Standing at the top,
two sets of stairs appear,
blur, drift together, then apart.
Sway, lose my balance—
I am four, five, six, seven,
falling through my childhood.

My mother and grandmother argue in the night.
I lie in bed, hearing them tear at each other—
I am the reason they fight.
Gram’s glasses, broken in the morning.

Doctors promise to fix my eye,
the one that keeps wandering,
seeing two suns, two sets of stairs, two realities,
the one never spoken of that I feel inside
and the one everyone pretends is real.

The day of the operation
black-robed men come and stand by my hospital bed.
I am certain this means death.
The nurse puts a needle in my arm.
It hurts—then it is over.

Peek out of a patch that covers my left eye.
They tell me it won’t heal straight.
Yet I can’t help wanting to watch the sunlight
slanting through the small space above the curtains
to see the light, that transforms everything.

A Cry

Dedicated to the 1,134 young black men killed by police in the U.S. in 2015
and to Trayon Martin, Feb.5, 1995-2012

Walking down the street,
talking to his girlfriend on his cell,
one hand in his pocket,
he looked up at the night sky,
moon behind the clouds,
when a man came up behind him.

The man yelled at him, called him names
to hurt him. The boy, only 17,
turned and ran. The man kept chasing him.
There was an argument.
The man was a neighborhood watch captain,
watching out for anyone he could bully.

And the boy—how could he know
the man had a gun?
When his cell phone clattered
to the ground,
the last words his girlfriend heard were
“Help! Help,”

The man thought the boy was
different than him,
separate from him,
that he could make his own
fear and hate of himself die—by killing.

He didn’t see the moment
when the boy stepped out,
stood above his body,
all pain gone,
his heart, quiet,
continue his journey toward the stars.

There is the boy taking a walk in the night,
whose life was stopped short.
And a man who extinguished a life,
yet got the charges dropped:
the old, tragedy happening over
and over again.

Does Trayvon’s cell phone
still lie open in the street,
echoing in the night, a cry for help?
Are we, the ones who can still speak out,
are we doing enough today—to
change the story?

Monday Morning

In the silence of early morning,
I stand outside
ready to go to work.
Across the road a buck appears,
antlers upraised.
He looks at me—
and time shifts.
The only movement he makes
is to turn his head slowly,
then back to face me again.
He does not tell me
everything is all right.
He stands, like a prince,
showing he is at home,
even on a broken patch of cement
in this strange little world of ours.
He brings me in with his gaze
showing me what it is to be tender,
including me in his world for a moment,
as time winds out on a spool—we are kin.


This picture was taken by my neighbor, Eileen English, the morning the deer appeared,



Early in the morning, I leave my house
with my mother and stepfather sleeping.
Stashed in my red Greek bag are books,
my glasses, and an extra pair of jeans.
I leave for school as usual, with a piece of toast in my hand.
Walk in the high school’s heavy front doors and out the back.
Powerful—this feeling of freedom.

I wait at Loring Park, near my friend’s apartment,
until her mother goes to work.
Sit on one of the swings, brown hair
whipping my face in the wind, watching birds fly.
Paw the ground with toes of my moccasins,
the kind with fringe, the ones with thin leather for a sole.
It is a gray October morning, the long prelude to winter, just beginning.

A scruffy man comes by, I ask for a cigarette,
he gives me one and we talk,
blowing out plumes of smoke.
I try to tell how I’m changing the whole pattern of my life,
how I am only beginning to be free—
I want to eat freedom, drink it, live it.

I do not tell him I met a girl two days ago
who’s on the run from the detention center,
or that I will go to her apartment soon
and we will dye my hair black,
walk to the other side of town,
find somewhere to live.

I do not tell him that in a few weeks
she will steal the only things I have,
my red Greek bag
with my jeans and books
and glasses,
and go off with some bikers.
I don’t even know that yet.

Walking out of the park,
leaving empty swings behind,
I glance back at the swans
swimming around and around the pond.
Freedom strengthens me,
my innocence carries me,
as I walk into my own life.

He Was Born Sometime in June

I don’t know my father
or his secrets.
Or the reason he drinks
thirteen drinks in one night,
or who hurt him,
or why he is so angry.
He gives me music,
like a transfusion,
from his blood to mine,
the best part of him.
He plays the piano,
does it save him,
until his liver cries out,
too scarred to keep on?
I don’t even know
what day he was born on,
who he’s afraid of,
what he loves,
what he dreams of.

The Swing

We sit on the swing on the back porch.
It is night–always night with my mother.
We have matching sun dresses that summer,
thin, red see-through material with tiny white polka dots.
The red–kind of scratchy against my chest,
the skirt sticking out like a weary tutu when I walk.

Tired, leaning against my mother,
my legs dangling off the front of the swing,
she sings to herself,
her voice, low, smoky, a little off-key.
I love it because she’s giving me attention,
and I’ll take anything she gives.

She leans over to brush a strand of hair
away from my face, and keeps singing.
The screen porch is in shadow,
but light shines softly
from inside the house.
My mother is like that too.

In the twilight world of almost-asleep,
she rocks us, pushing her foot
against the floor every now and then.
Holding her song inside me
reminds me to listen–
for music in the darkness.



When you walk
the dry, hot bed of a sandy arroyo,
imagine water running underground,
unseen, but nourishing,
feeding the ash trees, the little bushes,
the purple wildflowers.

When love doesn’t appear
in the same form it once did,
it has not disappeared–
it has simply gone underground,
lost, not to your heart,
only to your vision.

One day it will spring up–
maybe not in the same place
or in the same way.
When your cat sits beside you,
puts her paw gently on your arm,
slowly a trickle begins to move, above ground.