There are too many poems about anxiety
and not enough poems about walking your dog
The bright slick of sun on the kitchen tiled floor
as he scratches at the door all leash-promise and new day bright
Tell me
this is not the spinning match to your 3 am doubt
your middle of the day wine and vacuum cleaner depression
Tell me this is not the flip side of the coin you have been tossing, hoping for heads
or is it tails that wins
or tails that wag hoping that you will remember how good the air feels
when you point your face right into it, like leaning right into the good smells
and the bad,
fur thick enough to twitch off bugs and protect against sticky fingers always trying to pet more pet more
This is more
than a pet
This is the way he waits for you in the morning
every time
Picks up his rubber toy and brings it to your lap, dropping it like the truest love poem anyone has ever written for you
paws annoying the kitchen tile while you scratch and yawn and wait for coffee he
is just licking your toes and nudging you with his warm breath saying come on come on
come on day, come on sun, come on life, this is the greatest day ever!
And you, you want to curl into the fuzzy blanket and keep your pajamas and your glasses on but you
believe in the way he believes and you
get the leash
bring the coffee
You find that his galloping heart becomes yours, his chase becomes your flight, his big stupid heart becomes the most intellectual expression of delight
You think
there should be more poems about dogs



I’m not angry anymore
I buried the hatchet a long time ago
I buried the hatchet thrown by all of them, not just him, but a society of men,
teaching women how to behave like they’re ashamed
Calling us by names not meant to praise but define us, don’t align with us
and when their contempt hits my skin, it stings as it sinks in
Knife strokes I pretend not to notice
Nice girls don’t notice
So I
Buried the hatchet a long time ago
Long after
His mouth said “yes” and “I promise” and all the words I was taught to receive like valentines
All the words he said a thousand times
The fled,
went somewhere far enough away that my cell phone signal couldn’t reach him – he said – where women, those whores, threw themselves at him – he said – where it wasn’t ever his fault – he said-
where I couldn’t follow
not with my wounded heart bleeding so frankly,
so openly, like the conversation i was always trying to have,
so full of holes, like the way in which he responded,
So I stuffed my fists into the holes in my heart
and pretended I was whole
So i healed, what choice do we have
but to pretend we take pride in our scars
and I buried the hatchet a long time ago.

Now you sit here, with your wide open love and your innocent eyes
And we are hours and miles away from my hometown
And I am not what happened to me
But I was born out of my history
and now I am made of stone
Anger is a feeling I don’t own, being taught long ago that it doesn’t belong to me
So I let it go, moved on,
but now I have this hatchet
buried so deep in my chest
that I can’t tell where the hurting is coming from,
if it’s something I’ve manufactured or something I deserve or if it’s an echo of the thousands of times I have been educated on how to cry
We all take comfort in the familiar don’t we?
So when you say “don’t worry”
know that I am carrying the weight of weapons i once needed in my belly and I am tired but I don’t know how to set them down without ripping my guts out
When you say “trust me”
know that I want to respond but my tongue is being nicked by the blade and my throat is full of steel
When you say “I want you”
know that the handle of the blade is pressed into my pelvis
So when you thrust, I parry and when you say “I don’t want to fight with you”

I say “then teach me how to unlearn everything”
and when you say “why are you so angry”
I say
because nice girls don’t say
much of anything
and I wish I hadn’t learned how to heal so well
wish I hadn’t buried the hatchet so deep that it grew roots, learned it’s way around my body until it touched everything
I wish I could plunge my fingers into my chest, knuckle deep, and show you that my heart is not guarded, it is made of steel
I wish nice girls didn’t all smile so bright
like they have blades behind their teeth

ocean that I am


You say you must have a heart of stone,
and you’re empty,
anchored here, on the sandy shore
And I am dry eyed but full of salt and deep currents
I am an ocean
that you could never dive into
the depth scared you, your ears popped just thinking about it
You stay on dry land with stone feet and a faraway look in your eye
the horizon looks promising you say
as I lap your feet,
try to entice you with tales of fish that can see in the dark
the deep is not so scary with a flashlight stuck to your head
and some of these fish are badass, have xray vision and electricity in their scales
I know, you say, I’ve heard
You see a ship on the horizon and think it’s yours
but i know that the horizon is bent and nothing comes straight at us
not even heartbreak
and I am having a hard time leaving when the tide keeps returning me to your feet
The rhythm of return beats the sand into the shape of waves
You leave footprints in them as you walk the shoreline
You say you can’t breathe if you can’t see the ocean
but you say too much
and you never learned to swim.  

love song


When I said I loved you it wasn’t a warning.
Let’s become all the things we are afraid of
Let’s be too proud to call it when it’s over
I will go back into the kitchen and cook you something that will make you cry
bake love and muffins and new hope, forged in a crucible of butter and sugar
We’re better than this
We’re better than our parents
Take me out to the backyard and show me the tree you picked out
and we’ll use the rope to double dutch jump rope
jump the the broom and sweep our history clean
there is no more use in remembering
We’ve bled our past dry a million times already
teach me new ghost stories
Let’s haunt this house until it echos back a new history
Let me carve our initials into the tree
give it something to remember us by
I am bigger than you thought
and you are deeper
When I said I love you it wasn’t a promise
It was just the truth
And you are my truth
Let me show you where it was on my body when I decided to live
unravel my spine
dissect my wrists
prop up and peer under my ribs
this sunlit clearing in the forest is my heart
And you are welcome here
And the space between our bodies is just a metaphor for time we still have left to spend
Come, let’s give it away, and sit here awhile, with nothing to be but together and here
letting the stars wheel about above us like the circus freaks that they are
sweet empty pits of light, let’s forget our past and lay in the grass like just being here is creation enough

a scene from Dobra Tea House


They sit on pillows,
order the big frothy drink that looks like beer, but isn’t
settle into the new space of being near each other
the way the air forms and moves around knees and elbows
He wonders
if he can sit closer
Decides not to chance it

He says
I want to say some heavy shit
but maybe it’s just the psychedelics
but maybe it’s not –
She laughs, shakes her hair out of her eyes
He say well anyway
what’s your family like
She says my sister is so strong and so smart and always makes the right choices she is just like a beautiful human being and I’m so happy I’m not her, you know?  My dad is recluse, never leaves the house. He’s happy.

The corners of the room twitch, he feels like he could scratch a new itch if he were just a bit closer
is drawing him in with the crook of her neck, head tilted to receive he
has nothing to give so he reflects instead says
Last night was was so ignorant you know?  My friend was like Hey I have a hurricane, do you want a hurricane?  I said yeah and he said “I only chug hurricanes and
I only drink in the shower so then I chugged a hurricane in the shower then my friend was like hey do you want to go to Warren Wilson and I said yeah sure and he said there’s only one hurricane left, are you done in the shower?  so then we went to Warren Wilson and ended up in a long conversation about dolphins on fire, it was so
you know?

She knows by the way she dreams her eyes past him
I don’t want to say goodbye to the conversation but I do want to say hello to art can you be
He says if I try then does that mean I’m not
She says look
at my paintings
and pulls them up on her phone, holds her arms out to show him that her art is big enough to step inside
He thinks he could live in there.
He says I’ve made so many mistakes

Across the cafe, a baby starts then stops crying
The couple next to them order bubble tea
and the barista brings them a fig cake he says
I’ve made so many mistakes

His knee touches hers and his breath is caught somewhere between his knee and his throat
He says I’ve come to a loss of questions and words
She keeps dreaming past him
He says Now, I’m just breathing
She says good, keep breathing
puts her knuckles in the honey, puts her mouth in the shape of Africa, puts her palm, a slow pond, on the table, open, he drops in a penny, makes wish,
remembers his french teacher, wishes he could say I love you in French
or in some other language
He says the majority of the time I’ve been here, I’ve been moving around just trying to find a way to be comfortable
She laughs, says this is my favorite, lying down, see how i put my feet up
Her head is almost level with the low table
honey dripping from spoon to cup

He knows at some moment he’ll look at himself in the mirror, wonder what
The fuck
Was I doing
She says you’re fine –  so maybe he said this out loud or maybe his face couldn’t hide it or maybe she can tell time by the way his eyelashes shimmy back and forth when he is nervous
You’re fine she says
This is more important
He lays down next to her in the cafe
Shush she says
Maybe if we think about other things, it’ll be like a lullaby
I can tell you about the giant dome construction sites, the largest buildings in the world
the crazy airplanes and all the languages being spoken at once
That is where I grew up
I miss that
I never knew how to talk to people, what words they would understand
and all the metal noises of the city, it was horrible sometimes
but the sunset
I will never get over that fuckin sunset
I miss that, I miss that so much
but being lonely is as absurd as trying to hold your breath
as ludicrous as trying to be still when your heart is always pumping fresh blood and oxygen
put your head in my lap

He is quiet
She strokes his hair
He thinks maybe
he’s crawled inside one of her paintings and
the drugs and tea and the honey and giant airplanes are all part of the world they made together, just by being in this new space, fresh air parting around their timeless bodies, so still, moving so fast, so fast, they appear to be not moving at all just a couple of statues, remembering the shape of love

the bones of the birds are empty


You ask if it’s a waste of time
I say whittle time down to the simple in and out
to the wind in your body, you animal, you still breathe like other people.
A minute becomes a diamond under the scrutiny of your focus
Exhale, you angel, you still live
pause at the top of the breath
count backward to birth
to that time before you existed, and spoke words and grasped with your little hands
Go back, to the damp quiet of the pause in your mother’s throat
Go back, you animal, you were born just like all the dying

You ask for the truth
but you know the skin lies, the body is misunderstood, the world turns and you lie down
becoming earth, you are always being born
These wrinkles tell tall tales, tell me they don’t, tell me you aren’t still the child you were
back before you stretched and turned and stood up to greet adulthood
tell your skin to tell the truth
tell the lines in your palms you believe in them
tell your reflection it is a shapeshifter, don’t trust it, tell me I’m wrong
Keep saying words like they hold an idea any better than your hands do

You ask if we are mourning or celebrating
I can tell you it is both
I can pretend to know the answers
You can pretend to understand,
There is no darkness to frighten us, it is welcoming you, each breath is welcome back pretend you know this
console the body, count backwards to before fear
to the warmth of the womb, the emptiness between the stars, the pause at the top of the
read the history of this body
-you smile, you still have one,
you still use this vehicle to navigate through time, when will we leave it behind
When do we leave here
move on to the unimaginable dark center of the throat of the universe
I wonder what singing sounds like there
I wonder where we are going
All the adults facing forward, surreptitiously checking the rear view
Catch your reflection looking back, you child, you look back like all the rest of us
-taillights in the dusk, the distant crack of baseball meeting bat, the deepening summer night, the scent of memories, the dust of the stars in the lines of the palms of our hands
Breathe in
The body remembers
exhale, pause, wonder, you ask, like all the others
where are we going?
you know
the bones of the birds are empty
that is how they can fly

Group Therapy


On Monday, in group, Brandon says
“I just don’t think I can go my entire life without drinking”
he says “some days I’m thinking obliteration is a rational
that when the world is this fucked up, why is it so bad
to drown our sorrows every so often, every Friday, every Thursday, every – Day
in  tequila, why’s it so wicked to warm what’s left of our bodies
with wine and the familiar feel of a stranger”
I remind him that in group, we don’t use the F word
I tell him that today we’re talking about powerlessness
that maybe he could contribute to the conversation
since clearly his power is a reflection of his reaction to apathy
Brandon  shrugs
says group is bullshit, but he’s mandated to treatment, so he’ll stay,

On Wednesday in group, Brandon says.
“sometimes? I think maybe heroin is the only way in, the only entrance to my head that doesn’t hurt
this is the price I pay for comfort
and that seems fair.”
I ask him  can we
take it one day at a time
stay in the moment
do the next right thing.
he says “last night I thought about how hard it is to live
how awareness brings responsibility bring weight that I am not strong enough to carry, brings social interaction and it is not a sign of health to be well adjusted to a fucked up world.”
I remind him again that swearing is not allowed in group, ask him
can you express one real emotion without quoting someone else
He says quotes make sense
that he can’t articulate or understand this world
so this is the oppressor’s language but he needs it to speak to me
I say, I know that quote too
I say what are you actually feeling right now
He says sometimes I want explode,
like I’m disappearing,
a black hole
sometimes I want to die
I say sometimes we all do
welcome to early sobriety
he says fuck group
and leaves

On Friday in group, Brandon doesn’t say anything
group is quiet, soothing
and it’s not until he doesn’t come back after break that I realize to us
silence is how we begin to die
silence is the first gasp of the last act
so I call his PO after group, I try to get someone to talk to me
I leave a message on his voicemail that starts out
with I’m not mad
and ends with please come back
and in the middle somewhere I remind him that we all have those days
I promise him that I’ll carry his thirst in my throat
that if he hangs on, some day he will be asked to hold someone else’s wrists closed
that his thumbs will count heart beats, that he will understand the rhythm then
that he just needs to believe that I believe

On Monday, in group, I say the first person who can scream the loudest wins
and they look back at me with puzzle piece faces
I say today? maybe fuck those self help therapy enthusiasts that teach us acceptance and
maybe fuck me for being one of them
maybe you should accept nothing
because nothing is what we are promised
I say first one to disagree with me out loud wins
and they say nothing
I say tell me one true thing even if it doesn’t belong to you
and they say nothing
I say prove to me that that you’re here
they say Ms. Emily, you’re acting weird today
I say then tell me
can’t you see how easy it is to disappear
and they say
Ms. Emily speak up, we can’t even hear

For my parents; on journeys


I put off writing this poem
I kept waiting for the perfect words to arrive
words I could gather in my cupped hands like minnows, hold them out to you,
splashing and sparkling and say “look!”
And then I would gently lower them back into the stream
and we would watch them swim off into the sunset
our ankles getting wet, water lapping the sides of the river bed.
We’d say nothing,
just watch the waves part, as they swam toward them.

Mom and Dad: you sent me off with a blessing, three springs ago
you watched my sister and I pack her Subaru until it literally sagged
the car literally almost touched the ground
you must have thought “wow
they sure have a lot of baggage”
We thought we needed every piece of it, every article of clothing, every pillow,
every notebook and chair, every memory, every fear.
We thought it was so good to get out of town, point the car toward the sun
and just start driving south
but we only got three miles down the road before I had to pee
And we couldn’t turn back
our goodbyes were too fresh in our throats
so my sister pulled the car over and I crouched between two doors and accidentally peed on my sandal
It was the first time on our journey that we both laughed until we cried
“I feel funny”, my sister said
“I feel floaty” I said
Then we turned the radio up, hit the gas and kept on driving.

We stopped half way, in Virginia, at a shitty motel
but there was a pool and hot sunshine and I sat outside at a warped picnic table as the sun set down around me
insects buzzed a patchwork in the dark, my body hummed with a kind of electricity
It was then I realized I didn’t need everything I had brought with me.
We went swimming that night in our clothes
the warm chlorine leached the dust from our eyelids, washed away the imprint of all the mistakes we had to make, in order to get to this point
and when we got back in the car the next day,
we were each two pounds lighter
My sister asked me “will we float away if we keep going like this?”
“No”, I said, “we can learn to curve our arms like anchors
and we’ll take turns flying and holding it down”.

We hit the border of Georgia that day, around 3pm
we were both wearing sundresses, in some kind of salute to the south
when we picked up the keys from our new landlord he asked us if we were both students
when we said no, he asked us if we were both single
when we said yes
he said “southern gentlemen are real and a lot of women mover here to find husbands”
we both thought he was hitting on us.
The key turned the lock to a pre-fabricated duplex, that looked just like the every other one on the block
but to us, it looked like a kept promise
and at first the air conditioning didn’t work and we thought surely we would die in the July heat and I put the ice cream in the bathtub in a sublime effort to save our sweets
and when the AC finally kicked on,
we realized how the rooms echoed
how bare the walls were
how accommodating the emptiness was
and we began splashing laughter across the floor and cooking up new traditions in the tiny kitchen.

My sister left after one year
she said returning home was the most necessary mistake she needed to make
and now she points her face south again
says she’s ready to pack up the car again.
Me, I’ve held down the spot we decided to make our mark on for three years
But now, I have a decision in my pocket and kite string in my wallet
I’m going to pull it out any minute now, attach all my dreams to it
and then run like hell
I haven’t figured out in which direction yet
but I know the wind will lead me

I put off writing this poem for weeks, kept waiting for the perfect one to arrive
one I could hold out to you as proof that you did everything right
as evidence that you raised us with the right convictions, that you put a compass in my heart and a map in my hands
I know we both remember the times you asked me to unlock the door to my cage from the inside
so that you could crawl in with me
I know we both have blasting caps in our pockets and shotgun shells in our shoes, yes, we kept souvenirs
or maybe they kept us
yes, we know how good oxygen feels in our chests
because we still remember learning how to hold our breath.
I put off writing this poem, waiting for it to come to me like an angel
but nothing can deliver me from the work I know I need to do.
And I have stood by the river for hours now, fingers stretched out wide in the water
shin deep in memory, squinting my eyes at the sunset, trying to catch glimpses of my future

Mom and dad, tonight you saw me get on stage for the first time
you are hearing me say the words to the people and I am not saying them all perfectly
but I am saying all of them
I am patting my pockets, checking for the notes you wrote me,
I am putting gas in the car and making lists of all the goodbyes I need to say
I am burning with the memory of the sun through the car windows,
as my sister and I set off on new adventures
I am hammering my heartbeat across the mountain peaks
I am echoing with reverberations of love
I am holding my palms out to you
holding these words like broken arrows, like feathers, like water that still sparkles, even as it slips through my fingers and I am ready now, river current in my blood stream,
I am headed toward the ocean, I am learning how to hold my breath under water
I am pointing in the direction of the current, I am saying “look!”

We Will Be Shelter


My sister bought me Andrea Gibson’s anthology, “We Will Be Shelter” for Christmas.  It’s a beautiful collection of poems that reflect social justice themes, paired with organizations that support social justice causes. It got me thinking – how can I be shelter?  And thus, I arrived at this poem 

We Will Be Shelter

*inspired by Andrea Gibson’s anthology, by the same title

1. The day my mother told me there are some things I shouldn’t tell her
I became a woman.
She said some things were too painful and the sharing of them only made her worry
and then made me worry about her worrying and it was a cycle we could forget
with closed mouths and throats that hummed instead of sang.
I didn’t stop telling her things.
But I stopped being oblivious to effect of my words

2. They say you will step over many bodies if you walk this road,
they say at first it won’t get better, but it might get different,
that if you can believe in change, even for 5 minutes at a time, you have a chance.
I remember standing in a circle of held hands the day I had 102 days clean
my face uplifted like a received blessing
the press of calloused flesh to my tender palm a benediction
I remember the first time I could go to the laundromat without being afraid of running
into my past
and the way my name began to fall from other mouths like it was welcome there
and not just a bad taste
I will never forget my unrelated brother and the day he died,
the wind whipped up from the lake so fast it could be felt from NY to Georgia
His smile is a wrinkle on my heart now

3. There are easy rules to follow too, if easy is what you are looking for
– don’t google your symptoms. ever
– don’t weigh yourself, your body is more than the sweet tug of gravity and anyway, God, doesn’t it feel good to be anchored to the world now?
– sing in the shower, in the car, while making dinner – give your throat every chance to practice forming sound and rhythm so that when you need it, your voice will ring out like a true bell
– and never give up
– just don’t

4. When I was 17, I wrote a list of ways I would stop apologizing for my presence
I didn’t know then that my body was already forming question marks over every word
that to stop saying sorry meant learning a new language
putting these bones to new use, digging these bones into the ground like tent poles
staking out my territory in the flesh landscape I was given
and learning to be grateful for every hill and valley that can be used to shelter you
I didn’t know that you needed refuge too
I didn’t know refuge could be a ship setting sail for new lands
look, we have come up to the top deck and even now, I can see the future spread out
like shiny lights in the distance

5. These are the ways I can be shelter
This woman that I am, this stitched together tongue, this humming throat
rubbed raw from finding harmony in the silence
This square hand I have, linked like a circuit breaker to my heart
go ahead, grab it
let this be rule 6: there is never a wrong time to reach out
no reason too good or bad, big or small.
These are the ways I can be shelter
the way I remember my brother who didn’t get to live to see the disease shaken
the stories I still tell about my chosen sons, that I gave freely back to the world
the poems I have written for my unborn daughter
and the way I have strung hope like Christmas lights around the entrance to my heart
and written messages to the future saying “be better’
This is how I am shelter
how I have swung the doors wide open, sifted sunlight through my ribs
built a safe room out of my arms and put them around you
sang every lullaby I knew into the phone until even the static on the other end of the line
hummed along
laid my body in the shape of a comma next to yours,
so that you didn’t have an excuse to end the sentence
told you “don’t you ever stop telling me things.”



He held her face like a bowl of water, both hands
cupped around her cheeks, tilted her lips skyward
and drank deeply

Around them the dusty chaos of a summer music festival swirled
Beer, boys and bare chests
the strutting and preening of young bodies
the cocaine made temporary gods of us all
our tattoos were compasses pointing the way to our transparent hearts
our shouts shook the tent poles
and the bass from the distant stage thudded like welcome thunder.

She was not beautiful
but this is irrelevant
In the sun shining down, he turned toward her
An exhale, a pause, a split second before lip met lip
Intentions stood like sweet soldiers behind their eyes
Squinting, she became a fountain, a waterfall, a spring brook
and he, in the Polaroid snap of summer, turned from granite to dry throat
sand trickling from the steel toes of his boots.

He must have been so thirsty, for so long.