Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Histories of Houses

The neighborhood and city that I live in has many abandoned houses. In fact, the house I live in was abandoned until our recent renovation. I often think about the lives of these houses, their history, their demise. I believe in their resurrection. Somehow this poem took on more than I intended. My attempt at this week's topic, If these walls could speak...

Histories of Houses

It's 1900.
Row houses spring up
like flashcards in red brick
and link elbows
open their narrow doors to families--
who rush in with their lavender dreams
and cram the stoops
on warm summer evenings.
The whole city leans back
glimpsing the too blue sky.

The trees stretch tall and
the children have grandchildren
who skip to the corner store
for handfuls of candy.
They bring in formstone
to cover the cracking brick
and push back the years.

But then it's the drugs--
and the uncles fading
away to the grey streets
the stealing of the copper piping
from the shut-eyed basement windows.
That's when the leaving begins
the packing up of the station wagons
to drive to the suburbs to find a
new life

The grandchildren's children
glance over their shoulders
as they hustle to school each morning.
In art, they paint planks
with pinky curtains and
turquoise dahlias
to frame the many empty windows
For hope the officials beam

These skeletons--
sagging and leaning
hold the story of a century
and look at tomorrow.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Recipe

After a decade of take out
I had three cooking lessons
to unlock the mystery of
Indian food.

I held the salt in my hand
to feel the weight
tried to replicate the
heft of mustard seed
in the crook of my palm.
I hoped the voices of
Indian aunties would
whisper secrets
passed through generations
reaching across the continents
floating into my slick kitchen
breaking through the modern hum
of the silver dishwasher.

I want stories from
across the ocean
from the dusty fires
and the banks of the Ganges
I want the ancient pot
and the mortar and pestle
dented and nicked.
This is the magic I need
added to my airtight
tupperware and shiny steel pot.

I will never have this.

But I can reach a fingertip
across the geography of the world
and learn the taste
of one small village.
I'll carry it home
like buried treasure.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Unraveling

Bria is peeling off her skin
in strips, like an orange
from the tip of her index finger
across the canyon of her palm
scattering the refuse across her desk
like a thin curl of pencil shavings

That the skin can come off
with just a thumbnail is a puzzle
it is all that connects the insides
these muscles, bones, veins--
the very center the very heart
could tumble onto the floor
if this gauze disappears

One more layer and there will be
a prick of blood waiting, she convinces herself
this will be her smoky red earth
her something strong her something
good this will be her root
she digs like a child looking for China

there's not one scarlet drop

All this fragility
this is all we have

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Emerald E.
is tall like a streetlight
on the corner
with squinted eyes
he looks at you
as if
he could take on
the toughest
guys on the block
his pride
wide as all his
thirteen years
hugging thin ankles

but there he is
slouched at a desk
reading the diary
of a girl on the
Oregon Trail
whose grandfather's
dead body
washed down
the Mississippi

the lost fathers
and grandfathers
reaching across the prairie
across the century
piercing through time
to whisper their message

You are not alone.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Poetry Thursday: The Granola Bars

They hide in the closet
as all-purpose sustenance

for empty bellies
in the morning,
to calm nerves
before the test,
for the field trip
when the bus
might be late

Many a day
I hear
my stomach hurts
and we always try
a granola bar
before the nurse

usually it works

It seems a small token
hardly enough
to cover up
the thousand reasons
a child might
start the day

Such a fragile
offering, a crippled
tool that will never
be the mortar
any person needs
to stand tall
over time.

At nights I dream
of muscular strength
and magic wands
that could change
the crooked wrongs
of this grey world

but at daybreak
my only slim powers
are granola bars

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Vote

I walked two blocks
this afternoon
through crinkled leaves and
old litter, past
shut-eyed houses and
faded murals
to a worn
community center.

I know the many things
that no politician
will ever change
in one election cycle,
they clatter
against my ribs
on a long, thin chain.

I do not expect miracles
from any of these
flesh and bone men.

But on a day like today
when the nation
stretches with wide palms

I left my vote
on the table
and a spiky hope
followed me

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

On the Hazards of Securing Tylenol

Could you check Teya out?
I asked the camp nurse
I think she's just homesick
but want to be sure.

This was the same nurse
who I had gone to
a day before
asking to hold an asthma inhaler
for Angel because she was stressing
that she didn't have it.

Nope Ms. Nurse had clipped
The doctor didn't check this box here.
In an emergency you can call me and
I'll zip right there.

It's a good thing Ms. Nurse doesn't know
about all the inhalers I have in my desk
for a variety of students
which were given via parent
rather than checked box.
I tried to roll my eyes
without Angel noticing.

101 Ms. Nurse pronounces
and begins to call up
the three page medical form
that parents had to fill out
before children could
enter the camp.

I was feeling a little bad
that I'd misdiagnosed
the homesickness and was
about to return to the rest
of my flock when the assistant
said, Just hang on, so we can take
care of a few things here.

So they call her mom who isn't home
and move on to her grandmother.
I'm going to fax you a paper to sign
Ms. Nurse Assistant is saying
so that we can give Teya some Tylenol
do you have a fax? (no)
could you go to the school? (no)
At the grandmother's suggestion
Ms. Nurse Assistant solemnly asks,
Will you sign the sheet? Are you okay with that?

Um yes. It's TYLENOL!
If I had some with me
I'd slip Teya a pill now.

But I don't
so I sign.

Next, Ms. Nurse Assistant
must call the doctor to get permission to administer the tylenol
I wonder why they are paying an RN for this job
when you can't do anything without making a call.

This takes approximately 25 minutes
of calling a clinic, getting disconnected,
being connected to the wrong person,
and waiting for human contact
while I eye the cabinet and calculate my odds
of stealing the tylenol
and giving it to her myself.

But finally, the verbal consent comes through
350 milligrams Ms. Nurse says.
And if her fever doesn't go down,
I can't give her anymore.
I think she's probably going to need more than that

To me,
this is the hazard of living
where we have too much
when there's a little girl
with a simple fever and we can't just walk
across the room, to solve the problem.

We are in the land of plenty
with every resource
sitting on the shelf
for action.