November 28, 2015


The day before, a student emailed me.  She wanted to interview me about a poem I'd published.  The poem talks about the death last summer of my father and my student, Chris.

She asked me:  tell me about your father.

And it's haunted me all the things I wish I could have said about him.

Chris--that was easier.  I didn't know him very well, since I knew him mostly in class, as a student.  I knew he had a special connection to Tennyson's poem, "In Memoriam," which I'd had the honor of teaching to him.  I knew he had a sharp intellect and a welcoming, sunny personality.  I'd not known the name of his boyfriend, his mother, his favorite color.  I'd known the essence of him, maybe, but not its many petals.

My father: there were so many of him to say.  The dad I grew up with, who taught me how to shave and how to tell the truth.  The dad who put others first.

And there was the man I didn't know, the person he was before he became my father.  The barefaced twenty-something who coached an all African American basketball team who escorted him nightly from the gym, against his protests, because he'd received threats.  The guy who owned a green Porsche.  The person who fell in love with a woman named Dora, for whom he converted to the Mormon faith.  The bad Mormon who drank whiskey and smoked pot.

The guy who took my mother dancing.  Who flew her from Indiana to Daytona Beach for their first date.

Then there was the illness that occupied his body for the last ten years of his life.  There was the meanness.  The racist epithets.  The cursing.  The fists balled up and swung at anyone who tried to shave him.

Which of these should I remember, which of these should I erase?

For which of these should I offer the most thanks?  Without one of them, I'd be missing some part of me today.

I mourned my dad in parts, though there are days when I grieve him, like today, whole.

January 5, 2014


I want to stir the river of the past, urge the silt up from where it is resting, surface it to light.

I want absence filled with grainy recollection.

Every poem takes the lost moments and rebodies them into something new.  Apply a little lightning, a little music, voila, the past lives again, new.

A few new year's eves ago, I was alone in a Spanish city.  No, I was not alone: I felt alone.  I was with a sonnet of people, 14 of them, each with their voltage of wants.  I was in love with one of them, though it was ending, had ended.  My grandmother was newly dead.  (That phrase, "newly dead," kept perch on my brain, edging closer and closer to the end of the ledge it wanted to throw itself off).  I drank and smoked and went out into the public square, dressed in drag.  Each of us in the cold, in a wig, wearing sequins and curls.  (I looked like Large Bo Peep).  And everyone in the square wanted our picture; cars slowed so passengers could properly capture us, their little beacons of joy.  We stayed up until 6am to watch the ball drop in New York City.  I was alone but on the edge of something raucous, something cheerful and welcoming, and it ostracized me more.

This year:  the two of us, in a house out in the woods, isolated, away from civilization, on the couch, his feet up in my lap, mine in his, looking like a human-infinity-symbol, spilling memories.  The quiet around us.  We should have felt alone.

But we had the whole world with us then.

Happy new year, unaloneness.  Happy new year Valencia, which was called City of Sands and City of Valor, but which I know as a city of memory, stowed on the shore, where the waves bring back all you thought lost.

December 14, 2013


The first semester at the new college is done.  I love new beginnings, the sound of an engine leaping to life.  The mind wrapping itself around and around the tree, blooming anew.  The gerund refusing ending.

What happened taught me I could live with my regrets, that they too would restart, rebound:  that they would redraw their boundaries, the country becoming smaller, or I am looking at it from farther up the mountain, from the helicopter, from space.  That rescue was possible.  That rescue was another country.

So, too, love.

Now:  two glasses of wine, a plush blanket covering the carpet in front of the fireplace, new music playing softly, the living room window slightly open.  The thin horizon of cold air lifting us toward some other place we are going toward, where we will arrive at the beginning of another story.

August 7, 2013

This Is What I Need

We were on a hotel terrace, smoking cigarettes, looking out over the Mediterranean Sea.  That endless blue, the sound of always calling.  He was telling me, "I'm in love with you, don't you see?"

We had loved each other once before, for a year.

I said You broke my heart, and he held me.  It was night by then.  

I said no for a month when he asked Can we be lovers again.  (A man loved me through a month of my nos).  I do not know which of us to blame:  him for asking, me for relenting.

Please, if I could only love him back I said to the invisible force that separates minutes from each other and makes them into months.

What happened in the twelve months after the terrace:  He loved me deeply and well.  It was almost enough for both of us.  

Now he's lost because he loved a lost man.  

I got so tired of failing him I can't forgive myself.  Now he's taking photographs of a life preserver, captioned, "Lo que yo necesito."  

You love something, you move closer to its light.  The heat melts your edges.  It feels so good after the cold southern Spanish sea.  The heat comes in waves, carrying you past buoys and breakers.  When you look back, the shore where you'd laid your shoes is a glimmering shoal.  It might as well be a mirage.  You become the thing you love.  You change, you mirror its form.  

When he said I need to forget you, his voice broke in a way I'd never heard.  

I could not say, But how will I remember myself if you go away?  

The harm I did him, green jagged glass in the sand, the only markers of the way back.

August 1, 2013


The life is wet clay in search of hands.

What will mold me.  Make me better.

Maryland is crazy for crabs, divided into two shores.  Mine, the eastern, is the playground of the yachted and summerhoming.  It seems to me less diverse, more redneck, more conservative.  It seems strangely like the home of my childhood, the sleepy town in central Florida.  

Am I home I wonder.  What circle have I traced back.  What chance will I be given to right the wrongs in my life.  

I have, you see, some regrets.

June 8, 2013

When I Get There

It's almost sunset in upstate New York. Subdued blue hour. The clouds in the distance seem to stair-step from blue to a hazy lavender. Distance looks real from here.

 Moving again; in a few weeks I'll be a Mary in Maryland. That's the joke I keep telling people. Or sometimes I say, puzzled look fixed on my face, "I wonder if they'll consider calling it Fairyland?" No one laughs, which means I am making them uncomfortable. They don't know how to reply, because of the gay thing or because it's just not funny. Both of these things amuse me.

Moving makes me feel like a nostalgic fortune teller. I keep wondering, will I be happier when I get there? I am ruthlessly discarding the little things that have clung to me. Why does that make me feel like the I I am is changing?

 I have been known to visit the places I used to live. What part of me did I leave there. Is it recoverable. Who painted over it, do they own me now, are they just renting?

 What I am I leaving here. What I am I leaving here on the page. What voice do I say it with.

 It's all boxed up, the life is measured in square cardboards, my rooms scrawled across them in permanent marker. Why am I comfortable discomforted.

 Hello from the little bridge, the between.

 I'm walking toward you, a grin on my face.

January 21, 2012

Arriving There

C.P. Cavafy, trans. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.