tap tap tapatap tap

when they taught “keyboarding” in school–which made me believe

we’d be learning accompaniment for rock bands, how to use synth

but was in reality a lot less cool–they said keep your fingers

together on the home row.  the little bumps under

f and j keep your index digits in place like

white lines on a parking lot

like the slots on toasters

and if you really need to you can stretch

all the way to lonely q or shift your way

to a question mark.  but don’t ever leave

your home row.

Well, I’ve been a long way from home

seen places where the keyboard arranged its

letters and punctuation according to a different

typographical calculus, where all my a’s turned

to exotic q’s and apostrophes into ù’s

I’ve met folks whose fingers read different kinds of bumps into

lines of poetry

This keyboard isn’t my home, just where words slide

easily into one another

combine and we rely on them together

read between the lines

between the regular taps of fingers

this isn’t music, really

it’s believing without seeing

Bit by bit, Mom taught me to be polite

Say please and thank you

excuse me   I’m sorry   pardon me

ma’am   sir   miss

Take off your hat, feet off chairs

elbows off tables

Wipe your shoes

She trained me

with all the trappings of a time when

these habits meant status,

elevated birth

Today this polite trellis

she wound my wild briar will around

comes in handy still: each

excuse me

could you please

yields a golden ticket to high society, social mobility

(allows me to walk neighborhoods full

of boutiques and organic raw restaurants while

wearing Target boots and secondhand clothes)

Mom gave me the magic words

pardon me  open sesame

could I please speak with you for a moment

quietly, enunciating as carefully

as I shape each hand-written thank you note

I send


Even if I measured out

syllables to spell

an apology, how much would it mean

to you?

After all the times you’ve heard “sorry” emptied

of meaning

(only bitter dregs left, a

tea that burns instead of soothing)

how could you accept it, knowing how little

words are worth and how much

everything else costs? Though you

have long been

keeping closer company with tip percentages and

account balances than I am used to,

at least I know

no amount of apologizing will make up for this.  The list

of broken promises runs too long

in your mind’s reckoning, zeroes and minuses

written in the red of

your own blood.  If only I could shoulder

some of your debt, lay down words

like poker chips

towards a future where

you don’t have to keep count of sorry’s and

where I can give

without taking too much of you.

…speaking with conviction.  It should not matter

what my gender is

the color of my hair, skin, accent

or whether I’m wearing the right kind of

flag lapel pin.  I could shout into

a bullhorn mic or whisper

quiet as the night when the wind is low

but you would still hear me

absorb every syllable, and know that

I mean it.  I will no longer be afraid

to use academic vocabulary–I refuse

to pretend I don’t remember

or understand, when I’ve actually known these words

by heart for years

I just lacked the conviction to

make them clear.