Ann Marie Soto

Beady eyed girl in linen skirt,
oh saint!
Your father will beat you
for using the bicycle.
I’ll never tell. Tins
of ribbon candy are your
salvation. An orange for
your kingdom. An orange for you
to release those frogs
and give me the rubber bands.
Another orange if you promise
to steer clear of cats
and pine cones and turpentine.
Oh, young saint, Mexican saint,
saintly skin thin and tough,
saintly beads for saintly eyes
that plot. Oh, Ann Marie,
saint of clean laundry
and skinned knees.
Oh Ann.

Intentionally Untitled

I have nervously awaited the POP
and sharp pain— ice pick
through my temple?— the shrieking,
shrieking, shrieking of a something
that cannot be said, the dizziness,
the euphoria of weightlessness,
the wild and the wild and the wild
of my curls grasping at latex
gloved fingers and claiming,
the squeaky wheels (less squeaky now),
the no-time-for-anesthesia, the ethereal
confusion and cloudy, the shine
of fluorescents and glint off the tray
of surgical tools, the surgical knife
and first incision— but wait!—
the shaving of my scalp, the vulnerability
of psoriasis barking back and biting
the razor, the— okay, now— the first incision
along my hairline vacated, the screams (mine?)
and the screams (someone else,
maybe through glass)
and the screams (mine again), the knife
opening as my forehead blooms, the blooms,
the incision precise as India ink swung
on a twig, the sweat collecting on
a hovering brow, the sweat dabbed away,
the sweat absent from my face, the life
absent from my face, the CRACK and saw
and another bloom, the smell of disinfectant,
the smell of another woman scrubbing in,
the smell of toffee, the lights (oh! the lights!)
in my unblinking eyes, the blood suctioned
off my brain, the grey matter that isn’t grey,
the pinch and the screams, the screams again!
the clamp carefully placed,
the anesthesiologist’s apology, the drip
of the IV (finally!) blessed IV,
the warmth in my groin, the morphine,
the stainless needle stitching in an arc,
the morphine, the vomit, the morphine,
the morphine, the morphine, and
the sleep.

Life in a hot air balloon

What does it take to hold
hot air, to carry the weight
of people and perhaps one dog?
Could I stitch together
silken scarves (hundreds!) by hand
and still float away like
dandelion seed, round and
pregnant question?
There is a shortage of helium,
you see, and these things must
be learned. Would dental floss
be a stronger thread; it’s strong
enough for teeth if pulled
correctly. I would pull it
correctly. I would try.
I would fill bags with sand
to weight, heavy as nursing breasts,
cold as the bottle of Sprite
that burst in the freezer forgotten.
Make of it what you will— there is
work to be done.

Howl in B minor

Am I aimed for madness,
destiny pulling the string
of the bow toward the Greater?
I love you as Ginsberg loved
Carl Solomon, and all I can see
is obliviate sunrise.
I need a plane ride, need
a hot tub, need a
Holy Experience.
Can you give me that?
Can you give me love
in a supermarket, human touch
through the glowing screen
of my iPhone, tenderness
from across a king sized bed?
Speak to me in Spanish, ancestral
tongue, tell me you can’t sleep
unless you read Neruda to me.
Nourish me. I hunger.

Warning Song

When the storm rolls in,
don’t forget to breathe.
Look straight up, dark clouds
above you, and blink in the drops.
It’s okay to open your mouth.
When you are tired, rest.
When you are hungry, eat.
When you are cold, you may
go inside. Close the blinds
and draw the curtains.
Do not open them.
Do not open them.
You may light a single candle
or use a single flashlight.
No more than this.
Stay awake until the rumbling stops.
Don’t forget to breathe.

Forgiveness Sheets

When I am happiest,
I speak of forgiveness.
I speak of books
and worksheets and practices
to get you there.
I speak of letting go
and of laughing (at yourself,
mostly). When I am happiest,
I remember being asked
“What do you want most?”
I think of likely answers—
wealth, luck, immortality,
love. I answered that I didn’t
always want to be happy.
I want to be at peace.


Now I lay me
Down to sleep
I pray to land
Always on my feet.
If I should die
Before I wake,
I pray they leave me
In the lake.


I want to be a dandelion—
bright, resilient, blooming.
I want to scatter,
to wait for the wind
that will continue my cycle.
I want to die. To live.

Poetry will save me

As I’ve grown, I’ve become more reckless.

As a child, I set my bedtime
at 7:30, arguing that I was growing and required more
sleep. My mother laughed and still tells the story.

As a preteen, I mapped out my life— college
would get me out of my small town (it did); college
would crack open the world like a pecan.
I placed pins in the world map that hung
like a prayer in my closet— never go back to Summerville.
But college is expensive, and I come
from Poverty. What to do?

Babysit neighborhood children and young cousins.
Sell artwork to classmates for their lockers
(Blastoise was my best seller).
Create jewelry and sell it door-to-door.
Craft animals from pipe cleaners (fingers
are easily torn by wire ends— a cautionary tale) and sell
them widely— teachers placed custom orders
for the holidays.

As a teen, my savings grew. I was accepted to Duke
(out of state!). I wrote that I wouldn’t marry
until I was 30, after I bought my house
with the red door and owned a Mustang.

Love is cloudy and makes the mind brackish.

As a teenager, I birthed my child to laughter. 16.
Savings (paltry) drained.

As a mother, days were precise. Feeding at 10am.
15 minutes for snuggling and burping. 45 minutes
for play. 30 minutes to read together.
Nap at noon. Scheduled. Written.
Posted on the white refrigerator.

Kindergarten— four baby carrots, eight cubes
of Muenster cheese, ziplock bag of Goldfish,
box of apple juice. 30 minutes for homework.
Play until 6pm. Dinner. 45 minutes
to read together. Quality time (TM).

Now I speak of running to the edge of the Cliffs
of Moher to see the waves eat at the cliff face
300 feet down, of riding a yellow Kawasaki Ninja
until I landed on my head, of no fear, of no
dinner because I forgot, of “What day is it?,”
of poetry.

Poetry has made me reckless.

The cat and cigarettes left outside

Is it still a proper brownstone
if it’s in Jersey? Six broad brick
steps open like arms, white concrete
banister a hand in open gesture.
Welcome. Unit B.

Does it matter if the details are wrong?
I tried.

Double doors slide apart, heavy as pianos
eyed in lead glass. The color is almost
cream. Almost yellow. Warped
wooden floors spread
hardened pulled caramel, pulled taffy.
The stained glass window stares onto the street
higher than anyone can reach. Cobalt and
cadmium red and yellow orange azo
in a perfect lead-lined circle twelve feet up.

Could it have worked? Us?

White and cobalt tile in the kitchen.
Plastic bat lowered on fishing line
spinning, facing an iron barred window. Two
squirrels stare in through more lead-lined glass.

How much lead was in that place?
How much lead in me?

Window half open onto the fire escape.
Twenty-four inches to save a life. Scrappy
orange striped tom comes and goes. Habanero
is his own cat. The fire escape
is for smoking and confrontation.

How is he? How is he?

Half a slanted closet waist high
is meant for liquor and board games. Some books.
Some sheets. Enough space to hide a grown man
like the crease of an overpass. Lead painted
wooden door. Lead paint flakes
off in layers. The door is more paint
than wood. More lead than wood.

I’m sweating the lead out. I’m sweating
you out. Lead beads on my brow and down my back.
I’m becoming clean again.