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Long Exposure

Even after letting go

of the last bird

I hesitate

 

There is something

in this empty cage

that never gets released

First Snow

How easy for snow to turn to ice, for snow

   to disappear the light from the ragged

 

frame of chestnut trees around the warehouse

      by what’s left of wild chicory, scraped

 

sculptures, weeping dogbane. Hunger borders

      this land, while snow turns all to immigrants,

 

snow salts the embankment, where turtles wash ashore,

      literally hundreds of them, frozen hard

 

like grenades of tear gas thrown across

      a barbwire fence. But who of their free

 

will would ever want to climb that fence

      to live here, who would pray each night

 

for grace, hoping to pass through the darkened veil

      of [  ], to bear witness to smokestacks,

 

wild champion, knapweed? Who’d loiter around cricks

      glistening with oil, which, once gone,

 

will, like death, at last, democratize

      us all? On potato sacks in the snowcapped,

 

abandoned warehouse, there huddle and sit

      the soiled refugees, bereft, cow-eyed,

 

picking dirt off their scalps, their shelled soles.

      Among them, wordless, is my mother,

 

and nestled on her lap is I, in love with the light

      of the first snow of my life, so awed

 

and doubtful still of what lengths the frost wills

      to go, and what shape it will then take—

Mosab

My father gave me a difficult name.

Inside it sit two letters that don’t exist in English.

 

My father didn’t know I would

have English-speaking friends,

always asking how to pronounce my name,

or trying to avoid saying it.

 

But Dad, I like to hear others address me by name,

especially friends.

 

Even my name’s root means difficult.

A camel that is described as Mosab

is one that’s difficult to mount and ride.

 

But I’m not difficult in any way.

I will undress myself and show you

my shoulders, how dust has come to rest on them,

my chest, how tears have wet its thin skin,

my back, how sweat has made it pale,

my belly, how hair has covered my navel,

the spot where my mother fed me before birth.

 

The same spot, they say, the angel of death

will pierce to take away my soul.

And now, at night, my son’s head hurts

when he rests it on my belly.

 

And my clothes, I feel them loose,

while others see them tight on me.

 

When someone from the life insurance company calls

and pronounces my name in English,

I see the angel of death in the mirror,

with eyes that watch me

crumbling onto this foreign ground.

Hearing That  Joe Arroyo Song at Ibiza Nightclub, 2008

A boy I did not marry                  taught me to dance salsa on 2      placed

the fingers of his left hand            on my untutored spine;               you know what

it’s like to become someone’s clave

 

 

to love for the span           of the trombone’s long breath                  he      whispered

negra so I spun                my heart landing            on     the     rum-covered     linoleum

of a nightclub

 

 

on what used to be New York Ave              in what used to be Chocolate City

I let him turn & spin                                 my name             bella negra

             his hands were less tender but still I let them roam

 

 

              when I                  1, 2, 3             5, 6, 7     in front of my mirror

I was always la negra defended in the lyric                       and     you     can     forgive

searching hands when a mouth swells the biggest ache of your body

 

                                                                                                 into song

Sonnet: The History of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico was created when the pumpkin on top of

The turtle burst and its teeming waters poured out

With all mankind and beastkind riding on the waves

Until the water drained leaving a tropical paradise.

 

Puerto Rico was stumbled on by lost vampires bearing

Crucifix in one hand, arquebus in the other, sucking

The veins of land and men, tossing the pulp into the

Compost heap which they used as the foundation for

Their fortifications and other vainglorious temples.

 

Puerto Rico was arrested just as it broke out of the

Spanish jail and, renamed a trusty, it was put in an

American cell. When the prisoner hollered, "Yankee, Go

Home," Puerto Rico was referred to the United Nations.

 

Puerto Rico, to get to paradise now, you have to ride blood.

Fatima :: Solstice

It's beautiful to speak for her; she's dead.

I sit in the scalding bath. I like to change my skin.

 

This is my sanity: salt and bubbles. To outlive

is to become mockingbird: She was, she was.

 

I echo her in the water, and in this way I live too,

walking at 2 A.M. in a village in Lebanon,

 

jackals waiting in the blank land. It is 1959.

Jiddo has a revolver in his pocket, to shoot

 

whatever might slink from the dark, but nothing does.

Only howls. They sing to keep the animals away.

 

I like to think she wore her hair in a knot,

high as a planet, that she only loosened it inside,

 

back in the new house. They barely knew the country.

The walk was over. The walk was forgotten about.

 

Only I am obsessed with it, stage-directing their lives

like the stranger that I am. It's all gone now: house, body.

 

What remains is no better than gossip:

animals, a fog that took days to leave her hair.

Diary Entry #4: Ghazal

Then I did something

I didn’t think I could do. Dear God,

 

I thought about suicide, then my algebra homework,

then maybe something else godly,

 

how I was going to fast

and pray for a language to explain last Wednesday. I’m no god

 

but I’m trying to dust off the ashes

of the change. I got my period and I feel less godlike,

 

an unclean romance in my body, how I cupped

my hands to catch whatever came, little bit of God’s

 

blood escaping my vagina, or how

the idea of cutting a wrist might lead to more goddess.

 

Dr. Rosenbloom says I need a counselor, says

I am officially broken, that I will pick up a knife to cut the god-

 

spell out of me. I tell him there’s a mouth in my underwear wadded with tissue.

It sings beautiful things when it’s touched. It sings oh god.

To Live in the Borderlands

To live in the borderlands means you

are neither hispana india negra espanola

ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed

caught in the crossfire between camps

while carrying all five races on your back

not knowing which side to turn to, run from;

To live in the Borderlands means knowing that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years,

is no longer speaking to you,

the mexicanas call you rajetas, that denying the Anglo inside you

is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black;

Cuando vives en la frontera

people walk through you, the wind steals your voice,

you’re a burra, buey, scapegoat,

forerunner of a new race,

half and half-both woman and man, neither-a new gender;

To live in the Borderlands means to

put chile in the borscht,

eat whole wheat tortillas,

speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;

be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;

Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to

resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,

the pull of the gun barrel,

the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;

In the Borderlands

you are the battleground

where enemies are kin to each other;

you are at home, a stranger,

the border disputes have been settled

the volley of shots have scattered the truce

you are wounded, lost in action

dead, fighting back;

To live in the Borderlands means

the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off

your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart

pound you pinch you roll you out

smelling like white bread but dead;

To survive the Borderlands

you must live sin fronteras

be a crossroads.

Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing

The world is full of women

who'd tell me I should be ashamed of myself

if they had the chance. Quit dancing.

Get some self-respect

and a day job.

Right. And minimum wage,

and varicose veins, just standing

in one place for eight hours

behind a glass counter

bundled up to the neck, instead of

naked as a meat sandwich.

Selling gloves, or something.

Instead of what I do sell.

You have to have talent

to peddle a thing so nebulous

and without material form.

Exploited, they'd say. Yes, any way

you cut it, but I've a choice

of how, and I'll take the money.

 

I do give value.

Like preachers, I sell vision,

like perfume ads, desire

or its facsimile. Like jokes

or war, it's all in the timing.

I sell men back their worse suspicions:

that everything's for sale,

and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see

a chain-saw murder just before it happens,

when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, [  ]

are still connected.

Such hatred leaps in them,

my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary

hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads

and upturned eyes, imploring

but ready to snap at my ankles,

I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge

to step on ants. I keep the beat,

and dance for them because

they can't. The music smells like foxes,

crisp as heated metal

searing the nostrils

or humid as August, hazy and languorous

as a looted city the day after,

when all the rape's been done

already, and the killing,

and the survivors wander around

looking for garbage

to eat, and there's only a bleak exhaustion.

Speaking of which, it's the smiling

tires me out the most.

This, and the pretence

that I can't hear them.

And I can't, because I'm after all

a foreigner to them.

The speech here is all warty gutturals,

obvious as a slab of ham,

but I come from the province of the gods

where meanings are lilting and oblique.

I don't let on to everyone,

but lean close, and I'll whisper:

My mother was raped by a holy swan.

You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.

That's what we tell all the husbands.

There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.

 

Not that anyone here

but you would understand.

The rest of them would like to watch me

and feel nothing. Reduce me to components

as in a clock factory or abattoir.

Crush out the mystery.

Wall me up alive

in my own body.

They'd like to see through me,

but nothing is more opaque

than absolute transparency.

Look--my feet don't hit the marble!

Like breath or a balloon, I'm rising,

I hover six inches in the air

in my blazing swan-egg of light.

You think I'm not a goddess?

Try me.

This is a torch song.

Touch me and you'll burn.

Excerpt from "[BLACK FEELING]"

Somewhere, there’s a room where things go

to lose their names. A rose becomes [    ]. A

daughter becomes [   ]. Her son [   ].

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you down like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

The World Has Need of You

everything here

seems to need us

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

I can hardly imagine it

as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient

prayer of my arms swinging

in counterpoint to my feet.

Here I am, suspended

between the sidewalk and twilight,

the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.

What if you felt the invisible

tug between you and everything?

A boy on a bicycle rides by,

his white shirt open, flaring

behind him like wings.

It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much

and too little. Does the breeze need us?

The cliffs? The gulls?

If you’ve managed to do one good thing,

the ocean doesn’t care.

But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,

the earth, ever so slightly, fell

toward the apple as well.

Owed to Pedagogy

For 1995

 

It was the dead center of summer,

& anyone but us would’ve been

outside hours ago, flailing

 

like a system of larks against

the hydrant’s icy spray. But a girl

had her orders, & to disobey

 

our mother was, in a sense, to invite

one’s own destruction, cause to pray

that a god of mercy might strike first.

 

So we lay, still as stars on the living

room floor, poring over algorithms:

divisors & dividends, quotient

 

the first synonym for resolution

I ever learned, & would later

come to love for its sound alone,

 

how it reminded me, even then,

of words like quantum & quotation

mark, both ways of saying nothing

 

means what you think it means

all the time. The observable

universe hides behind its smooth

 

obsidian dress, & all we can

do is grasp at it in myths

& figures, see what sticks,

 

give all our best language

to the void. What dark irony,

these coy, child philosophers,

 

theorizing how things break

from the floor of a house

where everything is more

 

or less in flux, indeterminate

as the color of the blood

in a body. Or the speed

 

at which I learned

to obliterate the distance

between myself

 

& any given boy

on the block, the optimal

angle of the swing

 

most likely to drop

another kid cold

in front of his crew,

 

to square up, square

off, & this too was a kind

of education, the way

 

my sister held both fists

semi-adjacent, each an inch

or so from her switchblade

 

eyes, showed me

the stance you take

when the math doesn’t

 

quite shake out, so it’s just

you & the unknowns

& the unknowns

 

never win.

Dream Song 14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.   

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,   

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy   

(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored   

means you have no

 

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no   

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

Peoples bore me,

literature bores me, especially great literature,   

Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes   

as bad as achilles,

 

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.   

And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag   

and somehow a dog

has taken itself & its tail considerably away

into mountains or sea or sky, leaving            

behind: me, wag.

My Father in English

First half of his life lived in Spanish: the long syntax

of las montañas that lined his village, the rhyme

of sol with his soul—a Cuban alma—that swayed

with las palmas, the sharp rhythm of his machete

cutting through caña, the syllables of his canarios

that sung into la brisa of the island home he left

to spell out the second half of his life in English—

the vernacular of New York City sleet, neon, glass—

and the brick factory where he learned to polish

steel twelve hours a day. Enough to save enough

to buy a used Spanish-English dictionary he kept

bedside like a bible—studied fifteen new words

after his prayers each night, then practiced them

on us the next day: Buenos días, indeed, my family.

Indeed más coffee. Have a good day today, indeed—

and again in the evening: Gracias to my bella wife,

indeed, for dinner. Hicistes tu homework, indeed?

La vida is indeed difícil. Indeed did indeed become

his favorite word, which, like the rest of his new life,

he never quite grasped: overused and misused often

to my embarrassment. Yet the word I most learned

to love and know him through: indeed, the exile who

tried to master the language he chose to master him,

indeed, the husband who refused to say I love you

in English to my mother, the man who died without

true translation. Indeed, meaning: in fact/en efecto,

meaning: in reality/de hecho, meaning to say now

what I always meant to tell him in both languages:

thank you/gracias for surrendering the past tense

of your life so that I might conjugate myself here

in the present of this country, in truth/así es, indeed.

Atlantis--A Lost Sonnet

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder

that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades, 

not to mention vehicles and animals—had all 

one fine day gone under?

 

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.

Surely a great city must have been missed?

I miss our old city —

 

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting 

under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe 

what really happened is 

 

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word

to convey that what is gone is gone forever and 

never found it. And so, in the best traditions of 

 

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name

and drowned it.

Lies I Tell

A woman has a window in her face: that is the truth. I look like my mother: that is the truth. I want to tell you I am not like her: that is the truth. I am ashamed walking in a woman’s body: that is the truth. I wish to take back everything I say: that is the truth. A window can be a mirror. It can also be a door: that is the truth. As a girl, my mother slept in a shack with no windows and one door: that is the truth. My grandma would slam windows: truth. A mother’s hands are stronger than God: truth. We often use fruit to describe a bruise, like plum or blackberry: truth. My mother’s window blackberried: truth. My mother’s door peached: truth. She loves peaches: that is the truth. My father could not stand them in our house: that is the truth. We had three doors and nine windows in our house: that is the truth. A woman has a face in her window: truth. A father has a window but I don’t know where it is: truth. What burrows is the peach fuzz, he said: that is the truth. I have never been close enough to a peach to eat one: truth. The worst things last on the skin: truth. I don’t like not having things: truth. My father has one door but I can’t find it: truth. Not all windows open: that is the truth. One night I see my father crying in the yard, head in his hands: that is the truth. I make things up that I want for myself: that is the truth.

How to Not Be a Perfectionist

People are vivid

and small

and don’t live

very long—

No Coward Soul Is Mine

No coward soul is mine

No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere

I see Heaven's glories shine

And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear

 

O God within my breast

Almighty ever-present Deity

Life, that in me hast rest,

As I Undying Life, have power in Thee

 

Vain are the thousand creeds

That move men's hearts, unutterably vain,

Worthless as withered weeds

Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

 

To waken doubt in one

Holding so fast by thy infinity,

So surely anchored on

The steadfast rock of Immortality.

 

With wide-embracing love

Thy spirit animates eternal years

Pervades and broods above,

Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

 

Though earth and moon were gone

And suns and universes ceased to be

And Thou wert left alone

Every Existence would exist in thee

 

There is not room for Death

Nor atom that his might could render void

Since thou art Being and Breath

And what thou art may never be destroyed.

Paul Robeson

That time

we all heard it,

cool and clear,

cutting across the hot grit of the day.

The major Voice.

The adult Voice 

forgoing Rolling River,

forgoing tearful tale of bale and barge

and other symptoms of an old despond.

Warning, in music-words

devout and large,

that we are each other’s 

harvest:

we are each other’s

business:

we are each other’s 

magnitude and bond.

As a Human Being

There is the happiness you have

And the happiness you deserve.

They sit apart from one another

The way you and your mother

Sat on opposite ends of the sofa

After an ambulance came to take

Your father away. Some good

Doctor will stitch him up, and

Soon an aunt will arrive to drive

Your mother to the hospital

Where she will settle next to him

Forever, as promised. She holds

The arm of her seat as if she could

Fall, as if it is the only sturdy thing,

And it is since you've done what

You always wanted. You fought

Your father and won, marred him.

He'll have a scar he can see all

Because of you. And your mother,

The only woman you ever cried for,

Must tend to it as a bride tends

To her vows, forsaking all others

No matter how sore the injury.

No matter how sore the injury

Has left you, you sit understanding

Yourself as a human being finally

Free now that nobody's got to love you.

Ghosts

A hallway full of shadeless lamps suddenly goes dark

Upon the simultaneous bursting of the globes.

Glass is everywhere, and so thin it forgets

To reflect even the tiny glimmer of your

Matchlight as you pull out your wish 

Cigarette. 

This is it. The immediacy of the final desire.

I know the dead I know where ghosts go

to feel at home in the float

And how they commune with the living

through the lightswitch 

or the smells of honeysuckles off 

the highway upstate

I say

But you don’t

Miss you. Would like to take a walk with you.

Do not care if you just arrive in your skeleton.

Would love to take a walk with you. Miss you.

Would love to make you shrimp saganaki.

Like you used to make me when you were alive. 

Love to feed you. Sit over steaming

bowls of pilaf. Little roasted tomatoes

covered in pepper and nutmeg. Miss you.

Would love to walk to the post office with you.

Bring the ghost dog. We’ll walk past the waterfall

and you can tell me about the after.

Wish you. Wish you would come back for a while.

Don’t even need to bring your skin sack. I’ll know

you. I know you will know me even though. I’m 

bigger now. Grayer. I’ll show you my garden.

I’d like to hop in the leaf pile you raked but if you 

want to jump in? I’ll rake it for you. Miss you

standing looking out at the river with your rake

in your hand. Miss you in your puffy blue jacket.

They’re hip now. I can bring you a new one

if you’ll only come by. Know I told you 

it was okay to go. Know I told you

it was okay to leave me. Why’d you believe me?

You always believed me. Wish you would

come back so we could talk about truth.

Miss you. Wish you would walk through my

door. Stare out from the mirror. Come through

the pipes.

ONE GEOGRAPHY OF BELONGING

After Ocean Vuong

 

What becomes of the girl

no longer a girl? Dearest Mother,

 

the stretch marks from my once-breasts

have migrated

 

to their new tectonic flats.

But you can always find hints

 

of what used to be. Trust me,

it is more beautiful

 

this way, to look closely

at my body and name it things like:

 

Pangaea & history & so, so warm.

 

Look at me now

and see how blood

 

faithfully takes the shape

of its body,

 

never asking

too many questions.

 

Dearest Mother, how many rivers

did I run across your belly?

Placa/Rollcall

If the city was a body, graffiti would tell us where it hurts.

— Charles “Chaz” Bojórquez

 

And this block would shout, “Nos diste un chingaso, cabrón. Mira esta cara rota, these baton-cracked ribs, this black and blue street dizzy con gente: blades, kiki, larry, snow, enrique, connie, elton, king, david, kelly, jeff, ratón, chaz, los de aquí, los de abajo. This roll call won’t be silenced, not by glock, not by chokehold. This is our temple of runes, our tomb — its glyphic curve and flow, calligraphic code writ acrylic. This, our relic, our scroll unrolled in catacombs, our flecks of subtext still buzzing después de que vayamos con La Pelona. ¡qué lucha, loco! Ven, baile con nosotros to the aerosol’s maraca y hiss, al punk en español’s furious sweat. Hang your head out the window y dale un grito tan lleno de duende that it cracks the pavement, summons our dead to dinner. Turn the tonal kaleidoscope. Then pause, catch your breath, so you don’t miss the illegible moment where all the mystery lives. There, de-cypher that!”

On Hedonism

Beauty makes me hopeless. I don’t care why

anymore I just want to get away. When I look

at the city of Paris I long to wrap my legs 

around it. When I watch you dancing there is a

heartless immensity like a sailor in a dead-calm

sea. Desires as round as peaches bloom in me

all night, I no longer gather what falls.

Lion

I chewed into the wreck of the world,

into the neckbone of the past that pursued me.

All the while, I moved toward extinction,

bearing the burden of damage, language of the protector.

 

A great apocalyptic wheeze adorned me with sand. 

I foraged, first to find light dappling the leaves,

then breathed into an infinite power, feminine rust,

a coppery taste of salvage, leading me into a canopy

 

of the future. My mother was a mother of mothers,

modern before she was ancestral.

She was a woman who morphed into feline, back

to her human self before I woke each morning.

 

I lived not to sate my appetite but to crush it.

On my haunches, I craved what could not be seen.

I am desire. I am survival.

I sit under the tree waiting for hunger.

Zombie Apocalypse Now: Documentary

My father & I take turns

directing. We are terrible

 

codirectors—he & I both

yank the narrative

 

closer toward our own eye’s

insistence. He whipped

 

a plumbing snake across his back

then held his arms out like Christ.

 

I cinched shut my eyes

& refused to come home.

 

When is my father no longer

my father? When Christ descends

 

and gobbles up his flesh.

My father was a refugee,

 

fleeing the zombies

that war made

 

of  his own people.

I grab the camera

 

& make a short documentary

about his life.

 

We select an Apocalypse Now film clip,

label it fair use, and pay a voice actor

 

to play my father speaking so much

English. Sometimes artifice is necessary

 

to get closer to the real thing.

The bridge collapses

 

& the voice actor laughs,

reading my father’s lines.

english

the most beautiful pair of words in the english language is

“eggplant parm.”

followed by “friends forever.”

really, a close second. 

a distant thirtieth is “research assistant.”

of course the most beautiful single english word is

“friend.” 

now some might say it’s “dragonfly”

& others “devastation”

but they would all be 122% wrong. 

meanwhile a few might say these are all just other words for 

summer. & they would be 211% right. & if we

were to, every last anglophone, including the staunchest 

of anti-anglophiles, if we had to 

gather & heatedly 

debate the beautifulest trio of words intheenglishlanguage

& the shortlist included such mighty contenders as

“i love you”

&

“flaming hot cheetos”

the winner would still, 

by the most mile of a mile, be

“jesus [  ] christ.”

I Guess By Now I Thought I’d Be Done With Shame

but I opened my coat to prove a point

and kept coming home with colds.

I thought I was done stuffing fists

in my mouth to mute the sound.

Done lying about what trails my throat

had charted. I practiced looking tall

men in the eye, spoke loudly,

pronounced every ‘R.’

I chopped wood at midnight.

I left the shower and kept

singing. I sang about my body

like I was proud. I was proud.

I was – My legs churned the poolwater.

I clamped silicone and didn’t cry.

Learned the names of oils. Asked

for another finger. I cried. Swore

to drown before saying sorry.

I sang about my death

like I was over it. Ground

my face into the soil, like I was ready

to shave it off. I stopped shaving.

Told a joke in the voice of a stupid

girl. I waved a flag of my own bones.

I threw my sordid liver at a man –

think fast – then acted surprised,

again, when he caught it in his teeth.

Not everyone who speaks this way

is lying. Somewhere,

there is a version of me that isn’t neck-

deep in her invented filth.

Somewhere a woman is walking

barefoot through the woods,

trailing white linen, walking without

a dog snapping at her heels.

Both of us are singing.

Both of us are bragging

in the past tense.

One of us is still here.

That much, I guess,

at least, is true.

my dream about being white

hey music and

me

only white,

hair a flutter of

fall leaves

circling my perfect

line of a nose,

no lips,

no behind, hey

white me

and i’m wearing 

white history

but there’s no future

in those clothes

so i take them off and

wake up

dancing.

Lit

Everyone can’t

be a lamplighter.

 

Someone must

be the lamp,

 

and someone

must, in bereaved

 

rooms sit,

unfathoming what

 

it is to be lit.

A Controlled Substance

My brother is late again, somehow the glass

of water by his plate, the fact that we filled it

without him, makes him all the later. Dad

tells us to start eating, says there’s nothing

worse than cold fish, but suddenly no one

can find a rhythm, we fumble our napkins

like we’ve never seen them before, like it’s

just occurred to us we’re in the wrong house,

aren’t even a family but four people kicked

off the same bus for being vulgar. So much

is worse than cold fish, I think, the flowers

on the table, the bubbles in my brother’s glass,

the size of our knives all terrible. “There must

be traffic,” my mother says and I understand it

as a command. Yes, there must be. My brother

deserves a good reason. Not the only reason,

that he is deep in his bed, as if at the ocean floor

where it is still the first night on earth and

whatever moves there must grow its own light.

The Orange

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange

The size of it made us all laugh.

I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—

They got quarters and I had a half.

 

And that orange it made me so happy,

As ordinary things often do

Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park

This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

 

The rest of my day was quite easy.

I did all my jobs on my list

And enjoyed them and had some time over.

I love you. I’m glad I exist.

Excerpt from "Hey, I’m gay"

& not up for debate.

Lesbian. Libra. Lascivious.

I’m gay as a wool flannel

on a summer day. 

I’m soooOoOoo gay, 

 

in third grade

my best friend & I

would sneak kisses, peck for peck 

at the playground corner.

Our parents called it confusion. 

Experimentation. Like my desire

could be dissected. Cut down 

to cuticle. Yeahhh, I’m gay

like short, short fingernails.

 

Like I swallowed my sexuality

til sapphomore year, found it again

staring into Abby’s eyes

at lunchtime, earbuds echoing 

in her collarbones.

 

I’m gay like I write poetry,

really gay poetry,

examining the blur between

platonic cuddling??? & intimacy?????

 

I’m gay like middle school.

soft ball AND musical theater.

An unending emo phase.

I’m gay like nose ring

and undercut. Like grandma doesn’t get it,

no matter how many times

she asks about the boys & 

I don’t give her a straight™

answer. The love almost 

leaps from my lips.

 

I’m gay like almost. Like lips.

Like the closet is cracked open,

but some days

I have to lock myself back in.

Put my best Femme forward

at the job interview. The Megabus terminal.

My grandpa’s funeral.

 

I’m gay like wouldn’t be caught dead 

in a straight jacket, would be caught dead though,

mouthful of her chapstick.

 

We love so hard sometimes

I forget holding hands is a risk. 

I forget each intersection kiss

is a deathwish. But I’m gay 

like privilege, search party and headline. 

Like not everyone is made into martyr. 

But the casualties keep coming. 

& we prefer to live loving &

we prefer to love 

Living. I’m gay like still here,

glitter faced on the subway.

Turning dismal to dazzle. 

Daphnes to [  ]. 

Death into trend. 

Love to the end.

The Robots are Coming

with clear-cased woofers for heads,

no eyes. They see us as a bat sees

a mosquito—a fleshy echo,

a morsel of sound. You've heard

their intergalactic tour busses

purring at our stratosphere's curb.

They await counterintelligence

transmissions from our laptops

and our blue teeth, await word

of humanity's critical mass,

our ripening. How many times

have we dreamed it this way:

the Age of the Machines,

postindustrial terrors whose

tempered paws—five welded fingers

—wrench back our roofs,

siderophilic tongues seeking blood,

licking the crumbs of us from our beds.

O, great nation, it won't be pretty.

What land will we now barter

for our lives ? A treaty inked

in advance of the metal ones' footfall.

Give them Gary. Give them Detroit,

Pittsburgh, Braddock—those forgotten

nurseries of girders and axels.

Tell the machines we honor their dead,

distant cousins. Tell them

we tendered those cities to repose

out of respect for welded steel's

bygone era. Tell them Ford

and Carnegie were giant men, that war

glazed their palms with gold.

Tell them we soft beings mourn

manufacture's death as our own.

SONNET (stopped)

hey baby–good morning/evening/morrow/night–

i awoke to burning wet purple leaves

and a wet roof blue light. you are not here–

but you are somewhere–in your t-shirt: tight and bright.

 

 

count, note, these rhymed lines that do not

break. count

on me i’ll come around again: like clockwork:

every twenty minutes: stop and stop.

like this, again and again; again! take

 

me, never give (me) up. we are each’s

other: the ultimate double entendre and

someday these words will still be lit on fire

in some tattered book washed up upon some beach.

 

don’t ask the cost; (for now) i give this [  ] for free:

i live to give you more than you give me. 

I Want to Burn the Frat House of America to the Ground

I have seen the white columned porches 

from which insignias blare

across lawns shimmering like art installations 

made from tailgate chairs

and solo cups where I’d hold 

my breath until I reached the end of frat row 

eclipsed by khaki legs spread boldly 

as the tilt of a student’s confidently 

capped head under which a smirk gleamed

“I am the one paying you to be here” 

by which I mean this poem could be tilted

my mother tells me her #MeToo stories 

I mean I have never felt

at home inside myself

after my daughter was born 

I washed my hands and counted

breaths, synapses of light

blinking messages 

in the hollows of my bones

like a purging of joy 

by which I mean my hands became so clean I couldn’t feel

my child as she slept

in my arms

by which I mean my mother held me

and she didn’t 

I mean my mother’s body was a house burning 

and I’ve been burning ever since

City Lake

Almost dusk. Fishermen packing up their bait,

a small girl singing there’s nothing in here nothing in here

casting a yellow pole, glancing at her father.

What is it they say about mercy? Five summers ago

this lake took a child’s life. Four summers

ago it saved mine, the way the willows stretch

toward the water but never kiss it, how people laugh

as they walk the concrete path or really have it out

with someone they love. One spring the path teemed

with baby frogs, so many flattened, so many jumping.

I didn’t know a damn thing then. I thought I was waiting

for something to happen. I stepped carefully

over the dead frogs and around the live ones.

What was I waiting for? Frogs to rain from the sky?

A great love? The little girl spies a perch

just outside her rod’s reach. She wants to wade in.

She won’t catch the fish and even if she does

it might be full of mercury. Still, I want her

to roll up her jeans and step into the water,

tell her it’s mercy, not mud, filling each impression

her feet make. I’m not saying she should

be grateful to be alive. I’m saying mercy

is a big dark lake we’re all swimming in. 

My Brother at 3 A.M.

He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps

when Mom unlocked and opened the front door.

        O God, he said. O God.

                He wants to kill me, Mom.

 

When Mom unlocked and opened the front door

at 3 a.m., she was in her nightgown, Dad was asleep.

        He wants to kill me, he told her,

                looking over his shoulder.

 

3 a.m. and in her nightgown, Dad asleep,

What's going on? she asked. Who wants to kill you?

        He looked over his shoulder.

                The devil does. Look at him, over there.

 

She asked, What are you on? Who wants to kill you?

The sky wasn’t black or blue but the green of a dying night.

        The devil, look at him, over there.

                He pointed to the corner house.

 

The sky wasn’t black or blue but the dying green of night.

Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.

        My brother pointed to the corner house.

                His lips flickered with sores.

 

Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.

O God, I can see the tail, he said. O God, look.

        Mom winced at the sores on his lips.

                It’s sticking out from behind the house.

 

O God, see the tail, he said. Look at the [ ] tail.

He sat cross-legged, weeping on the front steps.

        Mom finally saw it, a hellish vision, my brother.

                O God, O God, she said.

This is my letter to the World

This is my letter to the World

That never wrote to Me—

The simple News that Nature told—

With tender Majesty

 

Her Message is committed

To Hands I cannot see—

For love of Her—Sweet—countrymen—

Judge tenderly—of Me

ODE TO MY HOME GIRLS

smelling of orange rind of cardamom

     most beautiful girls in the world wake up [  ]

we're getting waffles you can keep crying

 

but you're going out my marriages

     my alibis my bright & hardy stalks

of protea     & all i know of love i learned

 

at thirteen dialing basma's home phone

     by heart      to three-way call whatever boy

so that weeks later when the phone bill came

 

only basma's familiar number beside the time stamp

     clearing my name basma herself staying awake

for hours     to hang up the phone after

 

you who send pictures of your rashes

     to the group text & long voice notes

from the bathtub      your laughter echoing against the tiles

 

you who scatter the world's map piling into

     cheap buses & budget airlines four of us asleep

in my dorm bed six of us overflowing

 

my studio apartment false lashes for weeks after

      like commas in my every pillowcase you clog my toilet

& admit it you text me screenshots

 

from the gucci fashion show getting rich

      so i can get u this   & when i lived alone

& that man followed me

 

one night home from the six train

     up lexington      & into the hallway

tried for hours to break open my front door

 

you took turns from all your cities & stayed

     overnight with me on the phone for three days

snoring & murmuring in your sleep

Excerpt from “Somewhere Real”

Get in, George Eliot. I packed PB&Js. I’m bringing

that rainbow parachute we held hands under

as eight year olds. Get in, right beside Autumn, beside

every manic pixie dream girl screenplay written by

a man, beside “bad weather,” beside Allegra’s pomegranate

split into five uneven offerings, beside Allegra herself,

she’s a mother now, as I write this. Get in, television

and all the extinct hardware of the nineties. Montel,

Jerry, Ricki, get in. I’m driving. Get in, exes. Tell me

about life without me, pick the music, thread a threat

through my dumb brown hair, something like you were

always so then let the rain finish your sentence. Get in

rain, but don’t hog the air. I’m running away. I’m tired

of not being a monk. Get in, “You’re So Vain,” and five o’clock

shadows and how hard it is to not talk to my brother.

We went a whole year and a half. Get in, year and a half.

Get in, therapist with the good haircut and bad advice.

You too, Michael Jackson. I’m so sorry you had to be

Michael Jackson. The kind of snow that only fell

when I was young, get in. Or maybe it’s just how

I saw it, get in. Turquoise, get in.

The locker they shoved Gabby into and I didn’t do it, but I didn’t

stop them, get in. Get in, world,

death, time. I swear I’ll turn this car around if you don’t

hot box us vapid. The day the stars come down and start

walking around like they own the place, God said, I’m quitting,

get in. The game is I spy, the game is who can be quiet the longest,

the game is hold your breath there’s a cemetery. Order me fries.

Order me lungs. Order me around. Order my manuscript.

Here’s a handful of pennies, of ketchup packets, of sky.

I know you’re exhausted, get in, I’m driving you home. Roll down

your window, the forecast is alive. The dog’s kicking in his sleep

which means a brain the size of a lemon can squeeze a whole

dream. Poor poet, get in, you never could say goodbye with grace.

Lucille, get in. Dead family, get in. I want to show you something:

I had no map when I started and now here I am, somewhere real

called loving you, get in.

Said the Gun to the Woman On Her Way to Planned Parenthood

What pisses me off is that you are the one

they call murderer. Treat me like a thing

to protect, and you get to be the monster. 

Like it was not me who shot

up the club and gave new meaning

to a last dance. Not me who sat back

in my hotel room and turned the music festival

into one long scream. Not me who interrupted

a classroom of children learning ABC’s

and punctuation taught them

how I. End. 

A sentence. 

They say you think

you can play God, but in this country, I am God. 

They’ll argue that I’m innocent, 

closets of suits will pledge allegiance, write clean, 

crisp amendments. While you do nothing

but choose to save your life and you get riots

outside the clinic, a bomb in the belly 

of the dumpster? Tell me, what have you been 

aiming for? Joy? Freedom? A body

that is yours? Let’s be clear:

I’m the only one of us

who is not pro-life

here. 

I Woke Up

and it was political.

I made coffee and the coffee was political.

I took a shower and the water was.

I walked down the street in short shorts and a Bob Mizer tank top

and they were political, the walking and the shorts and the beefcake

silkscreen of the man posing in a G-string. I forgot my sunglasses

and later, on the train, that was political,

when I studied every handsome man in the car.

Who I thought was handsome was political.

I went to work at the university and everything was

very obviously political, the department and the institution.

All the cigarettes I smoked between classes were political,

where I threw them when I was through.

I was blond and it was political.

So was the difference between “blond” and “blonde.”

I had long hair and it was political. I shaved my head and it was.

That I didn’t know how to grieve when another person was killed in America

was political, and it was political when America killed another person,

who they were and what color and gender and who I am in relation.

I couldn’t think about it for too long without feeling a helplessness

like childhood. I was a child and it was political, being a boy

who was bad at it. I couldn’t catch and so the ball became political.

My mother read to me almost every night

and the conditions that enabled her to do so were political.

That my father’s money was new was political, that it was proving something.

Someone called me [  ] and it was political.

I called myself a [  ] and it was political.

How difficult my life felt relative to how difficult it was

was political. I thought I could become a writer

and it was political that I could imagine it.

I thought I was not a political poet and still

my imagination was political.

It had been, this whole time I was asleep.

Excerpt from “QUEER YOUTH ARE FIVE TIMES MORE LIKELY TO DIE BY SUICIDE”

means:

You lived five times harder than you should have had to

to still have a body when you graduated high school.

 

means:

Hate worked five times harder

to make your spirit its wishbone.

 

means:

When your mother asked what was wrong,

you were five times more likely to believe you'd lose

her if you spoke the truth.

 

means:

You were told five times more often

you'd go to hell when you died.

 

means:

Burning for eternity seemed five times

more doable than another day in the school lunchroom.

 

means:

You were five times more inclined

to triple-padlock your diary.

 

means:

You were five times more likely

to stop writing your story down.

 

means:

I write my heart out now.

 

Queer youth are five times more likely to:

see you how you dream of seeing yourself.

To write something in your yearbook that will get you

through the next decade. To spot a stranger crying

and ask if there's anything they can do to help.

Five times more likely to:

need us to do the same.

Michiko Dead

He manages like somebody carrying a box   

that is too heavy, first with his arms

underneath. When their strength gives out,   

he moves the hands forward, hooking them   

on the corners, pulling the weight against   

his chest. He moves his thumbs slightly   

when the fingers begin to tire, and it makes   

different muscles take over. Afterward,

he carries it on his shoulder, until the blood   

drains out of the arm that is stretched up

to steady the box and the arm goes numb. But now   

the man can hold underneath again, so that   

he can go on without ever putting the box down.

Excerpt from "America"

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.

America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.   

I can’t stand my own mind.

America when will we end the human war?

Go [  ] yourself with your atom bomb.

I don’t feel good don’t bother me.

I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.

America when will you be angelic?

When will you take off your clothes?

When will you look at yourself through the grave?

When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?

America why are your libraries full of tears?

America when will you send your eggs to India?

I’m sick of your insane demands.

When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?

America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.   

Your machinery is too much for me.

You made me want to be a saint.

There must be some other way to settle this argument.   

Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.   

Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?   

I’m trying to come to the point.

I refuse to give up my obsession.

America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.

America the plum blossoms are falling.

A Drunken Phone Call

A drunken phone call

From a middle-aged woman

In the middle of the night

After SportsCenter

Reminds me

That life is short

And cold

And mean

And maybe I should

Have called you

Like I said

I would

Mock Orange

It is not the moon, I tell you.

It is these flowers

lighting the yard.

 

I hate them.

I hate them as I hate [   ],

the man’s mouth

sealing my mouth, the man’s

paralyzing body—

 

and the cry that always escapes,

the low, humiliating

premise of union—

 

In my mind tonight

I hear the question and pursuing answer

fused in one sound

that mounts and mounts and then

is split into the old selves,

the tired antagonisms. Do you see?

We were made fools of.

And the scent of mock orange

drifts through the window.

 

How can I rest?

How can I be content

when there is still

that odor in the world?

Snowdrops

Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know

what despair is; then

winter should have meaning for you.

 

I did not expect to survive,

earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect

to waken again, to feel

in damp earth my body

able to respond again, remembering

after so long how to open again

in the cold light

of earliest spring–

 

afraid, yes, but among you again

crying yes risk joy

 

in the raw wind of the new world

How a Bullet Works

it huddles warmly

in the nook of a shoulder

 

the joint cleared of its tendons

& muscles,

 

arteries, some nerves.

it sleeps           unaware

 

that its resting is permanent

that its removal would be fatal

 

to the host. soon

flesh will close around it,

 

the tendons will thread

back together,

 

the muscles mend,

the arteries will adjust

 

around its pointed shape,

the nerves will remember

 

their existence.

& it will be buried

 

as if its pain

never happened.

American Sonnet for the New Year

Things got terribly ugly incredibly quickly 

Things got ugly embarrassingly quickly 

actually Things got ugly unbelievably quickly 

honestly Things got ugly seemingly infrequently 

initially Things got ugly ironically usually 

awfully carefully Things got ugly unsuccessfully 

occasionally Things got ugly mostly painstakingly 

quietly seemingly Things got ugly beautifully 

infrequently Things got ugly sadly especially 

frequently unfortunately Things got ugly 

increasingly obviously Things got ugly suddenly

embarrassingly forcefully Things got really ugly 

regularly truly quickly Things got really incredibly 

ugly Things will get less ugly inevitably hopefully 

Nerve

In the next scene Walt Whitman

is walking around Boston

Common. He’s young.

It’s winter. Emerson

is there. They walk

and talk for hours, or really

Emerson talks. He scolds

Whitman for slavering

after tree knots and bobbing

with the swimmer. Whitman nods

but in his head he’s busy

tallying his orgasms.

At the carousel

an ancient Puritan is passing

his hat, singing, “Kill It Babe.”

Dozens of geese have gathered

on the frozen pond,

standing on one leg,

tucking the other like a dagger

into their feathery centers.

Well, Emerson asks the poet,

what do you have to say for yourself?

And Whitman, respectfully,

but sure now

all the way down in his bones

where the deep, frontier feeling

of disobedience lives, says,

essentially, go [  ] yourself.

I’ll go my own way.

[Untitled]

in love

there are no closed doors

each threshold

an invitation

to cross

take hold

take heart

and enter here

at this point

where truth 

was once denied

Excerpt from “Did It Ever Occur to You That Maybe You’re Falling in Love?”

We buried the problem.

We planted a tree over the problem.

We regretted our actions toward the problem.

We declined to comment on the problem.

We carved a memorial to the problem, dedicated it. Forgot our handkerchief.

We removed all “unnatural” ingredients, handcrafted a locally-grown tincture for the problem. But nobody bought it.

We freshly-laundered, bleached, deodorized the problem.

We built a wall around the problem, tagged it with pictures of children, birds in trees.

We renamed the problem, and denounced those who used the old name.

We wrote a law for the problem, but it died in committee.

We drove the problem out with loud noises from homemade instruments.

We marched, leafleted, sang hymns, linked arms with the problem, got dragged to jail, got spat on by the problem and let out.

We elected an official who Finally Gets the problem.

We raised an army to corral and question the problem. They went door to door but could never ID.

We made www.problem.com so You Can Find Out About the problem, and www.problem.org so You Can Help.

We created 1-800-Problem, so you could Report On the problem, and 1-900-Problem so you could Be the Only Daddy That Really Turns That problem On.

We drove the wheels offa that problem.

We rocked the [  ] out of that problem.

We amplified the problem, turned it on up, and blew it out.

We drank to forget the problem.

We inhaled the problem, exhaled the problem, crushed its ember under our shoe.

We put a title on the problem, took out all the articles, conjunctions, and verbs. Called it “Exprmntl Prblm.”

We shot the problem, and put it out of its misery.

We swallowed daily pills for the problem, followed a problem fast, drank problem tea.

We read daily problem horoscopes. Had our problem palms read by a seer.

We had dreams of the problem. In which we could no longer recognize ourselves.

We reformed. We transformed. Turned over a new leaf. Turned a corner, found ourselves near a scent that somehow reminded us of the problem,

In ways we could never

Put into words. That

Little I-can’t-explain-it

That makes it hard to think. That

Rings like a siren inside.

Coconut

Bear with me I

want to tell you

something about

happiness

it’s hard to get at

but the thing is

I wasn’t looking

I was looking

somewhere else

when my son found it

in the fruit section

and came running

holding it out

in his small hands

asking me what

it was and could we

keep it it only

cost 99 cents

hairy and brown

hard as a rock

and something swishing

around inside

and what on earth

and where on earth

and this was happiness

this little ball

of interest beating

inside his chest

this interestedness

beaming out

from his face pleading

happiness

and because I wasn’t

happy I said

to put it back

because I didn’t want it

because we didn’t need it

and because we didn’t need it

and because he was happy

he started to cry

right there in aisle

five so when we

got it home we

put it in the middle

of the kitchen table

and sat on either

side of it and began

to consider how

to get inside of it

My People

Dream-singers,

Story-tellers,

Dancers,

Loud laughers in the hands of Fate—

           My People.

Dish-washers,

Elevator-boys,

Ladies’ maids,

Crap-shooters,

Cooks,

Waiters,

Jazzers,

Nurses of babies,

Loaders of ships,

Porters,

Hairdressers,

Comedians in vaudeville

And band-men in circuses—

Dream-singers all,

Story-tellers all.

Dancers—

God! What dancers!

Singers—

God! What singers!

Singers and dancers,

Dancers and laughers.

Laughers?

Yes, laughers….laughers…..laughers—

Loud-mouthed laughers in the hands of Fate.

Some People Love War Like a House

War with wood frame. War with original glass panes. War with a cupola. Custom warwork. War of lost deeds and cement crumbs. War with roots eating foundation. Two-story war in historic war district. Shabby chic war. War with wraparound porch. War you’ll just love. Guided war with warm cookies and business cards. It’s a dream war. So easy, the war does your bidding for you. But war’s interest fluctuates. How’s your warfolio? No problem: warclosure, what luck. Now it’s a war of your very own. A war to call home. War as piss post. War as security. Warheritance for your children, born and unborn. A war you can die in—all windows, no door.

Discourse

for Mary Oliver

 

What I want to say is what 

I want to say. I ran the water 

 

poach-hot, watched my shoulder 

rose like a struck cheek. Because 

 

something there. Unwinds. In the 

way water slucks. In the seventh grade, 

 

the first-chair trumpet never 

looked at me and I loved him. 

 

I put my foot through a wall. I didn’t 

want anyone. To know. Me, peach-

 

softening in the bleachers. Me, lush, 

as a honey-sick ermine. I nearly 

 

bit my mom in half. How’d I get me 

into this? Saying palm-puddled

 

daisyleaf in place of sorry. It’s not

like shattered drywall is some easier 

 

words—because I had to caulk it all back 

myself. It’s maybe that I won’t believe 

 

words lack feet. And fur. I’m not in this 

to be misunderstood, though I was. 

 

Before. Distracting with a wrecked beanfield, 

or gargled-up okra stuff–but now 

 

I mean it when I say I’m willful 

as yogurt in the sunshine. How it’s 

 

made slow cheese. Look, I wrote a poem 

to tell you something genuine. Though. 

 

It doesn’t always seem that way. I still 

believe folding a fisheye in lardo and salt 

 

is the best way for you to feel the dream 

that sucked sleep out of me. So. I sit down 

 

with the green of many slick frogs. The sharp 

and insufficient air of a mountainside. 

 

The eatable gouda rind. What I think 

was buck last night, groaning like a ship. 

I want

I want to write poems for construction workers and dreamers

For revolutionaries

For deadbeats and those on the low

I never want to ask please fix us all

I want for us to want

to patch every heart

and pave every road

and destroy every system

that has ever left us

broken. I want to sing

like frank ocean, like wonder

like sonder, like mereba, like the sea

I want to recite the line

Took the wretched out the earth

Called it baby fanon,

I want to call someone baby.

I want to stop smoking because I want to live,

I can only love my comrades if I live,

and I want to clean my room,

I want to clean my room every week

and make my bed and put peppermint in my hair

to stop needing my inhalers

and to inhale solidarity, and to eat the rich,

I want to eat the rich, to cancel the rents,

to know my neighbors

and to know my neighbors

are safe. I want to move like water, to move

from unity to struggle to unity,

to have no perfect world we haven’t fought for.

Against Mastery

give me no seat at the table

let no trembling hands lay food on my plate

 

let me lord over no one and nothing

not the dog curled up in my bed

 

not the land nor children who wander

through my care         let me learn from the babies

 

and be always laughing at my ignorance

only humble discovery       give me

 

and keep my eyes on the pattern of birds’ wings

breaking the blue overhead           let me face

 

the ones I harm with open palms and let love

be the method and measure of my worth

 

keep my heart with my people

and the coal glowing beneath my feet

 

let me run and run and run and run

and let the flame of my torch never go out

 

I am here with you

to burn the house down

 

keep me to this          cut me down

before you let me lose my way

Dreams of My Father

Or a man who looks like him.

I only know I call him Daddy

(as all southern women

do until the day we die).

In my dreams he is still alive

and this is not a comfort.

I am my best when tragic.

Grief becomes me.

Daddy is more real in death,

eyes dark, undimmed

by the grave, smile less sincere.

Matter clings to his thick

eyebrows, his mouth spits mud

when he tries to talk. He is candid.

He tells me he liked my sisters better than me.

Most times I search for him in a crowd

of counterfeit Daddies.

I look for pieces of him.

An elbow. Black hair on the back

of a pale neck. If I find him,

I will say, Is that you?

I know you this time.

Poem In Which Words Have Been Left Out

—The "Miranda Rights," established 1966

 

You have the right to remain

anything you can and will be.

 

An attorney you cannot afford

will be provided to you.

 

You have silent will.

You can be against law.

You cannot afford one.

 

You remain silent. Anything you say

will be provided to you.

 

The right can and will be

against you. The right provided you.

 

Have anything you say be

right. Anything you say can be right.

 

Say you have the right attorney.

The right remain silent.

 

Be held. Court the one. Be provided.

You cannot be you.

Excerpt from “Poem about My Rights”

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear

my head about this poem about why I can’t

go out without changing my clothes my shoes

my body posture my gender identity my age

my status as a woman alone in the evening/

alone on the streets/alone not being the point/

the point being that I can’t do what I want

to do with my own body because I am the wrong

sex the wrong age the wrong skin and

suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/

or far into the woods and I wanted to go

there by myself thinking about God/or thinking

about children or thinking about the world/all of it

disclosed by the stars and the silence:

I could not go and I could not think and I could not

stay there

alone

as I need to be

alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own

body 

We Lived Happily During the War

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

 

protested

but not enough, we opposed them but not

 

enough. I was

in my bed, around my bed America

 

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

 

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

 

In the sixth month

of a disastrous reign in the house of money

 

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,

our great country of money, we (forgive us)

 

lived happily during the war.

Unreliable

Where is my prize for most unreliable narrator?

I would never lie to you, but I lie to me all the time.

I say, Look at that bird, this childhood memory,

that light falling on his body in the steam,

and say, Boom. A stone truth. A poem. And you trust me.

You trace your finger along the constellation I’m insisting into existence

and let my rickety astrology determine the weather.

But this is all dominos.

I am just trying to place enough words between now and The End

to trick The End into coming later.

I slip single doses of myself into the pockets of everyone I love,

worried about serving sizes, hoping they do not sour once I’m gone.

I spent thirty-two years in New York City

and every metaphor is stacked with taxi cabs and subways.

I spent two weeks in the woods and suddenly every poem swelled

with rhododendrons and the smell of firewood.

I am the most porous sponge that ever sponged.

I throw myself off every emotional cliff and build a pogo stick on the way down.

I am not an optimist but I play one in the group chat.

I don’t know who I think I need absolution from,

but I carry around a shiny report card everywhere I go just in case.

I thought I wanted a boyfriend but I actually wanted an audience.

My father carried dried mushrooms from the market

to the wood table on the front porch so he could watch

the way the late afternoon sun made patterns in their crackled skin

and called my mother out of the house so she could stand next to him

and look at it too. They were so excited, they forgot to close

the screen door and the bugs made a home of the kitchen.

I have never accomplished anything in my life

other than the seven mile run to the lighthouse.

This land—someone else’s, this language—someone else’s,

even the churning fear that pours out of me—an inheritance,

or if not an inheritance, then a reaction—a riverbank

formed out of a rushing past I had nothing to do with.

I make a phone call and when you don’t pick up,

the whole house falls down around me.

I am the center of my own dramatic universe and it appalls me.

In my dream, from somewhere down a hallway of locked doors, a voice asks,

What if you aren’t as bad as you suspect you are?

What if you’ll never be as good as you ache?

And then, softer, in the kind of whisper that wouldn’t even fog the glass,

What if what you are is boring

and alive, what are you going to do then?

Spondylolisthesis, or why I eat Taco Bell

I grab a #7 when I am my most depressed. Like today,

scarfing down a Crunchwrap Supreme to drown out

 

the dagger & twist from my lower back. Like when

the Baja Blast drowned out the Black boi asking

 

for anger to save them in my throat; my back hurts

in a country who wants to disable me. What feels

 

better than a hard-shell medicine, a lover (read: stranger)

asking if you need anything else. so I stuff my sadness

 

with hot sauce packets. My gifts come wrapped

in hexagons, too sexy for my pain. Weary needs

 

saving as much as it needs flavor & a country not bent

on Black suffering. What is your after-appointment fix?

Mine costs $7.22. Mine is fractures with enough

decency to come packed with straws and napkins.

 

What does your healing cost?

Do not trust the eraser

for Gabrielle Civil & Madhu H. Kaza

 

Do not trust the eraser. Prefer

crossed out, scribbled over monuments

to something once thought correct

. Instead: colors, transparencies

track changes, versions, iterations

. How else might you return

after discards, attempts

and mis takes, to your 

original genius

?

A Story

Sad is the man who is asked for a story

and can't come up with one.

 

His five-year-old son waits in his lap.

Not the same story, Baba. A new one.

The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear.

 

In a room full of books in a world

of stories, he can recall

not one, and soon, he thinks, the boy

will give up on his father.

 

Already the man lives far ahead, he sees

the day this boy will go. Don't go!

Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!

You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.

Let me tell it!

 

But the boy is packing his shirts,

he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,

the man screams, that I sit mute before you?

Am I a god that I should never disappoint?

 

But the boy is here. Please, Baba, a story?

It is an emotional rather than logical equation,

an earthly rather than heavenly one,

which posits that a boy's supplications

and a father's love add up to silence.

According to the Gospel of Yes

It’s a thrill to say No.

 

The way it smothers

everything that beckons―

 

Any baby in a crib

will meet No’s palm

on its mouth.

 

And nothing sweet

can ever happen

 

 

              ―

 

 

to No―

 

who holds your tongue captive

behind your teeth, whose breath

whets the edge

 

 

              ―

 

 

of the guillotine―

 

N, head of Team Nothing,

and anti-ovum O.

 

And so the pit can never

engender

 

 

              ―

 

 

the cherry―

 

in No, who has drilled a hole

inside your body―

 

No.

Say it out loud.

Why do you love the hole

 

No makes.

Endings

The story has two endings.

It has one ending

and then another.

Do you hear me?

I do not have the heart

to edit the other out.

LOVE POEM WITH APOLOGIES FOR MY APPEARANCE

Sometimes, I think you get the worst

of me. The much-loved loose forest-green

sweatpants, the long bra-less days, hair

knotted and uncivilized, a shadowed brow

where the devilish thoughts do their hoofed

dance on the brain. I'd like to say this means

I love you, the stained white cotton T-shirt,

the tears, pistachio shells, the mess of orange

peels on my desk, but it's different than that.

I move in this house with you, the way I move

in my mind, unencumbered by beauty's cage.

I do like I do in the tall grass, more animal-me

than much else. I'm wrong, it is that I love you,

but it's more that when you say it back, lights

out, a cold wind through curtains, for maybe

the first time in my life, I believe it.

I Am Different

I do not fear being alone anymore, any more than I fear the "I" in a poem. "I" still do not understand myself completely, and if viewed from the corner of the eye, that's thrilling. "I" am in a lifelong mystery within my own ownership. Yet no one, not even "I" will witness its unfolding entirely. I've heard that the first words uttered as a sentence were, I am different. Is that true                       ? And if it is, it must be true when the thinker says, in language there are only differences. This sacred gap. A recognition. Our distance from one another is ground for my "I" and yours for "you." I'm aware / thus I know / I am different when I ask: can you love the "I" in the poem as much as you love the poem.

A Daily Prayer

God wears glow-in-the-dark acrylic nails, her favorite color is obsidian black,

             she’s lactose intolerant & is tired of femme exploitation.

 

God buys gold hoop earrings at Dollar Tree & ain’t afraid to wear eyelash extensions

             for two weeks straight even if the package reads “one-time use only.”

 

God says “hi” to everyone the moment she boards public transit & after she’s seated,

             she speaks loudly into her phone while munching on hot Cheetos.

 

God carries a plastic bag with quarters, pennies & her passport cuz she knows

             most of her followers ain’t [  ] & removal proceedings are always already a possibility.

 

God orders $1 fries, $1 cheeseburgers & $1 drinks at fast-food restaurants cuz

             a gurl needs to live & sometimes thriving looks like surviving.

 

God checks her eyebrows on her phone every two hours & licks her index finger

             to realign each hair particle before meeting up with da girls.

 

God walks into Metro PCS every three days for water damage services cuz she’s too often

             weeping onto her Android—M, Tu, W, Th, F, Sa, & Sun—the deaths of Black girls.

 

God has hired a personal stylist cuz she don’t know no more how to be simultaneously ready

             for a funeral, court hearing, birthday celebration, anniversary dinner & the club.

 

God has a Twitter account with 36 followers & it’s aiiight cuz she follows 794K folk & they

             all Black femmes & the 36 that follow her hold her so she can hold the rest of the world.

Who Said It Was Simple

There are so many roots to the tree of anger 

that sometimes the branches shatter 

before they bear. 

 

Sitting in Nedicks 

the women rally before they march 

discussing the problematic girls 

they hire to make them free. 

An almost white counterman passes 

a waiting brother to serve them first 

and the ladies neither notice nor reject 

the slighter pleasures of their slavery. 

But I who am bound by my mirror

as well as my bed 

see causes in colour 

as well as sex 

 

and sit here wondering 

which me will survive 

all these liberations. 

Vocative

English is my native

anguish. I was born here,

read here, teased and torn here.

Vocative, ablative,

 

locative, alive:

English was a dislocation

navigating oceans. 

Wherever it arrived,

 

it broke and brokered words, 

its little bits of Britain 

pilfered, bartered, written,

looted, hoarded, heard.

 

Papa swapped a world

for shiny colored beads, 

for dandelion seeds.

We are subject verbs.

 

The root word of my name 

hooks a foreign land,

long-since-shifted sand

books cannot reclaim.

 

Graft of tongue, gift of dust,

mother and stranger, sing

the kedgeree, the everything

at once you’ve made of us.

All I Can Tell You

all i can tell you

is that the women i know are not fiddling

with their thumbs.

 

are not teacup women,

little fragile women.

 

the women i know

are loud like lightning

crack, boom.

 

loud like thunder,

loud like overcome.

 

like indescribable

adversity will not stop us

loud like snap,

like applause.

 

like do you know

who we are.

 

loud like change.

loud like it is time to work.

loud like riot. Like whisper.

 

like women that

softly,

gently,

 

yank the closed door off of the hinges,

and say thank you.

 

loud.

 

like just wait

until you meet us.

Momma Said [ ] at the Kitchen Table

Momma said,

so you gonna be a [  ] now?

 

As if she meant to say,

didn't I raise you better than that,

don't you know

I ain't raise no [  ],

don't you know

you too pretty to be a [  ]?

 

Why you gonna embarrass us like this,

you scared no man gonna love you,

you scared of men,

some mannnnnnn hurt you,

who hurt you?

 

Momma said,

so you gonna be a [  ] now?

 

As if she meant to say,

don't you know

how hard it already is

for women like us,

why you gonna go

and make it harder on yourself?

 

I don't want you in that kind of pain,

this world ain't sweet on those kinds of women,

I don't want another reason to be scared for you.

 

Momma said,

so you gonna be a [  ]  now?

 

As if she meant to say,

I'm scared for you.

The Big Water

I want to say yes to the sea and live

with the knowledge that I am small. 

 

I live with my knowledge, small despite

my good learning. The truth is hard. 

 

With all my costly living, truth is still hard. 

Sober, I find my mind in disarray. 

 

To save my life, I undress this disarray. 

Fear babbles beneath. Terror cannot protext. 

 

Terror cannot protect like anger does, 

and a vulnerable life leaves room for love. 

 

A vulnerable life leaves room for you

to love yourself enough to lose someone. 

 

To love yourself enough to lose someone is

to become the open sea, not the estuary. 

36 TEXT MESSAGES, 16 MISSED CALLS

Fifty strangers are trying to reach me. They all want to know

about seven boxes of laminate that someone–not me–

is giving away on Craigslist. The flooring is somewhere

 

in Sacramento. They leave me their contact info.

The inquiries range from casual–“Heyyyy my name’s

Jose do you still have the boxes”–to formal: “Good evening,

 

I am interested in the flooring…” Some of them take

a pleading tone–“if you still have the flooring, I’ll come

and get it right now ???” One person says, “I need flooring

 

desperately!” A lady named Dee writes a warm message

signed, “Thank you very much.” Linda writes twice. Ed seems

pretty chill: “I can take those off your hands.” They are in

 

Fair Oaks, Folsom, Citrus Heights. They are ready

to come and get all seven boxes of laminate flooring

tomorrow morning, tonight, right now. They’ve been ready

 

since yesterday, and they don’t know why they haven’t yet

heard back from me. They are friendly, cordial, they have learned

my name from my voicemail greeting, so they say, “Hi Chloe!

 

Hi Carly! Hello Cleo! Hey Cole.” I can hear Cassandra’s

kids in the background. Everyone so full of hope.

Everyone thanking me in advance. On Craigslist Sacramento,

 

I find my listing. I ask the person who really is

offering all that flooring for free to please,

please correct the phone number, so that at least one

 

of these fifty-two people (so far), of whom I’ve become

quite fond, even protective, might be able to have

what they wish for: gleaming new floors. May we all

 

catch a little free beauty sometimes. May at least one

of our earnest, desperate, hopeful calls be rewarded

with bounty. With fights unearned and earned. With free

 

laminate flooring, enough to make one room, at least, like new. 

Lament for the Living

We feel them walking over us in their intolerable shoes,

knocking down our stone doors. And what

would they have us do—come outside?

We will not afternoon among the pigeons,

who loiter like blanched old men in a sauna,

moaning "arrgargahhh" but meaning to say

"shut the door" but meaning "let this day

end me." [

]

                                                           Overwrought? Yes.

But this is just one tunnel through the story,

and it is not the one that leads to some outside

that is sweet and green. What if we had known

we were in the last five years of our lives?

What a relief! To look around and say

how fine it is, to awaken in the cracked sun,

to knock back a berry into our mouths

like a large and living pill! To have two

and a half years to eat before our time is reset

into a new measure of halfness. And it goes.

For decades we split ourselves across the longing

of an asymptote, until one day we reach down to wipe

and we're putting our hand

                                                           through a ghost.

And then it becomes intolerable. Like fruit salad —

a grape disguised in the juices of a cantaloupe.

We leave behind a dotted line, and all these people!

They follow it like a map to heaven,

when all we meant was "cut here."

Remember the Boys

chucking rocks at the wasps’ nest,

their gathered hum then sudden sting

at the nape of my neck. Oh, how I paid—

still pay—for the recklessness

of boys. Little Bretts. Little Jeffs.

Little knives to my breast. 

How lucky they were to never 

be held down, to never see

their voices crawl the air like fire!

 

How desperately I yearned to be them,

to storm the halls in macho gospel:

matching blue jackets, blood-filled

posture and made-you-flinch. 

How different would I be, 

how much bigger, if I had been

given room enough to be 

a country's golden terror? 

In Defense of Hella

Praise this relic of an endless California

summer housed in my throat.

How it spills over like a fist

 

full of gold coins & refuses to apologize

for its excess. When I say hella

I mean I dipped my feet

 

in the San Francisco Bay

& watched a mountain

of doubloons rise up

 

& glitter around my waist. Hella

is how I measure Telegraph

Avenue from Fox Theater

 

to the empty lot on Haste–

the one with the word stolen

graffitied over a sunset.

 

Hella redwoods outlived

Columbus & Cortés

& hella people buried beneath

 

the roots did not. Hella

is the count of ancestors

who blossom across California

 

& Mexico & how many cities

have been built

from their bones. Hella is each

 

new brick & cobblestone street

I am not native to

but still call home. I know it’s better

 

I left for Boston, for somewhere

that snows. Here–I can walk

through a cemetery & only notice

 

the flowers. I am tired of mourning

ancient thievery & there is enough

displacement happening

 

without me collecting avenues

to fill my pockets.

When I say hella I mean here

 

are all the people I carry with me

made of gold. 

I Don't Want a Trans President

I want trans doctors 

performing my surgery 

trans journalists reporting 

the news, trans historians writing 

textbooks. I don’t want trans capitalists 

walking on wall street or trans cops 

patrolling my neighborhood. I want 

trans musicians playing on my stereo 

trans designers crafting my clothes

trans chefs filling my stomach

trans farmers planting my food 

& trans gardeners picking 

flowers for my funeral.

Presidents

The president of shame has his own flag

the president of lies quotes the voice

of God

at last counted

the president of loyalty recommends

blindness to the blind

oh oh

applause like the heels of the hanged

he walks on eyes

until they break

then he rides

there is no president of grief

it is a kingdom

ancient absolute with no colors

its rule is never seen

prayers look for him

also empty flags like skins

silence the messenger runs through the vast lands

with a black mouth

open

silence the climber falls from the cliffs

with a black mouth like

a call

there is only one subject

but he is repeated

tirelessly

I, being born a woman, and distressed

I, being born a woman, and distressed

By all the needs and notions of my kind,

Am urged by your propinquity to find

Your person fair, and feel a certain zest

To bear your body's weight upon my breast:

So subtly is the fume of life designed,

To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind,

And leave me once again undone, possessed.

Think not for this, however, this poor treason

Of my stout blood against my staggering brain,

I shall remember you with love, or season

My scorn with pity — let me make it plain:

I find this frenzy insufficient reason

For conversation when we meet again.

District Two

for tanya kaufman

she used her work address to get us into school

could’ve gone to jail for wanting 

Her kids to have a better education 

she walked back and forth, forth and back,

dreaming of better futures for us. lying

and laying paths. this country promised

no child left behind, she put us first.

there's a way around the system,

just ask the right questions,

never take no for an answer 

Collapse

What do bees want? is a question I’ve never asked

myself or any expert. I know they need

 

to gather pollen & nectar, need water & shelter,

though they can make their own of any hollow place.

 

But as to want, who can say? I say

I need to take my vitamins, apply sunscreen,

 

eat greens & exercise–want self-care, something

I deserve (for what I do not know).

 

Our bodies are built to decay. I opened

the hive only as often as I was told:

 

to check brood, the health of the queen.

I did not know what I was looking for but trusted

 

diligence would keep us from disaster

They wanted me out of their way,

 

so I closed it all up,

left them to their own desires. ​​ 

The Book of Questions, III

Translated by William O’Daly

 

Tell me, is the rose naked

or is that her only dress?

 

Why do trees conceal

the splendor of their roots?

 

Who hears the regrets

of the thieving automobile?

 

Is there anything in the world sadder 

than a train standing in the rain?

This is the Nonsense of Love

The truth is this:

My love for you is the only empire 

I will ever build.

 

When it falls

as all empires do, 

my career in empire building will be over. 

 

I will retreat to an island. 

I will dabble in the vacation-hut industry. 

I will skulk about private libraries and public parks. 

 

I will fold the clean clothes. 

I will wash the dishes. 

I will never again dream of having the whole world. 

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don’t I know you?

say no. 

 

When they invite you to the party

remember what parties are like

before answering.

Someone is telling you in a loud voice

they once wrote a poem.

Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.

Then reply. 

 

If they say We should get together

say why? 

 

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.

You’re trying to remember something

too important to forget.

Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.

Tell them you have a new project.

It will never be finished. 

 

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store

nod briefly and become a cabbage.

When someone you haven’t seen in ten years

appears at the door,

don’t start singing him all your new songs.

You will never catch up. 

 

Walk around feeling like a leaf.

Know you could tumble any second.

Then decide what to do with your time.

 

Ars Poetica

Migration is derived from the word “migrate,” which is a verb defined by Merriam-Webster as “to move from one country, place, or locality to another.” Plot twist: migration never ends. My parents moved from Jalisco, México to Chicago in 1987. They were dislocated from México by capitalism, and they arrived in Chicago just in time to be dislocated by capitalism. Question: is migration possible if there is no “other” land to arrive in. My work: to imagine. My family started migrating in 1987 and they never stopped. I was born mid-migration. I’ve made my home in that motion. Let me try again: I tried to become American, but America is toxic. I tried to become Mexican, but México is toxic. My work: to do more than reproduce the toxic stories I inherited and learned. In other words: just because it is art doesn’t mean it is inherently nonviolent. My work: to write poems that make my people feel safe, seen, or otherwise loved. My work: to make my enemies feel afraid, angry, or otherwise ignored. My people: my people. My enemies: capitalism. Susan Sontag: “victims are interested in the representation of their own 
sufferings.” Remix: survivors are interested in the representation of their own survival. My work: survival. Question: Why poems? Answer:

Praying

It doesn't have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

 

a few words together and don't try

to make them elaborate, this isn't

a contest but the doorway

 

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

Letter to the Person Who Carved His Initials into the Oldest Living Longleaf Pine in North America

  —Southern Pines, NC

 

Tell me what it’s like to live without

curiosity, without awe. To sail

on clear water, rolling your eyes

at the kelp reefs swaying

beneath you, ignoring the flicker

of mermaid scales in the mist,

looking at the world and feeling

only boredom. To stand

on the precipice of some wild valley,

the eagles circling, a herd of caribou

booming below, and to yawn

with indifference. To discover

something primordial and holy.

To have the smell of the earth

welcome you to everywhere.

To take it all in, and then,

to reach for your knife.

How lucky we are that you can’t sell a poem

How lucky we are

That you can’t sell

A poem, that it has

No value. Might

As well

Give it away.

 

That poem you love,

That saved your life,

Wasn’t it given to you?

Game Prayer

Maybe it’s the way boys

look at each other before the last game,

their eyes wet and glimmering with rain.

 

Maybe it’s that I catch them

in these shy moments of waiting,

turning the world like a pigskin,

 

flipping it nonchalantly, low spiral

drilling the air. Maybe it’s this

moment before the splash of lights

 

before the game prayer

before you run from the door.

If so, forgive me

 

for seeing you so vulnerable,

in that quiet moment

before the helmets.

Recurrence

We shall have our little day.

Take my hand and travel still

Round and round the little way,

Up and down the little hill.

 

It is good to love again;

Scan the renovated skies,

Dip and drive the idling pen,

Sweetly tint the paling lies.

 

Trace the dripping, piercèd heart,

Speak the fair, insistent verse,

Vow to God, and slip apart,

Little better, little worse.

 

Would we need not know before

How shall end this prettiness;

One of us must love the more,

One of us shall love the less.

 

Thus it is, and so it goes;

We shall have our day, my dear.

Where, unwilling, dies the rose

Buds the new, another year.

The Poetry Cops

PAPO: You have to forget what you heard, even if you were out there when it happened.

 

COPS: But how to stay true to what you see?

 

PAPO: I wrote what I saw in the face of what I remember.

 

COPS: Well, who is the you?

 

PAPO: The you is you. Us, we, all of them, and the others. That’s you.

 

COPS: Let’s continue.

 

PAPO: That’s all. I’m just trying to build.

 

COPS: Let’s talk about Voice.

 

PAPO: Okay. Voice. On any Saturday night you could find yourself running against your voice. The voice that yells Five-O Teddy-Up is about to jump. That voice that suggests you don’t go down a certain block, that you stay away from that blond streak, that you go home early, that at any moment your screams can go dry.

 

COPS: What happens when Voice comes to stay?

 

PAPO: Like Baraka used to say, I can see something in the way of ourselves.

 

COPS: That sounds like Brother Lo.

 

PAPO: You don’t know patience until you stand on the corner when [  ] is slow. Brother Lo was on some planet rock [  ]. He made sure that we enlisted in the fight for freedom—not now, but right now.

El Spanglish National Athem

En my Viejo San Juan

They raise the price of pan

So I fly to Manhattan.

It was there that I swear

Everyone took welfare

Especially the Latins!

 

 To El Barrio I went

In pursuit of low rent

In a five room apartment

Where by neighbors will be

Puerto Ricans like me

Dressed in tropical garments.

 

 I know

I know, I know

I'll miss Puerto Rico

(Land of de Palm trees)

And so, And so and so

I'll live in El Barrio's

(Latin Community)

 

 And whennnnn

I hit the numbers

I'll return to San Juan

Afford the price of pan

Until my life is done

(Island blessed by the sun

Here I come Here I come

Donde my roots are from)

 

 Many years came and went

Fell behind on my rent

Cursed Christopher Columbus.

Worked as hard as I could

But my luck was no good

Never once hit the numbers

 

I know

I know I know

I'll always play dominoes

(Wherever I may be)

And go

And go And go

To local bodegas

(For Bustelo coffee)

 

 Be-cosssss

I'm still in Puerto Rico

Only my body came

My strong spirit remains

Everything's still de same

(I truly do believe

You can leave and still be

Where Mami met Papi)

 

Some did assimilate

In de United States

They got rid of de accent

Tho whenever they spoke

That will always unmask them!

 

 But de majority

Kept their identity

Never did lose their accent!

They were proud not ashamed

Of their Boricua names

If you don't believe ask them.

 

 I know

I know I know

I am being followed

(By my destiny)

And so

And so And so

I will never be swallowed

(By inferiority)

And whennnnn

De plane takes off again

I know that there will be

No return trips for me

Back to New York City

 

(Island blessed by the sun

Here I come Here I come

Donde my roots are from)

And with my family

We'll struggle and believe

That one day we'll be free.

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up The Task

A basket of apples brown in our kitchen,

their warm scent is the scent of ripening,

 

and my sister, entering the room quietly,

takes a seat at the table, takes up the task

 

of peeling slowly away the blemished skins,

even half-rotten ones are salvaged carefully.

 

She makes sure to carve out the mealy flesh.

For this, I am grateful. I explain, this elegy

 

would love to save everything. She smiles at me,

and before long, the empty bowl she uses fills,

 

domed with thin slices she brushes into

the mouth of a steaming pot on the stove.

 

What can I do? I ask finally. Nothing,

she says, let me finish this one thing alone.

The Applicant

First, are you our sort of a person?

Do you wear

A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,

A brace or a hook,

Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,

 

Stitches to show something's missing? No, no? Then

How can we give you a thing?

Stop crying.

Open your hand.

Empty? Empty. Here is a hand

 

To fill it and willing

To bring teacups and roll away headaches

And do whatever you tell it.

Will you marry it?

It is guaranteed

 

To thumb shut your eyes at the end

And dissolve of sorrow.

We make new stock from the salt.

I notice you are stark naked.

How about this suit——

 

Black and stiff, but not a bad fit.

Will you marry it?

It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof

Against fire and bombs through the roof.

Believe me, they'll bury you in it.

 

Now your head, excuse me, is empty.

I have the ticket for that.

Come here, sweetie, out of the closet.

Well, what do you think of that?

Naked as paper to start

 

But in twenty-five years she'll be silver,

In fifty, gold.

A living doll, everywhere you look.

It can sew, it can cook,

It can talk, talk, talk.

 

It works, there is nothing wrong with it.

You have a hole, it's a poultice.

You have an eye, it's an image.

My boy, it's your last resort.

Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.

Long Shot

for Rich Strike

 

I have been the player benched

at tip-off, game by game, watched nets dance

with leather, felt the storm and wrench

of clumsy. I defied it. Made my chance

in cones lined up on pavement. Only

the sun to coach my feet, my hands.

I have been that lonely.

 

I have sought bouquets of crimson roses,

hid beyond the slides and swings at recess,

played in fields, held my princess poses

among the calves. I have worn a dress

and asked a boy to dance, as Sony

speakers belted love. He didn’t say yes.

I have been that lonely.

 

I have drained a three point shot, the one

that glitters memory like waves curl to sand,

felt all of that and more in a man’s hand.

I kicked, slapped, not knowing I had won

everything. When the long shot bites the pony

after he wins the roses, I understand.

I have been that lonely.

ode to new money

Jeremy says he want

that shmoney,

the kind of language

unwilling to count on itself.

I witness and am witnessed.

The shh of poverty

sinks my lips

into my father’s

shoulders, the kind you engineer

a runaway from.

I always condemn

and yet stay.

A legacy I whisper

in the Bronx,

contain my throat within

Jeremy’s bolted forearm.

I am my brother’s

chokehold. I want

to break him—for all he knows

I cannot conceive.

Even he does not talk

the way my poems need him to.

Upstate, the leaves are the only brown

amongst the deer and foliage,

see, see there, I know the word

for money but not its origin.

In ninth grade I pronounced

the word wrong, not the word,

its temperament, and the air shifts

the poverty in the train car

toward me. I am never the ghetto,

I am the memory which deceives

its repetition. Jeremy knows this.

He has my father’s eyes; I use

them to seal his tongue away.

This hunger for properness

has me renaming myself.

I am the deer no one resents

until it leaves the forest

and its divine architecture—

how all green has a gate choking it

I sell you this again and again,

I am the one

who gnaws on the diamonds

in the arches, who vomits

at company, but comes back

to turn my teeth to knives

as he did,

but my shoulders

they are so soft

and weighted

by nothing.

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve

Saw you walking barefoot

taking a long look

at the new moon's eyelid

 

later spread

sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair

asleep but not oblivious

of the unslept unsleeping

elsewhere

 

Tonight I think

no poetry

will serve

 

Syntax of rendition:

 

verb pilots the plane

adverb modifies action

 

verb force-feeds noun

submerges the subject

noun is choking

verb    disgraced    goes on doing

 

now diagram the sentence

When Giving Is All We Have

One river gives

Its journey to the next.

 

We give because someone gave to us.

We give because nobody gave to us.

 

We give because giving has changed us.

We give because giving could have changed us.

 

We have been better for it,

We have been wounded by it—

 

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,

Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

 

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,

But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

 

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,

Mine to yours, yours to mine.

 

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.

Together we are simple green. You gave me

 

What you did not have, and I gave you

What I had to give—together, we made

 

Something greater from the difference.

They

what do we eat when a name dies?

yesterday your mother stopped by, but she didn't

recognize me as your friend's friend, the previous one.

what is that about, having a dead friend

in the wallet with a picture of a kidnapped kid?

have you seen my son?

he is short and collects photos of swings.

 

my short hair isn't professional;

your long hair doesn't prepare you.

between the two of us, we figure out how

to fake we are marionettes, not people.

it's difficult to count the days

since the last time we went out.

 

what is that about, going out

and not having to explain

you aren't that her

or that thing?

 

in this, our language,1

there exists no plural that doesn't deny me.

 

1 our language is spanish. ours, but never quite mine.

21

21. My father is run over by a car.

He is passed out on the road with a blood alcohol content four times the legal limit.

I do not cry.

Four months later, the nurses lose his pulse, and I wonder whose life

flashed before his eyes. Rewinding VHS tapes, old home videos.

 

20. 19. I haven't brought a friend home in four years.

 

18. My mother sips the word divorce. Her mouth curls at the taste,

like it burns going down. 

 

17. I start doing homework at Starbucks. I have more meaningful conversations

with the barista than with my family.

 

16. I wait for Christmas Eve. My brother and I usually exchange gifts

to one another early. This year, he and my father exchange blows. 

My mother doesn't go to mass.

 

15. I come up with the theory that my father started drinking again

because maybe he found out I'm gay. Like if he could make everything else blurry, maybe somehow I'd look straight.

 

15. My mother cleans up his vomit in the middle of the night and cooks

breakfast in the morning like she hasn't lost her appetite.

 

15. I blame myself.

 

15. My brother blames everyone else. 

 

15. My mother blames the dog.

 

15. Superbowl Sunday, my father bursts through the door like an avalanche

picking up speed and debris as he falls, banisters, coffee tables,

picture frames, tumbling, stumbling. 

I find his AA chip on the kitchen counter.

 

14. My father's been sober for ten, maybe eleven years? 

I just know we don't even think about it anymore. 

 

13. 12. 11. Mom tells me Daddy's meetings are for AA. 

She asks if I know what that means. I don't. I nod anyway.

 

10. My parents never drink wine at family gatherings. 

All my other aunts and uncles do. I get distracted by the TV

and forget to ask why. 

 

9. 8. 7. 6. I want to be Spider Man. Or my dad. They're kinda the same.

 

5. 4. 3. I have a nightmare, the recurring one about Ursula from The Little Mermaid. 

So, I get up. I waddle toward Mommy and Daddy's room, blankie in hand. I pause.

Daddy's standing in his underwear, silhouetted by refrigerator light. 

 

2. 1. 0. When my mother was pregnant with me, I wonder if she hoped 

as so many mothers do, that her baby boy would grow up to be 

just like his father. 

Fat Girl Triumphal Ode

I’m not your pizza-stuffing

lard ass, not your slight

chance of gaining three pounds from that

accidental crouton in your salad. I’m a pressure

system moving

through a stomach, the sudden

gust wrecking a dumbbell

into mush. I move haloed

and chill, my body a masterpiece, two thighs

muggy as summer, my ass super-

saturated with sunlight screaming, Look

at me. Embrace the bulk

of my breasts, [  ] like the oh 

your open mouth makes, pink

as a cyclone on a weather map. I’m a pill

popper with a forecast

of weight gain. Give me my [  ]

seat-belt extender. Take my dark eyes blotting

a white sheet. [  ], I can jog

a block after hitting the blunt. I can rock

the turbulence of my sleeveless arms

better than a plane dipping

in the wind. I’m not a rainbow, yet I swallow

my antidepressants with the same

kind of grace. You, too, have such a pretty face. 

 

There Is Absolutely Nothing Lonelier

There is absolutely nothing lonelier

than the little Mars rover

never shutting down, digging up

rocks, so far away from Bond street

in a light rain. I wonder

if he makes little beeps? If so

he is lonelier still. He fires a laser

into the dust. He coughs. A shiny

thing in the sand turns out to be his.

Who Has Seen the Wind?

Who has seen the wind? 

Neither I nor you: 

But when the leaves hang trembling, 

The wind is passing through. 

 

Who has seen the wind? 

Neither you nor I: 

But when the trees bow down their heads, 

The wind is passing by.

The Elephant in the Room

The room is

almost all

elephant.

Almost none

of it isn’t.

Pretty much

solid elephant.

So there’s no

room to talk

about it.

Good Night

Many ways to spell good night.

 

Fireworks at a pier on the Fourth of July

        spell it with red wheels and yellow spokes.

They fizz in the air, touch the water and quit.

Rockets make a trajectory of gold-and-blue

        and then go out.

 

Railroad trains at night spell with a smokestack

        mushrooming a white pillar.

 

Steamboats turn a curve in the Mississippi crying

        in a baritone that crosses lowland cottonfields

        to a razorback hill.

 

It is easy to spell good night.

                                     Many ways to spell good night.

Fragment 58

translated by Anne Carson 

 

]running away 

]bitten 

]you 

]makes a way with the mouth 

]beautiful gifts children 

]songdelighting clearsounding lyre 

]all my skin old age already 

hair turned white after black 

]knees do not carry 

]like fawns 

]but what could I do? 

]not possible to become 

]Dawn with arms of roses 

]bringing to the ends of the earth 

]yet seized 

]wife

]imagines 

]might bestow 

But I love delicacy and this to me— 

the brilliance and beauty of the sun—desire has allotted. 

Bildungsroman

i never wanted to grow up to be anything horrible

as a man.  my biggest fear  was the hair  they said

would    snake    from  my   chest,   swamp    trees

breathing  as  i  ran.  i prayed for a  different  kind

of  puberty:  skin  transforming  into  floor boards

muscles  into  cobwebs, growing  pains  sounding

like an  attic  groaning  under  the  weight  of  old

photo  albums.  as a  kid  i  knew  that  there  was

a car burning above water before this life,  i woke

here  to  find  fire   scorched   my  hair  clean  off

until i shined like glass—my eyes,  two acetylene

headlamps. in my family we have a story for this:

my brother holding me in his hairless arms.  says

 

dad it will be a monster            we should bury it

Buen Esqueleto

after Maggie Smith

 

Life is short, and I tell this to mis hijas.

Life is short, & I show them how to talk

to police without opening the door, how

to leave the social security number blank

on the exam, I tell this to mis hijas.

This world tells them I hate you every day

& I don’t keep this from mis hijas

because of the bus driver who kicks them

to the street for fare evasion. Because I love

mis hijas, I keep them from men who’d knock

their heads together just to hear the chime.

Life is short & the world is terrible. I know

no kind strangers in this country who aren’t

sisters a desert away, & I don’t keep this

from mis hijas. It’s not my job to sell

them the world, but to keep them safe

in case I get deported. Our first

landlord said with a bucket of bleach

the mold would come right off. He shook

mis hijas, said they had good bones

for hard work. Mi’jas, could we make this place

beautiful? I tried to make this place beautiful.

All the Time Blues Villanelle

Hard to watch somebody lose their mind

Maybe everybody should just go get stoned

My father said it happens all the time

 

I knew a woman lost her to soul to wine

But who doesn’t live with their life on loan?

Shame to watch somebody lose their mind

 

Don’tchu gotta wonder when people say they’re fine?

Given what we’re given, I guess they actin grown

I think I used to say that  all the time

 

When my parents died, I coined a little shrine

And thought about all the stuff they used to own

Felt like I was gonna lose my mind

 

Used to have a friend who smiled all the time

Then he started sayin he could hear the devil moan

Hate to see a brotha lose his [  ] mind

 

Doesn’t matter how you pull, the hours break the line

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, how come nobody’s home?

Broke my soul for real, when my mother lost her mind

 

Tried to keep my head right, but sanity’s a climb

Been workin on the straight face—I guess my cover’s blown

My father tried to tell me all the time

 

Had one last question, baby, but maybe never mind

After’while, even springtime starts to drone

 

Hard to see somebody lose their mind

My pop said, “Boy, it happens all the time”

Excerpt from “frank: sonnets” [Intimacy unhinged, unpaddocked me]

Intimacy unhinged, unpaddocked me. I didn’t want it. 

Believe me, I didn’t want it anymore. Who in their

right mind? And then it came like an ice cream truck

with its weird tinkling music, its sweet frost. I fled

to the shore and saw how death-strewn, all the body 

parts washed up and sucked clean like that floor mosaic

by Sosus of Pergamon, Unswept House. Seabirds 

flocked and dematerialized like they do. Bees raged 

at their own dethroning. Love came close anyway, 

found me out, its warped music all the rage. It had

a way, just by being in proximity, of opening

the shells of the bivalves. Disclosing their secret

meat. One doesn’t really suck on frozen sugar water. 

One allows it to melt in the oven of the mouth. 

Excerpt from "Small Wire"

As it has been said:

Love and a cough cannot be concealed.

Even a small cough.

Even a small love.

Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds...

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Social Skills Training

Studies suggest How may I help you officer? is the single most disarming thing to say and not What’s the problem? Studies suggest it’s best the help reply My pleasure and not No problem. Studies suggest it’s best not to mention problem in front of power even to say there is none. Gloria Steinem says women lose power as they age and yet the loudest voice in my head is my mother. Studies show the mother we have in mind isn’t the mother that exists. Mine says: What the [  ] are you crying for? Studies show the baby monkey will pick the fake monkey with fake fur over the furless wire monkey with milk, without contest. Studies show to negate something is to think it anyway. I’m not sad. I’m not sad. Studies recommend regular expressions of gratitude and internal check-ins. Enough, the wire mother says. History is a kind of study. History says we forgave the executioner. Before we mopped the blood we asked: Lord Judge, have I executed well? Studies suggest yes. What the [  ] are you crying for, officer? the wire mother teaches me to say, while studies suggest Solmaz, have you thanked your executioner today?

Where the Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends

And before the street begins,

And there the grass grows soft and white,

And there the sun burns crimson bright,

And there the moon-bird rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint wind.

 

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black

And the dark street winds and bends.

Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow

We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And watch where the chalk-white arrows go

To the place where the sidewalk ends.

 

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,

For the children, they mark, and the children, they know

The place where the sidewalk ends.

Virginity

Clouds in his throat, 

six months’ worth. 

 

He bodies into me

half cosmos, half coyote. 

 

We become night 

on Bread Springs

 

road. Shirts off, 

jeans halfway

 

down, parked

by an abandoned 

 

trailer. “No one

lives here,” 

 

he whispers. 

We become porch 

 

light curtained

by moth wings, 

 

powdered into ash. 

what was said at the bus stop

lately has been a long time

says the girl from Pakistan, Lahore to be specific 

at the bus stop when the white man

ask her where she’s from & then

says, oh, you from Lahore? 

it’s pretty bad over there lately. 

 

lately has been a long time

she says & we look at each other & the look says

yes, i too wish dude would stop

asking us about where we from

but on the other side of our side eyes

is maybe a hand where hands do no good

a look to say, yes, i know lately has been

a long time for your people too

& i’m sorry the world is so good at making

us feel like we have to fight for space

to fight for our lives

 

“solidarity” is a word, a lot of people say it

i’m not sure what it means in the flesh

i know i love & have cried for my friends

their browns a different brown than mine

i’ve danced their dances when taught

& tasted how their mothers miracle the rice

different than mine. i know sometimes

i can’t see beyond my own pain, past black

& white, how bullets love any flesh. 

i know it’s foolish to compare. 

what advice do the drowned have for the burned? 

what gossip is there between the hanged & the buried? 

 

& i want to reach across our great distance

that is sometimes an ocean & sometimes centimeters

& say, look. your people, my people, all that has happened

to us & still make love under rusted moons, still pull

children from the mothers & name them

still teach them to dance & your pain is not mine

& is no less & is mine & i pray to my god your god

blesses you with mercy & i have tasted your food & understand

how it is a good time & i don’t know your language

but i understand your songs & i cried when they came

for your uncles & when you buried your niece

i wanted the world to burn in the child’s brief memory

& still, still, still, still, still, still, still, still, still

& i have stood by you in the soft shawl of morning

waiting & breathing & waiting 

[Somewhere In Los Angeles] This Poem Is Needed

She charges her ankle bracelet // from the kitchen chair

            & Sunflowers in the white wallpaper [begin to wilt].

 

I wilt with them // before my sister // & her probation

            Officer [who comes over to the house unannounced].

 

Just as we are // preparing dinner // & what are we supposed to

            Do now. Cook for him?! Invite him to eat with us?? 

 

I am hacking the heads [from broccoli stems] & pretending

            His body is spread across the cutting board. [Ugh].

 

This officer keeps talking nonsense & nudging his eyes around

            The apartment. Looking for—drugs, alcohol

 

Alchemy. My sister waits for him to leave & then begins to rant.

            Ramble about // her childhood // & how she used to be

 

[Before house arrest]. The confines of these plastered walls

            & Her monitored route to work // where

 

Every corner has a cop [coddling a liquor store]. Protecting their

            Notion of freedom. // My neighborhood eats fear.

 

Mothers are getting // handcuffed & harassed. Homes are being

            Crushed [like cigarette butts]. Everyone I know

 

Hates the racist police & wants a revolution. // But we seldom

            Aim the gun... Have you heard // how the bullets

 

Sing their anthem // throughout the body?? // It sounds like

            God shutting the door— Bang. Bang.

 

When it’s dinnertime in heaven [& your officer’s knocking]

            Ignore him sister— let the door bruise.

 

[Let the bears devour our enemies]. We have no obligation

            To open // ourselves // for those who do us harm.

Morning Routine

Some days I get up to go for a run

but instead just sit in spandex

and write about the fog.

Is the fog lifting or the trees rising?

Who cares. Nature transfers her blood

into the air. We are her lung cancer.

Her trans fat. Her addiction.

 

Some days I get up early to write

but instead clean–the great lie

that I am doing something.

The horrible way ketchup keeps, still bright;

beer cans lined up on the porch railing.

 

It is the end of the summer.

The insects are at their biggest.

They bang and thrum against the screens,

maniacs, giving their last hurrah.

I creep around like Nancy Drew

with my hunch and no real proof.

All things feel preordained, repeated.

My body is numb. Without anticipation.

I sit in the lobby of someone else’s potential

thinking it is my own.

I go about my day

convinced I am immortal.

The End and the Beginning

After every war

someone has to clean up.

Things won't

straighten themselves up, after all.

 

Someone has to push the rubble

to the side of the road,

so the corpse-filled wagons

can pass.

 

Someone has to get mired

in scum and ashes,

sofa springs,

splintered glass,

and bloody rags.

 

Someone has to drag in a girder

to prop up a wall,

Someone has to glaze a window,

rehang a door.

 

Photogenic it's not,

and takes years.

All the cameras have left

for another war.

 

We'll need the bridges back,

and new railway stations.

Sleeves will go ragged

from rolling them up.

 

Someone, broom in hand,

still recalls the way it was.

Someone else listens

and nods with unsevered head.

But already there are those nearby

starting to mill about

who will find it dull.

 

From out of the bushes

sometimes someone still unearths

rusted-out arguments

and carries them to the garbage pile.

 

Those who knew

what was going on here

must make way for

those who know little.

And less than little.

And finally as little as nothing.

 

In the grass that has overgrown

causes and effects,

someone must be stretched out

blade of grass in his mouth

gazing at the clouds.

The Crystal Gazer

 

I shall gather myself into myself again,

   I shall take my scattered selves and make them one,

Fusing them into a polished crystal ball

   Where I can see the moon and the flashing sun.

I shall sit like a sibyl, hour after hour intent,

   Watching the future come and the present go,

And the little shifting pictures of people rushing 

   In restless self-importance to and fro.

You're the One I Wanna Watch the Last Ships Go Down With

   for Jess

 

Dr. Redacted will tell me not to tell you

this, like this,

in a poem: how it’s all right, love, that we don’t love

living. Even actors don’t

exactly love the spotlight they move through,

as your sister, the actor,

has told us; they just need to be lit

for narrative motion

to have meaning. As such it is,

with artifice, and embarrassment,

that I move through fear

to you, tonight, where I had dreams,

a short nap ago, about lines

of poetry I struck through

with everyday blues, month after

month, in the dream,

after dream; an attempt

I guess to forget, if I could: defeat

sometimes is defeat

without purpose. The news at least tells me that

much. I know now,

in fact, we don’t have to be brave,

not to survive a night

like any we’ve looked on

together, seeing blue-tinted snow

once in a K-mart

parking lot’s giant, two-headed lamp—

and my father hooked up,

up the street, with no chance

of waking—as many years ago now

as how much longer I’ve lived

with you than without. 

Forgive me, again, that I write you an elegy

where a love poem should be.

Bioluminescence

 

There’s a dark so deep beneath the sea the creatures beget their own

light. This feat, this fact of adaptation, I could say, is beautiful

 

though the creatures are hideous. Lanternfish. Hatchetfish. Viperfish.

I, not unlike them, forfeited beauty to glimpse the world hidden

 

by eternal darkness. I subsisted on falling matter, unaware

from where or why matter fell, and on weaker creatures beguiled

 

by my luminosity. My hideous face opening, suddenly, to take them

into a darkness darker and more eternal than this underworld

 

underwater. I swam and swam toward nowhere and nothing.

I, after so much isolation, so much indifference, kept going

 

even if going meant only waiting, hovering in place. So far below, so far

away from the rest of life, the terrestrial made possible by and thereby

 

dependent upon light, I did what I had to do. I stalked. I killed.

I wanted to feel in my body my body at work, working to stay

 

alive. I swam. I kept going. I waited. I found myself without meaning

to, without contriving meaning at the time, in time, in the company

 

of creatures who, hideous like me, had to be their own illumination.

Their own god. Their own genesis. Often we feuded. Often we fused

 

like anglerfish. Blood to blood. Desire to desire. We were wild. Bewildered.

Beautiful in our wilderness and wildness. In the most extreme conditions

 

we proved that life can exist. I exist. I am my life, I thought, approaching

at last the bottom of the sea. It wasn’t the bottom. It wasn’t the sea.

Self-lit

You’re humming through the streets,

self-lit. I have to correct strangers

who touch your head without asking,

as if to bless you or to take a blessing from you.

When we leave the city, you become

a boy hunting locusts. Nature stuns you—

you load up your pockets and want to bring it

home with us, but Nature stays with nature, I say,

a refrain learned from another mother.

You cannot be unpuzzled by things,

but you marshal all your sweet bravado for me,

who tries but never beats you in a game of chess.

I witness the rook and Queen

moving inside your thinking, squaring

and hewing to pathways of wins, losses.

Childhood’s end is always menacing,

apparent places of stars mark its outer limits.

It heaves up in you when you lose,

when you rage, when you’re afraid.

Glowering out of a fever dream, your eyes shine

as you confess in the dark I was the monster.

You show me a hornet’s nest on a bed of cotton,

hold it up as an offering. I wonder with you

at what you hold—

            summer rivers that show bracken corners,

            eye agate marbles,

            daggerwings of our days in the city

            built of strangers,

                      in a country built of sky.

When I pull you close,

what will flee trembles in you.

Emily Dickinson at the Poetry Slam

I will tell you why she rarely ventured from her house. 

It happened like this:

 

One day she took the train to Boston,

made her way to the darkened room,

put her name down in cursive script

and waited her turn. 

 

When they read her name aloud

she made her way to the stage

straightened the papers in her hands —

pages and envelopes, the backs of grocery bills,

she closed her eyes for a minute,

took a breath, 

and began. 

 

From her mouth perfect words exploded,

intact formulas of light and darkness.

She dared to rhyme with words like cochineal

and described the skies like diadem. 

Obscurely worded incantations filled the room

with an alchemy that made the very molecules quake.

 

The solitary words she handled

in her upstairs room with keen precision

came rumbling out to make the electric lights flicker.

 

40 members of the audience 

were treated for hypertension.

20 year old dark haired beauties found their heads

had turned a Moses White.

 

Her second poem erased the memory of every cellphone

in the nightclub,

and by the fourth line of the sixth verse

the grandmother in the upstairs apartment 

had been cured of her rheumatism. 

 

The papers reported the power outages. 

The area hospitals taxed their emergency generators

and sirens were heard to wail through the night.

 

Quietly she made her way to the exit,

walked to the terminal and rode back to Amherst. 

 

She never left her room again

and never read such syllables aloud. 

THE AUDRE LORDE QUESTIONNAIRE TO ONESELF
  1. What are the words you do not have yet? [Or, “for what do you not have words, yet?”]
  2. What do you need to say? [List as many things as necessary]
  3. “What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?”  [List as many as necessary today. Then write a new list tomorrow. And the day after.]
  4. If we have been “socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition”, ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?”* [So, answer this today. And every day.]

 

Excerpt from “Beautiful Short Loser”

Stand back, I’m a loser on a winning streak.

 

I got your wedding dress on backward, playing air guitar in

these streets.

 

I taste my mouth the most & what a blessing.

 

The most normal things about me are my shoulders. You’ve

been warned.

 

Where I’m from it’s only midnight for a second

& the trees look like grandfathers laughing in the rain.

 

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a preference for

mediocre bodies, including this one.

 

How come the past tense is always longer?

 

Is the memory of a song the shadow of a sound or is that too

much?

 

Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I imagine Van Gogh singing

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” into his cut ear & feeling peace.

 

Green voices in the rain, green rain in the voices.

 

Oh no. The sadness is intensifying. How rude.

 

Hey [knocks on my skull], can we go home now?

 

That one time Jaxson passed out beside a triple stack of

jumbo pancakes at Denny’s after top surgery.

 

I can’t believe I lost my [  ], he said a minute before, smiling

through tears.

 

The sadness in him ends in me tonight.

It ends tonight! I shouted to the cop who pulled us over for

dreaming.

 

I’m not high, officer, I just don’t believe in time.

 

Tomorrow, partly cloudy with a chance.

 

I know. I know the room you’ve been crying in

is called America.

 

I know the door is not invented yet.

 

Finally, after years, I’m now a professional loser. 

 

I’m crushing it in losses, I’m mopping the floor

where Jaxson’s drain bags leaked on his way to bed.

 

I’m done talking, officer, I’m dancing

 

in the rain with a wedding dress & it makes sense.

 

Because my uncle decided to leave this world, intact.

 

Because taking a piece of my friend away from him

made him more whole.

 

Because where I’m from the trees look like family

laughing in my head.

 

Because I am the last of my kind at the beginning of hope.

 

Because what I did with my one short beautiful life–

was lose it

 

on a winning streak.

Shorter American Memory of the Declaration of Independence

We holler these trysts to be self-exiled that all manatees are credited equi-distant, that they are endured by their Creditor with cervical unanswerable rims. that among these are lightning, lice, and the pushcart of harakiri. That to seduce these rims, graces are insulated among manatees, descanting their juvenile pragmatism from the consistency of the graced. That whenever any formula of grace becomes detained of these endives, it is the rim of the peppery to aluminize or to abominate it. and to insulate Newtonian grace. leaching its fountain pen on such printed matter and orienting its pragmatism in such formula, as to them shall seize most lilac to effuse their sage and harakiri.

O me! O life!

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

 

                                       Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Pastoral

The little sparrows

Hop ingenuously

About the pavement

Quarreling

With sharp voices

Over those things

That interest them.

But we who are wiser

Shut ourselves in

On either hand

And no one knows

Whether we think good

Or evil.

                  Then again,

The old man who goes about

Gathering dog lime

Walks in the gutter

Without looking up

And his tread

Is more majestic than

That of the Episcopal minister

Approaching the pulpit

Of a Sunday.

These things

Astonish me beyond words.

I wish in the city of your heart

I wish in the city of your heart

you would let me be the street

where you walk when you are most

yourself. I imagine the houses:

It has been raining, but the rain

is done and the children kept home

have begun opening their doors

no more grandma poems

they said 

forget your grandma

these american letters

don’t need no more 

grandma poems

but i said 

the grandmas are 

our first poetic forms

the first haiku 

was a grandma 

& so too 

the first sonnet

the first blues

the first praise song 

therefore

every poem 

is a grandmother 

a womb that has ended 

& is still expanding 

a daughter that is 

rhetorically aging 

& retroactively living

every poem 

is your grandma

& you miss her

wouldn’t mind 

seeing her again

even just 

for a moment 

in the realm of spirit

in the realm 

of possibilities 

where poems 

share blood 

& spit & exist 

on chromosomal 

planes of particularity 

where poems 

are strangers

turned sistren 

not easily shook 

or forgotten

How to Not Be Afraid of Everything

How to not punch everyone in the face. 

How to not protect everyone’s eyes from 

my own punch. I have been practicing 

my punch for years, loosening my limbs. 

My jaw unhinged creates a felony I refuse 

to go to court for. The fat spam pools 

in the sun, reminding me of my true feelings. 

My feelings leak from my ear like a bad cold

in a bad storm. Stars huddle in a corner, 

little radiators sweating out their fear. 

An opossum reaches his arm up from a porch. 

I hold onto his arm for a little while, for 

a little warmth. At night, my subterranean eye

begins to rove. Song of the underground, 

song of the rat tribe. I see my mother in

an apron splattered with viscera I will eat

for dinner. To gut her work out, to work

her guts out. Can we talk about privilege? 

Can I say I always look behind me? I always

look behind me. I always take a step forward

like I’m about to save myself from toppling

over. The bare bones of it: some of us know 

that spoiled meat still counts as protein. 

That a horse’s neck snaps from the weight

of what it carries, from the weight of what

we give it to carry. I bundle up a sack of

clouds, empty of rain and fear and lightning. 

beverly, huh.

you must be

made of money.

your parents

must have grown

on trees.

bet you’re black

tinged with green.

bet you sleep

on bags of it.

bet your barbies

climb it.

bet you never

wanted.

bet you never

had to ask.

bet you golf.

bet you tennis.

bet you got

a summer house.

bet you got

a credit card

for your 5th birthday.

bet you played

with bills for toys.

bet you chew

them up

for dinner.

bet you spit

your black out

like tobacco

that’s why you talk so

bet you listen to green day.

bet you ain’t never heard of al.

bet your daddy wears a robe

around the house.

bet his hands are soft as a frog’s belly.

bet your house is on a hill.

bet the grass is freshly cut.

bet you feel like a princess.

bet the police protect your house.

bet you know their first names.

bet your house has a hundred rooms.

bet a black lady comes to clean them.

No Second Troy

Why should I blame her that she filled my days

With misery, or that she would of late

Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,

Or hurled the little streets upon the great,

Had they but courage equal to desire?

What could have made her peaceful with a mind

That nobleness made simple as a fire,

With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind

That is not natural in an age like this,

Being high and solitary and most stern?

Why, what could she have done, being what she is?

Was there another Troy for her to burn?