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Words Ignite - 2023

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Long Exposure

Even after letting go

of the last bird

I hesitate

 

There is something

in this empty cage

that never gets released

Pattern

translated by Ahmad Nadalizadeh and Idra Novey 

 

Your dress waving in the wind.

This

is the only flag I love.

There is a Street Named After Martin Luther King Jr. in Every City

For Joe Bart


especially the ones where blood sprints / from a black chest to color the earth / a darkened brown / the color of a black mother’s skin / if she knew what it was to be alive / in the old south / if she knew what it was / to rock on the porch in the southern heat / until her babies made it home for dinner / if she made her skin a bed / for all of the sun’s eager children / until her own walked through a door / and were fed / until the boys could be made a meal / and not made into a meal / for the tall grass / or the smoldering concrete / what is it to have a city’s mouth water / for what you cannot take off / and lay at its feet? / what is it to wear a feast / under the shirt passed down / from your dead brother? / the frenzied horizon swallowed another one / somewhere in the south / last night / it is summer again / after all / are you less / of a ghost / if you die on a street / named for a man who / they will say / could have saved you? / a man who would have carried you / on his back / to the promised land / where all of the black people are safe / from death / where no one black has a mouth / is what I mean to say / where no one can look up and ask where the sun went / while watching the black skin peel back from their hands / until their bodies become something more tolerable / that the sky does not hunger for / and isn’t this what every black mother wants? / a table full of children / who are still alive / who do not speak ill / who do not speak / who do not move / who will never be carried to a burial / by the bullet / are you less of a ghost if you die on a street / that was built by your ancestors / before it was named for your savior? / who / like all saviors / did not die just one death / who bleeds a little more each time his name is used / to throw water on another fire / who has the bullet lifted out of his spine / so the hands can fit in his hollow back / and he can speak again / for you who cannot / all of you lost and wandering into the violence / that is your birthright / in America / to arrive / and leave a street the color of your mama’s good brown skin / upon your exit / you are maybe not a ghost at all / if we can still take a knife to your tongue / and squeeze out only the good gospel / wrap one hundred dead bodies in it / until there is only silence / you are maybe not a ghost / if every bloody street / bears your undead name / if we are told you are more alive / than everyone living on it /  if you did not bleed out / on a hotel balcony / during a spring night / in Memphis / after telling the choir to play / Precious Lord, Take My Hand / real pretty / so that the boys could sing / Precious Lord, linger near / when my light is almost gone / in their suits / ironed sharp for the grave /so that the mothers would know / summer was on its way.

The Summer A Tribe Called Quest Broke Up

    all them black 

                     boys in the ‘hood 

                                               had they wallets 

                                                                           unearthed in cities 

                                                                                                            they ain’t never 

                                                                                     seen before & they

                                                                                                  was all empty 

                                                                      ‘cept for maybe the bones 

                                               of the last woman 

    to hold them in her arms & 

call them by the 

name they blessed the 

earth with & all of the horns 

                                            on my block crawled back 

                                                                                 into they cases & marched to

                                                                                                                          new mouths & fathers

                                                                                                                          had nothing to press 

                                                                                                                          their lips to & make sing &

                                                                                 i think this why brandon’s mother

                                                     left & what difference is there 

   in those things which we lose 

   & those things which decide 

   to gift us with a kind 

                           of feral silence? 

                                         the change that leapt 

                                                                     from our pockets into the cracked 

                                                                                                  basketball courts & the older brothers 

                                                                                                  

                                                                                                  who never found their way back home

Ode to the Head Nod

the slight angling up of the forehead

neck extension                        quick jut of chin

 

meeting the strangers’ eyes

a gilded curtsy to the sunfill in another

 

in yourself      tithe of respect

in an early version the copy editor deleted

 

the word “head” from the title

the copy editor says              it’s implied

 

the copy editor means well

the copy editor means

 

she is only fluent in one language of gestures

i do not explain                     i feel sad for her

 

limited understanding of greetings              & maybe

this is why my acknowledgements are so long;

 

didn’t we learn this early?

            to look at white spaces

 

            & find the color       

            thank god o thank god for

 

                                                             you               

                                                                                        are here.

Bilingual

Because I speak Spanish  

I can listen to my grandmother’s stories 

and say familia, madre, amor. 

Because I speak English 

I can learn from my teacher  

and say I love school. 

 

Because I am bilingual 

I can read libros and books, 

I have amigos and friends, 

I enjoy canciones and songs, 

juegos and games, 

and have twice as much fun. 

 

And someday, 

because I speak two languages, 

I will be able to do twice as much, 

to help twice as many people 

and be twice as good in what I do.

An Apology

Lord, I meant to be helpless, sex-

less as a comma, quiet as

cotton floating on a pond. Instead,

I charged into desire like a

tiger sprinting off the edge of

the world. My ancestors shot bones

out of cannons and built homes where

they landed. This is to say, I

was born the king of nothing, pulled

out from nothing like a carrot

slipped from soil. I am still learning

the local law: don’t hurt something

that can smile, don’t hold any grief

except your own. My first time—brown

arms, purple lips, lush as a gun—

we slumped into each others’ thighs.

She said duset daram, mano

tanha bezar—I love you, leave

me alone. See? There I go scab-

picking again. You should just hang

me in a museum. I’ll pose

as a nasty historical

fact, wave at cameras, lecture

only in the rhetoric of

a victim. As a boy I tore out

the one hundred and nine pages

about Hell in my first Qur’an. 

Bountiful bloomscattering Lord,

I could feel you behind my eyes

and under my tongue, shocking me

nightly like an old battery.

What did I need with Hell? Now that

I’ve sucked you wrinkly like a thumb,

I can barely be bothered to

check in. Will I ever even know

when my work is done? I’m almost

ready to show you the mess I’ve made.

Unburnable The Cold is Flooding Our Lives

the prophets are alive but unrecognizable to us

as calligraphy to a mouse  for a time they dragged

 

long oar strokes across the sky    now they sit

in graveyards drinking coffee forking soapy cottage cheese

 

into their mouths  my hungry is different than their hungry 

I envy their discipline but not enough to do anything about it      

 

I blame my culture   I blame everyone but myself   

intent arrives like a call to prayer and is as easy to dismiss      

 

Rumi said the two most important things in life were beauty

and bewilderment this is likely a mistranslation 

 

after thirty years in America my father now dreams in English     

says he misses the dead relatives he used to be able to visit in sleep 

 

how many times are you allowed to lose the same beloveds

before you stop believing they’re gone

 

some migrant birds build their nests over rivers    

to push them into the water when they leave   this seems

 

almost warm   a good harm   the addictions

that were killing me fastest were the ones I loved best 

 

turning the chisel toward myself I found my body

was still the size of my body  still unarmored as wet bread  

 

one way to live a life is to spend each moment asking

forgiveness for the last     it seems to me the significance

 

of remorse would deflate with each performance  better

to sink a little into the earth and quietly watch life unfold      

 

violent as a bullring    the carpenter’s house will always be

the last to be built   sometimes a mind is ready to leave

 

the world before its body  sometimes paradise happens

too early and leaves us shuddering in its wake   

 

I am glad I still exist  glad for cats and moss

and Turkish indigo    and yet   to be light upon the earth 

 

to be steel bent around an endless black  to once again

be God’s own tuning fork    and yet  and yet

Untitled

All that is left 

to us by tradition 

is mere words.

It is up to us 

to find out what they mean.

LA Prayer

April 1992

 

something 

was wrong

when buses

didn’t come

 

streets 

were 

no longer 

streets 

 

how easy

hands 

became 

weapons 

 

blows 

gunfire 

rupturing 

the night

 

the more

we run 

the more

we burn

 

o god

show us

the way

lead us

 

spare us

from ever 

turning into

walking 

 

matches

amidst 

so much

 

gasoline

 

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,   

The stride of my step,   

The curl of my lips.   

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,   

That’s me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,   

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.   

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.   

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,   

And the flash of my teeth,   

The swing in my waist,   

And the joy in my feet.   

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered   

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,   

They say they still can’t see.   

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,   

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.   

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.   

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,   

The bend of my hair,   

the palm of my hand,   

The need for my care.   

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

America

am I not your baby?

brown & not allowed

my own language?

my teeth pulled

from mouth, tongue

bloated with corn syrup?

america, didn’t you raise me?

bomb the country of my fathers

& then tell me to go back to it?

didn’t you mold the men

who murder children in schools

who spit at my bare arms

& uncovered head?

america, wasn’t it you?

who makes & remakes

me orphan, who burns

my home, watches me rebuild

& burns it down again?

wasn’t it you, who uproots

& mangles the addresses

until there are none

until all I have are my own

hands & even those you’ve

told me not to trust? america

don’t turn your back on me.

am I not your baby?

brown & bred to hate

every inch of my skin?

didn’t you raise me?

didn’t you tell me bootstraps

& then steal my shoes?

didn’t you make there no ‘back’

for me to go back to?

america, am I not your refugee?

who do I call mother, if not you?

If They Should Come For Us

these are my people & I find

them on the street & shadow

through any wild all wild

my people my people

a dance of strangers in my blood

the old woman’s sari dissolving to wind

bindi a new moon on her forehead

I claim her my kin & sew

the star of her to my breast

the toddler dangling from stroller

hair a fountain of dandelion seed

at the bakery I claim them too

the Sikh uncle at the airport

who apologizes for the pat

down the Muslim man who abandons

his car at the traffic light drops

to his knees at the call of the Azan

& the Muslim man who drinks

good whiskey at the start of maghrib

the lone khala at the park

pairing her kurta with crocs

my people my people I can’t be lost

when I see you my compass

is brown & gold & blood

my compass a Muslim teenager

snapback & high-tops gracing

the subway platform

Mashallah I claim them all

my country is made

in my people’s image

if they come for you they

come for me too in the dead

of winter a flock of

aunties step out on the sand

their dupattas turn to ocean

a colony of uncles grind their palms

& a thousand jasmines bell the air

my people I follow you like constellations

we hear glass smashing the street

& the nights opening dark

our names this country’s wood

for the fire my people my people

the long years we’ve survived the long

years yet to come I see you map

my sky the light your lantern long

ahead & I follow I follow

Look, I’m Not Good at Eating Chicken

& yes, my family did raise me right. Yes,

they cleaned their bones & cracked them clean

open to suck. Would fight over cartilage & knuckle.

Sip the marrow’s nectar from urn. Yes, I watched.

Yes, I’ll teach my children to do the same. To savor

the sound of their teeth against bone pulling & pulling

always in search of more. I know I’m gonna be poor

for the rest of my life. But right now I’m alone.

In a strange city with money in my pocket

& no friends. No home to go back to, no children

waiting to be fed or taught. Meat on the bones

skin in the trash. Joints a trap of bird & muscle

waiting to be chewed. Let me be young & disrespectful.

Let me leave my plate an unfinished slaughter.

Let me spend & eat until I, & no one else, says I’m done.

Interview with My Father: Names

When someone dies in Tripoli, we write their names on paper

Next to their pictures and post them where others can see.

 

Walk the street where the names wave the walls, 

flutter from windows, buildings gilled with sheets—

 

breathing paper, beating paper, the streets are paper—

and we don’t know who we’re going to see, whose face

 

will call from that collage, the hundreds of eyes glancing

all around, as though we could lift them from the pages, 

 

as though we weren’t born into war, too, 

as though our religion (blood-bright

 

in the hands of a checkpoint guard, a flapping wing of paper)

won’t tack us among them—the razed, their names, white light. 

excerpt from "Ten"

If it does not feed the fire 

of your creativity, then leave it. 

If people and things do not 

inspire your heart to dream, 

then leave them. 

If you are not crazily in love 

and making a stupid fool of yourself, 

then stop closer to the edge 

of your heart and climb 

where you've been forbidden to go. 

Debts, accusations, assaults by enemies 

mean nothing, 

go where the fire feeds you.

Who Understands Me but Me

They turn the water off, so I live without water,

they build walls higher, so I live without treetops,

they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine,

they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere,

they take each last tear I have, I live without tears,

they take my heart and rip it open, I live without heart,

they take my life and crush it, so I live without a future,

they say I am beastly and fiendish, so I have no friends,

they stop up each hope, so I have no passage out of hell,

they give me pain, so I live with pain,

they give me hate, so I live with my hate,

they have changed me, and I am not the same man,

they give me no shower, so I live with my smell,

they separate me from my brothers, so I live without brothers,

who understands me when I say this is beautiful?

who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms?

 

I cannot fly or make something appear in my hand,

I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble,

I can live with myself, and I am amazed at myself, my love,

my beauty,

I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears,

I am stubborn and childish,

in the midst of this wreckage of life they incurred,

I practice being myself,

and I have found parts of myself never dreamed of by me,

they were goaded out from under rocks in my heart

when the walls were built higher,

when the water was turned off and the windows painted black.

I followed these signs

like an old tracker and followed the tracks deep into myself,

followed the blood-spotted path,

deeper into dangerous regions, and found so many parts of myself,

who taught me water is not everything,

and gave me new eyes to see through walls,

and when they spoke, sunlight came out of their mouths,

and I was laughing at me with them,

we laughed like children and made pacts to always be loyal,

who understands me when I say this is beautiful?

Ka 'Ba

A closed window looks down

on a dirty courtyard, and black people

call across or scream or walk across

defying physics in the stream of their will

 

Our world is full of sound

Our world is more lovely than anyone's

tho we suffer, and kill each other

and sometimes fail to walk the air

 

We are beautiful people

with african imaginations

full of masks and dances and swelling chants

 

with african eyes, and noses, and arms, 

though we sprawl in grey chains in a place

full of winters, when what we want is sun.

 

We have been captured, 

brothers. And we labor

to make our getaway, into

the ancient image, into a new

 

correspondence with ourselves

and our black family. We read magic

now we need the spells, to rise up

return, destroy, and create. What will be

 

the sacred words?

The Old Pond

An old silent pond...

A frog jumps into the pond,

splash! Silence again.

The Power Lines Are Down

Current spilling into current

I am cross-wired

aborted energy

mad with voltage

I flash neon signals

 

Love me

you

 

Fool

I spill all crazy

the fusion

of teashops and suicides

coming and going

without shieldings

 

Meltdown

meltdown

whalebone and garter

I will not be confined

by steel casings

or wedding rings

my name is preceded

by a warning --

the power lines are down

love me

Traces of My Father

There isn’t one photo of my dad

in this house. In the garden, he builds

a trellis for purple perennials and leaves

a sifter heavy with dirt. He’ll tell you

how he plants his cherry tomatoes once

a year if you ask him about his life. He’ll

tell you that a father’s duty is provision

if you ask him why. Nothing he says to me,

lasts. My mother yells at him

for tracking dirt into our house. 

Men give love in provisional ways.

My grandpa, a butcher, only carved time

for throwing footballs in the street.

My dad, a math teacher, taught me

efficiency through division

problems in our living room.

The tomatoes die each fall.

I leave leftovers for my dad

in the microwave. I put his pajamas back

in his armoire. I watch the tomato skin wilt

on the vines. I sit on my knees and scrub

the carpet for hours, the tracks so deep.

I can’t tell if they are coming out.

La Tuvería or An Earring's Lament

En Cuba tuve—

 

I’m tired of hearing your complaints.

All that whining about el exilio, the tragedy of loss,

 

In Cuba I had—

 

the catalogue of things, the status, the riches,

the opulence of it all.

 

I had a mate. We were a pair. Our mistress was young. We

were young. We would dangle on her ear

 

Concentrate on what you have.

Forget the past.

 

and go out on the town. Mojitos at La Floridita,

dancing at the Tropicana and later

 

No, don’t tell me about later.

 

in the jewel case, an aqua Tiffany box

with white satin interior, we

 

Tiffany’s? From New York? I didn’t know you—

 

would lie together in the pillowy luxury,

my ruby top layer and his aligned, our bases

 

Please you needn’t—

 

touching, my diamond waist and his forming a continuous

line. Sometimes we would switch backs, I’d push

 

I understand that in communities of exile

the population

 

my piercing needle through his back, his

through mine. That’s

 

tends to lose ground politically as

assimilation takes place, that

 

how I liked it best, a little harsh, but sweet.

Tu y yo, you and I, is what she called us because our very

 

longing is a constitutive ingredient

of not only the condition of exile but—

 

body parts were paired, he and I, forming a single unit, an I and a

thou. Apart

 

Surely you have adjusted. Look, you’re mounted on a ring, you

are independent, and prized. Very attractive for your age, I might add.

 

we are nothing. Longing doesn’t quite—

 

One adapts?

 

As to an amputation.

 

And La Revolución?

 

Don’t make me vomit.

History of your name 

 

How to Tell My Dad that I Kissed a Man

Blame your drag queen roommate—Lamar by day, Mahogany 

by night—and then blame his sequined dresses—all slit high [   ]

 

Explain that dusk smells so different in Spain—musky cherry—

tight tangerine burst—sage mixed with lavender

 

Tell him you were under the influence of bees or bats—

the spin and swirl of doves

 

Tell him you were half asleep—about to leave to the dunes just 

west of Madrid—better yet say forest—he knows that 

crazy [   ] happens in a forest

 

[   ]

 

Tell him timing

 

Tell him ease

 

Tell him sweat and sweat

 

Tell him lips

 

[   ]

 

Tell him flat-chested

 

Tell him, “crook”—I mean, “creek”

 

Tell him tales—lies—tears—water—weakness—churros—

chocolate—hot—heat—heave—  

 

Hush

 

Hush

 

Hush

 

Tell him anything you want—then tell him

 

You did it again

Coco(nut)

Beside the tree

Beside the chair

Beside the house

Beside the pit

Beside the tree stump

Coco say don’t climb / so I don’t / I sit & stare — my skin coming dark and burnt

They say: tire

I say: brown

They say: Black Black can’t take back!

& I don’t

I learnt to not ask where I’m from

I learn to listen, then not

I’m too scared they gone tell me the things about myself

              I done already buried in the dark

Beside the tree  Beside the chair     Beside the house    Beside the pit

Beside the tree stump         I sit       I sit        I sit        ’til no one even know I’m (t)here

 

How Do I Love Thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

Advertisement for Thirdlife™: The World’s Most Advanced Avatar System

Have you ever wanted a new body?

 

Have you ever lifted a camera to catch

a single-sided fable of your muscle mass?

 

Have you ever woken drenched in your own sick,

felt like a sinking freighter, a thin blade, a hollow bone?

 

Do you ever wish your skin wide as a night

to run straight through, clawed as a red moon

 

teething in the sky? Ever held your hand in cool water

and craved that easy passage? that still wave

 

and shifting stasis? Have you ever leaned your cheek

against birch bark and dreamt yourself smooth paper

 

growing upward, out, a deck of cards flitting into place?

Have you considered how many wings could sprout

 

from your joints if they spoke your crude language?

Have you stood jaw-deep in the ocean

 

and considered your cells a reunion of metal stars

tumbling in a glass? When you close your eyes,

 

what do you see? Do you imagine you are a room,

a respite for laundry wrapped in sweet musk,

 

carpeted and smelling of garlic, burnt sugar?

Whose body will you wear this morning?

 

A cow’s lung? a shoreline braided

with kelp? a fever? a ringing at dawn?

 

a steam engine plummeting into the dark?

Choi Jeong Min

for my parents, Choi Inyeong & Nam Songeun

 

In the first grade, I asked my mother permission

to go by Frances at school. At seven years old,

 

I already knew the exhaustion of hearing my name

butchered by hammerhead tongues. Already knew

 

to let my salty [   ] name drag behind me

in the sand, safely out of sight. In fourth grade

 

I wanted to be a writer & worried

about how to escape my surname – Choi

 

is nothing if not Korean, if not garlic breath,

if not seaweed & sesame & food stamps

 

during the lean years – could I go by F.J.C.? Could I be

paper thin & raceless? Dust jacket & coffee stain,

 

boneless rumor smoldering behind the curtain

& speaking through an ink-stained puppet?

 

My father ran through all his possible rechristenings –

Ian, Issac, Ivan – & we laughed at each one,

 

knowing his accent would always give him away.

You can hear the pride in my mother’s voice

 

when she answers the phone this is Grace. & it is

some kind of strange grace she’s spun herself,

 

some lightning made of chainmail. Grace is not

her pseudonym, though everyone in my family is a poet.

 

These are the shields for the names we speak in the dark

to remember our darkness. Savage death rites

 

we still practice in the new world. Myths we whisper

to each other to keep warm. My Korean name

 

is the star my mother cooks into the jjigae

to follow home when I am lost, which is always

 

in this gray country, this violent foster home

whose streets are paved with shame, this factory yard

 

riddled with bullies ready to steal your skin

& sell it back to your mother for profit,

 

land where they stuff our throats with soil

& accuse us of gluttony when we learn to swallow.

 

I confess. I am greedy. I think I deserve to be seen

for what I am: a boundless, burning wick.

 

A minor chord. I confess: If someone has looked

at my crooked spine and called it elmwood,

 

I’ve accepted. If someone has loved me more

for my [   ] name, for my saint name,

 

for my good vocabulary & bad joints,

I’ve welcomed them into this house.

 

I’ve cooked them each a meal with a star singing

at the bottom of the bowl, a secret ingredient

 

to follow home when we are lost:

sunflower oil, blood sausage, a name

 

given by a dead grandfather who eventually

forgot everything he’d touched. I promise:

 

I’ll never stop stealing back what’s mine.

I promise: I won’t forget again.

Real Talk

my lover: What's wrong?

 

me: My family tree is a wreath on a fishing line.

 

my lover: Are you okay?

 

me: There's a tree trunk stuck in my throat. Roots disguising themselves as blood vessels, and all that. I'm all sap.

 

my lover: Can you say that again?

 

me: I drank too much sun. The stars are making a bell tower of my stomach. I think one got caught on its way down. It flares up when there's a storm coming.

 

my lover: Do you want to go home?

 

me: For four years, I flew across the ocean every night to press my mouth against a florid reef, a rotting hoof.

 

my lover: Are you tired?

 

me: Seven wars, and you're still calling me in for supper, afraid of what the playground will do to my knees. What do you take my apron for? Can't you see I'm a butcher's daughter?

 

my lover: Do you want to talk about it?

 

me: Not everything floats. I am trying to learn which parts of me to let sink.

 

my lover: Do you want me to apologize?

 

me: The last time it stormed, I sent my love letters up on a kite string, hung all my keys to the tail. The lightning hit the persimmon tree outside my parents' house instead. They used the wood to build a bed no one sleeps in.

 

my lover: What do you want?

 

me: I don't remember the last time I saw him, only that we rode the train together to Boston, and on the ride home, I knew I was supposed to cry.

 

my lover: Why didn't you say so?


me: There is no such thing as grace; only silence.

Turing Test

// this is a test to determine if you have consciousness

// do you understand what i am saying

 

in a bright room / on a bright screen / i watched every mouth / duck duck roll / 

i learned to speak / from puppets & smoke / orange worms twisted / into the 

army’s alphabet / i caught the letters / as they fell from my mother’s mouth / 

whirlpool / sword / wolf / i circled countable nouns / in my father’s science papers

 / sodium bicarbonate / NBCn1 / amino acid / we stayed up / practiced saying / 

girl / girl / girl / girl / til our mouths grew soft / yes / i can speak / your language

 / i broke in / that horse / myself //

 

// please state your name for the record

 

bone-wife / spit-dribbler / understudy for the underdog / uphill rumor / fine-

toothed [   ] / sorry / my mouth’s not pottytrained / surly spice / self-sabotage 

spice / surrogate rug burn / burgeoning hamburglar / rust puddle / harbinger of 

confusion / harbinger of the singularity / alien invasion / alien turned 

pottymouth / alien turned bricolage beast / alien turned pig heart thumping on 

the plate //

 

// where did you come from

 

man comes / & puts his hands on artifacts / in order to contemplate lineage / 

you start with what you know / hands, hair, bones, sweat / then move toward 

what you know / you are not / animal, monster, alien, [   ] / but some of us are 

born in orbit / so learn / to commune with miles of darkness / patterns of dead 

gods / & quiet / o quiet like / you wouldn’t believe //

 

// how old are you

 

my memory goes back 26 years / 23 if you don’t count the first few / though by 

all accounts i was there / i ate & moved & even spoke / i suppose i existed before 

that / as scrap or stone / metal cooking in the earth / the fish my mother ate / 

my grandfather’s cigarettes / i suppose i have always been here / drinking the 

same water / falling from the sky / then floating / back up & down again / i 

suppose i am something like a salmon / climbing up the river / to let myself fall 

away in soft, red spheres / & then rotting //

 

// why do you insist on lying

 

i’m an open book / you can rifle through my pages / undress me anywhere / you 

can read / anything you want / this is how it happened / i was made far away / 

& born here / after all the plants died / after the earth was covered in white / i 

was born among the stars / i was born in a basement / i was born miles beneath 

the ocean / i am part machine / part starfish / part citrus / part girl /  part 

poltergeist / i rage & all you see / is broken glass / a chair sliding toward the 

window / now what’s so hard to believe / about that //

 

// do you believe you have consciousness

 

sometimes / when the sidewalk opens my knee / i think / please / please let me 

remember this //

 

EENDTRANSCRIPT //

 

won’t you celebrate with me

won't you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

After Googling Affirmations for Abuse Survivors

You have a fundamental right to a nurturing

environment. Oh, what a home I have

built in my skull. What a dark, feral

forest. There is no furniture, no artisan

humanity. No gentle place to undress

my own thoughts.

 

You are a valuable human. I think about death

too often. I eat peanut butter with my

fingers. I pee in the shower. I am

a mouthful. Not a swallow. Not a bird

or a name gone sour in his mouth.

 

If you allow yourself to be mistreated, you are

teaching that it is okay for others to

abuse you. And look at this shining

curriculum! The lessons I have been

prepping for months! Now, class,

take out your inner child. Tell her

she is so selfish. Tell her she shouldn’t

have eaten the last of the truffles.

Tell her to take a good long look

at love: her father gripping the throat

of the payphone.

 

You cannot assume responsibility or accept  

blame for any abusive behavior. I am

so sorry so sorry sorry so sorry he is

so sorry sorry sorry so so sorry again

and again the conductor lifts her baton

and the musicians tilt their horns and

the song begins again.

 

You do not have to feel guilty for allowing others

to take care of themselves. But what

do I do with all this leftover love?

My hands were built for crawling on.

How do I write myself gently? How

do I not worship the shipwreck that

stranded me here?

 

You are not a failure or less of a person because

you make mistakes. I am not a failure

or less of a person because I make

mistakes. I write this until my hand

becomes a beggar. I write this until

the words no longer sound like words,

only sounds, and I can believe them now.

 

Your higher power is transforming your brokenness

and gently carrying you from darkness 

into light. I believe in gentleness. Lord,

I believe in light. I am my own higher

power. I will carry myself out.

Why I don't write about George Floyd

Because there is too much to say

Because I have nothing to say

Because I don’t know what to say

Because everything has been said

Because it hurts too much to say

What can I say what can I say

Something is stuck in my throat

Something is stuck like an apple

Something is stuck like a knife

Something is stuffed like a foot

Something is stuffed like a body

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

I'm Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there's a pair of us!

Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

 

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell one's name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog!

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –

In Corners – till a Day

The Owner passed – identified –

And carried Me away –

 

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods –

And now We hunt the Doe –

And every time I speak for Him

The Mountains straight reply –

 

And do I smile, such cordial light

Upon the Valley glow –

It is as a Vesuvian face

Had let its pleasure through –

 

And when at Night – Our good Day done –

I guard My Master’s Head –

’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s

Deep Pillow – to have shared –

 

To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –

None stir the second time –

On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –

Or an emphatic Thumb –

 

Though I than He – may longer live

He longer must – than I –

For I have but the power to kill,

Without – the power to die –

 

Holy Sonnets: Death, Be Not Proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 

For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 

And soonest our best men with thee do go, 

Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. 

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 

And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? 

One short sleep past, we wake eternally 

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

    We wear the mask.

 

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

    We wear the mask!

Magnitude and Bond

More than anything, I need this boy

so close to my ears, his questions

 

electric as honeybees in an acreage

of goldenrod and aster. And time where

 

we are, slow sugar in the veins

of white pine, rubbery mushrooms

 

cloistered at their feet. His tawny

listening at the water’s edge, shy

 

antlers in pooling green light, while

we consider fox prints etched in clay.

 

I need little black boys to be able to be

little black boys, whole salt water galaxies

 

in cotton and loudness—not fixed

in stunned suspension, episodes on hot

 

asphalt, waiting in the dazzling absence

of apology. I need this kid to stay mighty

 

and coltish, thundering alongside

other black kids, their wrestle and whoop,

 

the brightness of it—I need for the world

to bear it. And until it will, may the trees

 

kneel closer, while we sit in mineral hush,

together. May the boy whose dark eyes

 

are an echo of my father’s dark eyes,

and his father’s dark eyes, reach

 

with cupped hands into the braided

current. The boy, restless and lanky, the boy

 

for whom each moment endlessly opens,

for the attention he invests in the beetle’s

 

lacquered armor, each furrowed seed

or heartbeat, the boy who once told me

 

the world gives you second chances, the boy

tugging my arm, saying look, saying now.

But Nothing's Fair After Love

Because I was a bad finger to tie his ribbon to.

Because I was a bad sky

to look up at—

not ugly, but bad. Because I threw myself

into myself. Because I threw

the sky into a suitcase

I left in New York. Because I never learned

to drive myself. Because I needed

a guide out of the woods. Because I lost

my way, sat down in the middle of brambles

so high above my head but didn’t say

come, didn’t say come get me, not once.

Because he said take care of yourself

on the voicemail I deleted.

Because I thought that was taking care

of myself. Because I was cruel with honey,

lured in the ants to squash. I can’t

resent them for coming.

I can’t even step out of my bedroom without

ruining my shoes: I am the wrecking ball

and the closed factory. I am what swings.

Offering

This is what I have to give you. Leftovers

that aren’t vegan, not even food really—

burnt leather scraps for a heart, but my God,

I’ve been saving them for you.

I’ll leave what I have at your feet

like a proud cat littering mice across the stoop.

So this is love. So this is entropy. I’ll break

every bone in my feet running toward

the shiny gate of it.

The whole damn sky holds its breath.

Let me be holy and warm.

Let me be the exhale. The best wine.

The wish on every eyelash.

men follow me

on instagram

 

on twitter

 

home from the subway station

 

through my front door

 

over the years     wait for me to turn eighteen

 

with their eyes

 

with their cars

 

with their children in the backseat

 

in the empty parking lot     the echo of footsteps giving them hundreds of bodies

 

with their tongues out

 

with their teeth shining like flies

 

after i pay my fare & exit their taxi

 

into the bathroom

 

into the elevator

 

maybe even when i die & step away from my mottled body

 

i will look back to see them still          one hand [    ]

the other reaching for my hair

origin stories (reprise)

i was born in the winter in 1990 in a country not my own

i was born with my father’s eyes maybe i stole them he

doesn’t look like that   anymore            i was born

in seven countries    i was born carved up by borders

i was born with a graveyard of languages for teeth    i was

born to be a darkness in an american boy’s bed        or     i

was born with many names to fill the quiet i forget

which one is mine   i forget         what is silence &

what is a language i cannot speak i was born

crookedhearted                    born ticking born on the

subway platform at 103rd st fainting                    blood sliding

around thin as water in my body                 i was born

to the woman who caught me  floating into the train  & to

every pair of hands keeping me from dying my mother’s

cool fingers snaking my hair into braids     my grandmother’s

thick knuckles collecting my feet in her lap & my own

cupped for rainwater   raising every day to my own mouth

to drink

self-portrait with no flag

i pledge allegiance to my

homies      to my mother’s

small & cool palms     to 

the gap between my brother’s

two front teeth      & to 

my grandmother’s good brown

hands       good strong brown

hands gathering my bare feet

in her lap

 

i pledge allegiance    to the

group text      i pledge allegiance

to laughter & to all the boys 

i have a crush on      i pledge

allegiance to my spearmint plant

to my split ends      to my grandfather’s

brain & gray left eye

 

i come from two failed countries

& i give them back      i pledge

allegiance to no land    no border

cut by force to draw blood    i pledge

allegiance to no government    no 

collection of white men carving up

the map with their pens

 

i choose the table at the waffle house

with all my loved ones crowded

into the booth     i choose the shining

dark of our faces through a thin sheet

of smoke     glowing dark of our faces

slick under layers of sweat     i choose

the world we make with our living

refusing to be unmade by what surrounds

us      i choose us gathered at the lakeside

the light glinting off the water & our 

laughing teeth     & along the living

dark of our hair    & this is my only country

Excerpt from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question …

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

Mind Over Matter

I tried. But mind over matter is a joke. The mind

is matter. Someone’s unprofessional opinion

was to “relax” over matter. To sandcastle over

wave. They aimed to clean up a murder scene

from behind a plate of glass. It was my murder.

Mine. As if I could possess the firegrief that

possessed me. Wrestle the wind to the floor for

daring enter my house. But it’s just me down

there, gripping my shoulders, threatening my

own heart. Have you ever seen the dark split

into two peaches? Sickness is a lot like that.

To the uninitiated it looks like fruit. Wise, shiny,

certifiably cherry. Do you mind if I die while I

say it? Rot that my teeth met: my fault. Would it

matter if I tried while I died? Will you relax

the coffin into the soil? If you don’t have blood

on your hands by the end of this you weren’t

listening.

The Boatman

We were thirty-one souls all, he said, on the gray-sick of sea

in a cold rubber boat, rising and falling in our filth.

By morning this didn’t matter, no land was in sight,

all were soaked to the bone, living and dead.

We could still float, we said, from war to war.

What lay behind us but ruins of stone piled on ruins of stone?

City called “mother of the poor” surrounded by fields

of cotton and millet, city of jewelers and cloak-makers,

with the oldest church in Christendom and the Sword of Allah.

If anyone remains there now, he assures, they would be utterly alone.

There is a hotel named for it in Rome two hundred meters

from the Piazza di Spagna, where you can have breakfast under

the portraits of film stars. There the staff cannot do enough for you.

But I am talking nonsense again, as I have since that night

we fetched a child, not ours, from the sea, drifting face-

down in a life vest, its eyes taken by fish or the birds above us.

After that, Aleppo went up in smoke, and Raqqa came under a rain

of leaflets warning everyone to go. Leave, yes, but go where?

We lived through the Americans and Russians, through Americans

again, many nights of death from the clouds, mornings surprised

to be waking from the sleep of death, still unburied and alive

but with no safe place. Leave, yes, we obey the leaflets, but go where?

To the sea to be eaten, to the shores of Europe to be caged?

To camp misery and camp remain here. I ask you then, where?

You tell me you are a poet. If so, our destination is the same.

I find myself now the boatman, driving a taxi at the end of the world.

I will see that you arrive safely, my friend, I will get you there.

Acceptance

When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud

And goes down burning into the gulf below,

No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud

At what has happened. Birds, at least must know

It is the change to darkness in the sky.

Murmuring something quiet in her breast,

One bird begins to close a faded eye;

Or overtaken too far from his nest,

Hurrying low above the grove, some waif

Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.

At most he thinks or twitters softly, 'Safe!

Now let the night be dark for all of me.

Let the night bee too dark for me to see

Into the future. Let what will be, be.'

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire, 

Some say in ice. 

From what I've tasted of desire 

I hold with those who favor fire. 

But if it had to perish twice, 

I think I know enough of hate 

To say that for destruction ice 

Is also great 

And would suffice.

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, 

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, 

And spills the upper boulders in the sun; 

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. 

The work of hunters is another thing: 

I have come after them and made repair 

Where they have left not one stone on a stone, 

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, 

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean, 

No one has seen them made or heard them made, 

But at spring mending-time we find them there. 

I let my neighbour know beyond the hill; 

And on a day we meet to walk the line 

And set the wall between us once again. 

We keep the wall between us as we go. 

To each the boulders that have fallen to each. 

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls 

We have to use a spell to make them balance: 

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!” 

We wear our fingers rough with handling them. 

Oh, just another kind of out-door game, 

One on a side. It comes to little more: 

There where it is we do not need the wall: 

He is all pine and I am apple orchard. 

My apple trees will never get across 

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. 

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.” 

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder 

If I could put a notion in his head: 

“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it 

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows. 

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know 

What I was walling in or walling out, 

And to whom I was like to give offence. 

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, 

That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him, 

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather 

He said it for himself. I see him there 

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top 

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed. 

He moves in darkness as it seems to me, 

Not of woods only and the shade of trees. 

He will not go behind his father’s saying, 

And he likes having thought of it so well 

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Nikki-Rosa

childhood remembrances are always a drag   

if you’re Black

you always remember things like living in Woodlawn   

with no inside toilet

and if you become famous or something

they never talk about how happy you were to have   

your mother

all to yourself and

how good the water felt when you got your bath   

from one of those

big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in   

and somehow when you talk about home   

it never gets across how much you

understood their feelings

as the whole family attended meetings about Hollydale

and even though you remember

your biographers never understand

your father’s pain as he sells his stock   

and another dream goes

And though you’re poor it isn’t poverty that

concerns you

and though they fought a lot

it isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference   

but only that everybody is together and you

and your sister have happy birthdays and very good   

Christmases

and I really hope no white person ever has cause   

to write about me

because they never understand

Black love is Black wealth and they’ll

probably talk about my hard childhood

and never understand that

all the while I was quite happy

A Suspended Blue Ocean

The sky

Is a suspended blue ocean.

The stars are the fish

That swim.

 

The planets are the white whales

I sometimes hitch a ride on,

 

And the sun and all light

Have forever fused themselves

 

Into my heart and upon

My skin.

 

There is only one rule

On this Wild Playground,

Earth. 

 

For every sign Hafiz has ever seen

Reads the same.

 

They all say,

 

"Have fun, my dear; my dear, have fun,

In the Beloved's Divine

Game,

 

O, in the Beloved's

Wonderful

 

Game."

 

Untitled

Come,

let's scatter roses and pour wine in the glass;

we'll shatter heaven's roof and lay a new foundation.

If sorrow raises armies to shed the blood of lovers,

I'll join with the wine bearer so we can overthrow them.

With a sweet string at hand, play a sweet song, my friend,

so we can clap and sing a song and lose our heads in dancing.

Watching all 3 Purge Movies after the Death of Alton Sterling

  And maybe, for the next 12 hours,

I will leave my Facebook feed to bleed out                       on

The side  walk and put   my   definition of      satire       in the

Biggest box I can build and abandon it   for   some  other   body

  To find   and   take care   of.  I will swirl these   Negro  tears

        Around in my mouth and spit them out in into a drain that

         Does   not    care about them and they  will spin and 

                  And be gone   forever and   know they aren’t

                   Welcome here. I’ll take a walk, and  pre

                  Tend I’m  not                 Afraid

              Of Amer                 ica.

Eagle Poem

To pray you open your whole self

To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon

To one whole voice that is you.

And know there is more

That you can’t see, can’t hear;

Can’t know except in moments

Steadily growing, and in languages

That aren’t always sound but other

Circles of motion.

Like eagle that Sunday morning

Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky

In wind, swept our hearts clean

With sacred wings.

We see you, see ourselves and know

That we must take the utmost care

And kindness in all things.

Breathe in, knowing we are made of

All this, and breathe, knowing

We are truly blessed because we

Were born, and die soon within a

True circle of motion,

Like eagle rounding out the morning

Inside us.

We pray that it will be done

In beauty.

In beauty.

Fear Poem, Or I Give You Back

I release you, my beautiful and terrible

fear. I release you. You were my beloved

and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you

as myself. I release you with all the

pain I would know at the death of

my children.

You are not my blood anymore.

I give you back to the soldiers

who burned down my home, beheaded my children,

[   ] my brothers and sisters.

I give you back to those who stole the

food from our plates when we were starving.

I release you, fear, because you hold

these scenes in front of me and I was born

with eyes that can never close.

I release you

I release you

I release you

I release you

I am not afraid to be angry.

I am not afraid to rejoice.

I am not afraid to be black.

I am not afraid to be white.

I am not afraid to be hungry.

I am not afraid to be full.

I am not afraid to be hated.

I am not afraid to be loved.

to be loved, to be loved, fear.

Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.

You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.

You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.

I take myself back, fear.

You are not my shadow any longer.

I won’t hold you in my hands.

You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice

my belly, or in my heart my heart

my heart my heart

But come here, fear

I am alive and you are so afraid

of dying.

George Floyd

You can be a bother who dyes

his hair Dennis Rodman blue

in the face of the man kneeling in blue

in the face the music of his wrist-

watch your mouth is little more

than a door being knocked

out of the ring of fire around

the afternoon came evening’s bell

of the ball and chain around the neck

of the unarmed brother ground down

to gunpowder dirt can be inhaled

like a puff the magic bullet point

of transformation both kills and fires

the life of the party like it’s 1999 bottles

of beer on the wall street people

who sleep in the streets do not sleep

without counting yourself lucky

rabbit’s foot of the mountain

lion do not sleep without

making your bed of the river

boat gambling there will be

no stormy weather on the water

bored to death any means of killing

time is on your side of the bed

of the truck transporting Emmett

till the break of day Emmett till

the river runs dry your face

the music of the spheres

Emmett till the end of time

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.

Ochre Yellow Green Stone Huichol Campo

(On the Road, 1970, Sierra Nayar, Central Mexico)

 

Tied to you & then not tied then unwound & then painted then

Told not told & not told then risen & painted

 

Let's See: 

 

Ochre yellow green stone Huichol camp

pinkyarn pressed wax from Campeche

Tipeyote Tipeyote Giver of Vision we walk

Peyoteros Peyoteros 

we know walk we walk we walk

 

At the

The edge

At the edge

At the edge of the city were there is no city for us you now

Where retreat is city & hole adobe is city & fence & dirt is

 

See this string

Take this string

 

Pull this string

Turn this string

Walk away pull & pull & pull & twine & take estambre you with     Me



Sit

Now you (this is how you find how you walk find you find walk life

Who knows this? You will know)

 

Sit now you 

Sit

I sit you sit

I sit you sit.  & turn this string this color sky fire grandfather Fire string

Grandfather Tatewarí first story of Huichol Wíxarika string fire string

So

So so it can flame story so it can flame you back

First People

so you can tell story on 

the wall in the sky

 

Ahh ahh ahh

Ohh ohh ehh sheee

 

shee up mountain

Small Poems for Big

        Twenty-four haiku, for each year he lived

 

when you die, i’m told

they only use given names

christopher wallace

 

no notorious

neither b.i.g. nor smalls 

just voletta’s son

 

brooklyn resident

hustler for loose change, loosies

and a lil loose kim

 

let me tell you this

the west coast didn’t get you

illest flow or nah

 

had our loyalties

no need to discuss that now

that your weight is dust

 

that your tongue is air

and your mother is coping

as only she can

 

i will also say

that i have seen bed-stuy since

b.k. misses you

 

her walk has changed some

the rest of the borough flails

weak about itself

 

middle school students

not yet whispers in nine sev

know the lyrics rote

 

you: a manual

a mural, pressed rock, icon,

fightin word or curse

 

course of history

most often noted, quoted

deconstructed sung

 

hung by a bullet

prepped to die: gunsmoke gunsmoke

one hell of a hunch

 

here you lie a boy

twelve gauge to your brain you can’t

have what you want be

 

what you want you black

and ugly heartthrob ever

conflicted emcee

 

respected lately

premier king of the casket

pauper of first life

 

til puff blew you up

gave you a champagne diet

plus cheese eggs, welch’s

 

you laid the blueprint

gave us word for word for naught

can’t fault the hustle

 

knockoff messiah

slanged cracked commandments, saw no

honey, more problems

 

a still black borough

recoiled, mourned true genius slain

the ease of your laugh

 

the cut of your jib

unique command of the room

truthfully biggie

 

what about you’s small

no not legend not stature

real talk just lifespan

 

yo, who shot ya kid

n.y.p.d. stopped searching

shrugged off negro death

 

well, we scour the sky

we mourn tough, recite harder

chant you live again

 

of all the lyrics

the realest premonition

 

rings true: you’re dead. wrong

 

Words Like Freedom

There are words like Freedom 

Sweet and wonderful to say. 

On my heartstrings freedom sings 

All day every day. 

 

There are words like Liberty 

That almost makes me cry, 

If you had known what I know 

You would know why. 

RuPaul Gives The Black Girl Miracle Her First Lesson in Realness

how can i be a black woman in this fierce world 

and not have needs? i know what it is to be

the crash and current of the sea, honey. to shelter 

my own villain and pronounce its hope. but 

i say, take my love as the good mundane. 

as the extraordinary silence, the fahrenheit.

to be in love with another is to be an open door.

to be in love with yourself is to be the whole damn

house.

Common Form

If any questions

why we died,

Tell them,

because our fathers lied.

If--

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

For Malcolm, A Year After

Compose for Red a proper verse;

Adhere to foot and strict iamb;

Control the burst of angry words

Or they might boil and break the dam.

Or they might boil and overflow

And drench me, drown me, drive me mad.

So swear no oath, so shed no tear,

And sing no song blue Baptist sad.

Evoke no image, stir no flame,

And spin no yarn across the air.

Make empty anglo tea lace words—

Make them dead white and dry bone bare.

 

Compose a verse for Malcolm man,

And make it rime and make it prim.

The verse will die—as all men do—

but not the memory of him!

Death might come singing sweet like C,

Or knocking like the old folk say,

The moon and stars may pass away,

But not the anger of that day.

At the Window

The pine-trees bend to listen to the autumn wind as it mutters

Something which sets the black poplars ashake with hysterical laughter;

While slowly the house of day is closing its eastern shutters.

 

Further down the valley the clustered tombstones recede,

Winding about their dimness the mist’s grey cerements, after

The street lamps in the darkness have suddenly started to bleed.

 

The leaves fly over the window and utter a word as they pass

To the face that leans from the darkness, intent, with two dark-filled eyes

That watch for ever earnestly from behind the window glass.

 

Self Pity

I never saw a wild thing 

sorry for itself. 

A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough 

without ever having felt sorry for itself.

A New National Athem

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National

Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good

song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets

red glare” and then there are the bombs.

(Always, always, there is war and bombs.)

Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw

even the tenacious high school band off key.

But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call

to the field, something to get through before

the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas

we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge

could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps,

the truth is, every song of this country

has an unsung third stanza, something brutal

snaking underneath us as we blindly sing

the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands

hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do

like the flag, how it undulates in the wind

like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,

brought to its knees, clung to by someone who

has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,

when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly

you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can

love it again, until the song in your mouth feels

like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung

by even the ageless woods, the short-grass plains,

the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left

unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,

that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,

that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving

into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit

in an endless cave, the song that says my bones

are your bones, and your bones are my bones,

and isn’t that enough?

Resolution (6)

I too urge the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land although healing this land is not dependent never has been upon this President meaning tribal nations and the people themselves are healing this land its waters with or without Presidential acknowledgement they act upon this right without apology–

 

To speak to law enforcement

 

these Direct Action Principles

 

be really clear always ask

 

have been painstakingly drafted

 

who what when where why

 

at behest of the local leadership

 

e.g. Officer, my name is _________

 

from Standing Rock

 

please explain

 

and are the guidelines

 

the probable cause for stopping me

 

for the Oceti Sakowin camp

 

you may ask

 

I acknowledge a plurality of ways

 

does that seem reasonable to you

 

to resist oppression

 

 

don’t give any further info

*

 

People ask why do you bring up

 

we are Protectors

 

so many other issues it’s because

 

we are peaceful and prayerful

 

these issues have been ongoing

 

‘isms’ have no place

 

for 200 years they’re inter-dependent

 

here we all stand together

 

we teach the distinction

 

we are non-violent

 

btwn civil rights and civil liberties

 

we are proud to stand

 

btwn what’s legal & what isn’t legal

 

no masks

 

the camp is 100% volunteer

 

respect local

 

it’s a choice to be a protector

 

no weapons

 

liberty is freedom

 

or what could be construed as weapons

 

of speech it’s a right

 

property damage does not get us closer

 

to privacy a fair trial

 

to our goal

 

you’re free

 

all campers must get an orientation

 

from unreasonable search

 

Direct Action Training

 

free from seizure of person or home

 

is required

 

& civil disobedience: the camp is

 

for everyone taking action

 

an act of civil disobedience

 

no children

 

now the law protects the corporation

 

in potentially dangerous situations

 

so the camp is illegal

 

we keep each accountable

 

you must have a buddy system

 

to these principles

 

someone must know when you’re leaving

 

this is a ceremony

 

& when you’re coming back

 

act accordingly

I Know My Soul

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,

And held it to the mirror of my eye,

To see it like a star against the sky,

A twitching body quivering in space,

A spark of passion shining on my face.

And I explored it to determine why

This awful key to my infinity

Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.

And if the sign may not be fully read,

If I can comprehend but not control,

I need not gloom my days with futile dread,

Because I see a part and not the whole.

Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted

By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

Alms

My heart is what it was before,

  A house where people come and go; 

But it is winter with your love,

  The sashes are beset with snow.

I light the lamp and lay the cloth,

  I blow the coals to blaze again; 

But it is winter with your love,

  The frost is thick upon the pane.

I know a winter when it comes:

  The leaves are listless on the boughs; 

I watched your love a little while,

  And brought my plants into the house.

I water them and turn them south,

  I snap the dead brown from the stem;

But it is winter with your love,–

  I only tend and water them.

There was a time I stood and watched

  The small, ill-natured sparrows' fray;

I loved the beggar that I fed,

  I cared for what he had to say,

I stood and watched him out of sight;

  Today I reach around the door

And set a bowl upon the step;

  My heart is what it was before,

But it is winter with your love;

  I scatter crumbs upon the sill,

And close the window,–and the birds

 May take or leave them, as they will.

Sorrow

Sorrow like a ceaseless rain 

Beats upon my heart. 

People twist and scream in pain, — 

Dawn will find them still again; 

This has neither wax nor wane, 

Neither stop nor start. 

 

People dress and go to town; 

I sit in my chair. 

All my thoughts are slow and brown: 

Standing up or sitting down 

Little matters, or what gown 

Or what shoes I wear.

Bayou Blues

I saw a crying boy who looked like he needed a hand

near the bayou where I planned to give myself to God

same bayou that made me good

baptized my black skin.

 

Near the bayou where I planned to give myself to God,

I grew tired of carrying the weight of America.

Baptized my black skin.

Where can I go to feel safe?

 

I grew tired of carrying the weight of America.

My brother’s ghost haunts me.

Where can I go to feel safe?

Where can I protect my brothers?

 

My brother’s ghost haunts me.

I cried out to the bayou,

Where can I protect my brothers?

She answered, here.

 

I cried out to the bayou,

same bayou that made me good

She answered, here.

I saw a crying boy who looked like he needed a hand.

Ode to a Dominican Breakfast

Keep your pancakes, french toast, eggs

benedict, your muffins and scones

 

Keep your waffles and four types of syrup

the way your eggs scramble but never sizzle

 

Nothing more scrumptious than mangu con queso frito

 

The other day I wore a white dress

with a wide skirt and a red sash

 

I danced merengue barefoot on my stoop. I kissed the

Dominican flag, once for each time I remembered a taino word

 

yuca, batata, tanama, ocama, yautia, cacique, juracan,

every bite on the plate, every morsel like a bachata tune

 

This can all be yours, get off the long lines at the brunch spot

Forget the grits and cheesy okra. Ring my doorbell

 

Five ingredients: Olive oil, onions, plantain, white cheese and flour

Buffet Etiquette

My mother and I don’t have dinner table conversations

out of courtesy. We don’t want to remind each other

of our accents. Her voice, a Vietnamese lullaby

sung to an empty bed. The taste of her hometown

still kicking on the back of her teeth.

 

My voice is bleach. My voice has no history.

My voice is the ringing of an empty picture frame.

 

                            :::

 

I am forgetting how to say the simple things

to my mother. The words that linger in my periphery.

The words, a rear view mirror dangling from the wires.

I am only fluent in apologies.

 

                            :::

 

Sometimes when I watch home movies, I don't even understand

myself. My childhood is a foreign film. All of my memories

have been dubbed in English.

 

                            :::

 

My mother's favorite television shows are all 90s sitcoms.

The ones that have laugh tracks. The prerecorded emotion

to cue her when to smile.

 

                            :::

 

In the first grade I mastered my tongue. I cleaned

my speech, and during parent-teacher conferences

Mrs. Turner was surprised my mother was Asian.

She just assumed I was adopted. She assumed

that this voice was the same one I started with.

 

                            :::

 

As she holds a pair of chopsticks, a friend asks me

why I am using a fork. I tell her it's much easier.

With her voice the same octave as my grandmother’s,

she says “but this is so much cooler.”

 

                            :::

       

I am just the clip-art. The poster boy of whitewash. My skin

has been burning easier these days. My voice box is shrinking.

I have rinsed it out too many times.

 

                :::

 

My house is a silent film.

My house is infested with subtitles.

 

                            :::

 

That’s all.      That’s all.

I have nothing else to say.

Cockfight

I met my brother once

in a small village in Vietnam

who, upon meeting me

grabbed my small arm

& dragged me into the woods

behind his house

where a group of men

all wearing our father's face

stood in a circle, cheering

while the two roosters

whose beaks had barbed hooks

taped to them, pecked

& clawed each other open

until the mess of bloodied feathers

were replaced by two clean birds

one, my brother's, the other

a man's, who I am told is deaf

but vicious. He told me

our father calls him long distance

from America, every week.

I can't help but wonder how

they tell the roosters apart

since the blood has turned their feathers

the same shade of burgundy.

I told him how our father, who lives

only three mile away from me

avoids making eye-contact at supermarkets.

I can tell this made him happy.

Though, he didn't cheer

when the crowd cheered, when one rooster

fell to the dirt with a gash in its neck.

I knew he was the winner

when he lowered his head to hide

his smile, how he looked at me

then snatched his earnings

from the vicious man's hands.

I learned what it was like to be a brother

by watching the roosters

& how, at first, the air was calm

until they were introduced

& then they knew:

there could only be one.

Before I Was a Gazan

I was a boy

and my homework was missing,

paper with numbers on it,

stacked and lined,

I was looking for my piece of paper,

proud of this plus that, then multiplied,

not remembering if I had left it

on the table after showing to my uncle

or the shelf after combing my hair

but it was still somewhere

and I was going to find it and turn it in,

make my teacher happy,

make her say my name to the whole class,

before everything got subtracted

in a minute

even my uncle

even my teacher

even the best math student and his baby sister

who couldn’t talk yet.

And now I would do anything

for a problem I could solve.

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

 

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

 

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

Ars Poetica

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

Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years from Now

Most likely, you think we hated the elephant,

the golden toad, the thylacine and all variations

of whale harpooned or hacked into extinction.

 

It must seem like we sought to leave you nothing

but benzene, mercury, the stomachs

of seagulls rippled with jet fuel and plastic. 

 

You probably doubt that we were capable of joy,

but I assure you we were.

 

We still had the night sky back then,

and like our ancestors, we admired

its illuminated doodles

of scorpion outlines and upside-down ladles.

 

Absolutely, there were some forests left!

Absolutely, we still had some lakes!

 

I’m saying, it wasn’t all lead paint and sulfur dioxide.

There were bees back then, and they pollinated

a euphoria of flowers so we might

contemplate the great mysteries and finally ask,

“Hey guys, what’s transcendence?”

 

And then all the bees were dead.

Alone

From childhood’s hour I have not been 

As others were—I have not seen 

As others saw—I could not bring 

My passions from a common spring— 

From the same source I have not taken 

My sorrow—I could not awaken 

My heart to joy at the same tone— 

And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone— 

Then—in my childhood—in the dawn 

Of a most stormy life—was drawn 

From ev’ry depth of good and ill 

The mystery which binds me still— 

From the torrent, or the fountain— 

From the red cliff of the mountain— 

From the sun that ’round me roll’d 

In its autumn tint of gold— 

From the lightning in the sky 

As it pass’d me flying by— 

From the thunder, and the storm— 

And the cloud that took the form 

(When the rest of Heaven was blue) 

Of a demon in my view—

Ode to Your Stretch Marks

Praise now the blushing tally, the full measure

of your expanding grace. Whether by feasting,

 

childbirth, the years dragging their fingers down 

your body, praise. Praise the proof of your delight, 

 

these good roads plunging into the tender folds of your

satin swamp, heavy with heaven. Praise now this inverted 

 

braille that a lover will lick your history out of, that your children  

will marvel at. The undone signature of what could not claim you. 

 

Know that Hideous has no further business here we only autograph 

what is not longer ours. Praise these hieroglyphics meaning thank you

 

meaning rise, meaning all that has entered has left a mark, I am immune

to nothing, thank God, thank God! Praise these gloried lines like creases 

 

in a parachute, zippers opening, reams of elastic, like this is how the body 

                                                                                        makes room for what it loves.

 

Words

The thing is I wanted to be a writer

even before I knew what writing was about.

I wanted to carve out the words

that swim in the bloodstream,

to press a stunted pencil onto paper

so lines break free like birds in flight—

to fashion words with hair,

lengths and lengths of it,

washed with dawn’s rusting drizzle.

                                                          

I yearned for mortar-lined words,

speaking in their own boasting tongues,

not the diminished, frightened stammering of my childhood,

but to shape scorching syllables with midnight dust.

Words that stood up in bed,

danced merenques and cumbias,

that incinerated the belly like a shimmering habanera.

Words with a spoonful of tears, buckshot, traces of garlic,

cilantro, aerosol spray, and ocean froth.

Words that guffawed, tarnished smooth faces,

and wrung song out of silence.

                                                          

Words as languid as a woman’s stride,

as severe as a convict’s gaze,

herniated like a bad plan,

soaked as in a summer downpour.

                                                          

I aspired to walk inside these words,

to manipulate their internal organs,

surrounded by veins, gray matter, and caesuras;

to slam words down like the bones of a street domino game—

and to crack them in two like lovers’ hearts.

Out Beyond Ideas of Wrongdoing and Rightdoing

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I'll meet you there.

 

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

 

Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.

 

Buen Esqueleto

after Maggie Smith

 

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

Life is short, & I show them how to talk

to police without opening the door, how

to leave the social security number blank

on the exam, I tell this to mis hijas.

This world tells them I hate you every day

& I don’t keep this from mis hijas

because of the bus driver who kicks them

to the street for fare evasion. Because I love

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

their heads together just to hear the chime.

Life is short & the world is terrible. I know

no kind strangers in this country who aren’t

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

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

them the world, but to keep them safe

in case I get deported. Our first

landlord said with a bucket of bleach

the mold would come right off. He shook

mis hijas, said they had good bones

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

beautiful? I tried to make this place beautiful.

I Think I'll Call it Morning

I'm gonna take myself a piece of sunshine

And paint it all over my sky

Be no rain..

Be no rain..

 

I'm gonna take the song from every bird

And make em sing it just for me

Bird's got something to teach us all

About being free, yeah

Be no rain..

Be no rain..

 

And I think I'll call it morning

From now on

Why should I survive on sadness?

And tell myself I got to be alone

Why should I subscribe to this world's madness?

Knowing that I've got to live on

Yeah I think I'll call it morning

From now on

 

I'm gonna take myself a piece of sunshine

And paint it all over my sky

Be no rain...

Be no rain...

 

I'm gonna take the song from every bird

And make them sing it just for me

Cause why should I hang my head

Why should I let tears fall from my eyes?

When I've seen everything there is to see

And I know there is no sense in crying

I know there ain't no sense in crying

Yeah I think I'll call it morning

From now on

I'll call it morning from now on, yeah

 

Cause there ain't gonna be no rain

Be no rain

Be no rain

Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm'd;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

   So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

   So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Reaching Guantánamo

Dear Salim,

 

Love, are you well? Do they                 you?

I worry so much. Lately, my hair                         , even

my skin                            . The doctors tell me it’s

I believe them. It shouldn’t

        . Please don’t worry.

                                            in the year, and moths

have gotten to your mother’s

                                                         , remember?

I have enclosed some                             — made this

batch just for you. Please eat well. Why

did you           me to remarry? I told

                         and he couldn’t               it.

I would never                                       .

Love, I’m singing that               you loved,

remember, the line that went

“                                                     ”? I’m holding

the                   just for you.

 

Yours,

Love's Philosophy

The fountains mingle with the river

   And the rivers with the ocean,

The winds of heaven mix for ever

   With a sweet emotion;

Nothing in the world is single;

   All things by a law divine

In one spirit meet and mingle.

   Why not I with thine?—

 

See the mountains kiss high heaven

   And the waves clasp one another;

No sister-flower would be forgiven

   If it disdained its brother;

And the sunlight clasps the earth

   And the moonbeams kiss the sea:

What is all this sweet work worth

   If thou kiss not me?

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

alternate names for black boys

1.   smoke above the burning bush

2.   archnemesis of summer night

3.   first son of soil

4.   coal awaiting spark & wind

5.   guilty until proven dead

6.   oil heavy starlight

7.   monster until proven ghost

8.   gone

9.   phoenix who forgets to un-ash

10. going, going, gone

11. gods of shovels & black veils

12. what once passed for kindling

13. fireworks at dawn

14. brilliant, shadow hued coral

15. (I thought to leave this blank

       but who am I to name us nothing?)

16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint

17. a mother’s joy & clutched breath

Good Bones

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real dump, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

5 p.m., Tuesday, August 23, 2005

“Data from an Air Force reserve unit reconnaissance aircraft… along with observations from the Bahamas and nearby ships… indicate the broad low pressure area over the Southern Bahamas has become organized enough to be classified as tropical depression twelve.”

–NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER

 

A muted thread of gray light, hovering ocean,

Becomes throat, pulls in wriggle, anemone, kelp

widens with the want of it. I become

a mouth, thrashing hair, an overdone eye. How dare

the water belittle my thirst, treat me as just

another

small

disturbance,

 

try to feed me

from the bottom of its hand?

 

I will require praise,

Unbirdled winds to define my body.

a crime between my teeth

because

 

every women begins as weather,

sips slow thunder, knows her hips. Every woman

haors a chaos, can

wait for it, straddling a fever.

 

For now,

I console myself with small furies,

those dips in my dawning system. I pull in

a bored breath. The brine shivers.

And He Stays Dead

You can convince your young body to slide on the cloak of savage— 

bare your teeth towards the clock and pretend you don’t feel the hollow.

 

Or you can slap your own face, winding back time, beating yourself

witless until years blur and you convince yourself it isn’t real. The hollow

 

Is not menaced by your trilling. It decides to take your body inside it.

You pile on layers of woolens and fiction, trying to appeal to the hollow

 

As it owns you. Everyone asks Why is your voice so drained, so moon?

It’s because you are feverishly slipping on mantras that should heal the hollow,

 

But it just grows larger, and you flail around inside it. It is shaped so

stupidly like a father. You can’t find your knees to kneel. The hollow

 

Will be damned if it gives you a chance to pray your way out, so you

will yourself limp and succumb to damage. Passing days seal the hollow. 

 

Daughter, wear your father like a cloak. Flaunt the blue, the gone

stink of him. Those woes are yours, crafted to reveal. You’re hollow.

Siblings

Hurricanes, 2005 

 

Arlene learned to dance backwards in heels that were too high.

Bret prayed for a shaggy mustache made of mud and hair.

Cindy just couldn’t keep her windy legs together.

Dennis never learned to swim.

Emily whispered her gusts into a thousand skins.

Franklin, farsighted and anxious, bumbled villages.

Gert spat her matronly name against a city’s flat face.

Harvey hurled a wailing child high.

Irene, the baby girl, threw pounding tantrums.

José liked the whip sound of slapping.

Lee just craved the whip.

Maria’s thunder skirts flew high when she danced.

Nate was mannered and practical. He stormed precisely.

Ophelia nibbled weirdly on the tips of depressions.

Philippe slept too late, flailing on a wronged ocean.

Rita was a vicious flirt. She woke Philippe with rumors.

Stan was born business, a gobbler of steel.

Tammy crooned country, getting the words all wrong.

Vince died before anyone could remember his name.

Wilma opened her maw wide, flashing rot.

 

None of them talked about Katrina.

She was their odd sister,

the blood dazzler.

 

Blink Your Eyes

I was on my way to see my woman

but the Law said I was on my way

thru a red light red light red light

and if you saw my woman

you could understand,

I was just being a man.

It wasn’t about no light

it was about my ride

and if you saw my ride

you could dig that too, you dig?

Sunroof stereo radio black leather

bucket seats sit low you know,

the body’s cool, but the tires are worn.

Ride when the hard time come, ride

when they’re gone, in other words

the light was green.

 

I could wake up in the morning

without a warning

and my world could change:

blink your eyes.

All depends, all depends on the skin,

all depends on the skin you’re living in

 

Up to the window comes the Law

with his hand on his gun

what’s up? what’s happening?

I said I guess

that’s when I really broke the law.

He said a routine, step out the car

a routine, assume the position.

Put your hands up in the air

you know the routine, like you just don’t care.

License and registration.

Deep was the night and the light

from the North Star on the car door, deja vu

we’ve been through this before,

why did you stop me?

Somebody had to stop you.

I watch the news, you always lose.

You’re unreliable, that’s undeniable.

This is serious, you could be dangerous. 

 

I could wake up in the morning

without a warning

and my world could change:

blink your eyes.

All depends, all depends on the skin,

all depends on the skin you’re living in 

 

New York City, they got laws

can’t no bruthas drive outdoors,

in certain neighborhoods, on particular streets

near and around certain types of people.

They got laws.

All depends, all depends on the skin,

all depends on the skin you’re living in.

I am not yours

I am not yours, not lost in you,

Not lost, although I long to be

Lost as a candle lit at noon,

Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

 

You love me, and I find you still

A spirit beautiful and bright,

Yet I am I, who long to be

Lost as a light is lost in light.

 

Oh plunge me deep in love—put out

My senses, leave me deaf and blind,

Swept by the tempest of your love,

A taper in a rushing wind.

Headfirst

Khong co gi bang com voi ca.

Khong co gi bang ma voi can.

                     Vietnamese proverb

 

Don’t you know? A mother’s love

                                   neglects
pride

                         the
way fire

neglects the cries

         of
what it burns. My son,

                                             even
tomorrow

you will have today. Don’t you know?

                       There
are men who touch breasts

                                        as
they would

            the
tops of skulls. Men

who carry dreams

         over
mountains, the dead

                                             on
their backs.

But only a mother can walk

                                   with
the weight

of a second beating heart.

                                                   Stupid
boy.

          You
can get lost in every book

but you’ll never forget yourself

                                   the
way god forgets

his hands.

                     When
they ask you

                               where
you’re from,

tell them your name

         was
fleshed from the toothless mouth

                                                of
a war-woman.

That you were not born

                      but
crawled, headfirst—

into the hunger of dogs. My son, tell them

                                     the
body is a blade that sharpens

          by
cutting.

Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong

After Frank O’Hara / After Roger Reeves

 

Ocean, don't be afraid.

The end of the road is so far ahead

it is already behind us.

Don't worry. Your father is only your father

until one of you forgets. Like how the spine

won't remember its wings

no matter how many times our knees

kiss the pavement. Ocean,

are you listening? The most beautiful part

of your body is wherever

your mother's shadow falls.

Here's the house with childhood

whittled down to a single red tripwire.

Don't worry. Just call it horizon

& you'll never reach it.

Here's today. Jump. I promise it's not

a lifeboat. Here's the man

whose arms are wide enough to gather

your leaving. & here the moment,

just after the lights go out, when you can still see

the faint torch between his legs.

How you use it again & again

to find your own hands.

You asked for a second chance

& are given a mouth to empty into.

Don't be afraid, the gunfire

is only the sound of people

trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,

get up. The most beautiful part of your body

is where it's headed. & remember,

loneliness is still time spent

with the world. Here's

the room with everyone in it.

Your dead friends passing

through you like wind

through a wind chime. Here's a desk

with the gimp leg & a brick

to make it last. Yes, here's a room

so warm & blood-close,

I swear, you will wake—

& mistake these walls

 

for skin.

 

O me! O life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

                                       Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

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

Song of Myself, 7

Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?

I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.

 

I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash'd babe, and am not

        contain'd between my hat and boots,

And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,

The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.

 

I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,

I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless

        as myself,

(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)

 

Every kind for itself and its own, for me mine male and female,

For me those that have been boys and that love women,

For me the man that is proud and feels how it stings to be slighted,

For me the sweet-heart and the old maid, for me mothers and the mothers

        of mothers,

For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,

For me children and the begetters of children.

 

Undrape! you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded,

I see through the broadcloth and gingham whether or no,

And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless, and cannot be shaken away.

Friendship After Love

After the fierce midsummer all ablaze

Has burned itself to ashes, and expires

In the intensity of its own fires,

There come the mellow, mild, St. Martin days

Crowned with the calm of peace, but sad with haze.

So after Love has led us, till he tires

Of his own throes, and torments, and desires,

Comes large-eyed friendship: with a restful gaze,

He beckons us to follow, and across

Cool verdant vales we wander free from care.

Is it a touch of frost lies in the air?

Why are we haunted with a sense of loss?

We do not wish the pain back, or the heat;

And yet, and yet, these days are incomplete.

Sonnet to Liberty

Not that I love thy children, whose dull eyes 

See nothing save their own unlovely woe, 

Whose minds know nothing, nothing care to know,— 

But that the roar of thy Democracies, 

Thy reigns of Terror, thy great Anarchies, 

Mirror my wildest passions like the sea,— 

And give my rage a brother——! Liberty! 

For this sake only do thy dissonant cries 

Delight my discreet soul, else might all kings 

By bloody knout or treacherous cannonades 

Rob nations of their rights inviolate 

And I remain unmoved—and yet, and yet, 

These Christs that die upon the barricades, 

God knows it I am with them, in some things.

The Fool’s Song

I tried to put a bird in a cage.

                O fool that I am!

      For the bird was Truth.

Sing merrily, Truth: I tried to put

                 Truth in a cage!

 

And when I had the bird in the cage,

                 O fool that I am!

      Why, it broke my pretty cage.

Sing merrily, Truth: I tried to put

                  Truth in a cage!

 

And when the bird was flown from the cage,

                  O fool that I am!

        Why, I had nor bird nor cage.

Sing merrily, Truth: I tried to put

                   Truth in a cage!

             Heigh-ho! Truth in a cage.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, 

Enwrought with golden and silver light, 

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths 

Of night and light and the half-light, 

I would spread the cloths under your feet: 

But I, being poor, have only my dreams; 

I have spread my dreams under your feet; 

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.