THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT
by Lynn Levin
The day of his wife’s forty-fifth birthday party, Norbie Bernbaum let Jerry Rosen talk him into an afternoon at the Dirty Martini, a strip club on the edge of downtown where Hot Pantz, Double Dee, and The Bride seduced the clientele to one degree or another. Rosen had been there a couple of times, mostly during weekdays, and he made the place sound so irresistible—the women were just like showgirls—that Norbie was panting to go.
“But what about Donna’s party?” Norbie groaned as Schpilkes, the family dog, came by and leaned against him.
“Just tell her you’re going out to buy her a gift,” advised Rosen. “You’ll be back in time for brisket with the in-laws. I promise.”
Norbie hadn’t bought Donna a birthday present, so this sounded like a plan. He hurriedly splashed on a bit of cologne, brushed his teeth, and scooped his keys off the top of the bureau, which was slightly dusty and decked with family photos. He nearly tripped on a toy police car that his son, Eddie, had left in the upstairs hall. Latin rap pulsed from his teenage daughter Annette’s room. Through the slightly open door, Norbie saw her working her hips to some kind of chipotle-flavored belly dance and cringed. He had to pick up Rosen in twenty minutes.
An accountant in a medium-sized firm, Norbie was in good health and not bad looking: he had a full head of onyx hair and a slight cleft in his chin that could look playful and charming when he was feeling merry. But he had not felt merry in some time. Instead, a blue mold of boredom and resentment had crept over him. He began to wonder what accountancy meant in the big picture and what the big picture was anyway. The idea that he was squandering a third of his life on other people’s numbers poked at him like a constant elbow. As for his marriage, he was bored and resentful of it too. The easy passion he and Donna once felt for each other had subsided with the years and petty disgruntlements of matrimony. Norbie sometimes wondered if this was a normal part of the passage or if he and Donna were just stringing each other along. The problem was that nothing much could gain traction in his soul. He felt like a man dangling and reaching out for something, but he didn’t know what.
As Norbie sought relief from his funk, ideas of purpose would stir in his mind. He should coach Eddie’s Little League team, learn Spanish, take up guitar, engage in a wild affair, maybe even try harder to appreciate what he had. But he only dreamed of these things. He didn’t act on them – neither the good things nor the bad ones. The idea of the affair he dismissed as too real, too intense, too risky. Sooner or later, each notion dissolved like the morning fog, and hard daylight only made him see the big boulder of his life more clearly.
Eventually, he figured that he should simply try to have more fun. And convinced that his opportunities for fun were speeding away from him like a Porsche down the highway, Norbie jumped whenever Jerry Rosen called with a new adventure. So grateful was Norbie for these invitations that he tried not to mind that Rosen was always a few dollars short for beer or greens fees, that he usually had Norbie chauffeur, or that Rosen kept him waiting as he finished his shower, went through his mail, or yakked on the phone with his girlfriends, some of whom were married. Compared to Norbie’s life, Rosen’s life seemed so various and full.
Donna Bernbaum, Norbie’s wife of sixteen years, worked as a part-time paralegal in a small suburban law practice. A devoted mother and a loyal spouse, Donna also cultured her hurts like pearls, and Norbie’s small abuses—no-showing for dinner without bothering to call, playfully putting her down in front of the neighbors, opting for outings with Rosen over dates with her—supplied the grit that started the pearls. Now on her birthday, Norbie avoided eye contact with Donna as he strode toward his red Toyota Camry. He aimed his electronic key at the car like a ray gun.
It was a fruitful May, the air heavily peppered with pollen, and Donna had a bad case of hay fever. Before she could utter a word, a sneeze tornadoed through her body. Recovering, she arraigned her husband, “You’re off with that Rosen, Norbie. I know it.” She fixed him with a narrow look. Behind her sharpness, Norbie sensed the fluttering flags of insecurity and fear.
Ever since Rosen had entered their lives, Donna had felt herself weirdly in competition with him for Norbie’s love and attention. This Saturday, his flight on her birthday made her feel even more sidelined and insulted. Not that a man wasn’t entitled to his free time. And her birthday party was hours away. When, however, her tormented nostrils caught the scent of cologne, a new anxiety pricked her. She hadn’t known Norbie to cheat, but under Rosen’s tutelage anything was possible.
“And what’s that smell? Where are you going on a Saturday afternoon that you have to wear cologne?”
Schpilkes trotted up to Norbie for good sniff. The dog’s tail accelerated to a quick tick-tock. He looked expectantly at his master.
Norbie made no reply, but lobbed a you-must-be-paranoid look at Donna and made the loco sign so she could see it. He knew that being a little mean would make Donna shut up. He slid into his car and started the engine. Today, it was easier for him not to feel so annoyed or judged by her. After all, he would soon be in the bosom of topless dancers.
“We have to be at my sister’s by six. It is my birthday,” she said, fighting suspicion and another oncoming sneeze.
“Terrific. Thanks for the reminder,” snapped Norbie. “If I have to spend time with your family, the least you can do is let me have a little fun first.”
A wounded expression whitewashed Donna’s face. A pearl began to form over the sting of Norbie’s remark.
“Maybe I’m just going out to get you a present. Unless you rather I didn’t,” he said glancing at his watch. What would Rosen think if he had to call and cancel just because he caved to his wife’s nagging?
“You play in the dirt, you get dirty,” warned Donna in just the sort of schoolmarmish tone that made Norbie jump into the fraternal arms of Rosen. As he backed down the driveway, he saw her brandishing a Kleenex. He definitely did not like the way she said “dirty.” It was as if she knew where he was headed.
The thought of Donna’s birthday party circled him like a turkey vulture. He could barely tolerate Donna’s family, a bunch of self-righteous socialists always hammering away with their politics and justice causes. If it wasn’t the whales, it was the handicapped or the undocumented immigrants or people with AIDS. He needed an antidote to all that suffocating goodness, and he was now more glad than ever that Rosen had talked him into a visit to the strip joint.
Donna ducked into the house and told the kids she was off to the health club for a quick lift. For the last several months, whenever she felt Norbie was saying no to her and yes to Rosen, she went to the health club to weight train. She could now curl fifteen-pound dumbbells and bench press forty pounds, yet she lacked the power to cut Norbie’s ties to Rosen. The fellows’ friendship burgeoned. Almost every day begat another pearl.
It would be a busy Saturday. After the gym, she had to run Annette to dance class and Eddie to his ball game. And there was Norbie out and about who-knows-where, no help at all with errands—and on her birthday no less. Of course he was going with that Rosen. It was scrawled all over his face like a signature on a bad check.
Donna Bernbaum detested Jerry Rosen. He was a know-it-all, a schnorrer, and he dripped enticements into Norbie’s brain the way a bad factory leaked dioxin into a stream. A half-hearted salesman of uncertain skill, Rosen had, at various times, peddled ad space in magazines, vacation time shares, radon detection systems, and mortgages. Now he was selling hot tubs. He mostly lived off his wives when he had them and his girlfriends when he was single. Donna couldn’t stand the way Rosen used women and the way he collected male followers like Norbie, guys who mistook the cheesy glow of Rosen’s sporting company for a kind of glamour. She hated Rosen’s stupid satanic-looking Vandyke. She hated the way his cigars stunk up their good car, his cocky self-confidence, and, if she had only known him better, she surely would have hated him more. Just hearing Norbie on the cell with that Rosen made her skin crawl like a roach in a diner. What skeeved her especially was that peculiarly light and eager tone her husband used only with Rosen. It was a voice he never used with her.
While Donna militantly believed in protest, she worried that today she had antagonized Norbie too much. It was something about the sight of him backing down the driveway and speeding off down the street. She stood for a moment in front of their house as she watched Norbie disappear. A pang of anxiety went through her. She polished her newest pearl.
Jerry Rosen kept Norbie Bernbaum waiting as he finished watching a golf tournament on TV. Norbie understood that Rosen was a tacky playboy, and he therefore secretly considered himself morally superior to his friend. Rosen, for his part, liked Norbie well enough, but saw him as a watch to unwind, a pal to fill his loneliness, and, should he sell him a hot tub, a customer from whom he could profit.
Rosen seemed to be endowed with great bravado and self-esteem, yet inwardly he was not a happy man. On some level he knew he was self-centered, of little help to those around him, and below par on the job. He sought to blot out this sense of lack with pleasures and entertainments—women, golf, cards, dining out, shopping, movie going—and endless hours of chitchat: gossip, trivia, and advice he foisted on his listeners. Yet after all of this, there was still the lack.
The golf match crept by slowly, and Norbie grew increasingly antsy. It was already after two in the afternoon. He instinctively felt a little bad at having treated Donna poorly, but he tried to delete those feelings. Then there was the matter of the birthday present. Norbie usually just bought Donna a card and maybe flowers, but now he was committed to buying her an actual gift. But what? A nightgown? A handbag? He hadn’t a clue what she’d like.
“Hold your horses, bubbeleh,” Rosen soothed as he pared his fingernails. “Those gorgeous gals aren’t going anywhere.”
The Dirty Martini was a low, flat building that might have once been a factory or a grocery store. An easel-style marquee in front said, “Philadelphia’s Bachelor Party Headquarters. Congratulations, Brad.” Another sign in the parking lot said “Police and Dirty Martini Parking.” Although it was early afternoon, all the parking spaces were filled. Cops or no cops, it was a dodgy neighborhood, so Norbie didn’t want to park the red Camry on the street.
“Here’s a space,” said Rosen pointing to a spot designated for disabled parking.
“Are you crazy?” replied Norbie. “It says a minimum fifty dollar fine, plus towing at the owner’s expense.”
Rosen minced his lips and rolled his eyes heavenward. “Listen, do you really think some gimp in a van is coming to the Dirty Martini? They have to put a handicapped space there. It’s a federal law or something. Just park for crying out loud. You don’t have all day.” Then he looked at Norbie meaningfully and added, “Well, if it will make you feel better, limp in and if anyone asks say you twisted your ankle.”
So Norbie did as Rosen instructed, parked in the handicapped space, and made his way into the club half jumping, half limping. Like Hopalong Cassidy on his way to the bordello. He felt very foolish.
Two plaster statues of female nudes pillared the entrance to the club. In the parking lot, a number of men lingered talking on their cell phones. Inside, a huge bouncer, who looked like a body builder, had Norbie and Rosen pass through a metal detector. Rosen sauntered through. Norbie kept up his limping act. By the metal detector were signs that warned against cameras and touching the girls. Norbie was surprised at all the security. It made him kind of nervous. He heard raucous laughter coming from a curtained-off room. Peeking in, he saw several girls in fishnets and black leather bustiers wheeling in a big box that was iced like a cake. He felt sure that a girl would pop out of that cake.
“Craaazy, craaazy,” yearned a female voice over the sound system in the cavernous main room, which smelled faintly of a moist mustiness. One wall of the club was mirrored. The other was hung with a number of flat-screen TVs tuned, audio off, to a baseball game. The patrons were mostly middle-aged white men. Some were seated on shell-shaped cushioned chairs; others perched on barstools along the polished runway, a black stretch bordered in red lights that rolled out through the center of the room like a long tongue. There was a brass pole in the middle of the walk. Overhead pulsing spotlights splashed the strippers in red, green, blue, and yellow.
The Dirty Martini was like something Norbie had seen in a movie or a TV show, only it was better and real. The door to a deeper, darker, nastier side of sex opened to him, and he felt big, elevated, male. There to be served by juicy little teases who sometimes acted submissive and sometimes acted like they were begging for it.
The two friends settled into bar stools along the catwalk and ordered beers. The DJ played mostly sultry R&B and announced girl after girl. There seemed to be an endless stream of dancers of all races, skin tones, breast sizes, and hair colors. Each came in with her gauzy wrap and five-inch Lucite heels. The Lucite high heels were definitely a very big item. Then inch by inch, each girl unpeeled her wrap until she wore nothing but a thong or a G-string, see-through pasties, and those skyscraper Lucite heels. Then the slow grind. And the embrace of the pole.
Hot Pantz, a very fit black girl in a leopard thong, thrust herself up against the brass pole. Norbie wished he were that pole. Then Hot Pantz climbed the pole and suspended herself upside down. Her legs were like boa constrictors. She had amazing abs. She did all sorts of acrobatic moves. Just like Cirque du Soleil, mused Norbie. Then she slid down the pole and began to stalk catlike on all fours. One man put a bill in her thong. She purred like Eartha Kitt.
From the corner of his eye, he saw a patron leave the club with one of the girls.
A tall blonde with huge breasts came on and slowly gyrated to “Nasty Girl.” “That’s Double Dee,” Rosen whispered. Double Dee did a backbend, lowered herself to the catwalk floor, then knees bent she pumped her beautiful and shapely legs open and closed like a giant butterfly. Shaved, fit, and incredibly tight was all Norbie could think. The kind of girl you can’t get at home. His heart was pounding, and a big erection took root in his pants. He watched as she went down on all fours and crawled up to a patron who lovingly tucked bills in her little pink thong. She smiled at Norbie. He wanted to be a bill in her thong. He took a dollar from his wallet, and she held her side string open for him. His fingers grazed her hip, which was warm and round and smooth. He was mesmerized, lost in a hormonal haze.
“Hey, give me a bill,” Rosen broke in, rubbing his fingers together. Norbie hesitated but, reluctant to seem a poor sport, he handed Rosen a single. “Gimme a five, at least. They like bigger bills,” wheedled Rosen who proceeded to insert Norbie’s five-spot into Double Dee’s thong. Double Dee swung her silky golden tresses and worked the two cupcakes of her ass.
“And now, gentlemen,” announced the velvety voiced DJ as organ tones of the “Wedding March” began, “Here comes the Bride.”
The Bride, petite and virginal, began to step demurely down the runway. She wore a white G-string, a white garter, and a snowy shawl over her small breasts. Dangling from her arm was a white beaded drawstring pouch, the kind brides carry to collect wedding checks. A hush drifted over the crowd, but this was soon disturbed by some rustling at the back of the room.
A grizzled male voice ripped through the sultry atmosphere. “Lawbreaking prick!” The man’s tone spiraled louder with mounting indignation. “Lawbreaking prick!”
The “Wedding March” kept playing, but the DJ fell silent and The Bride froze. The yelling was coming from a guy in a wheelchair. “Whose red Camry is that?” he raged. “You’re in a disabled zone. You’re gonna pay for this, asshole! Management, too.”
Working the hand controls on his wheelchair, the disabled man, a guy in his mid thirties with stringy hair, motored deeper into the club. Fear dug its red polished nails into Norbie’s chest. The huge bouncer lumbered into the room.
A contingent of strippers, now in halter tops and miniskirts (how plain they seemed off the stage!), filtered through the crowd to comfort the disabled guy. Their kindness caused him to lose his tough edge. His voice began to break. “I just wanted to see you girls dance. And some bastard with a working prick…”
Two cops came up to the man in the wheelchair. One took out a notepad and began to take a report.
“Bubbeleh, looks like you’re up shit’s creek,” said Rosen as he took a pull at his beer.
“You’re the one who told me park there,” retorted Norbie lamely.
Having run a license plate check, one cop began to bellow, “Norbert Bernbaum! Is there a Norbert Bernbaum here! Red Toyota Camry!” Norbie was frantic with shame; fine beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. He hopelessly prayed for deliverance. Trembling, he looked at his watch. It was after five o’clock. The party. The present. And he was about to get a citation in a strip club.
The limping excuse did not work with the cops. Then the strippers gathered around Norbie and started to yell at him. “Don’t you have any respect for those less fortunate than yourself?” scolded Hot Pantz. “Shame on you.”
“And I thought you were a nice guy!” hissed Double Dee curling her collagen-plumped lips.
The Bride glared at him and smacked him with her white drawstring purse. “Go back to your wife, you dick!” she shrieked.
The cops assessed him a seventy-five dollar fine, twenty-five more than the minimum. When the bouncer escorted Norbie and Rosen to the door, Norbie saw that his red Camry was being hauled away on a tow truck. It would cost a hundred and fifty dollars to get it out of impoundment, and he’d have to pay for a taxi to the lot, too. He fumbled with his cell phone and was finally able to call a cab. There were six missed calls from Donna and one bitter voice message. “If you don’t think enough of me to get home in time for my birthday party, then I think that is pretty disgusting. But I understand your priorities. And don’t bother coming to my sister’s.”
The ride to the impoundment lot was a long tour of the city’s rundown riverfront streets. The lot, no surprise, was attended by some unsavory types and a couple of pit bulls. Nothing like the sweet-tempered Schpilkes. Forced to pay with his credit card, Norbie knew he’d need to intercept the statement before Donna could see it and interrogate him. Not that he’d have to account to her. She wasn’t his mother. And if Donna did see the statement with the impoundment charge, he prayed she would not use her paralegal skills to get to the root of the story. The parking fine, he’d pay with cash.
The drive back to Rosen’s place was bleak. Norbie imagined Donna’s family at dinner, drinking wine, talking politics, talking about him. “Shit happens,” offered Rosen seeking to break the silence and minimize the situation. “All you wanted to do was be happy and have a little fun. Is that such a crime? You’ll buy the wife a nice gift, that’s all. And you’ll say you screwed up. You’ll say you went to a sports bar and lost track of the time.”
Norbie made no reply. Shame was on him like a red rash, and a sick stomach ache churned in his gut. Over and over he saw those censorious whores and the paraplegic man with stringy hair and a life that was so much harder than everyone else’s. If only he had refused Rosen’s idea and looked harder for a parking spot. That fucking Rosen! And fuck me, fumed Norbie. Fuck me!
“I really think you should help me out with the cost of the fine and the towing,” Norbie said to Rosen.
“I don’t make bank like you, my friend. From each according to his ability, you know what they say,” declared Rosen. He blew a smoke ring with his cigar, a big fat zero in the air. “But I’ll see what I can do. Here,” he said and handed Norbie a ten dollar bill. Minus the five bucks for the thong money, Norbie calculated that his companion had really chipped in a measly five.
Down and depressed, partly angry, partly worried, feeling not at all like a birthday girl, Donna fed Schpilkes his dinner and drove with Eddie and Annette to her sister’s. In the car, the children were very quiet.
When they arrived at her sister’s house, Donna preemptively announced that Norbie would not be coming, and after that no one said a word about his absence. At least being with her side of the family was a comfort. Over eggplant salad, they talked about movies, and as dinner progressed they moved on to Iraq and Afghanistan and the miracles orthopedists were working on injured soldiers. As her mom and dad and her sister sang “Happy Birthday,” Donna felt weirdly girlish and unmarried. When she blew out the candles on the pink and white cake, she could barely muster her traditional wish: that lightning would strike Jerry Rosen. The pearls of her hurt hung heavily around her neck.
No longer in a hurry to get home, Norbie drove to a McDonald’s and ordered a vanilla milkshake hoping it would settle his stomach. Amidst the loud primary colors of the McDonald’s, he imagined being yelled at by Donna. He drove to a Walgreens and browsed through the gift items—big candles, jars of potpourri, Whitman’s Samplers—and ended up buying a bubble bath and dusting powder set, a humorous birthday card, and a festive gift bag for the presentation. He planned on using that excuse about the sports bar.
Schpilkes wagged his tail energetically when Norbie came home and nosed his master’s pant legs, curious about the unfamiliar odors. When the family arrived home, Eddie bounded up to his dad, hugged him, and asked him where he’d been. Annette was sullen. Donna, her face drawn and colorless, barely looked at her husband.
“Happy birthday,” Norbie said, attempting cheer, and tried to kiss Donna, who backed away from him. He apologized, offered the sports bar alibi, then handed her the gift bag. He half expected her to clobber him with it à la The Bride, but she merely mumbled thanks and placed the gift bag on the dining room table without peeking inside. There was no yelling. Donna’s eerie politeness troubled Norbie’s waters; a rant or at least a quick curse would have helped him justify his escapade.
“It must have been a very exciting game,” said Donna dryly. She wondered how much of Norbie’s story she should believe. She had always seen sharply through falseness and remarked on it quickly, but now that falseness seemed so close upon her she found herself looking for ways to justify Norbie’s version of events.
That night, they slept restlessly in their double bed, a shadowy wall between them. Some day this turned out to be, thought Donna, inhaling the new atmosphere of mistrust. Yet angry as she was with Norbie, she was glad that he had returned, comforted that he had not abandoned her, relieved that he had not been in a car accident. Then she detected the fading whisper of Norbie’s cologne. She opened her eyes in the darkness. Cologne? A sports bar? She twitched her nose for the scent of another woman. Finding none, she drifted for a while on a current of bitter thoughts, then fell asleep.
On his side of the bed, Norbie tossed and turned. What is wrong with me, he thought, that I cannot be happy with what I have? Why do I want more? And what do I want more of? Visions of Hot Pantz, Double Dee, and The Bride swam up to him like evil spirits. What a dumb shit he’d been. What rotten luck to be caught by the disabled guy, a man frozen from the waist down, who nevertheless had the power to cause him such anguish.
Norbie reached out to Donna’s slumbering form, hoping that she would not wake and shake him off. She was warm, and she was there, and down the hall the children slept, and below Schpilkes snoozed, his simple canine mind at peace.
If Donna had known about Norbie’s afternoon at the Dirty Martini, she would have been more appalled…and then less. She would have approved grimly of Norbie’s comeuppance by the feisty man in the wheelchair. She would have reasoned that at least Norbie didn’t buy a lap dance or contract with a girl for sex. As for the business about the bill in the thong, well that was practically expected of him as a red-blooded patron, no worse than a woman slipping a dollar into a Chippendale’s mankini. But Donna knew none of this, thought none of this. What turned the bad key over and over in her mind was the simple fact that on her birthday her husband had preferred Rosen over her. Why couldn’t someone just shake some virtue into that man?
A week passed of work and chores and not much talk between them. Donna could not bring herself to use the bubble bath and dusting powder, but she wasn’t the type to throw good items in the trash. Unsure of what to do, Donna left the birthday present on the dining room table. At first it glared at her from its brightly colored gift bag, then it seemed to turn into something funky like an overlooked bag of groceries. After a week it practically ossified into a cast. Eventually, she decided to donate it to a women’s shelter.
A gauzy mist overcast the sky as Donna drove to the shelter office (the actual location of the safe house was kept confidential). In the haze, the sun looked moonlike and opalescent. The route took her down some unfamiliar roads, and after a while Donna came upon a white wooden lawn sign planted in some landscaping. The sign read: “7-Day Spa—Massage and Reflexology.”
A treatment would feel good, she thought. A way to do something nice for herself. So she pulled into the parking lot and entered the spa, which looked a lot like a suburban insurance or real estate office. The place was very plain and seemed deserted. Not a receptionist or client in sight. How did they stay in business? Then with a frown, Donna wondered if this could be a happy endings parlor.
After a moment, a woman emerged from a back room and showed Donna a menu of services. She settled on a half-hour deep tissue massage. The masseuse, Rose, was plain-looking and her long mane was grasped in a pink hair claw. She had Donna strip down to her panties and lie face down on the table, which was covered with a white sheet. Rose smoothed massage oil over Donna’s back. Her hands were warm, meaty, assertive. Flute and harp music trickled from a portable CD player. This was meant to make the clients zone out, but the plinking and the blowing just irritated Donna. An aromatherapy machine cloyed the air with a heavy vanilla scent. She sneezed a few times.
At first Rose’s hands fluttered over Donna’s back like butterflies. Not bad, thought Donna. She could get into this. But it had been a while since she’d had touch, so the niceness also made her feel a little sad. Then Rose began to dig. “You work out?” she asked feeling Donna’s body tone. “Lots of tension,” she said. “Lots of knots.” But instead of easing away the tension, the treatment hurt. Was it supposed to feel this way? Perhaps she should ask Rose to stop or go a little lighter. But then she figured that this was what a deep-tissue massage was, so she toughed it out, paid the bill, and, minding her manners, gave Rose a tip. Her back was so sore she had to take a couple of Advil, and she ached all the way to the women’s shelter office. How she regretted that massage. What a stupid thing it turned out to be.
“Of course, our clients would be delighted to have these things. The children will love the bubble bath,” said the receptionist at the shelter office, a friendly but cautious woman who took the toiletries, gift bag and all, and didn’t ask any questions about the provenance. Donna immediately began to feel better. The receptionist offered a tax receipt, which Donna declined. No sense in letting Norbie know that she had visited a women’s shelter, much less donated the birthday present to it.
As Donna drove home, a sense of lightness came over her. The haze had evaporated, and the sun was as yellow as the middle of a daisy. The Advil must have been working because her back didn’t hurt as much, and she felt satisfied by her secret deed. In fact, she found its secretness especially pleasing.
When Norbie returned home that evening, he was glad to see the bubble bath and dusting powder gone from the dining room table. He assumed that his wife had come to her senses and had made good use of the gift.
Image credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr
Lynn Levin teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. Her poetry, prose, and translations have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Boulevard, Ploughshares, Hopkins Review, and Cleaver. She is the author of four collections of poems, most recently Miss Plastique (Ragged Sky Press, 2013), and with Valerie Fox co-author of the craft-of-poetry textbook Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture Press, 2013). She lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.