Poem for Waffle House : NaPoWriMo #22

Ode to a Waffle House in Nashville, TN

You’ve never been good and truly drunk
until you’ve entered this little haven
of greasy floors and fingerprint-smeared tables
with its soft glowing lights
hung like Chinese lanterns in the windows
and its cheap laminate menus
sticky with syrup or spilled soda,
mists of grill-seared oils wafting
like waterfall-churned moisture
in the lamps and fluorescents
amid the odors of fried egg, sausages,
hot waffle irons overflowing with batter,
all a-sizzle and sweat condensing
on a short-order cook’s brow
at 3:30 in the morning.

You’ve never lived until after ordering
your hash browns scattered, smothered, and covered,
you have to make a dash for the dirty
swinging restroom door
and spill your stomach of beer-and-bile-laced
vomit, wiping the saliva strings
from your lips with cheap harsh toiletries
dispensed from a plastic hood
engraved with racist logos and lighter burns.

You’ve never seen heroism
until you’ve nearly shit your pants
while choking down a mouthful of burnt steak
with its flakes of open-face griddle residue
attached like artisan confections of American spice
like a living document of countless meals
shuffled onto white plates and under warming wicks
before being served to the inebriant starved,

when the shots start pinging through the glass,
and the patrons start screaming
and your friend slaps at his neck
with blood spouting between his fingers
that for just a moment you mistake for ketchup,
before you see the man, just an ordinary man,
probably just as intoxicated as you,
wrestling the rifle from the naked shooter,
scalding the skin from his ordinary hands,
and the silence settles in like slow-motion
as the murderer runs away
and the freeze-frame glitter of shattered bulbs
cascading into the night
sparkle like displaced galaxies
waiting for the sirens
and the shuttering strobes
and your heart to return to its normal beat.

After all that, you’ll want to shake his hand,
but there won’t be time, and it would hurt
beneath his bandages, and maybe your friend
is dying in the ambulance, and maybe
you’ll ask for a coffee to go
because the adrenaline withdrawal
has left you more drunk than exhausted,
and maybe they’ll say, sure,
it’s on the house
just like your life
and maybe this is your church now,
say Hallelujah for America, amen.

Another mass shooting in America

Prayer to the cosmos

Should every morning carry the weight of survival instinct,
the backpacks being shouldered now
possible body armor, pens and pencils
now mere instruments of self-defense,
the cell phone a witnessing device
and possible conveyor of last words
to loved ones in times of inevitable crisis?

School buses have become potential hearses,
an ambulance but a carrier of bodies
from one panic attack to the next,
a diploma more like a participation trophy
in the obstacle course of a shooting gallery,
as we wring our hands and offer the wind
from our mouths as succor for blue light.

Hear the requiem organ moaning the soundtrack
of another day accompanied by the timpani
that echoes as gunshots down a concrete hallway
and these shrieks like anniversaries
that become monotonous as birthday songs
sung over candles that refuse to blow out,
another wreath on a door, another flag flown half-staff.

Valentine’s Day 1990, the Voyager telescope
looked back and glimpsed a pale blue dot
caught in a ring of stardust and starlight,
a reminder of insignificance and smallness,
like a wedding band in a Holocaust Museum
or a permanent shadow cast on Hiroshima’s wall,
and yet we pray, we pray to infinite space
that the person we love returns home safe.

Poem for mass shootings 

Copy and Paste condolences

The residents of __________________ need our love,
in this time of unavoidable tragedy,
if only the sky would open itself
like a great swan unfurling its wings
to swaddle the grieving
and protect them from the rain,
the thunder and storm of their own
unburdened sobs.

We send our thoughts and prayers to them,
the buoys bobbing, lonesome and jettisoned
in the rough waves of this tiresome wake.
Let them be calmed by the notion
that loneliness is an illusion
in the absence of concern,
while our hearts carry their hearts
like hot air balloons gathering stones
in tethered baskets
until too heavy to float.

These stones are hardened eggs
warmed by the sun,
and this is a cycle of catch and release,
of nature and nurture,
of wound and suture and scar,
the abused given new life
in the afterbirth of pain,
hatching from sorrow stronger than before
with haunted eyes remembering the wind
and how it carried them away
from everything hidden beneath the sea,
hot air balloons once again free to soar
and look for more lost souls to rescue.

Perhaps it’s too much to ask
that we forget what happened here
knowing what blood tomorrow holds
like a vein in a palm
that closes upon a fistful of glass,
the shattered remnants of a non-violent future,
the window we broke believing
it was the only way to breathe the air.

Poem for gun lovers

Nothing that could be done

I remember my first paper cut,

when I was just four years old,

I went to the school nurse

for some kind of care, maybe just a band-aid

or the warm reassuring smile

of an adult who understood the world,

but instead she said, with her face so grim,

there’s just nothing to be done.

Let it bleed, she told me,

these things heal themselves.

And I looked at the red drops

like breadcrumbs shining

my way back to class,

stark constellations so bold and dark

against the sterile white tile,

and I believed her.


Again, in middle school, I fell,

my hands still stinking of rust and steel

from gripping swing set chains so tight

the links left white indentations

in my palms that flamed red upon release,

and the sound of my wrist snapping

was that of a dried twig

under the foot of a careless hunter

spooking away his prey.

My mother took me to the doctor

where they didn’t even bother with an X-ray,

just again with their go-to phrase,

Nothing to be done, broken bones mend

with time and the soothing song of the wind,

so the rest of my life I lived

with a crooked arm I could not use

except as a crude tool for propping up my face,

but my belief in medicine remained unchanged.


I sat at my mother’s bedside

and listened to the way her lungs

struggled like refugee swimmers

whose life vests were made

to absorb the ocean instead of float,

and I pleaded to the specialists,

I pleaded to the surgeons

with their walls full of degrees,

their photo albums full

of pristine family portraits

with every grin warm as a sun

meant to go on for endless days,

their manicured hands perfect

and poised as if penmanship

were their own secret language

of prayer, as if it were a privilege

to hold a clipboard and scribble fates

so different from their own,

and they said it again and again

like the mantra of the damned,

I’m sorry son, cancer is just a gun,

and I’m afraid there’s simply nothing,

nothing to be done.