Monday, September 27, 2010


My friend Aaron Poochigian translated Sappho for Penguin. Every few weeks I reread the slim volume and usually end up getting one stuck in my head. This was the most recent:

Cold grew
The spirits of the ladies;
They drew
Their wings close to their bodies.

--Sappho, trans. Aaron Poochigian

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Zen for Claire

I got this email from my friend Claire this morning:
"I was reading your poem game blog last night and saw that people other than Richie had requested poems from you, not necessarily for the poem game, but just for themselves. So... if and when you have time and inspiration, please may I have a poem about.....zen?"

Spring Break Chez Demeter

When she's here with me, I make her feel at home,
decorating to her taste of Laura Ashley
quilts and drapes, Ikea accent rugs
in polka dots of sunny yellow, green,
and blue, but when she leaves to go back to
the scuffed, stone halls--her life away from me,
I pack up all her floral, frilly things,
revert to minimalist hues of blank
white canvas, bare windows, and sculpted trees
with branches, stripped, that reach for Zen, not Zeus
because it's when she's gone that I'm at home.

Originally published in Mezzo Cammin, Volume 2, Issue 1

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hand Models

I went to a ladies night on Wednesday. It was sweet and uncluttered with expectations. In attendance were some of my closest friends, a few good friends, a handful of acquaintances, a couple coworkers, and total strangers. By the end of the night, I'd briefly greeted my closest friends, caught up with my good friends, had connection-strengthening conversations with some acquaintances, teased some coworkers, and got to know two total strangers--then ended up going to Guns N' Chicken (the best-named bar in the BVI) with them and my dear friend Emma. During the course of the evening at the Spa at Scrub Island (where the event was being held), I got a hand massage. This poem is about hand models.

Hand Models

The most desired models look to have
no bones. They want to show the skin, that’s all:
the conch pink palms, a wrist of wet, taupe clay
atop a potter’s wheel. Their skeletons
must be forgotten, so if anything
but smooth appears, it’s airbrushed out to make
them seem unnaturally natural.
The money’s in the muting. I see through
them like an X-ray, past the spongy, blurred
facade into the hard, white frame beneath.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


This week, while researching the winemakers of the 2010 Winemakers Dinners for the October issue of the BVI Yacht Guide, I came across Stephen Tanzer's description of the Bouchard Père & Fils 2007 Chevalier Montrachet as having a finish “which opens like a peacock’s tail.”

Today, my friend Jean asked me for a copy of the first poem of mine she'd ever read, "One Week," so she could memorize it for class, and when I searched gmail for it, I used these two words: peacock pumps.

One Week

For one desperate week she wanted you,
To gnaw your cracked cuticles until they bled,
Then drain them dry, your bloods commingling. In bed
She conjured up your eyes as green, not blue,
And pleased, instead of pleading to undo
The spell she'd cast. Desire gave her head-
Aches, stirred her ovaries, made her hipbones spread,
Her spine stack, her toes curl inside each shoe.

You never knew. But I did. So I pissed
A ring around you to keep her out, disinterred
The local vampire, asked when she'd been bitten,
Wore the peacock pumps you couldn't resist,
Crossed off each day, not worried or deterred,
Reading her like a book that I had written.

First published in Poetry, November 2003

Here's a recording of Roethke reading "My Papa's Waltz," which was one of the first poems I memorized. This recording is pretty significant because when Roethke reads it, he stresses "you" when the meter dictates that it should be unstressed, emphasizing the pronoun and turning it into an accusation.

My Papa's Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ewan McGregor

This weekend we went to Baltimore where my British boyfriend attended his first baseball game, met my family's alpacas, got drunk in Fells Point, visited the Maryland State Fair, steamed and ate Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, toured a submarine, brunched at Woodberry Kitchen, and went on a sunset sail around the Harbour. On the plane ride back, the film we opted not to watch, The Ghost Writer, starring Ewan McGregor, played on the screen in front of our seats. Here's a poem not about that film.

Character Study

I feel like Ewan McGregor’s character
in Shallow Grave—pinned flat to the pine floor
by the knife his best friend stabbed him with. That same
friend lies beside him, dead. The girl took off
with the bag of loot and boarding pass but not
before she used her shoe to hammer in
the knife so Ewan couldn’t follow her.

He smiles because beneath the planks
he’s anchored to, his blood drips on the bills
that aren’t, in fact, inside the sack the girl
is hauling to the plane. He knows the knife
will be removed, and while it’s going to fucking hurt,
he’s set for life. Until that time, he waits,
unable to remove the knife himself.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

For Jessica's Birthday

A couple years ago, in Franny & Zooey, I read Buddy Glass's description of his brother, Zooey, and it made me think of my little sister. I reproduce it here for her birthday, along with an excerpt from my novel in which I try to describe the character that's based on her.

From Franny & Zooey:

"From the rear--particularly where his vertebrae were visible--he might almost have passed for one of those needy metropolitan children who are sent out every summer to endowed camps to be fattened and sunned. Close up, either full-face or in profile, he was surpassingly handsome, even spectacularly so. His eldest sister (who modestly prefers to be identified here as a Tuckahoe homemaker) has asked me to describe him as looking like "the blue-eyed Jewish-Irish Mohican scout who died in your arms at the roulette table at Monte Carlo." A more general and surely less parochial view was that his face had been just barely saved from too-handsomeness, not to say gorgeousness, by virtue of one ear's protruding slightly more than the other. I myself hold a very different opinion from either of these. I submit that Zooey's face was close to being a wholly beautiful face. As such, it was of course vulnerable to the same variety of glibly undaunted and usually specious evaluations that any legitimate art object is. I think it just remains to be said that any one of a hundred everyday menaces--a car accident, a head cold, a lie before breakfast--could have disfigured or coarsened his bounteous good looks in a day or a second. But what was undiminishable, and, as already so flatly suggested, a joy of a kind forever, was an authentic esprit superimposed over his entire face--especially at the eyes, where it was often as arresting as a Harlequin mask, and, on occasion, much more confounding."

From Mary Lord French Fry:

Chapter Four

"steps out the front door like a ghost into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white" --Counting Crows

            She met her sister Beatrix outside The Idle Hour Bar, two blocks away from Bea’s apartment in Fed Hill. As soon as they ducked in and perched on stools inside the tiny, one-roomed bar (its maximum capacity, according to the sign beside the door, was 38), their eyes adjusted to the low bar light. They both observed the newest paintings on the walls—cartoon, acrylic women sporting lips like footballs, plunger nipples, crayfish-shaped vaginas, asses round as honeydews.
            “That’s gross,” Bea said. “For real. Who picks this stuff?”
            “Is that one fisting herself? Ew. And ouch.”
            “Just look away.” Bea swiveled to the bar and lit a cigarette. “There’s no escape. They’re still behind us in the mirror. Fuck. I think we have to leave.”
            But Mary stared, instead, at Bea—a perfect antidote to all the caricatures of women on the walls.
            Bea’s skin was putty-colored—cheeks and shoulders, arms and neck of unfired clay. Her white smile welcomed like the pages of an unread book. There’ve been debates about the color of her eyes because they changed as often as the sky. She was beautiful enough to know but not so beautiful she didn’t forget about it most the time.
            “I see you guys have noticed the new show,”  the owner, Dario, probably high, remarked as he approached them. “Drinks?” he asked.
            “We might be getting out of here,” said Bea who glanced disdainfully around the room.
            “Because of them? C’mon. They’re great.” He pushed against the bar and rocked back on his heels then leaned in close as if about to make a statement so profound it’d change their lives. “Get this, they’re each a portrait of an ex-girlfriend.” He raised his eyebrows, nodded towards the walls. “Before the opening, I talked to Gil, the artist who created these. He told me they would all be at the show. So, as they filtered in, I recognized each girl.”
            “But how? Their faces look the same.”
            “I guess that’s not what I was looking at.” His gaze lit on the one with plunger tits. “Just stay. One drink at least. You never know, you might find something good in them. One drink. On me. Champagne?”
             The girls exchanged a glance.
            “I can’t turn down free champagne,” Bea said.