I'm a death baby
After Anne Sexton

Hand me those marbles
Rolling down the map
Travelling back home
I can't go home, back
I can't leave home
I'm a death baby
I rock and rock
I'm all about the sea
No birds fell out of barrel bombs
No tomorrows pinned to the fence
Now I'm good enough to take root
Sleeping with bellyful of sea
Back home, I was a doll
Who would sleep like a doll
Merely deserved to be so
If you are here
Rock me
Penny for your thoughts, papa
I'm not a bird that flies
I lie low and heavy
A death baby




It takes little to die.
The stones whisper
to the plants who
keep them company.
the stones spend hour
after hour talking
about death to
the plants, who feel
suicidal as a
result. They begin
to wilt and bend.
The stones continue
to make the beautiful
plants sad with their
talk about death.
It is of pure boredom
which makes the stones
speak about death to
the plants and also
out of jealousy
for their soft and
gentle features.




Before I awake the sprouting
head of shame is already up.

It has had its drink of water.
It has thrown its hardest stones.

I double over on impact.

The lights are out for the day.
A stream of blood flourishes.

It covers my head with shame.

I try to find redemption.

The blood is like a waterfall.

In a split second I am drenched.
My saliva mixes with blood.

The head of shame sprouts a
second head.  Its seed spreads.

It drinks up all the water.
Praying does no good against it.
The head of shame is like a rock.

At dawn it is up and
sprouting like oversized tomatoes.

At night the head of shame
discovers no one is immune from it.



Nimue Beheaded

Once detached her body rots fast

faster than a rollercoaster who

would think anything could rot

so fast but her head continues to

enchant the eyes the mouth lips

chant teeth but quickest of quick

tongue keeps working tongues

out spells a breakneck patter out

tongue slip of the tongue slip stream

slip faster than speed of  life spells

enchantment how do you spell fate

spell doom spell disaster she bleeds

speech faster than her neck slips

in pools of torrents of tongue of

hemorrhages words she learned

to tongue and master and make

all shuffled out now deck neck

shuffle not a full deck from the neck

shuffle how do you spell life do you

spell death what makes moon go

backward now grow blackened leaves

on trees have heartbeats baby bats

hang down from destinies hands grow

 huge out of earth works wonders

lovers spell betrayal owls eat the eyes

of puppets eat the rush of raindrops

eat the blood of beauty out of graves

hands spell doom enchant the kings

of rapture waves call Merlin call

Master out of your spell that spells

decay faster than the speed of life

Merlin Master into your slumber slip

slip stream slip dream slip Merlin

slip slop chant meant Merlin Merlin

tongue slips head spells burst through

curses  flames snakes break flames

Merlin Mage scattered spells silence

silence Merlin silence

~Robert F. Gross~



Is Your Mother Still Dead? Tell Her I Said Hello

Say that I’m floating upstream, singing, Ophelia-style.

Off-key remnants of intertwined ballads. The king is in

The parlor. Long live big data. For Bonnie Prince Charlie’s

On the street where you live. Shantih. Shantih. Shantih.

Tell her that I’ve made chains out of blossoms, cages

Out of boarding passes. Tell her that I am not mad,

Merely misplaced. The tongue comes over the horizon

Every morning like it used to. Dragon’s teeth and claws.

Does rosemary make you remember or does it block

Reminiscence? And as for rue, it goes without saying.

Nettle makes your lips fluorescent and sage withers.

One thing about dissolving: it makes a cloud of your body.

Say I’m headed toward the stage, Hamlet-style.

Inky black as a hipster’s skinny jeans but obsolescent.

I’m way too old for an all-star revival and the river

Bends around broken clocks, piano rolls, vacuum tubes.

~Robert F. Gross~




the thing about the holidays is that everyone wants to talk about going home again
when you really never had a home to begin with

you have been searching for something impossible to find, a kind of mythical creature
that one constructs with building materials

the time spent pacing around outside the front door of the house where you grew up
gives you time to think about this place called home

when all we ever wanted all those years within these walls was a kind of escape
that would grant us our freedom

but tragic that we spend the rest of our lives trying to recapture a sense of it
hours writing in workshops of the smells

of the bread that our mothers used to bake, the collection of smoky cologne bottles
that particular shade of yellow in the kitchen

home then, that place we once fled and now eternally will try to reenter, our personal
Eden: our mother brandishing a cigarette



The Misanthropocene 

The meadowlarks no longer sing the songs of our childhood 
We are cupping hands under cold water, we 
Cough up blood clots and rinse them away
The last thing we thought we would have to worry about is flood

that’s not how you sing the song
you are going to lose her

Smoke, the ghost of someone else’s bad habit follows me
We are watching for falling stars but
The patio trembles, undone from the wall
The meadowlarks no longer sing the songs of our childhood, 
Begin to mimic our phones

that’s not how you sing the song

Garbage fires scurry across the prairie a gilded facsimile of dawn
Across both lanes of the interstate

I don’t like when you pull her apart like that

The last thing we thought we would have to worry about is fire.




Before you were born you floated in a tropical sea,
moving with heartbeat-waves
and expectation. Around you were sunflower-colored bees.

The boat of the moon was a half-grin in the quiet.
Our voices were coaxing you to this shore of light.
You moved unhurried although we tugged on your rope.

All distance is not a straight line,
nor is it measured by an albatross’s flight.
Not all dreams are smoke.

The songs of life are not in any jukebox. 
Silence is an umbilical cord wrapped around the room.
They were worried about a possible blood clot.

Voices were rain-dreams upon the roof of the womb;
there was a risk you would not survive,
as they pushed air into your blue lips.

~Martin Willitts Jr.~



What Happens When We Die


When we die, the body empties
like a rust-belt city —
words are helpless.

Sometimes, city lights are purged.
The first to struggle with packing
for the journey is memory.

We need the touchstone of love.
But it unravels disappearing mileage posts:
the name of your first pet; your first teacher;

the first leaf you witnessed falling;
the lyricism of the first bird you heard
and how its name fluttered away like a city.

As we die, memory is formally handed over
to regret. We wonder what we did wrong.
It is the calm before steel melts in a factory.

Regret explores each decision
and finds them lacking.  Each day, passion
is a fountain someone turns on and off.


We arrive unexpectedly
upon a red bell-shaped trillium.
The momentary is like this hand moving.

Leaves fall into a pond, over days.
All death mixes. The pond smears with color,
There is an emptying of spirit.

We all do this, eventually.
Then there is this capacity
where love is give and take, and release.

There is an ease in which loss is discarded.
The amount of light reduces.
There is no ravening madness in loss.


All traditions of love and suffering ends —
they are different as light, as days,
as blood, as sleep. No two the same.

In the sky there are no silver stars
in the blackboard night. No
connect-a-dots star constellations.

No clapping of clouds making chalk dust.
No erasers changing the outcome of death.
No instruction of what to do next.

We have focused on distance
instead of what matters up close;
never the life within blood.


I imagine when we die
our spirits fly with winter geese
to places we cannot even imagine.

And when we arrive,
we do not bring mistakes, or anger,
or bed sheets where regrets still sleep.

~Martin Willitts Jr.~



Second Chances

No one considers how Lazarus felt when he was aware
of his second chance. All around, the crowd was as wasps
challenging to sting his resurrection with doubt.

How long did he live afterwards? And, did he question it?
He must have felt strange, out of place, one foot in the grave.
He had to consider if this was kindness or punishment.

Of all the beloved people, why him? Lazarus understood
the crocus on a deeper, shared level. He was both himself
and not. No one understood when he spoke in tongues. 

~Martin Willitts Jr.~




Do I still have a destiny,
or will I just become another belly,
incrementing annually?
I do not know an invocation
that will summon assistance
for meaningful continuation.
Only hope still endures
that I will yet accomplish
something of wonder.



Bone of My Bone

I’m my own land, unmanageable. There’s a cross
            road where my hands and lips intersect

with an illumined city’s open windows to blackbirds
            that promise to come through branches,

incising a woman’s kitchen, the reliquaria of domesticity –
            white-draped ducks’ broken necks rising

on counters. How do I measure the body’s gardens
from within its bone fences? A woman’s skin

is one world. The birth canal is another – how you lived
in a bell or in an oyster, rocking back and forth

in seaweed for a long time. Who hatches from it, shining
 through rain? In the old world, piss prophets mixed

a woman’s lemon urine with wine to discern what
            was in the womb. A hand held out for a zinnia

if the body emptied, if a distant horse runs back
to God, if a boat grows smaller, its cargo

of consecrated pears now rotting. My mother will curl
into herself, as will I, as did my grandmother, joints

unloosening more than a century after her birth. I put
            the lines that grew on her skin into a bowl, muddy

my fingers in her waxiness and into her dead eye,
unraveling her, seaming her skin, blanching her

bones back to such a shine, like a giant star’s last open
into brilliance. The unhurried light is dying, drunken

bees dropping into water, isn’t it? My body is made
            from these flat-footed women – when I step

outside not knowing where I’m headed, one of them wakes
            from her dream of owls calling and hisses,

We created you from what we saved.

(this poem was previously published in "The Journal" and currently appears within Nicole Rollender's new Blood Pudding Press poetry chapbook, "Bone of My Bone", available here -https://www.etsy.com/shop/BloodPuddingPress)




I raze my heart for you,
four red oxen of the apocalypse

on thunder-hooves.
Yet, instead of fire and pestilence, this new earth

fashioned windows from tree and lake
into the divine,

snow falling from sun. What is the divine, but God-
light, thorn and scourge, blood let, that bone

shine? What is also the divine: There is no saint
without a past.

No sinner who can’t see God waking,
as another pit opens.

(this poem currently appears within Nicole Rollender's new Blood Pudding Press poetry chapbook, "Bone of My Bone", available here -https://www.etsy.com/shop/BloodPuddingPress)