Our velocity is volatile.

I console you over the car console

with my mouth, but this

is no way to have a conversation.

You take trees for toothpicks

as we ride, no sign or exit in sight.


Distance feels like dread,

a text to your Dead Girlfriend

whose ghost is in the backseat, smiling.

We are southbound, parts dragging

in the rearview—one ironic liver

swerving through the passing lane.


Down that fucking road beer.

Light our dark and lonely drive.

You pay the guardrail no mind

and I watch the black tar turning.

Hold my mess of limbs, baby.

Stroke my head as we tumble.


Is this the last of our fumbles

with miles and hours and me

and your Dead Girlfriend’s ghost

rolling like crushed cans, rattling at every bump?

I wish for stillness, a sudden breakdown,

for you to simply say we’ve arrived.


Small Talk

Your morning is a bear sighting
that leaves me without feeling in my feet.
Toast, slipper, spoon, detergent.
We scrape the room for distractions.
There are too many chores to chase
and reflections to avoid.
You speak small fish to the dog,
the neighbor, the plants.
It always starts with precipitation
or the direction of the wind.
I’m clearing dishes when your question
blows open like a back door.
You would rather be alone,
wouldn’t you?


Depart & Return: A Family Ritual

Sundays are mandated grievings.
Bodies of men suspended
between here and somewhere.
Women who sob through sharp tongues
and stretched bellies.
We ache with the weight of gravity’s pull.
Beat fists bloody against gravestones.

We are the sons left lonely
sharing the long, cold shadow of loss.
What remains of widowed mothers?

They hover —a recurring assurance
we too don’t disappear.
Ground swallows sky as we circle.
Rows of kin etched in a grassy stretch.

On this day we must mourn distance.
Weather ruin and a cruel wind.
On this day the air is hot.
On this day the rain is frozen.
We search for signs of life.
A small sprig rising from the dust.


That Word

It surprises you like pulled weeds,
the mailbox, level, and garbage
taken out to the curb. It will not be deterred—
even when your steps call for deck screws.

There are no more spider webs
and the dead leaves have been
collected neatly in the yard.
You think of one-syllable synonyms:
Food, sleep, paint, fire.
Comfort lives in these wonted things
and That Word really means:
“I will clean the bird shit off the siding,”
because the Warbler in the beams
needs a place to nest.
And who are you to disagree?


If I’m White

I am a dream-puffed cloud

hogging the view

from above,

an eggshell cracked too easily,

a cony,

soft and plump.

I am a cushy mattress,

a naked hanger, a sterile cotton swab.

A sugar cube stacked

with all the other sugar cubes,

a mail truck

delivering more bad news,

a Chicago snowstorm



I am a golf ball,

a hotel bathrobe,

whipped cream on a macchiato,

a chalk arrow on the sidewalk,

thick and pointing

at La Raza Nation,

wetbacks and

feral cats.

I am sclera swallowing pupil,

bone, stiff beneath flesh,

formula replacing milk

from your mother’s



Exposed epidermis, alien to dirt,

a blister welting

on the heel of




I am just a cauliflower head

tucked in a fridge, wondering

what happened to my roots,

the warm air,

earth and the ripe

smell of sweat.


La Colección De La Abuela

Should you peek behind old, brown walls, you will see chickens and chairs, chickens and chairs. A reason to sit and a place to perch. To have too many of either? Extraño. She doesn’t even seem to notice her rockers, benches, high-backs and hammocks overflowing into hallways, onto porches. Soon the men will rise from their slumber, hungry. ¡Pero, no! She remembers what she forgot because the sun is squinting through long, Ocotillo lashes: they left already. The wrinkled woman abandons her eggs for the axe. All day, shaking hands labor, slicing meat, grating cheese, kneading masa. But as dusk lays down its sweaty head, her tamales turn cold. Next to empty seats she waits, still wearing her apron.

Poet Barbara LaMorticella on Finding our Deepest Authentic Voice

I was lucky enough to interview Poet Barbara LaMorticella for Reading Local, where the following transcript first appeared.

Barbara LaMorticella lives in the woods outside Portland, Oregon, and tries to see both the forest and the trees. Co-host of KBOO radio’s Talking Earth, she has given over 200 poetry readings. Her poems range freely from the personal to the social and political, from the world of nature to the world of the spirit. She was a founding member, actress and writer with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and her readings are often surprising, sometimes inspiring, and always entertaining. Her second collection of poems, Rain on Waterless Mountain, published by Dan Raphael’s 26 Books press, was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, and she won the Stewart H. Holbrook Award for Outstanding Contribution to Oregon Literary Arts and was awarded the first Oregon Literary Arts fellowship for women writers. She will be reading at Joe’s Cellar in NW Portland on Tuesday, September 20th at 7:00PM.

Shawna Harch) What originally drew you to poetry? Was there a major turning point in your life that led you to where you are today?

Barbara LaMorticella) I loved poetry in high school, and had long discussions about it with friends. I was always interested in the expressive arts, and acted, directed and played music in school. The school considered me a brilliant student, but I dressed like a bohemian, didn’t like shopping, and was very much the black sheep of my family, which had great contempt for both arts and intellectual endeavors. I left home early, married at 19 and had a child at 20. My husband and I were founding members of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. We left San Francisco in the late 60s. I began writing poetry seriously after we moved to rural Marin County, as it seemed to me that that was an art that could be practiced with nothing but a tool to write with. I pretty much figured I would always be poor ― a calculation that has proven accurate! – and I felt poetry was an art that nothing could take away. I still think that, and see a boom in the writing of poetry as the economic world falls apart.

SH) Can you explain how and why you got involved with KBOO and The Talking Earth program?

BLM) Walt Curtis started Talking Earth, at first as a weekly show. He got tired of doing four shows a month and farmed half the month out to Doug Spangle and to Lois Lewis, a sweet black poet who has since died. When Doug’s job made it impossible for him to do the show any more, he asked me if I would like to.

At about this time, in 1986, I noticed a woman showing up at many of my poetry readings. I went out of my way to speak to her, as she was always alone and listening so attentively. Unbeknown to me, she was Kathleen Stephenson, a program director at KBOO. I never asked her about it, but I suspect she was auditioning me, as Doug had recommended me to take his place. When Lois couldn’t do her week any more, I took over that slot also, and from then on hosted half the Talking Earth shows. Continue reading →

Dave Jarecki on Poetry, Steve Carlton’s Slider, and Writing to his Younger Self

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Jarecki for Reading Local, where this interview first appeared. The following is a transcript of our conversation.

Dave Jarecki owns Breakerboy Communications, a writing firm that helps businesses, individuals and non-profit organizations communicate through story. In addition, he facilitates writing workshops for youth and adult writers throughout the greater Portland area. His fiction, non-fiction and poetry have appeared in a number of journals and publications, including Cloudbank Literary Magazine, INUR Magazine, Baseball Savvy, and Reed Magazine. He and his wife Courtney live in NE Portland with their newborn daughter, Lazadae.

Shawna Harch) I often hear students ask you, “What is a poem?” How do you respond to this question?

Dave Jarecki) When I took my first poetry workshop in 1998 at Penn State as an undergrad, Bruce Weigl was teaching. He was a fantastic teacher, and he asked this same question on one of the last days of spring semester. We had to go around the room and answer in one sentence. I remember I compared a poem to Steve Carlton’s slider, which would cut low and inside at the batter’s ankles. Right-hand hitters would swing at that thing and literally spin in a circle.

I know I react to the stuff that hits me viscerally and emotionally first. I think I always will. Hence my comparison to the slider. Even when I’m looking at Peter Sears‘ work or John Morrison’s work (we have an ongoing workshop), I’m doing it from a visceral place. Then I go in and start cracking the shell and looking at the poem from a more academic and mental place, if you will.

With my own work, I want to create the clear image and message. Even when I’m trying to be obscure, I still want there to be a certain level of clarity. The first draft is as much a poem as the last. But the drafting process is key – things shouldn’t be just visceral. I want people to say, “He’s spent some time on this. I see why he chose this form.”

Poetry is a thing people do, but then it’s also this broader essence. You hear people describe a woman’s walk as, “poetry in motion.” But you don’t hear people say, “she has a five-paragraph essay about her.” Continue reading →