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Elementary - 2024

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Because I speak Spanish  

I can listen to my grandmother’s stories 

and say familia, madre, amor. 

Because I speak English 

I can learn from my teacher  

and say I love school. 


Because I am bilingual 

I can read libros and books, 

I have amigos and friends, 

I enjoy canciones and songs, 

juegos and games, 

and have twice as much fun. 


And someday, 

because I speak two languages, 

I will be able to do twice as much, 

to help twice as many people 

and be twice as good in what I do.

Words are Birds


are birds

that arrive

with books

and spring





the wind

and trees


some words

are messengers

that come

from far away

from distant lands


for them

there are

no borders

only stars

moon and sun


some words

are familiar

like canaries

others are exotic

like the quetzal bird


some can stand

the cold

others migrate

with the sun

to the south


some words



they're difficult

to translate


and others

build nests

have chicks

warm them

feed them


teach them

how to fly

and one day

they go away

in flocks


the letters

on this page

are the prints

they leave

by the sea



(Miami, October 2008)


The awesome weight of the world had not yet descended
upon his athlete’s shoulders. I saw someone light but not feathered


job up to the rickety stage like a jock off the court
played my game      did my best


and the silent crowd listened and dreamed.
The children sat high on their parents’ shoulders.


Then the crowd made noise that gathered and grew
until it was loud and was loud as the sea.

What it meant or would mean was not yet fixed
nor could be, though human beings ever tilt toward we.


Lying, thinking

Last night

How to find my soul a home

Where water is not thirsty

And bread loaf is not stone

I came up with one thing

And I don't believe I'm wrong

That nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.


Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.


There are some millionaires

With money they can't use

Their wives run round like banshees

Their children sing the blues

They've got expensive doctors

To cure their hearts of stone.

But nobody

No, nobody

Can make it out here alone.


Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.


Now if you listen closely

I'll tell you what I know

Storm clouds are gathering

The wind is gonna blow

The race of man is suffering

And I can hear the moan,

'Cause nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.


Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Life Doesn't Frighten Me

Shadows on the wall 

Noises down the hall 

Life doesn't frighten me at all 


Bad dogs barking loud 

Big ghosts in a cloud 

Life doesn't frighten me at all 


Mean old Mother Goose 

Lions on the loose 

They don't frighten me at all 


Dragons breathing flame 

On my counterpane 

That doesn't frighten me at all. 


I go boo 

Make them shoo 

I make fun 

Way they run 

I won't cry 

So they fly 

I just smile 

They go wild 


Life doesn't frighten me at all. 


Tough guys fight 

All alone at night 

Life doesn't frighten me at all. 


Panthers in the park 

Strangers in the dark 

No, they don't frighten me at all. 


That new classroom where 

Boys all pull my hair 

(Kissy little girls 

With their hair in curls) 

They don't frighten me at all. 


Don't show me frogs and snakes 

And listen for my scream, 

If I'm afraid at all 

It's only in my dreams. 


I've got a magic charm 

That I keep up my sleeve 

I can walk the ocean floor 

And never have to breathe. 


Life doesn't frighten me at all 

Not at all 

Not at all. 


Life doesn't frighten me at all.



              when you send the rain

              think about it, please,

              a little?


              not get carried away

              by the sound of falling water,

              the marvelous light

              on the falling water.


              am beneath that water.

              It falls with great force

              and the light


             me to the light.

When the winter chrysanthemums go

translated from the Japanese by Robert Hass


When the winter chrysanthemums go,

there's nothing to write about

but radishes.


excerpt from “Prayer for My Immigrant Relatives”

While they wait in long lines, legs shifting,

fingers growing tired of holding handrails,

pages of paperwork, give them patience.

Help them to recall the cobalt Mediterranean

or the green valleys full of vineyards and sheep.

When peoples’ words resemble the buzz

of beehives, help them to hear the music

of home, sung from balconies overflowing

with woven rugs and bundled vegetables...

give them the memory of their first step

onto solid land, after much ocean, air and clouds,

remind them of the phone call back home saying,

We arrived. Yes, thank God we made it, we are here.


Your Songs

When first you sang a song to me

With laughter shining from your eyes, 

You trolled your music liltingly

With cadences of glad surprise. 


In after years I heard you croon

In measures delicately slow 

Of trees turned silver by the moon

And nocturnes sprites and lovers know. 


And now I cannot hear you sing, 

But love still holds your melody

For silence is a sounding thing

To one who listens hungrily. 

The Ecchoing Green

The sun does arise,

And make happy the skies.

The merry bells ring

To welcome the Spring.

The sky-lark and thrush,

The birds of the bush,

Sing louder around,

To the bells’ cheerful sound. 

While our sports shall be seen

On the Ecchoing Green.


Old John, with white hair 

Does laugh away care,

Sitting under the oak,

Among the old folk, 

They laugh at our play, 

And soon they all say.

‘Such, such were the joys. 

When we all girls & boys, 

In our youth-time were seen, 

On the Ecchoing Green.’


Till the little ones weary

No more can be merry

The sun does descend,

And our sports have an end: 

Round the laps of their mothers, 

Many sisters and brothers,

Like birds in their nest,

Are ready for rest;

And sport no more seen,

On the darkening Green. 

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?


And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?


What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?


When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?


Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

A Boat

O beautiful

was the werewolf   

in his evil forest.   

We took him

to the carnival   

and he started   


when he saw

the Ferris wheel.   


green and red tears   

flowed down

his furry cheeks.   

He looked

like a boat

out on the dark   



Life, believe, is not a dream

So dark as sages say;

Oft a little morning rain

Foretells a pleasant day.

Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,

But these are transient all;

If the shower will make the roses bloom,

O why lament its fall?

Rapidly, merrily,

Life’s sunny hours flit by,

Gratefully, cheerily

Enjoy them as they fly!

What though Death at times steps in,

And calls our Best away?

What though sorrow seems to win,

O’er hope, a heavy sway?

Yet Hope again elastic springs,

Unconquered, though she fell;

Still buoyant are her golden wings,

Still strong to bear us well.

Manfully, fearlessly,

The day of trial bear,

For gloriously, victoriously,

Can courage quell despair!

Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward

Say to them,

say to the down-keepers,

the sun-slappers,

the self-soilers,

the harmony-hushers,

"Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night."

You will be right.

For that is the hard home-run.


Live not for battles won.

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

Live in the along.

The Egg Boiler

Being you, you cut your poetry from wood.

The boiling of an egg is heavy art.

You come upon it as an artist should,

With rich-eyed passion, and with straining heart.

We fools, we cut our poems out of air.

Night color, wind soprano, and such stuff.

And sometimes weightlessness is much to bear.

You mock it, though, you name it Not Enough.

The egg, spooned gently to the avid pan,

And left the strick three minute, or the four,

Is your Enough and art for any man.

We fools give courteous ear--then cut some more,

Shaping a gorgeous Nothingness from cloud.

You watch us, eat your egg, and laugh aloud.

excerpt from “Country of Water”

I know who I am because I believe it

I know

I know

Who I

Who I




In three’s we will come

A drip of water moving against a boulder

Water slow and steady can turn rock

Into a pebble

Like anxiety

Like self-doubt



Until gone

Let your love for yourself be the water

Be the rise

Be the mist

Let you be


A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—


Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—


Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.


Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.


Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.


In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?


By the time you know

your fate, it’s too late to change.

The birds in cages

know this but still chew the bars.

Maybe hope tastes like metal.

excerpt from “When I Grow Up I Want to be a List of Further Possibilities”

To be a backpack of PB&J & every

thing I know, for my brothers, who are becoming


their own storms. To be, for me, nobody,

homebody, body in bed watching TV. To go 2D


& be a painting, an amateur’s hilltop & stars,

simple decoration for the new apartment


with you. To be close, J.,

to everything that is close to you—


blue blanket, red cup, green shoes

with pink laces.


To be the blue & the red.

The green, the hot pink.



today we are possible.


the morning, green and laundry-sweet,

opens itself and we enter

blind and mewling.


everything waits for us:


the snow kingdom

sparkling and silent

in its glacial cap,


the cane fields

shining and sweet

in the sun-drenched south.


as the day arrives

with all its clumsy blessings


what we will become

waits in us like an ache.

Differences of Opinion

He tells her that the earth is flat —

He knows the facts, and that is that.

In altercations fierce and long

She tries her best to prove him wrong.

But he has learned to argue well.

He calls her arguments unsound

And often asks her not to yell.

She cannot win. He stands his ground.


The planet goes on being round.


A great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that we respond positively to birdsong.

-Scientific researcher quoted in The Daily Telegraph 8.2.2012


Centuries of English verse

Suggest the selfsame thing:

A negative response is rare

When birds are heard to sing.


What’s the use of poetry?

You ask. Well, here’s a start:

It’s anecdotal evidence

About the human heart.



If for a day joy masters me,

Think not my wounds are healed;

Far deeper than the scars you see,

I keep the roots concealed.


They shall bear blossoms with the fall;

I have their word for this,

Who tend my roots with rains of gall,

And suns of prejudice.

maggie and milly and molly and may

maggie and milly and molly and may

went down to the beach(to play one day)


and maggie discovered a shell that sang

so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and


milly befriended a stranded star

whose rays five languid fingers were;


and molly was chased by a horrible thing

which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and


may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as a world and as large as alone.


For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)

it's always ourselves we find in the sea

Cherry blossoms

I went down to

mingle my breath

with the breath

of the cherry blossoms.


There were photographers:

Mothers arranging their

children against

gnarled old trees;

a couple, hugging,

asks a passerby

to snap them

like that,

so that their love

will always be caught

between two friendships:

ours & the friendship

of the cherry trees.


Oh Cherry,

why can’t my poems

be as beautiful?


A young woman in a fur-trimmed

coat sets a card table

with linens, candles,

a picnic basket & wine.

A father tips

a boy’s wheelchair back

so he can gaze

up at a branched


                     All around us

the blossoms

flurry down





        Be patient

you have an ancient beauty.


                                            Be patient,

                                  you have an ancient beauty.

If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

The Fall

There was a man who found two leaves and came indoors holding them

out saying to his parents that he was a tree.

To which they said then go into the yard and do not grow in the living room

as your roots may ruin the carpet.

He said I was fooling I am not a tree and he dropped his leaves.

But his parents said look it is fall.

Instructions Before Stuttering

Tread where the name has prepared

A full name full of desire

Clay like plenty

Love is sensitive

In the space of crying

The name goes ahead

To prepare you

Grasp the vessel

With both hands and

Walk slow

A road of red clover


The Republic of Poetry

For Chile


In the republic of poetry,
a train full of poets
rolls south in the rain
as plum trees rock
and horses kick the air,
and village bands
parade down the aisle
with trumpets, with bowler hats,
followed by the president
of the republic,
shaking every hand.


In the republic of poetry,
monks print verses about the night
on boxes of monastery chocolate,
kitchens in restaurants
use odes for recipes
from eel to artichoke,
and poets eat for free.


In the republic of poetry,
poets read to the baboons
at the zoo, and all the primates,
poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.


In the republic of poetry,
poets rent a helicopter
to bombard the national palace
with poems on bookmarks,
and everyone in the courtyard
rushes to grab a poem
fluttering from the sky,
blinded by weeping.


In the republic of poetry,
the guard at the airport
will not allow you to leave the country
until you declaim a poem for her
and she says Ah! Beautiful.

Bilingual / Bilingüe

My father liked them separate, one there,  

one here (allá y aquí), as if aware 


that words might cut in two his daughter’s heart  

(el corazón) and lock the alien part 


to what he was—his memory, his name  

(su nombre)—with a key he could not claim. 


“English outside this door, Spanish inside,”  

he said, “y basta.” But who can divide 


the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from  

any child? I knew how to be dumb 


and stubborn (testaruda); late, in bed,  

I hoarded secret syllables I read 


until my tongue (mi lengua) learned to run  

where his stumbled. And still the heart was one. 


I like to think he knew that, even when,  

proud (orgulloso) of his daughter’s pen, 


he stood outside mis versos, half in fear  

of words he loved but wanted not to hear.

Dust of Snow

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree


Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.


BLK History Month

If Black History Month is not

viable then wind does not

carry the seeds and drop them

on fertile ground

rain does not

dampen the land

and encourage the seeds

to root

sun does not

warm the earth

and kiss the seedlings

and tell them plain:

You’re As Good As Anybody Else

You’ve Got A Place Here, Too

Knoxville, Tennessee

I always like summer


you can eat fresh corn

from daddy's garden

and okra

and greens

and cabbage

and lots of


and buttermilk

and homemade ice-cream

at the church picnic

and listen to

gospel music


at the church


and go to the mountains with

your grandmother

and go barefooted

and be warm

all the time

not only when you go to bed

and sleep

Ars Poetica

May the poems be

the little snail’s trail.


Everywhere I go,

every inch: quiet record


of the foot’s silver prayer

I lived once.

Thank you.

It was here.

excerpt from “Change Sings”

I can hear change humming

In its loudest, proudest song.


I don’t fear change coming,

And so I sing along.


I’m a chant that rises and rings.

There is hope where my change sings.


Though some don’t understand it,

Those windmills of mysteries,


I sing with all the planet,

And its hills of histories.

Nature Knows Its Math


the year

into seasons,



the snow then


some more


a bud,

a breeze,

a whispering


the trees,

and here

beneath the



orange poppies



Went to the corner

Walked to the store

Bought me some candy

Ain't got it no more

Ain't got it no more



Went to the beach

Played on the shore

Built me a sandhouse

Ain't got it no more

Ain't got it no more


Went to the kitchen

Lay down on the floor

Made me a poem

Still got it

Still got it

To Catch a Fish

It takes more than a wish

to catch a fish

you take the hook

you add the bait

you concentrate

and then you wait

you wait     you wait

but not a bite

the fish don’t have

an appetite

so tell them what

good bait you’ve got

and how your bait

can hit the spot

this works a whole

lot better than

a wish

if you really

want to catch

a fish

A Boy and His Dad

A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—

There is a glorious fellowship!

Father and son and the open sky

And the white clouds lazily drifting by,

And the laughing stream as it runs along

With the clicking reel like a martial song,

And the father teaching the youngster gay

How to land a fish in the sportsman's way.


I fancy I hear them talking there

In an open boat, and the speech is fair.

And the boy is learning the ways of men

From the finest man in his youthful ken.

Kings, to the youngster, cannot compare

With the gentle father who's with him there.

And the greatest mind of the human race

Not for one minute could take his place.


Which is happier, man or boy?

The soul of the father is steeped in joy,

For he's finding out, to his heart's delight,

That his son is fit for the future fight.

He is learning the glorious depths of him,

And the thoughts he thinks and his every whim;

And he shall discover, when night comes on,

How close he has grown to his little son.


A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—

Builders of life's companionship!

Oh, I envy them, as I see them there

Under the sky in the open air,

For out of the old, old long-ago

Come the summer days that I used to know,

When I learned life's truths from my father's lips

As I shared the joy of his fishing-trips.


The Dream of Shoji

How to say milk?  How to say sand, snow, sow,


linen, cloud, cocoon, or albino?

How to say page or canvas or rice balls?


Trying to recall Japanese, I blank out:


it's clear I know forgetting.  Mother, tell me

what to call that paper screen that slides the interior in?

Mary’s Lamb

Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow,

And every where that Mary went

The lamb was sure to go;

He followed her to school one day—

That was against the rule,

It made the children laugh and play,

To see a lamb at school.


And so the Teacher turned him out,

But still he lingered near,

And waited patiently about,

Till Mary did appear;

And then he ran to her, and laid

His head upon her arm,

As if he said—"I'm not afraid—

You'll keep me from all harm."


"What makes the lamb love Mary so?"

The eager children cry—

"O, Mary loves the lamb, you know,"

The Teacher did reply;—

"And you each gentle animal

In confidence may bind,

And make them follow at your call,

If you are always kind."


Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the star's stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

her life, and her mother's, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their

tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,

listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.


excerpt from “For M”

The number

of hours 

we have 

together is

actually not

so large.

Please linger

near the

door uncomfortably

instead of

just leaving.

Please forget

your scarf

in my

life and

come back 

later for


Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.


I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,


Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Jackrabbits, Green Onions, & Witches Stew

Jackrabbits, green onions & witches stew


Three dollars & upside down lemons & you


Dinky planet on a skateboard of dynamite


Oh, what to do, chile peppers, Mrs. Oops


Dr. What, Mr. Space Station unscrewed


The Redbook of Ants says you better run


No sireee, LOL, blowin’ my bubble gum sun

The Folk Who Live in Backward Town

The folk who live in Backward Town

Are inside out and upside down.

They wear their hats inside their heads

And go to sleep beneath their beds.

They only eat the apple peeling

And take their walks across the ceiling.

Taking One for the Team

We practiced together,

sweat and stained.

We pummeled each other

and laughed off pain.

Teams may disagree,

may tease,

may blame.

Teams may bicker and whine,

but get down for the game.


You had my back.

We fought the fight.

And though our score

was less last night,

we're walking tall.

Our team came through

and stuck together like Crazy Glue.

I'm proud to say

I lost with you.

The Dream Keeper

Bring me all of your dreams, 

You dreamers, 

Bring me all of your

Heart melodies

That I may wrap them

In a blue cloud-cloth

Away from the too-rough fingers

Of the world.


We have tomorrow

Bright before us

Like a flame.



A night-gone thing,

A sun-down name.


And dawn-today

Broad arch above the road we came.

We march!

Floating Sweet Dumpling

translated from the Vietnamese by Marilyn Chin


My body is powdery white and round

I sink and bob like a mountain in a pond

The hand that kneads me is hard and rough

You can't destroy my true red heart


Mixed Feelings

I find it hard to write about my race

because my feelings are written on my face.

Not in my expression,

but in the peaks of my nose

and the valleys of my sunken eyes.


White nose.

Brown eyes.

Mixed feelings.


Choose a side.

I can’t.

I’m unable.


What is written on my face is the answer.

It is woven into the tapestry of my DNA.




To all the 







I won’t let them make us pick a side.

I’d rather be a mixed being

with mixed feelings.

The Dreams of the Dreamer

The dreams of the dreamer

   Are life-drops that pass

The break in the heart

   To the soul’s hour-glass.


The songs of the singer

   Are tones that repeat

The cry of the heart

   ‘Till it ceases to beat.

These Poems

These poems

they are things that I do

in the dark

reaching for you

whoever you are


are you ready?


These words

they are stones in the water

running away


These skeletal lines

they are desperate arms for my longing and love.


I am a stranger

learning to worship the strangers

around me


whoever you are

whoever I may become.

Two Set Out on Their Journey

We sit side by side,

brother and sister, and read

the book of what will be, while a breeze

blows the pages over—

desolate odd, cheerful even,

and otherwise. When we come

to our own story, the happy beginning,

the ending we don’t know yet,

the ten thousand acts

encumbering the days between,

we will read every page of it.

If an ancestor has pressed

a love-flower for us, it will lie hidden

between pages of the slow going,

where only those who adore the story

ever read. When the time comes

to shut the book and set out,

we will take childhood’s laughter

as far as we can into the days to come,

until another laughter sounds back

from the place where our next bodies

will have risen and will be telling

tales of what seemed deadly serious once,

offering to us oldening wayfarers 

the light heart, now made of time

and sorrow, that we started with.

Eating Together

In the steamer is the trout   

seasoned with slivers of ginger,

two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.   

We shall eat it with rice for lunch,   

brothers, sister, my mother who will   

taste the sweetest meat of the head,   

holding it between her fingers   

deftly, the way my father did   

weeks ago. Then he lay down   

to sleep like a snow-covered road   

winding through pines older than him,   

without any travelers, and lonely for no one.


Amphibians live in both.


Immigrants leave their land, 

hardening in the sea. 


Out of water.


In Greek, amphibian means

“on both sides of life.”


Terra and aqua. Shoreline. 

In fresh water:


amphibians lay

shell-less eggs; 

immigrants give birth

to Americans.


Tadpoles, polliwogs 

metamorphose: gills

in early stages. On land,


amphibians develop lungs. 

Immigrants develop lungs.


Through damp skin 

amphibians oxygenate.


Immigrants toil

and sleep breathlessly.


Skin forms glands.

Eyes form eyelids.


Amphibians seek land; immigrants, other lands.


Their colors brighten, camouflage.


They’ve been known to fall 

out of the sky.


Fully at home in the rain.

In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa

Arching under the night sky inky

with black expansiveness, we point

to the planets we know, we


pin quick wishes on stars. From earth,

we read the sky as if it is an unerring book

of the universe, expert and evident.


Still, there are mysteries below our sky:

the whale song, the songbird singing

its call in the bough of a wind-shaken tree.


We are creatures of constant awe,

curious at beauty, at leaf and blossom,

at grief and pleasure, sun and shadow.


And it is not darkness that unites us,

not the cold distance of space, but

the offering of water, each drop of rain,


each rivulet, each pulse, each vein.

O second moon, we, too, are made

of water, of vast and beckoning seas.


We, too, are made of wonders, of great

and ordinary loves, of small invisible worlds,

of a need to call out through the dark.

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

In Lijiang, the sign outside your hostel

        glares: Ride alone, ride alone, ride

alone – it taunts you for the mileage

        of your solitude, must be past


thousands, for you rode this plane

        alone, this train alone, you’ll ride

this bus alone well into the summer night,

       well into the next hamlet, town,


city, the next century, as the trees twitch

        and the clouds wane and the tides

quiver and the galaxies tilt and the sun

        spins us another lonely cycle, you’ll


wonder if this compass will ever change.

        The sun doesn’t need more heat,

so why should you? The trees don’t need

        to be close, so why should you?

Untitled Poem For Sarah

Every morning you'd think

all the moths would throw themselves

into the Sun.


But they wait

for streetlights

to consume them


in small coughs

of sparkle.

My dear,


my dear,

my dear:

I have stopped


listening to my moth soul.

My dear, I am done

tilting at streetlights.


My paper wings soar,


your blazing heart.

these are the things I can do without

In the other room,

the dentist talks

about the barbecue

that didn’t happen,

the golf game

that did. In the small

room of my mouth,

another tooth

throbs in its death bed.

The other teeth

gather around:

good-bye, mister

molar, it’s been real.

In the curved room

of my ear, a Tears

for Fears song

unspools. Shout,

shout. In the room

behind my eyes,

an old woman sits

alone in a chair,

applying makeup

in the dark.

Lunar Landscape

Nobody can tell you

anything new about

moonlight you have seen it

for yourself as many

times as necessary


nobody else ever saw

it as it appeared to you

you have heard all about it

but in the words of others

so that you fell asleep


it was photographed but

somewhere else and without

what was happening inside

its light and whenever it

was rhymed it disappeared


you cannot depend on

it use it for much send

it anywhere sell it

keep it for yourself bring

it back when it has left


and while it is lighting

the ocean like a name while

it is awake in the leaves

you do not need to look at it

to know it is not there


Afternoon on a Hill

I will be the gladdest thing

Under the sun!

I will touch a hundred flowers

And not pick one!


I will look at cliffs and clouds

With quiet eyes,

Watch the wind bow down the grass

And the grass rise.


And when lights begin to show

Up from the town

I will mark which must be mine, 

And then start down!

To the Sea

Sometimes when you start to ramble

or rather when you feel you are starting to ramble

you will say Well, now I’m rambling

though I don’t think you ever are.

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

And not just because I and everyone really 

at times falls into our own unspooling

—which really I think is a beautiful softness

of being human, trying to show someone else

the color of all our threads, wanting another to know 

everything in us we are trying to to show them—

but in the specific, 

in the specific of you

here in this car that you are driving

and in which I am sitting beside you

with regards to you 

and your specific mouth

parting to give way

to the specific sweetness that is

the water of your voice 

tumbling forth—like I said 

I don’t ever really mind

how much more 

you might keep speaking

as it simply means 

I get to hear you 

speak for longer. 

What was a stream 

now a river.

I'm Going to Say I'm Sorry

I'm going to say I'm sorry.

It's time for this quarrel to end.

I know that we both didn't mean it

and each of us misses a friend.

It isn't much fun being angry

and arguing's just the worst,

so I'm going to say I'm sorry . . .

just as soon as you say it first!

Be Like the Cactus

Let not harsh tongues, that wag

in vain,

Discourage you. In spite of


Be like the cactus, which through


And storm, and thunder, can


Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth

Too many needles spoil the cloth.

Too many parrots spoil the talk.

Too many chapped lips spoil the gloss.

Too many teasel burs spoil the paw.

Too many bubbles spoil the froth.

Too many doorbells spoil the knock.

Too many seeds spoil the floss.

Too many feathers spoil the claw.

Too many lightbulbs spoil the moth.

Too many holes spoil the sock.

Too many sunbeams spoil the moss.

Too many kisses spoil the jaw.

Too many wolves spoil the flock.

Too many necks spoil the block.

I Do Not Love Thee

I do not love thee!—no! I do not love thee!

And yet when thou art absent I am sad;

   And envy even the bright blue sky above thee,

Whose quiet stars may see thee and be glad.


I do not love thee!—yet, I know not why,

Whate’er thou dost seems still well done, to me:

   And often in my solitude I sigh

That those I do love are not more like thee!


I do not love thee!—yet, when thou art gone,

I hate the sound (though those who speak be dear)

   Which breaks the lingering echo of the tone

Thy voice of music leaves upon my ear.


I do not love thee!—yet thy speaking eyes,

With their deep, bright, and most expressive blue,

   Between me and the midnight heaven arise,

Oftener than any eyes I ever knew.


I know I do not love thee! yet, alas!

Others will scarcely trust my candid heart;

   And oft I catch them smiling as they pass,

Because they see me gazing where thou art.

Because of Libraries We Can Say These Things

She is holding the book close to her body,

carrying it home on the cracked sidewalk,

down the tangled hill.

If a dog runs at her again, she will use the book as a shield.


She looked hard among the long lines

of books to find this one.

When they start talking about money,

when the day contains such long and hot places,

she will go inside.

An orange bed is waiting.

Story without corners.

She will have two families.

They will eat at different hours.


She is carrying a book past the fire station

and the five and dime.


What this town has not given her

the book will provide; a sheep,

a wilderness of new solutions.

The book has already lived through its troubles.

The book has a calm cover, a straight spine.


When the step returns to itself,

as the best place for sitting,

and the old men up and down the street

are latching their clippers,


she will not be alone.

She will have a book to open

and open and open.

Her life starts here.


Torn Map

Once, by mistake,

she tore a map in half.

She taped it back, but crookedly.

Now all the roads ended in water.

There were mountains

right next to her hometown.

Wouldn’t it be nice

if that were true?

I’d tear a map

and be right next to you.

excerpt from “Sometimes”

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

I Want to Save This Whale

The one right in front of me

on e-mail, a chain message

forwarded by my mother

on the first day of this new year.

She’s tangled in nets and lines

and there’s only one way to

get her out, she tells us

with her bathtub-sized eyes

one at a time because we

have to swim around to see.


excerpt from “In Praise of Okra”

I write this poem

in praise of okra

& the cooks who understood

how to make something out of nothing.

Your fibrous skin

melts in my mouth—

green flecks of flavor,

still tough, unbruised,

part of the fabric of earth.

Soul food.

Bleezer’s Ice Cream

I am Ebenezer Bleezer,


there are flavors in my freezer

you have never seen before,

twenty-eight divine creations

too delicious to resist,

why not do yourself a favor,

try the flavors on my list:































I am Ebenezer Bleezer,


taste a flavor from my freezer,

you will surely ask for more.

Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]

 Do you still remember: falling stars,

how they leapt slantwise through the sky

like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles

of our wishes—did we have so many?—

for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;

almost every gaze upward became

wedded to the swift hazard of their play,

and our heart felt like a single thing

beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance—

and was whole, as if it would survive them!

excerpt from “Refugio's Hair”

In the old days of our family,

My grandmother was a young woman

Whose hair was as long as the river.

She lived with her sisters on the ranch

La Calera—The Land of the Lime—

And her days were happy.

Immigrant Centuries

These are immigrant times

And the lines are long,


The signs for jobs few,

The songs sadder, the air meaner.


Everyone is hungry.

Everyone is willing.


Jobs are not jobs but lives lived

Hard at the work of being human.


These are immigrant times,

And the lines are long again.

In the Rain

translated from Greek by Kostas Myrsiades


He walks in the rain. He’s in no hurry at all.

The drenched railing glistens. The trees

are black with a hidden red. An old

bus tire is discarded in the sheepfold.

The blue house is significantly bluer.

So that’s how nothingness is lessened. Rocks fall.

Hands clench. An unused envelope

floats in the river. Perhaps your name is written on the other side.


Mustard Flowers

If you see an old man sitting alone

at the bus stop and wonder who he is

I can tell you.

He is my father.

He is not waiting for a bus or a friend

nor is he taking a brief rest before

resuming his walk.

He doesn't intend to shop in the

nearby stores either

he is just sitting there on the bench.


Occasionally he smiles and talks.

No one listens.

Nobody is interested.

And he doesn't seem to care

if someone listens or not.


A stream of cars, buses, and people

flows on the road.

A river of images, metaphors, and

similes flows through his head.

When everything stops

at the traffic lights it is midnight

back in his village. Morning starts

when lights turn green.

When someone honks

his neighbor's dog barks.


When a yellow car passes by

a thousand mustard flowers

bloom in his head.


The Hand

The teacher asks a question.

You know the answer, you suspect

you are the only one in the classroom 

who knows the answer, because the person

in question is yourself, and on that 

you are the greatest living authority,

but you don’t raise your hand.

You raise the top of your desk

and take out an apple.

You look out the window.

You don’t raise your hand and there is

some essential beauty in your fingers,

which aren’t even drumming, but lie 

flat and peaceful.

The teacher repeats the question. 

Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,

a robin is ruffling its feathers

and spring is in the air.

The Breeze at Dawn

translated by Coleman Barks


The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill

where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

This is Not a Small Voice

This is not a small voice

you hear               this is a large

voice coming out of these cities.

This is the voice of LaTanya.

Kadesha. Shaniqua. This

is the voice of Antoine.

Darryl. Shaquille.

Running over waters

navigating the hallways

of our schools spilling out

on the corners of our cities and

no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.


This is not a small love

you hear               this is a large

love, a passion for kissing learning

on its face.

This is a love that crowns the feet with hands

that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails

mends the children,

folds them inside our history where they

toast more than the flesh

where they suck the bones of the alphabet

and spit out closed vowels.

This is a love colored with iron and lace.

This is a love initialed Black Genius.


This is not a small voice

you hear.

Summer Stars

Bend low again, night of summer stars.

So near you are, sky of summer stars, 

So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars, 

Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl, 

So near you are, summer stars, 

So near, strumming, strumming, 

                So lazy and hum-strumming.

For My Mother

Once more

I summon you

Out of the past

With poignant love,

You who nourished the poet

And the lover.

I see your gray eyes

Looking out to sea

In those Rockport summers,

Keeping a distance

Within the closeness

Which was never intrusive

Opening out

Into the world.

And what I remember

Is how we laughed

Till we cried

Swept into merriment

Especially when times were hard.

And what I remember

Is how you never stopped creating

And how people sent me

Dresses you had designed

With rich embroidery

In brilliant colors

Because they could not bear

To give them away

Or cast them aside.

I summon you now

Not to think of

The ceaseless battle

With pain and ill health,

The frailty and the anguish.

No, today I remember

The creator,

The lion-hearted.


Up beyond the

Night sky, an

Indigo darkness like


Embraces the farthest

Reaches of the mind,

Sun, moon, stars,



Fear passes from man to man


As one leaf passes its shudder

To another.


All at once the whole tree is trembling,


And there is no sign of the wind.


My Shadow

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,

And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.

He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;

And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.


The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—

Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;

For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,

And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.


He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,

And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.

He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;

I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!


One morning, very early, before the sun was up,

I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;

But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,

Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.


Why should you believe in magic,

pretend an interest in astrology

or the tarot? Truth is, you are


free, and what might happen to you

today, nobody knows. And your

personality may undergo a radical


transformation in the next half

hour. So it goes. You are consumed

by your faith in justice, your


hope for a better day, the rightness

of fate, the dreams, the lies

the taunts—Nobody gets what he


wants. A dark star passes through

you on your way home from

the grocery: never again are you


the same—an experience which is

impossible to forget, impossible

to share. The longing to be pure


is over. You are the stranger

who gets stranger by the hour.

Writing Prompt

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

What would you write about? What 


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

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

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


What about regret? What if 


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


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


Do the stars feel heavier now? 


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

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


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


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

describe the blue. 


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


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


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


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


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

Since Hanna Moved Away

The tires on my bike are flat.

The sky is grouchy gray.

At least it sure feels like that

Since Hanna moved away.


Chocolate ice cream tastes like prunes.

December's come to stay.

They've taken back the Mays and Junes

Since Hanna moved away.


Flowers smell like halibut.

Velvet feels like hay.

Every handsome dog's a mutt

Since Hanna moved away.


Nothing's fun to laugh about.

Nothing's fun to play.

They call me, but I won't come out

Since Hanna moved away.


My grandmothers were strong.

They followed plows and bent to toil.

They moved through fields sowing seed. 

They touched earth and grain grew. 

They were full of sturdiness and singing.

My grandmothers were strong.


My grandmothers are full of memories

Smelling of soap and onions and wet clay

With veins rolling roughly over quick hands

They have many clean words to say.

My grandmothers were strong.

Why am I not as they?

excerpt from “Song of Myself (2)”

Do I contradict myself? 

Very well, then I contradict myself, 

I am large, 

I contain multitudes.

excerpt from “Song of the Open Road, 1”

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. 


Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.


Watch the dewdrops in the morning,

   Shake their little diamond heads,

Sparkling, flashing, ever moving,

   From their silent little beds.


See the grass! Each blade is brightened,

   Roots are strengthened by their stay;

Like the dewdrops, let us scatter

   Gems of love along the way.


The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


excerpt from “Tic and Tap”

I tic like a using toy

of tall ideas to tap my way

through the space

of the outside world

and I sometimes game

the space like a backward spiral that

tries to find its way.


I tic because I want to

be settled and I tap

to feel the way the comings arrange

me like a forge

inside my eyes.


I am feeling all

the time

and I am the toy

talker who

is always 

toy touching

to control

the forging 

environment that is

always touching me.

excerpt from “Yes I Ache to Answer the Call (a manifesto of yes)”

The call of the talking people

to answer about autism

is one I avoid


like the way people avoid me

in all my autistic wonder


Say yes to the way of difference


Say yes the way I do

to the other people

who ask me to peacefully

understand them

needing support


Say yes to sour candy

Easy ways to say yes

are the ways of love

and openness to all types

of doing and being

and peaceful ways pacing others

call the ways to say yes


My mother has a gap between

her two front teeth. So does Daddy Gunnar.

Each child in this family has the same space

connecting us.


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

His soft brown curls and eyelashes stop

people on the street.

Whose angel child is this? they want to know.

When I say, My brother, the people

wear doubt

thick as a cape

until we smile

and the cape falls.


I am not my sister.

Words from the books curl around each other

make little sense


I read them again

and again, the story

settling into memory.  Too slow

the teacher says.

Read faster.

Too babyish, the teacher says.

Read older.

But I don’t want to read faster or older or

any way else that might

make the story disappear too quickly

from where it’s settling

inside my brain,

slowly becoming

a part of me.

A story I will remember

long after I’ve read it for the second,

third, tenth,

hundredth time.

To a Child Dancing in the Wind

Dance there upon the shore; 

What need have you to care

For wind or water's roar? 

And tumble out your hair 

That the salt drops have wet; 

Being young you have not known 

The fool's triumph, nor yet

Love lost as soon as won,

Nor the best labourer dead 

And all the sheaves to bind. 

What need have you to dread 

The monstrous crying of wind!

Between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, Today

I read a Korean poem

with the line “Today you are the youngest

you will ever be.” Today I am the oldest

I have been. Today we drink

buckwheat tea. Today I have heat

in my apartment. Today I think

about the word chada in Korean.

It means cold. It means to be filled with.

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

Today you wear the cold. Your chilled skin.

My heart kicks on my skin. Someone said

winter has broken his windows. The heat inside

and the cold outside sent lightning across glass.

Today my heart wears you like curtains. Today

it fills with you. The window in my room

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

We drink. It is cold outside.

Carrying Our Words

We travel carrying our words.

We arrive at the ocean.

With our words we are able to speak

of the sounds of thunderous waves.

We speak of how majestic it is,

of the ocean power that gifts us songs.

We sing of our respect

and call it our relative.