nrt centos (community made poems) 

A cento is a poem composed of lines written by others:

the term comes from the latin word for "patchwork garment."


At a no river twice performance, we track the lines that have connected words or ideas from one poem to the next.  

We assemble the lines into a cento at the conclusion

of a round of reading.

Kind of a meta-poem of the reading. A verbal collage.

A motley thing. The poem the audience made.

We'll even send it to you afterwards...

Here are a few recent centos...


NEW CENTOs from our May 11, 2022 reading....

Through the Windshield


and gone, rain-lapsed into dream-blur, an exile

from everything, this love that steals us, makes 

us slink away into an idling cab--

gone, not the name it preferred to go by

as a child, but its given name, the name

the doctor repeated, his hand humming

down to kiss your underside. This moment,

we mourn the immensity of this love, 

its loss, deep and old-fashioned, barging head-

first outside to find us, a screen door wedged

by a branch, a wayward rhododendron

flowering in blue.

5/11/22 via zoom

 Rain, Silver, Tongue              cento#2 from same lines


An idling steals you, slinks into rain-blur, 

gone the dream-lapsed love.

Everything else an exile. Name it. 

Children? Marshmallow? Not clear. 


Heels side-by-side, hum a constellation 

of kisses—star, moon, star—a kind of eerie 

vulgarity, the underside of love. 

Mourn the immensity, the deep 


vastness of old-fashioned blue found 

wedged inside the flowering rhododendron. 

Come out the screen door, own that moment

when her deep voice cheered you on.        

5/11/22 via zoom

The Worm is Implied

Who knew we would start with blueberries at the opera?
No one could have fished it out, the modest monster
searching, a clever beast fumbling in the harsh air,
listening, wheezing, crashing through the darkened
rectilinear gravity. Buoyant, the creature's arms
carrying us home like a goat, a calf watching itself
slide into straw. One door closes, and the other
stays closed, mixing the impossible weight of the Nile
with the stone at the bottom, marblequiet. We pass through
the water's edge stricken, worrying, pain softened
by the morning after. It carries our face where it will,
a whole life spent walking down some dazzled lane
no more than a wisp, no more above or below than air.
Who knew we would end in a field in Kansas?

                                                           Lit Life Conference 4/23/22

It Might, At Last

Be sufficient, a balanced love --
he, ex, me, ex, an equation
one falls prey to in half-sleep,
a dream we can't recall. Do not risk
a breath, its thread like stripping
hair, like nicked secrets, the surety
of death we cannot grasp. Pay attention --
here is beauty, sweet, green corn; here 
is pain, a failed crop, bursting. Mornings
spent lifting our voices in green-lit 
supplications, hosanna, hosanna, light
in darkness -- a muddy light, but imagine 
if we just let our guard down, if we reached 
for it, glinting in the give and take 
of the tide. We may find something there --
a home we may not always see, but one
we can return to when our travels are done.



4/13/22 via zoom

Love Might      (cento #2 from same lines)


Love might, at last, be a balanced equation, 

sufficient, half-standing alongside 


the dream of stripping death, the knick 

of last breath, the waiting grasp 


of beauty and the pain it remakes 

like fields of green corn bursting 


sweet hosanna to the green-lit morning. 

Expect light when darkness falls. 


Hope, though we may not see it. 

Guard down, completely home, 


we return when our travels are done—

briny, ruined, new, and soft as spiral


corridors of conch shells spreading silver—

the way the tide gives and takes.

4/13/22 via zoom

Not What You Thought You'd Be Reading

In eighth grade already, no longer fourth
grade girls at a lunch table, outcasts in yellow-white
dresses and daisy bouquets, the best
of every color. The elevator in my dream sprouts
like seeds scattered before a closed door, a sign
of emerging green and easy, a sign of growing
like we wish we could, marking the spots where breasts
will be, in the pits between arms and legs,
the bare animal of our bones working
in the sun, tiny scraps stripped from the spinal column,
letters in tiny script on squares of blackened paper
leaked from the pen, fingers on skin, a puzzle 
of blotted scribbles, we scavenge this beauty 
from the garden of our bodies, in desperate daylight,
a letter, written from a distance -- I love you.

3/9/22.  via zoon

Already, This Is                  (variation on same lines)

Not what you thought you’d be reading: two outcasts

& a lunch table of fourth grade girls, yellow dresses,


yellow daisy bouquets, & the best parts of 

your yellow-white mamma. Like the elevator 


in dream, mushrooms sprouted from moist carpet 

like these marigold seeds scattered and already


green— we could wish them away, beat their breasts 

in the backyard, mark the spot our pit bull died 


in my husband’s arms. Bury bones in the sun, strip 

down any animal to squares of blackened letters, 


tiny scraps of tiny script the pen leaked. 

A puzzle of love letters from jail, scribbles 


with a gloved finger you scavenged overnight. 

Chaos and trespass. Beauty in a desperate garden.

3/9/22 via zoom

An Afternoon Flirting with Lapping Tide


I believe it is love, and let the ocean have me,
now that I'm done with the boy with dangerous curls

from white-hot America, a honeyed exit door
pulled outwards, a symphony too beautiful to leave.


Moonlight, a paper-necked boat down a long river,
carried on the smoke-soft current of the sky,


sifts the buttermesh, the silt, the silk, all three
worlds in one glance -- resuscitates me, rushes in

through my cottage door, the keys left hung 
on the rack in the corner, keeping quiet there


in the summer dark, the purple of each other's bodies,
adoring the same moon -- be this. Let go. Let it in.

2/9/2022 via zoom

Silt and Shadow                    (variation on the same lines)


After flirting with the white-hot sun 

and the boy with dangerous curls, I want 

to stop moving and let the ocean have me. 


America, now that I’m done with you, 

all exit doors pull outwards, the world not 

too beautiful to leave— the symphony, 


the imperfect dancing, paper boats down a river 

beneath moonlight, milksilver, smoke, ocean, 

buttermilk sky—water is the finest mesh. 


Silt, mud, silk, all three worlds in one glance

reveal with clarity the crime scene: keys left,

hung on the rack by the umbrella stand 


quiet in the summerdark, same moon, 

same earth, same purple shadow. Light tries 

to reach you. Be this thrum of letting in.


2/9/2022 via zoom

Before It's Time

How tiring it is to rummage through each year's 
map of the world like a shed filled with white fog, 

settling like a thin coat with a lasting scent 
like gardenia or lily, a shadowed veil

of goose-white death lowering its paper wings.
We practice our words like loud branches cut

above the healthy bud, pointing in the cardinal
direction of the wound. Tell me -- where does the hawk

live? In the honored burl, flapping in the cracks 
in the middle of my life, forlorn and stunned,

mute as newsprint, and yet along with the other
screaming fuckers--kookaburra, loon, lark--

lets us know they aren't about to budge.

12/8/21 via zoom


Random Woman


Sailor and saint, heartening compass, she speaks:

I rose, a cardinal sizzling its defiant

legless dance, seductive, like the experience

of the first prick in the dark, its nectar,

of the bodies that teach us how to lose. 

Then she runs wherever the dead lay 

in their funk, remembering and released, the selves

so small and awe-filled they must have been imagined.


NRT 11/9/21 The Ice House #1


A Trail of Turtles


Watch them -- like wide-bosomed women 

in the river, deep as a cluster 

of continents, biting little blossoms

bloody, their cold love like fallen leaves

at the bottom of the pool, like girlish

heresies, bluegrass, brandy-stained 

as painted glass, shaking as they descend

to their drab beds prudently in the dark.

NRT 11/9/21 The Ice House #2

Dreaming the Whole Movie

You know, we do croon 
a certain confidence, 

walking on the beach 
together, our eyes 

keen, excitedly 
watching the fish nets. 

We're in our underwear 
(proof we're dreaming it)

comfortably lit 
by the atmosphere

of heaven, the distant 
stars laying out

safe air in the universe, 
the old farewell

to the flutter 
of our hearts, thumping

like sweet ghosts, dancing 
imperfect, voices 

calling soft, though no birds, 
only windchimes spreading 

their cold fountain of light, 
only tambourines drumming. 

Sometimes I'm not 
just dreaming it.

Sometimes I want 
this forever.

10/15/21   Caesura Poetry Festival


Desire as a Tree on Fire

Or a fish jumping in my heart, a house 
melting after midnight, a rowboat 
like a cupped hand full of lost years, 
a phantom mouth blowing a chill breeze earthbound, 
braiding two lives, a door, big and sweet, 
that will not close, lollygagging 
in the scented milk of dreams, dissolving 
like sugar. Upturn the green lands, 
displace me. What glad work it is.

10/15/21 Caesura Poetry Festival

Tall and buzzed for comfort, 
a lanky shock of indigo 
iceflesh. You're doing it again-- 
your sewn spine fading, 
but just long enough 
to lose your cool, the weathered 
sound ringing eureka, eureka 
in a punctured ear. Nevertheless, 
I promise, my words light 
and crisp, coiled tight and weightless 
in the tiny yellow room 
held in my mouth, inoffensive 
and rather beautiful, slowly winding 
through your sleeping head.

Short Reading #8   9/15/21 via zoom


A Spectrum of Place and Home

Home was the place where we bloomed, a rose
through jean skirts, a larval thing from bedrock
that had never seen the light of day, a paper crane
folded up, the hell of a schoolbus, an empty bottle
spinning on cement floor, dark hair coiffed,
a flipped chrome lighter, the red tip 
of a cigarette that neoned my sister’s name 
in the air in flickering tribute, between night
and a bend in the road, as if to hold up our love
to watch the light pass through it.

NRT Short Reading #6 4/14/21 via zoom

Flying Like a Lunatic Carpenter

I've never used the word shabby before,
but it's the only word for being belted
to the backseat of my father's convertible,
driving under trees, when a swallow appears,
wings marbled with streaks of cobalt,
tangled feathers, tide-kinked wings mid flight,
gigantic in its glory like a great blue
handkerchief in the sky's pocket, flying
over asphalt, the cuts and bruises that look
like dirt to us smeared along the blacktop,
good enough for momentum rolling, a performance
designed for no one but witnessed by the spruce,
elastic limbs waving to us in the sun, green
and blinking with butterflies, unimpeded---
and the landscape would not say them nay.

NRT Short Reading #5 3/11/21. via zoom



Costumes and Ceremonial Robes

are sedge in moonlight, milksilver 
in the river, are smoke oceans 
of dappled buttersilk, mother's 
archlute of ancient hides stretched taut
over the supermoon, setting
left, quiet, right, quieter still
as expected, and why sometimes
before pushing one spoon through 
with that small pleasure, one serving
of dark moon is enough, spinning
high in the whistling air.  Mother
thinks the agony of creation
has run its course. You are my life,
she says.  Mother is satin, silk,
stained-glass, what's hardened and hidden
in lace aprons, cracked like windows.
So she says. She's probably right.

Short reading #4 2/11/21  via zoom


O Wheels


O wheels of bright invisible stars

You taught eternity, world without end
Each fall I pull you out of the box to test your soles
volunteers in their blue vests assembled
under yesterday’s blown curtains of rain
stretched out in a canoe on the Chickahominy River 
fingertips blunt, wasp squashed under thumb
laughter dissipates like smoke. 
I don’t know whether I’m selfish or cruel 
my voice is undertow
a flare of orange sparks like tracer rounds 
I turn to watch the embers disappear.


 NRT at Caesura Poetry Festival 10/1/20 (zoom)

Wait Till Sixty

You will turn, in a state, almost deaf—
spend your golden days in the wind,
a chorus of wetting the bed, pajamas
cannabis and cocktails, like a car rattling
to a stop, mowing around your rust for years.

Back in the tank, painted to fool predators
unshaven in the mirror – where do you come from?
Where do you go? Queen, paleontologist, nun,
or none of the above, appearing and disappearing
in a column of indigo smoke.


 NRT at Caesura Poetry Festival  10/1/21 

I Made Out With A Sweet Vermouth


I can remember the sign of the cross

like riding a bike –

cleaning house to music

and wiggles between sofa cushions.

Sometimes bikes collide,

because what’s the fun of being Barbie,

a pig rooting truffles, the relentless

plague of flies—you can’t soak hams

long enough, cornmeal and pork bones,

it could have been any day,

it had to be this one.

I swear to God, this

chromatic communion my husband

sang in Sunday School—wondering

who will call first?

Phoenixville Cento #1     


Remembered from an Earlier Landscape


To love jigsaw puzzles, you have to love trouble, 

revising one's map of the world 


and that spindly, easily preyed upon feeling 

of shame— a copperhead 


looked straight in the eye. Empty husk 

of skin, soft lash. So many scarred 


with your kisses and my claim is tenuous 

at best, hands and knees in the dirt, razor 


to my neck. The sun's dismissive gaze 

turns up the naked body — what’s longed for 


beneath the surface— love. The stars will soon 

shine close, cast a line in the sea-sprayed afternoon.

Bedminster Cento #2         


Kingdom Come



Shhh, God said, when Eve

held the apple out—

poison or no, chartreuse walnuts

on buttonwood street, stiff

sheets newly folded—

you can learn a lot about people,

maybe kindred, kooks of a moment

ago, sideshow freaks jammed

into a jar—Adam proposes,

takes the old viola, rests

in a tree, what seems like

a thousand cranes pass, mourning doves

under cover, enclosed

like a houseboat, access to the pill,

some blood on a wire,

the exquisite itch

of summer.

Phoenixville Cento #2   


Cool Parchment in a House on Fire


Your flesh— such cohesion, stretched

thinly over wooden finials, a smoke

ocean that seems to curl from you to me,

buttermilk smoke that follows our brief

explosion— our creature of pointed teeth

with a past, fish who walk on cloud feet,

birds in hot water, eight quart stock

pot steaming, hearts and backbone,

electric skin unveiled, you comb

your long, long, ever-tangled hair,

all the stars blown to one side of the sky


Princeton Public Library 11.17.19

Cherry on a Sundae

Pamplemousse, at first, and rhubarb

pie-- new sensations, the naked

body dancing, to rise like a carp,

greener, iridescent green,

and all that remains is clarity,

brisk, bright sky cracked

back, black as crows cawing

to be calm, sky and wait.

Stay still, bird, Breathe.

Farley's Bookshop #2


Bent to Earth

The number of stars climbing toward mercy--

we all have somewhere to be,

like fathers moving quietly in other lives,

better scripted, in bright pink deck chairs

laid against the wall.  Just our luck--

a collossal sneer, like growling and snapping

monsters we can prove

by sighting the rare and suburban.

Bucks County Community College #1


You Can Try


Whatever measure offered

goes up, unraveling

bonfires, the road lingering

everywhere, the original

thrill, the naked body—

drink deep. Your taproot,

rabbit cages shattered,

perpetual posture,

letting go, a luscious ache.

The thing about work is

you try to feel it keenly,

in everybody’s shoes.

 Chestnut Hill   #1                               11/16/18

The Waterbound Leaps


How much I am like you,

down to the chiseled bone,

the last thing I ever want,

pockets tucked with hours

of devotion, who listened and fixed

yellow daisy bouquets, starched

rebellion, the harshness—

smack this marriage, clearing

the day’s lesson of inauspicious

tire tracks, half-lowered goldfinch

in the purple thistle, such grating

determination, unmistakable,

fills the air, sway and swish, silk

feathers paint my stiletto heels,

hold still in the radio-fed black—

the fact of her goes on.

 Chestnut Hill #2                             


Springsteen on the Turntable

Your best answer silence.

Baby, this is my church: the deep

significance of sharp-edged things,

a clawed tear in our venture.


Eyes dart, mirror to mirror—

a scarlet berry.


When others ask what color,

ask if she knew, shoot a wide

red-lipsticked “woo hoo”

to anyone passing by.

They cleanse.

 Lansdale #1 


Life is Radiant


Take beauty— flirting in the white-hot sun,

caution always loses in a contest

with bare skin— the heft of its calling.

I sat on the polished pew and swung my legs,

my husband sang, you ran into the burning,

breathed deeply the fullness of a moon

particular to each odd night, trying

to shake the painted stallion. Not my idea,

sneaking cigarettes in the bio lab,

so praise the god of cloned wheat fields,

the dog heavy on the end of the bed.

Pretend you don’t wish for languor and lust.

June 15, 2019  The Ice House  Bethlehem, PA

Think About the Bomb


Think about the bomb, the stench of birth,

she said she wanted to adopt,

understanding the ache.

I want to name this bright day.

Every day a new snowflake,

a bird not moving; losing time.

We play the daydream game,

how to need me. Get lost.

You are not who you say you are.

Bootlaces hold you up.

In a moment, someone reinvents a man,

voices fall into shadow.

You’re the real.

June 15, 2019 The Ice House, Bethlehem, PA

She Resting, He Guarding

So what's the chance this clutch will end

deep in some poet's wine dark Atlantic?

The cuttlefish has three hearts, but no ink,

black as smoke from a poet's inkwell,

small, clear blown glass muddies the waters,

the trout of tumblebrook, its tangy blood,

yellow wings, streaks of onyx and cobalt--

a bad decision to stand thunderstruck, trees

parking the silver drape, its wisteria hysteria,

chandelier, white compote, purple goblet

of sparks, prisms unsmothered by cherry,

unpunctured by tooth--time for an aged provolone.

Chestnut Hill #3                          3/22/19



He doesn't care, either, for the upholstery.

The flowers go on blooming,

as from an overturned white rowboat,

but we barely advance, our shoulders

collapsing, the final chord released

in the nape of our necks. It's crowded here,

so many -- pink and silver, chubby,

cartoonish, clinking into one another,

getting ready for bed, a dearth

of dominance, though someone is in charge.

The fastest way to a man's heart?

Straight through the third and fourth rib.

July 14, 2019   Clay on Main, Oley, Pa

The Acquired Knowledge of Childhood


How to liberate chaos, how clouds

want to know the body, the red wind

picking up, how to read, how mother's voice

picks up a song she liked in high school,


how to track the house, how the horse 

becomes the cold, cold night, how to soap,

how the sound of the ocean, the want

to restore, erase the collage, how it may

be a long way, but how, on a good day,

as each leaf falls, it is followed by the next,

and the next, and the next, how to tell 

a story of how the stars look tonight


NRT Short Reading #2  September 9, 2020

Large Bulge Confined by Fear


Dark and glossy like a finger,

our bodies— swift and shining

in search of meaning. Forgive us

all our flaws. The same rib

made her, made us, against

an unknowing blue sky, our plural

doubled like twin snakes, sugar and salt,

slithering, black and white banded

like the cycle of blue flowers

against a mottled moon, overlapping

burnished scales, bent housewife

and beaten-down husband, penthouse

and houseboat, convince us the bay

is part of the ocean, overbearing branches

undercut, husband on the bandsaw

a hollow where she used to be—

remaindered materials, scarf and pillowcase

Insist on leaving by walking backwards

this oasis—whoever is inside

must be looking out.

Princeton Public Library 11.17.19

WALL – It Will Wear Its Silhouette


Time wears a low neckline

and likes the downward rush and tumble

of social butterflies flitting 

she is my needy one, her nails scritch

on the wooded floor 

wandering and exploration,

not the only actions.

The soldier drew consequence

from her emerald satin dress


a place for stars to go

I wander the streets by night seeking

Six feet of human compassion

at the foot of Mt Compassion

as a stolid stone tower

collapses, a misshapen chaos 

bouncing the rubble

into radioactive motes of joy

12/9/20 Audience Open Reading 

Costumes and Ceremonial Robes

are sedge in moonlight, milksilver 
in the river, are smoke oceans 
of dappled buttersilk, mother's 
archlute of ancient hides stretched taut
over the supermoon, setting
left, quiet, right, quieter still
as expected, and why sometimes
before pushing one spoon through 
with that small pleasure, one serving
of dark moon is enough, spinning
high in the whistling air.  Mother
thinks the agony of creation
has run its course. You are my life,
she says.  Mother is satin, silk,
stained-glass, what's hardened and hidden
in lace aprons, cracked like windows.
So she says. She's probably right

2/11/21 short reading #4 via zoom

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