Tag Archives: Reed College


I must have written this in about 1986, when I was living in NYC or Hoboken; it’s about missing Portland, and the last house I lived in there (I believe it was 4034 Reedway, but I’m not sure), and various other things, I guess…



Summer curves its white spine

near, a shallow nervous arc

between two points three thousand miles

apart, between the house and here.

My nights end more than once.

On Reedway now are flowering

three trees, azaleas, fingers

of long irises, pale rhododendrons.

Inside the house old flowers writhe

like desert snakes along the walls

or break, made dust

by the inconstant light.

Failed as a guest and not invited back

I live there anyway, not in the rooms

but in the hall with ghosts of birds

drawn in and lost for good.


A Sonnet This Time

This is one of twelve sonnets that I wrote as my senior thesis at Reed in 1984. Almost all of the poems were about my father, and the work as a whole was called Snake Charm: Twelve Sonnets.


Thank you for your visit. I woke hungry.

Everything I’ve heard is true: no snake could

be such a charmer in a crush. But we

did have quite a time, for a while, you stewed

and me my Daddy’s girl. I understood

that afterwards I’d be alone and here

I am. Lately I see things as I should,

all taken bravely in and focused clear;

still, pain and beauty always disappear

too suddenly. I’ve been picking at your

bones too long. Scene by scene dreams reappear,

but, after, I can’t feel them any more.


The weather’s changed since the autumn solstice;

the light’s dazzling: Daddy, you should see this.

Another Poem–“The Monkey Tree”

Thanks to Tom Murphy, my English teacher at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh (I keep meaning to get in touch with him to thank him), I started writing poetry when I was about sixteen or seventeen.  Then I went off to Reed College as an English major, and as a senior wrote a creative thesis (with the wonderful Lisa Steinman as my advisor) composed of twelve sonnets.  After that I went to New York and studied under Galway Kinnell and others in the graduate Creative Writing/Poetry program at NYU (unfortunately, I was apparently too preoccupied with my hipster lifestyle in lower Manhattan to write my thesis, and therefore never actually got my degree).

Like just about any poet, I always wanted to see my poems in print, either in literary journals (a few of which published some of my work) or as a book.  I’d kind of given up on the latter ever happening, but that was before the advent of indie publishing.  So I’ve been kind of amazed to find myself, all these years later, putting together a manuscript of my poems from about 1983 to the present (I don’t seem to have my high school poems any more, but I have a feeling that most of them probably shouldn’t see the light of day anyway, as they would definitely be labeled “juvenalia”).  It will take me at least a few months to put it all together and include some new poems that I’ve been working on (seeing some of the previous posts here), but I’m getting kind of excited about it.

Anyway, every so often I’ll be posting some of the poems here, although this blog is still primarily dedicated to my first book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days.  Here’s one:

(An entry in my journal from June of 1985 notes that I wrote the following poem after meeting and having a conversation with “the most amazing man” at the Lutz Tavern in Portland the night before.  I remember neither the man nor the conversation, but the entry tells me that this is one of the few, if not the only, poems that I’d ever written in less than an hour.)


“All the pennies in my pocket dropped

unnoticed through a seam I never found.

I never spent a single one.  Tonight

I can remember everything: the salmon

stabbed with a stick and stolen, all its flesh

unwasted, sweet; the perfect curve and glare

of balls turned off their course on an uneven

table; the sticky bitterness of every beer

I ever drank.  Sometimes I wish I had

more schooling.  Once I met another boy,

brilliant in hard science.  No one knew him

so I took him to the monkey tree, black

and aching and arthritic, rooted

in dead water.  We shinnied down into the swamp

and ran like beasts on fire through the fog.

That same year he killed himself.

If you come down there with me

I’ll take you to the monkey tree.”


In Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, there are six poems that I wrote about David in the mid 1990’s.  They were, I believe, the first poems I’d written in several years, and I don’t think I wrote very many, if any, other ones until just a few months ago.

Although I attended NYU’s M.A. program in Creative Writing/Poetry (typically for me at the time, I never actually wrote the thesis), and used to run around Manhattan wearing black and doing poetry readings, and aspired greatly for many years to becoming a “famous poet” (and of course it would be pointless to be anything but a hard-living, tragic one), I always secretly felt that I was a bit of a fraud–there was very little poetry that I actually liked, and I tended to prefer fiction (and photography, and painting).  But people seemed to like what I wrote, and I’ve always been a sucker for compliments, so for a long time I kept at it.

I composed my first poem in Provincetown, Massachusetts when I was about six or seven. I remember that my mother and I were playing Scrabble on the beach when the inspiration hit me.  It went like this:


Cape Cod is the place to be.

It is the place for me.

I like it because we go fishing there, 

but I hate the smell of the sea air.

OK–I did get somewhat better at it as the years went by.  The poem, as I recall, led to my first experience of censorship.  I brought it in that fall to my first-grade class.  The teacher seemed to like it a great deal, and she wrote it out for the rest of the class to see on a big easel at the front of the room.  However, she insisted on changing the word “hate” to “can’t stand.”  I believe that I was at least slightly outraged.  It totally blew the meticulously worked-out meter, for one thing.

Since publishing (finally) Holding Breath, I’ve been a little at a loss as to what to do with myself creatively. With some encouragement from my new friend David Biddle (who, like me, attended Reed College, and who is the author of the astonishingly creative and possibly life-changing–particularly for music-lovers–novel, Beyond the Will of God: A Jill Simpson Mystery), I wrote two new poems a couple of months ago.  I will probably post them here soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d send y’all to another blog of mine in which at one point a few years ago I managed to post many of the poems I’d written up until that point (there’s also the text of a letter I wrote to President Obama about needle-exchange funding; it seemed to be in keeping with the themes of some of the poems).  Some of the poems from Holding Breath are included.  Here’s the link:


I’ll be interested in hearing how you think they compare to the “Cape Cod” poem. 🙂

David Biddle’s book, Beyond the Will of God: A Jill Simpson Mystery, is available here:


My memoir, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, is available here:


Dancing Barefoot

I think I kind of fell in love with Patti Smith during my freshman year at Reed College.  I listened to her album Horses over and over; it was a revelation to me–an 18-year-old poet newly on her own, trying to find the things that felt right to her (that process became considerably easier once I got to Reed).  Patti felt right.  I had an oversized man’s blazer-type jacket (which I often wore over my long hippie dresses, or with a big button-down white shirt) on which I pinned a little horse–just like Patti on Mapplethorpe’s cover for the album.  I was a little obsessed, but hey–I was 18.  I still love Patti.

I included her song “Dancing Barefoot” on my playlist for Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, because something in the song’s lyrics reminds me of my regrets about my days with David, and of something I learned from those regrets, years later.

In spite of the fact that I risked my job by more-or-less moving into David’s little Lower East Side apartment with him and trying to care for him until his death eight months later, there were things that I held back–things that I wish I’d done, but didn’t (the kiss that he offered, and that I refused early on in our relationship, is like a “ground zero” for the memoir, and for my own memories).  Yes–he had full-blown AIDS, and people will argue that that was reason enough not to kiss him, but I don’t think it was MY reason (I also knew that I wasn’t going to get HIV through a kiss).  I was just confused, and holding back because of that constant, nagging feeling that I was doing something wrong by being there with him at all.  I will always wish that I had, at the very least, accepted his kiss.  That “holding back” continued in many other ways during those eight months.  These days–in large part because of my realization of what was lost as a result of my fear of “doing the ‘wrong’ thing”–I am somewhat braver, and less beholden to some idea of what people might think (although I’m still a work-in-progress in that regard as well).

As far as I can tell, the song “Dancing Barefoot” is about that blessed letting-go, and that willingness to go with what one feels in her heart, rather than slavishly following “conventional wisdom”, dogma, random “rules” set by people who simply have different ideas about things, prejudices (my own subtle and barely acknowledged ideas about “addicts” at the time played into my dealings with David as well–at least at first).

It’s a truly beautiful song.  Here it is:


(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available at:http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009TV4CE6)

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