On Your Birthday

Today, is your birthday,
you would’ve been
ninety four years old,
our Earth still completing
its orbit around you
on this day,
your love still a shining sun
in all the lives you touched,
still as bright as the light
this morning,
the star shining your glowing memory
into my eyes,
through our plants
you would’ve watered,
through the glass
you would’ve cleaned,
through the garden
you would’ve loved watching,
the wild birds chirping,
and flying to the seeds we leave,
just as you would’ve left.

Those birds are you,
just as the little bugs that fly
when we think of you,
you are of flying Nature now,
your nature to love all life,
as sure as the sun
shines its love each day,
pulling in the Earth towards its warmth,
keeping its universe in loving order.

The Narrator

For my father

You are not in
many of the family
you were always the
one to record
the Christmas Eve
that you, yourself,
most likely cooked,
or the first time
we built a huge snowman
in the cold Thanksgiving
desert snow of
But your voice always
narrated the scene,
giving us perspective
and humor
of the events

But there is one
happy moment
of you and mom
standing in front
of the mirror
in the Ritz Carlton
one Thanksgiving,
where mom is
in a cotton robe
from the hotel,
enjoying the, at the
time, rare luxury for us,
she is standing there,
no make up on,
teasing you in the mirror,
saying something about
being, or feeling like,
a queen.
You, trying to patiently
record the night and the room,
are laughingly annoyed
by her playful jests.

It’s my favorite memory
of you on camera,
perhaps the only memory of you
on camera,
save for your shy
of you waving off
when she tried to record
you on the couch
watching the football game,
or us playing Twister.

It made me remember
how happy we were then,
and how much you gave us,
from recording us, to driving us,
from planning
trips to family,
to trips with family,
you organized them all,
the unseen narrator and guide
to all of our trips,
the unseen narrator and guide
to all of our happy moments,
the unseen narrator and guide
to all of our love,
making us feel
like pampered royalty
through your loving
eyes and guiding
plans for us all.

How Many

I must confess,
I am no parent,
I do not know the pain
parents go through
when losing their blood.

I must confess,
I did not watch
the news
of Sandy Hook,
I talked about it
with my mom
on gchat briefly,
I must confess
I looked it up on
Google News afterwards.
26 dead, 20 children.
I must confess
it did not become
something I could feel
until my cousin said
how many of them bought
their baby gifts for Christmas,
how many of them fought
that morning?
how many must regret
their last words,
or wish it had been something
meaningful.How many more parents
must go through this
or more,
because we can’t learn
to help those
who need it
before they do something
reckless and inhumanly
how many more
must we lose
before we learn
to take away
the tools
of those troubled
and past the point of no

How much more innocence
must our children lose
must we lose
before we all learn?

The Cut

You had cut your hand in college,
At the sinews of your knuckle.
We had gone to see you before then, for the play
That you were in.
That’s how you cut your hand, I think
Carving props for your play.
I can’t remember if we took you to the hospital
Or if we met you there
But we were so worried while waiting.
In the white halls that I vaguely recall,
I prayed to Ong, Jesus, and God,
Anyone who’d listen,
To help you through this, to help you heal.
What if you could never use your hands,
and help put others back together again?
It was mostly my child self being dramatic, I suppose,
But it was real to me at the time then.

You came out, your hand bandaged, if I can remember correctly,
With the grim face of a discharged soldier
who wants to keep fighting.
On the way home, I can’t recollect what I did to hurt you more,
Maybe I played on your wounds, figuratively or literally, I can’t say,
But you asked, softly, seriously,
“Why do you hate me?”
Your words cut me at the sinews.
I was too frozen to say then
What had always been there,
Like bone, muscle,
That I loved you.

Stranger in Paradise

We had listened to the song on the radio one day,
And decided that it would be the theme for our writing project.
Our story, our words
Were developed around the song’s lyrics.

We thought of Las Vegas,
A perfect place of paradise,
Because of the brilliant sun in the middle of December,
Or just the bright, flashy, neon lights on the strip,
The fresh southwest wind breeze on my face,
The artificial casino air,
The sweet scent of desert flowers,
Or the perfume from hallways flowing back.
Oasis mixed with mirage.

It was not our kind of paradise, was it?
I wonder if you remember
Cherry blossoms falling on our hair,
Or the magical summer fireflies in the back of Paul’s place,
Do you remember the red maple leaves?
The cool autumn air, the pumpkin soup,
The ornaments on the big, tall, blue spruce,
The reflection of snow outside Aunt Big Anh’s window.

In my loneliness last night,
Outside the window, the spreading golden oak trees,
Over the towering blue mountains,
Through my dark despair,
I watched the half moon sailing across,
Like a silver upturned cupcake.
I miss all our old road trips,
Across the desert roads, late at night,
Looking for the Big Dipper
When things were still so clear,
Your laughter, still so crisp.

We have been lost in our own wonderland,
In the violent swirl of starry nights,
The project has long been forgotten.
Then on the radio yesterday,
Once again, the song played,
“In space I hang suspended,”
Is there a chance that you still care?

The Message

I had sent a reminder
to the family,
you included,
to try to win a home
in Miami,
our old home,
the family’s roots,
and still central core,
to try to win
a way back home,
to try to win you
back home.
But my email sent to you
had bounced back,
your address had
permanently failed
mailer-daemon said,
my message to you had
permanently failed
to reach you.

Now all I have is
my poetry,
this site,
a “public” forum,
I know,
or at least as public
to the five people
in our family
who read it.
But still,
how else am I
to reach you-
that is-
if I in fact do?
How else
can I hope
that our connection
isn’t a permanent failure?

The Twelve Days of July

On the first night of July,
Rain whiplashing the roof top
I woke up with a rhythm in my head
Like the sleepy jazzy blues of winter.

On the second day of July
Rainy day and Monday
Wet garden smelling like a river
Turtle doves lingering in the pine tree.

On the third day of July
Garden strewn with twigs
The neglected weigela bursting into pink
Jacaranda saying goodbye in the drift.

On the fourth day of July,
The house fizzled in the heat
Clouds streaming through the mountains
I dreamt of snow on the Kilimanjaro top.

On the fifth day of July
The sun shifted over the canyons
Hummingbirds starlings a blaze of celebration
Flew back and forth, hovering in a blur of wings

On the sixth day of July
Sitting on the swing
We were both quiet
Magnolias in summer full glory

On the seventh day of July
A package came from my friend, a scarf
So much unspoken, so little that can be said

On the eight day of July
Pulling out the old water color set
Painted pink cherry blossoms
I dreamt of a breeze in Spring

On the ninth day of July
Wild geese flew over the old sycamore
An old Mary Oliver favorite
“Tell me about despair, yours
And I will tell you mine.”
My heart squeezed like a bruised muscle

On the tenth day of July
The night was warm and glowing
Washing moonlight and a few late apple flowers
Fell on me

On the eleventh day of July
Quiet glorious summer morning
Palm trees rattling on the hill slopes
The little lost Christmas ball on my tree. 

On the twelve day of July
I woke up from a dream walking in a garden
Of an old hidden monastery
Full of grey and silver herbs
Stars over my head like Christmas lanterns
No violence, no addiction, no death, no sickness
My own place, my sanctuary, a place I called soul


For the Absent One

Until the last moments,
and even at the last,
I hoped you’d be a blessing,
a miracle, really,
and appear at my wedding,
even when all attempts to reach you,
to reach the divides of our family,
to reach your heart
and bring it home
had failed.

The wedding went perfectly
even without you,
everyone was happy,
dancing with love,
lapping up their joy
for the day
in seconds and thirds.

Yet your absence was still felt,
but it was more of a celebration
of your former presence,
your words to G,
saying that I’d be happy
with two mismatched shoes
making their way into
his speech,
his gentle nod to you
still being remembered
and included in the day’s bliss.

There was no bitterness
at the void,
the fullness of the day
made no room for it.
There was only love
spilling over,
only love left
for you,
even though you
were not
with us.


6AM: Get out of bed
The sun has already glittered the canyons
TV anchorman: “It will be another hot day”
Make my own rainbow through the window crack
With the shower stream
Don’t know why I bother putting on lipstick
The coffee will wash it out anyway

“Good day Mom. Good day Dad”
Turn off the night light by their mantel.
Birds fly away as the backyard door is opened.
Water dripping down from the white flowers
Need another hose to replace this old pinched one.
“Don’t forget your pills,” “Have your water with you?”…”Yes,” and “Yes.”
Lock the door. Close the garage.

“Hello.” “Where are you now?”
“Taking the canyon road today.”
“Ah…see my friends by the barn?”
“And keep your eyes on the road while talking to me, I hope.”
“What time is your appointment?”
“See you at home then.”

7:07AM: Parking lot
P.’s bike, R.’s old Chevy
Hope P’s son gets into college
Hope the Chevy won’t die later
M. walking slowly with her lunch bag to the lunch room’s fridge
The Coke machine startles me
Hallway, dimly lit cubicles

Paper stacking up on desk, on chair
Seven more procedures to fix
I hate Word. For someone who writes for living, still does not know Word well.
At least only one meeting today.
Twenty four emails to reply.
Voice mail reminds me of a mammogram on Saturday.

12:00PM: “J., do you have lunch for me or should I pick up something?”
“Plenty of left overs and even a key lime pie”
“Oh good! See you in a few.”
Still imagine my mom opening the door of the old home…
Snack for the cat.
Run the stairs with J.
“Is your appointment today or tomorrow?”
“Do you want to walk after work with me?”
“I love you. See you then.”

1:00PM: Do not know if I can last another four hours of writing.
Maybe I should switch gear to help S. with his workload.
Y. showing off new baby pictures.
L. again crying about old boyfriend.
Comforting C. with chemo ahead
A. talking about God.
3:00PM: Good god, fire drill!!!
Why on earth we have to get out in the sun with the 90 degree heat?
In 5 minutes, we’ll be on fire for real.
T. asked: “Do you want to walk later?” “No, it’s too hot.”

5:00PM: Meeting goes way too long today. Air conditioner getting tired.
I’m tired. Time to go home.
“See you tomorrow” paper, computer, plants, cubicles, Y., L., C., A.
Call J., “It’s too hot. We’ll walk tomorrow instead.” “Okay, ma. I love you.”
Fine blue haze hanging low on the mountains
Wind, volatile brush, dead grasses, dried leaves, wild fires.
Stop by the grocery to pick up some ice cream. The thought cools me down.

6:00PM: Kitchen is a cool dark place.
Getting out two old bowls for some left over soup.
“Do you want to go for a ride after dinner?”
“No, it’s too hot.”
There are dishes to wash
Kitchen floor could use some mopping
Laundry waiting in the dryer to be put away.
More water for the garden would be good.
Quiet backyard.
Evening blues at moments, delicate as heartbreak healing, but persistent
Turtle doves lingering in the pine trees

9PM: Still lights flickering back East at midnight
on NASA’s earth virtual map
Lonely people behind computers, perhaps?
Turn on some Pandora music
Bruce singing:
“At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the middle of my head
Only you can cool my desire
I’m on fire”

11PM: Wishing for a sweet cold dream
Of a night showered in storm
To crack the sizzling heat
Or the a chill when I wake up
Under a thin sheet at midnight
Clambering out of dreams to find a quilt or blanket
That first lovely sign of fall
Or the dream of holding her hand again

12AM: Turning off the TV
News always too depressing
Set the alarm for 6AM

The Christmas Video

We were searching through the old family
videos of us,
searching for an image of you, your voice,
your old humor.
We found one,
it was Christmas Eve in Miami,
with everyone
opening gifts, just after
our big feast.
We were all in good
everyone wanted a chance
at the camera,
except for you.
You were just happy
in the moment
of the family being whole again,
you didn’t need to immortalize it,
because you knew it’d always
stay with you anyway.
I kept asking you if you
wanted to say something,
and as I was watching the video,
that’s what I was pleading,
say something.
But instead, my younger
child self,
stomps over your attempts,
and talks over you.
What playful joke,
wise words,
or loving expression,
forever lost
because of my thoughtlessness.
How many times must I have
heedlessly stomped on
your messages to me
both then and now?