this pain

“Mommy, you never scream at us. You
never do anything wrong like other parents.”

-my tiny, beloved daughter for
whom I would kill even you

my trail is cold, not
the bloodiest of
bloodhounds will
ever find me, not
a fingernail
not a platelet

I survived you
(and you, and you)
I escaped her
(and him) and
I escaped you

I have my children
to keep, their heart-
shaped faces open,
their words all gold

their souls are not
for your filthy fingers
to touch

I have a lover who
keeps me safe in
a horror story tower
days at a time
she revives me,
fucking the life back
into me, until I
grow too fragile
for anything but
her gentlest, sweet
Malbec kisses

days I can’t move
I give her permission
to leave me, she
cries at my feet,
wanting what is
left of me, my heart
still fat and florid
pumps wildly for her,
spills over in its
withering cage

I hate myself
for the salty rivers
my words make
over her cheekbones

never, she says,
and she begs me
to take back
those four bullets
with which I grazed
her porcelain skin,

she begs me to
crawl back into
her bed again

I have a lover who
keeps me safe in
in this fortress
I bought when I was
rich and overpaid for
every clever thing I said,
and you and Father
feared me needlessly,
treading the rising waters
of your misplaced envy,
thinking I’d strike back, no

nights I walk the floors,
I lock the doors, but
I cannot sleep, I’ve
phantom pains in
my hand that holds
the skeleton key

electricity stabs
and shrieks each
step I take on my
stone cold, white hot,
long, bony feet

a thin curtain of skin
but my bones show,
they tell stories,
as sharp ghosts of
thorns and daggers
twist into my feet

I walk on my heels,
I roll to my arches,
any sweet spot
eludes me

when I get really quiet
something starts
inside me

my legs hurt,
muscle fibers tear
like butcher’s paper
off the roll, wrapping
up the meat of
the defeated

tiny monsters are
trapped deep in the
puncture wounds
of every hook
and barb that
has been thrown
at me, that ever
pierced me,
that found itself
extracted, freed,
from my paper-thin
skin in a hot, red
painterly flourish

I’m bleeding again, watch
the rose petals fall,
the cardinals take flight,
watch them abandoning
the frozen grass, a million
glass palaces crunching
under your heavy boots,
your thick, peasant feet

just focus your spyglass,
old and cold, and watch

ice water fills my
blue veins, and
time stands still,
then retreats to
a fist in the teeth,
bite marks in
bad places
when I sleep
(oh Mother, will
your tortures
never cease?)

I am nothing but
the small fish
thrown back,

I see the perfect circle
cut out of the ice
above me

you call, we speak,
you want my children
for the night,
I won’t agree

I hang up, sit with
the small victory
of having said no

but when my weight
shifts from my feet,
sharp needles prick,
push, turn, up again,
pulling razor wire
through all of me, a
cruel seamstress
sewing false pockets
within my skin

that is where I
keep hidden all
your old letters to
your own mother,
only one of them
is about me

my heart beats angry
in my weakening knees
my head attacks like
a blaring TV, I have
phantom pains in
my ovaries, I have
chunks of ice in the veins
in my feet, I will die alone,
a charred pear tree, and
it won’t be by your hand,
Mother, no

this pain , this pain
will end me


This poem is my entry for the latest open link night at the dVerse Poets Pub. I don’t know why I have always tried (and often failed) to keep my physical pain out of my work when it is so driven by emotional pain. But I just let it go writing this last night. I’m a little better today, don’t worry.

I encourage anyone who read my poem to read some other entries tonight. Chances are they will be more cheerful, though not all of them.🙂  It’s a great way to find the latest work by new poets – xo wb

the lost art of bulletproofing

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” -John Milton, Paradise Lost

“We were two birds of paradise . . . ” -Chrissie Hynde, The Pretenders


when we were young, I
built you a cage; I pried
my eyes open every night
for two years, leaving you
alone to dream, I’d count out
three hundred paces
from your center, hiding
steel bars, in a perfect circle
behind winter-stripped trees,
across graying branches,
I sank spikes under leaves,
threaded snares to saplings

I was found out in
the first forest fire,
the fleshy pad of
my right thumb
striped black
from the match

you dug up your
blighted heart,
turned sideways,
invisible, wasting,
and vanished,
a smoke ring,
a wraith, a small
bruise fading

the faint essence
of burning wet wood
stays, forever seething
in my sorry lungs


in all those years that
I was dead to you,
I dreamed for you
high walls, legions of
faithful, faceless men
who might give up
their lives for you –their
queen, I counted
their corpses, stacking
high against a wall,
one for each
horror imagined

I slept, I worried,
I slept and I quarried
great stones until
my knuckles bled,
never amounting to much,
never enough to
fortify your bed,
never enough to hide you
from old ghosts and
new monsters, and
one beast in particular:
muscle-bound, gruff,
your chosen one, with
one body, two spirits,
one empty soul, and
so much more adept at
building you prisons

I broke the jawbone
of the ass, split the lip
of the philistine, and
only provoked the
goliath to cast me out,
a fallen angel, then,
beelzebub misunderstood,
my paradise lost, I learned
to swim in lakes of flame


all those years later,
when you found me,
you were luminous
and free, and full
of new words, new
legends, 78 tiny
panels, stories
carved, colorful

you wrote of
fortunes changed,
of damning cards that
reversed, revealed
your Page of Cups,
her love overflowing,
her soul shining, a sphere
of absolute peace

you told me how
magnificently you
learned, at the soft
steady press of
her hands, ancient
wisdom ground into
pertinent words, new
languages in the
divinity of her mouth,
fed to you like
ten thousand

she was raven-haired,
beautiful, and together
you two knew no fear,
your Page of Swords,
her strength bursting
with light, while both,
with hands clasped,
eyes on the horizon,
walked together through
menacing winds, cloud
banks black and blue,
hearts burned together
in the crucible
of your escape

you grew strong,
and when she
was wounded, you
kept her moving,
only holding
tighter to her
weakening hands


it was more than
I deserved, but you,
and your stories,
both saved me

I learned the cages
I kept building
were for me


we are old now, we
laugh at ourselves,
poke fun at each other
with blunt sticks and
gentle words, our love
is without guile, our
tongues wish for
better words than
“just friends” to describe
the wars we fought,
together and apart,
as enemies, as allies,
and how we find ourselves
now, one another’s
constant guardian,
white winged and
well intentioned


myself, I found a golden thread
in the endless dark woods,
and I found my way,
my Queen of Wands,
an alchemist, turns
old terrors into new
passions, my Queen of
Pentacles keeps me
fed and safe, contained

she has strong hands
and endless patience,
she wakes early, at dawn,
to take apart the fortresses
my fear builds in the night,
I wake later, needing nothing
but the soft slope of her body
to keep me breathing


today, I see your beloved,
mere mortals at a party,
fine strands of silver gleam,
woven into her hair, still
dark as crow’s feathers,
she is beautiful, still,
(and you, at any age,
still take my breath away)

you are up nights, worrying,
and I’m across town,
worrying for you again

“She dropped my hand,” you say,
and you tell me sad stories
in which you give chase,
and you stand still, and the distance
between you grows greater
until dusk arrives, then
she is just a faint blur,
a stroke of watercolor
running lengthwise
across the paper sky

in the morning, she returns,
small, angry splinters from
unknown bones, bits of
fruit or flesh between
her teeth, you hold your breath
against the cold and the heat,
you provoke her with such
expertise, take fine needle
aspirations of what, unknown,
grows within her chest wall, she
blames you when she bleeds,
or coughs up tar, or sheds
blue-black feathers on
the soft wood floor

the card faced one way
reads anger, the other way,
peace, one way anguish, the
other way, your will to believe
she will come back every morning,
and stay, I quietly ask, “What else
could she do?” I turn the problem
in my hand, make it smooth,
I suggest when I want to promise
she will always come back to you


we walk around the park,
an urban forest, the ghost
of your golden dog
panting and smiling in
a shared memory

I pull apart the leaves,
I show you what you’ve
been up to in your sleep,
bait and bear traps,
precarious deadfalls,
salt blocks and deer blinds,
I say, famously, “I could
be projecting, but I worry.”

we walk further out and
are stopped by some force field,
some heavy air, something,
we trace our hands in search
of seams, and instead find
scratches in plexiglass

your eyebrow lifts,
mine dips sheepishly, as I admit
I’ve been practicing the
lost art of bulletproofing

these woods are a mess
of plastic and steel, and
we no longer know what was you
or what was me, but
we move slowly,
preserving our old bones,
and we take it all down,
all of it, together


when we get back to
your home, she’s there;
her smile leaves us
swooning, snowblind

her hand reaches,
turns, palm up, lowers
gracefully, then lifts,
catching yours from below
so gently, like a fallen
nestling returned
now, to safety


This poem is my entry for tonight’s prompt at the dVerse Poets Pub, in which we are challenged to leave behind our many modifiers in favor of verbs and verb forms. I began this piece over a week ago, and the more I tried to end it, the longer it got. So it is still flooded with adjectives, but full of verbs, too. This was the rare poem started with a title, in which I wrestled with a word precisely because I wanted to write not about a bulletproof thing, but the process by which we try to shield ourselves and others. It is part poem, part fable, part memoir, part letter to a dear friend in need. If you haven’t fallen asleep yet (this is a long one), I urge you to read some other entries tonight. There is always at least one incredible piece that makes doing so beyond worthwhile. – xo wb

obligate cainism

two baby birds,
not yet sleek,
not yet black,
perched high over
the Bay of Bengal
watch a pink morning sky
for the return of their
beautiful mother,
forewarned by
the shadow cast
by her sloping, wide wings

a mothers’ arms stretch
wider than their world,
she delivers to them
clutches of eggs and
entire nests, bowls of
screeching hatchlings,
baby birds, lesser species
marked for death by
the Black Eagle’s
predatory privilege

two awkward, gray birds
once an ugly pair of eggs,
white shells splotched
carelessly brown, each
separately contained
within her own curve
of wall, one just a little
smaller, both so fragile,
first one discovers life,
next both discover
each other in the
rubble of their birth

the mother flies
low and slow over
thick canopy, hidden
by everyday details,
leaves, twiggy branches,
drapes of moss muffling
the alarmed cries of
Shekru squirrels
(their long tails like
brightly ribboned
cocktail toothpicks
stuck seductively
into rows of
tiny sandwiches)

talons dutifully full
of squirrel or tiny
monkey fur, she
dreams of free flight,
the thrill, the delight of
letting go, nose down,
wings shut tight,
diving dangerously deep
to impress her
narrow-eyed lover

she dreams how he
follows, falls farther,
together they spin,
arc wide, follow
one another up through
thermals layered with
cool, wet winds,
exhilarated, bound
for life

for now they fly apart,
they hunt apart, they must
feed the fledglings
until one fledgling
can feed itself

she slows and hovers
over two noisy, open beaks,
drops her writhing quarry,
swerves, lands, watches,
then her gaze wanders
to the dreamy horizon
awaiting his brief,
eventual return

the small birds eat,
ravenously, reach
the end of the meat,
they fight beak to beak
until one loses an eye,
shrieks, cowers, bleeds
the mother looks, sees,
then she looks away,
following a dark,
distant speck, hoping

sated, the sisters sleep,
days pass, they grow
and they fight, they feed
and they fight, then one,
younger by minutes,
smaller by grams and
feathers, grows weak,
sickly, slow to heal,
forever the fledgling
when her soul is released,
a tiny spark in an
endless black sky,
still fighting for
some small share
of the last kill

the elder grows regal
and mean, strong,
entitled, first born,
muscle and sinew
fed by more than
her fair share of
every bloody,
battered thing
that ever gave up
in the nest
beside her

soon, she will leave
and her parents
will return from a
holiday of daring,
perilous romance,
then reluctantly
they will rebuild
on the same site, in
the same nest where
all their fledglings
have lived or died

mighty wings closed,
a mother will lay
one egg, maybe two,
but never another


“Obligate siblicide, known as ‘cainism’ in large raptors, is a taxonomically widespread avian phenomenon that remains inexplicable as a simple consequence of food stress: two young can be raised to independence in experimentally manipulated nests, and food supplements do not decrease sibling aggression . . . Most of the younger birds survive only a few days. The parents do not hamper these attacks, it has been repeatedly observed that the older young bird continued his attacks even when a parent bird would feed him.”
— British Ornithologist ROBERT SIMMONS


This is my entry for the dVerse OpenLink as it makes its glorious return from the winter holiday. It’s my first in a long while, months, during which I’ve written little. I began this yesterday after reading about maternal animal behavior in various species. A handful of you who know me or my work may recognize a theme I’m trying to move beyond, but my wretched muse has more to say.

Please take a moment to read some of the other entries, an eclectic collection in a wide range of styles from my favorite — if only — poetry club. Really. There is always some great work to be found.

ink and secrets

“ . . .let the poets cry themselves to sleep. All
their tearful words will turn back into steam . . .”
— Conor Oberst, Poison Oak
first mistake made, age 12:
an ode to a nighttime ocean:
“It appears beautiful, though
there is nothing to see . . .”
and then I listed everything:
great purple urchins and
menacing barracuda,
monolithic whales, breaching
singing secret love songs
mingled with cries for help
it doesn’t make any sense,
mother said, and pulled from
the shelf her copy of
Listen to the Warm, and
read a poem with a story,
A Cat Named Sloopy, as I
stared at the blurry picture
of Rod McKuen on the back,
and thought of my father,
away again, working
at the end, I cried for the cat,
she cried for the man
 years later, I knew
she wouldn’t be a fan
of the liturgy I purged,
words wrung, black and
blue and sometimes red,
from my fear-pricked skin,
when, given the space to
remember, I chose to
memorize the details,
as if I could, as if I wouldn’t
end up broken, as I am,
buried under the weight of
too many words, and the
motives and  deeds
that forged them
she caught me once, in the
college literary magazine,
a string of images that
had no meaning to me,
my voice gruff, painterly,
each word scraped through
thick oils and slashed
across a pristine canvas
ink is not for secrets, just
like crayons aren’t for walls,
remember? she said, her
eyes narrowing and mean
and my skin shivered,
remembering, even as my
mouth explained away
how my painting teacher
said the abstract expressionists
don’t NEED a story, their
work is PRE-story, it is POST-
story, it is primal emotion,
primitive application, it’s
just my adolescent angst
what’s the big fucking deal
WHAT secrets?
she seized her fur by its throat,
and turned her heel, demanding
my father, bag in hand, take her
with him to another country, and
he did, they just left, I stood
alone in their house, worried,
most of all, that he would
make me stop painting,
make me stop writing,
I was at his rich-man mercy,
my scholarship won with
words and paint, useless
on the sliding scale he sat atop
he had been proud at first, but
when the math was done,
he said: all prestige and no cash,
someday there will be
a confessional revival,
said the grad student
in charge of one too many
typewritten submissions
so I returned to my paints
to crush flat my heart, broken
by lovers’ arms mistaken
for safe havens
in the blocky typefaces
reserved for WARNING
and DANGER, I stenciled
microscopic poems over
abstracted corpses
digging their way out
of freshly dug graves
“slavery, slavery,
lust and oblivion”
what does it mean?
oh, you know, what
the world is made of,
the fate of human kind,
everyone is a nihilist
when they’re twenty-one
“not her . . .” said a boy,
pointing to the girl who
ran the suicide hotline
as she threw up green beer
in a paper leprechaun cap,
“she’s in it for the pot of gold”
I hid my scarred arms under
sullen turtlenecks, dyed my hair,
and pursued a career in
advertising, ads, you see,
are poems that sell things,
copywriters are anonymous
poets with big paychecks and
bigger audiences, with black
hearts, and at the ends of
all the busy days, drowning
in accolades, they close their
eyes and enter empty caverns
where once they kept
their very best strings of words,
they clear their throats, they
search for relics of their egos,
the echoes of their ragged
breaths sound obscene

soror(icide) . . . in 55 words

we’re sisters until we die,
threats hissed through teeth,
hungry words, famine, dark feast,
she didn’t mean to, so why
we’re only sisters until we die,
trapped, knee over thigh,
hate bites my thin hide,
understand the secrets I keep
we’re only sisters until one of us dies,
I begged nightly it would be me
This is my entry for the dVerse OpenLink prompt tonight, in which we are challenged to write a flashfiction or poem exactly 55 words long.
Please take a moment to read some of the other entries, an eclectic collection in a wide range of styles from my favorite — if only — poetry club. They’re all just 55 words, read all of them.
Tonight we’re also cross-posting to something I’ve never done, called Friday 55.

letter to her skin

I’ve been sick, so sick
I’ve been away, far,
the days I read my
mother’s letters, as
if each ancient, crisp
envelope contains a
ticket to some past hell

I’ve been at war, I’ve been
at sea, I hope this letter
finds its way to you, I like
to think about my words,
this black ink, this linen,
wrapped around you by a
sensual, warm wind, ivory
linen caressing ivory skin,
an act of love, the paper’s
edges deceptively sharp,
reminding you my presence
always carries mild threats,
sweet dangers, bits of pink
and red, slow blue contusions,
slow, honeyed pleasures
and no real harm, ever

I’m working my way back
to you, again, at the end
of each episodic exile; I’m
so cold, abroad, I cover
myself in tiger hides and
woven wool, but it is your
heat beside me, under me,
I need, our flesh seared shut
together, sealed in red wax,
my molten initial marking
you, then cooling into a
proper watermark, subtle
enough to wear by day

I get lost on my way home,
cry, missing the soft, smooth
planes of white, always
temperate at my arrival,
stormy under my touch,
tiny red drops, like miniature
hearts, in each micro-apocalypse
between my teeth, everything
evil is crushed, and I taste love

I long for your milky perfection,
the long slope down your neck,
taut against the painful softness
of my bitten lips, my chipped
cheek bone

things happen when I am lost,
midnight sunrises are promised,
but the darkness is endless, and
I wake up on impact, thrown from
trains, flown through shattered
windshields, washed up on rocky
beaches, stiff and cold, lost if
not safe under my childhood bed,
I taste blood, cry salty, my child’s
brain laboring at phrases, carved
into the wood floor and my flesh,
desperate, perfectly spelled words
elongate twisted truths to
explain away the evil

I am treacherous oceans away,
I long to be lost in you, a perfect
world of unmarked fields of white,
the world underneath me rolling
in satisfied sighs; my mouth will
travel familiar paths, from the
red ink phoenix of your calf, to
the single, flaming, victorious
feather drawn around the
fluttering pulse of your wrist

my old ghosts hold you down,
my rough touch burns alive,
my demons release you, can
you feel the memory of my
fingertips traveling every inch
of you, slowly, methodically
and with pride, like an old farmer walking his property line
as the sun again surrenders

when you get this letter, I
could be anywhere, maybe
even home to you, I am
on my way, I swear

meanwhile I will long for you,
for home, a refugee from
the pins in the map that
pierced me, once too often,
a follower of the falling stars
that lead me backward
mercilessly, I swim through
the water hoping the sirens
will not find me, I am
on my way to you, I am
yours, truly


This is my entry for the dVerse”Poetics” prompt tonight, in which we are challenged to write an epistolary poem.

Mine is a love letter written from a a cyclical journey of absence. (Of course it is confessional, and a bit kinky, because I wrote it. I remain that open book that isn’t for everyone.) If you are new to my page, it may help you to know I periodically struggle with complex PTSD and the various levels of emotional withdrawal and dissociation that come and go. I’m getting better every day. When these themes are in my work, it’s usually a healthy purge.

I’m happy to be welcomed back to The dVerse Poets Pub after another absence from participating, mostly due to a very happily busy summer.

Please take a moment to read some of the other entries, epistolary poems in a wide range of styles from a group that includes some very talented poets.

xo wb

rosewater: a sedoka

scent of rosewater
betrays hands’ and hearts’ return
from the city’s dark corners

one mean talon torn
caught on the ink of her back
she’s thrice marked, soul sold, willing


Tonight is Form for All at the dVerse Poet’s Pub. Samuel Peralta teaches us classic japanese forms and shares very, very old poems written with such fervor they read as modern. He challenges us to write a and share a short form called Sedoka. Not Neil Sedaka, and not Sudoku number puzzles, but something infinitely richer😉

To read all the entries, click around on this list.


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