Category Archives: Syllabics

Like You

Long thin fingers fly and float
over guitar strings, drum
skins, keyboards. They pluck

and press, push and rest,
painting stories with sound
and sleep. There is a rumble,

a murmur-mumble. There’s
a strum, a thrum, a
rock beat, a bop. There
is a cascade of notes,

a steady tone, an open
chord. There is a whir of
wheels, a bounce of balls,

a blast, a blare (there),
a burst never curst, roar
of jets, a roar, a roaring,

a flare, where the hollow
of the past curves ’round
silence. Mute answers
to questions never asked.

Everything I say is, was.
Everything. It’s all in
round numbers. The date

you began. The date
you weren’t. Ages, years, gifts.
“I feel moved,” you began, then

spun on wheels whirling like
laughter, curved like smiles,
round as eyes. It was
a piece of everything.

In memoriam, Carl A. Larkins, 1948-2018



i. Create

Stalwart and sturdy, the tree’s trunk
is luminous in the late light,
standing before and against dark.
Its roots are burrowed deep into
the valley between the green hills

and dry, hidden, invisible.
The leaves cluster tightly, cling close
together, wondrous and wary.
The dry and the dark creep close, but
the leaves are not ready to fall.

ii. Redeem

Even broken, even shredded,
wounds can be woven into one,
something new, a form to be found.
This is the shape that suffering
takes and makes and shows
                                               as it heals.

iii. Sustain

So many. So many. We are
not alone. We are together.
We are a forest in autumn,
full of ripe fruit, bright fruit, bright words
to carve the light, the light that carves

us. We are sharp, crisp with edges,
with wounds. We are soft, moist and warm
as if coming out of ovens,
out of caverns, weak with hunger,
fading, yes, but first, branches blaze.


Scrape the leftovers into a pan on the stove,
whatever was chilled in the fridge, crammed in cupboards,
canned or covered, not quite fresh but only newly

expired. Things others would throw away, broken tools,
laws, a person telling the right story at just
the wrong time. Call this truth. A bit of fajitas

with peppers and onion from the birthday party
two weeks back, a can of too spicy tomatoes,
the last can of sweet corn, yesterday’s rice still there

(forgotten in a pan on the stove overnight,
but only barely starting to turn sweet). This works.
Cook it all again, hot, really hot, and simmer

long enough to kill off the early signs of rot.
I was raised to save what’s still useful, and so, here,
we are not throwing anything out, not tonight.

Of Numbers, Names, and Weeping Things

Over and over and over again.
Cycles and circles, creatures and crawling.
The howling that haunts the space between throat
and skin (“let me in” / “let me out”), shouting
its name. Of course it has a name, because

all things have names. That’s what we do, humans,
ever since Adam. We name things. All things.
More and more things. Names that emerge, whispers,
climbing on bones of names that came before.
Names that slide slickly down the hunger tube

as if they can satisfy. Names so still
we don’t know they hold shivering inside.
Names roaring like wind in the ears of those
falling, too far and too fast to survive.
Names like little boxes to live inside

but can never redecorate. That’s what
poetry is for. Stripping the purple
from the crocus, plucking the gold. Swallow
the minuscule piece of poison that’s left.
It’s all dose dependent. It’s all context.

The winged things that called to me as a child,
singing on the sidewalk in front of home,
as if they were weeping, as if they were
so tired of weeping, as if grief lifted
their feathers, separating and spreading,

as if grief was joy and beauty and love
twisted in time. As if only nameless
beings could open the boxes, break them,
remake them. Do numbers need names to be
friends at ease with each other, to become

blue and yellow, pink and turquoise, to take
up space and shape and form and to delight
each other? They tip like balance, a scale,
float like bubbles or petals, quietly
amused. Numbers sing weightless in the air.

Of Midnight and Morning

Midnight blurred my welcome-home photo of the bosomy blooms —
nippled at the stem, freckled at the throat, and tongued with stamens.

Your midnight wanderings shade to my too-bright morning, the chill
breeze over my face, the dog curled on my belly. And so day

opens like the window, to Facebook, Twitter, your good wishes,
your new poem. A deck of cards was in one of the packages

which arrived during my travels — the sweet Jane Austen, sealed with
the Ace of Spades, and epigraphed with “You pierce my soul. I am

half agony, half hope … I have loved none but you.” Stupid quote.
It’s from Persuasion, her last novel, but so childish. We can

argue about it later. Or agree. Or whatever. Now
is now. It’s time. It’s time, and it’s been time, and it continues

to be time. Time stretches out opportunity like waking.
Yesterday, the loud-mouthed butch in the back of the bus

hollered, “I just want to get a hotel!” and then, “I think I’m
having second thoughts.” Her non-idea, so random, so sharp

and pointedly personal … well. The bus took notice. Today,
I swap footies with neon sunglasses for knee-highs of bold

red-faced spider-monkeys with bananas, and run for the bus.
Which I miss, of course. I wait with red poppies, blue irises,

thin-fingered pink honeysuckles. I wait with the words in which
you take delight. The words that melt in my mouth buzz against lips;

sputter, spark, and melt against the tongue — vapor, vellum, velvet,
vivid, voluptuous, vulva. The alphabet makes me swoon.

What Else Could I Say?

Sure, I think. Then, sure, I say, having known that “sure”
was what I would say from the moment I saw your

invitation with my name in it. I shivered

with the same kind of frisson I felt last weekend

when I stood on an open balcony, looked down
dizzily from the 18th floor. I did not know

that someone else was also looking down, also
shivering, but I stepped back then, sure of that edge
in that moment not belonging to me. And now,
I’m on terra firma, well, rather, on the bus,

reading what you have written with my name in it,

remembering when I hid your name in a poem,

years ago. No one found it. Now, disembarking
from the bus, I walk past a riot of flowers —

lilacs, phlox, azaleas — all shades of plump purples,

the yellow dandelions teething on my fingers.

My shadow stretches out long & lean by my door.
The plan for tonight is to unpack my bags; sort

all the mail that came while I was traveling —
piles and piles of it (9 packets, 9 magazines
only one of which I’d ordered, 12 envelopes,
and 38 streamers advertising Whole Foods);
and shower, because the travel is stuck to me

like bad dreams in the morning, because a quiet

moment can be a very good thing, and because

clean is a comfort, at times. The shower comes first,
before dinner, before sleep, but after hugging
the kid hello. I change into something simple —

a pair of sweats named “Rouge” but labelled “Love,”

a tshirt with a mermaid looking out to sea.

Our Lady of Improbable Greeting Cards

When nothing I could say is right (and we
both know it); when silence may go as wrong
as the wrong words; when the need to speak grows
so huge it locks both tongue and heart inside
a mouth gone mute for all that matters; then
what can I do, except ask her for help? What
does she tell me? Oh, all the usual
sensible things, that I already knew.

1. Go slow.

Slow as the dreams where you never arrive.
Slow as a watched pot just about to boil.
Slow as a surprising garden slug’s trail
showing where it crossed the path overnight
but now has disappeared. Slow and steady
as the gentle touch that defuses bombs,
or light twist releasing a carousel
to drop one slide into a slot that fits.
Slow as a roller derby jammer coasting
behind the pack of blockers, looking
for an opening. Slow as eyes before
the mind decides, watching, and watching more.
How slow is slow enough? How slow, too slow?

2. Know your audience.

Lively as laughter, berry-bright, easy-
going as trust and old friends. That is one
kind of audience, the ones we hope for,
the ones who get it, what we’re aiming for,
the jokes we practiced and polished, the sleight
of hand intended to delight. There are
others — impatient, critical, sluggish.
But I don’t know. I don’t know how to know.
If I knew my audience, I wouldn’t be
here, asking for divine intervention
to unlock my bold inner Cyrano.

3. Leave space for words.

… say, this is what I want.
… ask, what would you like?
… fill the page with words.
… listen. And listen. Closely.


… ask, did I understand? Is this right?
… say, this is what I want, but I also want you to be happy.
… ask, what would you like?
… be quiet, pay attention.

4. Make your subject obvious.

Example A)
Maybe this is a birthday you’d rather
forget, but me, I went and got you this
card anyway, because I’m a doofus
sometimes. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Example B)
These things they call “acts of God”? Well, maybe
they aren’t, not always. Maybe sometimes life
is just a raw deal, unfair and painful.

Example C)
I want to ask you out. I mean, I try
to ask you on a date, but I don’t know
how. And I don’t know if that’s what you want.
And if that isn’t what you want, I hope
that my asking doesn’t make things too weird.

5. Consider vertical or horizontal layouts.


6. Create multiple versions.

a) I’d love to go to a movie, what about you?
b) Would you like to have coffee sometime? Do you drink coffee? Tea is okay. Or something.
c) Do you like the symphony? Opera? Roller derby? Bowling? Dancing? It’s too soon for dancing. A walk?
d) Umm, there’s a play coming up that’s really cool. All smart and funny. My kid’s in it. Oops.
e) Heck, when is payday? Anything, let’s do anything, as long as it’s right after payday.
f) Is this mic on? I can’t hear myself. Oh. Oh, sorry.

7. Be sensitive when illustrating people.

Don’t: age/shape/size/height
Don’t: distinguishing features. Just don’t.
Don’t: your eyes/hair/lips are like [blank]
Don’t: use a template

Do: tell the truth.
Do: be kind.
Do: find the truth that is kind.
Do: say the kind truth, and mean what you say.

8. Avoid gender-specific designs.

Dancing the funky-monkey pronoun swing;
tripping the light fantastic, or tripping
over your own feet, and tongue. Just tripping.
There’s that great gender-bender blender pro,
the ones that pretty much always go wrong:
“Your eyes are too pretty to be a girl’s” /
“Your hair is too thick/long to be a boy’s.”
Whatever they said, it’s just so much noise.
Here’s a novel idea to try on —
what if we all just used names? Like, what if
we all talked about people like people?

9. Keep things light.

Light and dark as jabberwocky, sweet as
the jitterbug, bright as jive alive, and
happy as the Lindy hop. Let’s keep it
there, for now, bouncing the beat with our feet,
swinging from tango to the Charleston
to foxtrot, and if we’re lucky, mix it
up with the Viennese waltz, and later
a wild merengue. This is no secret
code, just a recipe for slow delight,
the kind that shines itself into the dark
corners, sketching a map of what consent
could look like, maybe, someday, if ‘yes’ comes.

10. Ask for feedback.

Rain check?
Let me think about it.

Inspired in part by “Design Your Own Greeting Card: 11 Tips That Actually Work