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Last Words [Dec. 4th, 2017 09:33 pm]

The tiny lamp on my nightstand
with its brushed aluminum base
and yellowed shade covered in dust
spreads light all over my bedroom.

It lends a glow to each wall
spills lumens on the carpeted floor
and makes shadows evaporate
from the corners of the ceiling.

Tucked away on a shelf below
rests a draft of my dad's last words
read aloud at his memorial
by a dear family friend.

I received a copy of them
in the mail on a rainy day
which smudged a bit of the text
as though it had been written in ash.

When I switch on my bedside lamp
I like to think it draws power
from those words, letting its bulb shine
even if the cord were unplugged.

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Retired Acrobat [Nov. 5th, 2017 09:00 pm]

A few year ago she was in prime shape,
thrilling audiences each night of the week
with her solo act under the big top.
Suspended from a perilous vantage
high above the stage, she contorted
her limber body around the trapeze,
her muscles rippling from exertion.

She spun wildly, flinging her braided hair
like a bullwhip, and at the very end
she would perform a quadruple full twist
to dismount, the crowd beginning to cheer
before her feet had even touched the mat.
One evening, her hand lingered on the bar
a bit too long; she over-rotated

perhaps two degrees, and when she landed
off her mark, her pinky toe snapped in half.
She smiled through the shock,
taking in a well-deserved reward
of thunderous applause, then exited
behind the curtain after the spotlight
went black, the same as every show for years.

What seemed a minor injury took months
to heal. But worse, the memory of that
imperfect finish frayed her nerves:
she lost confidence in stunts she used to do
with eyes closed, training was a painful chore,
she missed rehearsals. Her coach grew impatient.
The circus declined to renew her contract.

Now in her thirties, she tumbles through
various jobs while she goes back to school.
Someday she wants to be a talent scout
for her home country's gymnastics team.
In the meantime, she tutors algebra,
works a shift at an upscale restaurant,
and freelances as a babysitter.

She maintains her physique as best she can
through a daily routine of exercise
that starts, without fail, the hour before dawn.
Once in a while, she suddenly wakes up
from a recurring dream where she can still hear
the sound it made when that tiny bone
at the tip of her foot broke with a pop.

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Change [Oct. 4th, 2017 09:36 am]

When the hammer strikes
against a metal sheet
and leaves its mark
on the tranquil flatness
          now forever changed
          sculpted into a new shape
so it is with certain events
and the impact they have on life
such as the sudden loss
          of someone close
not like a rock thrown in a pond
whose surface resumes
a pristine stillness
once all the ripples have spread
to the shore
but more like a piece of steel
bent around an anvil
          blow after blow.

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Poetry Competition, Iran (circa 1600) [Sep. 18th, 2017 10:42 am]

Painted on square pieces of lacquered brick,
two poets kneel opposite each other
shaded by the canopy of a tree
with broad leaves and delicate, pink flowers.

At the right, in a saffron-colored robe,
head lowered over a sheet of paper,
one of them lifts his pen from an ink pot,
preparing to write a brand new stanza.

The other, in a cerulean gown,
a yellow scarf wrapped around his back,
stretches out both hands in front of him
as he recites a freshly composed verse.

Behind them on the emerald lawn,
wearing a dark vestment adorned with flames,
stands the judge who listens to each contestant
before she decides which is the winner -

and what a difficult choice it must be,
for you can feel almost equal refreshment
from their lyric voices, like a cool breeze
that moves through a garden on a hot day.

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Black Widow [Aug. 3rd, 2017 01:31 pm]

We spent the day packing up her cottage,
a cute mid-century modern structure
that looked like it could vanish in a puff
of dust if a strong enough breeze blew past.

I was carrying one of the last loads
through the kitchenette and out to the car
when I heard her call me from the bedroom.
Her voice wavered slightly, as though fearful.

She had stopped in the middle of her task,
rolling up a carpet from Kazakhstan,
and pointed at the floor in front of her
where a spider lurked by the rug's fringe.

Its shiny abdomen gave it away -
dark as pitch, round as a drop of poison -
with long, spindly legs and a tiny head.
We shuddered instinctively at the sight.

Neither of us wanted it dead. I tried
to wrangle it inside a paper bag,
but it would not be easily trapped
and scuttled off whenever I got close.

Such a small thing, yet so deadly as well.
I am not proud of how I used a broom
to sweep it onto the floor, then stamped out
its life under the toe of my sneaker.

Although I think we both felt relieved,
and she thanked me for taking care of it,
I saw her face contort with a hint of sorrow.
I have to say I shared her sense of remorse.

Later that evening, we told this story
to her parents over dinner. Her dad
expressed dismay when we finished our tale,
almost like the spider had been a friend.

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A Nun's Devotional Work [Jul. 25th, 2017 12:16 pm]

In the book she illustrated,
Judith stands behind Holofernes
and drives a spike through his neck -
causing blood to gush out, which stains
the page of this medieval text
so that even the words themselves
are seen to turn from black to red.

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In the Shadow of Mount Umunhum [Jun. 26th, 2017 07:03 pm]

If there were a shadow to be found
this afternoon, which there is not.
Anyhow, today is the kind
when shade provides little relief,
sun so hot my eyelids feel scorched.
This heat wave has lasted a whole week!
All I want to do is get outdoors
on days I have off, but as my brain cooks
in the cauldron of my skull,
I realize a hike was a bad idea.

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Strawberry Season Back Home in Vermont [Jun. 17th, 2017 12:27 pm]
Viewed by a Guy Who Now Lives in California

After a long winter and a wet spring
when sunshine was scarce enough for concern,
the first strawberries of summer are here
to be enjoyed during a brief season.

A friend share a photo of them online:
plump, sumptuous, red as rubies
but more precious due to the way they nourish
those who waited through months of dreary weather.

Their profusion in California -
huge fields along the coast by Watsonville,
sold at grocery stores almost year round -
seems outlandish to someone from Vermont

          and makes me forget how sweet this fruit can taste
          when it is only on hand a short while.

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haiku for Issa's birthday [Jun. 15th, 2017 01:26 pm]

The sun is hot -
a crow hides in the shade
of a persimmon tree.

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Farmers' Market [Jun. 11th, 2017 03:39 pm]

There is no map of the Farmers' Market.
Every Saturday, the arrangement of stalls
is different, so you need to figure out
where Radical Roots sells baby carrots;

you must search again for where Evening Song
displays arugula and pea shoot greens,
where Three Bears Bakery has ciabatta,
where Whaleback Vineyard offers apple wine.

Some would call this an opportunity
for a planner, or a cartographer,
to help shoppers locate the goods they seek -

but I value the weekly change in landscape,

            how the path you choose through the vendors
            lets you discover for yourself a prized find.

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