Coming out of the fields (12 of 12, half marathon)

I can’t imagine what we looked like to the tourists in their cars as they pass by.

To the other locals who knew the labor of picking coffee, they thought to themselves: better you than me.

We were dirty and tired, Tired, because we woke up at dawn to do this. Dirty, because I had dropped to my knees and picked from the low branches and sometimes the leaves got dusty and rubbed themselves clean against my sleeve and stomach cloth and shoulder cap. Frazzled also, because pulling a branch, another swung out and scraped a cheek and another had whipped through my hair. Rather than waste time untangling myself, I ripped the hair apart, leaving strands dangling from the beans.

Coming out of the fields, we still had baskets around our backs. That was the easiest way to carry them, still cinched around us. We carried our red hooks in our hands. They looked like walking canes, but they helped us to bring down tall branches. Their chains and triangle footholds rattles against the pavement. Dirty too, because we had sat on a dusty burlap bag or on the soil itself. Grimy patches on our backsides where we chose to lay in the shade to rest.

We came up the narrow road that ran alongside the field, and a car might slow down as if we were part of their sightseeing tour. Get a load of the locals, picking the Kona coffee that we’ll take load up on in our suitcases.

Stained (11 of 12, half marathon)

I looked down the line of other students’ hands. Their skin was white and plump, like they never had to pick a bean in their lives. They didn’t have to earn a dollar in the fourth grade. I put my hands together, hoping to cover one with the other. I noticed the black stains deep in my fingerprints and the lifelines of my palms. I had done the dishes the night before. I had washed my hands after using the bathroom. But I was still stained, marked a worker, poor and in need. I hid my hands in the open compartment of my desk, wanting something to hold onto, I grabbed a pencil but held too tightly and broke it in half.

Seeds (10 of 12, half marathon)

His tomato plants teach me how to love him, even in his absence. I have been collecting my father for years. Pieces of him. But the tomato seeds, he sent in a fold of paper, taped together like a tiny envelope with the seeds tucked in the pocket.

The seeds I gave over to my husband, so he could bury them in the soil. And now I resent him for taking them from me. But he’s the gardener in our house.

My seeds, the ones I bought at the nursery remain in packets. Sometimes, I spill a few on my desk, just to examine their hard outer shell, the ridges and seams. I try to imagine the plant breaking out of it.

I wonder, too, how much time my father has left, with the cancer growing in the soft sack they call a lung. On an anatomy chart shows that inside they have branches with sprigs at their ends.

Today, one of my father’s tomato seeds sprouted, a tender leaf reaching from rich black soil.

Borrowing My Father’s Pickup (9 of 12, half marathon)

It’s a foreign country. I don’t speak the native tongue, recited as grease under the fingernails and steel-toe boots to work the pedals. Key’s got a tricky switch. Once it starts, there’s a guttural rev. More power than I have a need for, got nothing to haul in that big back bed. In the interior: weather mats on the floor, smooth from wear; they know their place, like the women in my father’s life, catching the rainwater from his shoes; an old rag in the middle console, actually a tank top he must have once worn over his now-tumored torso, and two clippers in the cupholder used to cut fishing line more often than any jagged hangnail. Fishing swivels jingle in the door, close at hand because who knows when he’d have a chance to cast out for the one that’s yet evaded him. Fold the seat forward; find his toolbox from which to pilfer a Phillips, along with a blue tarp to serve as a make-shift shower curtain in the near-to-him house I’ve just moved into. There’s a straight pole. Do I still remember how he taught me – to rig a line, bait a hook, avoid the craggy shore? Now beside his things is a stain where I placed the strawberries from Foodland. I didn’t wipe the blood that leaked from that delicate fruit; now the blemish has dried black, reminding me of everything that will rot and bruise when he’s gone.

Pomegranate (8 of 12, half marathon)

I’ve never eaten this crimson, crowned fruit, although I’ve had other jewels, lychee and coconut, after shimming up the tree. I wonder if freeing the seed from a pomegranate is like scraping the seed from a papaya to get at the sweet, soft flesh beneath? Or like the seeds of guava or lilikoi, where you slurp the tangy membrane that clings to the pips. Sometimes I wonder if one of the seeds might take root, lash its shoots up my spine, send its tap down  my gut. What might grow and flower? Half fleshy me, half leafy tree. I’ve never eaten a pomegranate, although I’ve eaten other fruit. Puckered my lips around lemons. Broken through the waxy skin of cherries, teeth wary of their pits. Thrown back handfuls of blue and black and raspberries. Sometimes, they sell mango for a dollar. A bargain, for some, although we used to pick the fruit for free from the tree in our front yard. Its branches so heavy, our bellies so full we could barely move. I’ve never eaten a pomegranate. Perhaps we’re not meant to try every staple. Some might think it best to test the bounty. I say, leave some produce untasted, wonder at the ply of its peel, leave the seeds and what to do with them, a mystery.

Recurring Dream (7 of 12, half marathon)

I dreamt I didn’t have a baby.

Pregnant, the baby always dies,

or I am just sterile.


I decide to bury the dream

no one else needs to know

Jotted on a slip of paper

folded it in half and half again.


Tucked in a book,

the slip wormed through the pages

Buried at the base of a tree

The relapsed reverie sprouted

through the soil.


Someone picked the sprig and

The dream turned into a black moth

Come back to bang against

The pane of my consciousness.


I caught the winged thing in a net

Pressed it into a palimpsest

Then placed it in my pocket


A piece of lint must have

Inseminated it

Used its slippery tongue

to implant into my pocket lining.


The embryo forgotten for a time

But even the expecting pocket

Miscarried, the fetus

fallen to the floor of a grocery store

Assuming the shape of a silverfish

Skittered out over the linoleum

I picked it up and shoved it

To the bottom of my purse.


One day I knew the bag needed cleaning

Among the stray receipts and hand sanitizer

I found a form that had finally come to term

It was inevitable, discovering it, again

The thing I wanted most.

Do not unfold it.

Do not erase its scribbled face.

Stay teetering, on the brink of tossing it out,

or thrusting the memoir back to the bottom of my bag.

Sea Monsters (6 of 12, half marathon, attempt at prose poem)

Marine biologists found a sea monster on the coast of China. It was dead and badly decomposed, gargantuan in size, and with a stench, so foul, people who came to view the creature cupped their hands over their mouths and noses. A man wearing wire-rim glasses and a bow tie said it was a form of whale—how important to catalogue all living things. Who’s to say it’s a leviathan just because of its large jaw bone? New species emerge all the time, not just coral and sponges—referred to as the trees of the sea—but also Loriciferans that live without oxygen, once thought impossible except by the simple, single-celled bacteria. They’ve found prehistoric fish, believed to be extinct, still swimming the sea. And consider the Turritopsis dohrnii. Scientists say it’s immortal; more factually stated, it never dies. This jellyfish with its free flowing tentacles moves with grace, continuously regenerating. Shall we worship it, a god; declare it undead or resurrected? The spectators in China nodded their approval for the beast now identified and categorized. They kept their hands over their faces; breathe recirculated air from their palms back into their body cavity.

Umbilicus (poem 5 of 12, half marathon)

Dark hole,
fleshy drain,
once vital passage
designed to receive, cut
then clamped
the pipeline turned
an angry purple,
then fell off.

The opening
capped with a whirl
of skin
now collects lint
and dirt in its folds.

Pick at the grit,
the skin breaks easily
but no blood,
just clear fluid
that turns crisp
like dried snot
or plasma.

The spot
Where I was once
tied me to
a place for taking
the blood from her
body, the breath
from her lungs
a straw sucking
at her,
maybe that’s why
she left.

Behind the fleshy cap,
liver and bladder
filtered waste.
In some bodies, the
vestigial artery
doesn’t properly
shut, warm piss can
seep out of the pit.


Old (poem 3 of 12, half marathon)

A beach where we can grow old
Not retirement, just returning to dust

In the beginning
The children play tag
Hide and seek
Captured youth
In freeze frame

Vultures, snakes, and fish
No creatures can survive
The rock’s accelerated lifecycle
The dog dies and
Even the cutlery is rusty

Only racism thrives in such conditions
The black rapper, pseudonym, Mid-Size Sedan
Slashed across the face
Stabbed in the chest
Meets a violent end, no matter the pristine setting

Two of three children escape
The next morning
Aged hands
Shape sandcastles
And decode messages
Intended for former selves
The cryptic reveal, a way out
Through the coral-lined passage

The man that pulls the strings
The hotel manager who presented the exclusive opportunity
The hostess who served the drugged cocktails
Big pharm rocks the trials
A lifetime of testing in just one day.