DIAGNOSIS, from FALL RISK, short-listed by Billy Collins FISH Poetry Prize 2021


I flash to the darkness
how it buries
press bare knees to chest cry
sponge my snot
tiptoe to the kitchen grab a bottle
yesterday’s coffee mug
quick rinse

wine is warm
I drink anyway
dry floral hues tickle my throat as
I stare at recipe cards
& cartons of cereal
yank a drawer, stack pens in piles
alphabetize the spice rack

black pepper

scrub a burnt pan
until fingers are raw
fill a teapot.

Walls are quiet but for your breath
clogged vacuum hose,
I kneel &
stare at my newness born
as the kettle cries.

CLOSER, from FALL RISK, short-listed by Billy Collins, FISH Poetry Prize 2019


We always take the furthest spot,
eager to walk
the flat expanse of the parking lot.
On occasion, you smile in those first days
swollen with hope,
late June sunshine on your shoulders,
Dogwood just in bloom.

Hot, you wave a limp wrist
motioning me to park nearer.
The tree is laden with green now
like emerald stars. Ghosts float
through glass doors that clunk
shut behind.

You hobble from car to lobby
filled with mums & pumpkins.
That wool cap fits loose now, your face still
chiseled, sunken.

Carrying your bag
I walk next to a nurse who
pushes your chair
through an infusion room where
I have morphed
seemingly, into Simon of Cyrene.

Dawn at the Station from my new book, FALL RISK

Sunday is soft here, cement
freshly swept like marble

countertops silver stones stand
indifferent along the ballast

like faces in a subway car.
Grackles, early morning flight

glides black against billows,
speckled sparrows, tousled branches as a train pelts

placid, a billiard cue
cue over baize, bodies scramble off the platform

like nearly swatted flies,
my fingers are bored I rub pens in pockets.

Busy now, the rails shriek like hydraulic cutlery machines, 
I hasten my gait

breath like brume,
steam in an engine.

REPAIR from my new book, FALL RISK


The shop stems
from a narrow Newark street
where garages cram together like
broken Legos,
we dine with plastic forks on the hood
of a half-painted Subaru
devour pan-seared
scallops, spanish potatoes,
a twisted spine of geranium
leans into the heat
beer is cold.
I flower a little
when I’m near rotting transmissions
tarnished rims, greasy
men under decaying carriages.
when all things beautiful
I discover the petals, parched
under a dark window
& lend them sun.

Farmer from my new book, FALL RISK

Hunched over worn
baskets, June
sun on his shoulders, bushels at his feet,
the master juggler sifts
beefsteaks from brandywines like
ornamental relics
until evening falls when my
grandfather rocks to the crickets song,
cotton curtains billow in
soft summer gloaming
exposing that view where

in thirty years
a Walmart moves in
tomatoes sprinkled with benzoic acid,

but for now he sways,

toing & froing
cheap whisky in his grip, turbid
pulp wedged
underneath a farmer’s fingernails.

Notes from my upcoming short story ALL THE BELLS & WHISTLES

Period Two fills as quickly as Period One empties. I notice Mia, always the last student to arrive. She slithers in, Starbucks glued to her mouth. The steam rises from the uncapped cup.

“Ms. Dunn, can I talk to you?” Her face is low and sad. I take a deep harried breath.

“Mia, I’d love to have a chat with you right now.” I drop a box of pencils as more tardy students come trudging in. “But the only thing I can talk to you about now is that we will have to talk later.”

Mia is one of those kids who hate school. She chooses to not be in Honors anything. The only class she enjoys is music theory. I look up and the girl is still standing by my desk. She plays at pleading.

“I still don’t have an idea. Ms. Dunn, you know I can’t speak in front of people. Pretty please I have nothing to say.”

I erase the board. My back to her. I giggle out loud remembering how much I loved playing school in my playroom. It was easier in those days, I had far fewer students and way more supplies. Mom kept my playroom stockpiled with scrap paper and pencils, crayons and chalk. I had an assortment of bright stuffed animal students whom I placed in individual wooden chairs. We had infinite hours to chat.

I spot a rudimentary chalk drawing of a penis in the bottom corner. I sigh aloud and roll my eyes as I rub feverishly.

“Ew, gross! Who drew that?” Mia squints.

“Someone who lacks the talent for life drawing!” I laugh.

Mia smiles. We are at ease with one another. I wipe the chalk onto my jeans and check in with other students. The girl slides her rings up and down her fingers as I approach her again.

“Mia, listen, this is a drama class and performance is a major grade. You have a great deal to say. We all do. You just haven’t found it yet.” I pause to think and say. “Let’s try the brainstorming activities together again.”

She stares at me. Her earbuds are in. She is not listening.

“Mia, loose-leaf, a pen?”

She pulls out a bud and digs through her bag as I bonk her head with a pencil, “Somewhere in there is a story to be told.”

A line of students form at my desk and I realize that I’ve spent an unfair amount of time with Mia. She senses my concern, gathers her bag, coffee cup, blank paper and says faintly but loud enough for me to hear.

”It’s okay, Ms. Dunn, school sucks.”

She knows I can’t leave her that way, so I follow her to her little corner of the room leaving a line of eager students leaning against my chair spouting requests. Squatting awkwardly by Mia’s desk my skirt is draped in between my thighs and my pen is running out of ink. I write the word MUSIC on the front cover of her notebook.

…… be continued.

Broken Candelabras from my upcoming short story, ALL THE BELLS & WHISTLES

Broken Candelabras


Lunchtime for a high school teacher is a daunting reminder that life is a perpetual state of adolescence. Slivers of light filter in through three slim windows as aging Algebra teachers pour weak cups of coffee from a thermos. Paper plates, sippy cups and sporks splay across tables arranged a la H-block. 

Larry, the art teacher, sees me. He is one of the regulars and offers me a seat and a sandwich. I decline the seat but accept the sandwich. I calculate that I have no time to sit and if I did I wouldn’t want to sit here. A few familiar faces throw wayward waves my way. They never invite me to join them. Maybe they sense that I don’t want to be part of that gossip gang or maybe they just don’t like me. Larry yanks his black messenger bag off the table. His latest drawing peeks through the zipper. We chomp, dropping bits of egg salad on our way up the grubby staircase. In the distance, a trumpet is warbling Pomp and Circumstance. I pop my head into the band room to check in on Camila. She is almost always in there pecking away at the piano.

“Mia. How’s the monologue coming?” Immersed in a melody floating from her fingertips, she does not hear me. Clarinets squawk, drums bang,  flutes wheeze. Kids lean against backpacks devouring pizza, globs of cheese filling holes in the beige carpet. Still starving I wander to the vending machine across from the defunct swimming pool. Decommissioned as part of a long-forgotten highly temporary short-term budget cut. Curious I clamber under a chain across the door to bear witness to crumbling Izmir tile, cracked Terrazzo marble, and decades of grit glommed onto the Victorian crystal chandeliers suspended above what used to be. 

Larry strolls into the band room and leans on the piano. “Hey, Mia.” She snaps out of her trance. 

“Hey, Mr. Kimmel. What do you think so far?” She plays a piece from her new composition. The notes sail across the hallway where I am transfixed behind shackles in the doorway beneath broken candelabras as the bell rings.



Keeping You from my new book, FALL RISK

I promised you
that morning in your office, legs resting on a desk
we built from a wooden door etched in
hearts & arrows
pink still in your wink,
you had a few months more,

so now I write
inhaling you poem after poem they come and come like
ticker-tape parades, Rapunzel’s hair, Isadora Duncan’s red scarf
waving underneath your cloud
I wait for rain under sun-drenched cumulus
that only pours in echoes.