good with words

Recently, a Rabbi called me a wordsmith. He knew me many years ago, when my hair was a different color. I was not much like this person I am now. I didn’t want him to recognize me, and I was quite pleased that he didn’t.

I read a short poem and words about mourning at a funeral for my uncle. Afterwords, once all the salt that sifted out from both eyes had dissipated, and I, longside five other men, took on the role of pallbearer, he said to me, “You are quite the wordsmith; you should keep at it.”

I smiled because he had no idea how much I needed to be reminded that I do. I smiled because my sister heard and she looked at me with pride.

This man of God, saying to me, a human who teeters on the edge of atheism, that I am good with words. 

On a Friday night, I sit wearing nothing but skin and remnants of sick still stuck to my flesh. I light a stick of incense and encourage the smoke to breathe me in, wrapping its seductive trail all over me. When one stick burns out, I light another. Inhaling this nag champa tickled my stuffed nose, but gathered me into a deeper mindset.

I began to think of the time my mother stormed my bedroom, and threw out all of my incense. She thought I had it because of drugs. She had no idea that I had yet to begin my thunderous battle with addiction; I just enjoyed the smell.

Even now, I like lighting these aromatic perfumed sticks not to mask any other smell, but to remind me to breathe in deeper. To get lost in the curls of smoke.

All I could say was, “thank you,” to the Rabbi, even though I wanted to say so much more.

I wanted to say to the Rabbi, “Do you remember me? I used to be blond and my parents liked each other. But you must see a lot of rotating marriages. It is 2015 and all.”

I wanted to ask him, “I know Jews don’t believe in heaven or hell and I don’t either but. But what do you think about a human who no longer feels comfortable in the body they were born into? There are words for this, but for me, those words don’t quite fit. And Rabbi?” I’d continue.

“Rabbi, what I mean to say is, I’m not so good with words when I need to use them to describe how this all feels. And also….” Here is where I will pause for such a long time, I will watch this scholar of Jewish law, get uncomfortable, and even impatient.

“…The thing is, maybe I just have a difficult time committing to letters. And designations. And clubs. And groups. And classifications. And stereotypes. And….”

The last time I went to synagogue, I sat, nervously reading prayers, translated into English. I was with my partner, who practices.

I practice to0. But not religion.

I practice how to be.

I just said thank you to this Rabbi who knew me before puberty and mental illness and trauma. I’m much better with words on paper; I’m just not so good with words when they want to come out. Sometimes, they just need more time to prepare.

green pie.

for Jenna.


It is quite easy to forgo chatter and how-is-the-weather speak for a slice or two of pie.

You choose key lime. And as you plunge three spikes called fork toward shape of lime juice/zest, eggs, and condensed milk, you realize how little there is to say in this world.

You realize swallows can be far more profound than asking about the latest talents of their children.

You realize licks of sour and graham cracker sweet is much more satisfying than alphabetizing their weekly accomplishments.

You realize pie can be far less judgmental and cynical than social gatherings.

You do not floss. You prefer calories to sit between your teeth as though they are star gazers, howling at the moon or (in this case) your tongue.

This pie is your confidant. Your traveling companion. You scale mountains and hop streams with this pie.

You neck in a movie theatre playing a documentary on poverty or poetry; it does not matter because you and this pie are chewing language into one another.

You dip your unmanicured but proud fingers into its sticky pale green. Nor grass green or pea green. Not olive or jade. Neither emerald nor peridot. More pale, like sun-starved. You prefer it this way.

Now, what else must be written?

You remove battery from phone and unplug distractions like electricity and clothing.

You want to uni-task with this pie.

You want to taste and flirt with its crumbs, without interruption. And this is how it goes until there is no more reflection of green and only full.


inside the hollow/& found/& found

What an abstract thing it is to take your clothes off in front of a stranger for the very first time. It isn’t really what we planned on doing. Your body almost looks away from itself and is a stranger to this world.”  

Richard Brautigan, from “The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966”

[for lindsay]


Elliot Smith knifes the ghosted speakers hidden in radio, blowing lyrics like incense smoke. Musk of patchouli rhythm curls around your bare shoulders, nude because it is too early for sleeves and folds.

Wrapped around your thighs is a green blanket from early adulthood, when your skin was taut and taught to moisturize in preparation for now.

There is a crowd of strangers in your bedroom, which is two rooms away from your kitchen; they are in there too. And they are named window and door frame and parquet flooring. And dresser and wardrobe and even the drilled holes meant for hanging are watching, too.

Call this dancing, but really you are just bending your knees slowly and then straightening. Tilting like a carnival ride to the left then right and back again. It’s from the music; this has nothing to do with foreplay or tease.

Your body blinks closed; it cannot watch this. And then, the slow drip (leak?) of skin away from bones.

A song about Omaha, which you’ve never visited but imagine is bright and vast, kind of like your throat.

Your nudity is parched, so you drink a leggy glass of milk, though you are allergic and begin to spoil from within.

You forget your lines. Were you supposed to gasp now?  Your moans sound like choking and maybe you are. Maybe your nude is one giant allergic reaction.

How to get back from all this?

Elliot howls behind screeched guitar chords about drinking stars or kissing shotguns; you aren’t really listening. And also, he is the only one you hear.

Yes, that is an elbow. And how about that hip. A field of tattoos. Scratched in and scratching their way out.

This body is grey, gray, grey. Like earl. Like elephant. Like ail.

This body is sound machine. Alarm clock. Concerto.

The strangers leave. Body grows clothed. Elliot grizzles cold and fades out into the perfumery of oil and carbon.

summer in september

Everyone is calling it OVER, but you press severed denim fabric against your mosquito-bitten legs to remind your exposed knees that summertime still exists in september. You take the long way to the subway, zig-zagging your toes against dirty city pavement just to breathe in the sweet, warm air just a little longer. The days are not quite as long, but you still dip your lips over watermelon, juice dribbling down chin, against chest. You wait for these final weeks because all the spots where the crowds gathered, are now sparse.

Everyone seems to forget about summertime in september, but you fall in love with the scent of autumn on your mate’s skin, crisp spicy drips of seasonal sinta apples. The orchestra of ice cream trucks still parade down your busy streets. See, you can still buy those bomb pops and artificially flavored treats shaped as your favorite childhood cartoon characters. The waves still curl over beaches; the shells weave in and out of sand, anticipating the pluck of curious fingers; the moon still rocks its summertime glow; the farmers markets make mouths water, still, from the array of roots seductively swaying; shoulders are still bare and burnt skin from overeager sun still stripes various parts of bodies. There is still time.

to be seen

You build a door affixed to the one you already have to challenge the ones who try to get in. You tap your chest nineteen times every day, more than once, for every time the crowded city bumps into you. You purchase forty-nine different thesauruses in order to find better words for gun control to try to solve the excess of bullets. You spin globes in your free time; you call this both exercise and foreplay. You grow an allergy to your reflection, but you research creams and pills to push you toward relearning the manifestation of your skin. You want to be seen, but you are afraid they will only notice the gain. You are told– on a Wednesday — by someone you knew back when skin was less rebellious — that we are far more than what is seen; our selves extend to the map of veins traveling within us. You are told that the potholes pressed against your body are a conversation piece and a link to being human. You are told that doors prohibit not just the bad ones from getting in, but the good ones too: the poets, the teachers, the lovers, the students, the historians and translators. You strap on a face mask and worker’s gloves, but forego tools. You want to feel your skin rip when you pull off door from hinges. As it tears, you tear. As it detaches, a piece of you does as well.

the beginnings of home

quotes from Exile and Pride by Eli Clare:

“…home starts here in my body, in all that lies imbedded beneath my skin.”

I’ve told enough tales to call my body an animal. Or to claim these limbs as attachments to a novella. But really I’ve got an unedited manuscript of footnotes rooted in me. And to welcome others in requires a comfy chair and magnifying glass.

“The body as home, but only if it is understood that bodies are never singular, but rather haunted, strengthened, underscored by countless other bodies.”

I arrived here through a channel of others. Took up hobbies and habits due to the bones I’ve curled against. I can never take credit for all these scars and secrets; they are a multi-voiced poem; they are survivors of a learning curve.

“The body as home, but only if it is understood that place and community and culture burrow deep into our bones.”

The artists kept me safe. The hippie from California. The old witch who lived up in the mountains who made me tea from collected rain water and musk. I never had a welcome mat, so someone sewed me one made from grass seeds and metaphor.

“The body as home, but only if it is understood that language too lives under the skin.”

Not all of it can be pronounced or even spat out. Much of it is housed in silence, but vocabulary ferments, growing stronger each day. [But] when silence creates pattern, remove the middle and engrave the opposite.

“The body as home, but only if it is understood that bodies can be stolen, fed lies and poison, torn away from us.”

I didn’t understand that once a body is broken into, it may be difficult (if not impossible) to hem away the frayed ends. There is no skin that hasn’t felt rip or rummage, but I wonder in what ways can we relearn peace within a body’s war zone.

“The body as home, but only if it is understood that the stolen body can be reclaimed.”

But how? I strap giant felt erasers and stainless steel pads to my back, to scour the paths I walk and rub away the ghosts which follow. And we learn new words. And we strum music that becomes anthems that become balms for our brains. And we speak up and out and into and toward. To recover. To redeem. To rescue ourselves from the desire to leave.

how to address a scar

I didn’t expect you to be here this long.

I was in math class, grade ten and you were just supposed to keep me from jumping.

When James B. told my best friend, Drew in 12th grade, that I should just kill myself already, you kept mocking me with your inability to go away.

I didn’t know you’d grow louder in the summertime, from sun baking you into a starring role on my arms.

My mother remembered a commercial for a cream that could be rubbed on scars to vanish them away. “They may not disappear completely,” she said, “but at least they won’t be so visible.” I cried that night, realizing how forbidden you are.

I was dressed in just skin and water, in a bathtub that belonged to me due to monthly rent payments and name on mailbox. When I was a kid, it was the water, which washed away my chalk drawings; I thought maybe it would wipe away the carvings on my hips too.

Hello. Yes, I remember the first time. And I also remember Rachel, from the mental hospital, teaching me other ways to push myself off ledges after all the sharps have been taken away.

No, I really meant it when I said that I find scars sexy, because it is a reminder we have given ourselves permission to falter.

Age nineteen, I am in the only car I ever owned—a green Honda Civic I titled: Quentin Antoin McKenna. At the gas station, the attendant looks at my forearm as I hand him a ten-dollar bill and he makes a comment, which reminds me there is no escaping this billboard of sadness.

I am engaging in an activity that some people call sex and the one pressed against me grabs my wrist and rubs callused thumb against what is raised. Calls it braille. Asks to read the rest of me.

You twitch each time you see others like you. Thunder against my skin knowing how similar we all are. How sad we all are. How in need of other languages we all are. How loud we all are. How brave we are. How desperate we are to survive and yet desire to die we all are. How. How. How. How. How. How. How. How. How. How. How. How. How. How. How.

That’s Independents!! a celebration of NYC presses and their writers!


Three Rooms Press presents The Monthly at Cornelia Street Cafe
That’s Independents!  5 Rockin’ Independent Presses  Tell Secrets and Share Stories

I’m excited to represent great weather for MEDIA alongside the incredible writer, Corrina Bain.

Friday, July 3, 6 pm
Cornelia Street Cafe
29 Cornelia Street (between Bleecker & W. 4th St.)
Admission: $8 (includes a free drink)

Three Rooms Press presents a celebration of the New York independent literary tradition with THAT’S INDEPENDENTS: A Celebration of NYC-based Independent Presses. Doors open 5:45 pm, showtime is 6 pm. Admission is $8, which includes a free drink.

Each of the five publishing companies represented will discuss their publishing ethos—and what sets them apart—then present work by some of their current authors. Presses include: The Unbearables, InDigest, Seven Stories, Great Weather for Media, and Three Rooms Press.

Doors open at 5:45. Admission is $8, which includes a free drink. Cornelia Street Cafe is at 29 Cornelia Street, in the West Village, between W. 4th Street at Bleecker (

something about an elephant

She wandered for days.

Ran her feet against the mud of summer. Her toes, painted every shade of brown including brown.

She preferred the opposite of solitude, but she was without the others this time. Ten years of this time. 

She overheard the one wearing name tag and uniform that she was difficult. Taciturn. Grueling to approach.

Someone, decades ago, named her Happy.

Now, she refuses to even stitch her name to her tongue, knowing the irrelevance of its sound.

To describe her morning, one would have to be patient enough to sit through her silence. She meditates until her blood sizzles, vibrating her veins. Then, she shakes her bones like a moondance and heads back into her mute.

She fell in love only once. For one day. Minus the hours she had slept. Another with skin like hers but darker. A wrinkled revision of flesh. They would rub their differences into each other like art. They never spoke or shared names. They simply breathed in each other’s remnants of breath.

She recalls the scent of her love’s mouth breezes to be like the sulfur salt spring water she always smelled in her dreams.

Now, she remains. There is nowhere left for her to visit besides the stories in her mind; that they cannot take from her.

an ode to the flatlands

photo by Raluca Albu

photo by Raluca Albu

Dear Nebraska,

I coveted your squares. They were unshaky and so green. And brown. And itchy. In New York, I notice the bricks and windows that shield the sky from full-frontal nudity. But your sky was a true nudist.

I inquired about your routine. How you got to be so…flat. I have been pushing myself down for quite awhile now, training my body to be like you (even before I knew you) and when I remove my clothes at night, my curves always come back. How do you keep yourself so smooth, Nebraska?

I wanted to lay in your grassland, but there were the chiggers. And ticks. So I fantasized about your blades of green against my back, tickling my ankles, which I always had covered because….well…..the chiggers & the ticks.

I wanted to tell you that I didn’t think we’d get along, but by the time I left, I wanted to ask if we could be exclusive. I was ready to try monogamy with you. But I never said this because I knew New York would always slip its way into my mind.

I wanted to tell you that I stopped being so afraid of your mites and insects. I stopped fearing heights and loneliness. I gave away some of my secrets. I even let you see me naked. That night in the water with several other planets watching without judgment.

There is still so much I want to say to you. So I write them down and float them toward your flatlands. Toward your birdsongs. Toward the artists.