PQ Poem

[15] Phosphorus

At school I volunteered to set the lab stockroom in order. Sealed in a navy lab coat I took inventory. Gathered for disposal crumbling samples, mystery solutions. Rewrote acid-​rotted labels. Re-​pickled a funnel-​web. Marvelled at copper’s rosy gleam. Dusted the jar of white phosphorus, a sullen chunk stored underwater. Like…


1 He had the window seat. After take-​off he said, “My line is socks; what’s yours?” I said I was a writer. He smiled his least impressive smile. “What do you write?” “I hope they are poems.” ‘Where are you headed now? I told him I’d been invited to recite…

On Broken Hollow Bridge

Answering Darlene Howard’s snotty dare, I hoisted myself up to the handrail, as thick as a balance beam, but slick with summer rain and wet rust. Knees bent, arms out to my sides, I straightened, chin up, staring ahead. Kicking off my sandals, I took my first tentative steps, peeling…


Its scent was more like the bread Grandma’s fingers shaped, rising warm to my nose than the ash of her Salem’s crushed in thick glass trays, her coffee cup ringed black after finishing a smoke. That candy jar glazed butterscotch, plump atop her laminate table we used for Go Fish,…

At Western Psych

On the dayroom TV screen, the Gladiator hallucinates in the desert. Golden lions and ghost horses scream. Filmed light flickers like tears on drugged un/​watchful faces. Everyone is shoeless, their socks dark green. The water fountain is bandaged in a towel, leaking like a bad burn. The inmates queue to…

i am the sea

that january. prestwick beach. the sea heaves. swallows herself down like cough syrup in thick slow gulps. we’d sat on this rock just two days before, both of us with our backs to the world staring out across and into the thickness. i counted a thousand and one seagulls that…

The Myriad Lives I Lead Inside My Own

Observe the day. Observe how it is spring warm in the middle of winter, the sky unclouded blue, the air full of undefined promise. Observe my daughter’s excitement at the prospect of a birthday party, running with arms flapping, singing for the joy of it, unbridled, unrestrained. Observe how picturesque…

Naming It

There should be a name for it: driving into a spring storm with the sun behind you, the spray kicking up from the interstate, the stacked periwinkle clouds, the sunlight still glowing into the trees, finding the naked white birch, the new green of the underbrush. Light has a name…

O Say Can’t You See?

We shout when we should be discussing, and the country in chaos accepts it. We shoot when we should be disarming, and the country in chaos accepts it. We claim that the poor are just lazy, and the country in chaos accepts it. We budget to build bigger prisons, and…

Still Life with Leg Brace & Pontiac

We’re standing next to my grandfather’s ‘73 Grand Prix — newly polished, royal blue — my mother, my grandmother and I. I’m five years old, dressed in a wide collar suit and plaid tie. Under my pants, my leg brace — with its cork lift, metal bars, and leather straps…

26 + 6 = 1

The first time I went up north to Belfast, a helicopter hovered overhead. Very young and very nervous soldiers with guns too large for their skinny bodies carried their fears across the darkened streets. In the Europa lobby, the guide bragged, “This is the most bombed hotel in the world.”…

Matter of Light

A matter of light, part of the tree’s shade over the yard, a zelkova leaf, narrow palm of the rustbelt in April, green tints,

Pittsburgh’s Famed Stairways to…

“Pittsburgh is undoubtedly the cockeyedest city in the United States. Physically, it is absolutely irrational. It must have been laid out by a mountain goat…And then the steps — oh, Lord, the steps!” –Syndicated Columnist Ernie Pyle, 1937 (as qtd. in “Steps of Pittsburgh”)

It Only Made Sense

After my mother died, my sister found a bundle of yellowed letters:

Just Because

I know there are things that you ain’t supposed to do and will probably get you a good whipping if you’re caught but you’ll do them anyway just because and for no other reason than just because.
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