Shelter in Place Poem Day 9

I am thinking about Tupperware. I am thinking about fire and air, earth and water.


Dear fire, when you take everything, do you take everything? The black field of your wake is dotted with seeds we can’t see. Right?


It was so windy metal chairs scooted across the deck like clumsy oversized crabs.


When the fire or whatever takes everything, it still leaves the dirty dishes. They still have to be loaded and unloaded. The Tupperware won’t dry unless it’s set out on the dish rack, in the air.


Dogs seem particularly of the earth, especially this one, who my neighbors found running with a pack beside a gas station in rural New Mexico; who came when they called, malnourished, mangy, wagging; who they dropped off at a shelter while they backpacked for three nights; who they picked up on the way home after no one had claimed him; who they offered to us to keep because I’d said we could get a dog “when one came into our lives.”


Our house doesn’t even really touch the ground: built on the side of a hill, it rests on huge metal stilts. It shakes when the wind blows hard, which happens often.


Snow. Snow is a form of water, my least favorite form, except for ice, which is worse.


The dog was good at first, and gentle with the cats. He sniffed the frosty dead grass stalks for rabbits.


I keep organizing the Tupperware and it keeps getting messed up, as though a tiny hurricane blows through the drawer each night while we sleep.


Dear fire, you can’t live without air, but water is your enemy.


The snow silences the street as the dog and I walk through it. He would prefer not to be on a leash; I would prefer not to be outside at all, though I try to notice how pretty the world is covered in white, how huge the moon when the clouds reveal it.


We walk the dog on the mesa. One foot in front of the other, we climb up almost every day.


Dear fire, when you take everything, everything does eventually return, bringing to mind a tree in winter, a tree in summer, a tree in spring, a tree in fall. Is it the same tree, or a different tree? It is not a different tree; it is not the same.


When we climb the mesa in the wind advisory, dirt blows into our eyes and mouths. We illegally unleash the dog. We can see the city from up there, shrouded in light from the sunset, burning. The dog prances in the troubled air.

Shelter in Place Poem, Day 7, and fire poem study

Note: this piece is part of my long shelter in place poem as well as a “study” of fire for a piece I will write for an upcoming exhibition of the work of the artist Anna Kaye: check out her work here.


Perhaps it is time to burn



Two thousand miles away

my mother is burning the forest,

particularly its scraps and detritus.


Smoke follows beauty.


It’s wildfire season.


The burning of trash and debris

in one’s yard in a pit

seems particularly Southern,

or at least Eastern. Here in the West

such an act would cause disaster.

Back home it was merely a minor

social event, something to stand around

and stare at.




When four years ago

I got rid of all my old journals,

all the way back to ones I had in college,

I wanted to burn them

but I had nowhere to do it,

no fireplace, no wide expanse,

so I threw them in the dumpster.


Does beauty follow smoke?




Light a candle and imagine

you are burning what

you no longer need. Offer it up

to the lone flame. There is

plenty of time.




My grandfather, the smoker.

My grandmother, flinging suitcases into the bonfire.


Flames, nature’s masterpiece,

the original work of art.

You cannot look away

from a fire for long.


Whatever it is you’re burning,

name it.


Fire on the mountain, lake of fire.

Strands of smoke

like snakes being charmed.


Wet your fingertip with spit,

dip it into ash,

touch your forehead.


Brace yourself. It’s fire season.



Shelter In Place Poem, Day 5

It is everlastingly funny that the proud, metaphysically ambitious, clamoring mind

will hush if you give it an egg writes Annie Dillard in her essay about a total eclipse

which she watched a hilltop in Washington state. As the “monstrous swift shadow

cone of the moon” rushed toward her and everyone else on the hilltop,

screams filled the air. Then the eclipse ended and she went out for breakfast.

She had a fried egg and felt better. Perhaps this is why in tough times

people buy baby chicks,  though it will be months before they produce eggs.

Yesterday in the grocery story the security guard sitting at the sliding doors

next to the on-sale oranges smiled at me as I entered. A man wearing an actual

N95 respirator passed me on his way out, carrying a brown bag and a bouquet

of Gerber daisies. And that was the thing, finally, that made me burst into tears,

the man in the mask with a handful of flowers, the utter lunacy of it.

But my mind was obedient, after a moment, and pulled itself together,

and led my body to the coolers where the eggs are kept, and eggs were there,

and I bought my allotted two cartons and drove home.


Shelter In Place Poem, Days 3 & 4

If you google an animal’s name on your smartphone, say, lion, then scroll down and select View in 3D, the animal appears in your camera’s viewfinder as though it were suddenly in your home. The giant lion takes up my whole bedroom, startling me; a panda sits on our bannister, eating a piece of bamboo. In my household, I am the only one impressed. My daughter shrugs, used to the things that phones can do. My husband is busy with his virtual world of dragons.  I watch an octopus waft through the kitchen. The cat, our real one, vomits. The octopus is unconcerned.

I wipe up the vomit and wash my hands. Although my Calm app tells me I have experienced over 28 hours of mindfulness, I can’t remember to wash my hands for 20 seconds. I forget, go too fast, and have to wash them twice, hoping that will suffice.  The octopus disappears, leaving me alone with the newsfeed, where New York City paramedics must make quick choices about who to transport to hospitals: the 23-year-old with a cough and fever, the 72-year-old with a cough and fever, the woman who drank an entire bottle of vodka in despair because her cancer treatments had been delayed?

Three weeks ago, I was in urgent care with a cough and fever. No coronavirus tests were available. If you’re not better in 7 days–give it 7 days–go to the ER, the masked nurse practitioner told me. Masked myself, I nodded. In New York City a paramedic sews her own masks with bandanas and coffee filters. How is this going to end?

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 7.32.32 AM



Shelter in Place Poem, Day 2

“Shelter in place” was the name of a particular drill
at the West Virginia high school where I taught sophomores

literature and grammar in 2002, where Sammie who wore her hair
in pigtails like a little girl once outlined her desk

in Elmer’s glue, paying particular attention to filling in
the long narrow indentation at the top of the desk

meant for holding a pencil. Sammie dated Derek who wore camo
every day and wrote in his journal because I forced him to

about hunting deer on the weekends. In my memory Sammie is
6 months pregnant but she wasn’t pregnant yet, that year.

The school was a mile down river from the factory
the locals called “the chemical plant;” the “shelter in place” drill

was for in case the chemical plant caught on fire.
When the alarm sounded, the whole school was to

stuff itself into the gym. Standing in the the gym
with a thousand teenagers, I remember saying to myself

hell no. If ever this is not a drill, I am walking directly
to my car and leaving this entire city.

My classroom that year had no windows.
The sophomores were sweet but unruly.

One of my students was a Syrian refugee.
Three unrelated boys in second period had parents in prison.

With enough classroom structure, I could get them
to practice correcting comma splices on worksheets.

That was the year I first tried to meditate.
I sat on the stairway of our home on Charleston’s

“west side,” where we’d chosen to live because
the hills looked pretty from the plane window,

and sobbed. The rent was cheap. The stove was
infested with mice. The scent of what we would

eventually place as a meth lab mixed in the air
with Tide from the nearby laundromat.

The neighbors were friendly and curious.
The elderly Sylvie to our south was kind

and chatty; the teenage Cassie across the street
teased us about the six-packs she watched us

unload one day with groceries: y’all fixin
to get twisted. Hell no, I thought, in the gym,

where in my memory 50 Cent’s “In da Club”
plays over the loudspeaker, though surely

I am mixing that up with a different assembly,
one more celebratory. Absolutely not.

And I was lucky. At the end of that year,
I could leave.


Shelter in Place Poem, Day 1

I decided to write a long poem, a section or so each day, for the duration of Colorado’s shelter in place, which will last at least through April 11. Here’s day one.

COVOD-19, 2020

If you are reading this,

you are so far a survivor,

not only of the obvious virus

but also of whatever else it is you’ve survived

or are surviving, your own particular list

unique and distinct as your fingerprint.

Heartbreak, abuse, betrayal, deception.

You’ve been overlooked, underappreciated.

You’ve been silenced, made sad, flat-out bored.

The number of times you’ve been misunderstood

is almost as large as the number of times

you’ve misunderstood others. And you’ve survived

your own sins–think of the unspeakable things

you did in middle school. You’ve starved yourself,

sliced your own skin, made yourself sick

with numerous chemicals. Yet here you are in a year

that in our previous millennium was held up

so often as the hard-to-image, sparkling future:


Today the skies where I am are clear because

no one is driving their cars to the city.

The air is filled with the sound of invisible birds.


When we remember too clearly the dystopian novels we’ve read,

we wonder how far our instinct to survive

would endure. How long would I want to live

in a world where I must shoot

my neighbor-turned-intruder to protect

my box of uncooked pasta, my pound of rice?

I might choose to lay down and join my great-grandmother,

the orange cat, my grandmother, the let-go-of balloon.

Let me become a crow. Let me make a nest.


In my dream last night I became my daughter

on her first day of middle school, her-not-her,

trying to find my math class, deciding where to sit.

My locker combination was 22-2-32,

and I turned it a hundred times before I woke,

relieved, confused.  Was it my father or yours

who works construction and can’t stay home?

Was it my mother, or yours, whose housekeeping clients

cancel day after day without offering to pay?

Where does toilet paper come from?





Pushcart Prize Nomination from Cagibi!

I am thrilled to share that Cagibi nominated “My American Childhood in Reverse” for a Pushcart Prize!

Read the announcement here. I am unbelievably honored that it was nominated alongside such other wonderful poems and authors.

And this is what a Pushcart Prize is. I am not sure when they announce the winners… but send me good luck for this (difficult, terrifying, healing) poem (a sestina!) that I wrote in 2015–and that was rejected at 40 other journals before Cagibi accepted it for their wonderful journal–and then nominated for a Pushcart.