Selected Poems. The Next of Us is About to Be Born, edited by Maggie Anderson, Kent State University Press, 2009.

“The books in the Wick Poetry Series present exciting writing by new and emerging poets. Diverse, surprising, and politically and emotionally charged, this series has published some of the best new poetry being written, chosen by many of our most beloved and respected poets. The Next of Us Is About to Be Born is a valuable addition to the landscape of contemporary poetry.”—Harvey Hix, Finalist for the 2006 National Book Award in Poetry for CHROMATIC

The Next of Us Is About to Be Born is an anthology of fifty-five poets published in the Wick Poetry Series celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. Designed to be an eclectic grouping, the anthology illustrates the exciting new directions poets have been taking from the early 1990s to the present, in keeping with the Wick Poetry Center’s mission of encouraging new voices.



Twenty Questions for Robbie Dunkle. Kent State University Press, 2004.

“Inspired by the story of Secundus the Silent Philosopher and the twenty vital questions posed to him by Emperor Hadrian, J. Gabriel Scala’s Twenty Questions for Robbie Dunkle moves swiftly and deftly into the essence of human existence—memory. Imbued with that ancient consideration, Robbie Dunkle emerges as a chance metaphor for the poet’s own past, the dead past, which becomes our past, with all of its wonders and wastes, which only brilliant poetry can revive this powerfully.”—Larissa Szporluk

“J. Gabriel Scala’s series of unanswerable questions to seventh-grade companion Robbie Dunkle are singular as pebbles, marked with vivid details of a lost but living time and place. Scala throws them far into the water until they resonate, sending circles out into the abyss, captivating us in the endless human process of cycling through the past.”—Annie Finch






Moon City Review, Spring 2013, p. 183.


“Blind Date for Old Turtles Yielded Eggs, No Offspring”

                                     —The New York Times, October 8, 2008


In the article, she is nameless, this Yangtze giant soft-shelled turtle

who had lived alone, the last living female of her species, undiscovered

inside the hull of a Chinese zoo. For half a century


no one questioned the childless ache that thrummed in her belly,

the way she sometimes sank into the murky water, eyes lowered, making

her solitary progress to the filthy bed below, the years of preparation:


fattening up and building nests, rising each year from the dark mud,

each year without child, searching out the full sun on her back, the frail

air where eggs could safely wait for one to come. The dreamed one,


the one imagined almost into being. And then scientists and doctors,

the zookeepers got involved—threading needles into her veins, exposing her

soft underbelly, injecting hormones, taking her far from home


to one who climbed on top, the weight of him pressing down on her,

the weight of emptiness and hope, the years of longing, bearing down

on her, that yielded eggs, hollowed out, cracked and brittle, that died


one by one. The scientists make plans for the two turtles to try again.

How can they know how the longing slows and stills, finally dissipating

into the air like the stench of a startled and dead bird who lay for hours


gently panting at the bottom of a windowpane before finally letting go?


sunrise-from-blue-thunderNOTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK

Sunrise from Blue Thunder Anthology, edited by Millicent Borges Accardi, Pirene’s Fountain, 2011.


Lately I have been terrified of words, words like:

nuclear crisis; like: tsunami; like: cold front,

while I sit in this apartment and watch chaos unfurl

like: a shoeless girl on a curb; like: a ship

atop a building.


This is not about the Japanese earthquake, it’s much


too soon for that. That story, anyway, cannot be written

by me. And I should say, as an aside, that my own feelings,

like: helplessness; like: horror; like: grief,

are inconsequential and do no one any good. No,

this is not about the hundreds of thousands who

just a few days ago were doing things like: cooking;

like: laughing, and who are now smoothing the hair

of their child who lay still in a crumpled car on the shore,

who are now clustered around a wind-swept fire in snow.


If it were about them, I would say: you will survive this.

I would say: if there is nothing left but the kitchen sink,

grab hold of it and remember the smooth slice of knife

separating fish from skin, root from bark. Remember

washing apricot and fig, and the way the sun streamed

through water while you washed your son’s hands.



Naugatuck River Review, Summer 2010, p. 60.


Mr. Takaji checks in on me from time to time, from the upstairs office

where he sits all night – faded flag on the wall, a letter from President

Clinton in a dusty wooden frame. The regulars seep in,


buy hot coffee, bags of chips, after the bars have closed. They linger

like boys loitering in halls, carry with them a conversation, angry

talk about the Muslims in our town. George snorts


at headlines: Harassment, vandalism a reality for Muslim-Americans,

draws a finger, slow, across his throat. Mr. Takaji comes down

from his loft, holds a picture, in his hand, in the air:


a young boy stands mug-shot-style in front of a chart, his name

white letters below his chin. Inscribed on the frame: Tule Lake, 1945—

Do you see this? he asks. Everyone here knows the story:


The dusty, ill attended Labor Day parade; boys in rows saluting behind

concertina wire, aging grandparents slowly sinking into desert floor.

His voice resonates. Their heads nod as if on a single spring.


The fluorescent lights flicker and whirr. Everything looks yellow.

His hand shakes. I turn and look at the regulars, their faces

ashen, awkward. They line up, pay for their drinks. The ball jangles


their departure. They leave him standing there, black and white photo

hanging mid-air. The glass rattles in the frame as he drops it, heavy

on the counter, slowly shuffles back up the stairs.


Hang that on the wall, he says from the top, his voice a tired whisper.

I turn and look up. He is wiping his glasses with the bottom of his shirt,

he is wiping his eyes with his sleeve.



Quarter After Eight, vol. 11/12, 2006, p. 188.


In that moment, that brief, illusive moment, you actually allow yourself to think: somebody better be dead because the cars and trucks and exhaust fumes have come to a sudden and complete stop in front of you, and you almost, just barely missing by the skin of your teeth, hit that station wagon full of kids who are now making ugly clown faces in your direction as you pull out your last cigarette from the crumpled pack at your side, throw the snickers bar wrapper out the window and realize you have to use the bathroom—soon—and you’ll be even later than you were already going to be meeting your lover at that little restaurant with the red and white checkered plastic table cloths to have one of those I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry conversations that has had you tied in knots for the past three weeks, that has made breathing an act of sheer will and he’ll sit on the other side of the table and watch you squirm like your father’s fishing bait, watch the way you twirl a swatch of your hair around and around your finger trying to keep from biting your nails which need painting or shifting too noticeably in your chair and eventually he’ll let you off the hook…he’ll give you permission to breathe again and you’ll call him a son of a bitch under your breath and knock your chair over as you get up, excusing yourself, and practically run to the bathroom where you’ll curse and cry and scream and the old woman coming out of the stall behind you will click her tongue and shake her head and make you feel like a three-year-old having a tantrum in the middle of the Bellevue Baptist Church social where there is little or no mention of Christ or hypocrisy, just talk of lemon meringue pies and kids these days and everyone is looking at you as you exhale loudly, squash out the smoke you have smoked to the butt, raise your middle finger to the horn blowing behind you and notice that the cars are now moving.


becky-sierraANGEL SPEAK

Sierra Nevada Review, vol. 16, 2005, p. 62.


I once believed I was the sea, until I opened a vein,

saw no spiny starfish or milky white nettles—


You believed that children should dream, drew your arms

around imaginary wings and said: instead of float, fly.


Now that you are dying, I hold your hand, borrow

these words for you: I am human, I am human.


I will not be an angel again. The sky is aflame with

the quietness of this rending. I wake.



Poems & Plays, vol. 10, 2003, p. 14.


My mother whispers hush softly into my hair while I rock,

a steady metronome of grief, now that she has risen

from her leaning stance, lifted her head from your dead body

and walked away from this grave.


I am slowly disappearing under her hand, a rose beneath snow,

roots stretching down into the ground, down into moist soil,

to touch you one last time, to intertwine thin fingers with yours,

and whisper soft the secrets I never told.


Father, I would stay here with you, in this darkened and quiet

tunnel, the weight of it burying my view. But she is pulling

on me. She is tearing and screaming for me to come back.

Her fingers are raw with the digging and digging.



Poems & Plays, vol. 10, 2003, p. 13.


Three weeks to the day after

my grandfather’s body was cremated, I am

sitting on a horse

in Georgia

in the snow

a day after my wedding.


We surmise each other,

the horse and I. She is pulling

at my tug, listening for the tch tch

that tells her to move. It is beautiful,

the snow falling in fat flakes,

the horse’s breath in the air,

my new husband smiling

as he brushes the coat of his own horse.


Death is all around us.   And why not

speak of it? It is in a person

to feel such things,

to be aware of her skeleton,

the bare trees.


The limbs of the oaks are covered

in white. The snow covers too

the open field, hiding

the graves. I clutch the reins,

dig my heels into her side.



Beacon Street Review, vol. 16, no. 2, 2003, p. 88.


He believes the window is not broken because he holds a shard of the pane

in his hand. He conducts an orchestra with a bent stick, bows to the audience.


Bells and frayed string hang down from the branches in a cluster of trees

that line the rusted railroad tracks along mission 66. He pauses to notice


the bells, now rusted through, their silver burned out, the clapper long gone,

that hang with the rope, and wonders if it once held the frail neck of a boy.


He looks from the glass to the bells and back again. There is no salvation in either.

A symphony plays in his head, one-two-three, one-two-three, the violins are mad


with their humming, a lone cello murmurs in the distance, he is spinning

and laughing. The bells take up their dancing, the ground rumbles its applause.