P U B L I C A T I O N S
& I N T E R V I E W S
Grace Notes (memorial essay) | Allow the Light: the Lost Poems of Jack McCarthy (Write Bloody Press)
Wood and Wire | The Massachusetts Review
Riddle, Oregon | Colorado Review, Verse Daily
A Secret | Nashville Review
Dive | For Love of Orcas: An Anthology (Wandering Aengus Press)
Baptism at Agate Bay Mobile Home Park | Natural Bridge
Homestead | The Hopper
Wandering Poem; Poorly Possessed; A Woman Explains The Presence of Bison | Miracle Monocle
Light Years | Iron Horse, The Best of Iron Horse
To Make Color | Laurel Review, American Life in Poetry
In the Bones | Gulf Coast
Late Garden | Laurel Review
Portrait: Last Night in London | The Southern Review
First Star | The Bellingham Review
Julia Tells Me About Her SummeRed Sky: Poetry on the Global Epidemic of Violence Against Women (Sable Books)r |
Your Heart Was Once a Hill; My Old Man | Noisy Water: A Whatcom County Poetry Anthology (Other Mind Press)
My Old Man | The Bellingham Herald
The Clouds Over Georgia | Five Willows Literary Review
The Movement of Fields; One Year | New South
Poem with Fingerprints | The Portland Review
Sparta (flash fiction) | Ghost Parachute
We'll Vanish Like Cities | Broken Plate
In the Snow | Lamplighter Review (Pushcart nominee)
Texas | The Good Things About America: A Modern Patriot's Anthology
The Basking Rock | Chrysanthemum
Blackbirds | Front Range Review
My Old Man | The Best of Button Poetry 2016
Excerpt from novel-in-progress The Horsemender| Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando
Ryler discusses poetry with host John King on The Drunken Odyssey: A Podcast about the Writing Life in Jack Kerouac's former home in Orlando, Florida
T O M A K E C O L O R
Every morning, my grandmother cleaned the Fisher stove
in the back of our trailer, lifted ash in a shovel, careful
not to spill the fine gray dust. Precious, she said, her breath
smoking in the cold. Precious in winter’s first lavender
not-quite-light—and you could smell it, the faintest acrid hint
of ash, a crispness calling you from bed. You could watch her
cap it in a chicory coffee can to stack among others, back bent
from a long-gone fever. For the garden in spring, she said.
-Originally in The Laurel Review and American Life in Poetry
F I R S T S T A R
It is here, in the empty lot across from K-Mart, dusk falling on the cusp of summer, that you realize you love her. She has asked you to teach her to drive, you lied about having a license, and your mother’s Metro is not cut out for this, the way she kills the clutch again and again as you brace your bodies against the dash, laughing. You are not cut out for it either—how she cracks jokes with the boys at your lunch table, eyes huge, hair black as volcanic glass. You cannot ease the ache her body makes in yours no matter what you do, even when you are making love behind her mother’s leaky apartment, or lying in the damp grass after, watching geese sign their mysterious arrow overhead. Soon her father will vanish again, her mother remarry and take her to Georgia. On the phone she’ll talk about pills she’s started and a man she met at church, voice fading in the sound of traffic. But blink now and you are back in the empty lot—blink and you are in the brimming grass, wet, watching the geese neck ever on. Tell her again they have needles in their noses, like compasses, guiding them to where they must go. Say you can see Sirius, the first star, though you know she is already sleeping like something crash-landed, unfathomable, from an even deeper distance—her breasts below the coat you both share, her wrists so defenseless that the world, for the first time, frightens you—and you begin, in that light, to know what it is.
-Originally in The Bellingham Review
L I G H T Y E A R S
It is always an accident that saves us. It is someone we have never seen.
It’s late November, sister, and the stars are hard and high
outside my one wide kitchen window,
blazing above the snow-sheathed maple
from distances so deep they are described in terms of time—
the time it takes the ghost of light, the fastest thing,
to reach us.
A faint song
reaches through my wall—my neighbors, two music majors
work frozen fingers on the Steinway
they had shipped from Sacramento.
Sister, it’s sixteen years now since we met—
since our father leaned his forehead
on the corner of the kitchen cabinet
and told the truth of you
then drove Allie and me to your trailer by the ragged field in Albany
where your hands, like reflections
coalescing in settling water,
shone out and mirrored mine—
wild veins, long fingers, knucklebones too big for wrists.
I try to imagine the waiting room
where you ran into our aunt, the receptionist
who looks just like you—how you both stared
while the phone lines rang and rang.
I try to stitch together the full story, the family secret—
Dad seduced after the war, chased away by your mother
and her mad family—how he disappeared for years to drink
in the dark loft above the service station, pumping gas.
He was in love again the summer you saved me
from acne and a broken heart, setting up your guest room
for me to write.
You woke the house one night to watch the Perseids—
your daughter grumbling, your son just two. Even the neighbors
brought their telescope, Juan cursing and cracking a beer
while we laughed on the damp deck, looking for the lost,
the wayward stars.
That summer I learned to laugh like you—
to laugh so hard the tears came burning out
and stung the sores on my face, to scream
as I played with your children,
over the baby gate, breaking plates
and spilling garbage, banging the corners of walls
as we ran through the house Dad had left and rented to you.
When Grandma passed, Allie took the Steinway,
though only you could play. She didn’t understand
what that piano would have meant to you,
how you gave lessons to the neighbor kids for years.
I can hear the starving students playing,
hands almost in harmony,
laughing when they get it wrong.
I remember family as what you taught me—
the dented doors, your daughter’s fractured toe,
even Dad’s belated, clumsy kindness.
The rampant damages of love.
We stood under the stars
that last Thanksgiving, listening
while everyone said it’s best the piano went to Allie.
You and yours would have scarred it
in some superficial way.
Sister, they were right.
They were wrong anyway.
-Originally in Iron Horse and The Best of Iron Horse
I N T H E B O N E S
The finback had beached a long time ago—
vertebra polished by sand,
knucklebones caged in black grass.
All winter, as we fell out of love in the old barn,
I read the long story of whales—
how they were land-scavengers once, like small raccoons
who hunger drove into the sea—
while you dreamed beside me
and wind worked the eaves into a song.
Mornings I walked past pines
growing stunted in sandy soil, head cocked
to hear the moaning made by the bones.
The last thing they said: a vestigial hip
clicking on stone—
how the body wanders, writing its loss
from home to home,
how the bones hold hard to this history.
-Originally in Gulf Coast
T H E M O V E M E N T O F F I E L D S
I want to run my eyes along you
and collect you as a pool fills
with the image of a drowned bird,
as the field beyond this ruined farm
swells with the shape of wind—
Sight is the mind making sense
of the world’s raw hunks and filaments—
sketched-in guesswork of occipital lobes,
fusiform gyrus drawing out the differences
between one nose and another, one cheek
into the stark relief of a friend’s face,
visual cortex showing where a ball isn’t yet
but will be after the instant
its image flickers up the optic nerve.
We read this together
then stand on the dock
watching waves lacerated by light.
One theorist thinks language came
through sight, not sound,
that learning to read
the signs of our prey in the wilderness
filled us with symbols:
hoof, hair, bent fern.
Something can mean without being.
Something can imply—
If it’s true, the first signs we learned
was left by fleeing things—
every mark a mark of escape,
every print the shape of what’s gone.
And so we call these words a passage,
Latin for pace.
With language, movement—
absence, loss—became legible.
The night we met
was pink gin, your grin, limbs lifting
in neon and fog.
The words you wrote me
are black ash in snow.
Your body, when you’re gone, goes on
in my memory—diving into dark surf,
towing something silver away.
It was easy for God to make blind life
and the first seeing thing
was only a little harder.
But the second seeing thing—
to make something
that could look into something
looking into it.
Downtown glows at dusk.
Our hands clasp in my car.
As we glide below bright lamps and billboards,
you fall asleep, which is familiar to me—
though I can’t see
where you go when I watch you.
-Originally in New South