This poem is about staring out into the water in Lisbon with a dear friend around the time I first moved to the Continent a few years ago, wishing I could create more understanding through art.

Porto de Lisboa

The shoreline shunts contemporalis—
realist rocks rolling out to impressionist waves
before pointillist glints disintegrate into disjunct houses.

This is how the stories that can’t be passed on
get caught, snarled between their bearing minds and times, and beyond.
Buoyed away in bits from the farther shores of others’ hearts.

This is the port where artists work, in the not knowing
how to, with the, and then, although, perhaps.
What voice, which strokes, whose ship can carry care home to port?

The water points, laughs, holds; forgives, forgets, laps.
It is always, my love, the ship you tried to keep from open sea
that sails because it must, farther and freer than before—

carrying with it currency as well as cargo,
ready at last to spend the penny you have heard singing
all this time at the bottom of your own well,

but not yet flung up and tossed out to the world, to us, to me.


Waiting for Wind and Trains

This is a poem about being in a liminal place and waiting for your instincts to guide you.

“Waiting for Wind and Trains”

My hope is a kite.
Its string goes limp.
Still I can feel for the wind.
Wait for its turning.

Late in the day, in the calm afternoon’s climax,
when the sky’s cerulean blue cools to cobalt
and many trains have come, some of them our own—
you can rappel instead of flying,
walking down the clouds like so many paths
to unlocked doors. The air warms as you descend,
the world welcoming you. Do you know what I mean?

I mean to wait
until things are
lift is in force,
and taking off
just happens on its own.
You will know
when to go
because it is
a not doing.
To float not fly
is the greatest high.
We watch the birds
to know from their arrows
when it’s time to go.
They do it
every year,
without sensors
without degrees
without calculation,
knowing more in bones than books,
never getting trapped in clouds
or tripping from looking up
after a taste of sky.



Tech Inc.

Be a lily, don’t toil or spin—
that’s the way hackers break in.

The clicking you feel
when one piece gives way
is like the thought on a walk
when you know what to say.
Words you weren’t searching for flow.
The solution to the problem you weren’t solving,
when you stop hacking at it, can come and go.

The lock is never picked.
The cylinder does not know open
does not know closed.
Locks never lock
never unlock
don’t open
don’t close.

Only doors
and only when you make
an in and out
only when you fall alone
in the forest of a wall.

The problem does not know solved
does not know stuck.
A spinning coin does not know its last flip
does not change its luck.

And I know it’s easier for some
like relaxing into feeling the cylinder’s way
but speaking to me is sometimes like
a cylinder in a door
never the right words
never the wrong words
only the speaker opening and closing
finding out as she goes what for her is locked
checking door by door
feeling click by click
listening to hear if the pin has dropped
if the spinning has stopped
trying not to try so hard
to unlock
not the lock
not the door
but her own entrance
and exit.


Painting on Southbank

This is a poem from the time I had left the U.S. with a backpack and was Couchsurfing London. Medically underweight from eating one meal a day on dwindling credit and not able to legally work or apply for public funds abroad, I went to paint by the Thames one day and got to have an interesting conversation.

“Painting on Southbank”

“Those are nice paintings. Do you sell them?”
A stranger with his friend asks with a grin.
It’s cold but beautiful under the bridge.
I’m hungry but I’m happy, and my smile lets them in.

“Well thanks, I guess I’d like to”—my unarmed reply.
“That would be a crime and we’d boot you,”
plainclothes security’s gold-toothed reply.
“What’s the threat that responds to?”

I can’t help but want to know.
“It’s the damn Gyps running cons here,”
says the one scratching below.
“So you kick out artists for fear of thieves?”

Quietly packing up my things
as the argument’s shaking begins.
London loves barbed wire and guards—
the England of my dreams in shards.

But while the Parliament burned over the Thames,
Turner sketched and painted gems.
When his specimen grew old,
Fleming paid heed to the mold.

Ours is a time of fire and of rot.
Time when the weird ones are needed,
get to use what we’ve got.
No time to mourn what it’s not.


Is It Allowed

to be so happy without working for it?
I am not suffering anymore.
I made no great success, settled no great score.
I am just me at last, without performance.

You get it, who have struggled with conformance.
If you can keep the yoke, you can have some prizes.
But they all require you keep up disguises.
Father, if masks free men to tell the truth,
why did they cage me in my youth?

I hardly knew myself when I was acting,
replacing every wretched role with new refracting.
All one wants at that age is to see,
to speak and move invisibly,
observing, not unnerving—to become deserving.

It’s shocking when I hear younger friends now,
how much their insecurities were mine. They don’t allow,
without insistence, that this too is age,
the role you can’t leave though you move about the stage.

That it is always the case
we think we are lost
and must pay a heavy cost
just to live
until Time fluffs his feathers, taps with an olive
on the screen-door of the soul
saying “You must let me in now. You are whole.”


Thoughts and Poems on #MeToo

This fall I blogged a Mary Oliver poem, “The Fire,” that is germane to #MeToo. I mentioned that  I couldn’t get behind the moment despite being in it along with everyone else. That remains true for several reasons.

One of the reasons #MeToo concerns me is that we are living in a global surveillance state, “social media” companies are surveillance companies, and a lot of people, especially vulnerable young people, gave up a lot of intimate information thinking it was to “friends” when it was really to these state-allied corporations. Taboo-smashing: good. Kompromat: bad. No Institutional Review Board worth its paper would have ever approved research asking the things people routinely disclosed, under the terms and conditions that these companies tend to handle this data. Facebook especially knew this, had an ethical duty to inform users of relevant risks, and was silent. Their legal duties in this context are an open question. (As mentioned in a previous post, I recently deleted my Facebook account.)

The longer poem in this set is about a completely different reason #MeToo concerned me. Namely, that there is no win. There is no winning a sexual harassment complaint in academia or in most workplaces, where complaining usually results in retaliation. There is no win in criminal justice. There is no win in restorative justice. There is no win in any conception of justice I can conceive. So #MeToo directs limited attentional resources toward an area where there is no win, putting the #MeToo speaker in a victim role with no obvious, empowered exit. This role can have significant psychological, social, and professional costs. One could argue the speaker was already there; but only privately, not publicly, and that matters.

Of course it is brave to face one’s vulnerability for greater good. Of course we must deal with the past so we are less likely to repeat its mistakes and patterns. Of course we must talk about sex and power. But I think in addition to very real and political privacy concerns—as well as due process concerns others have covered—something that has been missing from this conversation is a recognition that humanity must live with (most of) its monsters. We are incapable of solving the problem of evil, without becoming what we hate. So we have to love, if we want to nurture what makes us human social and political animals instead. And that has been missing in the pain and anger of the outcry, as it usually is, for completely understandable reasons. But people who heal get past that—once they are in the black cognitively and emotionally. And I hope society will, too.

“In the Black,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 


“They Too”


Not by pain
and not by pleasure
but by reliving
at your leisure.

So harsh at first,
and then more gently,
feel the thirst
to understand—
the agony,
to take no stand.

There is no win
in crying sin
to blue bishops with guns
who murder black sons.
They rarely believe you.
More rarely prove what’s true
for the value of proof
that for us too remains aloof.

Nor in asking a friend
to bring things to a talking end.
Monsters rarely apologize,
can’t look you in the eyes,
and are only men after all.
You might make them feel small.

If they were to apologize,
do you imagine the pain dies?
Words don’t undo deeds.
Pain creates needs.
From simple cruelty, complex misery.
But weren’t you always jittery?
No one wants to pay
for a pre-existing condition,
or has much to say
when he knows damn well
he didn’t have permission.

In a perfect world except for this,
where you are a rich princess
and he is a bum,
it would be dumb
to go after him for damages (savages).
So it is that only you have the gold
to fix your own cracks.
A powerlessness tax. Old.
Get out your kintsugi glue.
Forget him. Do you.


All you can do
is reinvent the wheel,
puzzling out what you think,
how you feel,
until you know what’s true—
and then you know what you have to do.

You are not performing surgery on that scar.
You are only ripping your own skin ajar.
You don’t have to do it.
Scars don’t make you unfit
to live among others—
our scarred sisters, mothers, brothers.
They too are going to need someday
to simply put the past away,
and fail, and try again.
And fail better, worse, and better again.

There is no other way to live
and no point in dying young.
My love, that is the saddest mistake under the sun.
Wait awhile, whatever it takes.
Time does heal. Put on the breaks.

There is no better way to forgive
than accepting there is no win,
accepting the ones who sin
share this world and we can’t change that.
We too do wrong;
that is a different song.

We are not gods, nor should we wish
to wipe the earth of those who miss
some steps in how to live
among others
without always having their druthers.
It is no harder than that
although it is not easy.
Easier if you can love.
No one demands that, below or above.


So wipe your face on the snotty matt,
leave your crossed and snarly old black cat,
don’t beat yourself up for looking back.
It happened and it happens.
We walk on when we can,
and choose to fight when we might win—
choose to take a different stand.

Last night I wrote more in my dream
that disappeared with morning light.
I see you. I hear you. Me too.
These defeats are bigger than they seem, I know.
It is because your body has this sacred gleam.
Its simple needs and joys can be most you
can be most used
can cause such fright
when so abused.
But the same might
can help you let it go.

There is no other way
to say no
than saying yes.
It is not said.
But you must find a place
where it feels right
to lift up your dress.
Run fast and far
until you can run no more
and at last rest,
quite accidentally,
on the right chest.
Stop hiding in shame
your beautiful hair, your face, your breast.


It is not popular to say,
but they too need a way
forward to live.
It is not a gift
you must give.
Nor one you can withhold.
You don’t have to see him as a child
to feel part of the same wild.
Look at the crazed animal’s tired eyes.
Maybe being evil’s getting old.
There is no mending what was done.
We will wake under the same sun.
Look away. Breathe. Move on.

Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 


“Start from Starving”

I want to start from starving—
clean, with no touch of man.
Foraging for oysters and berries,
rising with the light,
drinking lake water and night.
My skin and bones will shine
with no softness and no shame.
And you won’t ever touch me again.


The Reverse Antigone

This is a poem about paying the price for prioritizing justice over rule of law—dislocation by truth-telling.

“The Reverse Antigone”

Given a choice between law and family,
she chose family and death. What loyalty.
But I have done the reverse Antigone.

Tho you could say I wanted only
what she wanted. Lonely birds,
not leading but leaving our herds.

Everyone must break away.
Under enough strain, no stone can stay.
The spirit spits, startles its demands.

Breathing justice, not a book of rules.
Messy story, not spouting stands.
Faithless lovers, not faultless fools.

Sure, I’d rather have a standing city.
I’d rather have a standing army.
Not this choice between truth and home.

But I, too, know the king’s decree.
And I’m going to bury
who I’m going to bury.


In and Out of Memoriam

Hedy Lamarr fled, and so did I—
the lucky ones left, still wondering why:
Whistleblowers welcome here, not there.
Refugees starting over, everywhere.

Hedy Lamarr fled, and so did I.
A bird sings in Berlin, kisses the sky.
He tells the truth without fear or desire.
When I try again, I feel a different fire.

Hedy Lamarr fled, and so did I.
Without a plan, or a kiss goodbye.
Flitting somewhere new to sing loud and free.
Will the world listen? To you? To me?

Hedy Lamarr ran right into her life.
Made new, imperfect love from strife.


Nothing to Hide

Recently I left Facebook and Twitter. No better time to post this lovely poem by Gerben—along with these gouache paintings I made re-reading it before dawn.

“Nothing to Hide”
By Gerben

I don’t have anything to hide.
But I have something to lose.
I don’t want to lose
my freedom to hide something.

Whether I have something to hide
depends on who’s looking.
And whoever that is, or will be,
I can neither foresee nor control.

My loss of privacy
is another’s gain in power.
Where our data accumulate
this power will concentrate.

I thus claim my right to hide
not for myself, but for us all.
As data come to dominate,
the question we should contemplate:

To be a subject, or a citizen?



The Reasoning Tree

After William Blake. H/t Rose McGowan.

I had a tangle in my head.
I had some tea, and went to bed.
When I awoke, a tree had sprung
where before, confusion stung.

Its branches flung out pros and cons
in lattices of rights and wrongs.
And I rested in its shade,
my decision all but made.

I had a tangle in my head.
I wrestled with it, full of dread.
And ripped out its seeds to sow
all around my bungalow.

Soon I was walled in by weeds
from too many idea seeds.
Reason quickly grows surreal
unless I first ask how I feel.


One fish two fish dead fish new fish

Just when I thought
there was nothing more to say
about the past—

that placeless play
the protagonist of which has no place
in this world, cannot be located in psychic space—

and that I let fly so many times, far and away,
like a sedated bird collapsed around my neck,
come to and hot to migrate—

just then she boomerangs to my heat.
That must be it.
If I could just cool down,
she could get on with it,
fly on for good,
instead of coming back to roost—
just when I felt so safe and warm,
just when my brain could process the harm and move on.

Instead the broken surface of time
bubbles back out unbidden again—
not with the old ones, but yet another fish
hopping up from the water of the past.

And the albatross
collapsed around my neck
wakes and flies, ravenous,
to scoop up again and again—
one fish two fish dead fish new fish!

Each time the bird of prey
flashing from dead to starving
in an instant that insists rest was a lie,
she was always bird-dogging on the sly,
now laughing with her happy, hungry cry.


Cut It Here

This is a poem inspired by finally getting my soft, brown hair back years after being frightened into changing my appearance.

“Cut It Here”

Until it’s grown out
so you can order:
“Cut it here”—
it seems not your own,
like dyed and damaged hair.
You can’t see where the lines go,
like a messy ball of yarn.
With just a thread and needle,
it’s impossible to darn.

Maybe, you think,
it’s someone else’s job to do the work
of sensing what can go,
and what is more than just a quirk—
what to snip off in the sink,
and what is essential flow.

You know better.
Now that you can feel
your own, natural softness again,
and see your own, brown down;
now that you can pull it back
into a ballerina bun again at last—
you can tell the story better,
and leave it in the past.