Tag Archives: family

Birthday Poem

For my little brother

I am teaching you to wash your hands
with foam soap: the special kind that smells
pink and sweet and froths from the nozzle
in airy peaks, a merengue on our small palms.
I am eight, you maybe four.
I have shut the bathroom door and
this makes your shrieks louder when
you laugh at the endless slurps of soap
growing bigger in the sink—
we imagine it overtaking us, filling
the room until we are suspended in it,
sounds muted, the rosy froth buoying
us up, hold us together inside.

I am a cruel sister to you, bitter
with my suspicions: they love you
more than me.
I take every opportunity to
make you cry.
When my mother tells me fifteen
years later about the child she lost
after me—I always wanted you
to have a sister, she said—I knew it was true:
love is not undiscerning.

I do not know why, that day,
I decided to be kind.
It made you so happy to wash
your hands with me.
I wish many things about
our childhood but the most
is that you knew how much
I loved you. I tried so hard to
convince you otherwise.
Is it unfair to blame a ghost
I never knew was there,
a filmy web between us?

It is a relief to have something
to blame. I should not
accept it.

In the bathroom you could not
reach the sink—I had to take the soap
bottle down for you.
It was afternoon, summertime.
The sun a ripe tangerine low and
heavy in the sky.
I could hear our mother calling
dinner on the stove.
But I kept the door closed
a little longer.
Everything we both wanted
was inside, right there,


Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

“The cell phone lot”

Planes fly in overhead
while I wait in the cell phone lot
between the highway
and the airport
my brother in the sky
descending, Paul Simon on
the radio. A song about
angels, about time.

Six cars in the lot beside me.
Dark interiors, no one
visible behind the glass.
Paul Simon says
he writes only when he knows
it is true. Ten to
midnight and this sounds
good until I consider
his discography: a lot of
words, Simon. I wonder
in your confidence.

But the music:
he’s right. It is
the only song for now
alone in the cell phone lot.
The plane
now on the tarmac
a mile away
rolls to the terminal.
And I start the car
leave with the others
lights on in the dark
as we hurry to collect
those people waiting
for us at the curb
looking for our headlights
becoming brighter, sharp,
out of the distance,
this poem already existing
in a place between me
and where it is n



Warm nights have arrived, that let you sink
into them like a bath: tepid, then
chilly if you rise into a current of air.
Flowers bloom even at night, here.
Cacti curl out over the paths.
We walk, my brother and I: after
wine, after spaghetti. He makes it the
way our mother does. I never quite
got the trick no matter how much she
tried to teach me. The recipes another
thing between us, curled paper with
loopy handwriting I couldn’t read.

41st Street, 40th. I’ve never lived in
numbers so high. Which means
nothing, of course, only what I
want it to, the same as what I
say about the cacti—like spongy
seaweed—or the bathwater—like a
mirror, like a salted sea—
like, like: all I can do is compare.
What are the words for a thing?
For this warm air, this graveled
alley. For my brother, my mother.
Peel a thing like an orange and
palm the pips (again, like), the smallest
piece before nothing. Look.
This is an orange.

But what then? Seeds in your hand:
teeth-nubbins, yellow-white.
There is no way to unknow what it
will be. First flowers unfold, then
gold: orange: a fruit. Sweet clear
taste. A soccer field years ago, green
grass-stained knees and a single slice,
sticky juice. Geese overhead. This is
an orange.

So what is tonight? Dinner with
my brother, a meal our mother
used to make. Hot wind, green
things growing. I won’t ask for more
or add anything else.
I’ll wait until the rind drops off
on its own.

Friday Poeming

Thursday, January 26

What really is there to say
about the inside of a hospital room?
There are colors first: white
floors, white curtains. An ease
of winter light from the window.
Then sounds, the layered television
babble mostly blocking any
chirp and buzz from the machines
we have trained ourselves to ignore.
Turn up the volume—contestant
number two’s soufflé is not quite done,
its egg whites fallen.
In the room there is no smell. I find this
strange. I could make it up but the point
is honesty, or the impression that I
care about the details.
It is twilight now. Snow will fall tonight.
The room remains the same whether
I am there or not.
The only permanence I seek
is written (not true), and even then I know
the lies.  So I’ll try a few: a blue curtain made of
silk. Lilac in the air. A door going
anywhere else. An ending that leaves
room on the page for more.