Even after letting go
of the last bird
There is something
in this empty cage
that never gets released
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—
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you'll burn.
Somewhere, there’s a room where things go
to lose their names. A rose becomes [ ]. A
daughter becomes [ ]. Her son [ ].
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.
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.
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
& 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
we are each other’s
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.
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.
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
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
But you don’t
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
After Ocean Vuong
What becomes of the girl
no longer a girl? Dearest Mother,
the stretch marks from my once-breasts
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,
too many questions.
Dearest Mother, how many rivers
did I run across your belly?
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!”
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.
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.
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.
the most beautiful pair of words in the english language is
followed by “friends forever.”
really, a close second.
a distant thirtieth is “research assistant.”
of course the most beautiful single english word is
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.”
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.
hey music and
hair a flutter of
circling my perfect
line of a nose,
no behind, hey
and i’m wearing
but there’s no future
in those clothes
so i take them off and
be a lamplighter.
be the lamp,
must, in bereaved
it is to be lit.
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.
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.
& 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.
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.
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
You lived five times harder than you should have had to
to still have a body when you graduated high school.
Hate worked five times harder
to make your spirit its wishbone.
When your mother asked what was wrong,
you were five times more likely to believe you'd lose
her if you spoke the truth.
You were told five times more often
you'd go to hell when you died.
Burning for eternity seemed five times
more doable than another day in the school lunchroom.
You were five times more inclined
to triple-padlock your diary.
You were five times more likely
to stop writing your story down.
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.
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.
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
From a middle-aged woman
In the middle of the night
That life is short
And maybe I should
Have called you
Like I said
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
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?
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
it huddles warmly
in the nook of a shoulder
the joint cleared of its tendons
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
the muscles mend,
the arteries will adjust
around its pointed shape,
the nerves will remember
& it will be buried
as if its pain
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
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.
there are no closed doors
and enter here
at this point
was once denied
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
That makes it hard to think. That
Rings like a siren inside.
Bear with me I
want to tell you
it’s hard to get at
but the thing is
I wasn’t looking
I was looking
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
and what on earth
and where on earth
and this was happiness
this little ball
of interest beating
inside his chest
from his face pleading
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
Loud laughers in the hands of Fate—
Nurses of babies,
Loaders of ships,
Comedians in vaudeville
And band-men in circuses—
God! What dancers!
God! What singers!
Singers and dancers,
Dancers and laughers.
Loud-mouthed laughers in the hands of Fate.
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.
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 to write poems for construction workers and dreamers
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.
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
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.
—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.
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
as I need to be
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
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.
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?
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?
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
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.
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
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
in No, who has drilled a hole
inside your body―
Say it out loud.
Why do you love the hole
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
English is my native
anguish. I was born here,
read here, teased and torn here.
English was a dislocation
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,
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
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
loud like thunder,
loud like overcome.
adversity will not stop us
loud like snap,
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
yank the closed door off of the hinges,
and say thank you.
like just wait
until you meet us.
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?
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.
so you gonna be a [ ] now?
As if she meant to say,
I'm scared for you.
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.
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.
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." [
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."
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?
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
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 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.
The president of shame has his own flag
the president of lies quotes the voice
at last counted
the president of loyalty recommends
blindness to the blind
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
silence the climber falls from the cliffs
with a black mouth like
there is only one subject
but he is repeated
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone is telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
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.
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:
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.
—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, that it has
No value. Might
Give it away.
That poem you love,
That saved your life,
Wasn’t it given to you?
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.
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.
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.
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'll miss Puerto Rico
(Land of de Palm trees)
And so, And so and so
I'll live in El Barrio's
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'll always play dominoes
(Wherever I may be)
And go And go
To local bodegas
(For Bustelo coffee)
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 am being followed
(By my destiny)
And so And so
I will never be swallowed
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Jeremy says he want
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
Saw you walking barefoot
taking a long look
at the new moon's eyelid
sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair
asleep but not oblivious
of the unslept unsleeping
Tonight I think
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
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.
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. 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.
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
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
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?
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 room is
of it isn’t.
So there’s no
room to talk
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.
translated by Anne Carson
]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
]but what could I do?
]not possible to become
]Dawn with arms of roses
]bringing to the ends of the earth
But I love delicacy and this to me—
the brilliance and beauty of the sun—desire has allotted.
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
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.
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”
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.
As it has been said:
Love and a cough cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
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.
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?
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.
Clouds in his throat,
six months’ worth.
He bodies into me
half cosmos, half coyote.
We become night
on Bread Springs
road. Shirts off,
by an abandoned
trailer. “No one
We become porch
by moth wings,
powdered into ash.
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
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.
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.
After every war
someone has to clean up.
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
Stand back, I’m a loser on a winning streak.
I got your wedding dress on backward, playing air guitar in
I taste my mouth the most & what a blessing.
The most normal things about me are my shoulders. You’ve
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
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
The sadness in him ends in me tonight.
It ends tonight! I shouted to the cop who pulled us over for
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.
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.
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?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
The little sparrows
About the pavement
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
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.
Astonish me beyond words.
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
forget your grandma
these american letters
don’t need no more
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
is a grandmother
a womb that has ended
& is still expanding
a daughter that is
& retroactively living
is your grandma
& you miss her
seeing her again
for a moment
in the realm of spirit
in the realm
& spit & exist
planes of particularity
not easily shook
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.
you must be
made of money.
must have grown
bet you’re black
tinged with green.
bet you sleep
on bags of it.
bet your barbies
bet you never
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
bet you spit
your black out
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.
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?