August222012

Buttons [For Ms. Winters]

the church is spilling over with souls—

it is a dress far too small for squeezing

this plethora of love into.

plethora—

you taught me that word at seventeen.

the buttons are popping off,

littering the ground with your stories—

it is the sweetest sort of pollution.

i picked them up,

greedily filling my pockets,

what marvelous treasure is this!

i finger each button,

each a genie in a lamp storing memories,

and i smile…

the first, pink

pink like the cheeks of the misfit.

you cradled the misfits,

sought us out,

warmed us with your praise—

those misfits fill the pews,

tears staining tissues, 

we are still writing.

we are still dreaming.

now bearing the beauty

you are unable to radiate,

fully ready to assume our torches.

the next button, green—

a deep, brooding green,

green like envy.

you first taught me Emerson,

taught me that “envy is ignorance”

and “imitation is suicide.”

i marvel at the countless

suicides of mind,

suicides of heart, 

suicides of body

you must have prevented—

your belief in us

proved far more effective

than another faceless voice on a hotline.

i stroke the red one,

thinking of Poe

and our mutual love for his dark allure.

i think of “The Masque of the Red Death,”

i think of the unique way

you taught us allegory,

i think of how deeply you loathed the phrase

“very unique,”

of how you’d bitch that 

“things are either ‘one of a kind’ 

or they are not…

…’unique’ does not need an intensifier!

i’ll miss your sarcasm.

i’ll miss your wit.

i’ll miss your mind.

i trace the blue button,

remembering Langston Hughes

and “I Too Sing, America.”

I fell in love with the Harlem Renaissance

and fell in hatred with injustice that day.

i remember that afternoon

you let me sing my own blues

in your classroom—

the blues of my brother’s deployment

and the fear that loomed like a shadow.

you let me just melt there,

a puddle of teenage apprehension.

you lent me your ears

when others sold empty promises.

the dress— it didn’t fit.

miles of the finest fabric

and the most skillful of tailors

could not contain your legacy.

each torn seam,

each wild thread,

each loosed button—

they tell your stories

we are your living, breathing library,

a most exquisite human archive.

we will carry you in our hearts,

until we too shall part.

today we are one.

today we are Oversoul.

today we celebrate.

we dance in all our

dirty-laundry-glory.

your shoes cannot be filled.

you wouldn’t want for that—

you’d want us dancing,

some of us in penny loafers,

others in stilettos,

and some of us in school-teacher pumps,

walking into classrooms

that are spilling over

like dresses far too small,

littering dusty floors

with our own buttons,

helping children find the shoes that fit best—

telling them they look lovely,

telling them they are brilliant, 

telling them they can do anything,

forever shining your light.

July92012

when mountains meet valleys

you are a mountain

you are might, 

you are majesty

and I’ve not the faith to move you

I’ve squandered my mustard seeds

oh, how they scattered 

‘cross the concrete

I had not the heart to regather them

I am a valley—

it was not an avalanche that brought me here

it was a series of slow movements,

a scavenger hunt,

a most gradual descent

I fell into the deepest slumber 

and when you sleep in valleys long enough,

you become them

I became one with the grass,

and it was holy,

consummated like matrimony

my soul spilled into the tranquil creek

and I sighed in delight

I melted into the soil like a young bride

in the arms of her beloved

batting my pebble eyes

but I have not forgotten you

when mountains meet valleys

they revel in the magic,

they seem to fit like puzzles

they come together, 

giddy in this day trip,

but one must always travel further

true change is not evoked from muses

I think of you often, with fondness, 

but Mountain, you cannot see clearly

it is foggy beyond the tree line

I too have tasted the beauty

I have caught altitude sickness

once every summer of my youth

we’d all sit around the campfire and cry

scribbling our sins on papers,

flames engulfing the evidence

I never learned how to sustain it

how to remain breathless

when the oxygen is returned

like an unwanted Christmas gift

…but maybe you can

though I know so little, 

I do know this: 

I will not be your avalanche

though our friction is intoxicating,

and I will not taxi your descent

I will leave, quietly,

no clues planted for scavenging—

please do not follow

for though I am godforsaken valley, 

I pray you remain eternal mountain

1PM

all that glitters is gilded

we are little children,

hands sticky

forging collages with 

finger paint,

glue sticks, 

glitter,

and we’ve made a mess of ourselves,

we’ve made a mess of our world

but oh, how it glimmers

it is a snow globe,

tiny, tangible, flawless

teetering on the edge of the coffee table

like a final Jenga move

the fragility is unfortunate

yet still we tread, 

so recklessly,

strides heavy like elephants,

chasing anything that shines

we chase in our herds,

together but so alone,

longing to be noticed,

to be worshiped like golden calves,

but so afraid of sticking out

in all our awkward angles

we are paradoxes,

pairs of mismatched socks, and

…humans, we are quite peculiar creatures…

there are questions,

questions we have all asked

keeping us awake in our beds

keeping us frightened, inquiring

questions far too large to be

whisked away with sheep counting, 

and they do not disappear when unacknowledged

in our mad scurry,

who will catch the snow globe?

we are all too busy,

numbing our reflexes,

calling it “entertainment”

and we are all so loud, 

all so proud,

in our 

blabbering.bustling.mumbling.stumbling. 

little human conditions

who here is still enough to notice?

who keeps quiet enough to listen?

the snow globe, 

it’ll shatter someday

and we will lie on the cold ground

amongst the snowflake confetti

gasping for air like fish out of water

with lungs that have forgotten what

authentic oxygen

tastes like 

though breathing it

was once muscle memory

maybe this tragedy

will give us cause to slow down

will give us cause to pause

with eyes open and awake

perhaps we’ll see that all this glitter,

it is irksome

it is elementary 

wearing off like puppy love,

no, it never stays where it is placed

its pesky flecks clinging to everything,

much like dames with daddy issues,

and its worthless little fragments

are reminders, strings on fingers,

of the many times

we’ve all been tricked by the fool’s gold

yes, it is hard to know genuine in a gilded world,

but when the glitter has all worn off,

we’ll see it all for 

what it has 

always been

we’ll be little children,

naked as the day of our births,

stripped of all our shiny,

noses in corners,

hands scrubbed clean 

clasped behind our backs,

heads down,

brows furrowed in shame

and what will we have to say for ourselves?

July22012

life is no parade

if life was a small town parade

it’d commence like clockwork, 

an annual autumn affair

it’d be hoop skirts, handkerchiefs, lipstick

it’d be dressed its best in a saucy red

all flamboyance and flamenco

sausage smoked on sticks, still slightly pink

and it’d be ardent band mom bake sales

it’d be candy carelessly tossed from floats like hand grenades,

wrappers littering the streets like neon debris in the aftermath

and it’d spark a sugar-sticky war of bloody noses and hurt feelings

and dismembered first-grade friendships

it’d be powdery funnel cakes and slippery dunk tanks,

a party on a platform ‘til the varsity pitcher shows up

with pockets full of quarters

it’d be marching bands in feathered hats

the glitter of capes and baldrics gleaming 

fifty pairs of feet marching mindlessly, 

each white shoe another colorless bolt

in a sharp-dressed machine

the sousaphones would bellow and the trumpets,

they’d shriek with a patriotic shrillness

the piccolos would sing bird songs

and the batons would dance, methodically

the flags would twirl, mechanically

all would be orderly

all would be synchrony

if life was such a parade,

a morning’s fill of predictable thrills

it’d be cotton candy and lawn chairs and free pens from the bank

it’d be wrinkly, winking men,

a display of bald-headed, silver-haired glory, 

they’d drive tiny, shiny cars

and the red paint would come to life

through all the motion, amidst the commotion

and they’d drive the way they used to

when they’d drag Main, still green at sixteen

they’ve been waxing their toys for weeks,

like pretty women primping for pageants,

but the street and the stages

just never seem long enough

there’d be a float for each church,

spilling over with good intentions

and families with too many children, 

how they’d swell up with pride at their banners bearing

their witty little slogans,

the words all dressed up in bubble font and primary colors

there’d be this unacknowledged undercurrent

between the Baptists and the Methodists and the Presbyterians 

a de facto competition over who has the better float,

a rivalry reminiscent of the summer softball league

and all the hard feelings that linger

much like crusty, forgotten leftovers

perhaps they should sing that

cute “fruits of the spirit” song a little louder

if life was a small town parade,

a spectacle of ritual and routine,

it’d be pickles canned lovingly

by the same cranky ladies in their musty cellars

you’d wonder how old they must be getting,

still sporting the same bluish bobs they wore

when they changed your dirty diapers in the nursery

it’d be gaudy turquoise bracelets and rhinestone brooches

and thoughtful quilts for sale

it’d be trailers full of cheerleaders,

there’d be ribbons and pompoms and

an excess of box-blonde school spirit,

and they’d be chanting, all cookie-cuttered and rehearsed

it’d be firetrucks and police cars and homecoming queens

practicing princess waves and politician grins,

jaws numb and cheeks sleepy

it’d be bicycles with big baskets and petting zoos,

aggressive bunnies that bite really damn hard

and lambs that keep shitting everywhere,

donkey rides and maybe even that llama from last year

back by popular demand

it’d be yellow tape and orange cones

pot-bellied cops and bold sidewalk chalk

it’d be awkward moments with old classmates,

always cordial but always lasting too long

it’d be black control tops to hide weight gain

and rouge to hide aging

it’d really just be a great deal of bragging,

and pretending,

and i think it’d get quite tiresome

…and it’d all end so abruptly, 

it’d just melt away, 

a fumbled waffle cone, a pink strawberry puddle,

staining Main ‘til that pesky feral cat laps it up,

her purr accelerating from the sugar buzz

but we’d see it all coming and 

wouldn’t that be kinder?

all the townspeople would go home

they’d mow their lawns for the last time ‘til spring

they’d take afternoon naps and gossip

there’d be a week of goldfish funerals

and trophies collecting dust on mantles

but we’d have expected it

we’d rest easy with the knowledge that

we’ll all do this again next year,

for there will be many more parades

…but no, life is not an annual parade,

though many would much prefer it,

and we cannot see the floats coming from miles away

people don’t just throw jawbreakers at you

but jaws do get broken sometimes

it’s a mystery and a crime scene

and a novella with missing pages

and it is our curious confusion that keeps us all reading

it keeps us all humbled,

awing us like the baffled pupils we are

it is both merciless and gracious, and

it’s the surprise that gives it substance

its brevity fuels our bewilderment

this life, it is brutal and and ugly and violent,

it is perfect and gorgeous and colorful,

oh, what a harmonious cacophony!

clarity can be found in its dissonance

we are all tiny hourglasses,

just bumping into each other

and sometimes shattering

before our sand can fully run its course

it’s never fair, but always just

it doesn’t make any sense, but certainly it resolves

…someday, it must

and no, life is not an annual parade— 

it is a daily cause for celebration.

3AM

on names and the prettiest paint

my last name is Kinder, and it is German,

in case you were curious, and 

German is my least favorite of the languages,

it just always sounds so harsh.

it’s unbecoming to spend life angry,

life is better suited for arts and crafts,

and if our anger was currency, it’d be rusty pennies. 

when our pockets all fill up so fast,

it gets heavy— taxing, tedious, tiresome— and it gets loud

to carry around so much loose change, 

just jangling like little gongs.

I think that if I ever learn to speak German

I’ll speak it in a quite pleasant tone.

Kinder translates to “child” or “children,”

and “It’s Kinder, like kindergarten,”

is a phrase I say often

in regards to pronunciation,

think “kindergarten,”

a blooming garden of snotty little noses,

peeing their pants

and singing songs about inchworms.

a place where the kids with television sets for parents

teach the others how to swear like sailors

and how to insult with

the latest anatomical slang.

it is a shame that so many guardians

have antennas for ears and faces that shift hues.

it is so hard to know which shade is the proper one to color yourself in

when you’re five and there is no one nearby to ask,

when Big Bird and Elmo have stopped replying

and everyone else is just trying to sell you things.

it’s hard to learn morality

when what you need is

a paint-by-numbers and fresh set of watercolors,

but what you have is

a coloring book and box of broken crayons.

these kids contain Monet capacities

that are too often expressed in graffiti.

I joke that my name means that 

I’ll either have too many children or never grow up,

and I cross my fingers in favor of the latter.

I cross them ‘til they’re white, ‘til my head feels light,

because raising children just sounds so damn terrifying.

it sounds like

folds of stretchy skin and sleepless nights,

it reeks of 

soiled diapers and vomit, milky-white,

it tastes like

responsibility and maturity,

and it would involve a little growing up.

I do not have antenna ears or circuit veins,

and I do not believe in giving a noisy little box so much responsibility.

what I do believe in is

swing sets and songbooks and family dinners

bear hugs and bedtime stories and helping with homework

training wheels and in taking them off,

even though you know it will mean skinned knees and gravel removal.

and even though you know it will mean peroxide and cotton balls and gauze,

it will mean courage.

it will be worth it.

I believe in making chores into games and tree-climbing and silly song-writing.

I believe in kite-making and kite-flying and living room tenting,

and yes, in camping outdoors too.

If parenting was a presidential campaign,

and I decided to run, 

I’d run on a platform of 

cookie dough and themed parties and cake batter,

with pixie sticks and crazy straws for legs, 

my first law would be

that mixing bowls and beaters must always be licked,

but we’d eat a lot of vegetables.

the only weapons allowed would be water balloons and sarcasm,

and all wars would be fought with tickling.

at rallies, we’d roll around in the mud,

and hell, if there’s a nasty drought,

we’ll build our own mud pit with dirt and a garden hose 

like I did for my fifth birthday,

and we’ll shake our fists at the sky for its stingy behavior.

some things are worth the waste of water.

I believe in trips to libraries and to zoos and to history museums,

in teaching that quirky Christmas traditions

are better than extravagant gift-giving—

that greed is just exhausting,

and that memories will never collect dust.

I believe that violent games of spoons must be played ’til blood is drawn,

and they should be resumed once the band-aids are in place.

I believe in imaginary friends and in make believe and in playing dress up.

I believe in nicknaming over name calling,

in teaching kids about sex before their friends do,

and in a home that allows for question-asking,

with doors wide open and plenty of room

for the neighbor kids with talking box parents.

perhaps I might someday raise children

just so I can teach them that kind, considerate citizens

can still live free and child-like.

it maybe even sounds a little nice,

it maybe even sounds a little magical

if done right, but…

it probably should also involve a marriage,

which is equally terrifying.

I’d have to lose my last name,

the aforementioned cause for the waddling toddler curse,

but really, what’s so special about a name?

names are just strings of letters tied together with strands of DNA

just cords not cut at birth, but often severed in ceremonies.

perhaps painting a family portrait 

with careful strokes and vivid watercolors

could be quite special,

a family that refuses to let the sun set on anger

and that goes to bed with pockets empty.

a family that knows that if anger was currency,

it’d be rusty pennies,

and pennies are just so heavy.

a family that’d rather

spend tokens of grace instead.

my last name is Kinder, and it is German,

in case you were curious.

it is a school uniform I did not choose, but can only wear

because a woman traded her Welsh wool for German once.

she plans to keep it for life,

though she too thinks the language sounds angry.

I’m only breathing because two people fell in love and

thought it might be fun to paint one of those portraits.

they thought it might be special,

thought the magic just might be worth

the maturity that’d be necessary to pull it off,

and maybe, just maybe, someday

I’ll think so too.

maybe, just maybe, someday

I’ll find myself wearing a new last name,

a new uniform,

its plaid pleats splattered

with the prettiest paint.

June272012

where my heart sits

my heart sits somewhere between 

freshly tilled garden soil

and the sweet scent of alfalfa after the rains.

it sits in that space between your thigh and your knee

where you’d let me sit and steer the tractor.

though i’d almost run us into fences

and trees, and cows,

you’d let me drive—

you taught me to drive a car with a similar patience.

it sits beside you, daddy,

snapping green beans on the porch swing at dusk,

watching the sun collect its retirement,

shucking corn and squealing, throwing worm shit at each other,

though you’d never call it shit.

my heart sits in the way you humored me

when i wanted to name each and every one of your cows.

you even tried to learn their names,

which wasn’t really fair because i think i may have changed them daily.

you still tried.

remember how you let me counsel

my beloved bovines before you sold them off to slaughter?

it must come as no surprise to you that i had that vegan phase.

i loved that you humored it, 

just like you humored

my colony of imaginary friends,

my twelve broken bones,

and when i painted your old truck pink.

you let me, and you even borrowed it sometimes.

my heart sits on the petals of your rosebushes,

those blooming flowerbeds that only exist

because of the way i screamed

when you mowed over

my lovely little weeds with such violence.

you took up landscaping to pay restitution for your wrongs—

and to this day, your roses are still the envy of the neighbors.

it sits in the flowers you still send me every birthday

just to remind me that i am special.

you taught me early that a good man should

give me beauty without expectation.

my heart sits in the

the plush pew of every sanctuary

of every piano contest and recital where you sat, 

in the tulle of every dress, in the pride of every curtsy,

but also in the splintering bleachers of every basketball game you attended 

just to watch me warm the bench.

you were there anyway, daddy

through wins and losses, victories and defeats, and

it’s taught me the meaning of faithfulness.

my heart sits somewhere in between

the sizzle of Sunday morning pancakes and

in that spark you still get in your eyes when you look at my mama.

it used to make me sick when you two would kiss each other 

in the kitchen when you got off work,

but now i understand why you wanted us to see it.

it is the main reason i still believe in lasting love

and the value of marriage.

my heart sits somewhere in between 

rusty green handlebars and a greasy, squeaky chain.

daddy, you were the first to believe that 

i really could ride a bicycle from one coast to the other;

you thought it was a grand idea.

in fact, you loaned me one of yours.

when i felt shame as i returned it all weathered and aged, 

you just laughed, said it “gave it character”

then you gave it to me for my birthday.

i named it Oscar and you still call it that.

this heart, it sits loosely among the pages of

highlighted road maps and blog posts from that trip.

you clumsily bound them together for me as a Christmas gift

you knew i wanted to write a book, and you thought it’d make it easier.

it will; and the sincerity in your eyes

told me that you knew i’ll actually write it someday.

it told me you’ll actually read it, cover to cover, in one sitting.

know that you’ll be the first to receive a copy.

my heart sits somewhere in between

your shoulder blade and my forehead, 

soaked with the salt of your sweat and my tears in that embrace

after you ran that race, our race, so victoriously.

you scrawled my name on a sign with pride,

told me you ran every step in my honor.

when i stood there, just unraveling at the finish line,

it was the first and only time i’ve seen you cry.

as we held each other in the rain,

your arms pardoned my need to feel failure.

this heart, it sits in the way you sat in that

dark room with me late Sunday night

and let me clasp your hand through surgery, knuckles white

there was so much blood, but you didn’t flinch.

when i felt like a frail little child’s paper doll

crying there, just lying there hooked up to a labyrinth of machines, 

you whispered how tough you thought i was.

i needed that, and you knew.

we both share that need.

daddy, though i know at times i’ve broken your heart

in that unique way only daughters can do, 

please know that i am trying.

know that i will never stop trying. 

i am trying to reconcile the way you raised me 

with the experiences that have shaped me, and

it’s hard. 

but through it all, i am perpetually guided by

your light, your love, and your patience.

know that my heart will always sit here with yours, 

sewn within the threads of this same cloth from which we are cut.

April252012

dear you,

you’re a gem

and i wish you could know it.

i wish my affections for you,

my admirations of you,

could be mirrored

in that cruel mind of yours,

crushing its darkest of tactics, 

all clenched fist

and white-knuckled

you are treasure, 

an unadulterated gift and

you don’t have to believe me, 

but while all you see rough, 

I see diamond,

and your dimensions 

reach further than you think,

glimmer in the sun

like the purest of stars

luminescent enough

to manifest the

daylight

you invaded my daylight,

twice

eclipsed me in shadows,

but oh, how you glowed.

you were glowing so gloriously

that Saturday

over coffee and hummus.

one. 

we unearthed

childhood confessions

and your vast repertoire of 

red panda knowledge,

revealed our mutual affections for C.S. Lewis

and trippy cinematography 

i love that we unknowingly 

wore each other’s favorite colors

as the rain began to dance, 

we waltzed with it in language

and no desire to move elsewhere

it smelled too damn sweet

you smelled too damn sweet

i cannot shake it from my senses

two.

you kissed my intellect

before you kissed my lips,

and nose, and forehead

on that rooftop,

and our souls spoke

before we whispered

sweet, breathy somethings in ears.

and we laughed,

oh, how we laughed

cheek to cheek

knee to knee

beneath a makeshift sleeping bag tent

built to shield the harshest of winds

built to shield the harsh reality 

of you

leaving as abruptly 

as you came

i began to miss you

even while our bodies

were still pressed together

in that empty parking lot 

whilst still in the twilight

fingers, still intertwined

and when we let go with the dawn,

it felt sinful

come back to me,

all gem-like and starry-eyed…

all glowy in your glory

like meteor showers and May sunshine

March was lovely 

because you touched it

March152012

I’d rather be a quilt.

perturbed by the patterns

that fashion fabric,

I’d rather be a quilt.

less perfect.

home-spun,

heart-sung.

quilts weave stories

make sense from experience

wholeness from anecdotes

chords from dissonant notes

meaning from incongruency

the contrast is everything

there is

no mind for matching

the juxtaposition, random

you cannot create parallels

or easy explanations

quilts, they unfold

undecided autobiographies

only funerals 

determine denouements

…in as many versions

as 

teary-eyed faces…

I hope you’ll make sense of mine—

I hope you’ll critique it

gently

actually,

I hope you’ll 

wrap your lap

in it as you 

write your own,

weave your own

with 

quill pens and sewing needles.

6PM

scapegoats

there is

some strange comfort

in the recklessness

an air of liberation

in the carelessness

of leaving engine running

in the roughest part of town

implying

take this if you need it

there are

layers of lovely

in the disheveled

pages of pretty

in the apathy

of unkempt mane, lipstick smeared

on teeth

that build a gaping smile

implying

mock this if you need to


there’s freedom found

when you’d

be that scapegoat

on both accounts.

5PM

a honeybee hovers

a honeybee hovers

I hate when shit hovers

sting me silly

or leave me numb

your ambivalence, dumb

shoot serum 

into this smooth, sad skin

or fly elsewhere

make. up. your. mind.

I won’t be bothered by these

scare tactics

-so-

commission your yellow furred comrades

summon your black-striped soldiers

find another girl

settled between two firs

who is more reverent

of your potent sting,

more deserving 

of your final deed

-with-

lungs that’d shriek louder

a soul that’d scream more

I’d just 

lie listless

in the grass

'til it passed

my tears are the toughest of crowds.