The Land I Knew
The land I knew when I was four
was never domesticated.
The headboard of the Sierras shot up
from the tangled sheets of the
Central Valley, their snow the savior
or traitor in California summers.
The land I knew ran barefoot
without fearing nails or glass,
sang songs without fearing plagiarism, and
carried all she needed on her back.
The land I knew when I was nineteen
had secrets. Under maple and alder
were wires and walls, and an unseen
lawnmower was always humming
in the smallest state. The land I knew
left the window open, and the night
rain fell through the screen. She was chased
away by wasps hiding in abandoned
hand-pumps, and she walked out late at night
into the humid air and fireflies.
The land where I sit is unknown to me,
and a familiar lullaby to the one I love.
Blond brick walled house at my back,
flood of corn ahead, and sky beyond.
The sound of the poplar windbreak out
behind the barn, and the sharp smell
of fresh romaine. The cows stare at me
with eyes like judgmental aunts
as I drive the truck, certain that
these fields are not mine to know.
At night, I would brush my mother’s hair.
Sitting on the seashell comforter,
skinny legs dangling on either side of her shoulders,
her dark earthy hair blanketing
my hand-me-down pajama pants.
I lived in the attic, painted the
color of the sky. On the winter nights
when she read and I brushed,
it was the warmest room in the house.
I would start at the tips, and by chapter’s end,
the hair flowed without resistance,
as though I were drawing the characters from my mother’s
imagination and into my hands
with each stroke of the brush.
I found the white hairs first,
stiffer and unexpected by the temples.
A bright streak of phosphorescence in
her midnight ocean. I touched them with
reverence, silently folding them into her braids.
I don’t brush my mother’s hair anymore.
When I called her tonight, I heard the echo
of my shaking voice mix indistinguishable with hers.
She started from the ends.
I sat between her knees,
telling her a story to be brushed straight
by deft hands and coiled into something manageable.
1941 / 2017
transcends time and
He stands, 6 feet 2
of half-absent man,
against the weight of his
duffel bag, in the
minutes before leaving.
His shorn hair,
this nondescript afternoon
and my shining eyes.
An incomplete thought
settles heavy on my sternum.
This is all more I think
goodbye under the fluorescent
lights of a dorm room.
More than a plane flight
or his nights in rooms
I will never know.
I think this might be a dance.
The steps come to me slowly,
falling through generations,
like a spoon through honey.
I raise my hand to the softness
of the back of his neck,
knowing that he must now slide his hand
along the waist of my dress.
This dance was practiced
before there were wars to be fought,
before the word goodbye was known.
Perhaps it was born
when lips were created to be kissed,
and when bodies were created to be
This dance was refined
by the feet of my
and her mother
and all the women who
said goodbye to their men.
Who mourned the part of them
that receding into the distance
as the plane or bus or ship left.
The ones who learned
the weight of waiting
of changing, of finding
the strength they feared losing.
This is Vietnam and Iran
Troy and the Western Front.
This is the dance I was never
taught, that runs in my veins
He bends as I rise on tiptoe
catching me in his arms.
My skirts swirl around us,
my breast swells with pride.
The kiss lasts until my calves burn,
and I speak the last words of the script.
“Take care of yourself out there”