Sample: The Only Time There Is

winner of the 1994 First Series Award for Poetry sponsored by Mid-List Press

Sample Poems


When I lay curled inside my mother,
like a little hieroglyph,
I know she moved

with an obverse grace,
feeling the first dark
tuber growing.

When I shifted, I sent concentric
circles to every inlet
of her body.

I bobbed like a plump apple.
I scissor-kicked, danced
the intermittent boogaloo

we homunculi do when we hunger
beyond sustenance
for pure release

and the seductive light.
She told me years later
I became such a presence

she would search her face daily
in the oval mirror
for some sign of herself.

She assured me I did my best
to yerk and sock
my way out,

then twisted like a slick fish
in the bright net of light.
My father swears

he heard my bellowing richochet
one floor down
and along the corridor

as he sat sweating through Life,
July 4th pinwheels
palpably rising from the page.

Now I see him clearly:
shirt pocket stuffed
with fat cigars,

suddenly inexplicably terrified
by what he’d set
in motion.

Glancing again at his watch,
the perfect circle
strapped to his wrist

harnassing his blood and mine
at the starting line.

ON MY DEATHBED (a love poem)

Because it will be desperation’s
greatest hour, I’ve been practicing
for the day I’m finally alone–
the last cold tray wheeled away,

the heart machine’s blue blips pulsing,
my nose stuffed with tubes,
the respirator breathing for me
so my lungs can shut down slowly,

gradually board up shop . . .
I’ve been practicing to bring back
(below the clot of pink clouds
outside my last window) three men

and a small boy fishing, a full moon
bobbing like a cork in the water.
I will have my father reel his slack
line in again, laugh with the men

laughing at what they’ve become:
muddy cold husbands holding empty
stringers. And as my wrist fills with
the IV solution, I’ll try to will

my dad to search through static
for a ballgame floating in from somewhere,
miraculous, the radio again crackling
like a tiny fire; and with me in that room

will be a girl I loved, beyond sense
and understanding, who dared me
on the hottest day in July to slide
my crewcut through a wrought-iron railing,

my head growing tumescent in the heat
and stuck there until local firemen
and three high-school linemen pried me
loose. I’d do it again just to hear

Irene’s sweet laughter trail off
like tiny bells down the street . . .
And in that room, sitting around me
on the hard bed, so close I can touch

them, will be Emily Dickinson,
Dostoevski, and Mark Twain launching
great halos of smoke. And because I am
rehearsing this moment before the instant

when will becomes artifact, I know
there will be stupendous snowflakes,
tumbling circus snowflakes that flitter
down to touch me, an exfoliation

I will lift through, then drift out
of the room. I’ll rise in sunlight
until lightning flashes from every creek
in Kentucky, until, even higher,

your voice (wife, inveterate lover) spins out
and threads around me, a conjured net
holding me there, a last breath-beat,
while unimaginably far below

the waters of the earth roll out
their gorgeous blinding copper sheets.