Make Believe

Originally published in Thimble Literary Magazine Newsletter No. 13

Mr. Rogers, what would you say to us now?
I miss your soft voice and slow smile.

Somehow you would remind us of what it means to share a neighborhood–
how our breath travels farther than we think,
but so can our care.

You would’ve made the puppets tiny cloth masks,
had them ask all the questions children need to ask like

Why and How Long? and Can’t we…?

let Daniel Tiger feel sad and antry, itchy under the ear straps.

You would have explained it all patiently and truthfully:
let afternoons pass under
shifting light and swollen clouds.

           No, we don’t know how long. 
           Yes, it’s OK to feel afraid.
This is how we care for everyone right now.

Maybe the adults would have listened, too.

Substitutions for Buttermilk

Originally published in Index for the Next World, Issue 1

                                                      Shelter in Place, Day 16  

Find acid to induce curdling– lemon or vinegar
                                               so many things taste sour nowadays

let sit for 15 minutes
                                                how quickly things can change

is half and half a better approximate?
                                                  I was only allowed one 
                                                   jug of milk at the store

Mixing butter and milk won’t do it
                                                 just another failure of language, like
social distancing or camera phone

there wasn’t any sugar in the store either,
                                                   they say it is like wartime almost,
                                                   victory gardens again, can we do
                                                   without with that much dignity?                 
                                                   I feel hardly as brave.

borrowing a cup from the neighbors seems risky,
                                                   never have we needed each other more

Maybe I will bake the cake next week
                                                  will we learn anything 
                                                  from this practice of waiting?

Maybe it will be safe to go out again before the fires come
                                                  nearby smoke, reason to stay inside,  
                                                  reason to prepare to leave quickly

Who has all the buttermilk, the sugar, the money
                                                   what are you saving it for?

When was toilet paper even invented?
                                                  we existed before it did,  
                                                  and prison cells, and 2-day delivery, ATM’s.

Didn’t buttermilk come from what was leftover, anyway?
                                                 after this, after all this,                                                                                                               can we make something sweet
                                                  from what is left behind?

For the grandmother teaching the children how to plant seeds in the community garden

Originally published in Thimble Literary Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 2

“Just a little bit, they only
need to go down an inch,
make a small hole, use your pinkie,
put the seeds in,
gently, gently.”

Elders pass on practice with invocation of earth under fingernails
It doesn’t matter so much if the rows are straight
so long as we remember ourselves.

We can spend a day like this, or a life,
let afternoons pass under
shifting light and swollen clouds.

Plants need no permission, only our exhale,
sunbeams, a thin veil of rain.

How many more hopeful acts do we have left?

After a thousand tragedies,
sleepless nights staring up at the rafters,
the ground beneath
is waiting to begin again,
the seeds will still be true.

For the students

originally published in the English Leadership Quarterly

Sometimes we sit in circles with these questions-
What are you afraid of?
Who are your heroes and why?
What do you do in your free time that really makes you free?

My students answer-

I have no free time. It is all full of work, then I take care of my little sister.
My hero is my brother because he walks me home so the bullies don’t get me.
Sometimes I am afraid my mother will work so hard she will die.

They are ten, maybe eleven.

I cannot follow them home
and fix it so their parents can
stop leaving,
take their books and burdens
for an hour a day
so they can go be children again.

I can listen when they speak.
I can turn their heads towards the sunrise,
then to the dragonflies hatching by the creek.
I can hold their packs while they run shouting
towards an ocean they have never seen.
I can dump the watering can on their heads
on the hottest day of the year.
I can honor their courage, and their joy.

I cannot change the world they are living into,
but I can change the world they live in
for the tremor of a moment,
the same way we all can for each other with a
small smile or knowing sigh
and the fierce act of living in the world with an open heart.

Spring Hatch

Originally published in Askew, Issue 16

One day at dusk the termites in unison exploded
from every wooded surface,
each stump and dead tree
marked by droves of soft-headed insects,
emerging into air
and making their first flights.
Some flew and fell to the ground,
wings in a tangle.
Others were snatched from midair
by a parade of evening birds,
juncos, tanagers, sapsuckers,
gathering food that would become
the wings of their own young.
As the termites floated through darkening skies,
I wondered how it felt to emerge from the tree stump,
to unfold those thinly webbed wings,
to crawl outside of darkness and the familiar
world of damp wood, to row through the air
with the movements of muscles unused.
And I wondered how I felt entering this life,
If after being washed and wiped dry and placed
into my mother’s arms, those first few breaths
were anything like flight.

On the evolution of shadows

Originally published in New South Vol. 7, No. 2 (2014)

Shadows swallow shadows,
stone shapes stone.
everything argued into soft edgedness
by drip and drip of the rain,
the diligence of beetles.
Wonder- what was the first shape that
stepped in front of the sun,
left its imprint on the skin of the earth?
Was it a ridgeline thrust up from crust,
or rock cracked, darkness dropped from behind.
There was infant moon’s first eclipse,
trees turned into sundials,

wings sailed birds across the landscapes-
when did the beings of the ground learn

to fear what flew above?
Does the mouse dream of sleep
when the hawk
blocks the light?
Human hands arrived
and threw the ghost of
sparks on dim walls,
sent stone wheels rolling disks
of darkness over the ground.
We have made
a new library of outlines, wrought
webbing between stained glass,
straight-lined wooden benches,
teakettle, pencil, awl, airplane,
the space behind the picture frame,
each one also altered by entropy, borders fuzzed
through time.
But I want to beg the elements to fast forward
and wear through
machine guns,
prison wire,
erode the darkest
shadows, the hardest shadows,
the ones
I wish were only dreams.