Echolocation & Proof


I begin with near-silence,

the droning refrigerator,

a dog barking far off.

You’ve just fallen asleep

as morning splinters

through the blinds.

He kicks off his boots,

braces himself on the dresser,

pulls at the leg of his jeans.

Something wakes you—

a knocked over jar of change,

a picture frame falling flat.

You must miss the feeling

of waking in the night

knowing exactly where

you are, hearing only

your brothers’ muffled voices

through the wall. Years later,

nights when my friends and I

stay up until dawn,

you’ll wake this way again

to laughter resonating

down the hall. One night,

to meet our girlfriends,

J. T. and I will sneak

to Arroyo Vista Park.

You’ll wedge a drumstick

in the window-track and wait

for our knock at the door.

After sending J. T. home,

you’ll say When it’s quiet, I know

somethin’ aint right. Because

this all feels close enough

to the truth, and because I have

no evidence I was made

the usual way—not even a picture

of you and my father together—

I’ve made this:

In splinters of

morning, you pull me from

his open mouth while he sleeps,

piece me together from handfuls

of his running breath, the small

sound of whitewater.



The fact is I was made

from what Whitman called

“father-stuff,” from a current

of you and from being held.

This—the raw physiology of it—

may explain why most fathers

think only of pushing their sons

into the world and most mothers

only of keeping them from it.

But the facts only tell us

half of every story, and never

the half we need. I have

a photograph taken just weeks

after I was born. I was

sleeping on your bare chest.

You were slouched in an armchair

with your fingers laced like rivulets

under my feet. These are facts—

even if you forgot, and even if all

I remember from being with you

before Arizona is the smell of

shop grease and dipping tobacco,

you once held me the way

a riverbed wants to hold a river.


Two Poems

To My Caring and Worried Mother

There are sliced carrots in the shape of a cowbell,
because I understand
that great food should sing to you.


There’s a movie we’ve never seen before
and a Japanese instruction manual.


There’s a novel about Alzheimer’s
and some magic memory pills for your mother.
There’s an automatic food dispenser
so you don’t have to bend down to feed the dogs anymore.


There’s a travel bag with a Bible
and a plane ticket to Paris.


There’s a color-coded flow chart
describing the best way to carry a conversation with Grandma.
In the bottom right hand corner, in fine print, it explains
you may have to adopt new tactics on the fly.


I caught Grandma watching
The Hulk in Spanish today.
I just flipped to the English version.


To my caring and worried mother:
raising your voice won’t help,
there is no cure.


All the Post-It notes
on all the cabinets
should say: open with caution,
eat with intensity,
we love you
and we’ll help you
find the watch
you stuffed in the cookie jar.



The horse
nuzzles the back of my hand
as if the damp home of its nose
could stand not one more dark
second of this unfettered freeze.


What of it,
she asks after we’ve had our hot
meat and stale versions of drug,
sitting in lotus pose
facing my grandfather’s headstone
where every engraved sentence
curved tinsel of truth
into the steaming mouth of myth.


This barrel-bellied man
made a small southern town
seem like a place God had visited
and forgot to bless.
He was that damn bold,
that unforgettable.


Two Poems with Parents

Sleeping in My Childhood Bedroom as an Adult

Glow in the dark stars tumble

into black, their light hanging


like the feet

of a man tied to death. I trace


the outlines of memories and pull them

to my nose, they smell like

patchouli and my father’s

velvet coat. Gray shapes


dance to the window. Are they

the ghosts of my dead dogs

or the angels I overheard

my mother asking for help? Or maybe just

teenage headlights, sneaking back into their parents’

driveway. The laundry

room moans and shakes


behind a poster

of New York City’s face. The dryer thumps

against my wall. Round

round round. Clothes rise

and fall

like the air lifting up my chest. My mother’s

Elvis T-shirt. My father’s white


briefs. The noise goes

in circles. Up

and down. Taped on the fridge

is a photo dated two

days after my birth. My mother is holding

my head to her chest, my feet swing above


Elvis’s bleached teeth. And I still remember

my father

getting nervous and shouting

and shutting


the door when my brother and I found

him in his white briefs. Rise

and fall. I focus on the dark

and the noise and the clothes

that make the

dark warm. Up


and down.


and fall. Round

round round.


Sitting in a Classroom Where Everyone Is Smarter Than Me (Except Maybe That Guy with the Taco Tattoo)

I want to pull my knees to my chest

and make myself small and see

through like the balled-up sheets

of cling wrap I find in the drawers of my mother’s

kitchen. But I don’t do that

because I wouldn’t be small

or see through to the people

sitting across the table. They would still see

a girl with uncombed hair

wearing a baggy t-shirt she got free from a bank

because she never learned

how to not be ashamed

of her breasts. And they might find it strange

if this girl slipped her feet from

the mud-painted rainboots

that keep her weighted

to the government-bought linoleum,

and then if she pulled

her feet and the hand-knit socks

that held them up to the seat of her chair,

and what if her neck let go

so that her forehead sat balanced between

the tops of her knees.

Yes, that would look strange.

Instead I move my left thigh

over my right and tie my calves

into a knot. I can’t see

my legs beneath the table

but I imagine them as the twisted strings

of green and pink

taffy my father pulled from his suitcase

whenever he was afraid

that he’d been gone

for too long. Throw away

your wrappers, he told me. My mother yelled

when she found them

rolled into worlds

and tucked inside

the corners of kitchen drawers.