Answers to the big questions

You see blobs of paint, I see answers to the big questions

When I watch a child

(Not my child)

Do something like draw a picture,

Crayoned lines and

Painstaking circles,

Crooked houses,

Ceiling skies,

Animals that all the look the same species,

I think,

“Hm. Cute.”

And whatever.

But when Victor,

My son and progeny,

My vision of the future of mankind

Is inspired to

Take up crayon or plastic paintbrush and

Express his view of the world through


I am breathless and awed.

I marvel at the neurons and nerves connecting




I ponder the human tendency to

Recreate what we see visually.

I feed Victor page after page,

Blank sheets on which to


“Wow,” I say when he holds up his work,

And I mean it.

This is no affected praise.

I am awed.

The other children,

I can see talent–or not–in their drawings.

But in Victor’s,

I see clues,

Profound, complex clues

To the riddle of this life.

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The small ghost

Little ghost

Sometimes on Skype

Victor is a little ghost.

The lighting is overexposed

Like in a movie scene where someone is dying,

And they fade to white,

Their features draining until all that’s left are

Two half-coins for eyes,

Two nostril dots,

The undulating hole for a mouth,

And the hair ridge, framing the white, yellowy.

How, I wonder, can he be recognizable

With so little to go on,


Just a few shifting shapes and dots

On a white patch

And it’s him.

It’s no one but him.


But undeniably Victor.

He moves;

The light shifts,

His features darken,

He comes into sudden, rich focus.

The eyes blue,

The skin pink,

The hair corn-colored.

He laughs

And I catch my breath.

He’s always stunning to me.

He’s my son.

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I thought I had it.

The way to write!

In metaphor.

So I could disguise my subject

And my characters.

Like gay writers used to.

I was so positive that I’d been

Divinely inspired…

That certainty should have made me suspicious.

So it didn’t work.

I’m deflated.

But I know to just

Drive pencil across paper in these deflated times.

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I touched it

Hands on me

We went to the art museum today.

I’ve been meaning to go

For months and months.

I’m always meaning to go to the

Art museum.

Sometimes I actually go.

Like today.

Walking into the cool quiet

From the hot summer wind

My head and stomach were

Restless and unsettled:


And the usual sadness.

It was in the Hindu section,

Watching a wall-sized


Made, inexplicably, of

Colored sand

By Buddhist monks,

That my head and stomach

Started to smooth over.

My eyelids started to droop

And I entered that art museum



Kept leaning in too close to exhibits,

Setting off an alarm,

A series of relatively discreet


Enough to make the guard look over

And the perp to step back,


Or victorious, if you’re Joe.

I touched a piece of art.

I know you’re not supposed to,

But I couldn’t help it.

This piece didn’t have an alarm;

Maybe I was allowed to touch it?

It was a marble


Of a fawn.

I put my left hand on its side

Like I was leading it in a dance.

“I wanted to know if the marble was cool,”

I said to Joe

When he caught me.

“Was it?”

“Yes, cool and smooth and old.”

I understand why you’re not supposed to,

But I always wish

At art museums

That I could touch things:

The chunks and layers of paint,

Grain of wood,



I loved that headless, limbless

Fawn torso

Because I felt its

Eternal coolness.

On a hot day,

To press my flushed cheek

Against the cool ridges of its

Muscled stomach

Would’ve been

Oh so lovely.

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In Memorium

In memorium

Memorial Day.

Who are we supposed to commemorate?

Military folks?

Can I add others?

Can I make this holiday in to a

General day of remembrance?

My father once

Talked me into going to a

Military parade at a


On Memorial Day.

I’d never done anything like it.

I’d never commemorated Memorial Day.

He told me that people used to go to


For picnics

After church

Or on holidays.

They would spread their blankers

Under trees

On grassy slopes,

Near the graves of loved ones.

I imagined women in long skirts

And straw hats,

Children in suspenders

And wool pants.

I didn’t imagine any men.

I know it’s unfair,

But I always imagine women are the ones

Carrying the dead with them

In memorium.

That cemetery was so


So not haunted, or macabre.

It was quiet,

Revered, like an outdoor

Church sanctuary,

Which I guess it is.

Now, I’m drawn to cemeteries

In the same way I’m drawn to

Any religious sanctuary,

Pulled toward the


And fullness

In those places.

(I’m drawn, I should say,

But I rarely go.)

So in memorium,

Here is a list of the people I’ve known

Or known of,

Who have died:

Ralph Battey, my maternal grandfather

Donald Niemela, my paternal grandfather

Margaret Battey, my maternal grandmother

Aune Niemela, my paternal grandmother

Donnie Niemela, my uncle

Barb Yaeger, my aunt

George Yaeger, my uncle

Scott Anderson, my cousin

Ann Battey, my aunt

Justin Battey, my cousin

Paul Ballata, my friend’s father

Remembering or imagining you today.

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Boyfriend’s pickup

Pick me up

Tonight I was driving

Joe’s pickup down the freeway.

On the phone with my


Who helps me stay sober.

Phone in my lap,

Earbuds in my ears,

I was saying that I had gotten

Photos of Victor

From Finland.

Summery photos.

Victor in a sandbox

In a striped t-shirt

And shorts

And a hat

With cars on it.

He was so long

And his stomach had


He’d grown.

“That’s exciting,” Denise said.

“Yes, yes it is,” I said.

“But it also makes me sad.

I miss him.”

When we hung up

I cried

There in the truck

Driving down I-35W

In Joe’s truck.

A calm

And calming sort of cry.

A couple of minutes,

Maybe two miles

Past two or three exits.


My face still wet,

I rolled down the windows.

Hot summer air gushed in,

Swirled my hair around my face and head.

I was driving my boyfriend’s pickup truck

On a hot summer day,

Wearing a sundress,

My hair whipping around in the wind,

My hands hanging at 10 and 2.

Somehow, there was no traffic.

I could’ve kept driving.

Not gotten off at my exit,

Truck slowing on the cloverleaf

And stopping at the top of the ramp.

My hair settling around my shoulders.


And an occasional

Rarefied moment,

Not a perfect moment,

But a rarefied one.

Those are my goals these days.

Fuck happiness.

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The lucky one


I am a lucky one.

I know you might find that hard to


If you know my situation.

That 18 of the last 36 months

My son has lived away from me.

Far away from me.

I know, from how people


That it must be hard to imagine

How I could feel lucky

Or fortunate

Or blessed.

But I do.

Right now, I do.

You see,

Today I got to see the little boy’s face

On a computer screen.

He tipped into a headstand

On the couch

And I got to watch his

Legs kicking up.

The white and long limbs.

The small butt in

Dark, striped underwear.

The hair spiked,

The face pink

When he landed upright again,


I got to hear the high

Boy’s voice

Asking his father questions

In a language

I don’t understand very well.

After work,

Walking in the sun,

I passed a patch of lawn

Just watered and

Just mown.

Rich green with stripes of

Lighter green where the mown grass lay.

I couldn’t quite believe

How potently fresh

It smelled.

That’s the moment when


Seized hold of me

As if by the shoulders,

And looking into my

Sun-filled face,

Said, “I’m here.”

And I smiled back

Thinking of Victor’s

Kicking boy’s legs.

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