The Devil

My anxiety is a wiry thing, thin and vibrating. You sense him coming before you see him—he usually
stays in the shadows: doorways, stairwells. Constantly on the edges of my vision, he’s like trying to
find the end of a rainbow, or to get a dog to come back after its run away. You can’t move forward
too fast. It was years before I understood that buried beneath him, hiding just out of sight, was
anger herself. Surprisingly small, she was only the size of a peach pit, and covered in spines. I didn’t
recognize her at first, partly because she had been covered with her own kind of sadness, a blanket
as heavy and silent as the foot of snow outside my window, the snow my daughter plays in so
effortlessly. My daughter can make a game out of anything: a stick, a rock, a pile of pinecones left
for a rabbit she saw only this morning. I wonder what would happen if we gave our anger this kind
of care, cradled her like an infant or even a friend, made space for her long arms, her putrid breath
and snarling teeth—if we held her close anyway, gave her a name the way I was given my first name
at the base of an altar I no longer believe in, the cool water cascading over my forehead, blessing me
as a once-wanted child. In the car at night, the moon looks like it’s following us but really, we’re the
ones throwing ourselves through space, launching our hopes into the sky with closed eyes. These
days, when I see my anxiety on the street, I no longer look away. I try to reach into my pockets: I
want to give him something. I still worry it won’t be enough, that it will never be enough.

-Originally published in The Hocus Tarot Chapbook, Vol. II, 2023


My legs are my mother’s legs and her mother’s before her, on and on down the line until it stops, I imagine, at the bank of a river somewhere, the grasses clinging to the calves like children held by this nameless woman I can only call Her. Vaguely related to me, she is somewhere in Germany or France, wherever my mother’s people are from. And if you could see her sadness and if that sadness were catching, it might be stuck inside the worn fibers of her mind, the thing she was trying to get rid of with the washing, the heaviness in her hands like stones at the throat of her longing. How did I get here, she’d say. Where am I going? But then it’d be too late and the seeds of her unease would be lodged in the next woman’s heart, undetected perhaps until she tried to fall asleep that very night and could only see a terrible darkness at her window, where for years it had cocooned her like a child. This night would come as a surprise she didn’t want or ask for, and on and on it would go until no woman or child within the sharp radius of her need could be found without this deep ache inside them, this thread of memory, spooling out like bright lines of salmon spawning upstream, each one reflecting stones, starlike on the surface of her mind before settling in a soft pile of silt and sand below.

-Originally published in Ran Off With the Star Bassoon, Second Session, 2022


Was it when I followed my father to the fields,
his back hunched, searching for arrowheads,
my feet sinking in the newly turned earth?
Or was it seeing my mother from the doorway,
her back a waning crescent in the dark?

Words came easily to me then,
alone with paper, my mind a sweet shadow,
time a blanket around my shoulders.
But coming out my mouth they choked
and stumbled, my face the crushed
color of cherries stuck
to the bottom of a boot.

When I told my father I was gay, he was chopping
radishes, their red skins half moons
on the cutting board, little gleams of white
like a promise worth keeping.
His careful hands slicing, their rough wintered edges
that held so many things: dogs, babies,
stones the color of starlight,
my wild heart, beating the knife’s
calm rhythm—What can I fix you to eat?

My mother was not so easy,
her face pinched pale in the thick dark
of her bedroom, thin covers a moat
of righteous limbs and I the only sinner.
Even now, all these years later, my heart closes
when I hear her voice.

Today it’s cold but the crocuses are coming up,
ochre pollen petals small as thimbles.
Soon the geese will head back north,
their black wings cutting through soundless cloud.

-Originally published in Spoon River Poetry Review, 2019


The morning I thought I’d be a mother
again, I made soup for two
sisters, one with a new baby
bright as a beet, the other
with an empty womb.

Both left sleeping
in twin beds, two
tired uteruses needing

the same soup I’d eaten
years before when
my own daughter was born.

Soup so red it stained the stove,
its sharp stock simmering all day—
beets, beef, viscous pork.

At thirty-nine, I’m surprised to learn
I’ve reached the stage of death, watching
it in mirrored hallways,

seeing its shadow
on my father’s face. Friends
when we meet for coffee
talk only of the body, how

a mother’s morning walk turned
into terrible brain blossoms, fat
sirens spinning. A lover’s stomach
taken by tumors, thin
lips sucking lime popsicles.

It’s been a year since
I waited, a year since
I named the bundle

of cells I swore
I could see growing
into someone
I had met before.
And when

the blood did come,
it was as if proof of sins
were smeared on my broken
body, rendered visible
by time’s tired ink.

You still ask for a brother but
it gets fuzzier each time,
as if we are speaking underwater.

I research dogs.
I set up a fish tank
and bury them one by one
under the same front pine,

glinting tails winking out
in the black dirt, cold
faded starlight.

I still see the sisters but I don’t
make borscht anymore—
so many ways
to be a mother,
even to oneself.

When I tuck you in at night
among the mountain of stuffed
animals lovingly arranged, you say,

Tell me a story about
when you were a kid.

You want all of me
even in sleep.
But how to tell you my fear—

I’ve run out of stories,
my mind already failing
as if my body is trying

to protect me
from something
it cannot name.

-Originally published in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, 2022