Monday, March 29, 2010

So You Want to Edit An Anthology

This week I am a guest columnist for Ruth Ellen Kocher's blog, If you've ever been curious about the glamorous world of editing a creative writing anthology, check it out.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Blue Like an Orange

La terre est bleue comme une orange.
(The world is blue like an orange.)
--Paul Eluard

I am riding the bus
with a pumpkin in my lap--no pass
or pocketbook, no notebook, map
or keys. I only hold the pumpkin,
a perfect size, not so large
I have to stretch my arms
to keep it in its place, but not so small
that it could roll or bounce beneath the seats.
I wear a dress the color of lettuce, iceberg
to be exact. I like that it is scalloped
like leaves around the hem. I have no plans
for my spherical squash,
no thoughts of pie or lanterns,
salted seeds or soup. No, no plans at all.
I look out the window with something like interest
though there is nothing to see, no foliage,
no fences, no birds or bustling men,
only a sky with that light
peculiar to October,
light like a golden ball
sunk in a deep blue pond,
this gold so blue so bright it wavers,
common, strange, unasked for grace.
Little kids behind me
sling their bodies across my seat to Ooh,
you've got a pumpkin! Oh, can I
pet your pumpkin? Of course,
I say. Of course. I continue to stare
at the sky as these children--strangers to me--
touch for the sake of touch. Somehow I know
the bus has turned yellow, that yellow
only buses can be. I sit
with the sun in my lap.

Temp Girl on the 91 Olive

I watch ants swarm about on the sidewalk
locked in mathematical fury,
a maze of imperatives
wobbling around a chicken bone
nearly as thin as their legs.

From my eyes, fifty-eight
inches away, the bone looks picked pretty clean,
shines like a stick pin of pearl,
but there must be some treasure
I cannot see, some miniscule morsel of gristle,
some scrap of sun-baked fat.
We all have our reasons for living.

I step up to the bus
and hear a soft crack--
feel it more than I hear it--
look under my heel, see marrow
and something like feathers,
filaments really,
waving in a breeze
I hadn't even noticed.

Next morning, I step off the Olive,
pull my name tag out of my purse
as the ants climb around inside the bone
scaling those brittle, arid canyons,
in search of oases of grease.

A Midnight Smoke on the Porch

I can see why no one really wants to give this up:
the tongue burning as though with wisdom,
the tongue that feels rough as a cat's,
the fingers that gesture with controlled flame,
a daydreaming conductor in the night.
It's an excuse to spend seven full minutes
staring at the moon.

Just me on the stoop, a little maudlin.
I imitate how you used to hold your cigarette.
I can feel in my body
when I borrow your gestures
how you must have felt then, young
and sexy in your thrift store finds,
your mod gold velvet,

coffee and cigarettes at three a.m.,
a girl at your side, a whole
lifetime to talk. The only reason
to ever get up from the table
was the cigarette vending machine,
its emerald green glow in the lobby.
Complimentary matches at the cashier's.

Do you remember that diner?
Has death made an improbable angel of you?
Can you see and recall everything
without pain? Or is death
the cessation of memory, and isn't
that the point
of suicide?

Who am I to say? Only
your insomniac ex. I'd like to think
I come and go for you in intervals of light,
just a small bright thing in the darkness,
the way your memory envelops me like smoke,
the way my hands, just for now, smell like you.

Front Stoop Poem for You, Two Days After Your Death

The starlings are going
through their stilted motions, hunting
and pecking and gathering. This one troops
down the rain-sputtered sidewalk--
in his jaw, a piece
of spring's profuse litter,
a cluster of seedlings.
For a nest, I suppose.
I don't know why I tell you this.
You never liked starlings. You despised them.
They were loud, like the drunks you served.
You'd close down the pub, get home
at five a.m., lie in bed with the sheet
over your face, and wish
you could shoot them
one by one.
They blackened the tree outside your window, screamed
just to see the sun.

I should think of something nicer to write
than how you hated cute little birdies.
You were my friend
for thirteen years. I should come up
with something better. I could write
what you loved: me, for example,
Diamond Dogs by David Bowie,
squirrels and fine scotch,
chicken curries from Pho Grand,
slingers from the Buttery,
the green velvet dress you got for me
from the AmVets Thrift Store on Grand--
you loved that place--and thick stacks
of pancakes from Uncle Bill's,
your mom's collard greens with bacon,
your granny's macaroni and cheese--
you ate more than anyone I ever met,
all one hundred-fifteen pounds of you--
you loved snow globes, Scrabble, your nieces,
silk ties from the twenties,
prank calls, Jimmy Stewart,
your blue bowling shirt...

The list isn't you. Nor is this poem,
which, I know, is kind of long.
Nothing is you but you, and
you're gone, but that just can't be,
so I stare at the starlings
who have survived you,
all their days spent in tiny motions
of sustenance. I resent all the people
on my street who aren't you.
I give them the St. Louis Stink-Eye
just because they have the nerve to exist.

I turn the ring you gave me
on my bony finger, the only ring
that ever fit. I wait on the stoop
for your friend to pick me up
to go through your things, to find
a shirt for you to wear to your funeral.
I think I'll wear the sexy green dress
with extravagantly high heels.
It's not appropriate, but neither were you.

Today it's cold, and the car is late,
so I keep writing, and the poem
doesn't end. I don't want
it to. Besides,
I don't know how.

Natural Causes

I had to live long enough to perfect my own funeral.
I'd saved my pennies for an open bar
at the chapel, only rail liquors,
no cheap shit. You only die once.
I'd saved my sequins
for the just-so
little black dress.

I'd spent every Sunday
of the last year of my life
rolling out rugelach dough,
that, and sewing on sequins.
It turns out rugelach
thaws very nicely.

I'd spent every Saturday night
accumulating suitors
so I would have plenty of mourners, men
to cry and shuffle their feet,
clutch the pale stems of flowers
in clammy palms,
clench and unclench their handsome jaws,
clean-shaven for once. They wish
they had treated me better.
Tattooed and virgin-skinned,
beer-bellied and svelte in their suits,
blonde and red-headed and bald,
they look sideways at each other
over my plain pine box.
They drink and hope my family
doesn't still hate them.

My friends whisper: She really could
pick em. Some guests
get in fist fights, of course,
a few ties loosened and rugelach-stained...
But after a few tears, a little blood,
some loose petals, people sigh.

They say things like,
I'm sorry. They say,
I wouldn't go...They say,
I have work
in the morning.
So they go.

One final man sticks around
to turn off the lights.

We are alone in the dark, fragrant
with living white jonquils,

each bunch in its world
of sugary water.

He pats my hand, the naked ring finger.
Each vase will be spilled

with the sun.

Poems About Love, Death, and Chicken Bones

I am posting some poems today. If you like them, check out the literary magazines and small presses that originally published them.

"Natural Causes" appeared in my all-time favorite literary journal, Criminal Class Review (, which publishes work by "emotionally damaged people...scumbag elite."

"A Midnight Smoke on the Porch" appeared in Literal Chaos, a lit-rag for the landlocked writers (

"Temp Girl Waiting on the 91 Olive" and "Blue Like an Orange" appeared in my chapbook of poems about food and sex, My Hot Little Tomato (

"Front Stoop Poem for You, Two Days After Your Death" appeared in Untamed Ink, Lindenwood University's literary journal (

Spring 2010 Readings

Anne Earney and I will read at the Meramec Writing Festival on Wed., Apr. 7th from 12-12:50 p.m in the library. The theme this year is creative writing about health care. Anne is a contributor to my book Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America. This reading is also free, as are all Writing Festival events. Books will be available for sale at $20 apiece.

I'll also be reading with writers from Fast Geek Press, which publishes punk fiction, poetry, music and other weird, wonderful stuff at the Holiday Club in Chicago on Fri., Apr. 23rd at 7:30. Here's who else is reading: John Franklin Dandridge, Brian Polk, Rik Villanueva, Krystle Ratticus, Charles Griller, and Charly "the city mouse" Fasano. Free, booze available, 21 and over only. See