Veteran’s Day Ode

Pop enlisted as soon as he could,

itching like the fellas did back then

to get over there and show what

he was made of.  But WWII was done,

and at the base in San Diego he kept

his shoes shined, his chest out, and his

cap just right of center, at least in the

pictures he sent to his mother, who sighed.

He wanted to be like his brother who

never spoke of the Purple Heart or the

terror that preceded it, or the bile that

rose to the back of his throat to the end

of his days whenever a door slammed

or a car backfired. Without a war to prove

his mettle, he never was known as a veteran.

But he was ready, by God.  He was ready.   

We hung his PFC picture on the Honor

Wall at the retirement home, and he gave

us an earful on why he didn’t deserve a place

among the real soldiers, but it stayed there

‘til after the funeral, and I like to think that

on his good days, he might have looked at

that handsome man with the twinkling eyes

and smiled back, proud that he had tried.

©Dana Hughes 11.12.21


Memories rise like swamp gas from dank depths to burst at the surface and propel me to days forgotten.  Today’s blister holds the hamster that my sister, two years senior, convinced our parents we would care for after she’d seen a litter at a friend’s house. Ginger arrived in a small cage and drew blood when my sister put her hand inside.

Salve and a bandage were applied, plus Momma’s kisses, which I wanted badly enough to offer my finger for the swift bite that garnered no sympathy as I should have learned from my sister’s mistake, or so I was told.  Hamsters are not born tame, but we didn’t know that.  Nor did we know their life span was only two years. Our interest proved far less.

There were delighted weeks in which she napped in our shirt pockets and loaded her cheeks with sunflower seeds. But the novelty thinned, and the exercise wheel squeaked, and she was moved from our room to the garage, where not long after I found her dead. We said we’d take care of her, and we didn’t.  I didn’t.

Guilt bit hard like those tiny razor teeth, and burrowed deep into the warren of my heart, to birth litter after litter of small things I couldn’t save, not least of which the fetuses that slipped my uterine grasp.

It’s only after all these years that I remember I was 5; hardly a responsible age.

© Dana Hughes 10.26.21


When the ferruginous hawk took flight

from the prairie dog town mound with

talons wrapped round one of the locals,

his breakfast sank its teeth into his toe,

and with attention turned from a swift

lift above the highway,

he met his end on a windshield, fell

to the shoulder and released his prey,

which scurried home to tell the tale of

salvation by car, while the lifeless wings

of the hawk continued to rise and fall in

the slipstream moving past.

Dana Hughes © 9.22.21

Confession for 2020

In a year of horrors of which no one needs particulars

that might nudge the loss, grief, fear, and pain up

from the shallow graves of memory like knobby

leg bones after too much rain,

we are plunged into the heretical sea of duality,

in which the ceaseless love of the Holy One is paired

not with its opposite but its absence; grace to graceless,

blessing to indifference.

All is salt; tears shed and wounds abraded, tongues

blistered on the draft of goodbyes unsaid, while the

conjoined twins, Doldrum and Maelstrom, reel above

splintered keels of capsized dreams.

Who is the Jonah with his duffle of sin, that brought this

godless wrath upon us?  Whom shall we pitch to the deep

in our stead, to wedge between the gnashing jaws

lest they snap shut upon us?

Look to the eyes of all for the flickers of guilt and virtue,

especially our own, then raise the howl of contrition

for the clay-footed idols we’ve made, every

one of them shod in our shoes.

©Dana Hughes 12.28.20

Christmas Decorations

The tree enthroned in the living room

winks a coded message in mini lites,

to the magi marching east to west along

the mantel toward the ceramic infant

wide awake between kneeling

mother and father, both clean and pert

despite the travel and childbirth ordeal.

But those unwise wise men are heedless;

a different light draws them to the crib.

Is it star the divine parent of this

incarnation has fixed above the babe

to reveal, like an X on a treasure map,

the very spot where he may be found?

Or is it the fire in the breasts of a trio

of fools who must be first to discover

and name the newest wonder? 

Either way, they neither slow nor turn

and by their fervor to witness, lead the

furies of the mortal king to other boys

asleep on the hay.

Donkey and cow, sheep and shepherds

peer through painted eyes at the holy child

and behind them all, in the darkest of

Christmas shadows, stand figures

of empty-armed women, with blood

of the slain on their ashen cheeks.

©Dana Hughes 12.5.20


The chrysanthemum inked

on the soft flesh of her forearm,

almost but not quite covered the scars

of the hieroglyphs etched with a

paring knife, each an invocation

of the endorphin god,

an oblation of pain to silence pain.

This symbol of life blooms between

please and thank you,

it’s petals lift and fall

on the rifts of damaged skin

as on a breeze.

© Dana Hughes 9.22.20

Imago Dei

On a breathless day when nothing stirred

an oak released its deep grip on the earth

lashed the air as it tried a different hold

sliced through the house crushed the car

drove limbs seven feet into the ground and

some how, no one was hurt, yet elsewhere

too much rain turned a mountain to mud

so it roiled through a town where people

slept and buried them in their beds.

For the stillbirth, tsunami and this type of

cancer there is no cure, hence the gamble

for those lacking the oven mitts of religion

who shape their understanding of the Holy

on what they observe in Nature, especially

the tenderness of Spring is perilous, as high

winds and the careen of tectonic plates are

Nature’s too, so bowing the head to that god

requires a fealty of fear and kneeling serves

only to still the clamor of knocking knees.

© Dana Hughes 4.19.20



As should be obvious God means business

when She He They Them creates something

that heretofore did not exist.

Witness the mountains that were eons

in the making, each layer of upthrust

earth a chapter in the book of HOLY IDEAS,

with bones and time pressed between like

roses in the family Bible.

Observe the gathering of winds in great

wheels that scour sea and land with force

equal to that exerted in dividing light from

dark in a whirling dervish dance.

Behold the pippingtooth that unzips shell

and recedes within the beak on the day

after the chick kicks free.

Consider the note, the hue gathered by

ear or eye and the tasting of tongue as it

rolls these round in spit and thought til

they are pearls pushed through teeth that

yield or break into open palms.

If creation has taught anything it is this:

wise is she who waits with needle and string.


©Dana Hughes  11.2.19

Thanks For Nothing, Dorothy

In black and white you sang a dream

of bluebirds and rainbow that shaped

me like a bonsai pine leaning hard

into a still wind. That was me at your

side on the long road back to the home

you thought better of leaving once you’d

gone, and I more than any other coveted

the sequined power of those ruby shoes

to dance me down a road of my own,

out and away. I believed it all, even your

remorse, which left me unshod and shaking,

whirling like a twister in my own backyard.

Your dream wasn’t mine after all

and those shoes were wasted on you.


©Dana Hughes 10.28.19

Fill In The Blank

#2’s poised above the page

teacher intoning instructions

for the first test taken in a long line

of tests on which the future hangs;

fill in the bubble leave no stray marks,

as if those dark circles aren’t all strays

filled as they’ll be with assumptions,

the eenie meenie miney mos of our

thinking given that we’re children

when first asked to prove what

we know.


This Fill in the Blank is essential to

identity for this is how we learn same

and other, naming what goes in that

space, molding thought like lumps of

Play-Doh into forms we claim are

recognizable, yet even Moses needed

more information to fill in the blank when

the bush burned and a voice said go.


It wasn’t the message that stilled

him where he stood but the blank he

couldn’t fill. Give me a name, a trait,

an address, he said, but the voice replied

it doesn’t really matter as there’s only me

so tell them it was I who sent you, an answer

that didn’t fit the question just like the one he

got when asking for a face-to-face and the

voice said seeing me will kill you, implying

that blank cannot be filled with what we know

since all we know is through being us and

the one who spoke is everything we’re not.


Evenso we pencil in the answers and

deem them correct despite the lack

of proof and grade our fellows in red

when their response does not match

ours and the unanswerable mutters,

stray marks stray marks.


©Dana Hughes 9.15.17