When I Talk to Trump Supporters

It is like setting down a water glass in the dark
missing the ledge
and watching it crash at your feet.
Like anticipating that extra step which does not exist
and hitting the floor.
Like opening Pandora’s box
but instead of pestilence and hatred
it is empty.
You reach in and scoop out
with clutched fingers
and find only riddled-out insides
like abandoned honeycombs or
teeth gorged with cavities.
Lifting the cover on your boiling water
to find it’s all become steam.
What have you fought for,
where is the real you thought you’d clung too,
where are the armies you thought were at your back
to turn the tide,
to patch the wound,
to rouse your spirits when it seemed you might
fade away to smoke on the battlefield.
When what you thought you were protecting was a beating heart
and you thought you knew the red of its flesh
and the folds of thin muscle
and the sound of it,
slow thuds, faint whispers,
but it revealed itself to you as nothing more than
ash, than blackened bones about to crack,
than rusted chains you cannot break,
than something dead which small insects have begun to worm their way inside of.
How can you stand for something when
there are creatures which eat the floor out from under you.
It is preaching to jackals,
it is the renunciation of god,
it’s the collapse of concrete walls
and kneeling in the rubble
and wondering where the worth
in your conviction was.

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My Mother

This is a poem about my mama who is beautiful and talented and smart and determined and totally ridiculous. ❤ Happy Mother’s Day!!

She is powerful.
She might not look it at first.
Like her daughters
she is many smiles
and fluttered laughter.
It is hidden,
saved for when it’s needed.

She is like the ark –
nice to have around,
undervalued til the flood hits.

Her daughters are
bundles of white-hot emotion
that leap out like
untamed sparks
and she weathers their tempest
till the sea calms,
often sheltering
a stranded sailor or two.

She is balance,
bridled creativity,
flighty logic,
softened truth
and sweetened fibs,
the first to crack a joke
and the first to crack at the task at hand.

She is assertiveness
she was not born to,
carefully-channeled authority
that had to be melted down
and hardened again
like steel in the blacksmith’s fire.

She is prepared with questions
but still often taken by surprise.

She is adventure
close to home,
journeys found in the backyard.

She is finding the beauty in something small,
she is sentimentality,
she is framed second-grade paintings on the mantel
but also knowing when it’s time to throw
an old sketch away.

She is holding on and letting go.

She is beautiful,
the sort of slow-blossoming beauty
like coal becoming diamond,
like a bird that never truly sees
the vibrancy of its own wings.

And she is laughter,
she is humor,
she is finding the smile in something so mundane
anyone else might have passed that pebble on the road
but she had to stop and kick it
and her daughters must now do the same.

Quick to feel and sometimes bubble over
but it’s tempered by
a wisdom
and that ever-elusive ability
to tell someone “I’m sorry.”

She is contradiction
and sliding scales,
she is rock and water,
she is Dao and academia,
she is kaleidoscope emotion

but always
unwavering love.

Writing a Poem

There’s nothing worse than poetry that tries too hard.
How pretentious is that of me to say?
Like pretentious wrapped in pretension,
pretentious squared,
but there’s nothing worse than
“I’m a jackrabbit cartwheeling on a unicycle into
high speed tentacular futuristic pluralism –”

Whoa.
Slow down there, bud.

Words are pretty for the sound of them
lovely for the truth of them
pleasant for the way they roll from
one consonant to another
but they are not pretty for their crowded
or their race-to-the-finish
or their “how far away from meaning can this
cluster of syllables be”
“can I stretch this string of gum until it breaks”

Stop forcing it so much.

The law of matter states you cannot make something out of nothing
and you cannot pull what is poetry from thin air.
It is translation, transmutation,
combination,
it has to come from somewhere
that is sliver-true.
You take what you love
and you dance around it
in frenzied circles
till like hitting a bell
you finally strike at something
resonant and pure.

Tapered Joyful

Your words are razor edges
but I take them like they’re rose petals you scattered on my bed.
We’ve all got our tricks for getting the blood stains out.

Happy is a full-time labor and sometimes that means
gripping thistle by its thorns
and pretending it is dahlias.

A job is the thing you do to get paid
but work is the thing you put your sweat into
and steady your breath for
and clean up piles you are scared to touch for
because once you start you cannot stop
you do not know how to break things into pieces.

You do not know that the path is made of stepping stones.
While you’re busy on-the-clock you are
collecting dimes measured in minutes
but you are also working double-shift
as you whip your tired animal
who struggles with his plow towards
happy.

Do not mistake the flower boxes by the window
for the warmth of the kitchen;
what is manicured outside
is sometimes ravaged within.

I am fortress-strong.
I am Troy.
I can stave off your hoplites for years on end,
hundreds need be;
it’s the things that get inside
that will tear me down.

Refraction

Sometimes I feel like I’m
all glitter and sparkle
and I’m just slowly absorbing
all the little details of the people around me.

Sit next to them too long and their
old family sayings or
the way they toss their hair or
the way they lower their voices telling a joke or
the way they cling to the ground with their toes like it all might fall away
becomes imprinted on my body
like a stamp,
unsolicited tattoos,
a permanent addition to my reflection like
a freckle or a bruise.

My dress is full-length mirrors
or maybe it’s jell-o that
shakes and jiggles but
when people touch it with their fingers
they leave little bumps and prints
that won’t go away.
I’m a scrapbook collecting up
all the little pieces of the people
that have come and gone;
their ticket stubs, lipstick stains,
empty coffee cups, beer bottle caps.
You can read me like
the story of them,
weaker where the presence
of a high school friend has faded,
stronger when my sister visits for the weekend or
I spend the day in the city with
an old college classmate
I’m just all bundled-up
reflection,
struggling impressionist,
flounder bedding itself into the scrabble of your ocean floor.

I’m sun bouncing back
because I can’t resist
trying out your light.

I’m diagnosed with a disease
that lets your personality leap like virus
and it clings to my cells
and becomes just another little piece of me
like wood splinters
breaking off in your skin.

Chameleon Skin

Sometimes
just when I feel I’ve finally made a home of my own body,
I meet someone so brilliant-blinding I think
“this is who I need to be.”

And maybe that’s okay,
maybe it’s all right I’m always changing
and shedding loose skin,
trying on new selves like clothes
to find out which fits best.

My first year of college I exchanged
whole outfits
but now it’s just pieces;
bangles over beads,
boots instead of sandals,
and maybe it’s okay
that I’ll never be quite comfortable
in my metaphorical wardrobe,
that I’m always searching the racks
for something better,
something tighter or looser
or bolder or camouflage.

I’ve worn skeptic and cynic
and while they cloaked me confidence
maybe it’s time I open back up.

I’ve tried tragic, victim, damsel,
and while
they made me feel poetic
maybe it’s time I try strong.

I’ve tried hardened, callous, stone
because I thought
the people who’ve hurt me
should get hurt back;
but now I think forgiveness
is the jumpsuit
waiting in my shopping cart,
the one I’ve been too scared to buy
because it’s such a hard
ensemble to pull off.

I want to feel beautiful no matter what I’m wearing,
but I know some colors won’t complement my skin
and some styles won’t show off
the favorite pieces of my being I want to be seen
like my shoulder tattoo
and my bottomless laughter
and my capacity to be kind
which could use a good flexing
because I’ve been keeping it dormant
since I mistook it for a weakness.

Maybe it’s okay to have chameleon skin.
Maybe shape-shifter is fine.
Maybe to take a few steps back –
try on childhood skorts
or mom’s old saddle shoes –
is permitted
as long as it’s followed by a few
sturdy leaps forward.

Maybe change is okay,
and progression is key,
and we all outgrow
favorite sweaters we’ve worn holes through
and sometimes it’s all right to feel
a little out of place
or just a little bit imperfect
because what knocks us off-balance
is what keeps us grasping out for something more.

Sorry I Pronounced Your Name Wrong This Morning

So I’m a substitute teacher, which means I’m constantly having to walk into a room full of kids I don’t know and read their names out loud and of course sometimes I mess them up and I always feel a little bad and they sometimes get pretty upset and thus springs this poem. 

Sorry I got your name wrong reading the attendance list.
Sorry I got your ee as an ah
and sorry the class laughed
although neither of us found it funny.
Sorry I reshuffled the grouping of letters
that’s been
synonymous with you since birth.
Sorry I used your first name, Samuel,
somehow painful to you
for reasons that are hidden to me
and will never be revealed and
you prefer Jake.
Sorry I couldn’t take context clues and realize
India, S R I isn’t sree it’s shree
or China, your x is sh
and all those little sounds
and beats
and pronunciations
that make up the label of you.
Sorry you sighed or rolled your eyes
or angrily corrected me
because this is the hundredth, thousandth time
someone’s misrepresented,
misread the most straightforward symbol
of identity
in a place where it can be so elusive
clawing to be formed.
Sorry I cannot look at your name on paper
and know you,
cannot read your history with my fingertips
on the ink of your surname
cannot feel your mother or your father
or what your front lawn looks like in that
conjunction of consonants and vowels.
Sorry I don’t know you and you don’t know me
and when I leave all I’ll be
is the one who got you wrong,
who looked at you
and spoke the name of a stranger
and asked that you raise your hand.