29/30 Poems in November: Hipster Coffee Shop

hipstersWhat is it about hipster coffee shops,
always some achingly sexy song playing
like Modern English or The Cure,
Mazzy Star or Joy Division —
something you might have listened to
25 years ago when your own ache
was like a distant star
that had exploded but would still take
decades to reach your life?
Over in the corner at a tiny 2-person table,
a mama with a newborn
nursing in a sling. The scent of rosewater
wafting over. A lonely-looking guy
wearing red headphones
drinking from a lime-green mug.
A social worker on her lunch break,
rainbow ribbon hugging her name tag —
she looks so familiar
you can hardly keep from asking
are you someone?
Of course she is someone. You are someone,
too, sitting there at your laptop
typing a poem
nobody here will see,
not the young man with Down’s Syndrome
eating quiche,
not the dude with the funny winter hat,
not the grad student with her Mac
and soup
or the cute baby dyke couple
looking like long-lost twins.
It’s raining, just like last time
I sat here, two weeks ago
while my wife retrains her body and brain
just up Main Street,
and I wonder what it is about these gloomy
grey days that brings a certain comfort,
what it is about hipster cafes
and people-watching
and being anonymous in a public space
that is so very freeing.
I’m wearing a faded green t-shirt
that shows off my tattoo
and tight-fitting jeans
with red leather boots,
and this is about as dressed up as I get.
Let’s paint the town red, I want
to say to her when we reunite
in 20 minutes.
Then a woman so skinny
I think her legs may snap
walks in and I cringe,
the mama holds the baby up
for a burp and kisses that tiny head,
and I breathe in wondering
about all of the ways
our lives pass each other by,
our lives pass and yet
no time has passed at all
since I sat here 25 years ago
listening to that same song,
that same sexy ache,
that same refrain.


27/30 Poems in November: Truth

day-6Kitchen-table revelation
we can change our minds
we can change our thoughts
we can get up
and turn down the heat
when the room gets too hot.
Truth is kitchen-sink
everything but that.
Truth is mad smacking
can’t change the world
just like that
one little voice
in the clanking universe.
Truth is forehead-smacking
honest inquiry
arm’s length and speak
your mind girl.
Truth is big love
and the empty sink
means nobody is eating.
Truth is kitchen table
strewn with papers
not one of them
life changing.
Truth is smack-dab
in the middle of chanting
some one-syllable name
for God you were gob-smacked
by your own foolish heart
and saw that it was time
to stop blaming yourself
for everything
that didn’t go as planned.
Truth is
you didn’t think
for once were in the moment
and in the moment
you knew what you wanted
needed and you asked
and received
and how we live
with the consequences
of cowardice and courage
may weigh the same
on the kitchen scale
and the karmic scale
and the scale that weighs
hearts and bones
and doesn’t judge.
Truth is kitchen trash
can overflowing
so cinch up the bag
and take it to the bins
in the garage,
take it to the landfill
take it to the streets
take it to heart
when you made up
your story
and declared it to be



Q: What is #30poemsinnovember?

A: A literary fundraiser for Center for New Americans in Northampton, MA.

The Center for New Americans welcomes and serves immigrants in Western Massachusetts with free English classes and a range of support services. Participating poets aim to raise $30,000 over the course of the month.

Writers do their part by writing one poem each day in November. Friends and family do their part by donating to support this effort. Powerful new poems and financial contributions translate to community support for immigrants.

I’m just $140 away from $500. Help me reach my goal.

23/30 Poems in November: Every year around this time

photo-1470165511815-34e78ff7a111Every year around this time
I turn into a small animal,
circle myself into a sunken nest
protected from harsh winds
and conditions too stark to bear.

If you look, you will not see me
there beneath the knee-deep leaves,
nor will I poke my head out
without the cover of darkest night.

When the sun grows so meek,
resigned as a child who can’t win
his own game, the tip of my tail
will reach round to the tip of my nose
and the light will throw itself back
to its meager source.

Here I shall stay, still and unmoving
until some spring day when ice
cracks like battered glass, begins
to flow again as I unfurl, remembering
the other shapes I make, with legs
that run, and tail uncurled.

Then I’ll sniff and see who’s come
to search. I’ll lurch at first on all fours
before my stride returns. I’ll gnaw
on the tenderest greens, call out
to the northward birds and back,
and meet the world again,
after this underground season.



17/30 Poems in November: Salt Cracker Girl

px00234_9I seem to be writing a lot of poems lately
about people standing behind me
in line at grocery stores.
(I must be one of those people
who’s always forgetting that one item —
paper towels, butter —
and running back to the store.)

Today, it was a young woman, alone.
I kept stealing
glances at her ghostly face
and expressionless eyes.
She was buying two boxes of crackers.
Salt crackers but not Saltines —
I didn’t recognize the brand

and it didn’t matter. What mattered
was the matted fur
on her black wool peacoat,
and how heavily it hung
on her concave frame.
She wore corduroys the color
of cat vomit
and though the coat came to her knees

I could see her legs
were stick thin.
I remembered
when my wife was so sick
we feared for her life,
how horrifically thin she’d grown
after living on rice
alone for months,
not by choice, because of disease.

But there was something
about this girl-woman;
it was eerie and sad,
how I could hear her thoughts
as she caught my backwards glimpse:
I imagined her thinking I thought
she was gross for buying
two boxes of crackers.

I imagined she intended to make
those crackers last a week.
That she’d dole them out
in painstakingly tiny bites,
not allowing herself more
than three a day.

I was making this up. I know
not all thin people are sick. But
everything in me — my younger self
swinging wildly between anorexic
and bulimic behaviors —
my older self, a bona fide Jewish mother
who no longer self-abuses
(at least not physically)

wanted to say something to her,
to gently say, “Excuse me”
as she exited the store
behind me. To say, “I know this

is none of my business, but –”
at which point, maybe
she would have cut me off,
deservedly so — “You’re right,
it’s none of your fucking business.”

Or maybe she would have listened.
Maybe her black, marble-like eyes
inside those deep sockets that looked
like she’d sobbed for hours
before cleaning herself up
to get the ritual crackers
would have filled with tears.

But I didn’t. Instead, I paid
and she paid. I walked to my car
and she walked to her car.
We will probably never see
each other again.

Maybe tonight she’s staring down
one of those boxes,
and the salt crackers are taunting her
but she tells herself she’s stronger.
Her cat nudges her calfs,
weaving figure eights around her ankles.

She reaches down to pet him,
flashing back to the woman
ahead of her in line at the grocery
who was lousy
at hiding her concern.

Keep your concern,
the girl
says out loud. Leave me alone. 

13/30 Poems in November: Bone Tired

photo-1445127891637-6884935d9a02My bones stopped speaking to me
when I was busy feeding my kids.
They just stopped. They carried on
carrying me, but the conversations
grew quiet between us. I was busy
paying the bills. I was busy taking
care of business. I was busy being
busy so my bones bought a ticket
to the matinee and left me sitting
at the table wishing someone else
would make dinner. I was busy
ranting and raving. My bones
started a secret group to extol
the benefits of bone broth.
My bones creaked and ached
and told me to straighten up
my act. I can’t straighten up,
I told my bones. I’m gay.
They didn’t laugh. My sense
of humor isn’t what it never
was and my pulse is still
racing from all the pills
I’m glad I didn’t take.
The state of our great nation
has never been less great
and my bones were last seen
walking without me somewhere
in the mid-Atlantic states.
When I’m less busy, I’ll find
them at a roadside diner, I bet
they’ll be talking up the server
and finding out what time
she gets off, where she gets
off voting against them
when she herself’s no better
under the new regime.
My bones will see me
coming and assemble
themselves in some new
configuration, they’ll slip
the server a tip and slap
me on the wrist and say
where the hell were you
all that time? Busy, I’ll say.
I was busy and didn’t
notice that you were gone.



Donate to my efforts to support the Center For New Americans in Northampton, Mass! I’m halfway to my $500 fundraising goal and every bit helps.