A Literary Feast


Posted on March 21st, 2017

It is somewhere in the neighborhood of five in the morning and you are standing in the bare bulb light of your narrow counter-less hallway kitchen holding your cat that you’re secretly worried is huffing paint every night and she has just drooled on your t-shirt.  You have been painting the back and only bedroom and, knowing its carpet is not long for this world, have been letting the paint fall where it may the entire time and now nightly you find her in there, on the floor in the middle of a half circle of three paint cans, purring, and you think you’ve created a problem.


So you scoop her up and think about how this is a tender broken-open sort of time, five in the morning in late winter with its variable weathers and you notice a spot of chipped finish on the fridge and think there’s a crack in everything and then think that’s how the light gets in and then think a line from a poem from Charles Wright ‘to the time before the pen/oh i was the resurrection’ and then wonder if that’s even the line but know the feel of it again, here, in the pre-dawn kitchen.


When you think about Saturday it is in snapshots in a way that nothing has been for a long time, and it’s both an old animal gladness and a new one, driving to another small city, finding friendship because you are saying yes again instead of no, finding something like persistent green stubbornness in a layer of scraped-up plow at the edge of a parking lot.  You went to Troy and you brought a bag of vegetables and slid into someone’s life for a day and felt the magic stealing back, the way the light has been, steadily, surely, climbing the glass.


When you break, or things do, it isn’t that you put them together again, exactly, so much as it seems the pieces teach you how to assume a new shape.  You will go through several iterations of this, and lose the thread of it, but feel that you are maybe learning the way of calling it to you, of getting it back again more quickly, by allowing the wind that comes through the new empty spaces to feel clean, instead of lonesome.


The feeling of driving to Troy to meet someone (that a dating app paired you with two years ago that you’ve somehow become supportive friends with in the interim the way that gravity slyly acts on bodies despite or because of never dating or just because you find your way to your people if you just make space for it to happen which is the backstory you don’t say when you somehow end up telling this to his roommate’s dad in their high-ceilinged kitchen, blushing furiously) ends up being the same as:


The day in the summer that you put yourself in the car and did not go to work and instead drove (and driving itself was new again too, and the place where your ankle was broken hurting with each clutch depression but the hurt is freedom) to New Hampshire, paying tolls and emptying out of feeling until you reached the sea.  It is hard in prose to explain how certain choices make you exquisitely aware of all choices, everywhere, that you have ever made, and how often you might have said yes to yourself and instead said no, and how learning the habit of that yes isn’t yet static, and the flicker, when it takes on solid shape and is suddenly you standing facing the open Atlantic in the numb water with salt salt salt is the space you would willingly inhabit always, if you could.  And maybe doing so is the work.  And maybe practicing finding yourself there is the purpose.  And maybe to do any of those things is to stay soft, to stay vulnerable, is to stand in your own body in a cold ocean in a crowd and to find a way to be still and anonymous and perfect and mutable and constant and you and not you and to find a way to be willing.  You didn’t see how small you had allowed yourself to become until you were in proximity to the largest thing.  You take on the sea like a blanket.  You take it on like a sweater.  You take it on like oxygen.  You pack it into the spaces between your bones, until you have a shape you recognize.

Sour Mash

Posted on March 21st, 2017

Smokestacks, carnations and ill-fitting suits
Dust in gold leaf, hairspray-sheen plastic fruit
Billionaire promises lie on heel and crown
There’s a darkness on the edge of town

Burnt rivers, burnt towns, burnt fields
America Foreclosed Makes Great Again®
Bankers — factory closers — knead their newest Reagan
Her scorched earth harvests quarterly yields
Tell her this is how fem’nism feels

Investing meaning back to our lives, see
Illusions for what they are
And so go reach out, censured Walker Evans
Touch a starched fabric of reality done scarred

Drapes haggard on windows drawn tight
Door locks and lost keys, marital rites
Forearm fractures, undone sash
Hand guns, rags in gasoline
Corn muffins, baked beans and sour mash

Hides yellowish bruising, black unseen

Wealthcare, opioids and cigarettes
Back gate banging louder yet; Camaro won’t start
Lazy, worthless he grins, she’s late for work at ten
County check, utilities, past due again

Promises, promises, fake news parting way
Her Government vouchers are showing out of date
They sneer God’s reserved great for the chosen few
But even now, “I can’t believe what you say”
Baldwin fleers, “Cause I see what you do”
For wanting things that are only found
In the darkness on the edge of town

Winston Dodge, Monster Hunter

Posted on March 21st, 2017

Winston Dodge spends his winters days up to Millinocket because Millinocket needs him. He paces Congress Street at noon, proud of the sound his boots make on the wet snow. He turns his head from side, looking at things. Looking into shadows. Winston Dodge likes looking into shadows. When the shadows look back, he knows he’s found something worth finding.

Winston Dodge is a finder and a fighter. Winston Dodge hunts monsters and he doesn’t like losing.

So he makes it a point to win. It doesn’t come naturally.




If you follow the Interstate up past Bangor, you’ll come to a low place where the trees are all dead, standing apart as though they want nothing to do with each other even now that they’ve been reduced to elemental relics of their former selves. Maybe they’re larches or whichever kind of needly spruce makes a point of staying green only sometimes, or maybe they really are just desiccated corpses. Winston can’t tell. Winston is only interested in what lurks between trees. He pictures something more shadow than substance, lank, pressing its naked gaseous curves against the black spines and needles of the larches, trying to hide from itself.

He knows a lot about hiding from oneself. More than he knows about monsters.

The place is called Alton Bog, which makes it sound like the right sort of ancient, the exact sort of haunt that might attract the prey that Winston craves.

He doesn’t stop the car. He tells himself he’ll be back again this way when it’s warmer. Back again with the right boots, with a better coat, with a decent camera. He lives his life in small promises that he never quite intends to make.

Thin shapes watch him from behind the ghost of each tree. He isn’t Winston Dodge yet. That comes later. He isn’t anyone.




The no one he is has never been up to Millinocket before. It’s a word on a map, the setup for an old joke, a legendary odor. He’s come into town with fantasies of pie in old inns, a century’s squalor, greasy forks and ruin. He’s found neither. Congress Street has a few rough edges, sure, but squalor is a special sort of magic and he sees none. The roof of the bowling alley has caved in, but that looks recent and dramatic. A few sad arcade games still sticking out into the snow. It looks like a bomb went off, or like some small-town Samson singled this out as the closest thing to a temple. Neither possibility screams squalor. Neither screams at all. There’s too much life among the devastation, the sudden lurch from there to not-there, from object to thing. He wonders which he is. He passes the post office and forgets he wondered.

Why is he here? It was a long drive. He’s probably running from something. He usually is. But not Winston Dodge, Monster Hunter. Winston Dodge doesn’t run. Things run from Winston Dodge. Things run but he catches them. Winston Dodge knows all about things. He used to be one.

But there is no Winston Dodge yet. There is only a one-way street with a bowling alley that looks like a busted piñata, and a post office with no lights on inside, and a shuttered coffee shop with wraiths peering out from cracks in the windows, wriggling their cold fingers toward the sidewalk, gibbering, gibbering. There isn’t even a legendary odor; the paper mill has shut. There are no millers any more.

He considers gibbering back, but he can’t think of anything to say.



There’s a thrift shop in the middle of town. He goes inside, telling himself it’s just to get out of the cold. It isn’t very cold out, but it seems like the right thing to say to himself. He’s given up on squalor by now. He’s looking for something else, something harder to name. That’s a damn shame, really, because whatever it is, he might have found it here among the porcelain rejects and abridged self-help books scattered like fallen leaves on the thrift shop shelves. Actually they’re nothing like fallen leaves, which promise decay, stench, rebirth: it’s a tidy shop, well managed, loved. It even smells all right. It’s none of the things he came here to find. It’s none of the things he’s running from, either. It’s a perfect world that has nothing to do with him.

He passes over the silver sateen three-piece suit. Even the deep blue seersucker is too wide in the shoulders for his impossibly ordinary frame. There’s nothing for him but an old beige coat, the kind that no one could want or need. The kind he could feel at home in.

He picks it up. He has to. Polyester, unsavory, natty and assiduously frumpish, smelling gently of the things people put in basements to ward away death.  An offense to the senses and to fashion. Little buckles to cinch the cuffs, somehow still functional. A collar high enough to drown a child. A lining that some wicked tailor patched together from stolen carpet samples.

It isn’t his coat. He has trouble imagining it could be anyone’s coat until he puts it on and looks at himself in the greasy mirror. Now, suddenly, he sees. Now he knows it for exactly what it is.

It’s Winston Dodge’s coat. Winston Dodge, Monster Hunter.

Six dollars, but the man behind the counter charges him five. Damn shame, he thinks. He’s going to miss himself.




He could use a cup of coffee but of course all he finds are the gibbering wraiths. It’s different, now. He knows them like he didn’t know them before. He knows how to gibber.

Come in, they say. Join us. Be us.

Be you? he asks. Sweetheart, I can barely be myself.

We’re fell, they say. We’re fiends. You’re fickle. You’re fey.

He eyes himself in a scrap of glass. Winston Dodge looks back. Get them, the Monster Hunter says.

Winston Dodge never needs a weapon. He’s never met a ghoul he couldn’t simply rassle. He rassles with his wits, his will, his words. He turns the night clean and makes dank alleys dark again.

The wraiths scatter as soon as they realize he knows who they’re dealing with.  It’s too quick and frankly unfulfilling. He gazes into the shattered window where they were a moment ago. He misses them.




Warmish coffee from the Circle K is good enough for Winston Dodge. He likes the feel of the styrofoam cup. He doesn’t think of it as wasteful. Winston Dodge knows what real waste looks like. He’s seen a dragon swallow a mill town whole. He’s watched what one werewolf can do to a maternity ward. Winston Dodge knows what souls turn into when they stop trying. All the foam cups in the world piled in a tower by the sea wouldn’t make Winston Dodge blink an eye.

He buys some cheese, too. He tells himself it’s for later. He doesn’t know himself the way Winston Dodge knows him.

A few miles up the road he catches his first glimpse of the mountain. He tries to remember whether it’s why he’s come here. He tries to remember whether he ever quite knew why he came, because he likes to think that he’s always running toward something and never away from anything.

Winston Dodge, Monster Hunter, has never run away from a thing in his life. It isn’t because he’s so brave beneath his carpeted coat and his watch cap, although of course he is. It’s because Winston Dodge is always chasing something down. Always hunting. Even now he eyes the mountain in the distance, rising like a wall of white clouds between the trees, rearing now and again, stretching toward the sky as though to slice it. Winston Dodge knows better than anyone else what lurks on those slopes. He met a vampire there once, sucking on the tube end of a hydration pack and moving its skinny knees like pistons. He met a banshee that howled as it drifted along the trail and needed to be talked down with promises that it could haunt the living down below better than the dead stones above the tree line. More than once he met a hiker who treated him like company until Winston Dodge peeled away its stolen face and watched as the shapeshifter beneath vanished like river fog in sunshine.

Winston Dodge knows the mountain like he knows his own mind. He knows that on the highest peak sits a god whose name few remember, a god of storms with a watchful eye and a vengeful temperament, waiting with his great wings folded for the day when someone will call him down from the mountain with burnt offerings or frigid doubt. Winston Dodge waits for the day when the god will call him up, knowing the day will never come. It isn’t his story to live in. It’s someone else’s, and he knows he’ll be lucky if he ever chances to hear it.

He’s never told it either, although he knows it would give him a little thrill to do so, to be the one in the room who knows the thing. He doesn’t know it well, and he knows it isn’t his to tell even if he remembered it correctly. There was a wedding, he thinks, or a promise not to have a wedding, and a moose or maybe an eagle, and he thinks someone broke a promise and got herself or himself whisked away to a place they didn’t want to be whisked, but he doesn’t remember where he read it or even quite what it said.

He wonders what it must feel like to get whisked to anywhere, his shoulders still sore from the drive. He checks his phone and thanks Christ there’s no signal.

He eats the cheese.




The car plods along until the road turns to snow. He parks alongside a few snowmobile trailers and decides he can walk the rest of the way, whatever that means.

It must be a real road in summer because there are signs along the side advertising everything he’d be a fool to try to find, this inn eight miles distant, that campground twenty miles from here. He wonders what he’s doing. It isn’t hiking exactly, not along this straight sad road with a layer of fine smooth asphalt hiding no deeper than a foot or two beneath the snow, and it isn’t travel, not when he doesn’t expect to get much of anywhere before he has to turn around again with the sun going down and the wind growing stronger. It isn’t even sightseeing; the trees are too thick and the mountain has hidden itself behind them. He thinks of climbing a spruce to see a little farther. He doesn’t.

Out of the woods walks a pale ghost that Winston Dodge recognizes from a frigid island in the North Sea where he was once shipwrecked for a month with nothing but his own grit and a magic cloak for protection against its spectral inhabitants. Winston Dodge has never shied from a monster in his life but ghosts still startle him when they creep over moors at the wrong moment or out between the edges of spruce trees.

And worse still, he knows this ghost. He thought he’d bottled it in a Viking chalice and left it to sink at the bottom of a fjord, but Winston Dodge doesn’t know ghosts like he knows monsters and now he wonders whether he didn’t seal it in tightly enough, or didn’t say the right incantation, or whether some ocean current might have carried it over to Maine and dashed it against the rocks. Winston Dodge has never really understood incantations, ocean currents, or anything else he can’t touch or taste or bottle. Or rassle.

I know you, says the ghost, a lousy introduction if he’s ever heard one. Of course it knows him; it’s his own mind it broken loose from. He wonders what to say or even whether it’ll hear him if he says anything other than exactly what he’s already thinking.

“You don’t know half as much as you think you know,” snarls the Monster Hunter in the beige coat, turning its carpeted collar up against the breeze and enjoying the feeling of aloof protection that it gives him. That all armor should be so comfortable. That all ghosts should shake when they see him.

Winston Dodge, Monster Hunter, it says, and reaches a white arm toward him as though it’s an underpaid extra in a movie about the end of the world. His stomach sinks, but at least it’s gotten his name right, job description and everything, and you can do a lot worse in this life or any than know a ghost who knows your name. He thinks about smiling, but Winston Dodge doesn’t smile. Winston Dodge smolders and sweats into the carpeted lining of his beige coat. Winston Dodge—it even says his name correctly, the round, low vowels of the north cutting softly through the February air—why have you come?

You know damn well why he’s come, says Winston Dodge.

Does he know? The ghost leans in, puts its face close to Winston Dodge’s face as though to sniff out a lie. Or, says the ghost, so close to his skin now that he can feel the chill that isn’t quite like the cold pouring off of the places where its skin used to be, pouring into his as though intent on filling him with the absence of everything, do you?

I know, says Winston Dodge. He doesn’t need to tell me. He doesn’t need to tell me. He wants squalor. He wants pie. He wants me to do my job where they need me to do it.

And do they need you, Winston Dodge? Do they care who hunts their monsters? The ghost has wrapped itself around him now, trying to get inside, trying to become him. Only the smell of the coat keeps it from getting inside his skin. He tries to shake it off, tries to rassle himself free. He can’t. He looks for help, looks for a they, looks for the crumbling town that he left ten miles behind him, looks for the place the coffee shop used to be, the shattered glass, the potholes and the pendulous telephone wires. The snow crowds in around him. The ghost snickers. He doesn’t know ghosts the way he knows monsters. He doesn’t know ghosts at all.

With a puff of wind it’s gone. He’s alone here. The mountain winks from between the trees. The sun is almost warm. He turns back; it’s a long walk to the car.




There’s a little place to eat down Fire Road 20. He doesn’t know how he missed it before. It’s on a good, clear road, wrapping around the south side of the lake past empty cottages and private turnoffs. He pulls into the parking lot, which is nearly as crowded as a highway rest stop. He parks in shallow mud, locks the car, ambles toward the tall A-frame lodge, past crowds of strangers in black snow pants and bright jackets. Winston Dodge scans the crowd. He sees nothing.

Inside it’s warm. Three broad, clean windows look out on a perfect world of lake ice and the knife’s edge of the mountain above it all. There’s a comfortable smell of grease that isn’t quite rancid. A waitress comes toward him before he can even finish casting his wishes. “Looking for fuel?” she asks.

He stares. He doesn’t understand. Oilcans and thick gloves line a shelf to his right. This isn’t his world. He carries no map, knows no way over the snow but slowly.

“Do you have any pie?” he asks, and doesn’t regret it.

“Pie,” she says with a smile. “Pie! Well let me see. We always have pie.”

She’s gone. He looks around. Winston Dodge, Monster Hunter casts his cold eyes from table to table, looking for the fiends among the flock, looking for the dark hearts that prey on the innocent, the foolish, the helpless. He scans the room and scans the room again, wondering, wishing for anything now, even a ghost, to slip out of the shadows and give him a reason to fight, a reason to strike, a reason to gibber. He wants something to rassle but it’s all so damn simple, and right, and almost good. He looks for a mirror, looks for a cauldron, looks for the darkness behind the blue of the sky itself.

There’s nothing here.

The waitress comes back again, smiling a different smile now. “You know, we always have two. We make them right here. Today we had a raspberry pie and an apple pie. But, you know,” and she looks at him as though the world is a changed place today, as though the sun rose the wrong way, as though the mountain bowed its head and drank the lake dry, and the old god of the storm came down to choose a new companion for the next few silent centuries, “someone just came in a little while ago and bought them all right up. Just a while little while ago.”

He thanks her and leaves. Winston Dodge, Monster Hunter, drags his boots through the forgiving mud.




If you follow the Interstate down toward Bangor, you’ll come to a low place where the trees are all dead, standing apart as though they want nothing to do with anyone.

He pulls the car over to the side of the road, draws the brakes cautiously. Winston Dodge watches him from the passenger’s seat, amber lenses shielding his eyes from the afternoon glare of the sun on the snow that lies heavy and wide over Alton Bog and the world beyond it. Together they gaze out through the larches’ black skeletons. They share what’s left of the cheese. He cracks a window to let out a little of the coat’s stale reek as Winston Dodge looks for the tracks of grim lopers or grisly trolls but sees nothing more sinister than the two strange beasts in the front seat of the idling hatchback.

He thinks about turning the key, leaving the car behind him, ambling out along the endless reaches of flat earth to see what impossible lands lie on the other side of the bog, beyond even the ghosts of trees, out where the afternoon light gathers once it has nowhere else to go and pools in golden eddies on the white snow, beautiful beyond all description and utterly unhaunted.

He looks, but not for long. The engine shivers, purrs like something friendly, asks him quiet questions he can’t quite hear. He takes his phone from his pocket, pushes the button on the side, marvels that even among all this  perfect waste, wasted echoes of human voices ricochet at radio frequencies through the cooling air and the breath of bog trees playing dead. Winston Dodge squints until he can almost see the signals, and wishes he were small enough and swift enough and strong enough to rassel them out of the air, to quiet the world.

He smiles for the first time since Bangor. There’s a call he should make, but it can wait.


Posted on March 21st, 2017

I watch his strong steady hands. Over and under, pull taut… Make one loop, wrap around it, pull through, tighten. I love watching him tie shoes – my mind always funnels back to my youth, a little girl, learning to tie laces, his hands helping mine to make the loops, to pull the laces tight. I’m filled with memory.


My chest tightens and I try to pull in a deep breath, but it’s shallow, my eyes water and a few drops spill over, running a trail beneath my glasses, which need pushing up as they’re sliding down my nose. My arms are filled with the sweetness of a 6 week old baby girl, I’m sitting on a yoga ball, bouncing, the baby asleep in my arms.


He stands up, his frame still fills a doorway, though his bald pate is covered with spots and fine white scars – a record of head bumps. His head is covered for now under the black felt hat I bought him a few years ago, his canvas coat, a sturdy coat a lovely tawny brown, is unzipped, his checkered flannel shirt shows underneath.


He stands with the gait of a man his age, still steady, but a little slower, a bit stiff. He looks to me with blue eyes twinkling, resigned, but loving, and walks over, leans over to give me a kiss.


I try to just smile and hold it in, but my face crumples and I just get out a whisper, “Bye, Dad, I love you.” He comes cheek to cheek with me and whispers, “I love you too.” He plants a kiss on my cheek, his hands resting briefly on my shoulders, before he stands, moves through the kitchen and steps into the hallway and out the front door, pulling it shut behind him.


I don’t get up. I let a few more tears fall silently down my face while I hold my baby. I take some deep breaths. I feel the love and the sadness in my chest, the wish for something better, for him, for us, for us all. I breathe, that’s all I can do right now, I breathe.

Queer Futurity

Posted on March 21st, 2017

He is entwined around me like an octopus, his legs encircled in mine, his arms twisting around my elbows down to our fingertips which also curl into each other. We are completely warm even though it snows hard outside today. When I breathe in I smell something like baby powder, a smell that is so distinctly his I can’t even find something proper to compare it to.

We fall back asleep.


Later that day a friend calls. I am on break at work, but the children are never far, their voices loudly echoing through the halls of my school. She has had two miscarriages. She has had two adoptions fall through. We are both only twenty eight, but her quest to have children started years ago. She sometimes feels deeply sad, she sometimes seems completely removed, she sometimes acts as if nothing is happening.


When I hang up I think of him, back in the bed that morning curled around me. I’m filled with him for a moment. The intensity of our intimacy is so quiet I have trouble finding words for it. It is delicate, constant, we are always with each other. I text him. Something like “I love you” or “good morning”- something banal. I wait for his response, when it doesn’t come before the kids start to walk in I get anxious.


The class does not go well. The kids don’t want to do work. They won’t put away their phones. I make a half-hearted effort at reading “Night” aloud to them. For about twenty minutes they are silent, listening to my voice. I have been told reading out loud to kids whose reading levels are low is good for them, that it helps them. When I look up three of the eleven students are asleep, but the others are listening. This has to be a win for now.

When I get back to my phone he has texted back a heart.  It’s simple, but an acknowledgement. I breathe easier. I ruffle through my bag and take out two klonopin, put them under my tongue, let them dissolve. The next class goes easier. My energy effects their energy. With my anxiety alleviated so is their anxiety. They calm down for now.

A few weeks later another friend from childhood is having what she thinks is a miscarriage on a business trip in D.C. She had only been pregnant a few weeks, but had very much wanted to be. She takes a train to New York then a car to our house in New Jersey. My mother is there. Everybody drinks too much, my friend cries some, she is reassured by my mother another child will come.

After she leaves I get wasted and cry hysterically. When I’m done being wasted I decide to stop drinking.

It mostly works.

Another friend sends me an article called “The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness.” It is still open on my computer. I have not read it.

The next two weeks I fight with him a lot. I fight about “where we’re going” and “what we’re doing.” I live entirely in the future and the past. The present has become meaningless to me. I delete my Facebook account. I feel that I cannot even discuss what is bothering me. I too wonder if a child will ever be a part of my life, but there is no physicality to my pain. I do not have a story like my friends have. There is no sisterhood that has a narrative of pain, an explanation that can be passed on. I think of my mother on the floor with my friend, holding her close, whispering in her ear. She was able to say what needed to be said.

My specific pain seems to go beyond the desire for a child. It runs through me like a chasm forever threatening to open wider. It is wordless, it is silent, and it is lonely. I stop taking Prozac, all at once, thrown right into the trash, and feel better. He and I decide to take a step back, focus on ourselves, and I feel better. I talk to a gay friend in Los Angeles. He makes me laugh. “You don’t actually want children now, you’re young, and you have all the time in the world.” I hang up the phone and feel a little warm. Talking to him always makes me feel warm; maybe it is because he makes me think of L.A. More likely though, he gave some words to this pain, named it, and then found a way to comfort it. I imagine for a few minutes moving to L.A., leaving all of this behind, and starting over in a warm hazy reality. Him and I would lie on the beach stoned and laugh a lot. I know this isn’t reality.

The friend who has been struggling through all pain called last week. She is pregnant again. If he is a boy, she will name him after me. I cry on a corner in Chinatown and think, maybe that’s enough. In the loft upstairs, sitting amongst fellow writers, eating pork buns and smoking cigarettes inside, I fall silent for a few minutes, I am out of my body. It is in these moments I feel myself dissolving, the borders become hazy, I am unsure of who I even am.

Owl Lamp

Posted on March 21st, 2017

I am
trying to

To feel
and know
the vibrations
of the universe.
They quiver and shake
But still
I ask
stupid questions.
Questions like:
Did I make the right decision?
Will I finally be free?
Can I reject a false prophet for the true one?
Can I earn the highest score on the double-headed snake video game?
The highest score of all time?
Come on.
I really want to.
I really want to see
my name
among the highest-scoring babes.
I really want
to be one.
So cool and popular and bright
like California.
Well, you’re always getting in my way
and I, like others,
like to blame
And that is why I can’t afford a ticket to California this year.
Look here,
I, too,
live in a California
Smoke a roo
And change my shoe
So I can step lightly through
today’s proctoring.
Thank goodness that man
I had been
excited about
texted to break up with me
before we even reached
section two
of the snake video game
would have flown
right out the

A hundred points right there.
A breakup always grounds me.
So I left the arcade testing site early
to buy a lamp in the shape of an owl.
I take wisdom in whatever form she takes,
wherever she may be,
even if I need to rewire the whole thing,
apply gold filament,
some blue diamonds,
AND buy a whole new lightbulb.
Lord, what this
owl lamp
has been through!
The things she has seen through her weary, irreplaceable eyes.
But I have adopted her now.
My rescue owl lamp.
Of course,
there were many suitors.
Many potential buyers.
Many who thought–
My home!
I will offer you my home!
A good home at last!
But no.
I signed the paperwork
you see.
And I took all the photos with her
And I posted them on Instagram
And I tagged
Absolutely everyone,
So she’s mine.
And she is safe with me
which is a
for the first time,
is safe with me.

Don’t You Shut Out The Lights And I’ll Light Mine

Posted on March 21st, 2017

We promised to keep the lanterns going
to tell each other from what way we were headed
to give each other enough time to pack a bag and make a bed

I am looking for you at the end of this dock
Out in the world. Are you leaving or headed home?
I thought we had the lights lit

Those fucking matches seem to have walked away on their own.

The sea currents seem confused messy,
the waves are breaking in a way impossible to swim.
Gusts are blowing in all directions back and forth, even down

Overwhelmed but found.

Unfurling my folded fingers, grabbing for a match
The wind takes them loose and fluttering
towards land, towards sea. Match and hand looking for the wick

Don’t you shut out the lights, and I’ll light mine.

Animal Cruelty

Posted on January 1st, 2017

The feeling inside was powder and flame

in the gun of my throat.


I didn’t know how to shape my fingers ‘round your wrists

so that you’d understand.


When I said ribbons yellow and turn,

what I meant was the village burned. Here,


below our feet.

In the smoke, the sound was a fast hand erasing.


That winter, the sky was so very white

and nothing changed

until you—

you became this other in a flash of rapid oxidation: too


like the whole world: where nothing

could be counted


or meant.


* * *


When I broke the jar, it was because I threw it at the floor.


Or it was because a dark creature inside that needed stopping

had welled up,


urging: Come,

place your mouth over mine.


Seal this hole. Give me a pill. Give me

a promise.

A meal.

A bullet.
A seed.



for P.C., with thanks

The Unquiet American

Posted on January 1st, 2017

I spent my twenties living in two of the biggest countries in the world—China and Indonesia. One, China, remains firmly under the thumb of authoritarian leadership. The other, Indonesia, had recently crawled out from under that same thumb and held, to great contention and excitement, its first direct presidential election ever in 2004.


Twelve years later, Indonesia remains one of the biggest democratic flowers yet to bloom in Asia, while China, now under Xi Jinping or “Xi Dada”—Father Xi—experiences some of its harshest crackdowns on basic freedoms in decades. But I walked through both countries like these facts were foregone conclusions. Like my own country, America, could never backtrack.


I have no great insight on any of these three countries, despite spending years in each and speaking, to greater and lesser effect, their various languages. If anything, I find that hackneyed old adage to be true—the more closely I look, the less certain I feel about anything.


I started in China at 21, a copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in one hand and a letter of introduction to a university in Beijing in the other. I would teach history and English in my first year out of college to, well, a bunch of college kids. It didn’t even occur to me to be terrified. Instead, my memory of boldly striding off the airplane into a dust-choked Beijing and demanding a “little car” for my luggage (I hadn’t yet learned the Chinese word for “cart”) strikes me as quintessentially American: childish, impetuous, eager, untested.


I got tested, to a degree. But, with my copy of Zinn and all my good intentions, I felt I could keep the worst accusations at bay. Yes, America had had slavery. Yes, the genocide of the Native Americans. Yes, Jim Crow. Yes, segregation. Yes, different pay for men and women. Yes, persistent inequality. But Clinton, however flawed, was in office and the pendulum, however busted, appeared to be swinging in the right direction.


And at least “we” can have these conversations, I told my students over bowls of cheap noodles that they showed me how to eat together with quick nips of raw garlic. (“It cuts the grease,” a student who went by the name Betty Sue told me.) I remember waving her away. “Fascinating, delicious,” I insisted. “But what about Tiananmen Square? What about Xinjiang? What about Taiwan? Or even just the Cultural Revolution—are these things that you can talk about without reproach?”


“What does reproach mean?”


“You see,” I continued, “If America has made some mistakes in the past—and we most certainly have—we must also realize that the broader course of history is moving in the right direction.” Sanctimonious, I was getting used to this little institutional pulpit I had acquired. I’d even reach for the bill when it came. “No worries,” I say, my tone reaching a high holy pitch. “I got this.” The bill would have come to about $3.50 for all of us, but I thought it was a good demonstration of American hustle and ingenuity, if not downright generosity—Here, children of a lesser God. Let me get these noodles for you, seeing as I have already nourished your mind.


Indonesia—moving toward democracy, fractured after the fall of Suharto—was different, freewheeling. Jakarta was, to me, like one big party where all the lights had gone out and someone had just found the keys to Mom and Dad’s liquor cabinet. There were very few Americans in town, however, so I didn’t have many people to crow with me about American exceptionalism. My friends were Australian and European and we watched together as Bush secured his second term in office, sipping beers out of teacups because it was Ramadan and alcohol was forbidden. We had devised our work-arounds in a country that looked to a god that was not our own, and we reassured each other.


I think we were all a bit sanctimonious, all these privileged white people (and we were mostly white) working high-end development jobs in fancy office towers in a crumbling city besieged by floodwaters and corruption. In our home countries, we assured each other, infrastructure worked. In our home countries, officials could not be bought and sold. Unlike here, we tut-tutted as we leapt in and out of Toyotas with tinted windows, glad-handing officials, getting paid vertiginously more than our Indonesian counterparts.


We could see the suffering and inequality all around us, sure. But we had come from countries where such suffering, we insisted, was a thing of the past and it was our job, now, to similarly eradicate the suffering of Indonesia while turning, naturally, a profit. We were proud. We had won. So these were the stories we told ourselves. These were the ideas we lived by. Soon Obama, a man who had himself spent childhood years in Jakarta, would be in office. See? We assured each other. The great pendulum does swing in the right direction.


Pendulums, of course, swing back. Now the reality television star and unrepentant huckster Donald J. Trump is preparing to assume that high office. I am back in the United States. Most of the expat friends I made in Asia are also back in their respective home countries. And I am not so proud. America had never, of course, eradicated its own suffering, its own enduring divides, nor are we above the allure of brute force and hawkish division. The dream of totalitarian order and lockstep oppression is the nightmare to which we are now, perhaps, only just beginning to wake. “Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism,” the historian Timothy Snyder recently wrote. “Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.” 


What will this learning look like? What does it mean to “learn from their experience” when we know so many Americans are unwilling to learn, even, from our own. The dominant narrative—land of the free, home of the brave—doesn’t fit anymore. For many Americans, of course, it never did.


One of the most painful aspects of this awakening, such as it is, is its impact on families and close relationships—yielding conversations between people who had previously taken our shared values as just that—something shared. But sharing, as we know from kindergarten, is not always easy. True sharing is wanting to hand your toy over to another kid, not being forced to and then peevishly ticking off the seconds until you can get that toy back and inspect, immediately and thoroughly, for damage.


My parents met at Purdue University in Indiana, Mick Pence’s home state. Recently some posters when up in the school’s Stanley Coulter Hall.  They depict white faces and the words “We Have a Right to Exist” and “White Guilt—Free Yourself from Cultural Marxism”. It’s white supremacy propaganda, the likes of which has never hit the mainstream since my parents (both white, both in their 70s) were children.


I sent them the images, with a text that read simply: “At Purdue!”


Mom: “Wow! Where did you find this?”


Me: “It is on Facebook, posted by a Purdue student.”


“Would be fun to know what happens,” my Mom replied. “Thanks, Caroline!”


I had—and still have—no idea how to respond to this. Because we know what happens. So what’s fun? What is there to thank?

Yes, the more closely I look, the less certain I feel about anything.