Category Archives: Syllabics

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



Your sorrow becomes
our shroud. So soft

a word for something
that feels like wounds,

like shredding, as if
what’s left of us

has shrunk to a child
costumed for play

in mummy wrappings,
or zombie rags,

half dead, half alive,
wordless and hurt;

a night’s revenant,
a grey shadow

blotting out color,
wincing as dawn

approaches. The winds
weep gustily

as they blow onward
and inland. Each

soft sound a lash. Each
breath a damp ache,

a throb, a struggle.
The canopy

of grey clouds covers
miles like heavy

brocade. Diminished,
the fury ebbs

and fades in its own
time. Fragments fall

from the sky like fists,
like lost treasures,

forgotten wonders.
It’s time. A rock

sits perfectly still
on the edge of

a precipice, mute,
crevices guiding

dewdrops downward,
carving a path through

the open air

Our Lady of Drowning 

I can feel you 

drowning. The thickness 

of memories 

no longer fluid, 

growing sluggish 

and solid as we 

watch. The pale dust 

of skin once plump, taut, 

and elastic 

now stretched thin, garments 

threadbare, house emptied.  

All the dark deep 

that shimmers with blue 

(ultramarine blooms, 

cobalt petals, 

cornflower eyes, and

azure hair fade

like dreams, a cascade 

of starlight cuts 

like knives, soft bruises 

swell under skin). 

I feel you drowning. 

Choking, swimming 

in sadness that roars 

with silence like rage 

of an undertow. 

Current and wind 

suck the faith out 

from under our feet, 

leaving quicksand 

and sludge. I try 

to reach out, to 

grab onto you. You 

beat my hands away. 

There isn’t much 

time. I try again, 

casting a stiff rope 

of awkward words 

tied in circles, 

wanting to catch you. 

I feel you, I 

feel you, but you can’t 

tell I am there. 

I feel you drowning. 

I feel the air 

around me too thick 

to breathe. I am 

drowning, too, helpless 

to change things. Waves 

that wash you away 

catch me up, drag 

me with you. Oh, 

the blue, the blue 

that breaks at the edge

between water 

and sky, and dissolves. 


“Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.” G. Washington

At least a month of midnights between truths,
each a coal-black nugget of angry fear
fingered as a dark rosary stretched thin
between two hands stumbling from prayer to prayer
as reluctantly as we embrace pain,

or death, or the responsibility
for something we never did and never
ever wanted to do, but were blamed for
nonetheless. Who was the perpetrator?
Who was the instigator? The victim?

The rescuer? The righteous ally? Who?
Who was the first encounter in the chain
of random meetings over the decades
triggering memories, paralysis,
grief, guilt, and maybe one day some healing?

Who was the first to say I understand
and mean it, but without understanding?
One step past denial is something else
entirely, inability to speak
hinting at a story yet to be told.

Roll the sounds of letters over your tongue
and fracture them between your teeth even
when unready to make words out of them.
There is time for your truth and mine to meet
somewhere in the middle of empty hours.

/Ethics. Blocked.

“Reproach none for the Infirmities of Nature, nor Delight to Put them that have in mind thereof.” G. Washington

Drizzled with fatigue,
like icing on a cupcake,
am I now a joke?

I rise lopsided,
wobbling at the blurred edges
of collapse. I’m doomed —

part soufflé, part mousse,
part crushed candy canes, bubbling
like champagne gone flat.

It’s alright to laugh,
as long as I laugh along,
I guess, but I try

and try, and then when
when I finally laugh, I bloom
tears, gushing rainbows.

Ah, us. There’s a sea
of troubles, a splintered storm
sears us with shivers.

What if all things good
that we do come from that sea?
All aches transmuted,

all hurts become whole
(emotional alchemy).
Waves lap like dogs’ tongues

on our open wounds.
What if pain froze and shattered?
What if it melted,

drawing new love lines
down pulsing veins in our throat,
and drowned us all?

We swim, float, swim more.
Let’s be kind just one more day.
Take my hand and float.

A Flirtation

When phonemes slide up against each other
they don’t pretend to know what love might be,

but instead simply vibrate lip on lip
and curl up, side by side, tongue against teeth.

It is as if words are sweet, and larger
than life. It is a fricative fondness,

a slippery sibilance, this slow joy
of voicing two sounds that rub together

and then open into a shimmering
cascade of vowels, arcing from low to high.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

“The Gestures of the Body must be Suited to the discourse you are upon.” G. Washington

I rise, I ask, I hope there are enough here
who understand careening over a cliff,
out-of-control; the world turned upside down for
refugees, mothers and children, friends, neighbors,
real people. We all breathed a sigh of relief,

slow-walking, halted, and questioning his act,
these dangerous times. I wish we could give
the real world dreamers, justice, help, that right to
race, coming here, have a skill and success,
to like whom you love. Praise commonsense, propose

the handful of secrets now public. Give me
an awesome thing, in the right hands, steady;
in wrong hands, defenseless. Lives misunderstood.
The time is here. Let’s be clear, close, certain,
faithful, fair. We are all responsible to

immigrants, to every LGBTQ person,
to women. I ask, where are the thirty to serve,
to stand up for justice? I urge them to read,
to review a very moving letter, to start
with the most important. Determine whether

the commitment to life and death, shaping
and reshaping, rights and duty is allowed.
There is more — much more. We worked on problems,
also rights, rights for doing it. I know both
thought it inconceivable. I will stand;

I will cast about strong, longstanding, and equal.
Compel leaders to free the awesome, to chill
the free, to serve, to happen to be many,
to march, to struggle, to participate.
Exercise the depth of commitment. Unite.

Stride. Be alive, vital. I don’t think I quite
understand. I am reading, I am simply
reading what it would mean. I would be glad
to repeat it in my own words. Can I ask
a question? I want to understand. I am

allowed, I am asking what this means. The fear
was real, as bones and heads bore witness. Who forced
a march on children? Who? Of all who have suffered
over the past century, who tried to
legalize just one more criminal? Who

had been key? The only sin was being
too grave, selective, critical, “correct.”
Consider questions of who suffered so much.
My husband called it denial, denial
of other problems. If we are going to dream,

we must spirit the unique into respect,
integrity, confident with different
views. I do believe sensitivity. I believe
progress. We have made every dream ring true.
Who will fight hours to keep our families safe?

An erasure poem derived from the words of Senator Elizabeth Warren on February 7, 2017,