Murder on Your Tongue

Photo by Mateus Williams via

This is what I hear
When out of that heart
You speak:

Like grown men of an African bush tribe
Clip-slipping their feet in the hot dust
Around a broke-fire
White dark dirt shoves up
Out of the roots of the earth and
Races up on the heels of them and over the high-topped feather headdresses of grown men
And rising up and out the sound of an overwhelming shout of challenge and victory and defeat
As the sound rages out of their muscle-y burnt bodies and their heart beats
Step-step faster

And then you are
The one who ran ahead
To shove his spear first into the lions mouth
But got torn in half by its jaws.

This is what I hear
When out of that heart
You speak:

Death to mother
Your sister
Your brother
To your lover

Like every other somebody out there
Is a lion that needs to be taken
Down by a man
Like you.

Poem originally published in Promethia Literary Magazine, Spring 2013.

The Coffee House on Cherry Street


Black breeze pulls strangers’ marijuana smoke

Between deck splinters, up our nauseous noses;

Night brings to Cherry Street a symphony

of multicolored voices, tires tearing wet pavement,

Urban wind whistling through metal sheets.


Under the too-sweet-cake smell I stay

Because you stay with me. It forms a fist

In the back of my throat, but I stay

Because you stay with me.


Black silhouettes behind your slanted shoulders

Lean in, spread lips into each other, know;

Night brings to Cherry Street a subtle show

Of red neon signs, bursting beams of headlights,

Christmas strings suspending us in a yellow glow.


Your lit eyes, innocent, watch me watching them;

Your mouth smiles sweetly. Blush rises on this pale face

as it turns away, that you won’t watch me watching them;

Your mouth smiles sweetly.


Vagabond Baggage

The tear wound bleeds inked paper,

book spines, rusty sandal clasp,

computer cord veins, black. Ribbons of

blue frayed flesh unravel lissome. The

mouth heaves a soft bible with

matted leaves like a sigh, teeth

tearing apart, a toothbrush

tweezing the jagged gap.

Pens poke like spines from its

netted sides, tangled in old receipts.

A half-full CamelBak wedges between it

and an unfamiliar backseat. Two slender

legs, long, crossed, curl over it, serape-coated,

socks swishing the window at cars that pass

on the road.

Ethiopian Coffee

The way to eat Ethiopian food wrong is not to eat it at all.

Your host may frown whether you chew diligently or not,

Or they may smile.

Ethiopian’s straight noses and high cheekbones,

Like European descents with milk-chocolate skin,

They are African.

They are beautiful.

They don’t smile to make you feel good about what they prepared,

You simply eat elbow-to-elbow.

Take the foamy injera, a flimsy gluten-free pancake, pale sour, in one hand.

Tear it, but not too small.

This is your silverware, your edible hand.

Grip lumps of shiro,

Injera between your fingers and this main dish,

And shove the messy mass coated in red chili, onion, and bean paste between your teeth,

Fingers and all.

It will be spicy, kicking and screaming on all sides,

Amplifying its tantrum the longer the meal goes on.

Eat it anyway,

Even if you can hardly bear the stings bursting your tongue.

Eat it because coffee comes after a meal,

Fresh beans bubbled up from Ethiopian earth still green.

The grandmother washes them with her aged desert hands,

Water passing over the cracks in her fingers to plump up the pebbles between them.

A cradle of burnt clay holds the beans on the stove as they sizzle and turn black.

In her home country, a mortar and pestle rest between her knees to make powder.

In America, you just turn on the grinding machine.

More traditional burnt black clay like a tall Middle Eastern oil lamp rests on the stovetop.

This is an Ethiopian coffee pot boiling water and grinds.

It takes a long time for the grinds to settle with no filter,

So people sit together in the living room, in the open air, on the ground and talk,

Often in awkward silences waiting for the next topic to surface.

No distractions are allowed, no children or card games.

This is a sacred time of drinking in the smell and taste of fresh coffee and fresh connections,

Right now.

Take it black.

The floral aromatic flavor is enough, with no bitter aftertaste you need to try and cover up.

It is liquid velvet smooth,

A hint of a fresh African breeze through thick green captured in your cup, vibrant.

Drink it in.

Au Revoir, Famille d’Henrotte

You are a living Swedish doll, aged a bit, just add

clogs, skin yellow like Georgia sweet bread,

chapped hands smoothed over by liquid youth:

lavender lotion. Your glinting blue eyes are

squelched by the curves in your grin. With one

soft hand you pat–you hold my cheek, and

lean into the other to kiss. Your short straw hair

bounces against my forehead. “Remember your stop,

number three. If you miss it, I won’t be able to come

pick you up this time.” I will miss the togetherness of

watching “Plus Belle la Vie”  in the evenings while

crunching on radishes and sipping Champagne.


Your masculine shadow, with lightly salted black

hair, bushy bohemian eyebrows, lips of a horse,

mum, hauls my rolling luggage up off the open-

aired platform, pulling it next to my seat.

“Thank you.” He leans in, wraps his arms around

me and his well- fed gourmet French belly plumps

onto mine, reminiscent of the oysters, the grape quail,

bleu cheese and Belgian beer. With thick old

hands, he grasps my jaws and kisses-kisses

each cheek wetly. More words pass from him

next than ever I have received from him before:

“I know we have our disagreements, but you are

a good girl. You will learn. Next time we meet, I

hardly will recognize you. You go now. Do well at

school. We will cheer for you.”


I collapse into my seat, dabbing at my eyes,

scraping my American cheeks, and press

my whole frame up against the window,

through the murky glass, to

press–as into a mould–my mind into their



Every time I try to see again

through that glass, to feel the rumples of their

memory mould, their Franco-faces are blotchy;

milky; eroded. More and more I see her

wearing a black manteau, less and less I see

him in that Italian leather jacket.

I want to keep looking back, straining to see,

but the train keeps moving, rolling away

into new country. Eventually, my neck will

tire, and there will be nothing left to see

but an empty platform. Alas, alas, I must

shift my gaze ahead to the bare trees,

and the sun.



Biking in Brussels


Wet rubber screeches;

these skinny bike wheels

grumble over gravel patches.

Brussels smells ethereal this

time of year. A beige-clad

Brit leads, speeds through fat

ruts. I follow his bowler hat,

marvel at the functionality of

his arthritic mechanisms,

knees and elbows pivot and

groove more quickly than my

own. Green drips over my

cheeks from the trees. Soft

rain, he calls it. Soft. The

softness of earth, of sky,

falling on me in summer.

Oxfordian Truth


At Oxford, ideas are a set of closed doors that knock back.

Its halls echo every earnestly offered thought for hours—

Sometimes in honor, sometimes in jest.

Chalky portraits of old scholars, dead men in white wigs

Or noses bent look down from the library walls. They

Are trying to tell you, but you are not listening:

Truth and hope are not synonymous.

Reason cannot give you a reason for


Try again

When the dusty, frayed edged books

Towering inside the walls of Radcliffe’s

Iceberg dome are the desire of your heart;

Knowledge and love are two things set apart.