Even after letting go
of the last bird
There is something
in this empty cage
that never gets released
translated by Ahmad Nadalizadeh and Idra Novey
Your dress waving in the wind.
is the only flag I love.
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.
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
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.
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
All that is left
to us by tradition
is mere words.
It is up to us
to find out what they mean.
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?
& 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.
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 step closer to the edge
of your heart and climb
where you've been forbidden to go.
Debts, accusations, assaults by enemies
go where the fire feeds you.
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?
Current spilling into current
I am cross-wired
mad with voltage
I flash neon signals
I spill all crazy
of teashops and suicides
coming and going
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
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.
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.
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?
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 gook 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 gook 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.
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.
for Patricia Maisch
This day my students and I play the Opposites Game
with a line from Emily Dickinson. My life had stood
a loaded gun, it goes and I write it on the board,
pausing so they can call out the antonyms –
Had stood ? Will sit
For a moment, very much like the one between
lightning and its sound, the children just stare at me,
and then it comes, a flurry, a hail storm of answers –
Flower, says one. No, Book, says another. That's stupid,
cries a third, the opposite of a gun is a pillow. Or maybe
a hug, but not a book, no way is it a book. With this,
the others gather their thoughts
and suddenly it’s a shouting match. No one can agree,
for every student there’s a final answer. It's a song,
a prayer, I mean a promise, like a wedding ring, and
later a baby. Or what’s that person who delivers babies?
A midwife? Yes, a midwife. No, that’s wrong. You're so
wrong you’ll never be right again. It's a whisper, a star,
it's saying I love you into your hand and then touching
someone's ear. Are you crazy? Are you the president
of Stupid-land? You should be, When's the election?
It’s a teddy bear, a sword, a perfect, perfect peach.
Go back to the first one, it's a flower, a white rose.
When the bell rings, I reach for an eraser but a girl
snatches it from my hand. Nothing's decided, she says,
We’re not done here. I leave all the answers
on the board. The next day some of them have
stopped talking to each other, they’ve taken sides.
There's a Flower club. And a Kitten club. And two boys
calling themselves the Snowballs. The rest have stuck
with the original game, which was to try to write
something like poetry.
It's a diamond, it's a dance,
the opposite of a gun is a museum in France.
It's the moon, it's a mirror,
it's the sound of a bell and the hearer.
The arguing starts again, more shouting, and finally
a new club. For the first time I dare to push them.
Maybe all of you are right, I say.
Well, maybe. Maybe it's everything we said. Maybe it’s
everything we didn't say. It's words and the spaces for words.
They're looking at each other now. It's everything in this room
and outside this room and down the street and in the sky.
It's everyone on campus and at the mall, and all the people
waiting at the hospital. And at the post office. And, yeah,
it's a flower, too. All the flowers. The whole garden.
The opposite of a gun is wherever you point it.
Don’t write that on the board, they say. Just say poem.
Your death will sit through many empty poems.
If Mila’s a menstrual mess,
working on writing assignments,
fighting for an A
under the fingernail of Fascism:
How does she get a good night’s rest
and still F the system?
A) Turn off the television, the cell phone.
Turn up the Joan Baez. Paint the room with protest.
B) Close her eyes and breathe deep.
C) Factor out the guilt & go searching for self-care.
D) Confuse cacophony for catharsis,
Tongue twister talk for therapy.
Sally sells seashells by the seashore.
Sadness sells free trials at my front door.
I sell details at the bookstore.
I can bend my battle scars
into a 12 point font on the spot.
My world is a word problem.
In the same hour I clandestine confessed,
I got stones in my pockets and a rope around my neck-
my dad's reaction keeps me from taking the next step;
I hurricane heave just to brainstorm
the next break down poem,
break banana bread with AP Calculus homework
cos related rates aren’t gonna relearn themselves.
I shortcut solved myself,
found I didn’t have the time
to acknowledge my state of mind.
I call this healthy,
making habit of going to Hell
and bringing back a story to tell.
I’ve got a word problem.
I memorize moments as they happen,
try to copy and paste enchantment,
but beauty becomes stagnant
when recorded in fragments.
I see garden
write of thorn stem stab wound.
I swallow oceans
spit out siren song shipwreck.
I admire wires in the sky
but I always brace for burning.
I’ve got a word problem.
I keep meaning to ask for help
but won't admit I'm hurting.
I keep meaning to ask for help
but keep saying that I’m fine.
I am bitten lip bloody until given a mic—
then I am avalanche of empathy,
blocking all roads of apathy.
I can’t calculate the slope of my unraveling.
I keep meaning to get better without worrying
that it’d worsen the material,
that I’d have to get a whole new vocabulary,
start adding words like rhapsody and tangerine
to my dismal dictionary.
This world is a word problem.
If we all know of the children starving,
of the closet kids and pavement phantoms,
of the 21st century Nazis
being reported on like they’re nothing,
How do we navigate the healing?
How do we go about solving?
Some days I’d like to subtract myself
from the conversation,
though there’s already too much negligence
written into the equation. See,
I only solve through speaking—
so maybe words aren’t the problem
if it’s words that keep me breathing.
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.
My mother does not write in her diary,
too afraid someone will read it. Instead,
she writes on scrap paper, rips it up
into a thousand pieces, throws it away.
my husband slammed
a thousand pieces
the screen door
the house thousand shook
pieces fell off I shook—my children
are the only pieces things
keeping from killing falling
a thousand into
pieces my daughter is
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 –
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 –
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 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!
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.
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.
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
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
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.
His lips must’ve been born in winter but I did it anyway and I'm proud of that. The boy
had pot-holed dimples a collection of white teeth so perfect you could tell God
got to him first.
In a dark room, I assembled myself the way I imagined any girl should: arms up in position and pregnant with waiting. He kissed me and I waited for the flood. I waited for God to gift me my own desire for the angsty snow to melt between us for the muscles in my neck to howl in an octave I've never known for the next chapter of my womanhood to appear and none of that happened.
When you get stood up by your own first kiss you feel like nothing belongs to you—
not even the promise of magic. Love is a rumor like Santa Clause. It lives in a pretty house that nobody has access to.
I must have had a bad past life I must have practiced on my hand too much. My mouth is a terrible orchestra the music it makes is foreign and uneven I am a thrift store of broken piano keys a visitor looking at myself from some window far, far away. I can't turn 17 and have nothing to say when someone asks if I know the choreography of heat.
Laura's lips looked like two oceans put together on purpose like something you're supposed to get lost in and not know the beginning of and there's a whole world in writing that out loud for the first time. (I hope nobody reads this, it was her idea)
I sat down on her couch looking like a good example of desperation. I wanted to know if my body was capable of speaking to another body in a language we already knew. I wanted to know if I could inherit my magic. If this doom was a prank caller or if it meant I was gonna be alone for the rest of my life.
My mouth was mine and I know because I gave it to her. We kissed and my blood became
a congregation of songs. I wrote myself on the inside of a girl's mouth and I didn't even care. Every nerve in my body sprouted legs, my spine founded a country of fireworks—this is the only thing better than the Thriller album. Ever.
Every fizzle of me that was, now has a name. My heart isn't some Hail Mary of a prayer or the secret apology I keep. One day I'll write poems about the woman who loved me so deep I grew color in my bones. I know when they ask me about my first kiss, I'm gonna say I leaned in with all of my skin and only got half of it back I'm gonna say I work real good I'm gonna say that some things are only felt the second time around.
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.'
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.
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.”
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.
Is a suspended blue ocean.
The stars are the fish
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
There is only one rule
On this Wild Playground,
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
O, in the Beloved's
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.
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.
& the room festers. sore swells from wall to wall. silence wide and still
as Atlantic. brutal secrets hidden by skin of Ocean. so still.
five fingers burst through waves. a woman arrives to sink each layer
of lie. with tongue. with teeth. why do I have to bring this up, still?
history and truth rise between stage & seat to clash colors. student ripe
in wisdom. Professor a blunt hammer. attempts to sanitize, still.
& in this deception: Power. to silence or speak at will. smooth anguish down
to soft images called Art. a magic trick of the pedagogy, he commands: Just be still.
for the student, a familiar incantation: to remove tongue from body. body from self.
self from world. She refuses with each breath. Rises to reclaim truth. Still.
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.
(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
Ochre yellow green stone Huichol camp
pinkyarn pressed wax from Campeche
Tipeyote Tipeyote Giver of Vision we walk
we know walk we walk we walk
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
Now you (this is how you find how you walk find you find walk life
Who knows this? You will know)
Sit now you
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 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
When the medication she was taking
caused tiny vessels in her face to break,
leaving faint but permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,
my sister said she knew she would
never be beautiful again.
After all those years
of watching her reflection in the mirror,
sucking in her stomach and standing straight,
she said it was a relief,
being done with beauty,
but I could see her pause inside that moment
as the knowledge spread across her face
with a fine distress, sucking
the peach out of her lips,
making her cute nose seem, for the first time,
a little knobby.
I’m probably the only one in the whole world
who actually remembers the year in high school
she perfected the art
of being a dumb blond,
spending recess on the breezeway by the physics lab,
tossing her hair and laughing that canary trill
which was her specialty,
while some football player named Johnny
with a pained expression in his eyes
wrapped his thick finger over and over again
in the bedspring of one of those pale curls.
Or how she spent the next decade of her life
auditioning a series of tall men,
looking for just one with the kind
of attention span she could count on.
Then one day her time of prettiness
was over, done, finito,
and all those other beautiful women
in the magazines and on the streets
just kept on being beautiful
everywhere you looked,
walking in that kind of elegant, disinterested trance
in which you sense they always seem to have one hand
touching the secret place
that keeps their beauty safe,
inhaling and exhaling the perfume of it—
It was spring. Season when the young
buttercups and daisies climb up on the
mulched bodies of their forebears
to wave their flags in the parade.
My sister just stood still for thirty seconds,
amazed by what was happening,
then shrugged and tossed her shaggy head
as if she was throwing something out,
something she had carried a long ways,
but had no use for anymore,
now that it had no use for her.
That, too, was beautiful.
There is no single particular noun
for the way a friendship,
stretched over time, grows thin,
then one day snaps with a popping sound.
No verb for accidentally
breaking a thing
while trying to get it open
—a marriage, for example.
No particular phrase for
losing a book
in the middle of reading it,
and therefore never learning the end.
There is no expression, in English, at least,
for avoiding the sight
of your own body in the mirror,
for disliking the touch
of the afternoon sun,
for walking into the flatlands and dust
that stretch out before you
after your adventures are done.
No adjective for gradually speaking less and less,
because you have stopped being able
to say the one thing that would
break your life loose from its grip.
Certainly no name that one can imagine
for the aspen tree outside the kitchen window,
in spade-shaped leaves
spinning on their stems,
working themselves into
a pale-green, vegetable blur.
No word for waking up one morning
and looking around,
because the mysterious spirit
that drives all things
seems to have returned,
and is on your side again.
Twenty-four haiku, for each year he lived
when you die, i’m told
they only use given names
neither b.i.g. nor smalls
just voletta’s son
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
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
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
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
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
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!
It begins with a question, and ends / with a plea. It begins with yes, I want / this world inside of me, and ends with prayers / in the attic. It begins with twelve forests and twelve / apostles to ravage them, and doesn’t end until the bodies are forever / sealed shut. It begins with thousands / of curious boys, and ends with snow / the color of a fingertip. It begins and ends / with a body out of walking distance, with no one / to let the hunger out. It begins like this, I was / born quiet and slow. It begins, and the question / is just as empty as a new mother’s deflated / belly. It begins with a young boy collecting / boughs, and ends with please, it is not winter / in my body. It begins and won’t end until someone has mercy / on the woodpile. It begins with winter and cannot end / as winter. It begins a game and ends / a pistol in the ground. It begins / with metaphor, and ends with a boy running naked / and bloody through the forest / of his own skin. It begins and ends / in the length a bullet can travel. / It begins with hello, and ends / with the receiver nearly touching / the floor.
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.
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.
There’s CREATURE in my room, in a green slimy cave.
It’s got fangs, smells like pee-pee and is known to misbehave
This CREATURE did something so evil, and so mean
That I will never EVER forgive THE CREATURE! Not even in my dreams!
It broke the one kid rule that is known only to kids
And if you’ve ever lived with a creature, you know exactly what it is!
My mom baked 17 cookies with semi-sweet double chocolate chips
They smell nutritious, taste delicious and when they touch my lips
I have to have another, and another and another!
And I would have eaten them all if it wasn’t for…….my brother!
My mom went crazy on us, saying “You guys are out of control!
You begged me to bake them, you begged to lick the bowl!
Who ate 16 cookies?!!!!! I’ve had about enough of it!
This last one is mine! You’d better not touch it!”
The last cookie sat on a plate…. for 3 days straight!
I’d go to school, come home, play Xbox and wait
And wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait…….
Until the 4th day, I just couldn’t take it anymore!
“Mom, the dog knocked the plate and ate cookie on the floor!
I’m not lying! Ask my brother, he was there, there’s the proof!
And you know what that disloyal creature fart told her???????
He broke the one kid rule! Never ever tattle tale!
3 weeks of punishment was videogame jail!
No Call of Duty, Mortal Kombat, Tekken or Minecrafting!
GTA, Injustice! IT’S NOT FUNNY Stop Laughing!
I told my mom I knocked the plate and ate cookie on the floor
I told my brother, “Look at me, I’m not your friend anymore!”
He cried like a baby, and for that, I have regrets
But would I eat the last double chocolate chip cookie again?
Understand she’s standing in front of you
taking attendance with lines
in her head.
Looking for possible line breaks in her
lesson plan. Don’t think enjambment
is too big a word for you.
She doesn’t. She won’t talk down to you
and will have you look up what you don’t
Know she won’t care if you stumble
on another word instead.
In getting there. Call it the next
word in store for you.
What she found before you.
Last night. When she couldn’t sleep.
When she was thinking of how
to teach how thrilling it can be
when a word takes a breath
and you find there’s more than one
way to be in the world. Two
possibilities to imagine that doe
at the back of the room, how she
escaped the woods
to be here with you. How none
of you thought to bring a gun
to school. How your teacher believed
you could write a poem to her.
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.
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 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.
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
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.
When people aren't asking questions
They're making suggestions
And when they're not doing one of those
They're either looking over your shoulder or stepping on your toes
And then as if that weren't enough to annoy you
They employ you.
Anybody at leisure
Incurs everybody's displeasure.
It seems to be very irking
To people at work to see other people not working,
So they tell you that work is wonderful medicine,
Just look at Firestone and Ford and Edison,
And they lecture you till they're out of breath or something
And then if you don't succumb they starve you to death or something.
All of which results in a nasty quirk:
That if you don't want to work you have to work to earn enough
money so that you won't have to work.
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 televisions 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.
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.
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.
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.
Regulations allow for, on average, sixty insect fragments
per hundred grams of chocolate
in America. You are pulverized.
The thorax, the head, the legs that no longer twitch.
Invisible and milk-smooth.
Nothing harbors a secret like sweetness.
Centuries ago, on the open sea, the Sirens understood
this statute. Each sank their knowledge
inside a voice of chimes and kisses,
hiding the ocean’s stone teeth
in a mouth of mist and foam.
Yesterday, waves beat against a dock in Brazil.
The quick bodies of you and your buddies
quivered across the cargo of cacao beans.
You couldn't possibly comprehend: the beans
on their way to the grinder, just as those ancient sailors
couldn’t envision—beyond the Sirens' music—
the broken mast, the shattered hull.
Today is Valentine's Day. I walk to the store
to buy a box of chocolates for my wife.
As I walk, I have no idea whose hands
made the shoes that hug my feet,
or why the produce at the super market
glows like numbers on the stock exchange.
There is sweetness in this world,
but it has a price. You are the price.
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.
Dear Angel of Death,
A long time ago, one of my writing teachers said, "Make a list of what you're most afraid of and write to the thing at the top of the list." I looked at my list, saw your name, and ignored that teacher for the rest of the year.
Dear Angel of Death,
I hope you're not offended that I ignored that guy. Here's the situation: I know you're skilled at your trade, a paragon of efficiency, and worthy of a pen pal. But I ignored him, because, A) I know you're busy, and B) I didn't want to draw your attention any earlier than necessary. In fact, I'd be fine if you just forgot about me entirely.
Dear Angel of Death,
So why am I writing now? Not long ago, I saw a three-legged dog limping across a field. Something about that reminded me of you. I guess, there's only so long we can avoid each other. Thought you should know. Whatever.
Dear Angel of Death,
Have you ever thought of working under a pseudonym? Perhaps something more familiar, like "Cousin Jimmy" or "Uncle Dave" might make people feel more comfortable. "Cousin Jimmy" and "Uncle Dave" just sound like good-natured dudes. And it would make parents' jobs so much easier when they have to explain your occupation to the little ones. Hey kids, remember Grandma? Well she's gone to live with Uncle Dave. Glad we had this talk.
Dear Uncle Dave,
I was just trying out the new name, kicking the tires, and seeing how it handles on the highway, when I realized there might be a complication. Apparently, many people actually have real-life Uncle Daves. It might be confusing to say, "Uncle Dave was visited by Uncle Dave, today."
I'll see if I can come up with something else.
Dear Sunshine Larry of the Sparkle Territories,
Success! I just Googled that, and guess what? Google says: No results found for “Sunshine Larry of the Sparkle Territories.” So, I guess, that name's yours, if you want it.
Dear Sunshine Larry,
I don't know if this name's going to work either. Feels like false advertising. Okay, now I'm depressed.
Once, I saw a rusted-out Chevy on the side of the road. It reminded me of you.
Last week, I saw a homeless man dressed as a cactus. He held a sign that said, "I still believe in rain." It was a hundred degrees out and the skies were blazing white. And yes, this reminded me of you.
Dear Angel of Death,
Did we decide on a name, yet? I thought your initials might work. There's something clean and precise about "A.D." Of course, there was once a basketball player named Adrian Dantley, and they called him "A.D." for short. Do you like basketball? I hope you let that guy stick around for a while. He was my favorite and when he was on, he was unrelenting. I saw him play once. The other team put a forward on him, and A.D. would blow right by him. Then they'd throw a guard on him, and he'd just post the guy up. They'd foul him, and he'd nail the free throws.
This also reminds me of you. That moment when everyone knows what's coming, but no one can stop it. He could do whatever he wanted, and by the end of the game, he just executed the same move over and over.
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—
Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
Therefore by that dear name I long have called you—
You who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you
In setting my Virginia's spirit free.
My mother—my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life
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 yous,
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.
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.
You and I have spoken all these words, but as for the way
we have to go, words
are no preparation. There is no getting ready, other than
grace. My faults
have stayed hidden. One might call that a preparation!
I have one small drop
of knowing in my soul. Let it dissolve in your ocean.
There are so many threats to it.
Inside each of us, there’s continual autumn. Our leaves
fall and are blown out
over the water. A crow sits in the blackened limbs and talks
about what’s gone. Then
your generosity returns: spring, moisture, intelligence, the
scent of hyacinth and rose
and cypress. Joseph is back! And if you don’t feel in
yourself the freshness of
Joseph, be Jacob! Weep and then smile. Don’t pretend to know
something you haven’t experienced.
There’s a necessary dying, and then Jesus is breathing again.
Very little grows on jagged
rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up
where you are. You’ve been
stony for too many years. Try something different. Surrender.
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.
Out of your many faces
Flash memories to me
Now at the day end
Away from the sidewalks
Where your shoe soles traveled
And your voices rose and blent
To form the city’s afternoon roar
Hindering an old silence.
I remember lean ones among you,
Throats in the clutch of a hope,
Lips written over with strivings,
Mouths that kiss only for love,
Records of great wishes slept with,
And prayed and toiled for:
And your throats
I read them
When you passed by.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
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.
When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor’d youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed:
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O! love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love, loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be.
The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the oceans,
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 disdain’d 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?
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
Sometimes he shoots into the mirror
and someone, wearing his face, falls.
A mother grieves, but no one hears her
prayer, collapse and caterwauls.
And someone wearing his face falls.
A mama screeches out his name
then prays, collapses. Caterwauls
are soundtrack as revenge take aim.
His mama screeches out his name,
but payback’s on the daddy’s mind.
The soundtrack, as revenge take aim,
morphs into dirge. There’s not much time,
But payback’s on the daddy’s mind.
He grabs a gun, he dies. His night
morphs into dirge, there’s not much time
to waste. His boys gon’ make it right.
They grab their guns. They die. This night
A mama grieves but no one hears her
waste away. Her boy-he gon’ make it, right?
Sometimes he shoots into the mirror.
Now, everything that breathes
knows my given name, the full of it,
The scars it leaves on the skyline.
They know my moments of mercy,
And yes, how calmly I can kill.
The bastard child of a bluesman and an ocean,
I won’t die until music does. But I
have never heard a prayer
that began with my name,
gave me pause,
forced me to rearrange my wind
instead, I listened, bemused, to thirty-four
snotty pleas addressed to the idea of Him,
the ghost in the air, my rumored father.
I was all the seconds they had left.
They should have smothered me with kneeling.
Instead, in their old scratched voices,
They begged the wet air for salvation. They called
Lord, Lord, Lord,
until I was forced to show them my face.
I am alive in Los Angeles!
I am alive in Los Angeles!
Here in the wild, wild west..
The warm wind hits my face,
I walk across stained concrete,
I cry tears of joy on Flower Street..
I watch families dancing
on their porches on Christmas Eve.
I smile widely.
I move thru the city,
my heart beating swiftly
as sirens speed by me.
I revel in the sadness—my soul is deep
I take full responsibility.
Give me everything!
It hurts—it's so beautiful!
I am alive in Los Angeles!
Luis J. Rodriguez is a love poem to Los Angeles
Under her sky honoring ancestors
In every corner of the metropolis
Singing sonnets for the people
Justice comes to dance with our laureate
Reconciling hungry songs in the shadow
Opening the blast furnace of suburbia
Deconstructing the concrete river
Rodriguez offers in every breath, a prayer
In every poem, the gold beneath our feet
Giving the borrowed bones another day
Understand his name's not Rodriguez
Every road he rides is a poem
Zapping us back to a place called home
To the white kid in my Spanish class
who asked me to translate what I was saying
Mi lengua es muy juguetona
No sabe cuando parar
Posee secretos, lenguajes
E historias de mis antepasados
My tongue is not going to translate
what I just said
It will not accommodate
itself to make yours comfortable.
If I make you feel uneasy I will not apologize for it.
It took courage for my tongue to speak
And it will say whatever and however it wants to…
You might think it is inconsiderate for me
to not help you understand
the enchantment of mi canto…
Well I think it is disrespectful for you
to expect me to fulfill
In Spanish, I talk with rythms
De Salsa with a little bit of cumbia y son
The whole room dances at the sound of rolling rrrr’s…
So when you hear me say ehstrawberry it's not because I can't speak,
It’s because I want you to join me in mi danza.
So come and I will teach you mi mundo:
In this house we never stay quiet
And your business is our business
You can never say no to my abuela’s caldo de pollo
Because you will end up with just a tortilla con mantequilla.
The coffee is ready
So my tias sit around the table and ask about el novio ,
Some will say you need to stop eating so much pan dulce
Others will say you need to eat more beans con arroz!
In this house la fiesta never starts
until all your cousins arrive,
And it never ends until the jumper is gone.
After every celebration you must not forget el recalentado…
The tamales are a go-to for everything: your brothers baptism, your cousin's wedding
Las posadas, el baby chower, Christmas, and all the other parties.
For our mothers there is no such thing as “time out”…
You better get familiar with el cincho, la paleta, y la chancla.
They say it's more effective than facing the wall.
We will open our door if you decide
to dance to the rhythm of our rolling rrr’s…
When this tongue speaks,
It sings the stories of my ancestors
And prophesies the life of our coming generations
It moves mountains, creates thunder,
This tongue will never take anything back.
To what we have
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.
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
And the women said watch as men call us lottery tickets
watch as they cash register us into gamble into played
out combinations of sweaty bills and pocket want
watch as they lick their lips for that better life
watch as they pout, when we don’t pay out.
When the bling of our breasts don’t make them
cheshire cat the same. When we got our own debts
that gotta be paid, to mirrors, to mommas, to the way our hearts
traffic light in the closet after we sold ourselves
And the women said feel the way we became campfire
how we ghost storied into this dangerous beauty.
How them men can’t scrub out our smoke, how our blue learned
to burn slow, standstill like the moment between beggin and maybe.
Feel the way we soil into shovel, how we let ourselves be held even
after a matchbox tongue misspoke of our flames, even after we told flint,
you don’t live here no more. The women said feel how we are not open
fields waiting for their strike. They cannot not bury us
deep, call us things of war and be surprised
when we land mine.
Khong co gi bang com voi ca.
Khong co gi bang ma voi can.
Don’t you know? A mother’s love
neglects the cries
what it burns. My son,
you will have today. Don’t you know?
are men who touch breasts
tops of skulls. Men
who carry dreams
mountains, the dead
But only a mother can walk
of a second beating heart.
can get lost in every book
but you’ll never forget yourself
way god forgets
they ask you
tell them your name
fleshed from the toothless mouth
That you were not born
into the hunger of dogs. My son, tell them
body is a blade that sharpens
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
They named me Kenneth Zane Beasley III.
At age five I was adopted by a truck driver.
Became Buddy Marshall Stevens.
Didn’t much care for that. A number of reasons.
So I changed it to Buddy Wakefield. My name
is Buddy Wakefield. I am part-saint part-fraud. Being human
has been a largely humiliating experience.
I would say that it’s been humbling
but I suspect humble people
don’t use that word. They
humble up. Buttercup, we got ourselves some friendly names.
Got ourselves in a pickle, friends. There are
no stunt doubles performing the devastation
in losing everything. Maybe
we are losing everything
on purpose. There is a
I am a bad person
trying to do something right. It turns out
everyone is right. It turns out
we are happening
so fast. The whole world.
So fast. Yesterday
I was 23.
The day before that
I was nine. And none of the soured relationships
were worth my need to be right. Y’all,
is too far to fall. And you, my love, were a skyscraper tabernacle
mouth full of water. Beautiful
and too far to fall. Oh
but look at us take a tumble quake. Yeah
look at us take our lumps. Look
everybody’s headed for the pass again
to cut each other off. If
my whole body
and your whole body—
If every single one of our bodies got amputated
right now. We would still have to deal with what's left of us.
who claims to serve the people, and is very famous
for making the world feel like it feels better than it actually does,
strutted up to our table
like a cocky lion
walking straight into the mouth of a whale
and said to us, Put it in God's hands.
I said, Boy, we are God's hands.
Stop standing like an apology that you never meant to give.
Your context is unruly. The waiter
quietly reached across my audacity,
evenly placed the silverware
then politely replied, Sir, I’m sorry,
but you don’t know me.
You know the mistakes I made.
Now, who ordered the worst-case scenario?
Maybe I did. Maybe you. Maybe on purpose
until everyone in the whole world
found out everything
we were ever scared of being found out about, and no one
was impressed with our nightmare. Air
does not have an ego. Pay attention
when it enters and exits. Each one of us
feels desire inside them and can point to it on a map. Stop acting
like you don’t know which direction your life is going. It’s hysterical
pretending to be something you’re not. This loneliness
is so goddamn blunt. It turns out
everything here is a trigger.
Don’t expect to be warned again.
You’re a full-grown jawbone, though I have zero proof
that any of us are adults. But there is still a voice inside me
that believes we will make miracles of the laughter left between us. Recently,
I discovered a word that will fix everything I broke in our home,
rescued it from my body, and passed it on to people
who will use it properly. You
finally leaned over to my ear, whispered so close to my throat
it fogged up the knife, spoke what you thought was my name
until I could not remember where I came from
then patiently waited for me to explain
what the hell it is I am even talking about.
So I clenched your history, pulled it out of repeat, and loved you forever,
while we all sang these words like a choir of honest killers
If I leave the world without you
I did not forget to survive
the both of us.
Someone said to me the other day I’ve got a lisp.
A stranger said I have a subtle lisp and I should know:
I sound a little stupid doing spoken word
When all my words with “S” in them are spoken so absurd
I'm not upset.
It just sucks
to think you're speaking normally for two decades
and then shucks—
find out your stuff sounds like a stanza of Severus Snape's toughest parsel tongue
as pronounced by Daffy Duck.
I will say this:
My subtle lisp is not sinful.
My Jewish side is not sorry Saturday.
My Christian side is not sorry Sunday
I'm spiritual and when I speak
I celebrate the Sabbath seven days a week.
I’ve got special 'S' sauce smothered on my skull walls like a tossed salad
so silkscreen the Sistine ceiling on my soft palate
I sing along with super-scenesters
reciting Sufjan Stevens songs in skinny jeans
and dance salsa with soccer moms
sneaking out in skimpy see-through sarongs.
I'll answer questions in style
with my sexy, subtly lisping, sparking incisors smile:
It's so sweet, now slow, see—
I've heard some steamy stories, but I'm not stretching
to say one time I made a lady swoon
by speaking an “S”-y section of a Shakespeare sonnet
in her general direction.
I write all-S essays,
shred them and sprinkle the all-S ashes.
My speech doesn't give a spotted sea-snail if it passes
I slipped past straight F's to straight S's in my classes,
‘cause my speech stays second-semester-senior status.
I'm so sick sixth grade school kids call me “Sofa King.”
I'm on tongue steroids slammin’ with the Sammy Sosa swing.
So tight I sleep upright in a small cell in Sing Sing.
I sail the seven seas on Steve Irwin’s stingray
while your speedboat's sinking.
Screw An 'S' S.O.S.
I'm straight S.S.S.
for save someone standard.
I studied at the school of savage speech, screw Stanford
I spit sexier than
Summer Sanders, Sarah Silverman, Susan Sarandon, Sissy Spacek, Sally Struthers and Selena,
spooning in a six-way same-sex celebrity civil union
So slander the “gay lisp”
and I'll slip you a solid list of friends, who, lisp or no lisp,
will stomp, spit, stay pissed, and start all over on the racists.
Save the South Korean stereotypes,
the “Sambo” shtick,
the sexist shit—
and If you suppose your speech is “normal,”
that’s ‘cause your impediment
I’ll speak for those of us with something special.
Something that sets us aside—
I’ll spit it sick and stick to never skipping S…
‘Cause I was sucking on a soupspoon and I suckled it to sterling silver, simple, supple, Super Soaker, staying watching Sister Sister, seeing each syllable scale my esophagus smoother than Sisyphus, suffering succotash, isolate awesome and see there's no stopping this.
I start the steps to speaking me so see that I will not desist.
if you don't like a “subtle lisp,”
but you can simply
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
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
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
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.
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.
And out of the sun's gates come little girls in dresses of fire
wearing pigtails of braided smoke which stem from their moon
cratered scalps. The glowing seeds of a nightly garden that will
blossom into full moons irregardless of the sun. They know the night
and the seven names of the wind through the tales of their wind blown
fathers. Who will father these mothers of light? And what will become
Children of the Night, only some will star the sky, only believers in
death will die, and fathers must feather the wings of women. For the
un-feathered masses dangle ridiculous, carrying crosses to phallyx
filled tombs. The future sails silent through blood river'd wombs
that ripple with riddles of cows and spoons, and births moons and
earths sun-centered at noon.
She buries her eggs in the soil and plants her feet in the sky. Soil
seeds the circus of carrots and clowns and minstrels show our desires.
And here I stand, court jestering infinity, fetal fisted for revolution
but open hands birth humility. Now what is the density of an egoless
planet? Must my spine be aligned to sprout wings? I'm slouched in the
slang steps and kangol’d with gang reps but my orbit rainbows
Mystical elliptical presto Polaris: karmic flamed future when Saturn’s
in Aries. And now I’m a fish called father with gills type Dizzy, blowing
liquid lullabies through the spine of time to tranquilize the nervous
system's defeat. At the feet of the river the children are gathered or
rather buried in that mass grave site of the night. They are the seeds
of light planted in the sky but then night and skies are meaningless to
their unearthly eyes.
They are our children: playing chess on the sun-burnt backs of one
eyed turtles; checkmating a lifetime's slow crawl to enlightenment;
cashing in their crown and glory for magic and contradiction. The
children of fiction born of semen filled crosses thrust in cavalry's
mound with memories of mañana's millennium. The gravity of the
pendulum, the inscription of the grail, the rumors of war and famine,
diseases and storms of hail.
All hail the new beginning! Behold the winter’s end. Bring on the
puppets and dragons! Let the ceremonies begin! For they have come
to shatter time and bring back the dead. Newborn, an army of me.
Bearing change in the frontline and shadows in the field mines,
to wilderness the lights in the city.
I have seen them: a tumultuous army of bastards and beggars,
madmen and idiots, witches and harlots, dancers and lunatics, singers
and sinners, losers and lovers, students and teachers, poets and
priests. Orbiting the realms of the ordinary through the ordinances of
those ordained by the beast. These are our children: love-laden life
lanterns, casting shadows that shepherd the flocks. Crying wolf when
the moon’s full, as sirens of love's lull. The offspring of Gibraltar's
rocks. Who will deny them when thrice crows the cock?
Will it be you, Peter? Decked in day-mares denial, masqueraded
in matter, over mind, under trial. Self is the servant to serpents with
wings. Three is the beginning of all things. Try angles when tangle
your wings. Let vision blur not your deservings. Pile stones and
unearth ancient learnings. See self as the ghost of your servings.
If you're serving the father, there's no son without mother. Parent
bodies discover water bodies and drown. Wade me in the water until
Atlantis is found. On the seafloors of self, I'm starfish and unbound.
Heard the name of that mound is Stone Mountain. Underwater
volcanoes erupt water fountains of youth, lest this carnal equation
cancel out wind and truth. Swirl me beyond sometimes. Drench me
waterproof. Let eves drop forever, rain sun sets on my roof. As I sit on
the front porch of my sanity. Deciphering ham bones to Van Gogh
this vanity. “Oiled egos! Canvassed and framed!” To be reborn unborn
A reflection through a blood-stained-glass window of souls gone yellow
'round the edges. Carbonated dreams and blurred daily lives.
But let family bring focus. Out of swamps blossom lotus. The muddy
water blue daughters of infinity grant we water bodied bodhisattvas
our serenity as we rise with the tides towards divinity.
And she will be raised by wolves just below the Mason-ry Dixon Line,
where eagles noose the misuse of Osiris's sacred papyruses in their
claws clench, so that the vultures of our memories may feast upon the
remedies of ancient laws lynched and flock to the treetops
of the forethoughts we have forgotten.
Yes silence will be begotten of the wind. The silver eyes of the
darkness are her friends. They sometimes plant forever in their dens.
On the mountain side of sometimes now and then. In between the rise
and set of you and I, Mayblu visions know the depths of liquid skies.
And some ask me if she cries in the night when it’s the substance of
her tears that drench the days with light. Shit, you better hope she do.
'Cause they're riddled with fur coats and painted faces dancing at the
peripheries of perfection. They eat Chinese apples that stain their
teeth red and can cackle cosmos out of chaos at a moments... Notice
the children on the train selling chocolate with their mothers in the
background, fundraising their dreams from the dead. And the authors
of autumn correspond with catharsis and change the leaves of my
needs orange to red. I need fruit and vegetables for only living things
can feed the span of wings and thus she was born to charter my flight
into the blues of night.
I am the darkness that proceeds the light. A pupil of the sea's
reflective sight. Notebook in hand, I footnote land and write. Plot dot
dot dot and dot my i's as bright. And cast my lot amongst the children
and the night.
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.
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.
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
My mother wakes up late these days.
I help her to get up. I put on her glasses.
We walk to the bathroom. Twenty five steps, slowly.
I hold both her hands as if we were dancing.
She brushes her feet against the floor.
I walk backwards.
It is kind of cloudy today. She says that every morning
since her sight started to fail.
She sits on the toilet, rubs her eyes,
runs her fingers through her hair trying to remove
the remains of last night’s medication.
I am about to prepare the bath. What is that? she says.
There is a dead moth in the bathtub.
How is she able to see it?
She cannot read anymore,
she cannot sew—she loved sewing,
cannot watch TV—it bothers her eyes.
She still has good peripheral vision.
The doctor has told me.
The moth has left a trail behind—golden, glittery.
Calligraphy written by a drunken hand.
A trail of dance and death.
It’s just a moth, mother. They come in at night. I tell her.
I clean the bathtub with toilet paper. I let the water run.
I start to remove my mother’s night gown.
Five buttons on her chest.
This must be the end of summer, she says.