Wednesday, June 17, 2015


For Last Poet Standing round 2
February 2015

Keep the promises you make yourself,
Because sometimes they’re the only ones
You can trust.
By twelve years old, I was pretty sure promises
Weren’t worth the air the words took.
“I promise things will get better,” they said.
“I promise I’ll always be there.”
But drifting, separate schools, work--
The promises were only air, and you can’t trust air.
So I promised myself, age twelve, to keep breathing anyway.
Some promises are too hard to keep alone,
I was failing, falling, burning.
And then I met him.
I sat down on the bench
Because he was reading a book,
After all the betrayal of flesh and blood and air,
Ink was one thing I could trust.
So we sat and talked and
I had a friend, again.
I built up my trust, still wary of words just spoken,
Careful of my back facing anyone but him,
The only one I could trust to be there
When I huddled in a high school library corner,
White-hot mania pressing into my eyes
Or the numbing void of depression filling my guts with lead.
He’d hold me, and I’d say, “I’m sorry.”
A shaking head, a hand on my arm
“I’m here, I’m here. I Promise.”
16 is too young for declaring eternal love,
And I didn’t want to ruin what we had, whatever it was, but
I’d never felt this way about anyone before.
As cliché as it sounds, it was true then.
Is true still,
And I’d promised myself I’d never let a chance at happiness
Slide through my fingers.
Then I got the email, fitting that it come in ink not worthless air:
“hey, anna, do you want to go to that mormon prom thing? with me?”
And fingers trembling, I typed back, yes.
There were more promises then, to myself, to him,
To others. I learned to trust the air again, the spoken things,
They all credited therapy, I credited the one who
Held me and listened.
He told me I didn’t have to,
 But I promised I’d wait for him,
And I did, faithful letters every week.
When he came home, we watched our movie. Up.
The one we watched the day I first kissed him
And he said, “I can see us like that,”
And crossed his heart.
Take it slow, we said.
I was 21 and the world was so much brighter than it had been
When I promised myself I’d live,
Even in the rain.
We sat on the porch swing in the gardens,
Leaning against each other and
Speaking about forever.
“Will you marry me?”
He asked it when I was laughing and looking away
So I didn’t see my grandmother’s ring at first
But there it was.
He promised, I promised,
The ring didn’t even need to be resized
And every time I was sick or sad I touched it
Remembered I was loved.
I sat down in December to write a poem to my 12 year old self,
Maybe the promises made to me were true, it does get better.
I was 21, 11 months and 4 days,
And checking my email while Christmas shopping.
The subject line was, Love you.
He signed off with, I hope we can still be friends.
10 years of friendship and I didn’t even get a phone call to shatter my heart
Like a glass ornament falling from a tree.
I had always promised myself I would not fall to pieces over a boy,
Like some soap opera character too weak to stand.
All the crossed hearts and promises to be there
To be there
To be there
Not worth the air they took.
Keep the promises you make to yourself
Because sometimes they are the only ones you can cling to.
I am 22 and my left hand still feels naked,
But I promised myself, keep breathing anyway.

June 29th to December 17th

I’d hate that porch swing,
where we both sat, laughing as the rain
came down around us,
but why waste hate
on sunwarmed slats of wood?

It is time to make new memories
and move on, I know.
I know. But it still
That is nothing new.

Swings never go anywhere,
not really.
Just back and forth, chained in place.
Caught, like me
between a diamond and a naked hand


I still love the rain.
I always have, even after so many storms.
I remember kissing you in the rain
during our lunch break
somehow both as cold, wet, uncomfortable
and romantic as it seems.

And the thunderstorm
the day we sheltered in a porchswing
and didn’t count it a loss,
a garden walk ruined
but laughed
and listened to the lion roar
and the pattering of rain around us
You held out a ring
my fingers wet, I took it.

And the flood, rain for hours, washing
away everything I owned,
but I pulled through.
Things can be replaced.

But that flood was nothing
placed against the clear december sky
six months later,
when I lost everything I thought I had with you
with an email that opened with
I love you
and ended with
let’s still be friends.
We are not “Still Friends.”

And now the rain comes again,
thunder rolling in the purpled sky.
Petrichor is in the air, the smell of rain,
which is the smell of you.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ballroom Slippers

Mudspattered and roadworn
they are still lovely.
The gold embroidery,
catching in the candleflicker
and the mossy grey leather
suple as beechbark,
are tarnished by the dust
of walking miles for this night.
Her skirts twitch up, floating
as she floats, finding her heartbeat
with the trilling of the oboe d’more
and the swell of strings.
She is not the most beautiful,
no belle of the ball,
not in a hand me down gown
and old slippers
but still she dances, and still she is


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lark Wing

“Hope is the thing with Feathers”
I read that poem over and over,
making sense of it in a new way
each time.
Hope is a bird, that much
I pieced together without prompting.
And you never could reach out and touch one,
so it fit.
The birds were always on the other side of glass
a promise cut off. I reached for that hope
but you can’t own it,
open the cage door and it flies away.

And I thought, yes, this
is true.
Hope was like the sparrows my cat caught,
toyed with, let live just long enough for the light
in their eyes to die.
Hope was like the bushtits, tiny and frail
brought down by January wind.
And I wondered, why call Hope a song bird,
something easily killed,
a lump of feathers and a tiny heart?

But they come back, too, see?
The wild ones, migrating home,
following the wind currents and the sun.
Maybe, some  desperate part of me said,
things would really get better, if I hung on.
The poem keeps going,
past what’s written on plaques, speaking of storms.
My own storm,
full of lightning cuts and salt spray,
seemed too much,
but in the end I still breathed,
birdsong echoing in my ears.

Hope might be the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul,
but the poem sits in my heart and mind,
tiny talons clinging, tangling themselves in wild hair.
Hope sings.
Sometimes the bird’s muted, far off,
but the tune has no end,
a hermit thrush’s backwards waterfall--
a chickadee calling her own name.
Hope is a songbird mama,
pulling out her own feathers to cushion my bones
scraped against each other,
nesting there until I am strong enough to stand.

Hope is the lark’s wings, beating the wind
like a heart against ribs
Hope is the light of galaxies
not stuck in the sky but across a starling’s back
Hope is the thing with feathers,
the bird come home, returning to sing  

a song I cannot forget the words to.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Mountain Midnight

There is no such thing as silence
or total darkness
not here, snuggled into a bedroll
on Melissa Corey Peak.

I am the last awake
everyone else (over two hundred of us)
is worn from the day,
21st century children
walking into the past
shirts, skirts, shoes all  heavy with dust.

My eyes are fixed on the dome
The sky is no flat thing
like back home,
a sheet tacked to the ceiling
grey with fog and light pollution,

it is darkness, lit up
blue-black silk reaching down
in all her speckled splendor,
past the horizon formed by hill and treeline,
below my body
so that I
so small and significant
am suspended
surrounded by the gleaming.

The wind, with the smell of cold
sings through our campsite,
sends the summer-dried sagebrush rattling,
and I shiver
shudder, but cannot bring myself
to shield my face

and stop looking at the stars.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Tempest’s teapot

I was the smallest in the 8th grade
4 feet, 10 inches of terrified.
Trapped in darkness--
Blinding, literal darkness,
scored with one slash of light
at the bottom of the door
--a bleeding wrist.

Like my body,
the closet was too small for the storm:
fear, sweat, tears, snot, salt on my tongue
as I bruised my fists on the door and begged
for help that I knew
was. not. coming.
Because it was Friday after school,
before spring break,
and half the class knew where I was.
They let the door lock with a click,
jackal laughter, and then all that was left was me.
Alone in the dark.

Trembling, I was a tornado, a hurricane,
of salt spray and the breath ripping
from my lungs.
I am going to die I don’t want to die.
Please someone please

Years later, I remember the door opening.
They told me it was only twenty minutes
but it felt like years,
like I had forgotten what light was
and warm and safe.
I had forgotten how
to breathe.
And I forget again, as, for an object lesson
the teacher shuts the door,
clicks off the light.
My ears ring with my rescuer’s words
“It must have been an accident.”
8 years and three inches later
I am still too small for this tempest.

East of the Sun

I heard a woman say,
“I won’t let my daughter read
fairy tales,”
And other chimed in with,
What do they teach, really
Cinderella let herself
be abused, had to be
Belle married a kidnapper
gave up her dreams
Sleeping Beauty slept through
her own story.
I sat on my hands,
bit my tongue to hold in the words
red as blood, white as bone, black as ink.
Have you ever sat down with Grimm,
Calvino, Moe, Lang, Perrault in your lap
and read a fairy tale?
Look at these girls, women,
spanning centuries
passed down over fires
fire-filled themselves.
With names or without,
they last, beautiful as the moon
inside and out.
Isn’t that what these stories teach?

For a moment, close your eyes
hold the book in your hands,
fat cracking leather
cloth binding worn away
paper spine bent double,
and listen to the stories.
Older than ink, but younger
barely, than imagination.

Listen to the stories of
Perina, braving three rivers
blood, bile, and brine
for the sake of her own name
and oath.

Cinderwretch, breaking the cycle
of cruelty and letting herself
love fierce and free
and be loved again.

Gerda, who , seeing a frozen heart
melts it with the heat
of her tears,
half frozen herself.

Beauty, her own antagonist
but true to her word
as friendship blooms
like little-linda roses.

The Lass, who holds her own destiny
in her hands like a candle dripping wax
and walks, head high

East of the sun.