Beached Whales

Mortality weighs heavily on me.
—John Keats

Shoulder to shoulder
they call and call to cry,
slide onto the sand,
slack and massive,
their sleek assurance
withering in air.

With our pails
we splash and douse,
the sun pushing back.
We don’t rest,
soaking burlap to wrap
blistered skin, streaming

water over their backs,
keeping airways clear.
Even as motionless hulks mount
we push to prod
each body into buoyancy,
beseech the tide to rise.

First published in Blackwidows Web of Poetry

The Conditional Case for Conviction

— for George Floyd

Nothing can be true, so the dog barks all night
missing the man who feeds him.

Into the fire go the stars. If the garbage is collected
in the morning, the moon will go too.

Without evidence of insects, birds have nothing to eat.
He’s talking so he’s fine.

Only a man, a sizeable guy who loves his Mama,
who lost his Mama.

I kneel in case the sun will intervene in time.
Inside the car, the back seat is a thick darkness.

A black man could get lost if the air is handcuffed.
Even if he pleads 20 times, he is under the influence,

under suspicion, under the knee, undertaken.
All for 20 dollars, supposing that, even if, so long as…


First Published in The NewVerse.News

Charles River Tango

The heron stands, a stick,
a stillness in blowsy sedge.
I steer my canoe alongside
expecting a lumbering lift-off
but she turns to pace the shore.

Elegant in her long-legged
pageant walk, she leans
into the wind, into the spotlight
of late afternoon sun,
the two of us in a slow tango.

We eye each other.
We will never part!

But I break the gaze,
the eelgrass under the boat
flickering long fingers.
I change partners as
easily as any restless heart.

First Published in The Aurorean 2007

Up from the River

A heron walks across the yard,
dusky blue against a milk-white sky.
The neck extends and retracts
as each twig leg folds back,
reaches forward. Her toes curl,
splay, each step weighed
so as not to alarm a blade of grass.

She freezes, a soft shiver
in the tail feathers before that fist
of a torso, that flexed neck
all muscle, lowers, lunges
and a vole yanked from its burrow
twists and shakes to be free
in a shudder of dust.

Clamping down harder
the heron paces,
lets the small body exhaust itself.
Only then does the beak let go
grabbing the dazed vole
before it hits the ground.
One swoop positions it
head first.

The river keeps on, insisting
everything to God is good,
and I must swallow inequity whole.

First published in Songs By Heart Iris Press 2018

The Muse

Strike the viol, touch the lute
—Nahum Tate

The moth with folded wings
motionless on the window sill
camouflaged among ordinary things,

watches the flame burning
from the lamp until
the moth with folded wings

twitches with the asking
the why of standing still
camouflaged among ordinary things,

when light but briefly clings
to the wick, the ink to the quill.
The moth with folded wings

lifts off the ledge of being
loath, thrashes at the gilt,
camouflaged among ordinary things,

willing to risk everything
for sake of light—to kill
itself, the moth with folded wings,
camouflaged among ordinary things.

First Published in Spillway


To begin, my mother must bend slowly:
a foot lifts, passes into the rolled nylon.
Hands crab up the leg, easing fine mesh
over each knee. She unbends,
draws the fabric over her hips,
exhaling in spurts of exertion.
As the chair catches her fall,
it knocks out a sigh.

There was a time she stood on one leg
to add red paint to a carousel horse.
A time her hands wet a thread,
caught the eye in one try.
A time they flexed stems,
coaxed Camellias into an ikebana vase.

Now, thumb and forefinger fumble
each disc through its buttonhole,
to rest, anchored by a shred.
All this before 9 AM.
To sit, to read, even just to nap,
knowing her skirt is smooth,
stockings straight, laces tied,
earrings, lipstick, rouge.

First Published in Touch: Journal of Healing

The Day My Mother Dies

The one thing I don’t cancel —
my appointed time with the dentist

I welcome not telling him.
Leaning back in the leather chair

I want the sting of the needle,
deadened senses.

I let him dig around, my mouth agape,
eyes shut against the glaring lamp.

I hear the whirr, feel the fray
of tooth touch my lip;

let the taps, clinks do their job —
a hole prepared with smooth sides.

Then feel without pain the hole
filled slowly, the tamping down

the tuck and scrape of amalgam.
How carefully my dentist works

to smooth over the surface.
His work is a blessing,

its small, precise sensations
are what I can manage.

First Published in Slipstream


Magnifying the saw-tooth edge
on a blade of grass, an ant’s bulbous belly,
below the bifocal line. My lost glasses.

I retrace the way I’ve been, eyes on weeds
off the path, looking for a metal frame glinting,
a sidewise glance. I don’t give up easily.

Things must take up space, so to all lost, things a place!
Blue sweater behind the chair; under a newspaper, the keys;
umbrellas just about everywhere. Some to forfeit, some to find.

I tell myself—Of course, they can be replaced! These,
with another pair, a sweater in a warmer shade.
A lover who won’t misplace what I say. I tried my best.

Words can be tossed out, lost to interpretation. Look
how I go back over the same ground,
trying to retrieve what I said. Without the dash of it.

And what’s left if I can’t retract or replace?
Loss, that’s it, isn’t it? A thing in itself.

First published in Blue Unicorn

A Take-off on Dante

If today, he wanted a ticket to hell
the poet would be ascending on Jet Blue flight 222
flying over the States at 3 AM to meet the sun,

losing an hour over Kansas, another over Indiana.
High up in the frigid altitudes, he’d find us —
frozen up to our necks in narrow rows.

Arms, legs bent, we stare at seat backs,
with small screens pitching sunrooms,
vacuums, yesterday’s news reeling over and over.

Blasted vent air, those thin black shields
that bind across my eyes. I cannot shut
out the drab interior, the whinge of the engine.

Every shift brings me up against a thigh, a sweaty arm,
the river of forgetfulness way out of reach.
But the worst torment is yet to come.

One by one, the overhead lamps blink out
as heads loll against crumpled blue pillows.
I hate every one of those who sleep, especially

my lover, his mouth gaping, his little gasps for air.
Craning above my strapped body, wide-eyed and wearied,
I gnaw on dry ration — pretzels, nuts, blue chips …

Finally, a slit of light under the shade and
a host of red-eyed Virgils coming by with warm wet towels,
and yes, the now redeemed Dunkin Donuts coffee.

First Published in Off the Coast