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"Mexican" Is Not a Noun

   to forty-six UC Santa Cruz students and
  seven faculty arrested in Watsonville for
  showing solidarity with two thousand
  striking cannery workers who were mostly
  Mexican women, October 27, 1985



is not

a noun

or an




is a life





a check

mark on

a welfare




more than

a word

a nail in

the soul



it hurts

it points

it dreams

it offends

it cries


it moves

it strikes

it burns

just like


a verb

The table

Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa


My country

is this room opening onto the balcony,

it is also the balcony with its flowers

that come and go over the months, and that seem to me

luminous even when they turn the color

of a sad wind


My country

is the white cloth covering me, the dishes placed on me

each day, the arms that lean on me,

even the water in which I nearly drowned,

spilled absentmindedly by the hand that poured it

over my body, a clumsy,

thoughtless hand


I came to know it early on,

my country that is,

when it was still the perfumed landscape

of various timbers, my sisters all, of the sawmill,

its air filled with tiny filaments and sweetly

scented dust, the fingers that then chose me,

a broad piece of wood, and stroked and caressed me

with planes, varnish, polish


that was already my country: a prairie of insects,

white winds, the living sap that ran

in my veins, the water I drank to survive,

and that protected me


May the hand that rests on me

here, now,

remember this our shared condition:

we came from the same realm, and to that same realm

we will go, she and me:


the atoms that shaped and made me

could so easily have been hers

How to Get into a Poem

(Standing Stone Creek, Pa.)

[A startling observation about the nature of human life]
or [A concrete description of trout]
[Backstory, alluding to an individuating experience]
or [Personal background, like “I have a weird relationship
to rural America”]
[Imagery only loosely related to backstory/background]
or [Tropical fruits if part of you is tropical]
[Some intellectual discourse on the word “part”]
or [Agonized associative thinking about the nature
of something politically urgent, like colorism]
[A return to the opening vignette so folks stay on track,
like “is it possible that a suburban mixed kid actually
has nothing at all to claim, not the trout, not the breadfruit”]
[A direction, e.g. “towards”]
or [A time e.g. “now” or “after”]
[A prepositional or noun phrase if grammatically necessary]
[A turn, which should also be startling, as in oh
this is what the poem is really about]
or [Imagery that achieves roughly this purpose, like that of
the properties of brackish water,
or the length and nature of brackish days]


I’m standing on 10th Street. I’m not the only one. Buildings rise like

              foliage and human touch.


And so shall dig this cigarette as my last, and rattle trains, and rot the fences

              of the gardens of my body—


or without the harmony of speaking here the many sounds and rhythms that

              sound a lot like anger


when anger’s silent, like a painting, though in the stillness of the paint itself

              the painter nods or waves or asks for help.


I’m not the only one. The pharmacy’s untitled. The stars are there at night.

              In this Humidity


the forlorn singing of the insects clings to anything nailed down. A whole bag of

              things I’m working


through, some set things that I know, like words I know that mean "from

              one place to another," the word that means


"to carry." I’m standing still on 10th Street. I’m not the only one.

              The dark tastes of salt and oranges. Its eyes


wander round and round. I am its thousand windows. I think about the future


              and the sea. And stay.


Woman Work

I've got the children to tend

The clothes to mend

The floor to mop

The food to shop

Then the chicken to fry

The baby to dry

I got company to feed

The garden to weed

I've got shirts to press

The tots to dress

The cane to be cut

I gotta clean up this hut

Then see about the sick

And the cotton to pick.


Shine on me, sunshine

Rain on me, rain

Fall softly, dewdrops

And cool my brow again.


Storm, blow me from here

With your fiercest wind

Let me float across the sky

'Til I can rest again.


Fall gently, snowflakes

Cover me with white

Cold icy kisses and

Let me rest tonight.


Sun, rain, curving sky

Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone

Star shine, moon glow


You're all that I can call my own.


The figs we ate wrapped in bacon.

The gelato we consumed greedily:

coconut milk, clove, fresh pear.

How we’d dump hot espresso on it

just to watch it melt, licking our spoons

clean. The potatoes fried in duck fat,

the salt we’d suck off our fingers,

the eggs we’d watch get beaten

’til they were a dizzying bright yellow,

how their edges crisped in the pan.

The pink salt blossom of prosciutto

we pulled apart with our hands, melted

on our eager tongues. The green herbs

with goat cheese, the aged brie paired

with a small pot of strawberry jam,

the final sour cherry we kept politely

pushing onto each other’s plate, saying,

No, you. But it’s so good. No, it’s yours.

How I finally put an end to it, plucked it

from the plate, and stuck it in my mouth.

How good it tasted: so sweet and so tart.

How good it felt: to want something and

pretend you don’t, and to get it anyway.

Meditations in an Emergency

I wake up & it breaks my heart. I draw the blinds

& the thrill of rain breaks my heart. I go outside.

I ride the train, walk among the buildings, men in

Monday suits. The flight of doves, the city of tents

beneath the underpass, the huddled mass, old

women hawking roses, & children all of them,

break my heart. There’s a dream I have in which I

love the world. I run from end to end like fingers

through her hair. There are no borders, only wind.

Like you, I was born. Like you, I was raised in the

institution of dreaming. Hand on my heart. Hand

on my stupid heart.

excerpt from “Windfall”

Sometimes, I am reminded that so many of the references I carry
in my body are occupied by white women and   I am lost


in an ocean of memories, worlds beneath worlds
of ocean that should be kept hidden, as all sacred things
we want to keep from being policed must be kept hidden. Like


language. Once, I learned Morse code. Spent a weekend
at Pidgeon Point Lighthouse with a ham radio, tapping greetings
to kids in Russia then waiting for their response in return.


When I think about lighthouses, I think of us eager to reach across
borders, or that Sinéad O’Connor song about the woman forever


waiting for her man to return from sea, but when I think of men
who disappear, never to return, there’s always the image of my father


who made a practice of it until leaving was the one thing he perfected.

In death he’s become a soft-spoken man, not silent, but quiet.

Not a whisper, but a windfall. When he speaks, I’m only a kid reaching.


I’m a woman alone in a lighthouse with underwater memories, always

waiting. Some nights, I search my body with a flashlight for signs of a future.

When the winter chrysanthemums go

translated from the Japanese by Robert Hass


When the winter chrysanthemums go,

there's nothing to write about

but radishes.



My father and I sit at a sushi bar in my new city

sampling three different kinds of salmon nigiri.


He tells me about a great funeral speech

he recently heard a son give for his father.


The speech was structured around regrets

everyone assumed the father didn’t have,


interspersed with hilarious stories involving boys

crashing the family van and fishing mishaps.


The ivory salmon is pale and impossibly soft.

The sliver of steelhead, orange enough


to pretend it’s salmon. How else to say it.

I am my father’s only child, and he is my mother.


We dip our chopsticks into a horseradish paste

dyed green and called wasabi. I know his regrets.


I could list them. But instead at his funeral

I will talk if I can talk about nights like this,


how good it felt just to be next to him,

to be the closest thing he had.

Your Songs

When first you sang a song to me

With laughter shining from your eyes, 

You trolled your music liltingly

With cadences of glad surprise. 


In after years I heard you croon

In measures delicately slow 

Of trees turned silver by the moon

And nocturnes sprites and lovers know. 


And now I cannot hear you sing, 

But love still holds your melody

For silence is a sounding thing

To one who listens hungrily. 

Hip Hop Analogies

After Miguel and Erykah Badu


If you be the needle

                 I be the LP.

If you be the buffed wall,

                 I be the Krylon.

If you be the backspin,

                 I be the break.

If you be the head nod,

                 I be the bass line.

If you be a Phillie,

                 I be the razor.

If you be microphone,

                 then I be palm.

If you be cipher,

                 then I be beatbox.

If you be hands thrown up,

                 then I be yes, yes, y’all.

If you be throwback,

                 then I be remix.

If you be footwork,

                 then I be uprock.

If you be turntable,

                 then I be crossfader.

If you be downtown C train,

                 then I be southbound Red Line.

If you be shell toes,

                 then I be hoodie.

If you be freestyle,

                 then I be piece book.

If you be Sharpie,

                 then I be tag.


If you be boy,

                 then I be girl

                 who wants to

                 sync samples

                 into classic.

Heaven and Its Teenage Riot

One woman smelled like honey, the other like Funyuns.

I hadn't started carrying a purse yet, kept a check safe


in my sports bra. When house lights turned off I was not

centered. But nobody waits for a shadow to catch up.


One woman took measurements, the other extracted

feathers from a gallon bag. What exactly was I learning


aside from how to lean? My unremarkable thighs

clanged together like volumes of a fresh encyclopedia.


I wondered how many people had touched the clipboard.

Back then people still actively licked their fingers.


I walked everywhere, considered a coat demeaning.

My street had more boards than windows, a stray rooster.


Thinking about the moon brought collective nausea.

It was 1990 and we spent zero time pondering the future.


People always asked if I had a fever. I tested poorly.

When the flood lights powered on it felt like spit falling.


Basically it was a life with very little context beyond

yes or no. They assigned me a leotard thinner than a mask.


The only taboo was braids so loose they resembled grain.

A phone was a thing with square buttons, a wall mount.


The "hangout" a bald fire pit by warehouse tracks.

Getting high meant becoming happy, and I aspired to it.

The Last Bee

After the last ee

had uzzed its last uzz,


the irds and the utterflies

did what they could.


ut soon the fields lay are,

few flowers were left,


nature was roken,

and the planet ereft.


I Always Thought Lady Gaga Had Lupus

and for a long time I thought I’d write her a letter and she’d donate her 

24-karat gold wheelchair to me for my stiff joints but today I’m finding 

out that Gaga doesn’t even have lupus she has synovitis and it’s actually 

Toni Braxton who has lupus and in 2008 she collapsed on stage in 

Vegas and I’m like how did I miss this Toni is my girl I remember all 

them car rides when my mother played the [     ] out of Toni’s debut 

album in 93’ I was only 13 and singing them love songs as if I knew 

what my mama was going through and if somebody made a bet with 

me today to try and figure out which song from that album was my 

mother’s favorite I’d put everything I have on “Love Shoulda Brought 

You Home” and now I’m spending most of my time tryna place a face to

the you my mama coulda been singing to cuz in 93’ she’d already split 

from my daddy and I just can’t picture him cheating and that being the 

real reason she filed for divorce

No Room to Form

Ain’t no form       out here   

I’m your blade cleaving        leaving 

No throat uncut        stayin’ stacked on air     People sayin’        

you can’t make me happy           

police        this corner     Politicians     police everybody 

wants us dead—gentrify this hood like they 

got us bodied     but we movin’ our stars like chess pieces my love    

don’t give them one kill-toned drop     our love don’t split or spill f

or nobody         what new approach to killing they got we can’t yeet from      

promise      we gonna be        just fine        I’ll never stop this work. 

You               streetlights on clear nights       be my song     Your heart            

my beat-drop, joy dripping       between your fingers       palm-up        

holding down tomorrow         us wishin’ a motherf—look       


blood moving      heart to hands           

freein’ space     for    opps    wanting  to pull up.


All I ever wanted to be was a song— 

something soft and light held in the mouth 

sung sweet beneath the coming dawn. 

I return to that first desire—its gingham blouse 


rubbed against the heavy pull of flesh hovered

in a dark that I can only recall as that dark.

I ask what grace awaits that tender tendril’s suffered

stretch of green wide enough to tear a stark 


light out from under a troubled sky? I return

to the center of that smallness and sing its wounds—

jagged rasp crooned until edged out and earned.

I was the only boi I knew dreaming in soft bruise. 


And it made me as beautiful as the blood’s slow sprawl

at my knee, right before punching a bullying boy to crawl.


Learn from the man who spends much of his life speaking

             To the back of your head knowing what it means to follow


The razor’s edge along a worn strop or random thoughts

             As they spring so invisibly from the mind to a mouth


Who shouldered soldiers in two wars and fled fire fields

             Undecorated who fathered once but was fatherless forever


And who works his sentiments in deeper into your scalp

             Under a sign on the knotty-pine walls whose rubric reads


quot homines, tot sententiae which means he sees

             In you his suffering smells of horehound tonics and gels


Pillow heads and powders and a floor full of snippings

             Swept neatly every evening into a pile for the field mice


All those roundabout hours only a man who fixes his tie

             To clip crabgrass crowding a lady’s grave could believe


With a certain clean devotion and who would never for one

             Moment dream of hurting you when your back was turned

Admissions Essay

               I am a good student. Voted most likely to try

harder. Not voted most likely for fairytales, though I have

been both hooded and wolfed. My honors thesis on the role

of motherlessness and love hunger brought the candied

house down.

               I could’ve been valedictorian if the metric

was ardor and potential for transformation. I recognize

the chemical structure of oxytocin and how to calculate

my best chance for a free drink from across the room,

and both have strong angles.

               I know how it feels when that hormone unlatches

my ribs, silks my legs. I don’t confuse that with love

because in each unit of intimacy, I enter slow. Adjust

my breath. Recognize the accusations that are


               I excelled in the serious ethics of kissing, how

it makes the body more image than idea, but I admit

that sometimes I like to lick mezcal and grapefruit from

a hero’s morally ambiguous mouth. I’m sorry.

               That’s how I know I’m a successful candidate.

The temptations. The failures. The ever afters of forgiveness

I have already lived. For so long I offered others the love

I wanted to receive, the cursive letters and lost slippers.

The balanced equations and checkbooks. Years of service

in the scales of care. Change my story. Accept me.

Molly Brodack

I am a good man.

The amount of fear

I am ok with 

is insane

I love many people

who don’t love me.

I don’t actually know

if that is true.

This is love.

It is a mass of ice

melting, I can’t hold

it and I have nowhere

to put it down.


Life, believe, is not a dream

So dark as sages say;

Oft a little morning rain

Foretells a pleasant day.

Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,

But these are transient all;

If the shower will make the roses bloom,

O why lament its fall?

Rapidly, merrily,

Life’s sunny hours flit by,

Gratefully, cheerily

Enjoy them as they fly!

What though Death at times steps in,

And calls our Best away?

What though sorrow seems to win,

O’er hope, a heavy sway?

Yet Hope again elastic springs,

Unconquered, though she fell;

Still buoyant are her golden wings,

Still strong to bear us well.

Manfully, fearlessly,

The day of trial bear,

For gloriously, victoriously,

Can courage quell despair!

Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward

Say to them,

say to the down-keepers,

the sun-slappers,

the self-soilers,

the harmony-hushers,

"Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night."

You will be right.

For that is the hard home-run.


Live not for battles won.

Live not for the-end-of-the-song.

Live in the along.


I said, in drunken pride of youth and you

That mischief-making Time would never dare

Play his ill-humored tricks upon us two,

Strange and defiant lovers that we were.

I said that even Death, Highwayman Death,

Could never master lovers such as we,

That even when his clutch had throttled breath,

My hymns would float in praise, undauntedly.


I did not think such words were bravado.

Oh, I think honestly we knew no fear,

We loved each other so.

And thus, with you believing me, I made

My prophecies, rebellious, unafraid . . . .

And that was foolish, wasn’t it, my dear?


From out my open window, I can see

The rolling waves, as fierce and restlessly,

They dash against the long, long stretch of shore,

And in the distance, I can dimly trace,

Some out-bound vessel having left her place

Of Harbor, to return perhaps no more.


Within my mind there dwells this lingering thought,

How oft from ill the greatest good is wrought,

Perhaps some shattered wreck along the strand,

Will help to make the fire burn more bright,

And for some weary traveller to-night,

’Twill serve the purpose of a guiding hand.


Ah yes, and thus it is with these our lives,

Some poor misshapen remnant still survives,

Of what was once a fair and beauteous form,

And yet some dwelling may be made more bright,

Some one afar may catch a gleam of light,

After the fury of the blighting storm.

Ode to Black Air Forces

Praise to the obsidian sole, which kisses the glass-

coated asphalt before becoming airborne. Praise 

to the black tongue, camouflaged, yet still 

flashing a warning of give no [     ]. Praise to the 

magic of ones turned two-piece, left and right 

feet a pair of wingmen to all that is fair in love. 

Original uniform of the fighter, multi-mission, 

robbin’ hoodies from designer shops to redistribute 

wealth. Praise to the weave of your vamp poised 

to catch flight into ribs at night, at noon, 

whenever. Praise to the aight whatever, 

aight bet, spoken wordlessly via emblem, 

prophecy of manual dexterity, long rumored

tale of ten toes down come true. Praise to 

your run through rap charts, Nelly who sang

of your stomp and survival, to 1982

the year of your birth, your absorption of

pressure waves from apartheid bombings,

Tough, by Kurtis Blow rerouted into

the democratization of dark energy. Ode to 

your essence making up 73% of the cosmos,

the power of 310 Angola aircraft in a single heel, 

to each uptown caressing a possible president,

to a force beyond force = mass x acceleration.

Fast lil ma working behind the cash register. 

On the way home she passes home. 

Ode to what you gave her, what you give her, 

wherever she’s going.

excerpt from “Listen to the Golden Boomerang Return”

            our first lightning

          strike was convulsive

         we felt sad for our

       violence after


      wolves and bison

      we do not need a

       doctor to say

        dance dance 

         dance before

           the song 

             runs out

               learn how

               to live so





        we put them

      in parks to be

    wild on purpose

  a museum of fur

fangs and hooves



“I don’t know what to tell you.
Your daughter doesn’t understand
math. Numbers trouble her, leave
her stuck on ground zero.”


                              Y fueron los mayas
                              quienes imaginaron el cero,
                              un signo para nada, para todo,
                              en sus gran calculaciones.


                Is zero the velvet swoop into dream,
                the loop into plumes of our breath?


“I suggest you encourage languages.
Already she knows a little Spanish,
and you can teach her more of that.
She lives for story time.”


                In the beginning there was nothing.
                Then the green of quetzal wings.

                              Las historias siguen cambiando,
                              sus verdades vigorizadas
                              con cada narración
                              como X x X = X2

If God Asks, Tell Her I Give This Place Three Stars

No more and no fewer.


Yes, the vistas were majestic.


Yes, the smoked salmon omelets were–I’ll say it–divine.


I don’t think I’m alone, however, when I say there were never

enough Saturdays, and there were always too many options for

choosing how to spend them–cliff diving or window shopping,

getting the oil changed or self-destructing in front of a stranger.


And while some of the neighbors contributed in kind to courtyard

barbecues, others were [     ], and you never knew which you

were getting until you’d already paid the first and last month’s rent.


I’m not saying I didn’t have a good time, I’m just saying I’m not 

sure I should have. It was all too much, and it was never enough,

and I can’t help but feel as if I’ve forgotten more than I could ever



The woman who is being paid to swab my grandmother’s dry lips

sings the psalter like a seraph, and it should be me there with the

wet Q-tip, but I have to be elsewhere if I want to have the means to

afford a person to also swab my own chapped lips when it’s time.


It is the wildest, weirdest, most heartbreaking planet I’ve ever been.

I swear I just got here, but it feels like I’ve been here forever.


I don’t want to leave, & I absolutely, positively never want to ever 

come back.



At birth my parents pulled my legs

and split me lengthwise like a wish.


Rumiñahui saved his city

from Spaniards by striking two stones,

holy temples made pure as ash.


When a concerned citizen pinned

me to airport wall to check my 


origin, I whispered, thank you.

My dad says, Good, we’re safer now.

My uncle: then leave the country.


Christmases, I stay home in bed.

Only the chaste were burned alive.


One mind replies, I want to live.

The other: I want to live well.


Is It Rude for Barbie Chang

Is it rude for Barbie Chang to tell men

     she doesn’t love them


just the idea of them what if we don’t

     even love living but just


the idea of it pictures always look

     lovely but it was an


ugly day if women were actually paid

     the same as men would


we all just pass on the highest bidder

     who says it’s a privilege


to be romantic romance with its antics

     and its time limits like the


nut that never tells us or other nuts

     when it will let go


we stand under the tree ready to 

     collect them with our 


arms wide open as in waltzing who

     authored the word love


does anyone know the author’s original

     intent does it matter


that no one knows exactly what it means

     does it matter that it


might signify everything what if we never

     needed a word for it


what if it is shapeless and composed

     of gestures if we name


the thing love it doesn’t mean it

     will last a nut does its


best to last but at some point just falls


     like all the others before it

I Went Out to Hear

The sound of quiet. The sky 

indigo, steeping 

deeper from the top, like tea.

In the absence

of anything else, my own

breathing became obscene.

I heard the beating

of bats’ wings before 

the air troubled above 

my head, turned to look

and saw them gone.

On the surface of the black

lake, a swan and the moon

stayed perfectly 

still. I knew this was

a perfect moment.

Which would only hurt me

to remember and never

live again. My God. How lucky to have lived

a life I would die for.

God, Gods, Powers, Lord, Universe—

If you cannot, at the moment, give me much joy,

I get it. I have asked

& received many a great joy

already. Just give me, if you can spare it,

a small joy, say, the size

of a ketchup packet. If that’s too much

to ask for, then how about a small

kindness, a tiny kindness, the size of a kiss

from a dust mote? No?

Okay. Would it be possible for you to take

away some things, then? For instance,

the soreness on the right side of my neck?

If you could remove maybe half

a pinch of that soreness, I would leap up

as though it were a great joy. I mean,

it would absolutely be a great, great joy,

thank you in advance, O

highest O mightiest O most.

Still no? Well. What about this

sense that everything has become

very slippery, everything is slipping

right out of my fingers & faster

every day? I’m not asking you to cure

my fear. Nor unslipify

my fingers. Only, if you could,

if you have a quarter of a split

nanosecond, it would be

greatly appreciated, see, I don’t

need joy or kindness

or ketchup, I

beg you, if you are

a being, a higher, some

Mysteries that can listen, can

mercy, I just need to lose

a little

less quickly.

We Used Our Words We Used What Words We Had

we used our words we used what words we had

to weld, what words we had we wielded, kneeled,

we knelt. & wept we wrung the wet the sweat

we racked our lips we rang for words to ward

off sleep to warn to want ourselves. to want

the earth we mouthed it wound our vowels until

it fit, in fits the earth we mounted roused

& rocked we harped we yawned & tried to yawp

& tried to fix, affixed, we faceted, felt.

we fattened fanfared anthemed hammered, felt

the words’ worth stagnate, snap in half in heat

the wane the melt what words we’d hoarded halved

& holey, porous. meanwhile tide still tide.

& we: still washed for sounds to mark. & marked.


some dreams hang in the air

like smoke. some dreams

get all in your clothes and

be wearing them more than you do and

you be half the time trying to

hold them and half the time

trying to wave them away.

their smell be all over you and

they get to your eyes and

you cry. the fire be gone

and the wood but some dreams

hang in the air like smoke

touching everything.

The Committee Weighs In

I tell my mother

I’ve won the Nobel Prize.


Again? she says. Which

discipline this time?


It’s a little game

we play: I pretend


I’m somebody, she

pretends she isn’t dead.

Differences of Opinion

He tells her that the earth is flat —

He knows the facts, and that is that.

In altercations fierce and long

She tries her best to prove him wrong.

But he has learned to argue well.

He calls her arguments unsound

And often asks her not to yell.

She cannot win. He stands his ground.


The planet goes on being round.

The Flower

I think I grow tensions

like flowers

in a wood where

nobody goes.


Each wound is perfect,

encloses itself in a tiny

imperceptible blossom,

making pain.


Pain is a flower like that one,

like this one,

like that one,

like this one.


If for a day joy masters me,

Think not my wounds are healed;

Far deeper than the scars you see,

I keep the roots concealed.


They shall bear blossoms with the fall;

I have their word for this,

Who tend my roots with rains of gall,

And suns of prejudice.

Los Angeles

the angels here 

have pigeons' wings

blue collars 

washed in sweat

the common salt 

in tears

tongues swirl 

in a stew of cultures

singing asphalt songs 

in the midst of seagulls

bebop atop 

the San Andreas

a humble plate 

of beings

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

After Angel Nafis


“I’m so show-off / My diamonds designed to twinkle and bleed light” – Azealia Banks


Mark my words, [     ].


Someday I’ll wear the fur


of every animal inside me


still crying for attention’s milk.


I don’t care what you call me:


tantrum, mink momentum, siren


of the cheapest songs. I wish it wasn’t true,


but scream any name & I’ll come.


Tbh I’d pull a thousand looks


from your eyes if it meant


I’d finally be seen. I mean, [     ].


What does a [     ] have


to do around here to get a tulip


tucked sweetly behind her ear? Die?


I can only do that a little at a time.


Y’all can wait. & I can continue


to sprawl the mania out on my good


chaise lounge. I know what I’m doing.


I’m fighting off invisibility with a snakeskin belt.


I’m rewiring the audience to finally look


me in the eye. I got so many reasons


to scream & so little chiffon to do it in.


Ashamed? With this face?


Girl, I wouldn’t be caught dead.

Bent to the Earth

They had hit Ruben

with the high beams, had blinded

him so that the van

he was driving, full of Mexicans

going to pick tomatoes,

would have to stop. Ruben spun


the van into an irrigation ditch,

spun the five-year-old me awake

to immigration officers,

their batons already out,

already looking for the soft spots on the body,

to my mother being handcuffed

and dragged to a van, to my father

trying to show them our green cards.


They let us go. But Alvaro

was going back.

So was his brother Fernando.

So was their sister Sonia. Their mother

did not escape,

and so was going back. Their father

was somewhere in the field,

and was free. There were no great truths


revealed to me then. No wisdom

given to me by anyone. I was a child

who had seen what a piece of polished wood

could do to a face, who had seen his father

about to lose the one he loved, who had lost

some friends who would never return,

who, later that morning, bent

to the earth and went to work.


With the intention of abandoning the hierarchies of capitalism—

The machinery of thought. Hey, with the desire of growing lilacs

In our community garden, bougainvillea running along the wall. 

Hey, as we denounce the walls of isolation and marginalization. 

No, to the elite. No, to centuries of settler colonialism,

Their insistence, we are immigrants on our own land. 

Hey, at midnight, beneath the candle of the moon: our arms

Interlocked like laurels painted onto the rims of renaissance paintings.

Hey, I miss you. I never even met you: let’s take a deep dive

Into each other’s bookshelves, until we find oceans of imagery

And metaphors we can discuss, dissect, not for ego’s sake, but for love.

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –

In Corners – till a Day

The Owner passed – identified –

And carried Me away –


And now We roam in Sovereign Woods –

And now We hunt the Doe –

And every time I speak for Him

The Mountains straight reply –


And do I smile, such cordial light

Upon the Valley glow –

It is as a Vesuvian face

Had let its pleasure through –


And when at Night – Our good Day done –

I guard My Master’s Head –

’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s

Deep Pillow – to have shared –


To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –

None stir the second time –

On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –

Or an emphatic Thumb –


Though I than He – may longer live

He longer must – than I –

For I have but the power to kill,

Without – the power to die –



I think I forgot to turn

off the radio when

I left my mother’s



In Hasidic Judaism

it is said that before we

are born an angel

enters the womb,

strikes us on the


and we forget all

that we knew of

previous lives—

all that we know

of heaven


I think that I forgot

to forget.

I was born into two

places at once—


In one, it was chilly

lonely physical &



in the other, I stayed

in the dimension of

Spirit. What I knew,

I knew.

I did not forget


The world of spirit


held me in its arms.


Are you having a good time?

Are you having a time at all?

Everywhere in the garden I see the slime vine

of your neck, the stubborn baby curls—


I know I’m not saying this right.

“Good” hair has no body

in this country; like trained ivy,

it hangs and shines. Mine comes out


in clusters. Is there such

a thing as a warning? The Hawaiian

mulberry is turning to ash


and the snail has lost its home.

Are you really all over with? How done

is gone?


               On the other side of a mirror there's an inverse world, where the insane go

sane; where bones climb out of the earth and recede to the first slime of love.


  And in the evening the sun is just rising.


               Lovers cry because they are a day younger, and soon childhood robs them

of their pleasure.


               In such a world there is much sadness which, of course, is joy ...

Against Pink

Pink is an unhappy hue, not soothing like cerulean, nor calming like lavender or gray. It is the color of fingernails shorn away, blood dripping from the waxen quick. It is the color of a sunburned arm. The color of harm that lingers on cut shins for days. Pink is not the shade of buttercups or daisies. It is the color of poisonous brugmansia blooms, of poppies that bring on sleep. Pink saturates the face in anger. It is the cast left on a cutting board by a hunk of uncooked meat. Pink, too, is the bittersweet shade of passion subdued, passion that has slipped from burgundy to rose. It is only a tincture of desire and so carries the least conviction. It is the tint that drifts away unnoticed in the night. Be frightened of pink. Do not think it the innocent color of dresses or barrettes, the blush of areolas, strawberry snow cones, or grenadine martinis. Try, for once, to see it rightly. It is frightening. It is the hue of a person’s insides, the color of a womb. That room where life arises. That room where babies are made. Where arms, legs, and heads are created. Eyes, blood, and tiny teeth.

Autobiography of Eve

Wearing nothing but snakeskin

boots, I blazed a footpath, the first

radical road out of that old kingdom

toward a new unknown.

When I came to those great flaming gates

of burning gold,

I stood alone in terror at the threshold

between Paradise and Earth.

There I heard a mysterious echo:

my own voice

singing to me from across the forbidden

side. I shook awake—

at once alive in a blaze of green fire.


Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.


I leapt

to freedom.

Instructions Before Stuttering

Tread where the name has prepared

A full name full of desire

Clay like plenty

Love is sensitive

In the space of crying

The name goes ahead

To prepare you

Grasp the vessel

With both hands and

Walk slow

A road of red clover


Self-Portrait as Slinky

It’s true I wanted

             to be beautiful before

                         authentic. Say the word

                                      exotic. Say minority


a coiled, dark curl

            a finger might wrap

                         itself in—the long

                                    staircase, and I was


the momentum

           of metal springs

                       descending down

                                    and down,

a tension


—the long staircase,

            and I was a stacked series

                       of spheres finger-tipped

                                  again into motion—say


taut, like a child

            who must please

                        the elders and doesn’t

                                    know how, a curl pulled


thin. I wanted to be

            a reckoning, to tornado

                       into each day’s hard

                                  hands, that wanton


lurching forward

            in the dark, another

                        soaked black ringlet,

                                    that sudden halting

Poems With Disabilities

I’m sorry—this space is reserved 

for poems with disabilities. I know 

it’s one of the best spaces in the book, 

but the Poems with Disabilities Act 

requires us to make all reasonable 

accommodations for poems that aren’t 

normal. There is a nice space just 

a few pages over—in fact (don’t 

tell anyone) I think it’s better 

than this one, I myself prefer it. 

Actually I don’t see any of those 

poems right now myself, but you never know 

when one might show up, so we have to keep 

this space open. You can’t always tell 

just from looking at them, either. Sometimes 

they’ll look just like a regular poem 

when they roll in... you’re reading along 

and suddenly everything 

changes, the world tilts 

a little, angle of vision 

jumps, your entrails aren’t 

where you left them. You 

remember your aunt died 

of cancer at just your age 

and maybe yesterday’s twinge means 

something after all. Your sloppy, 

fragile heart beats 

a little faster 

and then you know. 

You just know: 

the poem 

is right 

where it 



If it had been a heart attack, the newspaper

might have used the word massive,

as if a mountain range had opened

inside her, but instead


it used the word suddenly, a light coming on


in an empty room. The telephone


fell from my shoulder, a black parrot repeating

                         something happened, something awful


a sunday, dusky. If it had been


terminal, we could have cradled her

as she grew smaller, wiped her mouth,


said good-bye. But it was sudden,


how overnight we could be orphaned

& the world become a bell we’d crawl inside

& the ringing all we’d eat.


Throwing Children

It is really something when a kid who has a hard time becomes a kid who’s having a good time in no small part thanks to you throwing that kid in the air again and again on a mile long walk home from the Indian joint as her mom looks sideways at you like you don’t need to keep doing this because you’re pouring with sweat and breathing a little bit now you’re getting a good workout but because the kid laughs like a horse up there laughs like a kangaroo beating her wings against the light because she laughs like a happy little kid and when coming down and grabbing your forearm to brace herself for the time when you will drop her which you don’t and slides her hand into yours as she says for the fortieth time the fiftieth time inexhaustible her delight again again again and again and you say give me til the redbud tree or give me til the persimmon tree because she knows the trees and so quiet you almost can’t hear through her giggles she says ok til the next tree when she explodes howling yanking your arm from the socket again again all the wolves and mourning doves flying from her tiny throat and you throw her so high she lives up there in the tree for a minute she notices the ants organizing on the bark and a bumblebee carousing the little unripe persimmon in its beret she laughs and laughs as she hovers up there like a bumblebee like a hummingbird up there giggling in the light like a giddy little girl up there the world knows how to love.

Praise Song

After she died, I’d catch her

stuffing my nose with pine needles and oak,

staring off into the shadows of early morning.

Me, too jetlagged for the smells a ghost leaves behind.

The tailor of histories,

my mother sewed our Black Barbies and Kens

Nigerian clothes, her mind so tight against

the stitching, that in precision, she looked mean

as [     ], too. My mother’s laugh was a record skipping,

so deep she left nicks in the vinyl.

See? Even in death, she wants to be fable.

I don’t know what fathers teach sons,

but I am moving my mother

to a land where grief is no longer

gruesome. She loved top 40, yacht rock,

driving in daylight with the wind

wa-wa-ing through her cracked window

like Allah blowing breath

over the open bottle neck of our living.

She knew ninety-nine names for God,

and yet how do I remember her—

as what no god could make?

Ars Poetica

May the poems be

the little snail’s trail.


Everywhere I go,

every inch: quiet record


of the foot’s silver prayer

I lived once.

Thank you.

It was here.

Protection Spell (Riot’s Eye)

They’re chasing my boy, his

dreadlocks streaming


behind him like bed sheets

from the second-story


window of a house fire


He and the asphalt



I watch and I watch

like a black hole swallowing


a baby universe. (This is the last

of the gunmetal dreams.)


I wring the blood

from my ribcage


my world in your chest, child.


When I was a child

I believed God held us


like a paper bag

to the mouth of a panic attack


How I’m holding

a city like my boy,


my boy to my own

siren wail—


How the wind-as-breath

moved us, bent our


tallest trees

to snapping, like our songs


on our knees.

The Untrustworthy Speaker

Don’t listen to me; my heart’s been broken.

I don’t see anything objectively.


I know myself; I’ve learned to hear like a psychiatrist.

When I speak passionately,

that’s when I’m least to be trusted.


It’s very sad, really: all my life, I’ve been praised

for my intelligence, my powers of language, of insight.

In the end, they’re wasted—


I never see myself,

standing on the front steps, holding my sister’s hand.

That’s why I can’t account

for the bruises on her arm, where the sleeve ends.


In my own mind, I’m invisible: that’s why I’m dangerous.

People like me, who seem selfless,

we’re the cripples, the liars;

we’re the ones who should be factored out

in the interest of truth.


When I’m quiet, that’s when the truth emerges.

A clear sky, the clouds like white fibers.

Underneath, a little gray house, the azaleas

red and bright pink.


If you want the truth, you have to close yourself

to the older daughter, block her out:

when a living thing is hurt like that,

in its deepest workings,

all function is altered.


That’s why I’m not to be trusted.

Because a wound to the heart

is also a wound to the mind.


When My Gender is First Named Disorder

Do they mean this as a synonym for disorganization?

Machine with excess parts? If I called the parts of me

I no longer want vestigial this would imply they were

the vestige of a once-boy. Remnant of a never-was.

Or perhaps they mean it as disruption in the neat

arrangement of a system? Misplaced chromosome.

Missing rib. Screw balded as a knuckle. First cell to

metastasize. Our language unable to speak my gender

out of disease. Breasts growing like tumors from a lab

rat’s spleen. Cells in disarray. Gender as etymology of

abrupted skin. As melanoma severed. The scar a creeping

ulcer leaves. My clutter of apoplectic nerves. Spine a chaos

of misplaced bone. Trace vestigial back to its oldest root

& you will find a footprint in the dust. Trace my gender

back to its oldest root & you will find my father’s footprint

on my chest, sinking all the way down to my blood.

Part of Me Wanting Everything to Live

This New England kind of love reminds me

of the potted chrysanthemum my husband

gave me. I cared for it faithfully,

turning the pot a quarter turn each day

as it sat by the window. Until the blossoms

hung with broken necks on the dry stems.

Cut off the dead parts and watched

green leaves begin, new buds open.

Thinking the chrysanthemum would not die

unless I forced it to. The new flowers

were smaller and smaller, resembling

little eyes awake and alone in the dark.

I was offended by the lessening,

by the cheap renewal. By a going on

that gradually left the important behind.

But now it's different. I want the large

and near, and endings more final. If it must

be winter, let it be absolutely winter.

Your Hands

I love your hands:

They are big hands, firm hands, gentle hands;

Hair grows on the back near the wrist . . . .

I have seen the nails broken and stained

From hard work.

And yet, when you touch me,

I grow small . . . . . . . and quiet . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . And happy . . . . . . . .

If I might only grow small enough

To curl up into the hollow of your palm,

Your left palm,

Curl up, lie close and cling,

So that I might know myself always there,

. . . . . . . Even if you forgot.

excerpt from “For M”

The number

of hours 

we have 

together is

actually not

so large.

Please linger

near the

door uncomfortably

instead of

just leaving.

Please forget

your scarf

in my

life and

come back 

later for


excerpt from “How to Draw an Invisible Man”

And then when Ralph Ellison’s corpse burst 

open, I discovered his body had been hoarding 

all these years a luscious slush, a sludge 

of arterial words, the raw and unsaid pages 

with their plots and propositions, with their arcs 

of intention and babbling, with their mumbling 

streams and false starts and their love 

and misanthropic thrusts, tendons of syntax 

unraveled from his bones and intestinal cavities, 

the froth of singing, stinging, stinking ink, 

reams of script fraught with the demons, 

demagogues and demigods of democracy, 

demographies of vague landscapes, 

passages describing muddy river bottoms 

and elaborate protagonists crawling 

through a foliage greener than money in America 

before America thought to release anyone 

from its dream


Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds and shall find me unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.

excerpt from “Lost Ones”

Now, now, how come your talk turn cold?

Gained the whole world for the price of your soul

Tryin' to grab hold of what you can't control

Now you're all floss, what a sight to behold

Wisdom is better than silver and gold

I was hopeless, now I'm on Hope Road

Every man wanna act like he's exempt

Need to get down on his knees and repent

Can't slick talk on the day of judgment

Your movement's similar to a serpent

Tried to play straight, how your whole style bent?

Consequence is no coincidence

Hypocrites always wanna play innocent

Always want to take it to the full out extent

Always want to make it seem like good intent

Never want to face it when it time for punishment

I know you don't wanna hear my opinion

There come many paths and you must choose one

And if you don't change then the rain soon come

See you might win some, but you just lost one

It Was Like This: You Were Happy

It was like this:

you were happy, then you were sad,

then happy again, then not.


It went on.

You were innocent or you were guilty.

Actions were taken, or not.


At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.

Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?


Now it is almost over.


Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.


It does this not in forgiveness—

between you, there is nothing to forgive—

but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment

he sees the bread is finished with transformation.


Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.


It doesn’t matter what they will make of you

or your days: they will be wrong,

they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,

all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.


Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,

you slept, you awakened.

Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.


[Death is nothing at all]

Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened.


Everything remains exactly as it was.

I am I, and you are you,

and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.

Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.


Call me by the old familiar name.

Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.


Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.

Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.


Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same as it ever was.

There is absolute and unbroken continuity.

What is this death but a negligible accident?


Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you, for an interval,

somewhere very near,

just round the corner.


All is well.

Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.

One brief moment and all will be as it was before.

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!


What the Silence Says





I know that you think you already know but—






Longer than that.





even longer than that.

[I Thought That I Could Love]

I thought

That I could love

My fear could


Build with it

A desk and chest

Of drawers


Like fear was

Made of pine

And nails


And glue could

Sew myself

Into a dress


With it or

Matching set

In shocking blue


Could plait

My hair with it

Could paint


With it could

Thin my paint

With it


Could spread

It like a sheet

Onto my bed


Could slice a loaf

Of bread on fear’s

Serrated edge

I, Too

I, too, sing America.


I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.



I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”




They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—


I, too, am America.

an armistice between my dead folks and my delusions

I am a body

of ghost—

haint-kin cloaked

in earthen flesh


learning to see

my Self 

in the unyielding 

barrenness of my mother’s 

front yard.


The salted fault lines

become me. I bear

a trace of invasion

and reek

of a martyr’s will.


A tangle

of medicinal weeds

interrupts my molting 



Dandelion greens fuzz

up my apathy. A flower

dares itself to bloom

amongst my most quiet



When the rain comes,

I turn mud in my lover’s mouth.

Something fecund hums

through my blood


And maybe . . . this 

is the living. These 

would-be dead things in

the same place, the same time


that is 

my body. Ours. Not mine— 

unowned and fruited and

poor and black and ugly and Here


with you. I reach

a hand      out the wildness

And catch hold

a soft pulse




we nursed you

don’t you dare

give up



I’ve been old.

I’ve been poor.

I’ve been vulnerable.

I’ve been exploited.

I’ve been called an angel.

I’ve studied spiders.

I’ve lingered in love like a hummingbird outside a window.

I’ve likened myself to a pigeon, a dove.

I’ve been duped.

I’ve been brilliant.

I’ve been a genie in a bottle.

I’ve been let out.

I’ve been put back in.

I am in the dark.

How to get out with love in my mouth?

The Dreams of the Dreamer

The dreams of the dreamer

   Are life-drops that pass

The break in the heart

   To the soul’s hour-glass.


The songs of the singer

   Are tones that repeat

The cry of the heart

   ‘Till it ceases to beat.

For Felicity

Everyone remembers her haircut, 

lion’s mane sheared like lamb’s wool, 

but few remember why. She stood 

on the busy street corner, broke up with 

the boy she loved. I can’t change 

who I am—I don’t want to, she told him.


I’d never said that to a boy. I said, 

You’re right; that band is stupid. I said, 

I’ll stop watching soap operas. I said,  

I don’t know; what do you think? I said, 

Please don’t leave me. I said, 

I can be anyone you want me to be.  


She walked away, crossed the street, 

plopped into the plastic swivel chair.  

Her bare feet pointed and flexed over the 

metal bar, beside the pile of curls.  

Her eyes blinked in the mirror. She 

marveled at what she could leave behind.

A Spell to Banish Grief

Only when you wake to a fistful of pulled hair

on the floor beside your bed and, from a glance,

can guess its weight, when you study dried tear

streaks on your cheeks like a farmer figuring out

where the season went wrong, when a friend calls

out your name three or four times before you know

your name is yours, when your name fits like clothes

you’ve suddenly outgrown, when there is too much

of you, too few of you, too you of you, and the mirrors

wish all of you would just look away, when the clocks

can’t feel their hands and the calendars begin to doubt

themselves, when you begin to agree with the glares

from mirrors but your reflection follows you around

the house anyway, when you catch yourself drunk

on memory, candles lit, eyes closed, your head tilted

in the direction of cemetery grass, yellow and balding

above what’s left of the body that birthed you, and you

try to remember the sound of laughter in her throat

and fail, only then, orphan, will I take all my selves

and leave.

Ten Things I Do Every Day

         after Ted Berrigan


Floss my throat

wash my feet then glower

kiss Curtis at 7:30

to shake him

feed Kitty

philosophical tenders

stroll the valley

of dearth to Journal Square

keep the faith like a Benedictine

under the Hudson


Work like a yo-yo

nap like a bear

address endless emails

to forgotten writers

jack the meter

to stand tall

drink lust as if

it were spring water

walk through the Mews

when the coast is near

leave my friends and shadows

generous margins for error

Ghazal, After Ferguson

Somebody go & ask Biggie to orate

what's going down in the streets.


No, an attitude is not a suicide note

written on walls around the streets.


Twitter stays lockstep in the frontal lobe

as we hope for a bypass beyond the streets,


but only each day bears witness

in the echo chamber of the streets.


Grandmaster Flash's thunderclap says

he's not the grand jury in the streets,


says he doesn't care if you're big or small

fear can kill a man on the streets.


Take back the night. Take killjoy's

cameras & microphones to the streets.


If you're holding the hand lightning strikes

juice will light you up miles from the streets


where an electric chair surge dims

all the county lights beyond the streets.


Who will go out there & speak laws

of motion & relativity in the streets?


Yusef, this morning proves a crow

the only truth serum in the street.

After Years

Today, from a distance, I saw you

walking away, and without a sound

the glittering face of a glacier

slid into the sea. An ancient oak

fell in the Cumberlands, holding only

a handful of leaves, and an old woman

scattering corn to her chickens looked up

for an instant. At the other side

of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times

the size of our own sun exploded

and vanished, leaving a small green spot

on the astronomer's retina

as he stood on the great open dome

of my heart with no one to tell.

excerpt from “How Much a Dollar Cost”

Walked out the gas station

A homeless man with a semi-tan complexion

Asked me for ten rand

Stressin' about dry land

Deep water, powder blue skies that crack open

A piece of crack that he wanted, I knew he was smokin'

He begged and pleaded

Asked me to feed him twice, I didn't believe it

Told him, beat it

Contributin' money just for his pipe, I couldn't see it

He said, my son, temptation is one thing that I've defeated

Listen to me, I want a single bill from you

Nothin' less, nothin' more

I told him I ain't have it and closed my door

Tell me how much a dollar cost

It's more to feed your mind

Water, sun and love, the one you love

All you need, the air you breathe


I wash my hands, I said my grace, what more do you want from me?

Tears of a clown, guess I'm not all what is meant to be

Shades of grey will never change if I condone

Turn this page, help me change, to right my wrongs


Tell me how much a dollar cost

It's more to feed your mind

Water, sun and love, the one you love

All you need, the air you breathe


Testament to the Agency of Man

On considering gender augmentation surgery


Do I change?

Do I go the—as you say—whole way?


The breast, a predicament of treatment:

Free Will,


It seems, be more than just the crow’s zigzag

In the wind,


But a thing like breasts, it hangs

There, even in the mind,


Behind the muscle’s freeze,

Homogenously patient for its sister—the breasts,


I mean; the Will, I was saying; but it seems I am

The crow, the same flying


Inside so many green and ruder choices.

Trans, a choice


Written on my body. And I’m allowed.

Trans, a fecund decision,


Androgynously made. No sin.

I pray to God I decide, Rickey.


Yes. I’ll go the whole way.

Let the scalpel in.


What is a wound but a flower

dying on its descent to the earth,

bag of scent filled with war, forest,

torches, some trouble that befell

now over and done. A wound is a fire

sinking into itself. The tinder 

serves only so long, the log holds on

and still it gives up, collapses

into its bed of ashes and sand. I burned

my hand cooking over a low flame,

that flame now alive under my skin,

the smell not unpleasant, the wound

beautiful as a full-blown peony.

Say goodbye to disaster. Shake hands

with the unknown, what becomes

of us once we’ve been torn apart

and returned to our future, naked

and small, sewn back together

scar by scar.

Eating Together

In the steamer is the trout   

seasoned with slivers of ginger,

two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.   

We shall eat it with rice for lunch,   

brothers, sister, my mother who will   

taste the sweetest meat of the head,   

holding it between her fingers   

deftly, the way my father did   

weeks ago. Then he lay down   

to sleep like a snow-covered road   

winding through pines older than him,   

without any travelers, and lonely for no one.


Amphibians live in both.


Immigrants leave their land, 

hardening in the sea. 


Out of water.


In Greek, amphibian means

“on both sides of life.”


Terra and aqua. Shoreline. 

In fresh water:


amphibians lay

shell-less eggs; 

immigrants give birth

to Americans.


Tadpoles, polliwogs 

metamorphose: gills

in early stages. On land,


amphibians develop lungs. 

Immigrants develop lungs.


Through damp skin 

amphibians oxygenate.


Immigrants toil

and sleep breathlessly.


Skin forms glands.

Eyes form eyelids.


Amphibians seek land; immigrants, other lands.


Their colors brighten, camouflage.


They’ve been known to fall 

out of the sky.


Fully at home in the rain.

A Brief History of Silence

In the dark, I could read the stiff salt

of your cheeks like Braille. What more

could anyone want than to crease history

into a paper boat and feed the thing


to a riptide? I wore a tooth-pocked tongue

filled with old curses. You too.

Thought as many wishes

as there are pills in a pharmacy.


When I slept, my dreams

shook like a brood from a mob,

the sheets spindled into a tapestry

the fridge lumbered to life down the hall.

Calling Things What They Are

I pass the feeder and yell, Grackle party! And then an hour later I yell, Mourning

dove afterparty! (I call the feeder the party and the seed on the ground the

afterparty.) I am getting so good at watching that I’ve even dug out the binoculars

an old poet gave me back when I was young and heading to the Cape with so

much future ahead of me it was like my own ocean. Tufted titmouse! I yell, and

Lucas laughs and says, Thought so. But he is humoring me, he didn’t think so at

all. My father does this same thing. Shouts out at the feeder announcing the party

attendees. He throws out a whole peanut or two to the Steller’s jay who visits on

a low oak branch in the morning. To think there was a time I thought birds were

kind of boring. Brown bird. Gray bird. Black bird. Blah blah blah bird. Then, I

started to learn their names by the ocean and the person I was dating said, That’s

the problem with you, Limón, you’re all fauna and no flora. And I began to learn

the names of trees. I like to call things as they are. Before, the only thing I was

interested in was love, how it grips you, how it terrifies you, how it annihilates and

resuscitates you. I didn’t know then that it wasn’t even love that I was interested

in, but my own suffering. I thought suffering kept things interesting. How funny

that I called it love and the whole time it was pain.

Poem with a Bleating Heart

Once again it is fall all around us

there are sports teams praying

for god to smite their opponents

which you know I love like I love

the idea of god walking dripless out

of the ocean a monster no one can be

sure is here to protect or destroy

our seaside cities and I love that we can

scream whatever we want knowing

it can be fixed later in the subtitles

and I love the scrub pine for looking

exactly how it sounds and I love

memory for continuing to be the past

with a leak in it somehow I love you

a little better every day surprised by it

each morning the way I am always

surprised by how goats make the sound

of drunks making goat noises

On Coming Out at Seventeen

When on the verge of ripening into plums,

Some girls dream of sunsets & of other girls

Some girls dream of bursting beneath darkening sky

Some girls dream of her body as book while

Tasting the bitter of their own skins

When on the verge of ripening into plums

Plucked to be eaten or preserved

Through gentle pressure & a slight twist,

Some girls dream of bursting beneath darkening sky

Split to open center & amaranthine flesh,

Pruned back to unharmed parts

When on the verge of ripening into plums

In the middle of concrete cities where fruit

Coats pavement & smoke shadows the moon

Some girls dream of bursting beneath darkening sky—

Water her roots; Cut back her branches &

Turn her full-faced to sun

When on the verge of ripening into plums—

Some girls dream of bursting.

Three Lies and a Truth

We live in a world where some lies sink

to their knees in the bottomland. Others

unsheathe wings, lift and ferry their seeds, drift


up like the down of angels. My mother believed

selling vacuum cleaners and eternal salvation


were both honorable. I agree. It doesn't matter

if you're slicing limes for your fancy gin or tossing

the rinds under the porch to ward off feral cats,


you can still sever what you need the most.

These days, it's the need that interests me.


Not once have I told the kind of lie that flew away.

Like pine sap on fingers, mine have fused and clung,

tacky, awkward. And sometimes you just don't know


what you don't know. For years I said I was in love

with windows but it turned out what I loved was light.


To be honest, I'm in it for the tomatoes and the flowers.

I can't go on harvesting carrots in the rain forever.

Where the road forks right toward the meaning of life


and left toward cheese and crackers, I go left. And

in the end we will die like the cedars, wet, with cold feet.

Untitled Poem For Sarah

Every morning you'd think

all the moths would throw themselves

into the Sun.


But they wait

for streetlights

to consume them


in small coughs

of sparkle.

My dear,


my dear,

my dear:

I have stopped


listening to my moth soul.

My dear, I am done

tilting at streetlights.


My paper wings soar,


your blazing heart.

Holding Up

       How you holding up?

High waves of anxiety

mixed with periods of surface calm.


       How you holding up?

By a thread. I’m being held up

by a single thread and what scares me

is not knowing what’s inside

the liquid I’m being held up over

and is it cold?


       How you holding up?

With both hands. I’m holding it up

with both hands.


       How you holding up?

Like a bank with Monolopy money in the drawers.

Like a three-day-old birthday cake.

Like a middle finger out a car window.

Like a bad perm on a rainy day.

Like the hand of a mediocre student in the back row

who wants to show he’s participating

but doesn’t want to get called on.

Like the eyebrows of Winona Ryder.

Like the fist from a pile of rubble.


Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,

And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,

Stealing my breath of life, I will confess

I love this cultured [     ] that tests my youth.

Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,

Giving me strength erect against her hate,

Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.

Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,

I stand within her walls with not a shred

Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.

Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,

And see her might and granite wonders there,

Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,

Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.


       “death cannot harm me

         more than you have harmed me,

         my beloved life.”

                     —Louise Glück 


I tell my daughter first, because her knowing 
forces it to become true. I have to leave dad. 


Nothing is going to change. She nods 
like a priest in a booth, the last fifteen years


staring down at us. Explains, softly,
how she’s spoken of me to her therapist.


Her worry of becoming my mirror. Tells me,
I remember you, mom, before him. You were happy.


Oh. Oh. To surrender to your death by someone else’s
hand is still a kind of suicide. Slower. I stand naked


on the porch as she recounts in perfect detail,
(in a poet’s detail) the very things I’d hoped


to disguise. My careful little spectator. Diligent neighbor
to my unnamed agonies. It is not ungrateful to resist


the tyrannies of obsession. It is no selfish act
to want, suddenly, to stay alive. My dear girl.


She is teaching and I am learning. I not only 
want to be seen, I want to be seen through.

I return to my house, haunted and waiting.
I look into the mirror and notice the door.

I Feel Most Like Myself With Painted Nails

Rouge sunset battered

atop each finger


a small galaxy

of comet & solar flare,


I am a god

of these two hands


& today let there be

unapologetic light.


Let there be an origin

story that is not bruised


fruit lodged in the throat

like a knife with no hilt.


When someone says

man [     ] up, they mean


what breathing thing

have you made


into a wound? What wounds

have you worn as trophy?


I try to name

a masculinity


that is not a wolf

masked in the body


of a wolf

& I end up howling


at the white fist pressed

into the night’s soft cheek.


I’m sorry I’m not

sorry I undressed


myself of knuckles today.

I imagined a universe


not dipped in blood

& made myself drip


with starlight.

I walked out


the front door

& marveled


at the way everything I touch




translated from Arabic by Robyn Creswell


A ruthless catalog of sorrows:

years in front of the screen, diplomas before jobs,

and languages–all that torture–now ranged under Languages.

Where are all the wasted days? And the nights

of walking with hands stretched out

and the visions that crept over the walls?

Where are the feelings of guilt

and the sudden sadness faced with a little hill of fruit

atop a handcart in some forgotten street?

Years with no mention of the empty hours or the funerals,

expunged of black depressions and nibbled nails,

the house keys forgotten inside the house.

There isn’t a single open window

and no trace of the desire, deferred, to leap out.

A life overstuffed with accomplishments,

scrubbed free of dirt:

proof that the one who lived it

has cut all ties to the earth.


I became myself.

I became myself.


No, I always was myself.

There’s no such person as myself.


I wouldn’t have to turn my eye

inward, I thought, if I could train my eye


on him—the one I loved.

But I was wrong. My eye loved


everything it fell upon.

And then one day it fell upon


a mirror. And he was nowhere

in the mirror. And she was everywhere.


What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen

to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,


how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took

questions on how not to feel lost in the dark


After lunch she distributed worksheets

that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s


voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep

without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—


something important—and how to believe

the house you wake in is your home. This prompted


Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing

how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,


and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts

are all you hear; also, that you have enough.


The English lesson was that I am

is a complete sentence.


And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation

look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,


and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking

for whatever it was you lost, and one person


add up to something.

Why Whales Are Back in New York City

After a century, humpbacks migrate
again to Queens. They left
due to sewage and white froth


banking the shores from polychlorinated-
biphenyl-dumping into the Hudson
and winnowing menhaden schools.


But now grace, dark bodies of song
return. Go to the seaside—


Hold your breath. Submerge.
A black fluke silhouetted
against the Manhattan skyline.


Now ICE beats doors
down on Liberty Avenue
to deport. I sit alone on orange


A train seats, mouth sparkling
from Singh’s, no matter how
white supremacy gathers


at the sidewalks, flows down
the streets, we still beat our drums
wild. Watch their false-god statues


prostrate to black and brown hands.
They won’t keep us out
though they send us back.


Our songs will pierce the dark
fathoms. Behold the miracle:

what was once lost
now leaps before you.

To the Sea

Sometimes when you start to ramble

or rather when you feel you are starting to ramble

you will say Well, now I’m rambling

though I don’t think you ever are.

And if you ever are I don’t really care.

And not just because I and everyone really 

at times falls into our own unspooling

—which really I think is a beautiful softness

of being human, trying to show someone else

the color of all our threads, wanting another to know 

everything in us we are trying to to show them—

but in the specific, 

in the specific of you

here in this car that you are driving

and in which I am sitting beside you

with regards to you 

and your specific mouth

parting to give way

to the specific sweetness that is

the water of your voice 

tumbling forth—like I said 

I don’t ever really mind

how much more 

you might keep speaking

as it simply means 

I get to hear you 

speak for longer. 

What was a stream 

now a river.

I’m rewatching the She-Ra episode where Glimmer gets sick for the first time

and I keep mistaking the screen for a 

mirror. By which I mean, I too was once

adolescent and unconquerable:

purple hair; a body unmarked by pain.

Then, the bright unholiness of onset.

She screams, glitches into crimson static.

In the right light, even pain can sparkle.

Blood cells glinting into oblivion.

Flicker of agony, scarlet against

the ego. Candescence of a body

as it burns itself undone. If I am

to live this way–neurons blazing, my fists

clenched proudly against a whimper–let me

at least malfunction in a way that shines.

How To Forgive

She asks me to write a list

of all the names I’ve been called.

And then a list of things

that are killing me.

Where to start? Susie. Sue.

Big Head. Men have called me cold.

Men I know, men I don’t.

It’s all over the news

how they want to kill me.

It doesn’t matter what they

call me. When I was 17, I kneeled

on the stained carpet at Men’s Wearhouse,

looping a tape measure around

a small boy’s waist and he showed me

my name. He pulled his eyes slant

as I measured the distance

between belly button and floor: inseam

or outseam, it’s hard to keep track.

A wedding, his father said.

There was going to be a wedding.

The boy needed a tux.

I don’t like this memory

because I did nothing.

In remembering,

I become nothing again.

Not long after in college,

I was sorting clothes in the back

of a Goodwill. Court-ordered community

service. An older man took

his time looking me up

and down as I sweat through my shirt,

threw pit-stained blouses

into the discard pile,

everything else the salvaging bin.

I went home with him for years,

not knowing about the prior assaults.

Would my knowing have changed

anything? He was gentle

to my face. I only ignored

his texts sometimes.

Men have destroyed me

for less. Even the boy.

I’m supposed to tell you

I forgive him—

he was just a boy.

I forgive myself instead.

ode to coffee / oda al café

(after Juan Luis Guerra)


from Africa to a Caribbean hill

         de África a las lomas del Caribe

to the smiling ruin of our cities

         a la feliz ruina de ciudades

anoint the neural vessels we refill

         al matorral neural en donde vive

until your acid muse drowns our pities

         tu agria musa que ahoga soledades

return us to our tribe that grew dark beans

         devuélvenos al semillero isleño

cut through the grease of our late-night omelets

         metaboliza la grasa nocturna

and warm this empty diner by the club

         trae tu calor a nuestro desvelo

where luckless lovers stare at tiny screens

         haz que el amante no muera de sueño

and poets brew old socks into psalmlets

         tu borra es poema que embadurna

while dreaming it rains coffee from above.

         y sombría tu alegría de cielo.

The Song

From somewhere

a calm musical note arrives.

You balance it on your tongue,

a single ripe grape,

till your whole body glistens.

In the space between breaths

you apply it to any wound

and the wound heals.


Soon the nights will lengthen,

you will lean into the year

humming like a saw.

You will fill the lamps with kerosene,

knowing somewhere a line breaks,

a city goes black,

people dig for candles in the bottom drawer.

You will be ready. You will use the song like a match.

It will fill your rooms

opening rooms of its own

so you sing, I did not know

my house was this large.


Let’s Get Married

Spanish translation by David Ruano González


for Alison & Nate, on the occasion of their wedding

& always for Erika


let’s get married on a Tuesday

with a six piece from Harold’s as our witness.

let’s get married at noon & then again at 3:30

when the school day lets out & a whole block

of dandelions flower our ceremony. let’s 

get married under a full moon & then again

under a new moon, so every celestial being

can witness our vows. love, one wedding

isn’t enough for me. i want to propose

again & again. on a Wednesday because

you did the dishes. on a Thursday because

we woke up next to each other again. say yes.

say less. i’ll be on one knee asking you

to share in the delight of knowing each other.

let’s get married because Chicago. because

St. Louis is a city on a map. because your name

is my favorite word. let’s get married because

there are vows we can only make in the dark.

because we don’t need a witness to say i do.

let’s get married because it’s raining

& that’s supposed to be good luck. mi amor,

mi cielo, mi vida, let’s get married

in every language we can & can’t speak.

under every god. my god, the way you look

at me is a miracle i believe in. because

we get one life. one. say yes. then, say yes

again. let’s get married after we get married

because underneath every word i write

there is one word i carve into every desk.

one word i tag onto every building on every block

of my heart. marry me: make me (no, not complete),

but a little more alive than i’ve ever been.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees

are turning

their own bodies

into pillars


of light,

are giving off the rich

fragrance of cinnamon

and fulfillment,


the long tapers

of cattails

are bursting and floating away over

the blue shoulders


of the ponds,

and every pond,

no matter what its

name is, is


nameless now.

Every year


I have ever learned


in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side


is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world


you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it


against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it


to let it go.

Spock as a Metaphor for the Construction of Race During My Childhood

Consider the mathematics of my German father.

The unconditional tears of my Filipino mother.


Call me Spock, but it was logic versus emotion

every day on Earth.


Out in space, there are over a million miles

between asteroids in an asteroid field.

It’s pretty much impossible to hit one unless you actually aim for it.


Not so on Star Trek. There, they have to grit their teeth,

put their shields up, crash a couple times and assess the damage.

As kid, I was amazed by the skill of those spacemen,

“skill” which I soon realized was nothing more than sheer incompetence.

Hitting an asteroid? There’s just no excuse for that.


A modest revelation. But these revelations

strung themselves together, orbited the planet

in ways that messed with things like gravity and light.

It went like this: You knew you could fly

until your first attempt left you with two broken teeth.

You knew you were like all the other kids,

until your best friend said, No, you’re not.


And he was right.

And in that moment, something shifted.

The galaxy became real, and in its realness, the asteroids

seemed so much closer than you thought.

You were half-alien, staring down an eternity

that was both limitless and dangerous

as a captain’s voice boomed from above:

Brace for impact, we’re going down.


excerpt from “Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved”

To be alive: not just the carcass

But the spark.

That’s crudely put, but…


If we’re not supposed to dance,

Why all this music?


The Lifeline

Here is what I know: when 

that bell tolls again, I 

need to go and make something,

anything: a poem, a pie, a terrible

scarf with my terrible knitting, I 

need to write a letter, remind myself

of any little lifeline around me.


When death sounds, I forget most

of what I learnt before. I go below. 

I compare my echoes with other people’s 

happiness. I carve that hole in my own 

chest again, pull out all my organs once

again, wonder if they’ll ever work again

stuff them back again. Begin. Again.


25th High School Reunion

We come to hear the endings

of all the stories

in our anthology

of false starts:

how the girl who seemed

as hard as nails

was hammered

into shape;

how the athletes ran

out of races;

how under the skin

our skulls rise

to the surface

like rocks in the bed

of a drying stream.

Look! We have all

turned into


That’s My Heart Right There

We used to say,

That’s my heart right there.


As if to say,

Don’t mess with her right there.


As if, don’t even play,

That’s a part of me right there.


In other words, okay okay,

That’s the start of me right there.


As if, come that day,

That’s the end of me right there.


As if, push come to shove,

I would fend for her right there.


As if, come what may,

I would lie for her right there.


As if, come love to pay,

I would die for that right there.

Love in a Time of Climate Change

recycling Pablo Neruda's "Sonnet XVII"


I don't love you as if you were rare earth metals,

conflict diamonds, or reserves of crude oil that cause

war. I love you as one loves the most vulnerable

species: urgently, between the habitat and its loss.


I love you as one loves the last seed saved

within a vault, gestating the heritage of our roots,

and thanks to your body, the taste that ripens

from its fruit still lives sweetly on my tongue.


I love you without knowing how or when this world

will end. I love you organically, without pesticides.

I love you like this because we'll only survive


in the nitrogen rich compost of our embrace,

so close that your emissions of carbon are mine,

so close that your sea rises with my heat.


Golden Hour

When sidelong hours reach deep

into the house, objects turn

unbearably distinct and I think


of girlhood, how the sinking golden light

had to be seized, like the last

mouthful of soda in a warm can shared


with my sister. Whether I wanted to or not,

I climbed higher in the tree, higher

than I even liked, to watch the back door


where my mother would appear

and call me in. For years now

a supper made by someone else


is all I want, but this late sun

keeps pressing in. The linen chair

beside the window looks more


salmon-hued and woven now

than at noon. And the not-chair

stretches long beside it. Shadows


sharpen and themselves become

objects filling the room. A child wakes

down the hall. Light gathers on the faces


of ranunculus in a mantle vase,

browning and collapsing

in their centers. I think I have been


sad every afternoon of my life.

Outside a child runs in the grass.

Soon I will appear and call her to me.


Old Song

Praised be friends. Praise enemies.

Praise the dark above.


Praise hangovers. Praise cigarettes.

The vulture and the dove.


Praise all music. Praise the harp.

And the amplifier's buzz.


Praise the days we'd live forever.

And loneliness. And love.


Praise even death, or at least the dying,

who taught us how to live.


Praise you, someday, reading this.

Praise light. Praise the wind.

The friend

We sat across the table.

he said, cut off your hands.

they are always poking at things.

they might touch me.

I said yes.


Food grew cold on the table.

he said, burn your body.

it is not clean and smells like [     ].

it rubs my mind sore.

I said yes.


I love you, I said.

That’s very nice, he said

I like to be loved,

that makes me happy.


Have you cut off your hands yet?


From childhood’s hour I have not been 

As others were—I have not seen 

As others saw—I could not bring 

My passions from a common spring— 

From the same source I have not taken 

My sorrow—I could not awaken 

My heart to joy at the same tone— 

And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone— 

Then—in my childhood—in the dawn 

Of a most stormy life—was drawn 

From ev’ry depth of good and ill 

The mystery which binds me still— 

From the torrent, or the fountain— 

From the red cliff of the mountain— 

From the sun that ’round me roll’d 

In its autumn tint of gold— 

From the lightning in the sky 

As it pass’d me flying by— 

From the thunder, and the storm— 

And the cloud that took the form 

(When the rest of Heaven was blue) 

Of a demon in my view—

Long Night Full Moon

You only watch the news to find out

where the fires are burning, which way

the wind is blowing, and whether

it will rain. Forecast ahead but first:

A mother’s boy laid out

in the street for hours.

These facts don’t wash away.



Another word I love is evening

for the balance it implies, balance

being something I struggle with.

I suppose I would like to be more

a planet, turning in & out of light

It comes down again to polarities,

equilibrium. Evening. The moths

take the place of the butterflies,

owls the place of hawks, coyotes

for dogs, stillness for business,

& the great sorrow of brightness

makes way for its own sorrow.

Everything dances with its strict

negation, & I like that. I have no

choice but to like that. Systems

are evening out all around us—

even now, as we kneel before

a new & ruthless circumstance.

Where would I like to be in five

years, someone asks—& what

can I tell them? Surrendering

with grace to the evening, with

as much grace as I can muster

to the circumstance of darkness,

which is only something else

that does not stay.

The ‘I Want’ Song

I just want them to stop emailing. All of them. You. The bots.

I want the kids to stop whining, the floor

to sweep itself, the sun to rise blamelessly

into the sky. In every Disney movie the main character

gets to stop, look into the camera, and howl

her “I Want” song straight into our chests. Once

it’s been laid out for all of us to hear, we know

she has to get it. But there’s so much that I want—

for the trees not to burn, or at least

not these trees, not unless they’re far away or 

beneficial to the understory. I want to stop

feeling like I’d better buy the fruit

now because maybe next year there will be

no more fruit, no more water, maybe the crops will burn

or wither or be sprayed with the chemical that kills

the bees and which studies now show

kills the bees’ children and children’s children

two bee-generations after exposure. 

I want not to think about the expiration of the world.

I want to delete my profile, I want pollination

of the blossom and the swelling of fruit. 

I want to stand inside the fog socked in under a crown

of redwoods. I want to become the fog.

Child in Red

Sometimes she walks through the village in her

little red dress

all absorbed in restraining herself,

and yet, despite herself, she seems to move

according to the rhythm of her life to come.


She runs a bit, hesitates, stops,

half-turns around...

and, all while dreaming, shakes her head

for or against.


Then she dances a few steps

that she invents and forgets,

no doubt finding out that life

moves on too fast.


It's not so much that she steps out

of the small body enclosing her,

but that all she carries in herself

frolics and ferments.


It's this dress that she'll remember

later in a sweet surrender;

when her whole life is full of risks,

the little red dress will always seem right.

excerpt from “The Border: A Double Sonnet”

The border is a line that birds cannot see.

The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.

The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.

The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe.

The border is a rusted hinge that does not bend.

The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein.

The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going.

The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so many.

The border has always been a welcome stopping place but is now a stop sign, always red.

The border is a jump rope still there even after the game is finished.

The border is a real crack in an imaginary dam.

The border used to be an actual place, but now, it is the act of a thousand imaginations.

The border, the word border, sounds like order, but in this place they do not rhyme.

The border is a handshake that becomes a squeezing contest.

Watts Bleeds

Watts bleeds

leaving stained reminders

on dusty sidewalks.


Here where I strut alone

as glass lies broken by my feet

and a blanket of darkness is slung

across the wooden shacks

of nuetsra colonia.


Watts bleeds

dripping from carcasses of dreams:

Where despair

is old people

sitting on torn patio sofas

with empty eyes

and children running down alleys

with big sticks.


Watts bleeds

on vacant lots

and burned-out buildings–

temples desolated by a people’s rage.


Where fear is a deep river.

Where hate is an overgrown weed.


Watts bleeds

even as we laugh,

recall good times,

drink and welcome daylight

through the broken windshield

of an old Impala.


Here is the Watts of my youth,

where teachers threw me

from classroom to classroom,

not knowing where I could fit in.


Where I learned to fight or run,

where I zigzagged down alleys,

jumped over fences,

and raced by graffiti on crumbling

factory walls.


Where we played

between boxcars,

bleeding from

broken limbs and torn flesh,

and where years later

we shot up carga

in the playground

of our childhood.


Watts bleeds

as the shadow of the damned

engulfs all the chinga of our lives.


In the warmth of a summer night,

gunshots echo their deadly song

through the silence of fear;

prelude to a heartbeat.


Watts bleeds

as I bled

getting laid-off from work,

standing by my baby’s crib,

touching his soft check

and fingering his small hand

as dreams shatter again,

dreams of fathers

for little men.


Watts bleeds

and the city hemorrhages,

unable to stop the flow

from this swollen and festering sore.


Oh bloom, you trampled flower!

Come alive as once

you tried to do from the ashes.


Watts, bleeding and angry,

you will be free.

Looking for Your Face

From the beginning of my life

I have been looking for your face

but today I have seen it


Today I have seen

the charm, the beauty,

the unfathomable grace

of the face

that I was looking for


Today I have found you

and those who laughed

and scorned me yesterday

are sorry that they were not looking

as I did


I am bewildered by the magnificence

of your beauty

and wish to see you

with a hundred eyes


My heart has burned with passion

and has searched forever

for this wondrous beauty

that I now behold


I am ashamed

to call this love human

and afraid of God

to call it divine


Your fragrant breath

like the morning breeze

has come to the stillness of the garden

You have breathed new life into me

I have become your sunshine

and also your shadow


My soul is screaming in ecstasy

Every fiber of my being

is in love with you


Your effulgence

has lit a fire in my heart

and you have made radiant

for me

the earth and sky


My arrow of love

has arrived at the target

I am in the house of mercy

and my heart

is a place of prayer


excerpt from “For Tupac Amaru Shakur”

who goes there? who is this young man born lonely?

who walks there? who goes toward death

whistling through the water

without his chorus? without his posse? without his song?


it is autumn now

in me autumn grieves

in this carved gold of shifting faces

my eyes confess to the fatigue of living.


i ask: does the morning weep for the dead?

i ask: were the bullets conscious atoms entering his chest?

i ask: did you see the light anointing his life?


the day i heard the sound of your death, my brother

i walked outside in the park

we your mothers wanted to see you safely home.

i remembered the poems in your mother's eyes as she

panther-laced warred against the state;

the day you became dust again

we your mothers held up your face green with laughter

and i saw you a child again outside your mother's womb

picking up the harsh handbook of Black life;

the day you passed into our ancestral rivers,

we your mothers listened for your intoxicating voice:

and i heard you sing of tunes bent back in a

cold curse against black

                    against black (get back)

                    against black (get back)


we anoint your life

in this absence

we anoint our tongues

with your magic. 



Immediately after the diagnosis, we flip through the racks.

Each of us yearns for a sweater or spoons—a reason to stay—a bargain—a bet.

Ma and I search different sections of the store for something—then each other.

Her—in lamps. Me—in clothes. Striking wires—

The clacking hangers clapping one after another—bursting at the joints 

mimicking the sounds of knobs turning,

or window panes breaking in slow motion, the air knocked out of them, too.

I stack clearance candles in our cart.

Ma checks out bathroom rugs and kitchen towels.

These days we build separate homes from red tag items.

I miss Ma the most between the Kitchen and Women’s Clothing departments.

Unraveled by the operation of how 

one builds a house from the inside.

A second diagnosis that day: I won’t ever come back here alone after she’s gone.

Isn’t shopping a series of searching?

On the best days, everything is a grab—a steal—cancer and—my mother from me.

My hope is that every space with four walls—that every day of treatment 

will be a door out—will be sunlight in bags—despite discount—let it be—big—

all the time we buy back.

Everyone’s an Expert at Something

The more i learn the more i learn

i don’t know what the [     ] i’m talking

about. To someone who doesn’t care

a fig for poetry they’d likely think

i knew a lot, yet in most bookshops

i’m lost, shelves heavy with the bodies

of forgotten writers. It’s relative.

a president can say audacity or

a president can say sad & both eat

the cured meat of empire. When i say

i carry my people inside me i don’t

mean a country. The star that hangs

from my neck is simply a way

of saying israel is not a physical place

but can be carried anywhere. It says

my people are most beautiful when

moving when movement, when

our only state is the liquid state of water,

is adapting to our container. Homeland

sometimes just means what books

you’ve read, what stories you’ve spread

with your sneakers. My people,

any place you live long enough

to build bombs is a place you’ve lived

too long–it’s relative. My friends,

the only thing I know for sure is

the missiles on television are only beautiful 

if you’ve never known suffering.

My friends the only country i will

ever pledge my allegiance to

is your music, is under investigation

for treason.

Extreme Girlhood

A loop, a girl born

to each family,

prelude to suffering.


Bless the baby girl,

caul of dissatisfaction,

patron saint of not

good enough


Are you there, God?

It’s me, Warsan.

Maladaptive daydreaming,

obsessive, dissociative.


Born to a lullaby

lamenting melanin,

newborn ears checked

for the first signs of color.


At first I was afraid, I was petrified.


The child reads surahs each night

to veil her from il

protecting body and home

from intruders


She wakes with a fright,

someone cutting the rope,


something creeping

deep inside her


Are you there, God?

It’s me, the ugly one.


Bless the Type 4 child, 

scalp massaged with the milk

of cruelty, cranium cursed,

crushed between adult knees,

drenched in pink lotion.


Everything you did to me,

I remember.


Mama, I made it

out of your home

alive, raised by 

the voices

in my head


black love

my love is black though my love is not black ::

think the darkness cradling the milky way ::

imagine quick light flowing down the back

of my throat, glowing—i swallow the day ::


my love is black, an absorbing array

of colors :: gold yolk escaping the cracked

shell :: a shiny silver moon-coin to play ::

a juicy peach, plump plums, cup of cognac ::


my love is black, the only way i know

to live :: now fierce and demanding, now free

and unpossessed :: so for my magnet, my

love becomes steel, then, for my butterfly,

will not a flower but a whole field be ::

my love and my blackness together go—

Detail of the Fire

A man with a bandage is in the middle of something.

Everyone understands this. Everyone wants a battlefield.


Red. And a little more red.


Accidents never happen when the room is empty.

Everyone understands this. Everyone needs a place.


People like to think war means something.


What can you learn from your opponent? More than you think.

Who will master this love? Love might be the wrong word.


Let's admit, without apology, what we do to each other.

We know who our enemies are. We know.


Now They’re Saying Isolation Atrophies the Brain

Talking to yourself in an empty room

sometimes feels like prayer but isn’t.


It isn’t prayer if you’re not asking

for anything, and what would you ask for?


Any request more specific than save me

would be so granular as to be worthless.


It can’t be prayer if you’re standing

at your kitchen counter, wearing an apron


and a far-off look. It can’t be prayer

if you’re walking in your neighborhood,


muttering to yourself, while Orion

keeps buckling and unbuckling his belt


over the houses. It can’t be prayer if you have

the expectation of privacy. If you think


no one’s listening. As a child I believed

so fiercely in the power of my own mind,


when I thought apple, I half-expected

a real one, large and red, to appear


in my hand. Now I know better. I talk

to myself. Sometimes I even answer.

Ode to La Llorona

They say she weeps

Knee-deep in the river,

The gray of dusk

A shawl over her head.

She weeps for her children,

Their smothered faces

Of sleeping angels . . .

Normaaaa, Mariooo, Carlooooos.

They say she calls 

Children, offering

Them candy 

From her sleeve.

They say she will

Point a long finger,

Gnarled root of evilness,

And stare a soft

Hole in your lungs:

The air leaks 

From this hole

And climbs in the trees.

In autumn, she appears

With a pomegranate,

Each seed the heart

Of a child she took away.

She will whisper, Monicaaaaa,

Beniciooooo, Ernestooooo.

If you’re on your bike, 

Ride faster. 

If you’re on foot, 

Run without looking up. 

In these times,

The sliced moon hangs 

In the sky, moon

That is orange,

The color of

A face in the porchlight.

At home

The cooler in the window

Stops, then starts,

And the TV flickers

With a climate of snow.

These are signs, and the

Dog with mismatched eyes,

The turtle in the 

Middle of the road,

And the newspapers

Piling up on a roof.

La Llorona is the mother

of drowned children.

Beware a woman

Dripping water in July

when no rain has fallen.


A crate of peaches straight from the farm

has to be maintained, or eaten in days.

Obvious, but in my family, they went so fast,

I never saw the mess that punishes delay.


I thought everyone bought fruit by the crate,

stored it in the coolest part of the house,

then devoured it before any could rot.

I’m from the Peach State, and to those


who ask But where are you from originally,

I’d like to reply The homeland of the peach,

but I’m too nice, and they might not look it up.

In truth, the reason we bought so much


did have to do with being Chinese—at least

Chinese in that part of America, both strangers

and natives on a lonely, beautiful street

where food came in stackable containers


and fussy bags, unless you bothered to drive

to the source, where the same money landed

a bushel of fruit, a twenty-pound sack of rice.

You had to drive anyway, each house surrounded


by land enough to grow your own, if lawns

hadn’t been required. At home I loved to stare

into the extra freezer, reviewing mountains

of foil-wrapped meats, cakes, juice concentrate,


mysterious packets brought by house guests

from New York Chinatown, to be transformed

by heat, force, and my mother’s patient effort,

enough to keep us fed through flood or storm,

provided the power stayed on, or fire and ice

could be procured, which would be labor-intensive,

but so was everything else my parents did.

Their lives were labor, they kept this from the kids,


who grew up to confuse work with pleasure,

to become typical immigrants’ children,

taller than their parents and unaware of hunger

except when asked the odd, perplexing question.

I Am Filled with Love

translated from the Polish by Czesław Miłosz and Leonard Nathan


I am filled with love

as a great tree with the wind,

as a sponge with the ocean,

as a great life with suffering,

as time with death.



Why should you believe in magic,

pretend an interest in astrology

or the tarot? Truth is, you are


free, and what might happen to you

today, nobody knows. And your

personality may undergo a radical


transformation in the next half

hour. So it goes. You are consumed

by your faith in justice, your


hope for a better day, the rightness

of fate, the dreams, the lies

the taunts—Nobody gets what he


wants. A dark star passes through

you on your way home from

the grocery: never again are you


the same—an experience which is

impossible to forget, impossible

to share. The longing to be pure


is over. You are the stranger

who gets stranger by the hour.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Areyto for the Shipwrecked: The Case for Spanglish

Because a corazón is more resilient than a heart, sangre richer than

blood. Because when my abuelo’s spleen ruptured right there on

Queens Boulevard he yanked himself up with nothing but smog

to hold onto and walked home fifteen blocks before collapsing

on the bathroom floor. That takes babilla. Simple courage won’t do.

Because songs are nice but a cancion bathes inside the veins.

The dankdim nightclub lounges of my youth gave me confidence,

it’s true, but only Hector Lavoe’s rooster calls can resurrect the dead,

only Celia’s “azucar!” incites warring tribes to fall in love. Because

an abrazo can shield you from famine and flame. A hug just lacks

that kind of sorcery. Because bochinche is both science and art.

It can turn men into rats and spread through the respiratory system

like a viral infection. Gossip is clearly no match for bochinche.

Because el sol is spirit. The sun, her child. And a besito is sweeter

than any kiss. Because arboles are monasteries for the lost, while

men don’t think twice about felling trees. Because dios inspires

humility like no god can. Because vida blossoms from the mouth

like a fulgent garden, whereas life is merely the title of a children’s

                                                          game, a syllable in search of a hyphen.

Writing Prompt

Imagine you’re an astronaut stuck in outer space. And it’s just you. Only you.

What would you write about? What 


do you see outside your spaceship windshield? What do you miss? Who is your

brother now, all those miles down? Where’s west? What would you have

brought, had you known you would be out here, maybe forever, all by yourself? 


What about regret? What if 


there are whole days where you don’t think of your hands? How closely related 


is loneliness to remembrance?—when you let yourself think about it? 


Do the stars feel heavier now? 


Is there, truly, anything you would do over?—knowing everything you know 

now? If regret was a type of animal, any animal, what song would it sing in you? 


Outside are all these tiny windows you can’t look through. 


Do you miss having a sky to throw wishes against? What did it look like last?—

describe the blue. 


What phrases do you miss people saying? By “people” I mean: 


write about something small—but with great detail—about everyone you love.


What blurs then builds a forest inside you? Is that too specific? Pretend


it’s summer again and that you’re the fire for it—would it even be worth writing about? 


Would you, by now, meaning in outer space, and very much alone, want to replay the moments of your life you wished had gone differently?—Or have you gotten over it all already? What stage are we in? Is being stuck in space like dying and not getting to ghost-visit your own funeral? Which is the first moment you’d go back to in order to change it? By it I mean where the regret sprang from. Would you feel bad about the rippling? Is worry just a wider room? There is always a box in which regret will fit. After you tape it shut, describe the sound. Describe the blue.

excerpt from “book of the other”

These things, they are just things. You are told all your life to

develop a thick skin, that you should not take these things so 

seriously. These things, these moments, they are just things in

the greater scheme of things, so what if you are consistently

called by your last name?—it is easier to pronounce—it is just

a small thing. These things, they accumulate, they stick, they

cling to your clothing, your skin, they alter your thinking, they

affect your seeing, your way of being. You wake up one day.

You look in the mirror. You have grown a thick skin, and the 

you in the mirror is no longer you. One day, in the third period 

on the first day of class, you decide to change your name to

Tom. You do not care for the name, not in the slightest. It is

easy to spell. It is easy to say. You will have plenty of time to 

regret your choices. It is just a thing, you tell yourself. You

carry these things. They are placed on you. They are thrown at

you. You walk through life. You are carrying these things. You

anticipate a time when someone is compelled to correct your

grammar; again it happens, and you collapse under the weight.

You are buried beneath a lifetime of these things.

You ask,

Could we have coffee? -No, my truth

I’m still on this side.

I saw you last night, again,


at the bar on 57th,

O faceless dancer,

and I put down my mask


I wanted you to touch me

You stood there neither man nor woman,

beautiful edge by the water

Kissing in Vietnamese

My grandmother kisses

as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,

where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes

through the kitchen window,

as if somewhere, a body is falling apart

and flames are making their way back

through the intricacies of a young boy’s thigh,

as if to walk out the door, your torso

would dance from exit wounds.

When my grandmother kisses, there would be

no flashy smooching, no western music

of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe

you inside her, nose pressed to cheek

so that your scent is relearned

and your sweat pearls into drops of gold

inside her lungs, as if while she holds you

death also, is clutching your wrist.

My grandmother kisses as if history

never ended, as if somewhere

a body is still

falling apart.

Men Who Think I Am One of Them Speak

She really let herself go.


This story is hard to tell. 

When the men you love

insist a woman hold on


let herself go 


let herself loose


let herself leave


let herself depart


let herself mobilize


let herself imagine


let herself grow

big enough to lift off

the runway 

like a jet

full of fuel.


As It Is on Earth

It’s like that sometimes. A man bends

so completely he begins believing in

his own holiness. An empty house

kids are too scared to vandalize sees itself

in time as haunted. Even the moon

our dogs wail to each night as if in prayer

fears a response is expected. The war

my brother brought home & the home he

pined for in war converge in an unruly

absence. Is it finally fair to say like gods

we make images to pour ourselves into?

Like rivers, how they tend to move

farther from the source? What skin

remembers & the mind reimagines:


between them a truth serrated as light.

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox


and which

you were probably


for breakfast


Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

And I wonder where you are

Sacred stars blanket a nighttime sky,

each light reminds us of the preciousness of life.

Your memory lives along the Milky Way,

each twinkle saying don’t forget my name.


It’s an epidemic, a sickness of the earth,

a war we enter as soon as we are birthed.

Indigenous women, girls, our two-spirit, too.

When did this world start disappearing you?


My mother has a gap between

her two front teeth. So does Daddy Gunnar.

Each child in this family has the same space

connecting us.


Our baby brother, Roman, was born pale as dust.

His soft brown curls and eyelashes stop

people on the street.

Whose angel child is this? they want to know.

When I say, My brother, the people

wear doubt

thick as a cape

until we smile

and the cape falls.

excerpt from “Poet Laureate of This Costco”

It is both on-brand and honest

for me to call this gray warehouse

the most beautiful thing for miles.


I mean aisles.


Rows of bulk to clean and feed           your family.


I go looking for something
and I find it


but it’s way too heavy
to try to carry home.


An Almond Roca melts forever in my gongong’s jacket pocket.
All summer since Popo died.


In moments of personal and national catastrophe, it is my job to tweet:
“Catch me crunching croissants at a crossroads.”


I am not on Twitter.

I am stacking glossy boxes in a cart with one bum wheel.


I am examining assorted shrink-wrapped muffins.

These muffins are Asian American cuisine.
Especially the double chocolate.


I am testing Kirkland socks for hand-feel.
These are Asian American socks.


In 1942, Isamu Noguchi drives himself into the desert of his own volition.
He is not allowed to leave.


This is an Asian America story.


Costco Iwilei is the busiest Costco in the nation, an Asian American fact.

Its pizza is the best pizza in Hawaii, but the bar is low.


Yes, I will sample anything in a small enough cup.


Where there is need

there is devotion.

I was raised a short walk away.         I’ve taken dates to this food court.

In Queens, I am never far.


On bad days, the gas lines stretched further away than my mother’s apartment.

No ocean in sight.


It was my job to push the cart.

I have history.
It’s so nice to have a place.

Between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, Today

I read a Korean poem

with the line “Today you are the youngest

you will ever be.” Today I am the oldest

I have been. Today we drink

buckwheat tea. Today I have heat

in my apartment. Today I think

about the word chada in Korean.

It means cold. It means to be filled with.

It means to kick. To wear. Today we’re worn.

Today you wear the cold. Your chilled skin.

My heart kicks on my skin. Someone said

winter has broken his windows. The heat inside

and the cold outside sent lightning across glass.

Today my heart wears you like curtains. Today

it fills with you. The window in my room

is full of leaves ready to fall. Chada, you say. It’s tea.

We drink. It is cold outside.

Abuelita Says Goodbye

Javiercito, you’re leaving me tomorrow

when our tortilla-and-milk breaths will whisper

te amo. When I’ll pray the sun won’t devour

your northbound steps. I’m giving you

this conch swallowed with this delta’s

waves and the sound of absorbing sand.


Hold it to your ear. I’m tired

of my children leaving. My love for you

shatters windows with birds. Javiercito,

let your shadow return, alone,

or with sons, but soon. Call me Mamá,

not Abuelita. All my children


learned the names of seasons

from songs. Tonight, leaves fall. 

There’s no autumn here. When you mist

into tomorrow’s dawns, at the shore

of somewhere, listen to this conch.

Don’t lose me.

Abecedarian for American Assimilation

& how we lose ourselves against the new year

burning brighter with each dying

candle, baiting our breaths in the temple’s

dimness. Already, the newborn lantern light

ebbs away from our fluttering fingers, echoing

fireflies mating at dusk. How we used to sink into

grey, muted by the silhouette of a nation

hungering for our heads; our hands clasping

in between gasps for mercy. Tell me, is my

jaded tongue invitation for this prayer of

knives? At night I toil among the reaping ghosts,

listening to the thunder of fireworks my ancestors

mistake for the revolution’s canons. In my family

no spirit escapes the altar where orange incense &

opium drown the cries of a body lingering against

perfumed mortuary of language. Like a daughter, I

quiet the rebellion knotted inside my throat; in

rigor mortis, morning excavates my ashes inside

sutured skies. In every dream, I consider coming clean

through my skin like a shadow, every bare bloodline

unedited & untouched. In every reality, I play

vulture to my native vocabulary; carve the exit

wounds into the spine of teeth, whispering

xīn nián​ kuài lè i​n worship of the newness

yellowing the old. Somewhere in the next life, I want to

zip these sacred scars, memorialize the forgotten.