Her smile was clear sky, was green grass,
was slender stream of waterfall.
Her smile said, You are welcome here.
Her smile said, You are not alone.

She waved to me as I climbed the hill
to sit by the grave of my son and she offered
to water the flowers I’d brought from the garden.
Her offer was pink snapdragon, was orange marigold,
was golden calendula. Her offer said,
There are some things we can do.
Her offer said, I see you.

Thank you, I said. Thank you
 for taking care of this place.
I looked around at the trim lawn,
the lovely, well-cared for space
where we bring our dead.
She shrugged and smiled and said,
We love Finn, and backed away,
her right hand pressed to her heart,
her eyes embracing mine.

There are moments so flooded with tenderness
every wall around our heart collapses
from the beauty of it,
and we are left wet and trembling, like newborns.
There are moments when we are so naked
love enters us completely, shakes us from within
and wrecks us, and there,
in the rubble of our defenses
we fall so deeply in love with life,
with the goodness of people,
we are remade.

When I left, she blew me a kiss.
I caught it. Twelve hours later,
I still cradle that kiss in my hand.

The Autumn Morning

Perhaps a red-tailed hawk
calls to you through closed windows,
and curious, you leave your work
and step out into the morning.
The air smells of rain and autumn leaves,
and the hawk makes wide circles above the yard
as if showing you how it’s done—
this is how you play with the day.  

Everything glitters as the sun emerges.
Everything, even your thoughts.
Even your greatest loss.
The hawk disappears up canyon.
You breathe as if you’ve just remembered how.
When you go back in, you’re careful to fold in your wings.

For a Moment

It’s the kind of night I wish for a firefly.
The fact that they don’t live here
doesn’t stop me from wishing.
Is it so wrong to want some small proof
of light in the darkness?

What I really want? Proof of miracles.
Proof of life beyond life.
Oh world, you’ve given me proof.
And I want more.

Perhaps it would be more poetic
if I could find my own bioluminescence—
even a metaphoric inner light.
Instead, I find my own wanting.
Hello wanting.
Hello wishing for something that isn’t here.

Because there are no fireflies,
I conjure the memory of fireflies.
Because there are no fireflies,
I sit in the darkness—how vast it is.
How full of dignity. How humbling.

I sit in the darkness until the darkness
scrubs me of me, until the darkness
feels like a proof for miracles,
until infinite space rushes in,
until for a moment
I forget how to wish for anything but what is.

Getting to I Don’t Know

Sometimes, too certain I know what love is,
I miss love.
It’s like thinking water is waves,
not seeing water is also the depths of ocean,
the muscle of river, the body, the air,
ice, snow, fog, clouds, mist.
Sometimes, longing to hear certain words,
I neglect to hear the words that are spoken.
Or craving a certain touch, I disregard
all other touch, and my skin believes it is starving.
There is beauty beyond beauty, love beyond love,
opening beyond opening, an apple inside apple.
Let my prayer be I don’t know.
Let me find the door inside the door,
the glimmer inside the glimmer,
the human inside this woman.
The god inside of god.

Elegy for Laurie

“Who am I to inspire someone else and prod a good poem out of them?  I don’t see myself in that light.” —Laurie James, poet, friend, performer, organizer, member of the tribe, in an interview with Eduardo Brummel, Write More Now, 2017

A cantankerous sparrow of a woman,
   I imagine her rolling her eyes at death
     as she lights up a cigarette and says,
       “Let’s get on with it.”

A relentlessly generous bear of a woman,
   already I hear rumors she’s visiting people
     from the other side, asking them to dance.
       She was the one who would build the nest
         big enough for us all to fit.

She was the one who’d carve us a space—
   carve it out of nothing, if that’s what she had—
     so we could gather and rock each other’s worlds.
       She was the one who knew the weight of moonlight,
         the one who went from mute to muse.

She was the one with the mischievous smile,
   the nomad with poems for a road.
     She was the one who inspired us
       to be family as we write.
         She was perhaps the only one
          who didn’t see herself in that light.

Meeting Anger

My little brother and I sat on the back porch steps,
huddled into the thin wisps of each other’s bodies,
weeping. Though there is no photo of this,
I see it as if it is framed. It is summer.
The house behind us is yellow.
We are wearing more skin than clothes,
and our arms are slender ribbons binding us.
Inside, our parents are shouting. I am five,
and it is the first time I have heard them fight.
I don’t know what the argument is about,
but their voices escape the walls on black wings
and circle my brother and me like bats.
Once the yellow walls are quiet again,
my mother finds us huddled on the stairs
and wraps her wide arms around us both.
I beg her, Please, don’t get a divorce.
She tells me when people shout
it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.
That is the first moment I understand
I do not understand anger.

It will be years before I am frightened to discover
all the black wings that roost inside me—
a cauldron of anger that colonizes in the dark.
It will be years before I learn to be more curious
than fearful. Years before I can hear the dark flutterings
and not shut down. Years before I can say to anger, thank you.
Years before I notice when anger arrives,
it always has something to teach me.

One Tracking Joy

thigh high in mud—
somewhere down there
a footprint we can follow


Piercing the softest sweater I own
are dozens of thin black seeds,
needle-sharp and needle-stiff.
Their purpose: to spread.
They prick, they lance, they jab, they spear.
They refuse to be ignored.
It took only seconds for them to attach,
but to extricate them?
Today, again, I was reminded
how I do not wish
to be a carrier of sharp things.
I do not wish to sow what is prickly,
do not want to propagate
what might bring pain to someone else.
The world continues to teach me,
Be soft. Spread kindness, only kindness.
That is the voice I most wish to hear.
I pull the dark seeds from the fabric.
I place them where they will never take root.
The night air kisses my skin where they were.


  for Shawnee
This morning, knowing you were coming,
I went to the garden and cut the largest sunflower
to put in a vase on the table.
It was the loveliest of all the garden’s flowers,
planted from seed four months ago.
When I was younger than you are now,
my grandmother gave me voluptuous roses
in a simple blue glass vase.
I felt so connected to her this morning
as I made a bouquet for you.
I understood something new of devotion.          
Unable to thank her, I thanked
the sunflower. Her love from three decades ago
pulsed through the stem like sunshine.
How did I not feel the full magnitude then?
I give all that love to you.

One Impossible Act?

falling from the high wire—
now’s a good time
to learn to fly

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