I have stood at the edge

of the cliffs of sleep

looked upon the rocks

and waves crashing, wrestling,

and I have thought

to myself “will I ever have

a restful night?”


I once thought your face was of the angels,
lily lips boxer’s nose Botticelli eyes,

dove into the quarries you dynamited
with the words you spoke,

wanted to comb your hair with my fingers
and play with your loose threads,

and I needed to touch you, even
belonged to you, though you

will never see my face.
And I thank God for that.

I thank God for the death of dreams
in which I plagued you, I thank God

for the softly creeping thoughts that
maybe you had something deeply

wrong with you, unfixable and
unromantic, a truly murky soul

hiding behind a Baroque mask
sporting long legs and perfect hands.

I never wanted anything but your breath.
Thank God that wish is dead.

A Message To K.

Let me return to the subject of
you, Franz. Can I call you Franz?

Does Kafka fit the bill? Would K. suffice?
Even here, in asking your name,

I am riddled with useless questions,
pores sweating indecisiveness.

Franz? Franz. There can be no confusion.
I am here to relay you a message.

It’s certainly important, bears the seal
of the highest known authority.

Never mind the pain it’s caused you,
it will all be sorted out in time,

and anyway, the kind of trap we’re
born into, pain is inevitable.

I am no doctor, I am no pharmacist,
I cannot cure whatever may ail you,

I cannot cease the cough and hack
that plagues your every breath,

I cannot even stop the questions
leaking from my own mouth.

I am only here in the capacity of
a messenger, so here is where I say,

Franz, I must tell you, before
time runs out and sleep takes me,

I have a message for you dictated
from the inner folds of my cerebral tissue

and it has traveled endlessly
down fractioned neurons and through

reptilian brain, medulla, spinal cord,
back to nerves, to the mouth, to

my fingers, coming out all wrong,
no periods, all breaths no stops,

I must tell you the message, so you
can stop dreaming at your window,

so I can stop dreaming at mine,
Franz, I must tell you, what she said

The Pedestrians

They stare through the window
as we sit down to dinner.

We are crisp paper dolls.
They are shadows.

The warm brown room gets
a little colder.

The curtains seem to grow
a little longer.

The darkness of the corners
is exalted.

The fire dwindles. The street
bathes in fog.

They still stare. They are of
various heights, all slender.

My neck prickles. If I squint,
their outlines blur.

My mother fails to repress
a loud shudder.

My father does not move,
squeezes the knife handle.

The street has countless other
scenes to spectate.

Why us, why ours, why now,
and why do they not blink?


“Who is that plain little woman,”
asked Mistinguett,

“whose voice is too big for her body?”*

And there is a long wind descending
the aisles of the music halls where
she once reigned.

Yes, little. Yes, plain.

Here we stand, recalling,
in the pews of the Madeleine
twenty years after she has

the smallest and the plainest,
with vox exemplary,
narrator of heartbeats,

she, Edith, the most exuberantly

*Taken from Piaf by Margaret Crosland.


Behind Proverbs Lurk The Living

When the going gets tough,
the tough get milkshakes
and go bowling,

because it’s Saturday night
and the tough need a better
work-life balance.

You can’t expect the tough
to be on call twenty four-
seven these days.

You don’t earn degrees,
you don’t earn a salary
being tough.

But if you think it’s so
easy being tough, why don’t
you get going?

Impossibilities #1

If the house ever caught fire
(knock on wood)
and there was only one thing

I could grab before the smoke
was too thick to breathe,
I would stand, petrified,

in awe of how precious
every single thing appeared
to a heart I thought jaded.


I decided on a gleeful whim one evening to entertain
The travelling musicians who played priceless violins
And promised them that, following my advice, they’d regain
The boundless joy they had access to as children
Without apparent spiritual or moral compromise
Or sacrifice of a productive life or useful, healthy limb.

I went out, as you could have guessed, on quite a trembling limb.
In my gleeful, whimsical, quest to chat and entertain,
I made an unexpected but productive compromise:
I’d be the low-paid but respected valet to their violins
So they could have the freedom to access their inner children
And a sliver of that earthly paradise they could regain.

The dignity I’d built up for myself, alas, I could not regain.
I left my house and left my dear husband on a shaky limb,
And bid a long, tearful farewell to my beloved children.
I left some dreams and hopes with them which they could entertain:
The travels and travails I would encounter with the violins
And the moral standards I would not ever, ever, ever compromise.

The very next morning, however, a most alarming compromise
Was discovered in the backmost wagon: we would not regain
Possession of our precious, life-sustaining, costly violins
Unless we agreed to risk our life and (maybe–God forbid) our limb:
Unless we’d promise, under oath, to gladly entertain
A certain loathsome Mafioso’s spoiled, ungrateful children.

Let me say something about the situation with the children.
Their father was all too willing to sneak about and compromise
Basic human decency to capture us. We’d entertain
His offspring, in far-fetched and vengeful hopes that he would soon regain
The dignity he lost when, one fateful evening, his lower limb
Was sawed off by my rebel musicians! Who played rebellious violins!

And so, briefly repossessing and caressing their violins
For the sake of entertaining the Mafioso’s children,
The musicians performed, they shredded, hopped along from limb to limb,
An embarrassing display, a dreadful moral compromise!
At this rate, the childhood I had promised they’d never regain
If they were bound by oath and Mafioso threats to entertain.

Under the screeching violins, we all refused to compromise:
The spoiled, ungrateful children now had nothing to regain–
We went out on a limb, defenstrated the Mafioso–that’s how you entertain!

Again To Jenn Avelar

Are you still embroiled in tiny scandals?
Has love passed you by yet again?

Do you have money and a room of your own,
or would my Virginia Woolf still be disappointed?

When I wrote you that sonnet, I was caught
in the same net as you, or a part of it.

It’s been months since that was true:
I tore myself out and began to breathe normally.

Nevertheless, my mind strays, and
here I am, asking the air how you are

but too nervous to actualize the question
and shoot it your way on a paper plane.

I couldn’t have been the only one who asked
about your pain, out of all the friends,

all the hookups and all the bands
who said you can tag along no problem.

But now I don’t know how you dress.
I forget if you still have short hair.


A Failed Recruitment

At fourteen, I was almost recruited
by PETA. The documentary screening

in the basement of the Crescent Hill Library
really got me, the one Joaquin Phoenix

narrated. My friend Kelsey accompanied
me, and touched my knee when Joaquin

spoke, regretful, elegaic, over graphic
footage of a dolphin’s belly being slit,

dangling from a hook in a warehouse.
Unwarranted cruelty. Of course I sobbed.

Of course I put my email down
for newsletters and future updates.

Of course I got the stickers with cute
yellow chicks announcing “I am not a nugget.”

Long story short, upon returning home,
I announced my intentions to my mother.

Mother’s response: “Nutella’s got milk in it.”
The words sank in slowly. Oh no. Oh no,

I wouldn’t ever give that up.

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