d escape to San Francisco,

when I was still in high school and I knew.

Tall and muscled, the horses are like the jocks

on the football team who beat me once, as if pain

teaches truth and they knew I had to learn.

I used to dream I was as white as them,

that I could slam my locker closed and not

think of jail. Some nightmares come true,

like when my uncle got arrested for

cocaine. My family never talked about it,

which made me realize they could also feel shame.

That’s when I started dreaming I could be

a doctor someday, that I could get away,

prescribe myself a new life. Right now, as

the city comes into view, I think of those

animals and hope they got what they deserved.

The city stretches out its arms, its two bridges

to Oakland, to Stockton, to San Rafael,

to Vallejo; places I could have been from

but wasn’t. It looks just as it did

all those years ago. Yet I know it’s changed

because so many of us died, like Rico,

who took me up here for the first time.

We kicked a soccer ball around and smoked

a joint. I think we talked about our dreams,

but who can remember dreams. I look out

and the sun like your hand on my face

is warm, and for a moment I think this is

glorious, this is what forgiveness feels like.

Copyright © 2020 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.