About Jacqueline Cardenas

Getting a PhD in life lessons.

Poem with No Name

if you see it from the moon
depth and translucence of blue
drawing you into a breathless sway
as you move with the swirls of white

you cannot imagine the violence
committed in the name of drawing lines
the naming of intangible things
thoughts as swirls of white smoke

to choke, to kill, to die
for heroes of the past
children of the future
blood red under the swirls of white

touch down in the desert
feel the waters of a tiny brown hand
peeled from her mother’s breast
wails not muffled by the swirl of white

do we all stand as she does
alone in front of our judge
to be named criminals who lay witness
to the caging and skinning of all that is not white

in the name of a thing with red stripes
against the blue and stars of white


She is not a poet. This is not a poem.

She leaves poems all over the place

like dirty socks.

Words worn for a minute and rolled off into a wad in the hall,

under the bed,

in an imaginary New York apartment with wood floors,

but this is just Phoenix

and the fucking heat will burn a hole in your soul

like the words you want the world to hear,

but instead just sit on an unread unfollowed unsubscribed blog

without anyone–not even your mother

ever laying eyes on them.


sits in her white suburb at the kitchen table scarred by the

careless hands of children, and she stares

at the wall thinking

about how to put these words into some sort of meal

that makes people devour them and sit back with full bellies

savoring the juiciness.

She is just making poems from a box, ordering takeout

phrases that just do not satisfy.


used to be part of family dinner and even though it wasn’t New York,

the poems didn’t matter anymore.  She was full.

And now, she is alone in a room full of people

and the words matter to no one else

but fill up the moment, the day, the life

for they are all





After the Fire
Let the Motherfucker Burn

It turns out to be a moment
like a police officer showing up at your door

informing you that a part of you has died
all of the breath leaves your body

someone has to shake you to inhale
but you can’t find the air

that is the moment you realize
nothing in your life will ever be the same

the moment you realize it was in fact
too good to be true

when no matter the angle
or the distance

the only thing in focus is him smiling
at her with the secret whisper that was only for you

too late to test the smoke detectors
too late to clear the dead brush

this is not the fire of welcome home
no, this is to oblivion

where your life and the walls that contained it
are blackened smoke and ash melted into a muddy heap

where nothing, not even your own hand
is recognizable

Lost to Avalon

We were born under the stars
in a redwood forest
our words spilling into the night air
from the twisted vines of all the lovers before us.

It was no accident that the redwoods burned to the ground
the same year, the same month as all our promises.

Yesterday, I reached through the ashes,
pulled the magic through more than a decade
to wrap my body in it once more.
When it was over, I saw at last
the magician

packing up his illusions.
I could not unsee.
No more sparkle in the stars, bodies in the moonlight,
lips and breath like wine.
All the real magic was left to the wizards and fairies
of Avalon.

We are too grown now–
too drunk to believe.

After the Butterflies

Long after the butterflies
have flown,
after the artist’s hands stopped painting
thick textured strokes, composing our oneness, our space,
you can stand all winter on the edge
of the canyon
for the shapes and colors to change.

It is easy to miss in the watching.
When looking closely at the line between darkness and light,
you see there is only blur,
bits of darkness mixing with tiny breaks of light.
They are not themselves.  They are not each other.

We have journeyed many times around the sun,
only to find ourselves now in this alien space
where you look familiar, but have no gravity.
Where I find myself floating away
untethered, bound to become the distance.

This is the place where we no longer feel
the desert floor beneath our feet. Here where we were
once drawn together in your cool shade.
It is now a far away fairytale place, a
time lost to dreams.

Me, waking atop that mountain
exposed and burning in the midday sun.


One would think
awareness of the moment you lost it all
does not come
while sitting in a thick cloud of illusion that suddenly clears.
Too dramatic of course.
Ponder instead, how the littlest of things
are the beginning.
Pebbles and slippage of sand always come
before the landslide and breaking bone at the end.
And what of the ever present sense of dread?
Just a twitch, a fast heartbeat away from becoming
the truth
about us.
Before we know it,
it’s just a story we tell strangers
about how we lost our way.

Letter to Emily Dickinson

Trapped in a white world
by nothing but choice

a space not universal
grown and cultivated

by your breath on the candle flame

music that rose up from the cellos
of the earth and called us

in our night clothes
in the midst of the Sun God’s

eternal night

words born of the silence
in the Sistine Chapel

sparkle of the sun flecked meadow
mist of the velvet forest

I pluck and bestow my heart

a pink petal on a white rose
speaking only to you

like the sound of the rain
typing this epistle to you


I fold myself up, and you wrap around
I the seed, you the ground

in the breeze, soft piano
I watch closely the purple aura of your hands

in comes the violin
your solid gaze guiding me in the dance

no one has ever looked at me that way
I recognize you from years of wanting

your face no longer a shadow
your touch no longer a whisper on my neck

music playing a slow sad melody
something acoustic my bones can hold tight

I miss you even from the time before
I knew you. Waiting for your dark eyes

to come settle into an all night conversation
between our bodies and the music; a love without words

even when words are all I know
I am humbled speechless by this vast thing that is us

born silently over a pile of broken rules
through the pounding bass of naysayers

captive breath, as notes like butterflies release a prayer
let this ballad last

never apart
until there is no sound

After the Rain

It rained in the desert
the night before you left this world.
I should have known.
We all should have known.
When the heavens open up like that,
they’re taking something back in return for the blessing.
Something or someone larger than this life
with a spirit that could not be contained.

Little did we know,
your handstands
were really just you, holding up the world
for the rest of us to taste.
You did not belong to us.
You gave us back ourselves–our yearning,
our determination, and grit—you lifted us up
to meet our own challenges face-to-face.

When the rain stopped in the desert,
you were gone. In the time it took
a shooting star to fall to earth.
Gone, but not without leaving
your imprint across the world.
It is within us.

When we sing, when we dance in the moonlight or
run on the beach, when we smell fresh linen,
or wear it soft on a hot day,
when we write a poem for the person
who inspired us more than most.
Thank you friend, for opening up a window
to the words and a world in need of poetry.

Can you see from that view,
your growing legacy in the flame
of every candle lit in your name?
For you, who brings us to life over and over again
even when this part of yours has come to an end
too soon. I give you a poem. You gave me
the rain.

Coltrane and Rainy Days

Cursor blinking on the page

unfinished labor of money, not love

while lost in a moment of Coltrane

always back to those honeymoon days

where it was cool and rainy outside,

cool and warm inside, barefoot in blankets and books

philosophical political purposeful conversations,

nights filled with red wine, the soft twinkle of

patio lights surrounded by passionate minds and

laughter, the burning of more than just candles

between us.   Another time before children,

before the fast-forward of life and cymbals

banging, before beds were strictly for sleeping,

before bright lights.  Maybe it was only a moment

or something we saw in a movie once.


Lost in the lazy piano and hot-blooded

trumpet, I can see those artist hands

of yours against my white arm

resting on the slow breaths of your chest.

Music drawn to a sad close,

I hear it– flashing cursor, pinging email,

stacks of paper.

But this day; this life,

was meant for so much more.