Empty Frames

to my mother Elizabeth M. Hooker
and in memory of J. Michael Soares

Perhaps you were right, not suffering such a loss
would make the day seem less like waiting for results
of a CAT scan—pacing the house,

checking each squeaky hinge or drippy faucet,
trying to prevent yourself from reminiscing
about such a tiny casket.

Maybe the empty frames
displayed among pictures from your honeymoon
to Hawaii or my high school graduation

wouldn’t be labeled with the milestones
you wished your first son had seen: Mikey’s Kindergarten graduation,
First loose tooth
, Remission.

Even as you scream as I leave you
to transport clients to appointments or recede into the embrace
of a strange woman, convinced each goodbye is our last,

I find myself agreeing with your confession
—unlike the boy I was,
sitting in the car across from you

the day you told me,
“If I could do it all again,
I'd never have kids.”

You had confessed this before, but it wasn’t until that day
my tears finally spoke what I could not say
that we both understood blame could be inherited.


Ode to Sipping Tea with My Grandmother

During an April afternoon that never happened,
we sit around the flimsy foldout table as the hospital room

fills with the aroma of Earl Grey. I burn
my nose while sipping from a cafeteria mug, sifting

through memories as one would tea leaves—feeling our time melt
faster than the ice chips bouncing in your plastic cup.

I watch each thought rise like steam, cascading into stories
I always wished to share with you:

when I finally finished my hand drawn, office paper comic book
in which your character saves humanity from the evil space slugs,

how dad and I would name our shiny, new golden Labrador ‘Bandit’
and the tears bled by the driver who hit him before Bandit got up to lick her hand,

what sprouted the idea to grow my hair long
as well as the tangles and knots that justified straightening it,

how I told every women I dared to submerge my heart into
about you

—which is how I remember almost every one of them was a smoker,
how slowly each took their drags after I said how your story ended.

As my teeth begin to gnaw at my lip, a remnant
of the same habit I took up in spite your lesson,

I find myself wishing you could see this April afternoon—that you aren’t gone,
just slowly recovering in the hospital room where I saw you last—

recalling that warm grin you would always greet me with
as I poured my imagination

onto the driveway of your old apartment building;
nestling, in the corner of your mouth, a cigarette

as you take a drag and slowly disappear
into the fading plumes.


Lift Like Branches

there is bark in this skin
sap in this blood
these wood bones lift like branches
reaching for something beyond the earth I was rooted in
wishing to be more than timber for another’s fire
wishing to be leaves that provide shade
to be nuts & syrup which nourish, even in a winter

this trunk that I am is covered with knots
wanting to be filled with nests & larvae
with a love only a parent knows
to have all my emptiness to be a home
to have these branches be strong enough
to cradle a child
to hold her up
to have her climb and reach heights
I never could


Spaghetti Westerns With My Father

As we watched the sheriff win a gunfight
with a man whose life probably didn’t pan out
the way he had hoped—collapsing, face down, under the high noon—
my father shares the film’s sentiment of justice served;

but once the lawman says what little he needed to
and trots his journey back to where he lays his head,
I couldn’t help wondering what he was returning to
and whether he considered such a place "home."

If, at every sunset he rode into, every lone cactus and tumbleweed he passed,
he would see the faces of men he justly served,
staring at him like cattle before supper—frozen
where they stood, spurs sunk in the soil,
boots worn in a way as though running was all they had known.

Or, after leaving his wife more times than chambers emptied,
whether she considered him a dead man—
not so much to stop herself from seeing his silhouette in every lantern flicker
nor prevent the bodies propped up in the mortician’s window from resembling him,
but more a shooting star wish to spare his soul
from the duty that made his heart as hard as a badge.

Before the final shot faded into credits
I turned to my father and asked, “who really won?”
And, with a stern look and a blank stare,
he replied, “the man with a clear conscience.”


Funk & Fire

for SCUL

Traversing the dark,
shouting "Bust a Funk" as we
pedal personaes,

Echoing each their
own safe return—not to home
but a self yet found.

May our ship's glow pale
in comparison to the
fire which propels us.


Stargazing On Rooftops

for Desiree Bucko

We spent the nights of that summer stargazing on rooftops,
watching as though our memories were on display
—pointing to every could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve,
pretending they were so far away that they couldn’t affect us anymore.

You would tell me there was a darkness inside of you,
how some days you didn’t know what to do
with yourself, so you would just lay there
with that black burning in your breast.

I would tell you the only reason anything burns
is because something wants to shine
—how the sun gets its light from the same energy that beats a heart,
so somewhere inside was a star waiting to give guidance.

When you asked how I could be so sure
I told you what guided me
when I needed guiding the most
was you;

How there was a time when the world’s weight
made it impossible to lift my head,
passing the days by counting each step
as I tripped over everything I walked into.

Finally I bumped into you,
a presence so bright it lifted gravity,
and you told me that my eyes should never look down
for it was the only way to see the potholes in the miles ahead.

We would end up watching many memories that summer,
never pretending how much it hurt to do so
but found comfort in knowing
we didn’t always have to look alone.



I loved you from afar
on this island I call “myself,”
watching you travel across a dark sky
to light the night.

When you were here
the sea shined a blue I never knew
and once you left the beauty stayed,
reminding me of you.

I knew your name yet never called,
expecting you to return as easily as you came;
now I scream in hopes you’re near
but you are too far to hear.

Wherever you are,
a cascade of hue surely following,
know that it was you who showed me the day
and nothing could take such a lesson away.



for my grandmother, Helen E. Levreault

The boy sees her lay on the bed, tubes
protruding out from her mouth;
no breath can be called her own.

As he cries into his father’s belly
he thinks of all the prayers he sang,
believing that a melody
made words memorable enough
so God couldn’t ignore them.

He was too afraid to say so
with family in the room
—sitting there, listening to them

say it was okay for her to leave,
but all he heard were his own thoughts,
thinking of ways to convince her to stay.

She was smiling as she always did
—always welcoming, even in a casket;

the wrinkles rippling the sides of her mouth,
eyelids creating crescent moons
as her light trickled
down her lashes, carrying her
to where light was all there was,
where light was all she would be.

Her golden locks tumbled
like foliage bringing a winter.

The winter lasted many moons,
a chill emanating from the boy's bones;
as he slept, his teeth would chatter,

trying to get his lips
to say the goodbye
he kept on the tip of his tongue.

After many sleepless sleeps
the boy begins to write his farewell,
gathering sticks and stones and cinders
to spell out his words in the snow.

He does not care who sees them,
no longer worries whether heaven ignores him,
his toil is what keeps him warm.

He will see the sun rise one day,
it will be gold, its light will ease
his restless frame, thawing
the world around him,
turning his words into oak and cedar.

That day, the foliage will return with a spring,
in which he will bathe
the soot from his body
and see that he is a boy no longer.


Past the Mountain Ridge

Let us go into exile,
tame the ghosts who hold our feet
for where we stand
we cannot see past the mountain ridge.

Let us make our lives
no longer mere moments
but our moments, entire lives;
whisper our tales to the ancestors,
make them honored to share the sky.

Let us forge our children from the earth,
take a piece of the sun and place it inside them,
explain how there are no lords here;
we hold even the soil as siblings, as ourselves,
for when we make our return
we are held as softly.

Let us see our final day standing,
our last breath coming
as the first time air entered our mouth.
Carry what we leave to the rituals,
offer our thanks for it was a noble vessel.



Somewhere within the screaming and shouting
he was taught a unique way to say, “I love you.”

Returning each school night he saw
pride was only to be carried and never given.

With a fatherly hand he would know
people as a means through which one knew fear.

In a house that was no longer a home he believed
God was an estranged man who got mothers drunk.

He would criticize himself into a man,
fucking only to feel less alone

yet always wishing he could ask them to stay
before the dark rooms faded into his sleep,

but no matter how many times he said, “I love you,”
no one could understand him.

Eventually he would lock himself inside himself,
seeing only his mistakes repeated over and over.

He would see himself for the first time
when he discovered his own words—waking

to his own reflection, the shards and space he thought he was
holding themselves together with a strength he never knew.

He hears himself say, “I love you,”
in a language he thought was lost, repeating

those words again and again; first from disbelief
and then from fear that he would forget.

He dreams for the first time,
leaving a house which speaks to him no longer.


Reflection of an Extraterrestrial

While it is true that these beings
may have witnessed their own image
on the slick, starlit surfaces
which cover the lands of their home,
no sound spoken in their tongue could
describe such a tiny trinket
capturing their likeness with not
a transparency or limit
in time of night; just their own face
as their own eye would see all else.

Yet the question remains whether
the features they wear can perceive
beyond utility of hue,
size, or stature and are granted
a reflection which sees beauty
within itself as well as in
its fellow creatures, habitat,
and the celestial arcane
that surrounds both visitor and
native; in which case, we might see
no longer an oddity to
study or document, only
ourselves mirrored in a new light.



For her

Before saying that one thing
you always wanted to say to someone else
but hardly say to yourself,

know there is something inside
that is worthwhile,

that sometimes a friendship
is the closest you’ll ever get
but it’s better to laugh than not,

and, more often, a simple detail
makes her notice
that you notice her,

and when she does
remember that voice in your head which screams
“she deserves better than you”
isn’t a bastard,
just that part afraid of getting hurt again.

When she lays next to you, head on your chest,
listen to her breath
and know, in that moment, nothing else exists,

and if you’re unsure
of where your hands should go
let her guide you—

in each other you’ll find a missing part.

When she asks what you’re afraid of,
tell her—

tell her it’s fucking all this up
and being forgotten,

and when mistakes happen
don’t pretend they won’t linger and grow
into problems,

and know that words are no one’s strong suit
but even half a syllable weights more than silence.

When you see her slipping away,
don’t just reach out into the dark,

run and, if it’s a distance you can’t outpace,
keep going;
there’s no use returning to empty space.

When you find yourself alone
in a crowd, like times before,
listen to that beating within

and know everything that was worthwhile
is still alive.