Thursday, October 22, 2009

From a crazy poetry class exercise, written on the subway...

Chugging rhythm a whispered S fat man sleeping on my shoulder legs as always spread too wide that is not like her Cindy calculate the miles I'm waiting no assistance medical wet subway floor black with white speckles I know umbrellas shaking a quiet man at peace stands stoically I know when you're not feeling well stand clear striped soggy scarves the extra boxes are here local train behind us shiny portable music glimmering hope shaking beige gloves empty after the first days use in months he's always here throwing things away stuff you can't find the train can't decide express or local she's a livewire we'll get off at 14th street slowed down watch our parents he's changed a lot becoming very forgetful two donuts what happened to that strawberry donut dad you just ate it three short-haired women in glasses middle-aged best friends like middle school when friends were always the same shape and size flying past crushed faces thought this was their train their way to move on nobody does have a false face two red umbrellas I didn't know them 12 years sexual harassment is a crime thin and trim and tan this is us.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Airstream Dream

I handle wet clumps of laundry, tugging them from the resisting metal ring. I fold wrinkled piles of sheets, crinkled pillowcases. I clean the kitty litter, wiping away stinky streaks of yellow, sweeping stray pieces of sand. I chop olives, tomatoes, and parsley, boil water for pasta. Each small chore that will have to be redone over and over. I stand tired in the kitchen, and my mind strays 2,000 miles away. An airstream trailer reflecting the light of the full moon over a stretch of New Mexico night. A room so small in a quiet place. These years, I have learned how to take care of me. How often I need to clean to survive, to be comfortable. How to cook just enough for one, how to pack it all up and begin again every year or so. I am so afraid that I will lose this new, that by breaking the pattern I will break something, that I’m not good enough for this and that’s why I was alone for so long. I want this shared space, this man at my side. I just don’t know how to keep the airstream dream alive.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The slow rhythms of an Italian train...

A train cinches a mountain’s waist, rusty brown wrapping around summer green, rhythms soothing in their rickety uncalm. Sunlight through transparent leaves, the train inching its way toward its destination. I yet again failed to look at the arrival time when choosing my train and have wound up taking the ΓΌber-local, cutting through small peasant towns that I have never heard of. I am the only foreigner on the train, the rest of them having chosen a more express route to Napoli through Roma Termini. Smoke lingers just above my bench-style seat, in sight of the sign that reads ‘Vietato Fumare’. I wave it away, back towards the soldier it belongs to, as my walkman starts to jam. The batteries must be dying – it’s playing a U2 verse too slowly, Bono’s falsetto lowered to an eerie and monstrous tone. After some fumbling, I give up, putting away the headphones and sliding open the window to alleviate the stifling heat. The train curves through vines of what look like yellow wisteria blossoms, the scent coming in reminding me distantly of Virginia honeysuckle.

When the four-car train stops, our car gains two passengers: a modestly dressed middle-aged woman and an elderly nun in a grey habit. The younger woman heads immediately to the window, shutting it forcefully, muttering something in a heavy dialetto about how the draft will make us all sick. I long to disagree, but am already too familiar with this cultural difference (having slept in the un air-conditioned apartments of friends where all of the blinds and windows are kept closed, even at night). I sigh, pulling out my train itinerary to fan myself. It does nothing, and I remain drenched in sweat.

The nun speaks to me in a very formal Italian, asks where I am from and where I am headed. She says that she is very impressed that I am travelling around Italy by myself, that I am comfortable travelling alone. Unlike other Italians from small towns that I have met, she does not seem to judge me for it, for being a woman alone in a foreign country. She is full of curiosity about America and my impressions of Italy. Like many other Italians I have met, she displays surprise and delight that a foreigner would be at all interested in learning Italian. The beauty of the language must escape those who were born into it.

The train pulls to a stop in a small mountain town, and the nun thanks me for the conversation as she gets up to leave. She wishes me well on my journey, and I express the same to her. As she pulls open the car door and nods to me with a warm smile, a welcome breeze floods the train. I watch her walk slowly along the platform until she reaches a small group of her sisters, and I watch them grasp hands as the train pulls away. Letting the slow rhythm of the train soothe me, I fall asleep to the soft green curves of mountains, the Italian language weaving itself into my dreams.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thirty-two become thirteen

Yellowjackets spit into the lavender bushes. Adrenaline needles fall away from the firm, fleshy rind of an orange. In a dream, you perform a tracheotomy with a straw and a hole puncher. Seriously. A swell of belly in Chicago’s steaming August, a patchwork polka-dot of scratchy pink hives. Another needle, this time Cortizone, piercing a pregnant thigh beneath old-school nurse’s whites. The tire was flat and no rush hour suit would stop to help. Trust me, this is only the beginning. A reason for the cheap Chianti. One letter spoken over the phone. You don’t have to send me gifts, honey. Abraham Lincoln’s tooth crumbles to imaginary dust in a one-room cabin. Toxic eruption, there you have it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


She eats onions like apples,
holding them in palm’s embrace,
mouth wide and gaping against
the brown paper crinkle of skin,
teeth tearing crisply into fiery flesh.

She keeps them in her purse,
rolling loosely around with lipsticks
and credit cards, the scent of dark earth
breathing out against her sway of hip,
reptilian skin flaking off in dusty pieces.

She says she loves the taste,
a green fire that burns her tongue
eyes red with the sting of tears
as raw cells burst and leave
her body shielded with scent.

She said it was the only thing
that helped her forget you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Bleachers thrust metallic and alien into the tall, yellowing grasses of Montana’s high plains. They curve their shape along the future site of a Sun Dance. I am surrounded by a group of people speaking. I cannot hear them, but I see their mouthshapes blossom and twist: The wind floods everything. I try to speak, but the sound is lost to the unbroken sky and the nothingness beneath windsong. The voice of the wind surges through me. It is everything here, both silence and sound. One voice splits into several, moving furiously parallel to each other, an invisible cluster of desperate cries. The rawness of it erupts around me, my body humming with torn directions. I am seventeen and have never felt this close to something. I want to be alone with it. To take it home, to fill my empty nights in a suburban apartment building. My mouth opens, and I taste cerulean on my tongue, with a darker shade of violet. I let the wind sing to me, listening to its language. I move with its waxes and wanes, dancing to desolate melodies that only I understand.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Coffee Snob Returns

I am a cappuccino connoisseur. I am obsessed with them. Caffeine is my drug. Other people, they smoke weed, they drink 'til dawn in bars, they chainsmoke American Spirits. Me, I get high, silly and cracked-out on caffeine and I love it. I love Friday nights in particular, because I know that I don't have to go to work the next day and I can grab a cappucc from my favorite corner coffee spot in Greenpoint and stay up late, giddy and jittery.

Let's talk about cappuccinos. Or cappuccini, as is correct in plural Italian form. A proper cappuccino contains foam. Not milky bubbles, not just steamed milk, but thick milk foam. That is the inherent different between a cappuccino and a latte (or rather, caffe latte). A cappuccino contains primarily foam (with the addition of some steamed milk being acceptable) and espresso while a latte contains steamed milk and espresso. The knowledgeable coffee drink makers, James at Greenpoint Coffee House being one of the best that I've discovered in New York, steam the milk and then continue to tap the metal pitcher on the counter several times to get rid of the bubbles, making a thicker, headier foam.

I always wonder if I am in the right place when I read "cappucino" or "capucino" or "capuccino" on the menu. You'd be surprised at how many nice, upstanding places misspell this word.

Anyway, Starbucks (that fast food chain of lesser quality coffee beverages, where the espresso seems to become more watery by the minute) is fairly inconsistent on this point. I've had cappuccinos that turn out to be lattes because I doubt that the staff is really trained on the difference, with the occasional and rare exception to the rule. Once, I had a barista at a Starbucks in Oakton, Virginia tell me that she didn't understand what the difference was between a latte and a cappuccino. Dunkin Donuts also seems to be mildly aware of the difference, with a foam-like substance hovering on top of their greyish cappuccino, when I've been forced to settle. Even the automated Nescafe cappuccino machines in Ecuador do it right.

So the other day, I went to a new seemingly upscale coffee place in Long Island City in Queens. I ordered a cappuccino, and watched, somewhat distractedly, as the man behind the counter poured the milk straight out of the canister without steaming it or anything. I thought perhaps I had missed the steaming, and the foam-creating. I removed the lid only to see what looked like basically a dark cup of coffee - no foam, not even much milk. Not your normal New Yorker, I am always hesitant to complain. I walked out to the bus stop and sampled my drink. After realizing I just wasn't going to drink it as is, I headed back inside. I said "I'm sorry to bother you, but I ordered a cappuccino. Aren't they supposed to be foamy?" The gentleman behind the counter said "Well, yes, but we don't do the foam thing here." I said, "Then it can't really be called a cappuccino, then, can it?" The two people behind the counter looked at each other. "Well, if you really want foam, we can do it that way this time." This time? People, please, get my drug right.