National Poetry Month: The Little One (Petite)

This poem was originally published in the Middlebury College French Gazette. I wrote it while I was auditing their 7-week total immersion language program. It was exhausting, but by Week 3, I was writing poetry in French. I’ll provide the English translation first, and then the original French. It was inspired by a common phrase in French “Quand j’etais petite” which means “When I was little.” (Photo by Albrecht Fietz.)

The Little One

When I was little
I hid myself
In the armoire
Where the cobwebs
Lilac and livid
From the fabrics.

When I was little
I danced
With the strange children
Where the trees
Dark and wild
Their secrets.

When I was little
I played
Between the mausoleums
Where the flowers
Bitter and bent
The angels.

When I was little
Sometimes the dead
When you are little  
You don’t have a choice
You don’t have a choice.

I listened.


Quand j’étais petite
Je me cachais
Dans l’armoire
Où les toiles
Lilas et livides
Des tissus.

Quand j’étais petite
Je dansais
Avec des enfants étranges
Où les arbres
Sombres et sauvages
Ses secrets.

Quand j’étais petite
Je jouais
Entre les mausolées
Où les fleurs
Pénibles et pliés
Les anges.

Quand j’étais petite
Parfois les morts
Quand tu es petite
Tu n’as pas de choix
Tu n’as pas de choix.


National Poetry Month: The Crow Road

Iain Banks wrote a disgustingly sexist novel with this title that I choked down so that I could learn more about Argyll. The only thing I learned is that women can supposedly send Morse Code with their vaginal muscles. ANYWAY…if you’ve ever read my short story “Some Divine,” you know that I’m all about crows as psychopomps. And that’s what I was about in this little poem.

The Crow Road

As I flung peanuts to the crows
Black shapes
Cawing and flapping
Against the Cimmerian sky
My youngest daughter asked
Why do we feed them?
Are they our pets?
Oh, no, I told her
I feed them because they have
A hard job
Crows have jobs?
She crinkled her nose
Oh, yes, they do.
I’ll tell you
They fly long nights
On the crow road
To brightly lit hospitals
Foggy byways, lonely beds
Movie theaters, malls, and parking lots
Bloody streets torn
By war and greed
And to cribs,
Suddenly silent
The crows carry the souls
To the land invisible
Where sweet pipe smoke curls between the
Broken teeth of Death as he directs
Each wing to land where fated…
My daughter looked at me as if
I were from Mars
She’s eight and already a smartass
I sighed, and
With a wave of my hand, I said
Here, child
Give them some peanuts
And hope that the crows
Take those
Instead of you

National Poetry Month: The Rage of Her Return

This poem was a winner in an AOL/Time-Warner poetry competition when I was working for Warner Bros. It was published in an internal studio publication and then reprinted by the now-defunct Feral Fiction. (Photo by Jose Antonio Alba.)

The Rage of Her Return

Like a garish jester,
Spring jigs as he jangles
his brass bells and
waves the pomegranate-stained
wedding veil of Persephone.
“Have you returned, my
dark daughter?”
Demeter whispers angrily to the
rain-swollen soil.
“Are you returned to me,
my wanton child?”
Demeter wails, as she
shakes the frost from her cheeks.
Fingers claw up through
Demeter’s mound,
scarlet, lavender and lapis,
breaking the flesh of her belly.
The jester lays the veil on the ground
and stands back
until Persephone’s bruised lips
kiss the weave.
Some girls break
their mother’s hearts,
and who is to say?
The rage of her return
only a parent can know.
But for now,
celebrate the violence
of leering, prancing
Spring —
don your mask,
snatch your red, rusted shears
and sing.

National Poetry Month: When Your Love is Done With Me

This is a truly gruesome “love” poem I wrote that was published by the Horror Writers Association. Man, I really needed to meet better men back then… (Photo by Rudy and Peter Skitterians)

When Your Love is Done With Me

When your love is done with me
My teeth will scatter in the dirt
Gored gums blackened and sticky
Hollowed in my gaping jaws

When your love is done with me
My flesh will swag in flaccid strips
Ragged sinew flagging
Glistening in the sallow oils

When your love is done with me
My eyes will cloud with cataract
Blind to ghosts and gallows
Burst by carrion feasts

When your love is done with me
My bones will shrivel from the joints
Tender marrow sucked from middles
Cut by the teeth of dogs

When your love is done with me
My blood will soak the earth
Hungry and hallowed, a shadow
Blossoming over the withering grass

When your love is done with me
May there be nothing left of me
May there be nothing left of me
To remember, nothing
But the wailing of the wolves

National Poetry Month: 10 Reasons Why You Hate Poetry

First published in The Horror Writers Association Newsletter

April 1, 2012

So, I wrote a collection of poems that was published back in 2011 by Burning Effigy Press. Since then, the collection has gotten some attention — including a Bram Stoker Award nomination — and I’ve been interviewed a few times. I’ve discovered in the course of these conversations that a few themes keep cropping up: namely, what keeps people from reading poetry.

     And here’s what I learned.

1.  It intimidates you.

     I’m not sure when poetry grew the stubble and fists of Jason Statham, but it intimidates a lot of people. Maybe it’s all those Shakespearean sonnets — if that’s what you think of when someone mentions poetry, I’m sorry. Truly. You’re afraid you won’t understand it, so you avoid it. I get it.

     I do.

Have you tried a little Ambrose Bierce or even Neruda? I recommend avoiding the “hard stuff” and starting with “gateway” poets. Because if you pick up any of those 17th-century poets, you’re bound to hurt your brain. Also? They’re boring as all hell. Why would anyone put themselves through that kind of torture? You ask, “But isn’t William Blake, like, famous and stuff?” Sure, but he’s guaranteed to give you an intellectual concussion if you’re not accustomed to the work of that era. Instead, pop the top on some more modern poets and relax. Good poetry won’t wear you down. It feeds your soul in a way that nothing else does.

2.  It doesn’t make sense.

     Look at it this way. Some of you listen to some pretty wacky musicians like Tori Amos, Kate Bush, The Cocteau Twins, Lisa Gerard, or even foreign bands like Rammstein or that crazy Jay-Pop chick with the big eyelashes. Or opera. You have no hope of ever understanding that lot, but you listen to them all the same. It’s because you like the sound of the music, right? Think of poetry that way. Even if the overall concept doesn’t click, you’ll like the “music” of the words and images. As T.S. Eliot once said — that’s the dude who wrote the poems that inspired the musical Cats, but please don’t hold that against him — “Genuine poetry can communicate before it’s understood.”

     That said, good poetry tends to make sense. Unless it was written in an era with a lot of fairly incomprehensible archaic references, it damn well should be understandable. If not, it’s probably crap. I mean, seriously, we’re trying to communicate. What good is it if it’s just a bunch of blather? None. None good, that’s what.

3.  It’s bad.

     Chances are, if you’ve been run over by a poem on Teh Intarwebs, it left wide black tread marks on your forehead. The word “awful” doesn’t begin to describe what hit you.

This happens because people think poetry is easy to write. There are so few words involved, they think, “Hey! I can do that!” So they duct tape together a bunch of mismatched metaphors that proceed to lope out of quasi-stanzas like something from The Island of Dr. Moreau. They pepper their verses with words even they don’t understand because they sound “cool.” And then they chop up the lines after every few words so that it looks good and poetical and stuff. But mostly they emote. Oscar Wilde once said that, “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.” And if there’s something amateur poets have, it’s plenty of genuine feeling. Multiply this times elebenty-hundred-thousands to the giga-power and that should give you some idea of your chances of finding something like this again on the Internets.

     No wonder you don’t want to read poetry.

     The solution? Ask people you know who read poetry what they like. Get recommendations. If they say, “My friend Arnie Humplegger who only publishes on his MySpace blog…But! He’s really, really gooood,” back away — quickly. Or, when someone hands your their Goth girlfriend’s self-published collection of verse entitled, “Batwings and Other Black Things”…RUN.

But if they say, “She’s been publishing for a while now, especially since she spent time at that Nicaraguan village during her Peace Corps days. Man, she’s amazing!” Chances are that’s someone who has spent more time living in the world than gazing at their lint-clogged navel or checking every ten seconds to see if someone “Liked” their poem on Facebook.

4.  You’ve been told it’s bad.

     Let’s face it: It’s not cool to read poetry. Your badass friends who are into gorenography don’t think it’s cool, either. They told you poetry sucks. Some of them might even have thick black tread marks on their foreheads. Or they were traumatized in college by reading Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder or Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

     Don’t listen to your friends! Chances are they have Wordsworth Poisoning.

5.   You have Wordsworth Poisoning. (Don’t panic. It’s not entirely fatal.)

     Many of us with a college education were traumatized by having to read William Wordsworth, the early 19th-century poet famous for writing, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” WARNING: READING THIS WILL KILL YOU.* If somehow you survived, the potential side effects of Wordsworth poisoning include headache, nausea, vomiting, blindness, deafness, and explosive diarrhea whenever cornered by a poem. These effects can last a lifetime and keep you from ever reading poetry again. And why would you? Getting drunk is more fun. At least the hangover results from having a good time rather than reading about “The Pansy at my feet/Doth the same tale repeat.”

6.   You have Bukowski Poisoning. (Also not fatal.)

     Bukowski revolutionized poetry by adding vast quantities of al-kee-hawl to his writing. Sometimes this worked and his poems were mind-bogglingly brilliant. And then sometimes it just looks like some fat-naked-drunk dude is shouting through his typewriter.

Maybe you read one of his louder poems and wondered if all modern poetry read like a street brawl with nose bleeds and pissed pants. Or thought, “Man! Modern poetry has a big case of The Weird.” Or whatever. Like the tequila that you blacked out on, you won’t touch it again.

7.  It’s the wrong poetry.

     This kind of gets back to the poisoning bits. If your first exposure to poetry back in the day had been something awesome — say, Edgar Allan Poe, bawdy Baudelaire or, hell, some Bruce Boston circa 1990 in Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine — then you might have gotten a taste for great dark poetry.

8.  It’s for “pansies.”

On second thought, a little Bukowski poisoning might be good for you. Or maybe a lot of regular poison.

9.  It forces you to concentrate.

     Chaucer used to complain that poetry was difficult to write. “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” Just to be clear: the man who wrote The Canterbury Tales thought poetry was hella hard to write. It’s as hard as anything else to write, if not harder, because there’s so much weight on every word.

As a result, reading a poem is much more like eating an amuse bouche or one of many courses at top-shelf restaurants like The French Laundry or L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. The dish might be small, but it’s exquisitely constructed, like an edible gem, with complex flavors that sing madrigals in your mouth. You fill up faster than you’d think with each course, too, because the food is so rich.

But people don’t want to savor literary morsels. That requires too much concentration. They want to wolf down every paragraph like a Big Mac and just get to the “good bits” — the gore, sex, midget wrestling, whatever. People prefer to skim rather than focus. Is it a byproduct of our electronic age or old-fashioned impatience? I dunno but too much MacDoo will give you a fat brain. Have a poem instead!

10.  You’re too goddamned sober.

     Poetry isn’t for people with a stick up their ass. It’s for people who have pulled the stick out of their ass. It’s for the living, the drinking, the damned, the fighting, the lusting, the loving — anyone who has opened their heart and had it knuckle-punched until it bled. It’s for thinkers, believers, skeptics, and plotters. If you have no sense of humor, don’t bother picking up a book of verse, because poets are pranksters. Yet you must let them steer, otherwise you’ll resist the ride and miss out on something wonderful.

So pour yourself a cocktail, get comfortable, and starting loving it.

*Not Really.

National Poetry Month: I Cannot Love You

I used to have this poem memorized. It was originally published by Blood Rose Magazine in 2003, but for years I would start off any readings I did with this poem, wading out into the audience and addressing them personally with the words.

I Cannot Love You

I cannot love you
It would be like
Eating coal
Black dust coating my fingers
Grimy smudges on the glass
As I wash you down
With lye

I cannot love you
It would be like
Sleeping in fire
Swirling ash stinging my nose
Smoke waltzing on my cheeks
As the skin weeps from
My bones

I cannot love you
Because then I would
Confuse the flood for the blizzard
The wind for the rain
The crypt for the cradle
And disease for eudemonia
My dear
(Madness would then strangle every thought.)

But still
I vomit
I choke
I cough — I burn
Drown, shiver
And rot
As the contagion of you
Weakens my blood  
And blights my heart
With your name.

National Poetry Month: Changeling

This poem still cuts me to the quick. I wrote it about my sister. (If you don’t know her tragic story, it’s here on my blog.) I wrote this poem to cope with what had happened to her, leveraging our Irish heritage and mythology. It helped immensely. But as transformative pieces often do, it stirs the coals under a cauldron of powerful emotions. (Artwork by Stefan Keller.)


Fairies stole my sister
One cold October morning.
At louche ends
On a school holiday,
My sister climbed into
The Porsche of a popular boy.  
The rain pelted the windshield,
Loosening the oils from the asphalt.
Still they spun down winding roads
Into the wyrd wood…
When the Porsche struck
A hoary tree
Her head cracked the window, and
The fey plucked her from
The bloodied seat. 
“Quick! Quick!” they cried,
Making the vile exchange.
A nurse happened to trundle by
On her way to the ward
When she found
The unconscious girl
And the unharmed boy.
Away went my sister
— or so it appeared to be she
and not a banshee —
To x-rays and hallways 
And the surgeon’s icy knife.

As I gazed upon her,
In that ammonia-choked room,
She looked as though she’d
Fallen into a fairy sleep,
Eyes opening languidly
Over weeks and months 
As the transition took hold.
Those hateful hobs — 
Her speech now
Garbled and mangled,
Lips contorted
Into a withering scowl.
Her memory hollow,
Corrupt with half-truths.
Twisted legs
And halting gait, 
The guise of a goblin
Giggling at our grief.

My true sister
Sleeps with the sylphs and
Awakens to the playful placement
Of bluebells in her braided hair
Under the gnarled boughs
Of Ballyboley
Or deep in the heart of
Wicked Paimpont 
Where the sunlight burns
Through murmuring shadow
To warm her brow.
Where Cu Chulainn and
Finn Mac Cool wage wars
For her delicate hand,
The wind shimmers with
Fey gaiety and glamour.
And each e’entide her voice
Stirs the air
With songs so radiantly sweet
That the tuatha
Stop to listen,
Caught in the rapture of
Her remembering…

They won’t
Bring her back.
Not even for my life.

I’ve tried

National Poetry Month: Tatouage

I hadn’t mentioned it, but my Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection, At Louche Ends, is also available on audio book at Google Play,, and ScribD. You can hear me read most of these poems, including this one. (Photo by Lucas Lenzi.)


Ink threads its way
between the layers of skin
the way words for you
weave between
my sinew, blood, and bone.
Ink that never dries
but saturates me with unfading desire.
Women do not give art freely
to men without
love staining their fingers.
Ritual scars,
bloodied needles,
bliss that cuts until
I am numb from your blade.
I will never again
feel your sting.
And, yet, without your sting,
I find I am still in pain.

National Poetry Month: Uncle Nietzsche with Anchovies

Blasphemy! I love it. And what a wonderful way to celebrate Easter. Don’t you agree? If so, then you should definitely read this poem. It originally appeared in At Louche Ends, but the event really happened to me. In fact, the event appears in my upcoming memoir, The Good Girl, from Running Wild Press.

Uncle Nietzsche with Anchovies

One Sunday morning
I reported to my
Plump and Jesus-pleasing
Sunday school teacher  
A problem I’d discovered
With the letters of that
Irascible disciple
I asked
Why is it that Paul
Never quotes Jesus?
(I’d noted this while
Searching for passages
To prove my parents
Wrong on the
Finer points of
Whether we could eat
Unclean meats.
Pepperoni was
The topping in the offing.)
My sincerity spurred
Her pudgy fingers to
Rapidly rifle through
The tissue-thin pages.
And after a while 
She rested her chin
On one fat fist, contemplating
The missing missives.
She said Let me ask Pastor.

She fetched him,
A cleft chin,
In an ill-fitting
Sears suit.
I asked him
The same question. 
And he said  
Everybody already knew
Of Jesus’ words.
Paul didn’t need
To repeat them.
(He seemed to forget
The Gospels weren’t written
For another thirty years.
But whatever.)
Pastor made a cranking
Motion with his hand
As if trying to
To the conclusion
Of my ignorance.
I listened,
Not realizing I’d found
A major argument  
For the Jesus Myth.
That perhaps Jesus had not
Lived at all.
I was only thirteen
My scrawny intellect
Flapping its wings.
And I stared
So long
Into that abyss
That I became
The monster that I battled 
And I believed that pastor man.
I wish I’d had an uncle
To tell me
That faith is
Not wanting to know
What is true.
Where were you
Uncle Nietzsche?
Where were you
That day?
To say
Well done! Now
Let’s you and me grab
A calzone with sausage.
Instead I figured
I was too young
To understand
Such grownup things
As theology.

Instead I said,
Okay, if you say so
They did.
And spent the next
Sixteen years learning
I really was a truly
Smart kid.

National Poetry Month: Divinity Dust

Many people have asked me about the inspiration for this poem. All I can say is that you’ll find out next year upon publication of my memoir, The Good Girl, from Running Wild Press.

Divinity Dust

Here I am
on Imbolc
craving 10 grams
of God
and a fingernail full
of synchronicity.
Where are all
the dirty moments
of knowing real divinity?
God wrapped in foil 
and handed off
like a cracker?
It’s the diminishing dosages
that really get me.
I make my connection
each night
in dreamscape
only to find
God’s a jackal,
a roly-poly pervert
who leads you down
dark alleyways
so he can get you high
behind the dumpster
and fuck you in the ass…
I know, it’s crass
but I’m addicted
to miracles
and I need a fix fast.
So tie me up
and heat another teaspoon
of that divinity dust,
my angel,
pat my vein, and
with a prayerful prick
help me forget.