waitress poems

Saturday, July 30, 2005


The first time you took me out
in your fast car
I felt the cold, the whiplike
touch of speed, sex's awkward jitterbug
snapping steel fingers between us.
You warmed me with her fox jacket
which lay in the backseat
like a sleeping child.
It's a fake, you said,
in deference to my animal sensitivity.
But as soon as I put it on
I felt the fox
still breathing inside it.

Since then I have come home
to sleep in her canopy bed--
the actress whos big break came
when the star leaped from
a window.

I think she is my mother,
this fox who sings to me
long after you fall asleep,
who urges me to dress warm on cold days
helping me into the silk-lined coat,
they made from her hide.

I think she is my sister,
this star
who disappears whenever I try
to learn her secrets--
a flash of red fur
free as fire, free
as my breath burning holes
in the stillness of this room.

first appeared in The Beloit Poetry Journal

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Even though the siren is in the distance,
you know where it's heading.

Even though the fire has not yet begun,
your burning is in progress.

It began somewhere behind your eyes.
And though it was just a slow smoldering heat,

you immediately sensed it's greed.
That was when you first began

crawling through your life on hands and knees
hoarding oxygen in your clenched fists.

You know what is coming--
With sorrow, you watch those who are

still walking upright, inhaling smoke in gulps.
But there is little time for warnings

when the smoke is already acid in your eye.
You keep crawling at a steady pace,

watching the signs and arrows
that lead to the roof.

And when you arrive, well-trained
from a lifetime of fire drills,

you exit the building like a victor.
From below, the blind crowd screams.

Clearly, they don't understand
that you are one step ahead of the rescue team,

that you are wearing a red cross over your heart
and have come to save yourself

as best you know how. Their voices break open
like sirens as if they didn't see

the flames splattering in relief on the street,
the smoke dissolving in the air.

This poem, written many years ago and long forgotten, first appeared in the wonderful and now defunct Poetry Northwest. Reading it now, I am startled by its dark vision. It seems to have been written by a stranger.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


The most handsome man I ever saw
spent his summers
glistening on the hood of a car
that hadn’t moved in at least a year.
Spectacularly shirtless, he smoked too much dope,
married at seventeen, was never around
when the social workers came to
evaluate his wife’s claim.
The most handsome man I ever saw
was a gardener; his beans and sunflowers
sprawled in the open field
behind the project, a verdant patch
in a scraped out lot that belonged to no one.
And all through the short steamy season
the women, the young girls, the chicas--
they came to him. Came to him in the dark,
came to him in the garden,
came to him in the stalled out car--
his office in the Department
of Dangerously Stunning Idlers.
They came to smell the sun that
lingered on his skin, came to understand
why they shivered in 90 degree heat
when he passed them on the street,
came to taste the lush red tomatoes
that grew sweeter that summer
than they ever would again.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Here there will be no brandy
lighting your body like
a secret cave. Your only escape
will be by window where night,
cut in squares by
a child's blunt scissors
spies on you like a portrait
of the great grandfather
who has been
staring you down for decades
with his greedy eyes.

Though you've only been here
a few days, you're beginning
to forget the way the trees
chant to each other in wind,
and the vibrant blues and oranges
of the quilt you put between
yourself and night.
At first you try to pretend
you stumbled onto this
snowy landscape by accident;
it has nothing to do with you.

But a Portuguese woman is dying
in the bed beside you.
When she forgets the language she's
used for forty years
and breaks through in her primal tongue,
everything comes closer--
the fans whirring on the roof
like your own heart,
the night that can't be locked out
roaring in your blood.

first appeared in Cimarron Review

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


In-the-out-door and
How many times will she
get hit in the face with
the automatic door before she
learns-the-rules? Ever
see her? She's the one
with the broken nose
laughing at the wrong time
in the ampitheater.
At four years old, she
ran so fast across her mother's
kitchen that her hand
went through the window
with the impact. You
will know her on sight: her
scars are flowers in disguise.
Her occupation is building
cities out of broken glass. Her
courage is what keeps the doors
opening and closing against
the wind.

Comment: Broken Glass, which first appeared in Aphra was my first published poem. I can still remember how I felt when the package arrived containing my contributor's copies. I was so excited I had to wait a full five minutes before I opened it.

Oh yes, and after all these years, I'm still going out the in door.

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