Cold feet in May, double-socked, toes still stiff
warm cheeks because of something you said to me,
blood still flowing
somewhere, at least
I smell cut grass, taste the chill of night descending
What season am I in?
What life is this?
I want someone to comfort me, to tell me I’m doing right
or just to tell me to do something, and what that something should be.
I can’t take this change alone, this hurtling towards some wild what.
The world isn’t stopping so I’m holding as best I can,
holding my very best
Earlier today I sat in a dim-lit room and listened to nothing but everyone breathe
and that was everything, everything!

I wonder what your life was like when you were young.
I picture quiet streets, everyone knew your family.
Everyone knew you.
In grocery stores they’d ask what you were learning.
They’d tell you you were smart.
Leaves under your feet
school trips and brothers and God
or something like it
How did you picture your life would be?
Did you know I’d turn up
like I had some right to be there?
(That’s how I usually turn up, and I usually don’t.)
But I come in anyway
I dismantle what people think is true
I break teacups and leave traces
blood and glitter, glass and gold
Sometimes I forget to clean up the mess.
Sometimes I remember and leave it.
Did you see it coming?
Did you know me in your mother’s arms
in the sun flooding your eyes
in the way you think you hear me laugh when I’m somewhere else crying?
I spent years looking for you
not even knowing I was
and I’ll spend the rest of my life
trying to leave you
with nothing to gather or sweep or scrub or throw away
It’s the very least I can do.

We are all scattered in the plains and the hills.
Visits, all tiny postcards of life
I fold us together a sunset picnic
so you can watch the night birds on the Sound
You buy me coffee while I write our lives entwined.
We climb what there is to climb.
You bring me lavender in escaping bundles.
I sleep some of my best nights under your watch.
Whenever I leave I am welcomed back
and I need to remember, re remember, re re remember
how I’ve been given the precious gift of so many homes.
We kicked around tourist towns
you talked about architecture, I pulled you to the ferry deck
and breathed until the salt air shocked my lungs alive.
You showed me your city
I fell in love and hauled everything across the country
only to haul it back.
Who knows what is right forever
I can only guess what is right right now.
You hold my hand when we’re walking
You make jam with me in a cramped kitchen
You painted my toenails, once, and I wore flip flops for a week.
You showed me the softness of your life
I reveled in it all.
I’m always looking back while walking forward
and you tell me you’ll love me whereever I decide to go.

I have a memory of being a wobbly little girl
and tracing the curve of a smile
on the face of someone I loved.
I don’t know whose face
whose smile
or if it even happened.
But I see it clearly in my mind
upturned mouth, wrinkly crinkly eyes
someone smiling at me saying,
“This is how people who see
know that I am happy. I’m happy because of you.
I’m smiling because you’re here.”
So I learned to emulate that upslanted mouth
the open face of a person happy for the presence of another
even though I’ve never seen it with my eyes.
I know a smile by a voice
maybe giddy around the edges
always warm throughout
I know a smile by a body
relaxed and loose limbed
anticipating laughter.
I know a smile by a sigh
full-bodied or muffled behind a beloved hand
I guess my smiles are less open now
less free for the taking
I don’t smile just because some man on the street says I should
and especially if he says I’ll look prettier.
I fake-smile at people
who want to pet my dog
when I’m in a hurry.
I half-smile when someone holds the door
or steps out of my way.
I can always tell
when my eyes don’t crinkle
that it isn’t real.
For most pictures, I hope someone will tell a joke
just before the flash
so that I’ll be preserved happy.
For some pictures, I’m already smiling
before I even have time to worry.
I can smile without sight
Not only because someone showed me how
but also because life has kept me practicing.
Those moments when my face opens like an outstretched hand
inviting joy
sharing mirth
loving you
Those are the happiest moments I’m alive.

You’ve had it with the rain and I can see why.
Its puddles sloosh to your belly
its drops plop on your nose
I’ve got my coat and a hood to put up when I’m not listening to traffic
and you’ve been given no such care.
I’ve made my peace with the rain, sort of;
if I want to live here, I must, but you
Ridgefield girl
Washington raised
you still aren’t convinced this is our place.
So you slink with your head down
behind my heels, glued to my side
You’d stop walking altogether if I didn’t insist
pulling you forward, up and over treeroots
around hairpin turns
across streets of cars
whose drivers aren’t focused enough on not splashing our legs in gusts of tire water
YOU pull hard for every door we pass, wanting inside, wanting the ceaseless wet to cease
Your walk becomes a trudge, a drudgery, masochism only because you love me
I wish I could tell you
that what you don’t understand, darling,
is that the only way forward is through
the only shelter lies beyond the cold rain
and even then, even when you reach your solace, your warmth, your reprieve, your dry blankets …
most likely it’ll still be raining
when it’s time to go out again.

We are on the bridge
dumped there by a squealing bus
like wobbly fawns in a wilderness of sure-pedaled cars
They are everywhere and I am shouting.
We inch along
my hand
trailing the mossy wall
who knows what else is growing there and my fingers
shrink cowardly against my will
She is tentative but trusts me.
She probably shouldn’t, but she doesn’t know.
It’s all a lot of noise with very little danger
like fear
like life
I’m not afraid of it hurting
I’m just afraid it won’t wait for me.
Slow-footed, she and I
we can’t wait to be on the ground
safe, off display
she finds me stairs, wagging, hopeful
We slink down,
down into depths that I didn’t know but now do
under the bridge is a place we sort of understand
where just weeks ago we were strangers
we are now strangers, but intimate
like fear
like life
we are touching ground, and she is bounding and happy
her once unfamiliar is familiar
toenails clattering like constancy
she sprints towards her reward
and I concede that yes,
she’ll probably get her eared scratched and her belly rubbed
when we get home.

Sometimes you go out when you shouldn’t
You walk streets you’re not sure you should walk
The maps are there, but shaky
Your head is there, but shaky.
And you walk without knowing the path or the cracks
but you have to make it look like you do.
All you have is your mind and your faith in it.
“I hope this is right” will move your feet for miles
You don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re doing it.

It doesn’t matter that you want to hesitate
that your insides are a squishy mass of fear and uncertainty
and that your back is tense with the effort of listening for footsteps behind you
they’ll know you’re lost the closer they come.
So you don’t let them know
you walk steadfast, straight ahead, chin fixed and determined
and you cross the tricky traffic
sometimes without waiting to find its pattern
because you spend so much time in life
for a word of conviction, for a break from the cold,
for a love without restriction.
So you take your chances with the traffic
and soon you almost feel like it won’t hurt
adrenaline high, highway high, traveling high
across Rena, Coolidge, Franklin, Harvard
names that mean nothing and everything
because words and cold and love are flighty
but street names are true until they’re not
and then you’re lost until you’re not
and you’re scared until you’re not.
You’d think someday it would get easier
but then you’d also think that someday, it would stop being so damn fun
And even though you’d think so,
neither has happened yet
for me.

What would you do
if you weren’t afraid of making messes?
Would you have that shot you thought would do you in
(espresso or alcohol, your call)
Would you see how it felt
to have that hard conversation
if you knew the words would come cleanly off your tongue
and all you’d have left was the reaction?
Would you walk a little faster, tip your face a little higher
Would you go ahead and make that big mistake
on purpose?
Would you hold my hand when it mattered?
Would you tell everyone you were in love?
If I could make a mess, I would be freer
I would certainly be a believer
in words like “long-term” and “change.”
And contrast.
I would run until I couldn’t think,
and not feel forced to tell you why.
Because messes are really just arbitrary things
One person’s mess is another’s joy in being
and whoever judges one’s mess is wishing they’d made it first.
If Life makes a mess of me
If I make a mess of Life
I lived
I lived
I lived

Based Blatantly on the prose poem, “If My Father Were to Ask” by S. C. Hahn
If another woman were to ask, “What’s a pole dancer?”
I would take the word “dance” and fling it far enough away
that I wouldn’t be tied to its connotations of grace and beauty.
I would replace it with a word like “explorer” or “learner”
or ditch the whole adjective-noun sequence all together and just say “poler.”
Two syllables to describe
the strength of my arms as I hang on their reliance
the muscles that tighten in my legs as I climb up and up
the slight swoop in my belly when I realize
I must make a sweaty-handed, power-drill-screechy descent back to the ground
I must always pay a small price for being up so high.
I would say that
the pole gives me an anchor
a place from which to spin out
a place to always come back to and recover.
Being a poler doesn’t make me sexier than you.
Or better in bed
or more willing to undress.
It doesn’t make me cheap or brave or slutty or badass
(if I am those things, I was them before)
It does make me feel free
and really,
that’s all you need to know.

I dreamed that Emily Dickinson took me for a walk.
She stopped to show me Autumn in the briny scent of pine cones
she placed one after another in my seeking hands.
We barely said a word.
She and I, two inward-turned observers
of vermilion-tinged changing leaves
I knew their colors without words.
I knew the ticklish, teasing breeze
that hinted iron chill but still held fleeting warmth.
My hair tingled with sensation.
Emily braided it with goldenrods.
She told me, her voice in the wind,
“Nothing Gold can Stay.”
I said, “Wait, isn’t that Robert Frost? Your own words say it better.”
She said nothing, but
cried salty raindrop tears.
I held her while the leaves blew
coming to rest on her crackly cheeks
She wept in my sticky, sap-splattered arms
Just once,
I may have saved her life.