Frank O’Hara, I Hear You

Subway Construction in DC

blooming in my head this morning while the jackhammers

kick the asphalt six feet below the windows next to my bed.

Construction is not symphonic when it keeps the rhythm

of an old headache blistering under your left ear, like this—

Why is noise so indiscriminate in its audience? Your poems look

like noise, but they sing quieter than I do, though. In the end, each line

is you, whispering the names you love in a plainsong litany.

I think of you, writing, and I see a slip of notepaper unfolded

in your clean hand; you, grit-smiling in a bleached undershirt;

you, keening at your typewriter the day Lady Day died.

Your poems haunt me, Frank O’Hara. They do!

Your sweet experiments in tabloid tenderness; the way you pause

between stanzas to lean back and talk to your friends,

all those poets, all those painters— we know who they are now.

But that’s you, isn’t it? You knew how to croon over a name’s

own story, while I sit here, wearing old bed sheets at my desk,

fingers slapping the keyboard, kvetching about jackhammers,

carping at the road dust that will coat my words when this poem

is over.


This poem is a response to Frank O’Hara’s Personal Poem.





I keep my heart tucked down a winding side street
of a city where it is dusk or night all the time.
Walk in any direction of this place and you might hear
tarnished bells rung by the stealth of silent men,
typists clacking love letters for a dollar a page,
and children thumping a leather ball in an alley
while they shout curse words too coarse
for adult ears.

I keep my heart behind a door, flaked with paint:
The bus will drop you near the market, no farther.
The women will turn the conversation to clocks.
The men will lead you round in fine ellipses.
The children will laugh at your strange accent.
The robed priests will dodge your questions
with eye rolls, soft murmurs in Cantonese,
or broken Basque.

I keep my heart in a city that I made from scratch.
The signs that should lead you to this place are broken.
The old roads twist the wrong way on purpose.
But should you listen to me speak, really listen,
you’ll hear this city thrum beneath my voice
clear as a route, bright as a bell, close as my heart—
metronomic and self-sustained, lit like a bare light
in a room both familiar and strange.


Knuckle Dancing



Don’t be afraid to break things,

or to be broken by them.

The men at their books.

The men at their papers on this cold morning.

The men frown at their books and their papers on this cold morning

as grey doves lift and shake themselves in the market like a single worn shirt.

(And you, you will stand outside of the books and the marketplace.)

The smoke and steam rises from old grates, ghosts of a former city.

Do not be afraid to break, to be broken, like bread, like silence.

The women arrive en masse.

The women carry vegetables fresh from the wet earth.

The women hold these vegetal roots far from their silk dresses.

All lift and flow in the mist: the silk, the roots, the women.

(And you, you had better step back into the shadows; this is not your scene.)

The day burns the night fog. The new city is coming. It is made of lights.

Break your yeast-risen heart. Do not be afraid to throw a fist at the shadow

that flits in the curved tail of your eye. If you do not make,

you do not break, broke, broken. The day burns the night,

fog that is made of lights, a vegetal silence in the new city.

The men, the women, they see you walk out of the mist

and they raise their hands in greeting, all at once.


Hardcore poems: The List or Thirteen Ways of Looks at a Bluebird.

OUR SUNDAY BEST will return to its regularly scheduled slot as of next week. (See here for samples.) Are you excited?


Story Fragments


Keulemans common fox


Another morning. Another studio. Daylight winks across the wall.

I shake my pen to get the ink to run. I pick up the dictionary.

Do not be fooled. Language is feral. Words run, still,

as I attempt to drag my finger down the alphabetized list.

And the years change. And the names change.

And tamed, I sit in a chair, near a table, to a world aligned on axis

where the story claims to be exact. Do not be tricked.

There’s a plurality of stories that shudder awake in this place.

Each version ripples like muscle under animal flesh.

And the rooms change. Another here. Another pen.

I pick up my eyes to find you standing there: assured,

awake, cradling late season words in your arms, all new.

Other tricky poems:
The Trickster’s Daughters,
Message, 6 a.m.


Ode to a Composition Notebook


On the coast of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands? (LOC)


The marbled surface of your skin

is black and white, and regular.

But this cover protects the fine, thin

pages where the hand and eye and pen

will land, like a small wayward ship

tipped to an island, empty of man,

yet full of life. And I, a passenger,

press my words on the white sand

near to the center of you. I remain

affixed to this place that is not a place.

Though I sit at a desk, I feel as if I stand

on the shores of a new bright haven.

This poem was inspired by a prompt by my friend Kate of Old, New or True— Scribble Scrawl 15 Minute Challenge: Ode to a Trivial Thing that is Making Your Day.

*QUICK NOTE: Bluebird Blvd.’s posting schedule has changed from every day, to every other day, for the month of August, and possibly beyond. See the end of this post for information.

*SUPER-FAST POSTSCRIPT: It occurs to me that some of y’all might like your poetry a little more classical.

How about a villanelle about tattoos? In Ink, I Dare

Maybe you’d like to read a sonnet with strict meter about time? Accidental Origami

*ONE MORE POSTSCRIPT: Usually, I like to be super-prompt about replying to comments— because y’all always say the most interesting, funny and kind things. However, due to my trip, I ran out of time. Can we resume this conversation in a week and a half? (Thank you!)




Quick! Let’s write poetry.

We can use an old recipe from McCall’s.

I’ll bring the pen; you bring a battered notebook.

Find a sad song on the radio— the sadder, the better.

Throw in a clock and a book and a wish. Stir it up,

and wait twenty years.

Unfold. There. There. See between the lines

where you fell in love with Baudelaire and Poe?

You thought you knew the flavor of regret— you didn’t.

You thought it tasted of cigarettes and bitter tea— it doesn’t.

There are still sad songs on the radio, but they aren’t yours

and the tour inside your own remembrances

will bring no pretty souvenirs back home.

It’s today. I’m not yet forty.

I think of your flat excitement the afternoon I read your poem

on the side of the school. An orange autumn. We were sixteen.

The poem, printed neatly on the page, was not so good—

there were rains and trains and sweet tears. You meant

every word, but the words did not mean you.

You didn’t know it. I couldn’t say it.

Most great poems are not built

on columns of weeping.

Quick. I will tell you now

where poems come from—

no recipes, no rain. I owe you this explanation—

though it’s two decades too late. It’s words, my love,

just words that make a poem run circles around me

like half-broke horses. The song of their bodies

is their story. I stand still in their midst, strain

to hear a rhythm and a reason and a right. Oh, love,

I’ve been lined by ink all these wild horse years,

my poems embroidered by dust and sweat, my voice, clear:

Look close, for you’ll find no mystery here.


The Trickster’s Daughters


Bertha Boynton Lum, Fox women, 1908


Never fool with the trickster’s daughters.

We nimble knots with our toes.

We count the exits before we enter.

We know our weaknesses and yours

are bound by fragile human


Never fall for the trickster’s daughters.

We hide knives in secret drawers.

We hold keys to soldered locks.

We own tickets to strange places

where our names will fall away

like old clothes.

Never trouble the trickster’s daughters.

We foil your dead man’s drop.

We double your blind man’s curve.

We drink the snake oil cure.

We loose the sirens that crash your car

into the sea and we

are rare creatures.

Never you mind the trickster’s daughters.

We cite your foreseen weaknesses.

We see your unknown strengths.

We solve a riddle with a question

you’ve been dying to ask

with the answer you won’t want

to hear—

We are the trickster’s daughters.

And a trickster’s daughter knows

that any time there is a chance

left to fate, left to man,

left to right, the hand

will pass over chance

and conceal the answer

you seek.

The truth.

No, you do not win.





The day is coming when I will see myself on the street.

I emerge from a bookshop to the chiming doorbells,

while that other me, the one I’ve been expecting,

sits at an outdoor cafe with an old pen and a new notebook.

That me claims the light of a late afternoon sun.

I can see it— the young me, the older me, the moment

of recognition from the one who has been where the other

is going. My older face will be filled with the scrollwork

of the story I’ve been telling, with emphasis, for years,

while the young me wears empty parentheses on her skin

and hidden endnotes underneath her clothes. Don’t fret.

There is a third woman, also me, smiling benevolently

from this page. I am dressed in white space. I am neither

a parenthesis, nor an emphasis. I mark the time. I mark

the page with a light dot. I am elliptical, and I am here.


What I Said the Night You Wanted to Go and Catch a Movie—



Wait.  Right here at the center of the square at five o’clock

a gent shall arrives with his dog and his accordion case.  Wait.

Behind him now clips a tall woman,  twitching the hem

of her skirt.  Wait.  Across the way, a grey haired fellow

in a patched jacket is sliding his hand over his heart like so

at the sight of the tall woman.  And the woman flicks

her hem at him in mock annoyance.  They are in love.  Wait.

The accordionist’s dog lays down by the fountain, slaps his tail.

Wait!  The man sits on the stone wall by the fountain;

and opens his accordion case across his knees like a book.

Wait.  A violinist ambles down the alley to meet the man

with the accordion, who now opens the bellows of his instrument

as if unfolding a surprise,  as if releasing something wild—

Wait.  All the world conspires to play with you.  Just wait.


Si Vale Valeo



The waves split, disconnect, slide to the shore,
and disperse. It is the near future. Maybe October.
I stand with my hands in my pockets, and my eye fixed
on the sky at the place where the gulls embroider the air.
The gulls and the waves. These are symbols. I am not
here, nor are you, nor he, nor she. We do not exist,
yet, in this future October.

The waves crash. The gulls cry. These are symbols,
greater and lesser, as am I, with my hands in my pockets,
my north-south face fixed erect as a map that leads
to the end of a sentence, to the end of the shore,
where the waves plunder and separate the sand.
And, yet again, I must remind you— we are not there.
Not yet. October is a future tense, and this is the now.

The waves flutter and the gulls crash. You are a memory
I keep in my pocket. You are a story I tell late at night.
You are the novel I am writing. I hold your voice
against the sky as tightly as an embellished hem.
The horizon is fixed. You will go east. I go west.
These locations are symbols. I am right here.
So are you. And here’s a map that tells the story
of a road that leads to the ocean, and stops.

*Si Vale Valeo— If you are well, I am well.

The Distressed Latin Verb Poem Cycle:

1) Stupor Mundi
2) Invictus Maneo
3) Si Vale Valeo


Invictus Maneo


Ave B



On that night in the movie theater,
the screen flickered and dropped to black.
We were ushered out by a voice, a dancing flashlight.
For blocks and blocks, we walked home in the inky darkness.
I was not afraid. Wary. But not afraid.

Thread to needle.

Needle to cloth.

Stitch to stitch.

Quiet. A rider
cuts across the fields.
Hush. Now, listen.
She dismounts.
Silence. I can only
see the shape of her—

not her meaning.

Stay your hand.
No one knows what lurks behind a face.
No one knows what lurks inside a man.
No one knew you were cruel, but you were cruel.
I could see it.

I’d seen it before.

Some weapons are unnamable.


We walked for an hour in the dark. Footfalls. Echoes. Concrete.
Shouts and whistles. Breaking glass. Your hand fumbled into mine.
You squeezed my fingers. Wordless, we started to run
towards the house. We wanted nothing more than a locked door
between us and this other kind of darkness.

Thread to needle.

Needle to cloth.

Stitch to stitch.

What say you?
She will not speak. She approaches.
Who are you?
She will not stop. She approaches.
Who sent you?
She remains in shadow. She approaches.

Now I am afraid.
On the day we all met you, I could see
what the others would not see—
you were capable of anything.

Never ask me how I know this.

I just know it.


We ran. Sirens. We ran. Trash cans. We ran.
You lost your shoe. We tumbled, searching in the dark.
Your mother would be frantic. You knew better. I heard
her voice calling from down the street.

A knot.

A cut.

A needle.

The dark rider stands outside the door.
What do you want?

You lost your shoe in the street. We never found it.
Child! I was so worried!

It was in sunlight that I saw you first.
Pleased to meet you.

I did not tell the others what I saw
in you. They wouldn’t believe it.
I cracked my knuckles. I looked
at you
dead on.

You took the measure of me.

I did not break my gaze.

Never turn your back on a weapon.

Thread to needle.

Needle to cloth.

And repeat.

*Invictus Maneo— I remain unvanquished (Motto of the clan Mac Tréan-Labhraidh)

The Distressed Latin Verb Poem Cycle:

1) Stupor Mundi
2) Invictus Maneo
3) Si Vale Valeo