Best Left Silent

There’s a screaming inside my head. I know it’s me, but of course that doesn’t change anything. It’s funny, how people always talk of that dry, analytical part of you that just watches while your world caves in. Always the writers and the poets and the psychologists can say that to you in their smiling voices, honey rubbed along a wound, but they don’t know that even the ones who watch can scream. Oh, God, but they can scream so loud that nobody hears them.

Once upon a time, I woke up in bed, and saw a crack of morning coming through my curtains. Two hours later, it’s impossible to summon the fascination that a chink of light can throw you into, especially when those hours have seen you burn your reserves of goodwill for the day. After all, smiling takes so many less muscles, doesn’t it? It’s far easier on the face; not even painful compared to trying to look neutral when it’s facing you across the kitchen table as if the sunlight means something. Nobody really notices a rictus when you’re drinking coffee.

School isn’t bad as these things go, which they do. The corners of your eyes get a lot of work, naturally, and you can spend a pleasant period spying out a teacher’s sad smile: that mouth-up-eyes-down flicker that manages to lose itself on any other wayward charge. It’s not limited to the masters and matrons of wisdom, heaven knows; you know the look social services have perfected, the one that wants to help you, child, but stops just short of moving the body in any meaningful way. As long as she knows you care, you’re allowed to comfort yourself with thoughts that a girl doesn’t make her real friends ’till university anyway, and a cup of tea can solve all her problems. Bags, though, not tea leaves – too bitter for children and adults alike.

The vastly superior Garden wins a battle with the television to hold sway over time and inattention, though each one clamours in it’s own way. After all, one could watch gardening on TV, but there’s always the chance of your father coming in, and laughing at the fat smiling men leaning on spades and talking about how to sow seeds in your own back yard. He has a very loud laugh, my father, and very strong. It makes his stomach wobble up and down, as if he were breathing very fast, or hard. Or both.

Trees and bushes offer shade to fit the mood and a paradise for the scuttling beetles and centipedes, chased in and out of sight by every innocent child you can still summon to mind. Most of them look the same, though none of them look like me anymore. It’s surprising how sad that can feel. Hemlock and nightshade grow up against the far wall, lustrous green and purple providing too fine a trap for many a poor cat, intent on stroking their lithe, slender bodies though every patch of the poison they can find. It’ll make them sick eventually, of course, but for now they look healthy enough.

The sun slides away taking the sunset with it, and a million yellow streetlights spring up for those of us defenceless enough to miss her. They can’t quite make the dust motes dance the same way, but they shed enough light to cast faint shadows on the walls, until a real shadow comes to close the curtains, and leave them that way. I used to be afraid of the dark, like most children, but I had a father who would stay beside me for a while, until I discovered how misplaced my fear had been. I outgrew it, but he’s always been there when he needed me.

I’m not afraid of the dark, anymore, and I’m not afraid of the nightmares, it’s the waking up from them I don’t like. Screaming out in the dark used to bring them running, but I don’t do that anymore, not even when he’s already there. After all, why would you make life more complicated than it already is, when you can scream inside your head for hours and hours and be sure that you will never have to stop, that you will never have to breathe hard or fast or smell the hot humid air all around you, no-one will ever see, no-one will ever hear. No one will ever know. You can try and sit vigil by the streetlights until the sun saves you again, but not even they are witness to the things that bump against your life in the night. Cry for me, if you feel like, if you think your empathy can bring me some pity I don’t need, but don’t leave the light on. No one will ever know. Don’t leave the light on. No one will ever know.


Shards of Memory

The light steps of John O’Malley sank into the thick, muting cushion of snow without the faintest snatch of sound. The flakes settled softly in his wake, swirling flurries of a gentle blindness, slowly, sweetly tucking away all slips of sound in the deep caress of forgotten dreams. The late hours of evening had yet to pass over the day, and O’Malley’s worn leather soles, peeling and brown-black from the snow, halted their steady procession, paused, and settled their weight firmly to both feet, as their owner craned his head, one hand subconsciously clutching an old tweedy hat to his head, as he stared, squinty eyed through the snow at the large, red “Condemned” letters spelled out across the cracked and dusty windows of the old building. Marked out against the expansive white banks, the fresh new sign peered out from the midst of swirling snow flurries as a trace of unwanted color, in a world comfortably black and white.

A stray, still form in the midst of bustling bodies, collars up to the chin, cheeks flushed with cold, eyes beady and black, O’Malley painted a queer picture in the middle of the shabby street, an oddly clear figure frozen in time, surrounded by the grey-blurred outlines of rushing passerby. Stepping closer to the building, the sound of his own footsteps crunching in the snow seemed suddenly more solid, and, as he pressed a weathered hand to the frozen bricks of the towering old Grand Hotel before him, a shiver ran down his spine, an empty echo sounded down the street.

Hours, or perhaps minutes later he still sat, hunched against the rough stone wall, his patched, wet coat drawn up to his ears, his once fine face paled with the cold, tinged blue around the eyes and lips, pale blue eyes sunken deep into their sockets, fine wrinkles the only outline of what had once been. He had placed his hat before him, weighted with rocks to keep it from being blown away, and as he sat half in, half out of the world, a man who had once opened doors to him dropped a coin in his hat without looking at him. O’Malley remembered that man, the superb quality of his tailored suit, the look of respect in his eyes, the way his eyebrows lifted in barely concealed surprise, the quirk of his mouth as though unsure whether he was permitted to smile. But perhaps it had only been a dream after all…the days of golden arches , of strings of pearls wrapped around swanlike necks, of glittering jewels presented for his, the largest, grandest parties, the awed whispers of his hotel, present under even the most insincere and same-standard cordialities. Black Thursday as it was called had shattered those dreams…or begun them, for reality now faded into sublime, and sublime faded away with the snow.

The next morning an irritated demolition worker leapt angrily from his crane to see what had caused the delay, cursing as he pushed through the small crowd of workers around the condemned building. He stopped as he saw a man curled and small at the base of the old hotel, and paused. Soon however, the crowd dispersed, grew disinterested, resumed their tasks, and with the aid of a couple fellow workers, the body was hosted unceremoniously down an alley way, and buried in a makeshift grave of snow. As the building fell in crumbling ruin, and the carefully crafted might of the hotel crashed to the ground, empty echoes streamed down the snow-muted streets, lost on the ears of the deaf-toned passerby.

Symbiotic Summersaults


when the planet does


and your words slash my





I, in the fetal position,

feel the blood beat

in the skin beneath my ears.


A hand touches my back and,

like IV leeches,

we remain


A Thousand Martini Hours

Working and sweating in the afternoon sun,

Old man joints aching and creaking,

Dust floating up and onto his old jeans,

Remembering a thousand days out in the heat

Working and thinking

Of the past

And towards the future

And now, in his own garden,

Picking the crops they’ll eat tonight,

Corn and peas and carrots and potatoes,

Wrestled from the ground,

A thousand dreams and memories,

Held like water in his worn hands,

Dots of moisture on bald head and gray hair,

A few hours work in quiet apprehension,

Before strain is laid to rest in brown sofas

Gin is poured and that angry juniper taste

Flows down down down the throat fast and hard

Good breath and subtly worsening speech

Just like the last night,

And every one before that,

As far back as he can remember,

He’s melting into the brown sofa,

Old and content in his home,

Unlit fireplace in front of him,

Thinking and reminiscing,

Till night falls down and carries him with it

Into ancient dreams


Fresh thyme souls mingle with chives and serve

Sweat-gears spinning, basket weaving, stars overhead


Song of the Spirit

You are pure fire, expansive light. To sculpt, to
create art, you have to remove extraneous material, leave some marble
or wood behind to bring forth a jewel, but nothing should be extracted
from you. You are as complete as a seven-colored rainbow.

Suppose God left you in a forest with peridot
trees, mountains of ochre rock, gold veins running through the rivers.
Suppose God asked you to create something from those elements that
would honor nature. How could you? Paradise doesn’t need art. I
can’t describe the man who is beyond a flower. No thorns, no dirty
root, not even petals with their brief vitality, only perfume
spreading over the plain. On this day, I send you searching through
the garden for the flower that I cannot narrate, but must conjure.
Imagine such a flower. Imagine your grace.

—from a letter to Murphy

* * *

“Oh Heavenly Father

looking up from roses and birds on the sixth day

to make every soul deliberate, every tint perfect,


certainly I should have come to earth.

I am not a martian the color of celadon seared to ash by the love of a none-too-prudent sun.

I come from the dust of Adam, too,

the rib that is Eve,

I am your child, too, God,

certainly!” I imagine you prayed.

“God, there are only two plants recognized in this world:

dark balsa, light hibiscus wood,

and in their branches are the letters, the maths,

and even your sacred words.

God, not in a garden under the gaze of a cherub,

but in a marshland scented like gumbo,

school and church are forbidden

to your Creole children—

black in blood, white in appearance,

vandalized of heart.

And I know that I live in a town of Creoles

who run out their night-hued siblings,

but God, I did not make the town, nor the school, nor myself, nor the world.

Maker, render me safe.”

* * *


there is nothing like the incontinence of tragedy:

the horses of autumn and spring fleeing,

dragging their bullion, russet, lilac, bronze, blush,

(future in fear of the sadness)

and the sulphorous flaming ghost of what might have been

raising its one tattered wing in the night.

So life removes its brassiere

and drains all of its milk to the soil

with neither pity

nor restraint.


Daedalus is author of Icarus’s fall

and Noah curses Ham and all his kids.

My father is crippled,

so I lose the letters and geometry of life.

At twelve years old I am condemned to the fields

and poisoned by canes of sugar.”

* * *

You converted brown sugar into lone star dreams,

took your youth from the fields and cradled it in your hands,

and carried it across the southern border from Louisiana to Texas,

spun it among the wheels of a delivery boy’s bicycle and flew.

Spirit of fruit (lovers of the sun,

globes the colors of various roses

knitted with assorted medicines and strengths,

lore, aphrodisiacs),

you, the guardian of fruit, I address,

delivery boy not yet a patriarch

too smart to be the courier of bulbs,

sent to New Mexico to reign over cantaloupe operations

and discover the magic of Spanish.

French, Creole, Latin, English, Spanish,

patron of fruits and tongues,

splendor the hue of rose beryl,

with eyes of celestite.

Brother to fauna,

summers pass and orchards grow heavy a dozen times,

now you own the fruit you sell,

superb entrepreneur,

and eggs (the magic of beginning!),

and vegetables (the fortitude of men).

Mythic man,

those who work for you later take the Hippocratic Oath

inspired by your light.

Mythic man,

how do you re-cook your client’s once-cooked Cajun turkey

un-cooking the original cursed cookery?

Mythic man,

so wise

Ph.D.s treasure your advice.

Mythic man,

the spiciest crawfish and the most luscious boudin,

superlative delights you sell in your store,

and under your eyes there is no shame in a client’s food stamp.

Mythic man,

friend to each client,

saint on earth.

Spirit of fruit,

man possessed by the sweetness of life.

* * *

Boys can carry his name throughout millennia,

yet Ann is the sacred child.

More the daughter of Terpsichore than Rose,

your wife,

she sings and dances all her waking hours.

Your reflections mingle in the lake water of Conroe

no definite place where daughter ends and daddy begins,

yet at fourteen she manages to loosen herself from the brambles

and leave behind the fruits of the earth.

Her sickle cells doom her to a journey

past the lake’s playful blue,

more like shadows-dropped-in-the-catharsis blue,

blue like a glowing mirror,

like a hymn sung in the sea catching on to the first veins of sunlight

leading home.

* * *

Spirit of fruit,

after diverging from your thorny Rose,

you interlock your limbs with my grandmother, Dear.

You re-christen her Cookie,

to make her your own

and your world is the span of her heart.

Spirit of fruit,

to love again,

to inherit two daughters from your new queen

and a baby on the way.

Yes, I am coming to be born

to chart the courses and mark out the xylans,

to record forever the horticulture,

regarding the Spirit of fruit.

* * *

Here is the thing that I must know,

Spirit of Fruit,

student of life, nourishment, sugar,

what is the plant that grows inside of you making you so kind?

You weep, as Joan of Arc Wept, as warriors weep,

but not for the loss of an empire or a lack of world to conquer,

but because for you the world is torn if you see one person suffer.

Grandfather, woven from compassion, splendid beyond belief

teach me where to scratch the earth,

where to furrow, where to till,

teach me where I might find the seeds,

to grow your heart in me too.


Old withered tree

Gnarled and knotted

Towering to unreachable height.

Lifeless branches climbing—

Escaping their host’s unhappy fate.

Hangers clinging precariously to each branch;

Clutching their precious cargo.

Such cargo—images!

Images of places, of persons, of ideas

Scraps of cloth, of paper, of photographs

Attaching themselves like parasites to any available branch.

Below them, inching ever closer

With grasping, greedy hands

Lies a pool of quicksand, without depth

Swirling in a rapid and ceaseless vortex.

One by one, each item becomes absorbed by the overbearing sludge.

Every so often, one or two will resurface

Popping up for a moment, before it is jerked back down

To the unfathomable, murky world of Lost and Irretrievable.

The In-Between

There’s a time before sunrise

With quiet streets bathed in grey light

A time after dawn. Watch the world

Emerge from the chrysalis of the night

It’s a quiet time, the in-between time

It’s my time, the in-between time

With its in-between people

Some out too late, some up too early

Too tired to raise their walls

Shut out the world

Put on their masks

Or maybe they’re sharing, intentionally

This sliver of their life

This glimpse of their psyche


A cadre bound by being awake

Too early in the morning.

Science Class

The gravity of fact weighs down upon me.

Planets are spinning around in my head.



I hate physics class.


Giggling girls

Pointing Boys

I’m at the blackboard

Turning pink


I hate myself some days…

The days when I can’t

Seem to find the simplest solution

Like today…

Embarrass myself

Whoever said that the stupidest question

Ever asked

Was the one that was



Was obviously

Not in high school

When he said it.

I Slept in My Car on Madison Street

last night I slept in my car

and woke with the sun

like a farmer

but that the thin lines of rear-window defroster

were stenciled all over the view.

the world,

at least in this corner,

is still quiet when the sun rises,

quiet over the lawns and over the concrete sidewalks.

the few walkers-by

gave me sideways looks


they kept those for themselves).

“could he be homeless?”

“a vagrant? a hungover college-boy?”

they ask to each other,

hushed like death in their jogging clothes.