Elegy for Matty

Mataio Tuitele, 1979-2005

Gate, gate, paragate.
Gone the pe’a, bloodline, lineage, leadership,
Driven under your skin with a comb of shark teeth.
Gone the map of our meeting, the fire that my hands soothed
After six hours under the hammer, cooled with herbal simples,
Learned over months to crave.
Gone the old, soft armor, culture held hard against invasion,
The men on the great white-sailed ships, the pelagi who passed
Thinking their kind had already landed, men seen through spyglasses
To be in breeches, waist to knee.
Gone the paths for my fingertips to follow through myth
And medicine, through the encoded knowing of panax leaf,
Plover track, plumeria bud.
Gone the braille of you against my blind and hungry
Hips and thighs, ridged candlenut ink making you into
A riot of sensation for the parts of me that had known men
Only as a weight to bear.
Gone, gone, gone beyond.


Astrologically, this is a time for me to face down and put to rest old wounds and griefs. The one I’ve had the most trouble letting go of is the loss of Matty almost 12 years ago; this is the first time I’ve been able to address it in a poem. A prompt to write a modernized elegy finally spurred me to try.

Some basic information about the pe’a (and a photo that shows a beautiful one, including, in closeup, its texture). As it encodes so much of his culture, it encodes so many of the things I lost in him.

The opening line (and its translation in the final line) are from the Buddhist Heart Sutra.

Hic Sunt Dracones Mellifera

We have chosen not to find each other yet,
But you’re out there — and to you, I’m in here,
Where my afflicted Saturn waits to be transited
And conjoined by your aspect-bedecked Pluto.

I don’t know the wales of tweed by touch, as
You surely will, and you’ve never seen a sapsucker,
But we’ll still find our singular ways to that place
Where we were meant to collide and intertwine.

For now, I’m undiscovered country, and you…
Well, that’s why they put sea serpents on maps,
Isn’t it? You’re unidentified and might just bite, and
I might bring you your first taste of saguaro honey.


For the second time in a few months, I’m dreaming about someone I haven’t met yet — and writing poems for him, apparently.

The title translates (more or less) to “Here be dragons bearing honey.”

Four Times

Because I’ve done nothing but miss you all month,
Come slip away with me into the scene where Helen
Enters his side of the mirror through his
Muraled lips open in a silent scream, and slices her
Curious fingertips on a sliver of razor embedded in a
Foil-wrapped candy. Sweets to the sweet.
We can stay for a while once she’s gone. We have
His permission to cling closer. Kiss me. Don’t mind
The bees when they come to tangle in my hair.
Just pass me the taste of your last cigarette from
Your lips, transmute the toxins and give me only the
Indulgence as you unzip the hoodie I’ve pulled on
Against the damp, and put your hands inside. We’ll say
Our thanks to him before we go, counting on our fingers
So we don’t carelessly reach five.


A response to a prompt calling for a poem inspired by D. Nurkse’s “Every Great Novel Ends in Sleep.” I chose as my piece of fiction to escape into the movie Candyman.

Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board

Three times today I’ve watched the raptor circle
Over my garden in a loop made vivid by winter’s
Watery light on his confident wings. I’ve tried not
To think too hard about the endgame that he has
In mind, but he stoops, and it’s gone beyond thought.
Six seconds later, it’s over: There’s a tiny explosion
Of blood and feathers, and what was a sparrow, now is
Dinner. I try again to control what my eye sees and my
Mind knows — that what’s left of the bird is still moving
During the first five bites. Five slashes of a beak designed
Just for this work, and I don’t have to think about it any more.
Nature is beautiful, but its mercy is at best indifferent. I want it
To stop being a poem the moment the raptor begins his dive,
But that doesn’t happen, either. The bird zeroes in, as does
The poet’s compass: Today true north is death.


A combination of two prompts: One to write a poem that takes as its jumping-off point the title of another poem (I chose one of the suggested ones, “Three Six Five Zero”); and the other to write a poem about a very intense incident.

Writer’s Block Rx

Accept that you’re stuck,
but don’t give up. You’re
creative, remember? Try an exotic form. If that
doesn’t work, drop the whole thing and go buy a book of writing
exercises, rush home, and open it to page forty-two.
Follow the instructions there. Or
go for a walk and make a list of things you see. Stop and
have a couple of beers somewhere. The words may not flow yet, but
it’s better than sitting around
just pulling out your hair and wishing you could go back in time and
kill whoever thought versification was a good idea to start with.
Listen — these things never last. Go grab your favorite poem and
model a new one after its third-to-last line. That’s
not working? Write a poem about an obstreperous
oenophile; invent new words for his response to a bottle of
Pagan Pink Ripple. Bite into an unbletted
quince and write about how it hurts your teeth. Lift a
random phrase from a 70s sitcom and make it your second line. Go have
sex, or just think about it for a while. Hell,
that’s more fun than booze, anyway.
Under no circumstances think of a pink elephant, or a
violet-green swallow, Tachycinda thalassina. Or make a list of all the
words you know that start with
x, then think of a rhyme for each one. Or
you could pick a word about weevils and go from there. How about
zyzzyva? That’s a good one. Start writing.


A couple of bonus tips:

1. If all else fails, try writing about having writer’s block.
2. Try an abecedarian poem; they can be great block breakers.

Breakfast Date

Tonight I watched a flock of rooks in baggy feathered pantaloons scarfing up
the bread I broke with them, inhaling its chewy-sour scent before I scattered it
at their feet. I ate my half with mustard and enjoyed it just as much. I
thought I spotted you as I chewed, tall and ambling through the straggling
shoppers, but it was some other man. He smiled at me, and my smile in
return was real, but I didn’t say anything to him. The rooks rippled with a
rattle of wings but didn’t scatter as he passed, too much of their meal still
crumbled on the pavement for them to startle easily. I shared my cookie,
too — when it’s mine, it’s damn well not a biscuit, and I could have called
it a portfolio for all they’d have cared — rolled raisins on my tongue and
thought of them soaked in rum and stirred into spice cake my grandma
always snuck me a second slice of. I couldn’t buy another cookie to share
with the birds; the cafe was closed, the crew inside cleaning in the half-light
behind the sign inviting me back another time. In the dark it was easy to
imagine the rooks following me home in single file down the sidewalk,
that I wouldn’t be alone until morning after all.


What started out a standard poem focused on sensory images (in response to a prompt) became a prose-poem, still grounded in sensation.

Look Over There

Do you see? The fatal car accident,
The barfight, the ignorance, the bigotry,
Gout, heart failure, diabetes mellitus —
All the shit they’re going to say is your fault.
And over here, the international incident,
The police state, the political debacle,
The proliferation and the escalation —
All that, at least, they can’t blame on you.
You have no say in any of it, none at all.
You’re that man on the beach clutching
A forever-diminishing fistful of sand until
You learn to hold it in your cupped palm.
Then when you look, you’ll see Blanca Peak
Become a spreading drop of sacred blood
As the hot end of the rainbow descends,
A literal sunshower of pinks and peaches and
Reds that haven’t even been named yet, and for
A little while, you’ll forget to look at anything else.


Sometimes when a poetry prompt sputters out early, rather than scrap it or put it away, I’ll pick another prompt and see if the two will work together to spark something else entirely. When it works, I nearly always find I’ve said something I didn’t expect to say.


You’ve come to ease my grieving
over being too far south to feed the
hoodies. Dapper in your monochrome
formalwear, you pluck the torn
remains of my sandwich — crust,
a bit of beef roast, mustard from
a pot — off the pavement, ignoring
the passersby and the hairy eyeball
they give me for encouraging you.
Well, of course I do.

Ask the other

blue-eyed rogue, the one I encouraged
last night. He knows the score. And so
do you — that flirty glance in hope of
scarfing some of my sweet roll, you know
it’s going to work, just as you know how to
steal milk from a bottle, make a tool, share
the spoils with a friend. So the bite of sticky
bun I toss you? As far as you’re concerned,
it’s only your just deserts.


A response to a prompt to write a poem that directly addresses something from nature. It quickly drew in things going on in my life at the time.


I have European alter-egos:
Swede, turnip, a neep where there are tatties.
Crayon-peach when you cut me, the color
A child might scribble in the middle of
The sun, or the skin of an outline doll,
I defy slicing with a birch-bark shell.
Bagroot, maip, erfin, famine potato,
Carven lantern with a mummy’s grimace,
And a wee toothsome dose of cyanide —
In these ways I resist all your knowing.


Surely one of the more odd subjects I’ve ever chosen for a poem, inspired by a prompt to write a syllabic poem about a vegetable, in homage of course to Sylvia Plath’s “Mushrooms.” I finished with ten lines of ten syllables each after the first line sprang forth fully formed, born of the linguistic adventure that being an American shopping for a bag of turnips in Scotland perpetually is.

Rimas Dissolutas Before Moving Overseas

Our two spirits, through the senses, touch and feel — Billy Thorpe

She closes her eyes and summons him,
The man she has yet to meet,
And who may not even exist.
Even so, he’s there when she calls.
Smiling, bearded, brown-eyed,
He moves like a dancer and kisses like a rogue.

Even to his unseen poet, his image is dim.
He’s a scent of calligraphy ink, a sense of heat,
Clever fingers closing around her wrist
Catching her as she stumbles, sparing her a fall,
A weight on a too-narrow mattress at her side,
A whispered burr of dirty words in a caress of growl and brogue.

She wonders how he knows her — as a rhythm?
The clenches and flutters of coming, a heartbeat?
Palms that glide over his aches like mist?
A Southern drawl, incomprehensible mais chers and y’alls?
The song of a flycatcher at dusk as it darts across a woodland ride?
Or nothing she herself can name, a thing that he desires in his own code?

She doesn’t know. She does know that he will taste of desirable sins —
Salt and smoke and Meyer lemons and caramel-sweet
Blooming on her tongue like a tissue flower in water, just
Beyond her range of knowing and naming them all,
Nothing left out, nothing forbidden, nothing denied
Any longer, only the man she summons and the response he evokes.


This was actually finished a few hours after the move. It’s in response to a prompt to write a poem in the rimas dissolutas form. It’s also a first for me — a poem written for a specific person I hadn’t yet met.