After Kelly O'Dell's 2017 art installation Remain(S)*



My father’s first grocery shop, where once

he’d stacked bushels of sweet summer corn,

rows of watermelon, and peaches by the peck

outside the shop door, with the bell that rang

crisp and pure as a prayer.



My childhood home, where once

blue hydrangeas and white honeysuckle

spread their roots beneath our front porch, and 

dripping swimsuits hung along the rail.

Spiders knit lacey webs that lasted all summer.



My elementary school building, where once

Peg Leg Bates tap danced across our creaky

gym floor, a wooden stump strapped to his thigh.

And when he jumped!—arms and legs straight out, 

he looked like a starfish shooting for the moon.



There, still standing in a distant corner 

of the schoolyard, the small copse of wild plum trees

where once, I’d slipped between the trunks, into their

shady circle to steer a pirate ship, fly a rocket

or let down my hair from the castle turret, calling 

to my friends, "Let's pretend...."



Overgrown, my once secret space gives me no entrance.

Along the tree trunks, glinting in the August sunlight,

amber tear drops cascade down the bark. I study 

the bits of black, flecks of brown inside each drop, looking 

for shapes of my past—a bell, a web, a starfish—

for something of me that remains. 

* Museum of Northwest Art, 2017


Remember when we skipped everywhere?

Arms moving like counterpoint melodies,

knees rising, pedaling air,
ponytails swinging, whipping our backs,
slapping our faces.
Bouncing along concrete squares
cautious to never land on a crack
(even on days we cared little for mother).
Skipping swiftly, our bodies lifting from earth, 
repeating that singular sensation, that beat of a second 
when we were suspended in space —
no longer rising, not yet falling.
So light, so light. 


                                               STAR 82 REVIEW


                                                      ISBN/EAN 13:  1499371276 / 9781499371277


HOW TO TALK YOUR WAY OUT OF A TRAFFIC TICKET       IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY                                                                         

And Officer, it was as if the tree reached out from the woods,

just there — do you see the slick of leaves and snapped branches?

And the rain beat down so hard the wipers wept


and my eyes stung with smoky mascara.  Sir,

the mascara — it’s not supposed to run. Why does everything run?


And that pine fence blew loose, blocking my path.

And the funeral, it’s started by now, and I’m not there, sir.


Lo siento, sir.  It’s getting cold. You have snow on your mustache,

sir. Yes, so easy to brush away — still, snow can smother a boy.

Lo siento, sir.  My papers must be here, buried in my bag.


Do you have children, sir? Niños?  You’re lucky. Perhaps

it was the mailbox I passed — with its latch undone. And I was wondering,

will the casket be open?  Do they do that here?  I was wondering,

will my son’s blue eyes still shimmer beneath his brittle lids? 






                                                                    ISBN-13: 978-1499708882








She hangs the gingham apron loose around her neck.  Frayed grosgrain ribbons edge three pockets.  Sewn in her youth and stored in her hope chest, the apron hangs low over breasts heavy as breadfruit.  She pulls wooden clothespins from a pocket.  Bites them between her teeth.  It is laundry day on the prairie.  She hangs her man’s clothes — lets them stiffen on the line.  An errant rooster feather clings to his shirt snapping in the wind.  She plucks it off and tucks the bit of red in her pocket.  She will tickle him with it later.




She pulls the butcher’s apron over her head. Wraps the ties twice around her waist.  Her white sheath catches drips of red as she lifts a tray of beef scraps.  It is hamburger-grinding day.  She pushes twenty pounds of cow through churning metal teeth, blends it into strings of red meat.  Smeared with blood by the end of her shift, she flicks errant bits of gristle from her chest, wipes the knives clean against her white thighs.  She will cash her check at the corner bar — lick white foam from atop a stream of beers and kiss any man with clean nails.






CATCH AND RELEASE                                                                           


Father’s thick fingers bait our hooks and cast our lines,

sending shimmying circles across the lake.  When

the ripples smooth to nothing, I sigh, as if with them. I am five. 


Dragonflies helicopter overhead.  My line jerks with my first fish —

too small to keep.  Father releases it — it’s mother-of-pearl scales glimmering

in the morning light, cold body undulating deeper until it disappears.


Shrimp carapace scattered on a white plate. I am twenty-five.

The difference between the wind in my hair and the wind on the waves —

nothing more than quarks in motion here or there.


Buttery fingers wiped on white linen leave the DNA

of ancient crustaceans.  On the table, a splayed lobster tail,

crab shells sucked dry and the diamond ring I’ve cast aside.


I slip from the room while this man who once seemed so alluring

takes a call.  Survival is a question of instinct, moving this way

rather than that.  Seeing the bait bag for what it is — an illusion.


                                                    MOJAVE RIVER REVIEW



Naming an Heir, a Parent

When I am four
     the universe is me and its name is Merna.
     Father’s sister behaves as if she too is
     Calls herself, Big Merna, says I’m Little Merna.
     I call her Aunt Me-Me. There should be no doubt.

When I am ten
     I add my middle name, Louise, to my camp clothes labels.
     When I say it aloud—it flows and feels soft as cloud names: Nimbus,
     Cumulus, Cirrus, Louise. One afternoon, laying on the grass,
     I search the shifting cloud shapes for Clara Louise, my father’s
     mother, sent to heaven during a great flu epidemic. Dad was my age.
     I think I understand since I too feel motherless at camp.

When I am sixteen
     I audition new signatures, cursively slanting letters forward,
     leaning letters back, always disappointed with the lack
     of flourishing lines. The loop of the “y” in Dyer longs for a companion.
     Like the actress Myrna Loy, I want two y’s that swoop and sway.
     If Clara Louise were alive, I’d whine in my best teenaged voice—
     Why did you name your daughter Merna and delete the stylish “y?”
     She (and I) are too glamorous for a pedestrian “e.” Why, why?

When I am twenty-seven
     my universe becomes my firstborn child. I take care to
     properly spell his Gaelic name S-E-A-N. No phonetics
     to assist the uninformed. How do I fail to see the irony? The ancestral
     burden given me now goes to him:

               Hi, my name is – No, spelled with an “e,” please.




          ISBN 9780988895331



Traveling slow as heat along the Dixie Highway

we pass bare bottom brown boys digging in dirt.

An old woman sits outside her one-room shack

fanning her skin, creased as dried mud.


Further on, a khaki-covered white man

sits atop a horse — rifle in hand.

Bound ankles shuffle, chains clink a dusty song

and twenty sweat-soaked black backs

bend, digging a ditch already dug. Across the field

a bright Georgia road sign promises

    Peaches Grits Biscuits Just Ahead



    White Only       Colored       

I am six — sunburned pink

I follow the arrow for Colored