SPEAKING IN TONGUES
I wish I could converse with you.
But my tongues get in the way.
One tongue to lie.
One tongue to tell it true.
One tongue to curse.
One tongue to shout.
One tongue to whisper.
One tongue to sing.
One tongue to scold.
One tongue to tap.
One tongue to feed.
One tongue to swallow.
One tongue to spit.
One tongue to taste.
One tongue to hold.
One tongue to slip.
One tongue to pray.
One tongue to praise.
One tongue to lash.
One tongue to stutter.
One tongue to command.
One tongue to pierce.
One tongue to bleed.
One tongue to torture.
One tongue to gag.
One tongue to protest.
One tongue to blame.
One tongue to joke.
One tongue to tease.
One tongue to stick out at you.
One tongue to silence.
One tongue to name.
One tongue to greet.
One tongue to mock.
One tongue to recite.
One tongue to still.
One tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth.
One tongue that cannot form the words.
BACHELOR OF ARTS, ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO (1997)
MASTER OF ARTS, PHILOSOPHY, UNIVERSITY AT ALBANY (1999)
POSTGRADUATE RESEARCH, ENGLISH, DUKE UNIVERSITY (1999-2004)
Merry Christmas to the believers
if you believe Jesus could fix this mess
but I’ll take the gift anyway
I couldn’t find the Christmas Star
lost as a Magi, I searched for the holy one
You could say the Star is two heavenly bodies kissing
but now Jupiter and Saturn must be tested
Back off! Six feet from this poem! It germinates
The fallen snow returns skyward as vapour
I don’t dare breathe it in unless masked
They thought vapours caused the Black Death
now we face Black death on the regular
Not only nature causes plague
it’s poverty, slavery, war
I apologize for my Christmas poem
it’s been quarantined a year
not used to being exposed
it wants to know if truth’s contagious
Not sure to whom to send good tidings:
or the being born?
I don’t think we’ll ever be the same
Funny, as a child, I had
gifts candy song
I wished for peace on earth
and oddly, my wish didn’t come true
My Christmas dream returns
wrapped in red-stained fur
stomping on the rooftop
The Yule log burns brighter than a holocaust
Hope is on a ventilator, breathing its last breath
The ward nurse
as we take our
nightly psych meds:
a good night.”
December 25, 2020
Published in Trolley
A journal of the NYS Writers Institute
When his supervisor walked up, he was busy scraping chewing gum off a library table. Pink, blue, and green blobs were stuck to the underside. He used a putty knife to pry off the dried, rubbery goop. He imagined taking one of the globs and chewing it before throwing it into the bucket. Would it still have a hint of blueberry or wintergreen?
His supervisor interrupted his progress along the long line of tables against the library windows. The supervisor had prosthetic metal legs and looked as if she was about to topple over. Most of the workday the supervisor spent in the office downstairs, texting. No one was sure how the supervisor lost her legs, and he didn’t want to ask. He had to stop his rhythmic scraping to listen to what the supervisor said. He could tell the supervisor didn’t know his name because she obviously didn’t read it off the small, oval patch sewn into his shirt. “Roget, I have good news. Time for you to take a vacation, old dog.” Roget wasn’t really his name, and he wasn’t an old dog, he was only twenty-three.
He didn’t care that his name was misspelled. He liked the name Roget. ‘Roget’s Thesaurus’ was also written on one of the books in the library and that made him feel smart, like he had written something important. When he took the book down and tried to read it, though, he was confused, because there was no story about a dinosaur. He looked for pictures and wanted to know who Roget was and how he came to own the thesaurus. Unfortunately, it was just a book of words. Pretty senseless unless you had a lot of free time to read a book about words, which he now had since his supervisor was making him take five days off. Five days he would miss cleaning the library. There were shelves to dust, bathrooms to clean, gum to scrape. Who would vacuum up the stray leaves that blew in from the outside when the automatic doors opened back and forth every time a patron entered or exited? Strapping the portable vacuum to his back, holding the nozzle in his two hands, he pretended it was a flamethrower and the library was under attack by deep state agents who wanted to steal all the books on 9/11. He would smoke them.
There was only the supervisor and him to clean the library and the adjacent town hall. The supervisor couldn’t tear herself away from the phone. It seemed like the supervisor was always frantically tapping away on the phone, perhaps arguing with her boyfriend, or girlfriend. She did have very short hair and muscular arms. What was Roget going to do at home for five days alone? He had one friend, Big Ray, but he and Big Ray only got together every once in a while to watch the bass tournaments on Sunday morning television. Big Ray lived in the village with his wife and two kids, Little Ray and Regina, and drove a municipal truck and was usually too tired and broke to go out. Roget’s only other companion was his pet frog. The frog ate lots of worms and Roget had to go out at night to keep up the supply. Roget would pound the ground with a stick and worms rose from the muddy floodplain of the river. He would hold twenty or more at once in his hand in a tangled ball because he liked to feel them squirming in his hand. It tickled and reminded him of his mother circling her finger on his palm when he was a boy. There was only so much time you could spend with a pet frog, however entertaining that frog was when it would sling its tongue out of its mouth, stick a worm, and suck it back into its waiting mouth.
Why couldn’t he just tell his supervisor that he didn’t mind losing his vacation days? If not, maybe he could hide in the library at night and somehow sneak out in the morning. Then he could clean until midnight with the lights out. He’d run his rags over the spines of the books that reminded him of the vertebrae in his mother’s back when she lay dying from lupus. It may be dark and awfully quiet, but he could replay the sound of the school kids as they came in for their afterschool programs, laughing and teasing one another. What would he do for five days at home but watch cable news and fear for the future?
He went back to scraping gum. He picked off a black piece that might have been mixed with chewing tobacco. It smelled like a teenage boy’s sleeping mouth. He remembered the smell from when he was a teenager, when he didn’t brush his teeth for a couple days and he would catch a whiff of his breath when he rode his bike across the village, picking spare bottles and cans out of his neighbor’s trash. In five days and five nights, he could return to the smells of freshly shampooed carpet and deodorizer. He will have to tell his supervisor about the friendly librarian who says, “Morning Roger,” and then goes to the bathroom to vomit up her breakfast. The toilet will need to be cleaned every morning.
Published in Flash Fiction Magazine
THE SEA HAG
Raíz lay down, in a black burqa, on the white sheet. From above, she must have looked like an abstract painting, a single black brushstroke on a white canvas, or like calligraphy. The sun radiated out over her in a massive golden spiral and the light turned the water into undulating waves of molten glass. Yet, she stayed cool.
She felt the sheet raise up and hover above the water. The sheet wanted to fly, across oceans and continents, back to her homeland. The sheet wavered there above everything like her son’s kite caught in jetties of wind or like the one recalcitrant cloud in a clear blue sky that passed overhead the last time she visited her husband’s grave.
But the sheet did not have a direction, or a place to go. War had claimed her home. Left a ruin. Not a destination: a void, a devastation to avoid, to circumvent, a site indescribable. These no places dot the earth, eventually absorbed back into desert, mountain, or jungle.
Her origins were nowhere and her past nothing. That is why Raíz filed a false name and fictitious papers, identity weightless as the floating sheet which set her back down on the beach. Raíz came to the beach to fly. It was her favorite game. Only her burqa kept her tied to the earth with its grave colors. Otherwise she would become the sky’s ephemera, a particle of dust, a solitary seabird.
She thought she heard the faint voices of children coming down the beach. But it could have been an echo. She should leave behind the possibility of flight, of weightlessness, of freedom from grief. This oceanside town seemed as good as any. Tomorrow she started as a teacher’s aide. The school children would keep her son’s memory alive like a wick for a candle flame. Maybe Raíz could unveil her heart, unwrap it like the icon of a saint on its holy day. Her heart was clotted with love and she feared it would stop up from grief soon if it went unexpressed.
A gang of boys came down the beach. They were running and singing. Four almost identical tanned, tow-headed boys from the oceanside town all about age eight. As they came closer, she heard them chanting, “Sea Hag, Sea Hag/Washed up on the beach/Watch little children/Beware her evil reach!” They ran up to her one by one, chanted the song and fled back to join the group. She rose up. She was a furious, regal Sea Hag. The wind off the water waved the loose material of her burqa like a warning flag. The boys took off running, laughing, and screeching like evil sprits who appear out of thin air to torture the lonely and helpless.
She wanted to grab them and shake them. How could they be so cruel? Why would they taunt her? Hadn’t she been teased enough by guards and smugglers, by government workers? Now here? There was only so much she could take. At the same time, she did not want to become bitter and hard as the Sea Hag. That is what the boys thought when they saw a woman all dressed in black alone on a beach, that she was an unwanted crone who had never felt the love of a husband or the affection of a son. She started walking away and left her white sheet there.
The next day she started at the new school as the art teacher’s assistant. She wore a black hijab. Her task was to prepare the materials for the students’ art projects. She set out paper, paints, brushes, pastels in all varying shades. She took out each pastel and tried to find the one to match the color of her son’s eyes, but she would have needed to blend the blues and greens together to recreate them. The color of her husband’s eyes escaped her. She could not remember his face before it was torn open by mortar fire. Now all she could see was a devastated one, blasted, burned and blood soaked.
A boy came in. It was one of the kids from the beach. He had been crying. He also had a scratch across his face. She had some time to talk to him.
“What happened? Do you remember me?” she said.
He did not want to say anything because he thought he would be in trouble for teasing her. Earlier, the gang of boys had realized she was the woman from the beach because of her hijab and that she was going to be the teacher’s aide. They met and tried to come up with a plan to get her fired. But Xavier said he was going to try and befriend her. They hit him and told him if he got them in trouble, they would hurt him even more.
“I’m Xavier,” he said. “I wanted to say I was sorry. I saw you on the beach and you looked sad. We were watching you from the dunes and we made up that rhyme. I didn’t want to do it, but the others are stronger than me.”
“Xavier, I forgive you,” Raíz said. “When others convince us to do something we do not want to do, we become like the sea creature you sang about, one who is lonely, scared, ugly and destructive. That creature can look like you or me or the other boys. It lives off fear and silence. You are like my son who was not too scared to stand up to evil, and I am proud that you stood up to the others. That makes you brave. We need more bravery. We will go up to the boys together and tell them what they did to you and me was wrong. We should confront the creature when we can.”
Raíz and Xavier went out into the schoolyard to face the boys. They held hands as they approached their grimacing faces. The boys could not run this time.
Published in (mac)ro(mic)
SUBMITTED FOR POETRY PRIZES
Burrow your twenty-seven thousand
Razor sharp teeth into mold-spotted,
Deplete leech-like, mollusk, ’til
Leak metallic filaments from a corroded heart.Noteworthy Night of a Minor Poet
Sleep unsound in a soundless room.
Insomniac. Cocooned in darkness.
Blankets redolent with befouled nightmares.
If unconcious, no satisfactory dream-ending.
Spectered happiness flies after one wished, spirited kiss.Noteworthy Night of a Minor Poet
Would’n give up ’til I won the fight fought.
Took up this pen. Sought a new thought.
If this time for real, I really don’t blow it,
I might even make a damn fine good poet!Mongrel Doggerel; A Tragi-Comic Ballad
My strongest Fish.
A Species of Happiness.
The Spawn of Wonder and Joy.Gone the Birds and Fishes
FREAKS OF NATURE
CHAPBOOK EXCERPT – CURRENTLY LOOKING FOR PUBLISHER
They screwed me
In like a
Light bulb. Zap!
Exponential energy flowed
Through me, blinding
A dim anonymous
Star, my filament,
Burst into flames.
Small slivers of
In the walls.
Luckily for them,
The Experimenters, they
Left at the
Start, observing through
A two-way mirror.
Otherwise, I’d have
Flayed their faces
Off willingly. After
That brief, but
Intense, fiery solar
Spent, fatigued, speechless
I switched off.