Dancing with Chowski

Kari Rhyan.jpg

Selections from Dancing with Chowski, a collection of unpublished poems centering around my time as a nurse and casual observer of citizens in and around Bellingham, Washington, "The City of Subdued Excitement."


I can’t write on medication
stretch out on planks
keep them I punch it

A hole through the knot

I’ll make it my shush
the capsules fall just
the air bleeds out

(pick them up)

I can’t write on medication
(two no but my one)
said I can’t have a you 

here if you’re never

A now

I’ll make it my shush
the capsules fall just
my sun faded

(“You in live in half light.”)

But I can’t write! I can’t write!
(and you can’t live
without your we)


I do not remember
                              most beautiful
when I gave them the poison
to make their lumps

I cannot recall
                               who prayed
while ungracious tissue
and came back 

I do recount the times
of mostly nothing
and nonesuch 

I forget all but
                               their names


I walked past a crippled corner
Where a man was
Digging in a ditch six feet down
Preserving the root of a
centennial dogwood

Jerky orange hatted and hungry
For a fight he said, 
“All this for a fucking tree?!” 
On my heels at my back
He yelled, “Yeah, I said that!”


My love had a patient
One elderly, howling
Helen Chowski.

She danced
By herself every day
In the lounge to an imaginary radio. 

Lipstick smeared
Hips swiveling
Eyes closed
And head thrown back

With brown
            flowing down
                     Her blue

“Helen, my dear,
What are you doing?”

“I’m dancing with Elvis!” 


I come out of the kitchen
and think about
everything I regret

That time with the guy
a name caller
that careless purchase
a paperweight.

I move into the living room
And think about
Everything I regret

That guy with the gun
could get me killed
the elder with a temper
much worse than mine

I sit at the computer
And think about
Everything I regret

shooting down my hair
making way for my 

fingers. The tool at the bar
the one who said no and no
the cowardice that enveloped
after she you that thing
the time a friend left my eyes
don’t look at me anymore
the lie that was discovered
after coming home
the milk the murder
and marrying 

all made way for you.


Gus sticks out his mitt
For beer money. 

He’s scarred from
Elbow to wrist 

On account of his 

smoking a Camel
And pumping gas 

A few years back.


The one told me,
“Without love I’m
raped of all
ambition.” She looks
at me for affirmation.
(You’re right.)

“You don’t know
how hard it is to
meet someone
like you.” 
(I might.)


I let my wife have chickens
To leach out the mothering

I suspect she will
Die in childbirth

"You bleed too much
An egg is an egg is an egg," I tell her

But I want to see my face,
She says.


After the dog died
I swept weekly

The first week
Wiry hair in bunny bunches

The second
A mound

The third
A wisp on a bristle

I swept weakly until
Her hair was gone


You’d tell me anything to
Come inside
What’s she made of?
Friable stuff
Fluffy and disintegrating
Like cotton candy
Blood red and wan
Like a popped balloon
Generous and withholding
Like an aunt holds family secrets
What’s she made of?
Friable stuff