an echo

i am an echo
a pause
an expectation.
i am changed and changing.
a seed, a star, soil,
the space between stars.
i am dna, history,
a particular education,
a set of leanings, a fire.
i am often in motion.
every day echoes everything
i have ever been.
deep in cold soil i turn,
awaiting, with patience
the warming spring,
the crack,
the emergence.
i am not ready yet.
within me,
winter rests.

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the bones of this land

i grew up on a mining claim
in the mountains of central arizona.
bear with me.
i grew up in a nice-enough house
on the poor side of a small town
in the mountains of central arizona.
i walked to school every day,
got a job in a thrift store when i turned 15,
and spent every second weekend
and then some
up at the mine with my dad.

this was not a hobby.
my dad drank hard.
the desert dried him out,
more or less. saved his life.
like a cactus, he retained
what he most valued.
books, beer, his daughters.
the desert gave back clarity,
integrity. silence.
his skin baked brown under that long sun.

the old copper mine had played out
decades ago, the top collapsed
into an open pit. an ore mill straddled
the hillside above. junk abounded.
old cars, oil barrels, you name it.
the product and refuse of industry.
dad’s buddy Chris would come
up to the claim with beer money
and they stood there talking
in the shade of one real big oak,
where dad kept his camper parked
near the edge of the bluff,
how they were gonna get that mill running,
and make a million bucks.
or even a living.
they didn’t try very hard.
it was enough
to stand in that shade, that sun,
and take in each day. the sun
and the solitude filled him up.
i spent my nights by the light of a kerosene heater,
in the old stone cabin, its shelves
piled with antique chemistry in jars,
enticing and dangerous.
my sister collected interesting rocks,
set them up in a pile by the old mine tailings.
we read books, talked with dad,
sat in the shade, or explored scrub-covered hillsides,
and the seep down the hill, at the old cave-mine entrance,
where a cottonwood grew, and watercress,
while dad sipped his beer, read, smoked cigarettes,
year after year. we ate lentils cooked with an onion,
circus animal cookies, orange crush. it sounds
like poverty, and it was, but those were good years.

twenty years after leaving that place, my sister and i
went back to scatter his ashes. it was not
the place he died, or the place he’d lived the longest.
but it was the only place that made sense.
we had the idea that we’d stand
on the edge of that bluff, under the old oak
that sheltered those years, and throw ash to the wind.

we found the mine. the road was gone,
locked and rucked into hillocks and destroyed.
we walked up.
the old mill was gone. how do you erase
something the size of an ore mill?
a wide flat spot remained, buzzing with
bees drinking nectar from horehound and mallow.
not a single gear or barrel or oil stain remained.
i found one steel washer in the dirt, and a piece of plastic –
a relief. this tiny human thing.
we walked on.
the bluff was gone. the old oak, vanished.
the land just – stopped.
a tree big enough to live under.
a hillside wide enough to grow up on.
washed down the gully. we felt
that we had imagined our childhoods.

the bones of the land
spoke to my bones.
the horizon remained,
limitless, green, unspeaking.
pinned under the vast blue
of that desert sky, and, always,
offering up to it.
nothing had changed, except us.
everything had changed, except us.

we ate lunch surrounded by manzanita and silence.
i found one stone, a pebble,
flecked with mortar
from the vanished cabin beneath the oaks.
i took it home.
now, even that trace is gone.

we scattered his ashes off the new edge of the bluff.
scrub oak and manzanita accepted
the dust of our father’s body,
as they had accepted the dust of his life.
i piled the last handful of ash
beside a tiny purple wildflower.
as we watched, an ant walked on it,
took a fleck of bone carefully in its mandibles,
and walked away.
now even that trace is gone.
it lives, like you,
only in our bones.

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the perseids fall

the perseids fall.
the weather breaks,
sharp heat turning to sudden wind
and sometime rain.
i stand at the kitchen sink,
scrubbing what remains of your life.
a photo of the most beautiful work
your hands ever made.
the thing itself long since rotted
by mountain rains and sometime sun.
a license plate with your radio call sign,
the name you kept even after moving
to a place ham radio could not reach;
the plate you kept long after
you stopped driving.
eleven years of cigarette
smoke and winter gloom
scrubbed off the glass.
sent down the drain.
i cannot love only
the beautiful, only the proud, only
the moments of shining redemption.
i can only love you whole.
i wrap myself in the last coat
that comforted you in life,
curl up in the brief, welcome coolness
of a rainy desert night,
and miss,
without complexity,
your voice.

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the heat of this night

i stand in a twilit field
watching the water ease in,
watching flickering bats hunt mosquitoes,
watching you prepare to leave again.
the water seeps over dry soil,
finds every fissure, pours in.
the bat careens in circles,
appearing and disappearing against a darkening sky,
feasting and frantic.
you load the last boxes into your truck,
shut the tailgate, and meet my eyes.
it will be half a year
before you return.
the last light slips from the sky.
at least, this time, it is summer.
the heat of this night must hold me
until you return.

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maybe this is all you get

a clip of one of the two poems I performed at this past weekend’s Albuquerque Aerialist Collective show, A Curated Exhibition of the Lost & Found. this video was taken at rehearsal the night before the show. by opening night, i had actually managed to memorize that line at the end.

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maps

my dad, and the girl scouts, taught me how to read a map.
to interpret topography, climb a mountain, return home.
to carry a compass at all times, and to use it.
if you have this, you can never get lost.
for years i kept one in my purse.
now i remember your crooked brown finger,
tracing the line, then pointing out the ridge.
now i map my past, trace roads and ridges
on satellite maps, hunt out your old campsites,
feel the curve of the land and the road in
the shape of my childhood,
to find my way back to you.
to bring what is left of your body
and what is left of my childhood,
back to one place,
and feel that long sunlight,
and the ash in my hands.

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Metamorphosis & Mayhem video

Metamorphosis & Mayhem

poetry performance
with
Lisa Gill, Erin Daughtrey & Tani Arness

January 24th, 2016
at Tortuga Gallery

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like the light

i am almost twilight
i am almost home
i am cracked by a thousand birds
crossing the darkening sky.
you are a silhouette
you are a stormcloud
you are half of every strand
of DNA in my body.
the storm strains inside my skin.
the storm is breaking.
you will never be
merely memory.
you are a kind hand resting
on my shoulder.
you are a wild anger
against the world’s injustice.
you are survived
by two daughters, two
brothers, one sister,
and the work of your hands.
your memory moves
in this cracking twilight.
like the light,
you have gone home.

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poetry reading this sunday!

Join us for a poetry reading featuring new and collaborative work by

Tani Arness
Erin Daughtrey
Lisa Gill
and
Kat Heatherington

4pm at Tortuga Gallery
901 Edith SE
$5

We have a collaborative poem in four voices for the finale — this will be a one-of-a-kind experience!

A limited-edition chapbook including work by each of the four of us will be available at this event. The door-price gets you a copy of the chapbook! Chapbooks will also be available for purchase from the poets after the reading.

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what to remember

remember not that you argued
with your sister, but that you sang
in the kitchen alone,
and the house remembered
a sound it had not heard in years.
remember fireflies blinking
slowly in the roadside dark
and a night sky as open
as the Arizona night sky –
remember, on the last night, every star
in the heavens shone on that place.
a comet streaked to the east
bright as a firecracker, potent, silent.
remember the vine that entered the door
and the softness of your father’s voice
and the way his eyes lit up
every time he looked up and saw you there.
remember his pleasure, and his pride.
the way the creek sank when the rain stopped,
the six-part insect harmony every night,
and his hand on your shoulder,
blessing you. remember
his hands when he talks,
his big, precise gestures,
his carefully kept and yellowing fingernails.
the black trees in silhouette
against a star-strewn horizon.
his voice, retelling
the story of your birth – when the nurse
handed you to me, i felt a love
i had never known before.
and it has never stopped.

the scent of honeysuckle,
a redolent night,
that infinite sky.
it has never stopped.

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