I Have Been Tasked with Letting You Know

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

(a collaboration with Todd Colby)
Which world are you staining? It appears blurry.
In your frenzy to avoid kitsch, you've rendered us
all as broncos in a western painting with an orange
sunset advertising a dude ranch.  Someday I'll make it
out west.  I meant to be one of those wandering anti-
heroes, Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas, but even that 
plan didn't take into account the enormous sum
for the film stock used to document my movements. From now
on it's one of those self-help books that instructs you to notice
your life, five items at a time.  Item one:  A toddler
strapped in the backseat wants to sit in the driveway
listening to an acoustic version of "Save a Prayer"
by Duran Duran, but halfway through begins scrabbling
at the seat belt yelling, "Get out!" And just like that
a well of emotions is unleashed, diminished only by
a buttery shoulder rub and some sweet meats.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Elephant" is one of the words my 21 month-old son says.  It is also the subject of this poem from my chapbook Crown.  (The "Men's College" is a reference to A Room of One's Own.) 

Elephant Goes Downtown 

(after Carlos Drummond de Andrade)

My elephant's all shy and pretty-eyed in the marketplace.
My elephant's made of the cloth of unknowing.
Elephant's strolling through the Men's College, longing for lunch.
Elephant feels crepuscular.
My elephant sat at a lovely wooden table with a view of the Hudson.
Had no idea what to do with the sky.
Elephant has all these talented friends.
Beauty does hurt, elephant said.
She moves her mouth to one side like that.  Stretches out her trunk.
Takes a sip of her drink.
She flaps her ear a little.  Sighs.

Mad Max

Monday, November 17, 2014

Early in our relationship, my college boyfriend Jason compared his affection for me to the last can of gasoline in a Mad Max-like world. If you had the last can of gas in the world, you wouldn't go around *talking* about it, would you? 

Part of the conversation went something like this:

Me:  But you do have a can of gas?
Jason:  I can't talk about it.  For obvious reasons. 

This conversation was typical of our exchanges, and for most of college, we got along quite well.  I'm not sure, though, whatever happened to the last can of gas in the world. 

Sunday Essentials

Sunday, November 16, 2014

1.  I'm not sure I can be attractive enough to distract you from mortality on a daily basis.  Maybe in a series of carefully selected and arranged photographs, but not three feet from your face every morning.  I will work on it.  Or, well, I will ponder different things "attractive" can mean.  "A lighthearted honesty of spirit" might be one.

2.  This morning I wrote a message to a friend I met when we were thirteen.  When she came to my house for the first time, we rolled to see who would go first in Monopoly and came up with the same number ten times in a row.  (Did that happen?)  At that time, my mother and I lived in an apartment in a large, black converted barn by the Neckar River in Heidelberg.  We had a sizable terrace which looked toward the river and the Alte Brücke (old bridge).  Sounds interesting, right?  At the time I just wanted a bigger room and was tired of "all the castles."  (Eventually we moved to another apartment in the same building, and I had a larger room with a skylight.  I could lie in bed and watch the weather.  I remember appreciating it at least once.) 

3.  I looked at a blog of another friend this morning.  I met him when I was in my 30s at a poetry reading in Brooklyn in a spacious loft overlooking the Williamsburg Bridge, and I thought that's what New York would be like.  This friend tried to get me to buy a lambskin jacket on sale, but I refused.  I was eventually driven out of New York, possibly as a result.  Last night I dreamed that I kept running into this same friend all over Europe.  He was in tour groups being led through the sights and could not stop to talk.  Therefore, I made fun of his girlfriend's name. 

4.  The other morning, Curious George was having a fever dream.  He dreamed that he and a cat went down his own throat.  First they stood for a bit behind his teeth and looked around.  It was the cat who figured out how to run the machine that would take them farther down. 

5.  People Magazine reports that Drew Barrymore is really getting into whale vomit (ambergris). 

6.  There have been complications with the plan.  But I have this coffee and this blueberry muffin.  I put oatmeal in the muffins.  I hope that's ok.  But, to paraphrase Katharine Hepburn, "Always please yourself because then at least one person is pleased."  

7.  "Don't act ugly."  --something my grandmother used to say about unkindness

August 14th

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Wow, it's already the 14th.  Oh, man.  Here are five things:

1.  I missed the super moon because right after I put on my shoes to go look at it, the baby woke and I helped him get back to sleep.  Then I was too sleepy to go see the super moon.

2.  Robin Williams died.  I remember that the night Mork & Mindy premiered I was being babysat by a friend of my mom's and that I made it very clear that I would require a television tuned to the appropriate station at the appropriate time.  I remember crouching in someone's attic apartment in front of a tiny black and white television, watching Mork through the snow (bad reception).  I felt then that he (Mork) was a representative of the kids, somehow, and that I had done my duty.  Later I had the doll and the suspenders.  I went as a "weirdo" one year for Halloween.  I'm not sure if I was wearing the suspenders, but I was wearing a button that said "WHY BE NORMAL?" and a toilet paper roll decorated with stars over my sideways ponytail.  Somehow, I now realize, this was an homage to Mork.  As an adult, I preferred his serious moments.  The sadness peeking through seemed real and human and vulnerable.  And, yeah.  I guess it really was.  I guess we're supposed to be as loving and gentle to each other as we can.  An homage.

3.  I don't know what's happening in Ferguson, MO.  My country.  This is us.  Part of who we are.  All of it.

4.   Here's Lauren Bacall singing "How Little We Know." 

5.  The fifth thing is the unknown.  The shakiness of that.  The mystery.  How good changes are coming.  How change is difficult.  How it is wondrous. 


August 8th

Friday, August 08, 2014

At the playground, E. became fascinated with a little girl whose mother was selling snow cones, and the girl and I chatted briefly while the baby checked out her bejeweled gladiator sandals and tried to cozy up next to her.  She told me that she's seven.  I told her that the baby thought she was interesting.  "Your baby has an interesting mind," she said. 

Another thing

Thursday, August 07, 2014

"I would like to be inside the lights

of these peoples'
houses (with our ancient nostalgia for fire) but not

inside these lives." 

--Eleni Sikelianos, The Book of Jon

August 7th

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Somehow I missed a day in my August posts.  Oh, well.

Here's an observation for today:  I had to go to a doctor's appointment on 59th Street this morning, and as I walked into the building and toward the elevator, a woman emerged from the elevator wearing what might be described-- anywhere other than Manhattan-- as a "get-up."  Somehow in that moment I very much enjoyed the performance of her:  Huge round black and rhinestone sunglasses, a fur stole of some kind, high cork platform shoes, hair smoothed back into a tight bun.  It was hard to say what age she was.   I suppose she could have been anywhere from 25 to 45.  As I looked at her, she clutched at her stole, gathering it more tightly around her shoulders.  Even that gesture pleased me. 

August 5th

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Photo from tvguide.com

My observation for 8/5:  Going to the Barnes and Noble at Union Square always reminds me of the time I saw Brigid Berlin there.  It was my birthday two years ago.  I only recognized her because I had just watched the documentary about her.  We shared a table for a few minutes.  She was eating a lemon square.  We didn't talk about the Factory.

August 4th

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

photo by Joe Pan

I get the baby to sleep and rush to the reading. At first I get into a car I think is the car I called, and the man asks me if my name is Mia and then says he won't take me there because my name is not Mia. Then I get into a car that will take me there. It still isn't the car I'd called. That car has NOT arrived to pick me up within seven minutes.  It has been much longer than seven minutes.  When I get out of the car I did not call, the man says, "Merci beaucoup," and I look at him for a second and he looks at me for a second.  Then I say thank you and get out of the car.  I read in the back courtyard of the bookstore, half standing on a  wooden plank on some gravel. I am lit up, but the audience is not, so I cannot see who I am reading to. I hear chuckling about half the time I think I'll hear chuckling. I realize I expect chuckling. Above my head is a string or two of lights in that funny plastic casing, half of it one color and half another color. Weeds press in around us. Or just stand there. The weeds stand there, threatening to press in. Capable of doing so over time. The last poem I read isn't the one I mean to end on, but I end on it anyway. I listen to the singer-songwriter after that. He has a good sense of song structure and also a sense that something bad is about to happen, at least according to one of his songs. Something really bad.  Before I leave, I talk to a man I talked to at a party the first year I lived in New York. After that, I didn't talk to him for a while, and then, a few years later, he edited my book. He seems cheerful and friendly as I talk to him this time, as he did the first time I talked to him. I'm not sure what I seem. I may seem so woozy-tired as to appear mildly drunk. Then I leave for the subway. On the way there, I try and fail to take a good picture of a creepy animal figurine menagerie in front of someone's brownstone. Anyway, it was a fun reading.

August 3rd

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Last night, I had a dream that my friend Anna and I were going to explore some catacombs somewhere in France.  No one knew what was down there, so we braced ourselves in case we found rows and rows of skulls or hollowed out spaces in the walls containing dessicated bodies.  What we found instead was an exhibition on the fashions of the Middle Ages behind glass display cases.  So that was a relief.  (If you have read Pattie McCarthy's poems, which I was reading before bed, you might understand why I hold her partly responsible for this dream.)  

Today Elias and I met Anna, Kari, and Kari's kids at the American Museum of Natural History on 81st Street in Manhattan.  The baby and I got there later than everyone else because of nap schedules, etc, so they watched a movie about dark matter at the planetarium while waiting for us.  The poster for it that I saw said it was about how we know what 5% of the universe is made up of, but WHAT IS THE OTHER 95%?  Now I will never know.  (The answer, according to Anna, is that if they don't know what it is, they call it "dark," which is typical.)  Incidentally, the only part of the museum that E seemed to like was the Hall of the Universe.  

I've known Anna since I was 13 and Kari since I was 15, and I don't know when the last time was that the three of us were together.  It's been years and years.  And now we are all mothers, and my baby seemed to accept them as alternate mothers when they picked him up and comforted him after he became fretful and tired in the fossils and the mammals.  And I didn't even get a picture of us all, just this picture of a flyer on the subway.

MRS. TAYLOR   and she says .......  DON'T GIVE UP.

August 2nd

Saturday, August 02, 2014

1.  I received these gorgeous books by Pattie McCarthy in the mail.  The photo isn't great, but trust me.  Gorgeous.

2.  I saw two friends from MFA school who live in Midwestern/Western states.  Seeing them made me glad but made me miss them.  At least we can do fake rituals to strengthen each others' energy fields from afar.  I think we should.

3.  The way the couples' counselor pronounced "garbage" like the French (to be funny, I guess) was sort of endearing.  "Garbazh."

4.  Before I was born, Peter Cooper was spending all the money on books!  And my mother said, "Peter!  We might need money for baby shoes!"  And Peter Cooper said, "With books, we could learn how to make our own baby shoes."  I'm pretty sure he never made me baby shoes.  I did come to learn, though, that the one thing my mother would always buy me if I asked for it was a book.    

5.  My grandfather once grew a full beard and then shaved half of it and had himself photographed looking skinny and young on the couch.  (Is that a couch?)  I'm not sure why he did this.  Perhaps I should ask someone who was there or knows the story. 

6.  I was oddly proud when my baby learned to say "moon."  He says it as if he is swallowing the word.  Say "moon" without opening your mouth.  That's how he says it.

7.  I feel that I should put myself into a trance in order to retrieve some far-fetched thought, an echo of ancestral knowledge that doesn't reside in the conscious mind, and allow it to bubble up in a slightly familiar, slightly foreign musical cadence and record it here for you.  But I have limited time left to be conscious today, and I will read a few of Pattie's poems instead.   

August 1st

Friday, August 01, 2014

I thought I would try to post something on my blog every day in August as a way of paying attention (and, perhaps, of trying to get some writing going). Above is a picture of my son.  (Strange still that I have "a son."  But it's becoming less strange that an Elias exists because he's becoming more and more his own Elias.)

Below is a list of books I have read so far this summer.  The books I said I would read are listed here. My contribution is toward the bottom.

1.  Faithfull: An Autobiography by Marianne Faithfull
2.  Composed by Rosanne Cash
3.  Part of Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross
4.  Part of The Whole-Brained Child by Daniel Siegel
5.  Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
6.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
7.  Reading Shirley: A Novel by Susan Scarf Merrell
8.  Reading The Tatters by Brenda Coultas (I read most of this a couple months ago, but I'm trying to go back and actually absorb it.)

Also, Pattie McCarthy and I have traded books and I'm eagerly awaiting reading her books Nulls and Marybones. I can't wait!

Here are five more things:

1.  My mother and stepfather came to town a couple weeks ago to help take care of E. while I got a small surgery.  (I am fine, thank you.)  The best part was that I had brunch and went to see a movie (in a THEATER) with my mom.  We saw Boyhood at BAM.  At first I wasn't sure I would like it, but then I did and thought about it on and off for several days afterward.

2.  The baby knows many words-- well, several-- but you sort of have to know what he's saying.  He also understands a great deal.  Today I said, "Can you please go get the small broom from the closet for me?" and he did.

3. I had a dream last week that a voice told me not to look for God below my feet or above my head because, the voice said, God is within.  Pretty good, subconscious.  Pretty good.

4.  ". . . a door, the color of fog,/ opens-- life-deep." --Ocean Vuong

5.  I sang "Que Sera, Sera" to the baby before his nap today.  I don't know.  I can never tell how I feel about that song.  But here's Corinne Bailey Rae singing the Sly & the Family Stone version.  Where was I just reading something about that version?  Again, I don't know.

Independence Day Weekend

Monday, July 07, 2014

(a collaboration with Todd Colby) 

Here amid the burned papers and empty cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a mere schedule conflict makes us intelligent again, and sacrificial.  Even Canada has rednecks, but no one is rude enough to call them rednecks.  And I suggest you respect the Bay of Fundy's red-violet mud should you visit Nova Scotia.  The bay has other plans for you, which become apparent once you surrender, much as you'd surrender. Let's just assume the gravity of summer is a good thing. Picnics with a certain sense of destruction are a metonym for the future approaching you of its own volition.  Certain things are hurtling toward you always.  The possibility of a June blue sky, say.  Or death, say.  What's that word that means "the ever-present potential for losing your edges"? Oh, those candied orange slices they serve with sugar all over them and when you bite into them it's a soft, squishy jelly that seems perfect for lounging around on, were it the size of a futon in Bermuda.  As long as we don't accidentally start a forest fire and get sued by the state of California, we could totally do that.   

Vision Board

Sunday, June 29, 2014

(a collaboration with Todd Colby)

I can't feel my fingers when the water gets cold, I'm soaking in it. As instructive as a grackle looking peeved on the sidewalk, by which I mean a starling, is how I feel on my better days. But there's also that pesky hum under my feet, encroaching upon my days in such a manner that I feel "not here." The kind of person who sounds better before they open their mouth is not the kind of person I am. Quite the contrary. I'm the most well-spoken person at all the Hollywood parties I'm never invited to attend. Meanwhile, I'm fashioning you a necklace. This stone stands for patience & this gold chain makes a sound like a bird if you twirl it above your head. There's no mistaking you or your kindness. There's a palliative whirr to it, like the leaves all alive in June or a cat falling asleep across your throat.

Banana Boats

Thursday, June 26, 2014

(collaboration with Todd Colby) 

We always knew you'd wind up the captain of a slew of banana boats.  Perhaps it was the captain's hat and the perfectly pressed slacks you were born wearing. We always knew we could count on you to navigate through rough waters or through that gelatinous mass you called "home." There were days we thought you'd never come back, and there were days.  The kind that make you feel like you've been put through a meat grinder, so that you just say, "That was a day." Your tiny captain's hat was always a point of reference for us. It soothed the nerves just to look over and see you checking your compass, polishing your brass bell, & seeming to mean more with each gesture than humanly possible. We hope you set aside some of your profits to pay your quarterly taxes. We rely on you to be the responsible one, as an anchor or as ballast for our days. Even watching you in your high chair arranging bananas into boats, we knew you'd save us, and perhaps, one day, even accompany us through the Straight of Gibraltar, over the Panama Canal, and perhaps even into the Red Hook Harbor where we'd celebrate your seemingly confident captain's demeanor by peeling the bananas you so bravely delivered to the city of our belongings. Ahoy, Cap'n!  Thanks for dropping by and delineating the factors that are relevant to your joy.

What Is a Domicile

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

My new book of poems from Noctuary Press, What Is a Domicile, is now available from Small Press Distribution. Below is a sample poem from the book.  (This poem originally appeared in South Dakota Review.)  

Also, I will be reading at Word Books in Brooklyn on Thursday June 19th with Leah Umansky, Elvis Alves, and Lisa Marie Basile.  I'd love to see you there.

On the Delicate and Non-Delicate Movements of Weather and Time

At 2 a.m. the humidifier sounds like crickets and then I know I should move to the country.  

I let my large gray yoga ball sit on my reading chair, even though in times past that would have meant something ominous if I woke up wrong.  But I know I’m undergoing a transformation because, when they do show up, the ghosts in this room keep me company now.  One will hang around all matter of fact and affable, like a wise old dog, before leaving again, and then I’ll just go back to sleep. 

My boyfriend tucks me in for the second time and tries to sneak away to do more work.  “Goodnight,” I say, then hold up my arm and make a beak.  Then I say, “Remember shadow animals on the wall?”  He laughs and turns to go.  He knows I’m always trying to start conversations about shadow animals when people are trying to say goodnight. 

What do you expect?  One lifetime is very short, but it’s hard to realize when it’s happening.  Except sometimes it’s easy to realize.  Sometimes you’re almost a year later in a room in Brooklyn waiting for a blizzard, when just a second ago you were almost a year earlier in a different room in Vermont sitting on a bed with a Vanity Fair, a pregnancy test, and an empty bag of M&Ms you don’t remember eating.  

My friend tells me there’s a word for this made up by a theorist.  She can’t remember the theorist’s name or the word.  My friend is very intelligent, but we like to half-remember things when we talk.  It’s just what we do.    

Physics calls it “everything happens at once and all the edges touch.”  I believe I read that somewhere or heard it on PBS and didn’t just see it in a movie.  

I will be the theorist and I will call it effleurage, which actually means “a delicate stroking motion.”  In my theory, it means that and it also means “the mind and body’s flagrant disregard for notions of the consistent forward movement of time.”  A delicate and non-delicate motion. 

April 30th poem

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


April 29th poem

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Mirror

Clif sighs,
takes a sip from his cup,
& looks vacantly into the middle distance,
so the baby sighs,
takes a sip from his cup,
& looks vacantly into the middle distance.

April 28th poem

Monday, April 28, 2014

Reading and Writing

Finish unloading groceries and eating a snack of hummus and pita chips.  Sit down to write poem with a movie playing in the background in which Patrick Swayze plays a hillbilly cop.  Begin trying to read a poem by Ruth Stone.  Tell C that I wish I still had my own room to go into to read.  He begins talking about gluten, how he thought it was a sugar problem some people have with it, but it's actually a protein problem.  Say, "OK.  I'm going to read and write now."  Begin trying to concentrate on reading a poem, but look up to see a scene in the movie that has several actors I recognize, but younger, and begin naming some of them.  C gets up to open a bottle of wine.  Sit at desk with back to the TV to look through notebook.  Hear a bunch of screeching tire noises from the TV.  Tell C that I will take some wine, too.  He doesn't pour another glass, but leaves the bottle on the counter.  Get up and pour 1/2 glass of wine.  Sit down at desk again.  Pick up a different book.  James Schuyler is saying, "Suppose you had your life to live over/ knowing what you know?/ Suppose you had plenty money"  Helen Hunt is playing the violin on TV.  She is on a porch in Kentucky in a flowered dress and says she is the violin teacher.  Wish that you were on a porch in Kentucky.  She has the same generic southern accent that non-southern actors always have in movies.  You consider looking up where she is from to further justify your annoyance.  Begin writing a poem in which "the baby toddles toward a boy with a basketball/ lifting both arms and waving as he toddles/ as if greeting a long-lost Army buddy."  Wonder if the Army buddy would really be "long-lost," and if these buddies would really greet each other that way.  Think about the confusion of the boy with the basketball.  It was unclear whether the baby was greeting him specifically, or just showing excitement.  Either way, the boy was unsure how to react.  Drink wine.  Read a couple Schuyler poems about summer plants and wish for summer, even if the "sun smites."  It is late April, but it feels like another Schuyler March-- "lacks charm."  Realize you are simply going through the book looking for phrases to write down, and that you would rather do this than write your own poem tonight, but that really you would rather go to bed.

April 27th poem

Sunday, April 27, 2014


April 26th poem

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Even then, parked at the crest of a large hill in a Tennessee Valley town,
waiting for my mother to run into the Smoky Mountain Market
surrounded by dark green,
held aloft by the hill, held in by the convex lid of the sky
and across Chapman Highway an empty lot of kudzu
its junk & soul secret
even then I felt  Where are we? 
felt  Home.

April 25th poem

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Having slept so little and a wave of recognition
and pure affection when "Across the Universe" comes on,
the way John says Words are flowing out
Like endless rain into a paper cup.
His Liverpudlian cup

Having slept so little
I'm a trembling cup.

April 24th poem

Thursday, April 24, 2014


I was hoping to someday make it
to California where (I imagine)
things are(n't) flat &
(im)possible &
professionally lit

April 23rd poem

Thursday, April 24, 2014

[with Todd Colby]

Sumptuous Dress

On the subject of human finery, he could talk for hours, which made us uneasy as he rifled through the remains of each survivor's belongings.

April 22nd poem

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


April 21st poem

Monday, April 21, 2014

False Cup-and-Saucer

It never occurred to her to be conventional.
Sometimes she wished it would.

April 20th poem

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I Have Hitched My Wagon to a Star 
(a collaboration with Todd Colby)

Here, I'll explain it to you with this white board. 
I'll mount it on a Show-Go-Round and make it revolve 
when I have another lesson to teach you. 
The kind you can sink your teeth into, as per your 
email sent to me on 4.2.14. And I quote: 
"There is a plausible heap in the works, 
that's why I am committed to the worst in you."
You will sing another tune when you learn
the truth of our situation, how I've tied
myself to you and tied this suitcase to my
wrist, as per your email on 4.12.09. And
I quote: "I can really talk to you, you know?"
On the other hand, there is nothing but blood meal
to consume in this cramped apartment, that and some
stewed carrots with rice (I know you love that).
Thus are we are tied to each other.  Thus do we wander 
through the desert.  Thus is some inexorable third entity
tied to my wrist, dragged along with us. Do you want 
a smoothie? Would you like an afternoon  alone with 
200 messages? What is "beyond unacceptable?"
You always understood me so well, even that time
you asked if I was a replicant or a star being from
outer space like Jeff Bridges in Star Man. 
But as I explained that fateful day: I get my news 
from cable & my wine from Trader Joe's.  I am 
only too human and fallible. Don't tug on the rope, dear

April 19th poem

Saturday, April 19, 2014


April 18th poem

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Day in the Life

A meal of oatmeal and organic bananas? I'm thinking and nibbling
on chocolate, Friday April 18th, 3:03 pm.  Lifting the filter I see
there's more coffee and do a "I see there's more coffee" dance.  The green
on that scrawny tree seems to be alive.  The sky is doing that thing
where it's glarey and white and overcast.  It's like someone trying
to be kind to you through the filter of their hangover so not really
caring.  Earlier a drama teacher in someone else's clothes and mustache
socks came to watch my son.  I descended to the underworld.  I emerged
two neighborhoods over where people seemed real today (Greenpoint).
I bought a bagel with scallion cream cheese on my way, thinking
"Oh!  this is the deli where I went with the Soy Bomb guy that time
I accidentally got drunk, having had drinks before dinner and during
dinner with the artists and the psychotherapist and forgot what
neighborhood I was in but it was here, I guess?" I never even realized
those were the days, I guess?  I guess those were the days. Tomorrow
I promise to write a poem that isn't about writing itself. Or I'll put on
sack cloth to go with my new hair ("shorn").  I'll put on art clogs
and call it a day.

April 17th poem

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Signs and Portents

Once nearly twenty years ago, she had become oddly immobile after her second year of grad school.  Immobile may be the wrong word.  Reluctant to leave the house, maybe.  Looking back, she could recall odd details like pausing at the end of her block on what was probably a beautiful summer day to look at a black bird with iridescent-flecked feathers (at the time she thought it was a grackle, but later learned: starling).  The bird had a small, evenly-shaped stick of some kind lodged in its beak in a way that looked uncomfortable and, strangely, menacing.  She decided it was a bad sign and went home to drink iced tea and sleep on the couch with the blinds down.  Before she'd left campus, she'd checked out most of the books by Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster she hadn't previously read, having decided that she would become a Woolf and Forster scholar, and she moved her reading chair into the middle of the room and made a stack out of the books, then sat there reading them one by one and moving each one from one side of the chair to the other.  Later, she drove her small car into town and stood in the back room of a used bookstore in front of the shelf that held the letters and biographies of Woolf.  It took her a long time to decide to buy Quentin Bell's biography, which was a first edition and expensive, and she began to wonder if anyone was watching her stand in front of the shelf, holding the large book and then putting it back again multiple times.  At some point, she must have spoken to the man she was sporadically seeing, indicating to him, possibly indirectly, that leaving the house had become difficult.  One day he surprised her by bringing her another large stack of library books.  He had decided to become a scholar of contemporary Mexican American literature, and had further decided that she would enjoy reading all the books of poetry and fiction that the university library had by Mexican American women.  He came to her door looking somehow contrite and surprised her with these books, so she put those books next to her chair and read those, as well.  It was a very large stack, and many of the books were set in the Southwest, a place she had never been and still hadn't been to this day.  What seems strangest to her now when she looks back on this memory is her one omission.  She could never make it through Woolf's The Waves and still hadn't read it. 

April 16th poem

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


"So much khaki and uncombed hair!" is how my mom described the Unitarians that time she was trying out being a joiner.  Another time we got the giggles when the white gospel troupe very solemnly intoned, "For-- I-- shall-- consider-- my-- cat-- Jeoffry---."  Still, the decision is clear:  once I'm settled, I'll join a gym with childcare and whatever denomination has childcare and a tolerance for pantheism. 

April 15th poem

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April 15th

It drizzled all day, and by afternoon, overcome with the thought that I had become a bad luck person, I fell deeply asleep when the baby did, each of us entering some kind of deep well of our own. (Think about what a good metaphor "sinking" would be for such a sleep, if it weren't already a commonplace.) I sank on my hard and comforting sleep bier, an effigy of myself, in time to meet R on a train platform somewhere along his journey. My one really tall ex-boyfriend! Well, there are a couple tall ones. I told him all the troubles, holding on, even then, to my newly reborn feeling of self-sufficiency. A kind of leather armor of self-reliance. "Carapace" is the word I'm thinking. My son was strapped to me, as he would be in life. Next we were wrapped up in a fleece cape-like blanket, and R was hugging us to him and swaying us along the platform, walking and swaying, walking and swaying, until the baby and I let go our worries and were completely relaxed, completely at ease. Even now, I feel that was nice of him to do.

April 14th poem

Monday, April 14, 2014

Poem in a Late Style

Today I kept getting turned around in the Village
then I got home and someone on TV asked if I had a turkey neck
Do you have a turkey neck? the caption said
I don't know I don't know
I just don't know anymore

April 13th poem

Sunday, April 13, 2014


How to cultivate wound-deep knowing
with only these scrawny trees around.
Even on the first really warm day
strangers at the park remain closed-
faced, squared off.  The wrong kind
of wounding.  One girl, though,
blond, Hasidic, alone in middle childhood
surreptitiously follows you around
the playground.  Testing out
knowing.  Going the wrong way down
the slide, twisting into a circle to get
her shoe back on.  Soul pate, is what
you think. Whole-souled human,
kenning what she can.

April 12th poem

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Notes from Today
(Or, Poem with Stolen Lines*)

Morning at the cafe there's a woman at the next table dying of consumption. Well, she's coughing and reading Renata Adler.  Coughing and reading, coughing and reading.

I am enraged at the cafe but why?  (Tiredness.)  I am looking at job ads I am looking up words I know the spelling of because reading final final proofs makes me look up words I know the spelling of.  Hello strawberry sweet cheese kolache hello iced Americano.  Everyone get out of my way.

What year was it that I read that Buddhist book that said to pause in doorways and think this moment or think nothing lasts.  (Which was it?  Both/either.)

Everyone is bothering me.  Everyone was once a helpless baby and they all still need so much love I can't take it.  I'm beaming out love and exhaustion.  I want to cry because we were all babies.  My gift is glittery and eternal.

I go to Central Park to see my partner's (?) good friend from high school and her baby who looks like my partner's (?) Aunt Catherine.  She (the baby) is named after a beautiful Buddhist concept.  I think she will be a wise teacher and learner.  I think if she had glasses on a string she would look just like Aunt Catherine.

On the subway, my baby touches a lady's fingernails, gazes at a lady, eats pieces of cereal, squeals, laughs, beats his head on my sternum, shares a joke, needs a nap.  On the subway, my baby.

I am singing us, I guess.  

I am eating dinner.  I am victorious and hurried, dinner-wise.  Listening to the music that fell between rocksteady and reggae and has innocent lyrics.  People just wanted to dance in the underground clubs and the politics were fucked.  Is what I'm told.  Please turn it down I'm tired.

If I had my mouth, I would bite

Once when I was a teenager I was sleeping in the small room upstairs at my grandmother's when my uncle Joe came home from wherever and started cracking pecans with a nutcracker at the kitchen table while I dreamed that he was eating knuckles.  I could see him sitting at the table cracking and eating them.  Then I went downstairs and he was sitting at the same table eating pecans, and I said, "Oh, I thought you were eating knuckles."  That's how I feel when I fall asleep from seven to ten while putting the baby to sleep.  "Oh, I thought you were eating knuckles."  I'm half-asleep, but which half I don't know.

Transformation transformation transformation.  It just never ends, you know?

Doors are tricky.

Good night.

*some of the italicized lines are from Brenda Coultas, Maureen Thorson, Eleni Sikelianos, Gregory Crosby, and Todd Colby. 

April 11th poem

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mysteries of Carports and Other Places

"first you're in the womb
or some other insular place"
--Bernadette Mayer

then for years an only child, others' houses unsettling
you, harsh words over dishes and how things are no longer
where you set them down when you go back later

at home, you let the cats claw at your scalp like yarn
you wander out to the carport to burn things with matches
douglas hurst lopes in sideways from down the street
to torment you with his pert little face (which face you
also have but don't think of yourself as having)
neither of you know what to do about the other's face
and there is the exchange of insults like Pip 
and the fine young gentleman, all sharp eyes and longing,
competition to be smartest at school (you are smartest
but he is smartest in math)

you have driven him off
you are alone in the kitchen staring at the empty fridge
seized by an imp of perversity, you take out the cool whip
and hershey's syrup, mix up a big bowl
take a few bites and leave it
the wiz is on hbo again and diana ross
looks so sad in harlem you'd like to go there
and eat dinner with her family and walk outside to sing
with snow in your eyelashes

April News Update

Friday, April 11, 2014

Amid my NaPoWriMo posts I wanted to take a second to share some exciting updates:

Extract(s) recently featured me in a three-question interview about themes, process, and short-format writing. They also shared a few excerpts from last month's release, The Itinerant Girl's Guide to Self-Hypnosis, which you can learn about about at Brooklyn Arts Press.

Please join me on Thursday, April 24th for a Dual Release Party at Berl's Poetry Shop in D.U.M.B.O., where I'll be reading from Itinerant Girl alongside fellow Brooklyn Arts Press writer Bill Rasmovicz.

In other news, I'm eager to announce that my second (!) book of the year was released April 3rd. Titled Crown, it's now up on the Ravenna Press website as part of the Ravenna Pocket Series.

April 10th poem

Thursday, April 10, 2014

(collaborative poem with Todd Colby; revised today)
Track 28, 2:45 pm
The instruction manual was etched in glass,
and made a sound like a mouse or a dreaming
woman making small squeaks in her sleep
when you ran a fingernail over her parent's teeth.
Her parents adored her and it showed 
in their well-faded jeans and moisturized palms.
They all smelled of coconut oil and sandalwood, 
as per the instructions.  As per their understanding,
suffice it to say chemistry textbooks have many
excellent images for making collages, which is
why she failed the class but won at compiling 
spray adhesives.  All the while, this mystical
being was ensconced in a wondrous world called
"what New York had become." Which is why I am
a principal in Atlanta. During recess the dogwoods
did sway in the wind.  They did sway and I did
sway.  Thank you for coming in this afternoon,
Mr. and Mrs.  Buncombe.  I sorely appreciate
your children and your pie. There will be a day
when you forget my name, but I'll be dead by then.

April 9th poem

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Compassion poem

Once when I was teaching 10th grade American lit, I came to class just emotionally empty for whatever personal reason or non-reason, wondering how I'd ever beam the appropriate amount of attention and good cheer toward my students that day.  I was scowling maybe and preoccupied as the students filed in, and they just ignored that part or didn't see it and beamed good cheer, attention, and humor out from themselves like we'd all tried to do to the best of our abilities on previous days.  Had I banked some cheer for myself just by trying to be a decent person to my students on those other days?  However it happened, they were giving it back to me and didn't even know they were doing it.  They were just being decent people.  We'd made a space for each other to do that, be decent people even on empty days.  That kind of thing-- small acts of kindness and attention-- bounce around like light bounced off a small mirror this one kid used to flash light in another kid's eyes until I told him to put it away.  Even not being heavy about the mirror continues to bounce around.  This theory of good humor and bouncing energy is important but must be held lightly, the way the boy held the mirror and the way he put it away again. 

April 8th poem

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Tuesday April 8 
(after Bernadette Mayer)

an overcast somewhat warm day someone is the city is having
a beautiful time doing i don't know what.  i begin writing this
and the baby intervenes by biting a yellow crayon pointing
at the microwave to deflect attention then grabbing my pen
bobbing his head to the music crayon breath geh-geh-geh
he says and bites my scalp a little where i crouch on the floor.
that sad velvet underground song comes on "ain't got nuthin'
at all." then e bites a big hunk off the green crayon and i stop
to clean it off his teeth. we say bleh at each other and he runs
away come back!  "oh sweet nuthin' ain't got nuthin' at all."
microwave beeps again the last few sips of coffee.  when the baby
sets something down, he does so carefully and takes his hands away
with fingers delicately outstretched but i turn around and the red
and green crayons he just set down aren't there.  what if he waved
his hands and disappeared them?  gosh.  no here they are
on his coat.  sleight of hand. now that "makes no difference"
song.  rick danko is my favorite from the band besides
levon helm.  but this is my morning jacket. e is now
busy in his playpen.  says, "ah."

April 7th poem

Monday, April 07, 2014

(collaborative poem with Todd Colby)

Gaining a Purchase
I forwarded you a quality of life list.  Let's brainstorm because sooner or later a bird makes a delightful meal for the workers.   At noon, we'll meet in the circle to work on value-added vision boards, after which the servants will bring in cucumber sandwiches and tea.  They have been instructed to control their gazes. More importantly, the servants are required to maintain an air of objectivity regarding the prudish ineptitude of not only the citizens, but the material desires of all involved. We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, but not all the members of the team are on board.  Patricia has promised to meditate upon the question.  Robert is going to throw some psychic energy my way to see what sticks. We should adjourn by 12:04, when we'll be treated to ocean vegetables and a fermented red beverage made from firm ground. See you there!

April 6th poem

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Tea Fortune

"This is a sorry culture, babe.  You have to make your own."
--Alice Notley, "A Bitter Treason"

A sorry culture and I must return to the homeland
absorb the vibe-a-rations where the sky is right

I am somewhat comfortable
with the semiology of Brooklyn
(stomach flips sideways writing that)

somewhat more comfortable with how the sky fits
the land in North Carolina or even Kansas
and the roads through the what is the word
want to say roughage, but it is . . .
want to say verbiage
roads fit through the I'll just say trees and grasses

Pick a card
I'm thinking High Priestess
but I dig out the old mass market paperback and turn
to Death When you see this card think of: 

Mastering the Tarot: Basic Lessons in an Ancient, Mystic Art
by Eden Gray, pub. 1971
same year I was conceived in North Carolina and born in Kansas
or, wait, I guess I was conceived in 1970

a small burning
a small bun in
or just, Hi, I am here to steal your tarot book later

April 5th poem

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Case Studies

"[A]ll those happy hippie plans gone awry."
--Eleni Sikelianos, The Book of Jon

When I was a kid, we were always doing things like going to visit some angry guy with a bushy beard in the woods who couldn't finish his half-tree house mountain retreat dreamscape because his father wouldn't turn over the damn money.  There was always a farm sold out from under someone else and the disappearing funds.   The disappointed older generation with their hairdos and handbags, and the disappointing younger generation with their hippie-dippy anger.  Still, we rode up into the mountains on the border of NC and TN to check in on the simmering, under-realized utopias, the burlap and health food feel of it all.  The world wasn't really that different.  The women were still in the kitchen.  My family had no money and so the anger was more diffuse, or was actually just humor mixed with sadness, a dash of resentment.  Then my mother went back to grad school.  She thought she was turning me into a social scientist by leaving all those case studies of pygmies and schizophrenics around-- I read anything-- but I observed too much to fit between the rails of discipline.  My idea of narrative drifted, listed, became loose and unstructured, tending toward poetry, all of it much too qualitative and speculative to win many government grants.  Oh, well. 

April 4th poem

Saturday, April 05, 2014


April 3rd poem

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Dear Bonnia,  

How do the myths lay down road in a girl eating pound cake in the South
at her grandmother's table?  There's the one about the goddess and her chariot
pulled by cats.  The one about the man who wanders, the family left behind.
And then there's the weaving of the disparate stories into a founding myth.
Years wandering, the horse behind the gates.  The underworld.  What disparate
strands we all of us weave.  Especially Bonnia of the sad and happy eyes.
How and when do we come up from underground?  By which I mean myself.
By which I mean any daughter-wanderer, any hero-mother who stays behind, wondering.

April 2nd poem

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Freyja in Brooklyn

I misplaced my chthonic majesty and lost my feathered cloak
in the last move.  All I have left is this reindeer skull diadem
with antlers, all out of context.  People mistake me for mere shaman
or Pratt student.  How to remember one's role in the weather--
bear down and bear down all winter until everyone's breaking
and broken, pale on the subway.  Still, my sorcery's all jacked
up.  I'll move clouds about until it comes back to me, turning
the wind this way and that, like an old-timey radio knob.
If Odin were here, he'd say, "Out-of-sorts goddess.  That's no
way to go through life."  Either way, I'll meet half of you
halfway down your long last road. 

April 1st poem

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


Almost Spring Poem

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

First you think of buying a colorful flowered shirt as a sign of some sort of symbolic rebirth.

Then you think, "Again, with the symbolic rebirth?  Or still?  Still working on the same one?"

After that, a glimmer of affection for that guy in college who ended anecdotes with "Just imagine!"

Just imagine!  It has been many years since you were in college, but if you let it, time folds like a piece of paper.  When you hear that one New Order song, for instance, or that one Pixies album, you could almost just step across the fold and stand there in front of your James Dean poster with that guy in his checked shirt saying, "Just imagine!," basking in your nascent glimmer of affection.

In one way:  Who cares?  In another way:  The slippery "you" of this poem does.

If you could have any power from a book, what would it be?  (A) Tesseract?  (B) Giving people's minds a little push so they'd acquiesce to your series of small demands?  (C) Letting your mind unhook from caring about any of it, even the flower shirt?  Letting it unhook from it all, like some Siddhartha or some sociopath from an existential novel, but without the murder?

Well, then.  Happy spring to you.  

Drawing #1 to accompany The Itinerant Girl's Guide to Self-Hypnosis

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Drawing by Alex Lenhoff.  The Itinerant Girl's Guide to Self-Hypnosis is available here.

You’re in my Hall of Fame room holding a ginger seal pup with a fabulous mullet. You have the mullet, not the seal pup. I’m in your Hall of Fame room going all post-apocalyptic child star, killing and roasting my own venison while wearing glorious deerskin gaiters. If I had news about my plasma, you’d be the person I’d write to, to take my mind off the news about my plasma. If you needed someone to hold the sides of your head to keep your mind ok, I’d totally write you a poem that metaphorically held the sides of your head. In our previous friendship, back in time, we were some of those proto-human toddlers who took painting lessons in a cave ritual about painting lessons. As a middle-aged man of fifteen, you invented dung sculpture, blowing everyone’s mind. I had my own project, blowing on fiery twigs to create shapes like those little brass angels that fly by the heat of candle flame at Christmas. But nothing like that at all.

News about The Itinerant Girl's Guide to Self-Hypnosis

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I was very happy to hear that my book from Brooklyn Arts Press sold well at the AWP conference in Seattle.  Thank you to BAP editors and staffers!

The book is available from the BAP website, as well as SPD and Amazon (in paperback or on Kindle). 

My brother, Alex Lenhoff, and I have begun a project in which we are choosing pieces from the book to illustrate.  We previously did a drawing and poem collaboration here.  Alex is a talented artist and I'm delighted to talk about my work and images with him and see what he comes up with.  The first drawing will be posted shortly, with five more to follow in the coming months.  

Next Steps

Monday, February 24, 2014

by Joanna Penn Cooper and Todd Colby

"We Bought a Zoo" is a kid's movie. Please enjoy the awkward
nature of being alive in this century at all. Enjoy it the same way
 you enjoy being helped across the street by a manic fellow
with a gold grille on Valentine's Day. You will take what you can
from the thousands of dogs making their yellow urine canyons
while we breathe in our rattles of phlegm because that is called being grateful.
Your better angels are standing at your shoulder in Burberry coats
making notations on what you think, feel, and see. "3:00 Bedford Avenue,
gangly 12 year-old boy in sweatpants lifts arms like a dancer and steps
over his dog's leash with a Fosse-like hop." Your angels approaching
job burnout just want you to quit your yammering. Wow... I would like
to to get acquainted with you. If you don't press against
certainly? I hope we are similar? Tell, if it is not difficult, what's your real name?
and by the way what are you doing now? Forgive me I have forgot to tell you
my last name. My surname Lyudmila. Mainly
I am search my soulmate here, I want to have genuine relations. You agree
with me? If you have thoughts for the same it will be Perfectly!
I expect to hearing from you soon..
Your answer, is important for me. Lyudmila.

Paul Auster on winter

Friday, February 07, 2014

from The Invention of Solitude:

There is no light to sink his teeth into, no sense of time unfolding.  Rather, a feeling of doors being shut, of locks being turned.  It is a hermetic season, a long moment of inwardness.  The outer world, the tangible world of materials and bodies, has come to seem no more than an emanation of his mind.  He feels himself sliding through events, hovering like a ghost around his own presence, as if he were living somewhere to the side of himself-- not really here, but not anywhere else either.  A feeling of having been locked up, and at the same time of being able to walk through walls.  He notes somewhere in the margins of a thought:  a darkness in the bones; make a note of this.

Make Your Own Luck

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

by Joanna Penn Cooper and Todd Colby
Signs abound and puddles of slush, so you leave the house

like some latter-day Candide exclaiming "Nice hat!" to Orthodox ladies

but really we're all just skulls beneath the moisturizer, making the calcium
function as a shell over all that electric gooey mess. One time
I told a class that desire speaks of mortality.  Cradling the body
of the beloved is like to trying to stave off death by owning lots of shoes.
And that cute thing of lying with your face close to the other's face
and sharing breath immediately becomes the memory of lying there sharing
breath.  Therefore sex is death, everyone.  Let’s start an improv group called
Memento Mori Everywhere. The class just looked at me.  When you’re twenty
sex is just sex. February, on the other hand, but I digress. Let me introduce
you to the second law of thermodynamics: if you light a match
and extinguish it by pressing it against your forehead, it will not only hurt,
but you'll get burnt. The resulting mark is called the Mark of Cain and it helps
distinguish the well-intentioned from those who live above the law, to wit,
artists.  Or am I thinking of Ash Wednesday?  Death and resurrection
are constant themes.  Small talk and pleasantries until one day
you just throw in the towel & float to some ascension magnified not by doubt
but the realization that we are all so fucking alone.  Throwing in the towel

is what we're here to learn how to do.  Using that same towel to pin to a pole
and wave around like a flag is a form of personalism so broad & crisp
it makes my teeth hurt.  Groucho Marx said that.

(More of our collaborations can be found here.) 

Open Letters Monthly

Sunday, February 02, 2014

My poem "Crown" appears in a great new issue of Open Letters Monthly.  Thank you to the editor, Maureen Thorson!


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I'm pleased to announce that my first full-length book, The Itinerant Girl's Guide to Self-Hypnosis, is now available for pre-order on the Brooklyn Arts Press website, with a publication date of February 25th.

Balancing outward and inward looking, playfulness and vulnerability, strange intimacy and gauzy disconnection, Joanna Penn Cooper’s The Itinerant Girl’s Guide to Self-Hypnosis builds a moody and tender ladder. These lyric shorts recall the New York School with their arrays of noticings and exultancies and knobbly, vivid particulars, yet they also feel wholly fresh and surprising, and of Cooper’s own nimble and provocative making. This is a wonderful collection.

 --Paula McLain (author of The Paris Wife; Stumble, Gorgeous; Like Family)


There will be a book party/reading this spring.  More details forthcoming.


Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground