Michelle's Award Winning Poems

19 Minutes
As if in a maternity ward, this man’s grown son
and daughter stood on the other side of the glass holding
hands, both of them watching the midazolam and
hydromorphone—there is no poetic way to say them—take

their father’s body which gasped for breath for
nineteen minutes before his fist pounding the floor, clutching
his chest released, and like a flower petal, let go—
something this man didn’t do

when he raped a pregnant woman he later stabbed
to death. The children who watched their father suffer
will sue the state of Ohio for cruel and unusual punishment.
But what about this is unusual? That the family watched?

That the priest prayed? That the family of the murdered
wasn’t invited? How do we define cruelty for a man
who raped and murdered a 23-year-old woman named Joy?
Over their next meal when they were finally able

to stomach food, the man’s daughter, tortured by images
of her flailing father, for one slit of a moment, saw a young woman
standing in her kitchen, knife drawer slid open. This woman
slices a bright green apple for all eternity, for the reaching hand

of the boy at her side, as delicately as one
slices a plum, as carefully as a surgeon carves a half moon
into the belly of woman, as desperately as a mother cuts loose
the rope that hanged her son.


Beatrice, Moved
By a worthy man a woman’s moved likewise.

When I was a child,
I watched my father once stroke
another woman’s wrist, her pale,

delicate hands opening
like wings. Her lips swelling, my father
lifted her chin and lowered

his mouth to hers.
They didn’t see me in the shadows.
At night, I kneel, pray

my lips on yours. I pray my tongue
slipped into you. Throughout the litany,
I felt your eyes upon me (like God’s own.)

Burning frankincense swirled
the church with smoke,
and when the priest spoke

of accepting the body of Christ
into me, I felt myself go wet.
I saw your eyes move

under my white dress, over
my hip curve and bone.  My knees
spread when the priest said be filled

with God. And loose hand, swooning
bones, to the earth
my hymnbook dropped.

A bug inside a wide mouth jar yells
loud as a cloud. And it rains, of course.
And it pours its heart out, this bug,

like a stock pot the size of the world
gurgling all the earth’s gizzards and goo.
The Milky Way throws a shoe and it lands

in the bog where a tree frog leaps this year’s
desire, swims from one swimmy to the next,
hungry for something more than flies.

He leaps for lungs. He sings for slimy joy.
This is a world of lies, French fries, and ply-
wood, all of which are recyclable, though

no one tries anymore to save the world.
Now it’s time to save the planet, its moon
men, garbage flies lying dead at the base

of the Brooklyn Bridge. They must’ve leapt.
Don’t let the fish cakes fool you. Let them go.
The fish cakes. Let them go goodbye down

the Hudson. Goodbye. That dusty bottle of wine,
cork on the counter, is turning against you
while you’re busy changing tires, which

by the way, are not recyclable. Yet we keep on
rolling and reeling in fish after fish after fish
as if something about this isn’t fishy. It’s not

funny that they come in a can. The dolphins
aren’t laughing. Crickets are playing their legs
in silky darkness getting paid money, money,

money. Oh overworked, nervous cricket, will it
ever be Labor Day, or Memorial Day? Which one
is in May? Thank the dead for days off, thank

your mother for all those glasses of juice, thank
God for frog’s legs fried in pig fat, wrapped
in bacon. For each sweet cake and candle,

for every card, stocking, and paper
cut, for cool air in the blue basement where
the red furnace blasts heat to the sky, which we,

while we’re at it, might as well convince ourselves
and the kids—is where stars come from,
and where we go when we die.

On Melancholy, Meriwether Lewis, September 10, 1803
I first dug superficially in several parts of it, and came to collections of human bones, at different depths, from six inches to three feet below the surface. These were lying in the utmost confusion, some vertical, some oblique, some horizontal, and directed to every point of the compass, entangled and held together in clusters by the earth.  ~Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia

Jefferson told me how he dug to unearth
an Indian warrior sitting erect, bow and arrows

at rest in his lap. How all he uncovered were bones.
Hundreds of Indians, all their lives

the layered chapters of a story decomposing.
I wanted to tell him I, too, am a builder of mounds.

On my chest, the weight of ten thousand
graves; within, bits of me pointing in every direction.

A buffalo herd the size of the moon pounding
dusty thunder into my heart. Can this body bear

this journey? Can those shards be pulled back
to a center? I pray my voice speak only in wonder

and command, that the dark remain quieter
than silence, my footfalls appear lighter than dust.


Spirit Mound, Meriwether Lewis
Augt. 25th Satturday 1804   This morning Capt Lewis & my Self G D. Sjt. Ouderway Shields J. Fields colter Bratten Cane Labeeche corp Wovington Frasure & York Set out to Visit this mountain of evel Spirits,  [1] we Set out from the mouth of the White Stone Creek,  [2] at 8 oClock, at 4 miles Cross the Creek in an open plain, at 7 ms. the dog gave out & we Sent him back to the Creek at 12 oClock we rose the hill. Some time before we got to the hill we obsevd great numbers of Birds hovering about the top of this Mound    when I got on the top those Birds flew off. I discovered that they wer Cetechig [catching] a kind of flying ant  [3] which were in great numbers abought the top of this hill ~Captain William Clark

Here, where devils haunt Native ground, some part
of me pulled. Some darkness taking shape in my throat,

my mouth dry as these plains. These thoughts
hasty, a flickering haze. Lock your arms tight

to your ribs, let your chest crack from the weight,
the ache, the burn strikes hard through my fingers.

I could scratch through larch, bite the skin of those
tarnal pears, lash a thousand lazy men, slash lines

into my own flesh. All day yesterday, now, ever more
the same. A fiery, windy August, bison grazing

the distance. See the storm of insects seeking safety
behind the mound, see the larger winged creatures,

quietly feasting upon them.


Premonition at West Stone Creek, Meriwether Lewis, 1804
That night, Mrs. Grinder, the innkeeper’s wife, heard several shots. She later said she saw a wounded Lewis crawling around, begging for water, but was too afraid to help him. He died, apparently of bullet wounds to the head and abdomen, shortly before sunrise the next day.
~Abigail Tucker, “Meriwether Lewis’ Mysterious Death,” Smithsonian Magazine

I bent over to drink
                            and for one moment
              I could not see
my reflection,
                            only a red ribbon bit
              of sky and a bird, a bird
I felt graze my head
                            like a hot round.
Around last night’s fire
              a painted man leaned in,
                            told me thousands of birds
              are drawn by evil
to the burial mound.
                            That these birds
              sense death.
I didn’t believe him.
                            Now, mound at my back,
              wing flap echoing
down my canal
                            and, my darker self,
I hear you call back.

Meriwether Lewis on Chastity
Over the rumbling waves of his men’s
whiskey-strained snores, it was the girl
in small blue beads, he was sure, her moaning
from a nearby tent. Earlier beside the fire
she had ran her soft fingers across his cheek,
leaned into his ear. He did not understand her
language but her voice. Bell. Finch. Creek
bed beside his Georgia home. If he’d done more
than shake her off with a nod, wasn’t so damn
shy, see, he’d rub his thumb over her lips. Apple jam.
Honeysuckle. Sweet peach. He was captain.
What would his men think? To give in to a woman,
he might’ve lost himself in her warmth, her kiss,
he might’ve discovered happiness.

Meriwether Lewis on the Nature of Females
She complained about the wet, the steep,
the divots. We had intended to stay the day,
watch the bursting summer the sun seep
into western mountains. She complained
about her fear of heights, ticks, the slipperiness
beneath her slippers. She said she was cold—
it was July! I purposefully left my gun at the nest
heeding a friend’s advice: give the girl whole
attention. But she went on about her sister, swooned
when I picked up, cut open a dead raccoon
so I’d better trap. We should’ve just left, but lavender
against my thighs, and that full moon floating further
up in the eastern sky, and Heather, rare as chenille,
so sweet on my tongue if she could just hold hers still.