Skip to content →

Category: My poems

POEM: Bongocero

Bongocero
(for Arturo O’Farrill)

the meaty slap of flesh on flesh
the pop of skin on skin
fingertips, the side of the thumb
legs a vice to hold the shells

the heart of the matter is a mix
of rhythm and freedom
of accompaniment and improvisation
of ancient order and modernity

then from the back of the stage
the trumpets kick in
and the bongocero drops his drums,
which fall to the stage with a thud

now it’s skin grasping wood striking metal
as the bell cuts through
the urgent stabs of the horns
and gives a lift to the dancers

gi-gi-go
gi-gi-go
gi-gi-go
gi-go

gi-gi-go
gi-gi-go
gi-gi-go
gi-go

Leave a Comment

POEM: The Menagerie

(Note: Jen and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary today. I wrote this for a previous anniversary.)

The Menagerie
For Jennifer

I remember the menagerie –
red ants, cockroaches,
a dog that stole underwear.
Horned toad burying himself –
at least, we assumed it was a “him” –
under the bush beside the screen door.
Lime-green geckos clinging to
sun-warmed stucco, cooling
in the desert evening.
Blue plastic bowls with the name of
our furry practice child.

I remember the meeting –
front-row seats at a round table
just across the dance floor from the band.
Hesitantly approaching two women
and knowing instantly.
Suddenly the sets were twice as long
and the breaks twice as short.
I’d hurry to put down my saxophone
and continue the conversation.

I remember the desert –
long hike with fast-beating heart.
Brilliant moonlight washing over the hills,
air warm enough for shorts
even in the middle of the night.
The swelling drone of bees as they
awoke to the Sonoran sunrise.
A horizon so distant that we could watch
the sun pour onto the land like thick honey
filling the mountains’ bowl.

I remember the restaurant –
heart in my throat,
ring in my hand,
one knee on the hard tile floor.
You said “yes” and applause drifted over
to our table.

I remember the train –
exhausted after semi-circumnavigating the world.
Comatose kitten in a plastic box and
tired smiles as the train pulled away from Narita
and headed toward Tokyo, then north.
No jobs, no place to live.
All the world before us.

I remember the trees –
white cherry blossoms flowering
outside the second-floor window.
Early morning sounds of
baseball
from the sunken field below.
Waking at night as the house shook and
deciding there was trouble just as
the tremor stopped.

I remember our son –
watching in awe as life emerged
to the strains of Nat “King” Cole,
the same sounds that joined us together
in the desert now welcoming our newest bond.
Walking down the hall where the
others waited and bursting into tears.
“It’s a boy.”
Crying again with worry in those
first harrowing hours.
The same emotions repeated three years later.

Mostly, I remember you.

Leave a Comment

POEM: It isn’t merely the fashioning

It isn’t merely the fashioning
of new meanings from the threads and whisps,
rather it is the intention, the

unsounded affirmation of a
relationship, woven into each
chosen strand and intricate pattern.

Pearls uncovered in the depths, the craft
rows back to shore, where it is met by
the warm wool and the gathering in.

One must take stock in it, and accept
the gift for what it is, speech rendered,
unspoken, as textile manuscript.

Leave a Comment

POEM: Luxury Hotel

Luxury Hotel

Room after room after room with no stopping, no let-up.
How many in a year? Five thousand? Six thousand?
The human body can only take so much.
So many liftings of the mattress, so many bends of the knees.
Then there are the chemicals, the solvents, the cleaners.
Scrubbing with your face right down in the fumes,
breathing deeply from the exertion.
Cracked skin, aching muscles, arms like rubber.
You can’t even lift your baby girl for a kiss.
Other people’s pubic hair, other people’s vomit and blood.
One time there was a man hiding in the closet.
He put one finger to his lips and told you to be quiet,
but how could you be quiet when there was a man in the closet?
So you screamed and ran and they gave you half a day off.
Another time you begged and begged for shoes,
the kind with the special soles so you wouldn’t slip.
After days and weeks and months, they ordered them
on the very day your head hit the tile floor,
the same day they cornered you in the manager’s office
and nobody called for a doctor, the same day
you passed out waiting for the bus and a passerby
took you to the emergency room. A stranger had to do that.
There are seven Dominicans and three women from Jamaica
and five Senegalese and one Vietnamese lady in the laundry
with no English who keeps to herself in the mouth of the furnace.
Eight hours, ten hours, twelve hours if it’s busy.
Then it’s home to cook and do your own laundry and help
Javi and Lisa with their homework. Make the lunches
for the next day. Shrink into the bed and fall asleep
to the throbbing in your joints. The alarm at 4 a.m.
Then it’s room after room after room with no stopping, no let-up.
How many in a year? Five thousand? Six thousand?
The human body can only take so much.

One Comment

POEM: Bookshelves

Bookshelves

All our bookshelves were made by our fathers,
crafted by calloused hands from woods
soft or hard, fine-grained or no,
fashioned in damp basements or dusty barns
on Saturday afternoons while Black Magic Woman
or Love Me Do played on what used to be the nice radio.
The bookshelves are, like all fathers’ creations, imperfect,
slightly wider at the front,
fitting some books better than others.
In one, there is a pair of hearts carved,
delicate filigree surprising
from a splitter of logs, a man of the earth.
The bookshelves are a framework, intended
by our fathers to be filled with thoughts
of our own choosing, maybe with a gentle nudge
from a “doctor of books.”
But it is we who must encumber the wood
with our own words, we who must choose
which volumes to stack or lean,
we who receive the hard or soft legacy
cast in simple wood by complex men.

Leave a Comment

POEM: Robby Burns’s Hat

Here’s my contribution to the memory of Monday. For more, read Dan Wilcox’s Birthday Poem, 2009 and his write-up of the event.

Robby Burns’s Hat

Crusty snow beneath our boots
as we watch a limber young poet
scamper atop the McPherson Legacy.

Once settled between Robby’s legs,
he takes the beret — the same one
they used last year —

and balances it on top of Robby’s head.
The last time, it was up there a week before
a less young, but no less limber, poet

found the beret at the base of the Legacy
and rescued it from oblivion, restoring
the cap to its place of honor twelve months later.

And so it goes, year after year, in honor
of the man who started it all, and who
made the trail through the snow that we follow.

One Comment