My first published poem appeared in 1992 in the anthology of the Houston Poetry Fest. In 1993 the late Susan Bright of Austin’s Plain View Press invited me to participate in a publication workshop. The result was Layers, a collection of poems by five Austin-area poets. In the intervening years. my poems have appeared in several journals, in four collaborative poetry and art shows, and in Two Southwests, poems from the Southwest of China and the United States. Here I offer a sampling from my published poems: the space below is set to rotate these poems.Fire at Midsummer
Even our names for the cows who gave us
calves for sale and slaughter, who gave us milk
and cream and butter, who quit mooing soon enough
when we weaned their calves away from them—
even our names for them were blunt
and uninspired, unmarked by attachments
of the heart. The Red Cow, the Little Cow,
Brindle. We called one of them the New Cow
for fifteen years. And by the summer the Red Cow
lay down beneath the tree at noon and failed
to get back up again to graze among the others,
she was very old—the last of our grandfather’s cows,
blind in one eye as long as we had known her,
blinded when one of the Meischen brothers
shot her with a BB gun, hit her in the eye,
as if somehow this punishment would nudge her
out of the slow uncomprehending amble down
the trail a cow is born to follow. He was wrong:
for the rest of her life she was just more skittish.
And now she was dying, hunkered down inside
herself, unmoved by our impatience, waiting out the end.
Daddy took one look and headed for the gun closet,
afterwards slung a heavy chain around the carcass
and hooked it to the tractor, dragged her
from beneath the tree and out into the bare
grazed-over field beyond, issued blunt directives
to the three of us, left us behind to finish up.
We piled dried brush, scrap lumber, old fence posts
over the Red Cow and tended the fire, strange
at midsummer, the winter brush-burning odors
of mesquite and huisache, the bed of ashes, embers
beneath that would smolder for days, burning her bones clean.
Southern Review, Summer 2004
A Note About the Poem:
For some insights into the drafting of "Fire at Midsummer" and the how of my revision process, click on my Nonfiction link and take a look at the guest blog I wrote for Superstition Review.
Southern Poetry Review
“A Spill from the Radio Flyer” appears in Issue 54:1. I have had the great good fortune of seeing my work in two previous issues of Southern Poetry Review. Reprinted here:
Qué Será, Será
She doesn’t mind the time he spends
in the domino hall downtown, silent
staccato of light and shadow radiating
from fanblades overhead. She listens
to the whir of her Singer, watches
the shimmering needle stitch up yards
of satin the color of ripe plums, muted
voices from “Our Gal Sunday,” its serial quest
for happiness reaching her against
the open-window backdrop of sparrows
in the hackberries, a cow nuzzling
chainlink at the gatepost, honeymoon memory
of blackberry wine on her lips, cool sea breezes
on the balcony of the Casa Ricardo, though beer
is the beverage she shares with Elwood late
afternoons beneath the chinaberry trees out back,
good solid German beer, foam cascading
icy bottles like surf flung up an English cliff
in a poem she memorized in high school, struck
by an emptiness she knew but could not name,
sunless-February counterpoint to a feathered hat,
a pair of patent leather ankle-strap heels
in the window at Lichtenstein’s. She walked
right in and tried them on, risked Elwood’s gloom
and brought them home. This afternoon, while he
plays dominoes in town, she sews a dress for herself,
hums fragments of a Doris Day song from the movie
they saw last week at the Rialto, a voice to match
the open landscape outside her windows: cottonfields
ripening all the way to the creek, thunderheads dark
in the distance, and the sheen of late-afternoon light
against satin rippling toward her Singer’s needle.
Yellow Jacket Lovesong
Galveston Island, April 2005
Afternoons Augie dabbles on the sleeping
porch, screened sea breezes fingering
a scatter of popsicle sticks, x-acto blades
and glue. The Beach Hotel that burned
is rising from his fingertips. The grand verandas,
their curves, the gingerbread he filigrees—
fire has no claim on these. Tante Frieda’s
in the kitchen beguiling sugar to the smoking
point. She knows just how to wield
the wooden spoon, how low to keep
the flame, Tante Frieda stirring molten
sugar, her mouth full of Vs where Ws
should be: sixty years since the bombers
arrived over Dresden, sixty years to shape
her mouth to the sound of islanders
talking. Her tongue will not bend
to the words, her sweet tooth fluent,
in the taste of hereabouts. Tante
has all the recipes. The stories too. Of flan
from Blanca’s abuela in San Leon, the dark
dark coffee Tante added on her own,
a taste of salvation, she says, remembering
the cold in Leipzig at the end, her American
soldier, the steaming mug he offered thick
with evaporated milk. Burnt sugar cake
she copied down for Augie’s mother,
the recipe translucent with boiled-cream
icing spatters, a tattered reminder of her
grandmother, the Kafeeklatches she reined
over, Liebte Oma, dead in Dresden the day
the tanks rolled into Poland. Oh, and shoo-fly
pie, the alchemy of butter and blackstrap—
sweet-talked the cook at Xander’s Parlor
out of his secret while yellow jackets
hovered at the window screen beside
her sticky plate, mesmerized by molasses.
San Pedro River Review
“Lone Star Desires at the Triple Six: A Pantoum Bent on Misbehaving,” appears in 9:1 (Spring 2017) — a themed issue on Back Roads & Byways. Editors Tobi and Jeff Alfier have published my work in three previous issues:
- “Newly Weaned Calf. A Farmboy’s Offering.” ⇒ 7:2 (Fall 2015)
- “Lost in the Sonora, Sunset of the Fourth Day” ⇒ 8:1 (Spring 2016) — a themed issue on The American Southwest.
- “After the Waiting” ⇒ 8:2 (Fall 2016)
Newly Weaned Calf. A Farmboy’s Offering.
Sputnik was circling—his Weekly Reader
told him so—a single man-made thing
moving 18,000 miles an hour above
the dome of silence he had learned
to call sky. And birdcalls poked holes
in the morning, and beneath their scissoring
tails, the penned-up calf, its bellows
in blasts to crowd the hours out of patience.
Grain stalks fall beneath a whetted blade,
Sputnik falling, falling through empty cold.
Shoeless, the boy whacks himself in the foot.
He drops the knife, the gathered stalks.
He considers the arrival of blood, of pain,
of the cool at his scalp when the breeze
shifts, the vane atop the windmill turning
stiffly, creaking, pointing elsewhere.
Lost in the Sonora, Sunset of the Fourth Day
golden shovel on a haiku by Ann Howells
Along the moonlit arroyo, cactus
spines, the bristle of edges, a screech-owl
calling from juniper shadow. Day retreats,
sky a bruise deep
and darkening into
cold, into dream, the sleep of saguaro
prickling at wakefulness. A nest
of lizard eggshells, a lacing of snow.
The escarpment shivers, dusts
the wind with grit, the
fissure scar long healed beneath the glowing yuccas.
After the Waiting
Winter hovers over the mesa, white
whispering darkly over adobe walls,
mercury dropping, dropping, snow
like dust, like lace upon the branches
of the pines that bend and shift
beyond the window. No stars tonight.
The white of snow is all the light we
have. We. The word arrives by habit,
though no one else is here, the rooms
that kind of quiet, that kind of empty.
My hand at the door, the cold
beckons. Come. This way. And snow
pale as the shrouded moon
crunches beneath my numbing feet,
these moments at the edge of surrender.
Listen. Does the winter whisper just for me?
Naugatuck River Review
“A Step Beyond Silence” appears in Issue 14, Summer/Fall 2015. “Another Kind of Answer” was named a finalist in NRR’s 6th Annual Narrative Poetry Contest—and published in the Winter 2014 issue. This one is reprinted here:
Another Kind of Answer
They watch the day’s late sun wash over
the barn wall, the broken eggs. Elwood squats,
Judith and David perched on his knees, his arms enclosing
them. He asks Why? and they say ’Cause.
Again: ’Cause why? Just ’cause, Daddy.
Even at three and five, they understand what not
to tell their father: that they jumped and clapped
and wiggled each time an egg hit the wall:
’Cause it was fun, Daddy! But he so clearly wants
another kind of answer they forget
as only children who want to please
their father can forget the joy of breaking eggs.
It’s a bigger question for him. He needs
to know why life keeps coming at him.
Drought saps the land he tills, the time
he spends posting checks at the bank
in town to make ends meet. He has a wife,
a second son napping in the house and—
dreaming in the womb—another son, the last.
Let him explain the waste of a dozen eggs
to the simple pleasure of breaking them.
Elwood can hear his mother laughing, saying
Let it go. Count your blessings. He remembers
how they escaped her strictures, her own
wild toddlers climbing out of their chicken-wire
playpen to rush among the cotton pickers reaching
for the puffs of white that dazzled
them among the swaying leaves.
His mother kept a secret from her sons:
that children can surprise you into rage
so sudden you can only let it loose
as laughter. Sometimes tears had come
first, and she told the story funny after.
But Elwood won’t let himself cry. He is
too spent this afternoon to kindle anger’s
heat, too far gone to feel laughter itching
like a trigger in his throat, Asking why
and why and why is the best he can do.
When cool and shadow merge,
he hikes David to his hip, takes Judith
by the hand, and walks them to the cistern
for a bucket of water. Together, they wash
egg yolk, egg white, eggshell from the wall.
The shadows thick with dusk and dimming
sun, they walk to the house for supper,
sparrows in the hackberries calling them home.
San Pedro River Review nominated “After the Waiting” for a Pushcart in 2016.
Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review nominated “Dreaming Orion” for a Pushcart in 2014.
He loved the night sky over Loraine, accent
on both syllables—low rain—loved the taste
of the name in his mouth, the sound of his town-
folk talking. He loved lying flat on his back
that summer, dusk pulsing with crickets, dreaming
the Great Hunter. He knew the story, the bright
stars, Betelgeuse his favorite—shoulder of the giant
he dreamed roping, star of a rodeo that glittered
like Rex Allen’s spangled shirt under banked lights,
his unleashed smile. The boy carried that brightness
home from San Antonio, his daddy driving past
midnight, father and son singing cowboy songs
into the roaring hush. Momma had salmon croquettes
warming for them in the oven, he could taste them
in the sound of salmon with an ell—the mouth-
watering glide of his tongue. He could hear mallets
clicking in the backyard, ice-cream freezers turning
beneath the chinaberries, like slow tires on gravel.
He whispered to himself drifting off, his favorite colors,
the names he had given them—Dragon Fruit for the sun
just over the horizon, Cornsilk for the light that came
after. Others for the day ahead. Mesquite Lace Green.
Sandstone Shade. Cerulean. A color for each room
of the house he imagined for himself, and visible
from his pillow, a photograph of Rex Allen, smiling.
- New work in Southern Poetry Review
- Poems at Talking writing:
— two in May 2017 ⇒
— two in November 2015 ⇒
- New work in San Pedro River Review.
- Recent work in Naugatuck River Review.
- Pushcart Nominations
- Recent work in Assaracus
I have the great good fortune to see eight (!) of my poems in the Issue 17 of Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry. For a taste of what the editor accepted, I’m posting one of the eight here:
When your simmer cools, there’s nothing
left of you, I hear, but runway strut
and simper. They tell me you’re a fraud,
a quack. Nothing homey in your duffel to
unpack. It doesn’t matter. I have a taste
for snake oil, for a certain fluid quaffed,
an arrow in me daft as Zeus enflamed
by Ganymede. Do me like the Panzer man
in “Daddy.” Do me till I feel like Bach
on bennies. Kiss me raw. Run me through.
There’s nothing more I really need from you.