Sample Poems

"West Texas Stars"

first published – The Texas Observer (2020)


"El Paso"

first published – Texas Standard (2019)

This poem was written for the Texas Standard NPR radio program, in response to the 2019 shooting in El Paso, where an anti-immigrant shooter killed 23 people.


El Paso

It was meant to
To weaken resolve
By somehow “strengthening”
But this is a city
That is stronger
Than one person
One voicer of hate
This is a city that knows borders
Like a neighbor’s fence
Are not meant to divide
But to be reached across

And so we can grieve
We must grieve
Hang our heads and hearts
And join hands
Family to family
Friend to friend
Neighbor to neighbor
Human to human.

We must grieve
And honor
The loved ones lost —
Turn of that fervid TV
And that separating screen
Turn off this radio
And go outside
See each other face-to-face
Where hate fades.

It was meant to divide
But this city
This unbreakable city
Knows that reaching across
Is what makes us
Is what keeps us

Click below to hear the poem as aired:

"Central Texas Community"

first published – KVUE-TV (2018)

This poem was commissioned by Austin television station KVUE (ABC), to celebrate the community of Central Texas. See the accompanying video produced by KVUE here.

Central Texas Community

Is it our love
Of Lady Bird Lake?
Is it our tested patience
With Mopac?
Is it that neighbor
Lending a helping hand?
Or that friendly stranger
Helping even more?

Perhaps it’s the tough moments
The stress and strain
Of a city-wide scare
Or the tender times
When that special news story
Can’t help
But make us all shed a tear

Or maybe it’s the music
The BBQ and breakfast tacos
The melting summers
The wildflower springs
The football falls

Or it could be
Just the simple everyday knowledge
That even the person who cut you off
Will still be there to help out

And that this —
This shared mosaic of good, bad
And real moments
Is what ties us all
So strongly

Click below to see the poem as aired:

"W.S. Merwin"

read by poet Naomi Shihab Nye as part of her keynote closing speech for the Sun Valley Writers Conference (2019)

This poem was written on-the-spot at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference. An attendee asked for a poem about the poet William S. Merwin, who had passed away earlier that year, and who was an integral part of the Sun Valley conference.

W.S. Merwin

If he were here
On this sun-sloped field
These watching mountains
All leaning close
To this valley
Filled with words

If he were here
Amidst these flowers
Showing colors
Not even imagined before
Aside that duck pond
Where life floats and turns
The same as it has

If he were here
Where these keys clack out
Tributes and ditties
Small tokens
To the appreciation of now

If he were here…
   Look around
  And know
     He is.

Click below to hear this poem read by Naomi Shihab Nye:

"Just Breathe"

first published – The Dallas Morning News (2015)

This poem was published as a celebration of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage — and as a counter-point to the fervid backlash by then-Justice Antonin Scalia. See the accompanying video of the poem produced by the Dallas Morning News here.

Just Breathe

A Supreme Court justice hyperventilates
Over health care, gay marriage
And applesauce
Claiming democracy is dead
That our founders would flip
In their long-buried graves.

But oh, it’s just the opposite
Democracy is so, so alive.

And we are governed not by long-dead men
But by a wondrous document that lives
And calmly
As we move forward.

So this July 4th
As the flags of hate come down
And rainbows of love go up
Breathe deep.

Can you smell it?
That’s the sweet scent
Of independence
From the past.

And can you hear it?
Those are the fireworks
Of our founders

"First Shot"

first published – Dear Vaccine: Global Voices Speak to the Pandemic (Kent State University Press, 2022)

This was part of an anthology of poems about the first vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic.

First Shot

We made idle chatter
“I like your tattoo”
“That’s some wind out there”
“I almost said your temp was *seventy* eight, ha!”
But when the needle went in
We went silent
With hope.

"Nothing's Wrong"

first published – Typewriter Rodeo: Real People, Real Stories, Custom Poems (Andrews McMeel Universal 2018)

This poem was written on-the-spot, at an art fair in Austin, Texas, for a man who came up to the poetry table and said, “My partner wants to have kids and I don’t. We’ve been together eight years, but now we’re splitting up. Nothing’s wrong, we just … can you put that in a poem?”

Nothing’s Wrong

Have you ever heard
Of binary stars?
It happens when two points of light
Two bright-burning bodies
Are so drawn together
That they become encircled
A pair
Orbiting around each other in perfect

But not forever.

Because sometimes it’s a small shift
Maybe a nanosecond break
In gravity
Maybe a minuscule meteor
From nowhere
And those two stars
That forever pair

And it’s not because anything is wrong
Or bad
It’s just that the universe says,
It’s time.

Original poem:

"Empty Pockets"

first published – Typewriter Rodeo: Real People, Real Stories, Custom Poems (Andrews McMeel Universal 2018)

This poem was written on-the-spot, at a coffee shop in South Portland, Maine. At a table nearby, an older man watched while I typed. His friends urged him to get a poem: “Write one for Dave about lobster!” they called to me, “he’s been a lobsterman for 70 years!” “Is that what you want?” I asked Dave. “A poem about lobster?” He just grunted. Not in a poem-wanting way.

A few minutes later, Dave leaned toward me and said, “My boat. My boat was called Empty Pockets.” That was it.

After I finished the poem, I handed it to Dave. He read it, then grinned. “You didn’t know me at all,” he said, “but this is right on.” Then he went around the coffee shop, showing off the poem to everyone who would listen.

Empty Pockets

Sometimes you pull up those traps
And they’re filled to the brim
More lobster than any one person
Could eat

But other times
Most of them, really
It’s just you and that flat sky
Those rolling waves
And that chill that seeps
Through all

And this is why you do it
Why you come out here
Day after beautifully cold day

This time
When it’s just you and the sea
Because even when your pockets
And your traps
Are empty
Your life is still

Dave, on board Empty Pockets

"Listen to the Trees"

first published – Listen to the Trees: A Poetic Snapshot of West Seattle, Then & Now (Documentary Media 2020)

This was written on-the-spot at a street fair in West Seattle, WA, for the great great great grandson of Chief Seattle, Ken Workman. Ken asked for a poem about his philosophy that the dead live on in the bits of DNA in the trees and elsewhere all around us.

Listen to the Trees

Want to know
Want to hear the dead
Just pause
Just plant yourself
Next to
A Seattle tree

Because those roots
Go deep
Stretching back
And down
Through time

Touching and tenderly soaking in
The buried bits
The literal DNA
Of all who have come before.

And what will they tell us?
They will say the dead
Are not entirely powerless
That the earth
Is more loving to our feet
And tread carefully
And respectfully
And, from time to time
Just pause
And listen
To the trees.

Sean & Ken Workman, great great great grandson of Chief Seattle

"Ernest Hemingway"

first published – Listen to the Trees: A Poetic Snapshot of West Seattle, Then & Now (Documentary Media 2020)

This poem was written on-the-spot at a street fair in West Seattle, WA.

Ernest Hemingway

If this typewriter
Could channel him
The way he sat there
In his bungalow
Sipping a drink
Tapping out
On the keys
The way he turned
And told
The tales of pure
Knowing that always
That tolling bell
Would catch up
With him

Yes if this typewriter
Could channel
That writerly greatness
It would probably say:
Not bad
Fewer words.

Original poem:

"Call Me Galaxy (Please)"

first published – Pet Poems (also not just pets) (Burlwood 2022)

This ekphrastic poem is meant to be paired with the artwork below. Click here to hear the poem as read on an interview with KUT-Austin radio.

Call Me Galaxy (Please)

I know, I know
It’s not what you chose
That day at the shelter
When you saw me (yes!)
Curled in my shoebox
And “Lacey” jumped
Into your mind

It’s a grand name
Graceful and clever
But I have also jumped
And grown a bit.

I do not mean to be
I would never
(Except when I chewed your shoes)
(And scared the neighbor)
(And perhaps other times)

But who is perfect!
And we all grow
So why not names?

So call me Galaxy (Please)
And please stay
Just as proud.


first published – Pet Poems (also not just pets) (Burlwood 2022)

This ekphrastic poem is meant to be paired with the artwork below. Click here to see readings from Pet Poems.


I will tell you my story
Sad but true
I will tell it but once
And only to you

When I first arrived
There was joy in the world!
From the moment the tip
Of my horn unfurled

But then, a gasp
A squint, a silence —
“Where is its fur?”
Someone asked (in shyness)

They gathered around me
With manes of white
Elegant creatures
With horns so slight

But mine was a lump
Of putty and pudge
They were pure magic
I was pure sludge

“It is not one of us,”
They proclaimed (with grace)
And I knew that I
Was not in my place

So I departed forlorn
In search of my kin
I soon found the narwhals
But I could not swim

I found markhor and mouflon
But their horns were paired
I found Jackson’s chameleon
But it ran away scared

I was called many names
None of them kind
But as my hide thickened
The less did I mind

Some waved from afar!
But as I got closer
The response was always:
“Oh. Why-no-sir.”

I scoured desert and vale
Plied mountain and sea
Until at last I found
Another like me!

Its hide was pudgy
And so was its horn
This was no mouflon
And no unicorn

“You are my kind!
With snout so stout!”
But it did not move
Just spoke with doubt:

“I grew this horn,
To defend myself
Against the whole world
And a whole lot else.”

I nodded with knowing
And a touch of shame
“I grew my rough skin
To do the same.”

And so we moved closer
With each step more trust
And that’s how we became
Why-no-sir us.

"Zombies & Music"

unpublished … but fun!

This poem was written on-the-spot, at the Antiquarian Book Fair in Washington, D.C. A young boy asked for a poem about “zombies … and music!”

Zombies & Music

Oh come with me now
To the zombie dance
Don’t be afraid —
Take a chance!

It’s not scary
Like ghosts with chains
You just have to watch
For flying brains

See when that music starts
Those zombies like to move
They dance and twirl
With their gooey groove

When they really get going
They’ll lose an arm
Or even a leg!
Buy hey, no harm

‘Cuz zombies are crazy
On that fly dance floor
And if they lose some limbs?
They’ll just grab more!

So come join me now
Come take a chance
Be like a zombie —
Don’t think, just dance!

Original poem:

"Best Town Names in Texas"

first published – Texas Standard (2016)

Best Town Names in Texas

So many towns in Texas
Their names simply rock!
The silent “a” of Manchaca
The timeless value of Dime Box

Oh Flower Mound it conjures
Floral fields and hills so tall!
(There’s very few of either
But who wants to live in Strip Mall?)

The panhandle features Pampa
Where you’re pampered to the limit
And if you need to curse
All you have to yell is — Dimmitt!

Then there’s Italy and Paris
With the lure of foreign fields
But ours aren’t fancy and falootin’
Like all our towns — they’re real.

Click below to hear the poem as aired: