Poem: “Nature Morte, Palm Beach”

The orange inside the orange is gold:
in this juice the wealth of labor,
its sunshine the ring-decked gleam of the ladies
whose skin is tough and bronzed like the orange,
whose soft thoughts are hidden from their men.

The palm inside the palm burns like a cigarette,
the addict’s love that cannot breathe.
The ladies wave their resilient hands
with their burning wands, and along Cocoanut Row
the palms thrash in the hurricane.

The ocean inside the ocean is a spaniel
endlessly racing, drooling foam for joy.
Again, again, the senile sea
claps at each baby-blue crash.
The ladies own the view behind glass,
shutter the sun in pastel rooms
where the piano and the wheelchair sleep.

The album inside the album has no name
or too many. All the smiles and their objectives blurred
like a glitter of stars without constellation lines.
Look, these were your friends. Look, trophies,
grandchildren, the news. Whose is the charity
for this season?

The woman inside the woman lifts a match to her lips
that hold no cigarette. The burning stick
one more thing not to see, the flame familiar
as her late husband’s golden apologies.
Down her breast, a dribble of flame like fresh juice.
And still she stares at the expensive sea,
matches it breath for amnesiac breath.

This poem won a third prize in the 2008 Dancing Poetry Contest, and is included in my chapbook Hound of Heaven, forthcoming this fall from Southern Hum Press. (Their website is down again…arrgh.) “Nature morte” is the wonderfully evocative French name for a “still life”.

Recent Publications: “Leaving Olympus” and “Poem Written on a Dirty Stove”

My poem “Leaving Olympus” has just been published in the new issue of Conte: A Journal of Narrative Writing. This handsomely designed webzine also includes great work by David Wright, Eliza Kelley, John N. Miller and others I have yet to explore. “Leaving Olympus” is a poem about Julian, or possibly by him. He’s not telling.

In other news, my poem “Poem Written on a Dirty Stove” appears in the Summer 2008 issue of Heartlodge: Honoring the House of the Poet, a quarterly journal edited by award-winning writers Cheryl Loetscher, Leta Grace McDonald and Andrea L. Watson. As the issue is not available online, I’m reprinting the poem below.

Poem Written on a Dirty Stove

With the last cherries crushed on his tongue,
he says the pie reminds him
of autumn at Welch Lake, the eye-watering tang
of consummation in the air.
My spoon scrapes the dish like an oar
stuttering in unexpected sand. It’s slipped his memory
it wasn’t me he laid down in those reeds.

Later, the stars rise like a thousand cranes
and water babbles over soiled plates.
So much longer in the planning than the baking,
longer the baking than the savor.
The furniture we invited in
now rubs up against us, insistent as stray cats.
Only position differentiates the pinhole stars.

My eyes would hoard the spear of every darkening tree,
each faultline of needles in the snow,
green stitches the next day’s weather will unpick.
Vertigo to realize he is speaking,
a voice too familiar to notice,
like your own limb before it’s wounded.

Our bodies twined, like gorgeous bread egg-slick,
we feed and disappear. A case of manna.
Where are joys stored? I want only
to see what I see.
Darling, it was so good I never
need to do this again.
One star, one meal, one night – till dawn
dissolves the sky like lemon ice,
and kind amnesia brings our hunger back.

Poem: “Called Out”

The baker, said Luther, glorifies God in bread.
He was a fat fellow, knew good beer from a bad sermon.
Enough of these piglets in neckcloths
sweating through bare words never meant
to be dragged up from belly to lips.
Inside every man I want, I want
cries like a baby, but ashamed
of bread sopped in milk,
choleric to grab his father’s knife.
The helmsman glorifies God by seeing sharks.
The constipated scholar can afford to toss his ink
at demons in the frost,
his own chamber glass cracking.
But bluff sailors, their red hands freezing to the wheel,
need gloves, not Latin.
Bless the tanner and his scrawny boy
who sleeps in the horse-hay,
wakes to crack the trough’s icy skin
and offer the first bite
of an ordinary apple to the steaming mare.
Let him be too young to dream of whores
like Reason, Luther’s false bride.
She is all painted with vocations
of monk and knight and merchant,
pale halo, priapic spear,
the great ships laden with lemons.
The leper glorifies God by losing
his fingers. Luther counted beads
but could not count his dreams
where his shadow-self barreled through Cockaigne,
poor paradise without bakers
where sugar drops from trees and women
are all thighs and stopped mouths.
The beggar glorifies God by opening his hand
to the butcher and the nailsmith, the fool
by singing his cradle song over stones and pennies
flung round him like stars in the dirt.

This poem won third prize in the 2008 Utmost Christian Writers poetry contest.

Jendi Reiter’s Chapbook “Hound of Heaven” Forthcoming from Southern Hum Press

My poetry chapbook Hound of Heaven was a runner-up for the inaugural Women of Words Award from Southern Hum Press and will be published this fall. Thanks, Southern Hum! I’ll include a purchasing link on this site when the book is out. Below, a sample:

Hound of Heaven

            for Fran

It had been raining days when the voice
asked me to pull over by the river.
Not a voice to be heard but simply a must:
the arm moves with the thought, no word says Move.
The branches cocked like muskets, spearing the sky,
were soaked black, clouds wind-whipped dogs
cringing like cavemen placating
the weather of doom they thought was God.
Is that all I am, that bared animal neck?
I had let the pearls roll from my hands like water,
thinking anything precious could save itself.
I was silently wed to the clever,
dazzled by small explanations.
Still I turned the car, slowed, stood under the fall
of cold silver needles like a sick child praying
be good and it’ll soon be over.
There were the reed-clotted banks and the fists of trees
and in the river only a projected world
no gentler, no more likely to change.
Till a soft wind, someone, ruffled the waters
and the trees cracked apart, lovely as first tears after a death.



Most deadly, most delicate, the jewel-toned frog
like a crown behind museum glass
tempts a perverse grab. Once name it rare,
monkey-mind will do anything for more.
The tiny scarlet body barely breathes,
on limbs like sapphire mined from colonies
to mount in a tourist-dazzling diadem.
Is power in the plough and jungles hacked
and spill of oil like pavement on the sea –
or clinging softly underneath a leaf
as our murky water, crowded air,
flows through the tree frog’s bright defensive skin?
Beauty-mad, how could we not lick and stroke
and die? Soft as a fruit and berry-red,
it tempts us to devour what we love,
to steal the crown of knowing everything.

        first published in The New Pantagruel (2005)

Poem: “The Common Question”

My poem “The Common Question” appears in Issue #11 of The Other Journal, an online review of Christianity and culture. The Other Journal features scholarly essays, creative writing, and artwork; themes change with each issue. Currently they are accepting submissions on Education.

Also worth noting in Issue #11, “The Atheism Issue,” are Randal Rauser’s essay on the proper roles of apologetics and personal testimony in making Christianity seem plausible to a skeptical audience, and Somanjana C. Bhattacharya’s article on how activists are pressuring Craigslist to stop running “erotic services” ads that sell trafficked women and children.

The Common Question 

    “What does Charlie want?” – John Greenleaf Whittier

Oh, the unfairness of being myself.

There ought to be a rule.

So many days as a little boy, so many days as a deer, a centipede, a Masai warrior, a wealthy old lady with too many rings, on an ocean liner.

And as a blacksnake, a woman with cold red hands hanging laundry, a boy picking dried corn out of the dust, a thirsty fox.

Myself even, or especially, on a good day: unfair, unexplained.

I want to be God, only without His mailbag.

Just an instant to see the plan from His mountain.

Then I could lie down satisfied in my reasons.

Because this world I am in is not the world.

And never will be more than my racing-away circumstance, my rain barrel.

Filled by the weather that happens here and leaking into the soil where the man of the house set it down.

Poemeleon Prose-Poem Issue Now Online


Online literary journal Poemeleon has just released its latest issue, which is devoted to the prose-poem. In addition to poetry by Jimmy Santiago Baca, Christina Lovin, Eve Rivkah, Cecilia Woloch, yours truly, and many others, Ann E. Michael contributes a thought-provoking essay about typography as a conveyor of meaning.

Poetry has been represented through the typographic art for several centuries; but until recently, few poets have spent much time considering how typography affects the form of the poem. After all, the printed page seems “merely” physical, inanimate, without the breath, rhythm and music that vivify the poem in performance (even if the reader performs it silently, while reading). The printed page has traditionally been the realm of the editor or designer, not the poet who is more accustomed, perhaps, to confrontations with the blank page. But now that we can, essentially, typeset our work as we compose, poets are becoming more aware of how margins, line spaces, and tabular settings can be indicators in the work and alter the form in which the poem is presented—can animate it further. I think prose poets, in particular, could discover in typography a tool with which to push this flexible form in interesting directions.

In verse, a good poem is more effective with its line breaks intact. Even lacking line breaks, the form will peek out from the justified margins because the rhythm, the rhyme, the breath is imbedded. A verse-poem’s line operates on rhythm (and, when read aloud, breath) foremost, with phrasal pacing as a sort of minor premise. With prose, semantic pacing, and the sentence as a unit, have the upper hand. Pacing and rhythm are dependent upon syllabic stress, word choice, sentence length, punctuation, and line breaks, which act as visual cues. In prose poems, the writer/editor’s choice of margins on the page may also be used as visual cues.

With prose poetry, perhaps even more than with free verse, because the formal structure is not on the surface, traditionalist detractors may assume that the form is a thoughtless free-for-all. Prose poetry removes the familiar cues of rhyme, meter and line breaks that tell us “this is a poem”. Like abstract painting, this can foreground other aspects of the artist’s materials that we formerly overlooked. Though it risks becoming gimmicky (a flaw I find in much “concrete poetry”), creative typography can illuminate the significance of the visual choices we make when writing and reading.

Aficionados of the prose poem can read more examples and essays on the subject in the journal Double Room.

Recent Publications: Juked, Fulcrum and Others

A roundup of my recent publications news:

I just learned that I won an honorable mention in the 2007 Juked Fiction and Poetry Prize for my poems “Confession” and “The Opposite of Pittsburgh”. (Partial credit for the latter poem goes to “Ada Porter”, the character in my novel who actually wrote it. I just do whatever the voices in my head tell me.)

In other news, my poem “Zeal” was accepted for the 2008 issue of FULCRUM: An Annual of Poetry and Aesthetics, an exciting journal edited by my old Harvard classmate Philip Nikolayev and his wife Katia Kapovich. (But as George W. Bush said when he went to Yale, I got in solely based on merit.) Philip’s latest book is Letters from Aldenderry.

Another poem, “Delivered”, will appear in the prose-poem issue of Poemeleon next month. I’ll link to it here when the issue comes out.

Finally, the University of Texas School of Law has made available online some poems I had published in the 2004 collection Off the Record: An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers, a special issue of the journal Legal Studies Forum. I also have a prose-poem, “Goodbye Capistrano”, forthcoming in their 2008 anthology.

Poem: “The Happiness Myth”

Do you bite the day or does the day bite you:
the sun like a gear wheel spinning with 
   hooked edges,
the sun a flaming pizza that greases your 
Tell me why you stopped drinking.
Are you in the oven or did you poke the witch
into the fire with her own iron-handled 
It’s not obvious that you should be sober.
Happiness spins like a drug lollipop,
vortex of primary paints where lick or 
   be licked
is only a simple choice for boys fighting.
The glass of euphoria fits in the palm of 
   your hand,
barely enough to drown your tongue-tip,
too much to empty.

                                 As for me,
I now wear my whalebone stays under 
   my ribs,
hoop skirts swishing in my womb like a 
   rustling hive.
Inside me is a thin person,
two policemen, a rhododendron, and a 
trying to get out. Sometimes I’m opened,
wrong-sized, put away badly folded,
tumbled on a pile of my discount fellows. 
   Sometimes I open
the door like an airplane depressurized, 
plastic meals dancing in the blue contrail.

This poem won an Honorable Mention in the 2007 Florence Poets Society contest and appears in their annual anthology, Silkworm. In writing it, I was inspired by poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right Is Wrong, an engaging history of cultural and philosophical prescriptions for a happy life, which have differed widely from one era to the next. Reading Hecht’s work always makes me happy.

Poem: “Gratitude”

In green dusk the rowboat, cradled
on lapping waves, floats unmanned
like the largest among fallen leaves.
The wind leans on the pier, wood answers
its old spouse, not needing half the words
to understand the familiar reply.
And still the scrub grass grips, leans into 
      each slap
of water and reclines gleaming.
Every leaf silver in the last light
waving, though there are no more 
The trees are changing, cell by cell,
so slowly that they seem to be waiting
for something that is already present.
Flung by a scarf of breeze, a bird’s foghorn 
spreads its echo over the lake, telling 
      of distance,
dares ropes to snap and oars to slice
into the eely dark.
But I, having learned of gratitude
so late, my best gift was turning
to leave the grass untrodden, the boat empty.

      published in the 2007 Voices Israel anthology

Poem: “Wishful Thinking”

To avoid you I go to the toilet,
push dust around the cellar, swipe the 
   slick decay
of leaves from the gutter. Nothing revolts you.
You’re so bored you’re falling out of the sky
but persistent as sleet,
not like myself whose Bible stops at January,
page-a-day saved by inertia from Easter.

Sometimes you ask me to lie down in the middle 
   of haste
like a madman’s blanket. Before how many 
will I be thrown down?
Sometimes at dawn I climb the rope with 
   monkey hands
up past fear and gravity, beyond hoarding 
An animal knows how much it can take.
I hoist the weights like a rower, one and 
   the other and one.
Don’t tell me yet what trial this is training for.

You’re the pillow under my head
and over it. You’re the hole in the road
that the gas truck hits, jacknifing into 
   gorgeous flame.
The woods above the highway are dark 
   with bears.
A lost child sees the glow, stumbles back to 
   her parents’ camper.

And what if there were no one pursuing? No storm
to blow my windows out? I could sleep 
   without whispers,
wake without guarding my eyes.
My friend the rational sunshine
says you’re wishful thinking, Santa-Claus daddy
come down through ashes just to indulge me.
Oh, but it’s cold on the roof of my life
under the flashbulb moon,
with no rumors of hooves sharpening above.
No one to know when I’ve been sleeping,
or with whom.

Now that you’ve gone, I won’t look at the shapes 
   of clouds,
dream-beasts that can’t resist your tearing apart.
No face remains; love’s rubbings even unpaint 
   the doll’s cheeks.
Spare me this corner, I said, and you left
the whole field bare
under an endless platter of good weather.
Wishful thinking: that moment darkened by the 
   brush of evening
when the child locked in the toystore wants 
   to be found.

   published in Literature & Belief, Vol. 26.1 (2007)