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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 CENTO from March 22, 2024 at Moravian University

It Wasn't All Bad


Was it? Despite the cold pistol

of an alcoholic father, so many nights

among us, mother saying don't you dare,

and how much time spent cleaning wounds,

with bare hands and manicured fingers–

this is what cut me to the bone,

her clawed-open heart, his nature

to open only midway, all bearded

and tough as nails, each summer fading

as a couple, snowy-headed as seafoam,

fading like bubbles, ceramic about

to break – my fault, my fault,

face strained, I watch the white paint 

peeling, and before circling to sleep, 

I realize it has to be me.


Moravian University Writer's Conference

In So Many Spaces


There are smoke-filled shadows, activity.

A dancer, an amorous man, drunk,

the clicks and whirs of his hand dialing

close to her buttocks -- to all of it,

like scuttling on a mudbank shelf,

blood on white stones. But he fights the urge,

recovers, centers himself like a gold ring

on a finger, like an amen among

a church, water through copper pipes, a body healing,

the ornery glint in a father's eye

as he tells a story -- sweet, disobedient, and blue.

1/16/24. via Zoom

A Mindset or a Feeling


What is youth but surviving ruinous death? 

The twin nebulae of the heart and body,

the frog in the river kissing the sea

to come back home, leaving the past

to walk out of the night, into something new.

So is it a chorus of barking joy?

Or a gentle murmur of delight found

in our own fading, being made for flight.

cento with work from Drexel students



We embrace, buoyant, immersed in this blue
blanket, graceful and amniotic, us
in our dips and crevices, skin fluted
as skeletons crouching in a fountain
clotted with red dust. This virgin mantle,
quivering with psychedelic mint, leans
like deck chairs against the wall. Let us go,
and be glad of it. Send us no flowers. 
We'll be the sapphire swishing in the sink.

9.13.23 on zoom

The Density of Buoyant Periwinkle

I don’t know where I’m going 

with this blue immersed in amniotic sea 

beneath our blankets, graceful 

dips and crevices of skin. 

Fluted column of light! 

Cold fountain of light!
The creek's hard bones crouch, 

regurgitate skeletons, spines

bound with rust-red cloth, red dust, 

psychedelic remember-me-blue, 

and quivering mint. Bright pink 

deck chairs swish in warm sink water. 

I have let go, and I’m glad of it—

Lapis, sapphire, never say goodbye

9.13.23 cento #2 composed from same lines..

Before It's Time


A memory—rummaging in the shed

each year, elephantine and sometimes

boring in its sublime stillness, rain-

blurred smoke, love like a fountain,

an unblinking eye, love like an exile,

his back wobbly, like a woman's lips

cocked in a constellation of kisses,

restless, three beers into a drive

through the woods, hidden keys hung

like skeletons, their gaping eye holes

warning—don't waste your life

like a wayward moth, an unsoiled

book. Let it all out. Keep on rocking,

sweet and heady, wild as the wind.

7/6/23 at Freeman Hall, Doylestown, Pa

Arts &. Cultural Council of Bucks County

Getting to the Point

It's subtle, waking up. It's not your fault,
the child docked in the womb, the lion stoned
in its cage. Freed, come morning, the merchant
reaches out with a final offer -- stones
for sinking into river loam, ripples
stilling, stilling, and the way some stones fall 
like drag-booted heels through gravel, like mud
thick in a flooded creek-walk's wake. You roll
with the alligators, the world weighing
down the smile on your lips. The tragedy
of the child, its beauty -- finding a toad.

6/14/23 via Zoom

Eve Evokes Heavy Leather

Night-cut, more insatiable than Adam
can bear, human and utterly awake,
his doughy love quavering, her slopes
unassailable. At night, with the lights
on, his mouth agog in quiet objection--
I don't want you to leave. She arises
early, like their wedding day, feeds him
cornbread and apple slices, spreads flower
seeds and waters them, and without goodbye,
she slips out to make a trip downtown,
a genie unbottled. When home, she wrinkles
her nose, asks herself, What's wrong with my companion?
But the sprinklers, for all their pneumatic
power, only rattle and spit in shame.

5/10/23 via zoom 

Insatiable Lust

Awake at night, ankle winked above 

the cut of leather, utterly human, 


looped into doughy love knots, agog 

in chlorine lights and slopes unassailable,

mouth dropping to a small quiet vowel

without a goodbye or an objection.

We never wanted to leave. Wedding day,

you arise early for flowers, corn, seeds, bread,


one-quarter cup of hamster food, an apple slice, slipping in details I kept like a genie in a bottle.


What’s wrong with you, my red bullseye of shame, my companion? The sprinklers rattle and spit.

5/10/23 variation with same lines

A Knowing Ghost

is like an aging magician, 
a clothier's magic print

wheeled out in a cardboard box, 
squeaking like shoes do

at the sound of danger, 
like glass spiraling back, 

wine-dark and salt-plastered,
a creeping ocean of pebbles

and chiseled bone. You and I,
here and there, always.

This is how it goes:
a snap, close to the bone

a soft slap of cupped hand
a breath of pearled satin

Now is like a bird unmoving,
no breath in, no breath 

out, silence, stilled, 
silence, drum, silence.

Later is like holding a child
dying, brought back to life--

her deckled body shearing
pinkly into nothing.

3/15/23.    via Zoom

Houdini Disappearing

These secrets, a box with no escape latch,
the libraries of our lives, husbands
and wives, all disappointing Pandora ---
living in an exposed brick basement
after paradise, the other mothers
on the dark shore sitting together.
They seem like good mothers, loved
by such a god, whistling while they punch
their timecards, stirring in dance --- but you should 
have heard them sing at their clotheslines,
spilling secrets at the touch of their hands,
rougher in late winter, all around us.


2/8/23 via zoom

My Wish

dear daughter, is that you know I'm lying 
when I say how how far away to stand 
when the music plays, when the sun shows 
the years lost in shy starlings, stupid
in their deference, in sitting with close friends.
What comes when we count all the confetti,
all the stars like stepped-on slugs? We gaze
upward to the brilliant expanse.


1/11/23  via zoom

The Question


What are your imperfections? I begin

to answer, I am a half-pecked book,

a moment in the hell of a yellow-lit

office. I am an orchestral heart

pedaled hard and water-toughened.

Pull until smoke curls from the cracks

in your pink pantsuit, swirling the partly-

lit nave. I am barely sentient.

I am a hundred feet of water stirred

by a branch. I am a songbird serenading

the snow, unmoving, a body cleaning

itself. Let's not forget what I am---

the shift in the air. I am imperfect.

You know me. I am back and thirsty.

10.15.22 Caesura

Losing It


By nature, I am poison, a bone-white perch

in bark-skinned branches, no wrists,

no ankles, only pursed lips, strawberry-

strange like a landscape of caution, bare skin

of my throat waiting. This darkened room,

the dark hollow of kitchen in the cleaver

of my skull, the crash of the sea,

the dangerous love we learn while dying,

just an hour or two before we know

it's all right. We are the same. Or we were,

once, poets agonizing over a clean page,

writing a seating about a hummingbird,


10.15.22.   Caesura

My Father Reads to Me


about the wind snatching happiness

unformed from his lungs, stirring

to master air, like a sail filling

and emptying. In, out. Blue to tangerine,

noon's silver light scouring him clean,

undressing the cancer and the wear

of years. I listen, remembering the banks

of the river, the precipice of myself

a marrow-filled miracle, and I am

the second half of his storytelling,

ferried across the river, an ending--

everything you've ever wanted.

2.13.24 via Zoom

A Weaving of Dreams


Cotton catching on splintering wicker,

yard wild with tussel, a girl with the sun 


in a strong wind: everything is flapping.

Perhaps I am the wind, the channel that passes 


between blue and tangerine, brine and whelk.

You are there, moon-chilled, soft-skinned, boy like me, 


palms open, riddled with houses to weep in.

Walk out of this body-- the mind is not earth. 


The wear of years, saved from the tides, becomes 

a gnawing on the precipice of stay 


and go, harbors a marrow-filled bone for 

storytelling. Giving name to experience,


the living do what they know best. Come back, everything you've ever wanted: come back.

composed w/lines from the zoom chat of 2.13.24

American Library


Like a coat left in snow, 

like bad housekeeping,

your face, a vacuum bag

undone, disfigured, twisting 

in torment, the sins of your exes 

chained together like spun daisies, 

human just for a moment—

then the axe brought down

to drink its fill of stars 

from the roof of the sky.

Given a choice between 

love and life, suburban hearts 

stay behind, woeful-waisted 

mothers grasping to woo 

and to be cooed to.


9/21/22.  Fergie's Pub 

Roses Galore


See, in shock, the function is sifting

rather than crumbling, is facing

our own formless shit, we muddy gods

who know only enough about walking

on silt to vanish into smoky spotlights,

our old-fashioned barstools empty. Tell me

about the weather. Are you blue, too?

9/21/22.  Fergie's Pub 

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


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

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