At Peace

Her face shrunken,
plastered into a restful seriousness,
wears an expression it never did
when she was alive.
I see no promise of her being at peace.

I can picture the tiny head
of my chameleon, Deacon,
his eyeballs bulged against
the lids that wouldn’t open
as hard as I cried.

Staring at his belly,
counting each breath.
His colors changed from
bright green to brown.

She brought me a blue box,
Anthony’s Jewelers written
on top in sprawling golden letters.
His tail wrapped to his head,
Deacon was laid to rest.

We both wore lipstick to the funeral,
her fancy shade of sunny mauve.
Then under our willow,
she said a prayer for
his precious lizard soul.

Now, her face fake and orange,
the sunny mauve matches
the casket lining too well, I notice,
as I lay my hands
on the shiny mahogany box.

Doing Time

He’s locked up
but you’re the one in chains,
anger binding you.
After everything he’s stolen
all the hurt he’s caused
all the second chances he’s squandered.
The audacity to ask for commissary.

But you see him lying there
on a dirty twin-sized mattress,
trying to lose himself
in the worn pages of a Grisham novel.
Rowdy gang members arguing and
throwing things within inches of his face.
Cellie bragging, his old lady
got him some rah-man noodles.

Your tears fall
knowing those noodles could mean
his belly is warm and full,
that he is loved.
But that cracks the door open
and soon a dollar becomes thousands

And when he screams,
I’m not asking you for anything!
You almost believe him.
But then the anger comes back
to wake you up,
protect you.
It says
I don’t care!
 did this to yourself!

Then you see him clearly,
clean sheets
plenty of food
spending his days like a retiree
playing cards games and
watching Judge Judy.

Do Better.

In the 80’s
Our dads, cheek pressed to ours,
showed off his newborn for the camera
while cigarette smoke curled around
his overgrown mustache and into his baby’s eyes.

Now we know better.

In the 90’s
we used dozens of syllables to justify
the uninvited advances
of our overly excited colleagues
when “assault” would have done just fine.

Now we know better.

On the eve of 2000
we all held our breath,
divided in our belief of whether
the world as we knew it was about to end
when the clock reset to double 0.

Now we know better.

And now, we watch the oceans rise,
icebergs replaced by fatbergs.
We live through droughts and poison our water,
expecting Earth to heal herself.

As our angel laureate once said,
Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.

So, what’s our excuse?



My head barely covers
the worn halo on your chair
where yours used to rest.

I can see you here,
your hand on your chest
counting the last beats of your heart,
praying for God to take you home.

You lived so gently,
let me sit on your knee
until my feet could reach the floor.

Your wide farm hands
were strangely soft, covering mine
as I drifted to sleep
in the sound of your heartbeat.

I am Me

Are you your father’s daughter?
Are you your mother’s son?
Are you the oldest in the house?
Are you the little one?

Does Grandma call you “baby doll?”
Does Uncle call you “bud?”
Do you like to keep your boots real clean
or splash around in mud?

Are you a funny giggle box?
Do you like telling jokes?
Are you a star out on the stage
entertaining all the folks?

Or would you rather just be quiet,
spend free time reading books?
Will you try almost anything
your mom or daddy cooks?

Are you tall or very small
or somewhere in between?
Do your eyes look black as night
or maybe, are they green?

Do you rise up with the sun,
or stay up with the moon?
Are you a calm and patient soul,
Or does nothing come too soon?

When someone asks you who you are
or who you want to be,
Don’t be afraid to smile and say,
“I’m happy to be me!”

Adventures in Potty Training

I’d read all the books and had tricks up my sleeve
I knew she would do it if we’d all just believe.

The neighbor boy was trained starting at 1.
His mom told me, straight-faced, “Don’t worry, it’s fun!

And you have a girl? Oh yeah, what a snap!”
But I’ll tell you one thing – She was so full of crap.

We started with “boot camp,” then stickers and charts
Bribing with candy – each one a false start.

Pull-ups, bare bottom, or fancy underwear,
She went where she wanted, she just didn’t care.

“What’s wrong with you?” I’d scream. “You’re almost 3!”
“Seriously, Mom, who cares where I pee?”

(Ok, this isn’t word for word
But basically, that’s what I heard.)

Then one day, I’m inspecting a wrinkle
When from behind me, I hear it – a tinkle!

“Baby! You did it! This is more than sublime.”
“Yeah, like I said, Mom, all in due time.”

Enough (part II)

Your bald head fit perfectly in my palm,
and the first time you opened your eyes,
you saw me.

I had just awakened from a dream
I’d been having my whole life
to find that it was true.

It was you.

My world tilted to meet
the lazy lean of your head,
and I used my wrist as your neck.

You yawned,
the jet-lagged yawn of birth,
not yet knowing what it is to be awake.

I watched in wonder as you slept,
your first real breaths
an imperfect rhythm.

Nine months of doubt
were cast away in a moment
as my knuckle brushed your velvet cheek,
and for the first time,
I trusted myself not to fail.

Enough (part I)

I hold your bald head in my hand,
your cheekbone pressed against my palm.
I wipe away the line of sweat
from where your eyebrows used to be.

A new sun begins to creep
through the blinds.
We made it through another night.

I tear yesterday from the calendar,
knowing the ripping won’t stir you
from your drug-soaked sleep.

The calendar marks the 20th day
of many yet to come
away from home, retching in your sleep,
fighting in your dreams the
relentless cells the doctors call “cancer.”

If only one word could summarize
the relief I wake to when I see
your chest rise and fall.

Your ring doesn’t fit anymore.
Your fingers swelled exponentially
as your legs began to atrophy,
so I brought a picture of us at sunset
the day we took our youngest to college.
It will never grow too big for the frame.

Your friends call, say How is she? and
When is she coming home?
My optimism chokes me, and I cry,
if I can, when I’m alone.

Dear Brother

The bike sale ended on your birthday,

and we both knew they coudn’t hide it from me.

Pink with sparkles, a horse’s mane of colors

streaming from the handlebars.

You taught me how to ride it that day –

took off the training wheels,

and held onto the banana boat seat

while I pedaled with twitching legs.

Running beside me, you guided my steering.

You knew every crack and bump on our block.

You loosened your grip,

and as tears rushed from my eyes,

I pled with you

not to let go.

My handlebars wobbled,

you smiled,

and through wind-flooded ears I heard you say,

Keep going. Just keep going.

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