looking back


for joan simmons

we shared a Southern California sky from opposite sides of the city
the lies of our lives hidden beneath play

i wonder now if our reverie didn’t meet
in that place no one dare name

if you saw my wicked dance with death
took his seduction as your own

i ask myself
what did we talk about how did we meet why did we drift apart
how did i come to learn of your fate so long past?

we splashed about in the same fickle currents
yet i emerged and you went under

i imagine you like Woolf, slowly and with purpose
walking into the water

but i know you chose a gun instead 
leaving others to pick up the pieces

no doubt about their trigger fingers

• • • •

Published in Magee Park Poets Anthology, 2015
Family snapshot of Cheryl and Joan

inside out

come spring, you abandon the garden
cling to reasons for moving past this breath.

my gaze wanders to a cobweb in the corner —
i can’t say how long it has been there.

outside, the wind is a frantic heart.
inside, the air, still as death.

• • • •

Published in So Luminous the Wildflowers, An Anthology of California Poets 2003
Photo by Jene Yeo on Unsplash

revision, revision, revision

Revision, revision, revision. The mantra of poets worldwide. i’ve been doing my share of it lately. The unfinished manuscript hollering at me from my nightstand. With this in mind, i recently looked through some of my published work and i came across circular breathing, in a 2002 edition of The Comstock Review. Re-reading that version i realized i liked it better than the current, oft-revised one.

Sometimes we can be our worst editors, yet i still believe in revision. It’s a commitment to the language, to reaching higher for that more profound image, metaphor, word. At times it’s just that – one word – that will carry the piece – and your reader – right where you intended.

Which brings me to another thought. The reader and the poet. i recall a visual artist friend of mine being asked, at an exhibition of his work, about the meaning of a particular piece. He wouldn’t say, but instead encouraged the person to find their meaning in his work, to let it speak to them as it would, regardless of his, the artist’s, intent. i liked this.

There is always something in particular that hurtles me toward writing a poem, and i want my reader to be similarly moved. At the same time, everyone gleans something different from a poem. If that were not the case it wouldn’t be that one editor rejects a piece while another can’t wait to publish it. As poets we must allow that creative river to wash over us, spin us in its eddies, carry us to the sea. And with any luck, the results will speak to those who find our words.
10 oct 10

weaving words

As we enter the decade of ailing parents, swapping stories, wondering what’s next, some of us find ourselves less prolific with the pen. But the muse lives on, waiting to place her hands gently on our shoulders, be it from a favorite book of poetry, music we’ve too long not heard, or the joy of seeing a poet pal come to town to share his words at a local reading (thank you, Brandon).

Speaking of readings, i often think of Claire de Lune and the amazing Tuesday nights we had there hearing (and hanging with) some of the best poets around, some from across the country (or across the pond), some from our own community. Several of you have connected with me recently on Facebook (a world i have mixed feelings about), many of you i long to find again. There are times i imagine myself returning to Claire’s and bringing poets together once again. But that would mean leaving the Northwest and i do love this place. And besides, what’s that they say? You can’t go home again? So for now i simply dream, slowly weaving together new words that will one day become a tapestry i can share with you.
24 aug 10

don’t blame the ugly mug

don’t blame the ugly mug is the title of a poetry anthology featuring the work of poets from SoCal and across the country who have graced the stage of the Ugly Mug Café (Orange, California). Ugly Mug Café is home of a 10-year weekly poetry reading hosted by Steve Ramirez and Ben Trigg (who call themselves ‘two idiots peddling poetry’). It’s a major achievement, this anthology, a labor of love, and yours truly is honored to be one of more than 200 poets included in the collection. Thanks to Steve and Ben for all their hard work!


cruel memory’s stubborn resolve rises & falls
like incantations      you ride the pitch & tone
through nameless days.

i could tell you the course of a river can’t be changed
but you’ve seen his face in its quiet reflection
felt the pull of shifting streams.

some days you are the strength of those currents
others lost in their fickle eddy knots in your hair
too long uncombed.

it matters not if it’s water or song      this swell of chants
unlikely visitations       only that it brooks your sorrow
of those last days when even your love could not save him.

you tell me you’ve been where the river once flowed
banks alive now with black-eyed susans      how it’s their spring
not yours     how their hollow eyes hold your gaze.

innocence long buried in unmarked graves, you ride the rapids
of an uncertain future. as for love     there is less of it now
but more need; even the poets have lost their way.

• • • •

Published in Spillway #13 2007
Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash

prayer beads

quiet as the dawning sky, i sit
anticipating birdsong, unsure about the sun.

this stillness, my pilgrimage.

at memory’s pool
i kneel, drink in your visage
mindful not to disturb the surface,
alter the spell with even a ripple of need.

you leave gifts at my door —
bits of song;
slightly faded photographs;
pages torn from an unfinished manuscript;
untitled maps.
i cannot decipher them without you.

i have caught you like rain on my tongue
released you in beads of sweat
returned to the quiet again and again
to light candles, burn sandalwood
remember what i know.

in pools of light i hold your words, a rosary,
feel your desire in the smooth roundness
of each bead, cast prayers of strength,
wait for a sign.

• • • •

Published in Magee Park Poets Anthology 2009
Photo by Marco Ceschi on Unsplash


past & future tango through the hours
of a father who soon won’t know my name,
mother in stage-four reprieve.
this cadence of crises plays
in the background
like an old 45 on repeat.

in the quietude of morning, foghorns hold me
like bowed notes of violin & cello;
i stand mute within an opus
of memories; past & future tango by.
coda looms in the wings.

this year finds spring pushed aside
by an aging winter’s arias of snow & ice.
these long nights at a cold window
evoke years syncopated by estrangement,
tempo of anger & silence, rest & repeat,
past & future’s blithe tango through our lives.

soon the seasons will settle,
as did life between us.
i will say the things i need to say,
those things i’ve told myself will lure songbirds
back to the garden.
those things that will let me
place an LP on the old turntable
& tango effortlessly into tomorrow.

• • • •

Published in A Year in Ink Anthology 2013
Photo by Rafaela Biazi on Unsplash

pas de deux

we sit, poem between us,
debate the power/virtue/use
of first-person & third. you seek definition,
want to hold these words closer,
know them     know me.
table between us, we sit
as if on separate shores
try to gauge the river’s depth/temperature/current,
what it might take to reach the other’s shore,
prevail the eddies,
traverse the stones
without losing balance
or direction
or each other.

• • • •

Published in don’t blame the ugly mug anthology 2011
Photo by Kazuo ota on Unsplash

body language

a tart wash of sun streams through the double paned glass
summer’s inconsolable push
like a child’s desire.    a pat   a hush   not nearly enough
to quell fear   want.  
empty echo     early morning reverie. 

’neath a rising tide of silence   scratch of pen to paper: 
commiseration of ink and sweat about the cost of a single step. 
these vain attempts to dress wounded hours 
expose the frailty of language 
while regret eats through the day like acid. 

this acrid spell    burden of expectation scraped raw
each bend    stretch    a reminder 
simple poetry of sinew and tendon 
lost to the confused grip of past and present
the innate way fate twists meaning. 

what’s unwritten has different value   lessons 
embedded in cells like rings within mighty redwoods
hidden save for the cut of the logger’s saw
— but who could translate    wood to paper
strength to vulnerability

it’s all a foreign language now

• • • •

Published in Anti-Heroin Chic, February 2021
Published in Magee Park Poets Anthology 2008
Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash