day 20: alphabet

The Greeks called trees alphabets. Each one was a step closer toward a meaning. They scraped and dug toward the many layers of flesh behind the wood and sap.

A  is for axis. How the tree is identified.

T  is for the thickness of each trunk, which alerts the one who views it how long it has been around.

S  is for sunburn; trees are sensitive too.

“Of all the tree letters, the palm is loveliest. And of writing, profuse and distinct as the burst of its fronds, it possesses the major effect: falling down.”    –Roland Barthes (“Barthes by Barthes”)

Even in its massive sturdiness. Even when a tree is accompanied by hundreds just like it in a place called forest or preserved park. Even when the strongest of humans tries to chop it down, the tree remains….even when it falls.


Listen to the alphabet of the trees; they are the best teachers out there. They are the ones who remain even when hunted or burnt.

If you lose your speech, go follow the trail of roots. They will guide you toward remaining.

day 18: read

You are significantly overwhelmed at bookstores. You cannot believe every title is alphabetized and has its own section. You realize you are slightly jealous that every spine’d story has a place to be. A home. You wonder if maybe you have chapter envy.

Every time you visit a bookstore you cry. This is not mentioned for pity; it is a fact marked by the salt which drips down your face each time you walk out. You have a library card which is meant to curb your desire to spend money. And yet, you find yourself purchasing the books you borrow because you want them closer to you. You want them to live beside you. You wonder if the only reason you became a writer was to have an exclusive pass to these shelves. You fantasize about being alphabetized and which writers would live to the left and right of you.

You go on a three week cleanse that lasts one week and in this time, you give up dairy, gluten, meat, alcohol and coffee. You get your protein from books: Thomas Page McBee, Vera Pavlova, Rebecca Gay. Your tongue has grown loose and sleepy from all the pages it has licked, but you no longer feel indigestion after a meal. Instead, you feel like you’ve learned something.

When you meet someone new and they invite you to their home, you study their bookcases. You learn more about them by the titles and organization of their books than you have from weeks/months/years of knowing them. You fall in love with a human who organizes by color; there was that one who shelved by size; you remain loyal to the one who did not alphabetize but permitted you to search out their order.

There was that time– let’s call it yesterday– when you had a difficult time leaving a bookshop with empty hands. You feel lonely when you do not have a book to get lost in. These characters, their stories become yours.

Read. The words are always there, even when you think you are alone. Words surround us just like air. And if there is ever a time you are somewhere without any text, speak and spread out your language like the most exquisite song you’ve ever heard.

Tomorrow, you will start carrying around an extra book to give away. This is for that moment you lock eyes with someone who has nothing better to do than swipe their finger back and forth on their fancy phone. Blow someone’s mind with Bukowski or Baldwin. You’ll never need an outlet or internet access to read. Just turn the page and get lost.

(I’ll meet you there.)

all of how you are allows all of how I am room to exist.

Words can be coordinates.

Just like maps. Not the maps that can be swiped at or enlarged on electronic screens. Maps on walls. Maps coiled and alphabetized by their place on earth. Rand McNally pages.

Words are like the keys that jangle against hipbones, held together against belt loop by mountain climbing key chain.

Words are mailboxes with secrets stuffed inside.

Words are proposals far flashier than jewelry.

And love is what curls all these letters. All these sounds. All these statements.


It seems so simple to sing that “you met me when I needed to be met” but timing is real. Timing is an alarm of awareness or readiness.


How difficult to exist in a world that constantly mispronounces your name. Calls you Ma’am when you are closer to Sir. Cannot seem to understand that gender restrictions are like allergic reactions on skin.

How marvelous to be seen as who I am each day. (Because it changes).

To be asked: How would you like to be seen today. Or: What would you like to be called. And: How do you prefer to be touched today?


Not all love is a welcome mat. Not all humans encourage you inside. Then you find someone who lifts weights with their heart in order to offer up you a muscle that has meaning when it flexes. You meet someone who asks all about your past tense, exhales and says ok………


There is someone out there who will measure, mix and make you pancakes in the nude on a workday just because of the way it makes your mouth feel when you eat them.


Words can be answers to the questions you never even spoke out loud. Breathe in these units of sound. This is where it all begins.

in search of human with a penchant for postage

When was the last time you called yourself a musician of ink, wax and particles of verbs. There is no need to cite your sources when you quote the lineage of a breath. Don’t go rummaging in your lungs to find where it first arrived from. You can just footnote all of this as a harmonium housed in the folds of your skin. Don’t pretend you’ve been in love before. Don’t artificially enhance the stamps in your passport. It’s ok to be an amateur at living. We cannot all be expected to know how to exist right away.

what sits inside your question may sound like an exclamation.

At an Andrew Bird concert in Prospect Park, Brooklyn two summers ago…..the crowd of hipsters and mustachioed beer drinkers congregated around the instrumentation of whistling and suddenly I could not take my eyes off the shoulder blades of a human drenched in sun-tanned skin. At the bottom of her shoulder lay the most romantic and sexiest of exclamation marks. Titled: semi-colon and this is the one which separates two complete sentences or independent clauses. I later learned that it is also used as a symbol for those survivors of suicide. It reminds those who wanted to punctuate their end, by creating more of a continuation. It represents something on the other end…. I like that.

I think of my grammar as semi-colon. It separates two independent selves (probably more than that). It feels far more clear than woman or man.

I’ve got semi-colons sewed into all of my scars and perhaps one day I will make one of these period/comma combos more visible with ink, but for now, I grow deeply enamored when I see them. They are a reminder that sentences — like life — can continue even in the moments you thought you were done speaking or writing or breathing.

Recently, my pen pal gave me insight into a punctuation mark I was not familiar with. It is titled: interrobang.

Imagine surprise stuffed into a question wrapped in disbelief. What??!!  ‽

I like the idea of emotion being birthed out of two shapes living inside each other. We interrobang all the time, though we often don’t speak with thoughts of punctuation at each sentence’s end. We also don’t announce it either.

“I cannot believe you never told me that, interrobang

You love me, interrobang

To me, grammar is dirty talk. It turns me on to know others think about  the construction of language as much as I or that they contemplate words as buildings. Scaffolded syllables. Welcome-mat’d words which desire feet to be rubbed into them before entering. It’s amazing to know the impact of these symbols, collaborating with our letters. Even in the moments I channel Gertrude Stein and let go of the question mark, the sound of it still exists……as does the exclamation


the memory of words which remain

Years ago, I put on borrowed cap and gown and gathered on the manicured lawn of local high school with the other graduates as we said goodbye to one chapter of our lives and welcomed in another. Most of my friends already had their dorm room furniture picked out, excited to heading straight to university. I sat, with poorly bleached and butchered hair completely unaware of what my next steps would look like.

On this day when we each got our names called out by the principal, shook hand, and grabbed rolled-up document promising we were done, I received a book.

Actually, I received two. One was from my sister and one was from my creative writing teacher who inspired me to become a poet.

My teacher gave me Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. A tiny, pocket-sized book that I have carried with me through many apartments and states and lives. Last summer, I dusted it off and read it as though it were a bible. Underlining words of wisdom as I nursed a broken heart and found my way toward love again.

My sister gave me Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. This became my favorite poem, as I was captivated by the way she celebrated bodies through language. Perhaps this is what led me toward writing so much about the body.

Maya Angelou passed away a few days ago and I immediately felt sadness that I never got to be in the same room with her all of the times she spoke her words out loud.

But the words still exist. She will forever be archived and remembered because our bookshelves are a reminder of all that she gave us.

This is why we (must) write.

I wasn’t supposed to still be here. But I stuck around and read a bunch of books and wrote a bunch of poems and I’ve got ISBN’s in my skin and now there is so much love saturating my muscles that I cannot believe I was so adamant about leaving here.

Dear Maya Angelou.
We rise from the weight of your words. 
We rise from the courage of realizing that we are all drafts; we are all survivors surviving.
We rise from the ink of your tongue reminding us that we are all poems; we are all poets.

what is love but the language of how we evolve.

“Literature is love. I think it went like this: drawings in the cave, sounds in the cave, songs in the cave, songs about us. Later, stories about us. Part of what we always did was have sex and fight about it and break each other’s hearts. I guess there’s other kinds of love too. Great friendships. Working together. But poetry and novels are lists of our devotions. We love the feel of making the marks as the feelings are rising and falling. Living in literature and love is the best thing there is. You’re always home.”    Eileen Myles

We have come a long way. We speak on billboards and buildings and bodies. We love in order to feel. We read in order to remember. We speak in order to claim and archive the sounds. Of course these words are home because even if you did not write that, you may have felt it once. Love is like this. A feeling. A memory of that time or those times and the longing of getting it back. There is no such thing as writer’s block because as long as we are in thoughts, we are writing. The words hide, so seek them. Like love. He/she/they are out there. So walk outside and read the buildings. The caves have been stretched inside out. This allows room for light to get in. Be brave. Don’t wait for literature or love to find you

before they leave…tell them how they move you.

I am standing on line with three books by one of my favorite authors.

Earlier, she sat on a panel with three other writers talking about characterization and what makes a narrator likable or not. I was sitting in the front row with my jacket on my lap and backpack in front of me. I am excited and nervous to be in the same room as this writer.

As I wait in line, I think about what I can say to make her my best friend. I can’t tell her how great a writer she is. She knows this. How to personalize a compliment in such a way that it is full of words that have never gone together. I want to lift her eyes toward me and make her forget about the long line of people behind me. I want to tell her that I am a writer too and perhaps she could offer me words of wisdom. Notoo vague and demanding.

Suddenly, it is my turn and she looks at the yellow post-it we were all instructed to write our names on (to speed up the wait time). Her eyes never glance at me as she copies my name into her book followed by: Best and her name. In the seconds it takes for her to ink up this book, I think of ways to let her know how I understand the solitude of writing and how reading her stories make me want to turn my poems into chapters and write my own fiction.

I say some of these things, but she does not become my best friend. I never invite her for supper (like I did two decades ago in a five page letter I wrote to Janet Jackson, which I handed to her bodyguard at her concert in New Jersey). 

Living in New York, there are writers and creative folk all around me. Oftentimes, regardless of how many books or poems they have published, if their words stir me up, I become captivated and sometimes tongue-tied and shy. How silly, right? We are all just humans. But to me, when people are able to disrobe themselves through writing or music, art or dance, I am reminded to continue. We inspire each other. Or….this is what we should be doing.

So, get loud with the ones who remind you how pungent words and sounds and bodily gestures can be. Don’t wait for them to look up at you. Just speak.

More and more humans are dying early. Too soon, we wail.

Before they leave, tell them how they move you. So they can hear your love before it’s too late.

what you were before you were ‘this’


Basked in the sun,
listened to birds,
licked off raindrops,
and only in flight
the leaf saw the tree
and grasped
what it had been.
…………………………..Vera Pavlova

That time a room full of words gathered on a Thursday or Sunday. They spun a bottle, stained glass. Listened to strings and that song. One of them recalled a moment. Another talked about that time. There was an engagement. There was an affair of limited lust on a Tuesday between an immigrant and a poet. Between errands and work calls they shared a kiss over wireless connection. A stranger called the day good. There was coffee and a complete raspberry hidden inside a partially stale muffin. Before yesterday, one of them was still sober. Before tomorrow, one of them will be recounting a moment of trauma in order to get surgically healed of it by a muse further west of here. Before last year, there was so much love, it overflowed into bedsheets. Before the end of February, there will be death. What is left but to notice the trees and that protected patch of graffiti in the Bronx by that artist who died of AIDS. What is left but to forget his name even though it is the same as the others. What is left but starvation of throat and bank account. Can you explain away the envelopes and sores. Leave the sheep alone and start counting swallows. This is what you are now.

how many words are in your lexicon.

for  s.

She told me lovely. I mentioned exist. Another reminded me human. That one deep into Brooklyn said collarbones. He said sad, but clarified more of an exude than a vocalization.

How many words exist (see?) in my throat or lay dormant on my tongue (another one!) until another sits beside me to hear my sounds.

What decides the cut? Is it the music that occurs when each syllable or accent is accentuated? My least favorite word is wound. Is this because of the “oo” sound? As though something tragic is occurring?

She writes that maybe we can find our way back to each other through language. That when we lose one another, we can travel the roads that lead us back through vocabulary instilled on others. These parts of speech are contagious. And like most communicable diseases, it happens without even realizing when or how or where.

One human (there it is) I fell in love with added a “u” into my words and she gave me an accent, which I still enforce into some of my sentences. Another human introduced wicked, an adjective that made another cringe, so I did my best to drop it.

When I teach writing, I ask my students what makes up their glossary. I write all the accumulated (there goes another) words onto the chalkboard to see if there are any similarities. How many are nouns and are there any verbs? Mostly adjectives. I encourage them to purchase a thesaurus and practice replacing their “go to” words with their similarly defined counterparts.

If we stripped our tongues–like we strip our bodies–of words which weigh us down or define us, what is left. What words are we forgetting when we get lost inside the repetition of vocabulary.