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"Mexican" Is Not a Noun

   to forty-six UC Santa Cruz students and
  seven faculty arrested in Watsonville for
  showing solidarity with two thousand
  striking cannery workers who were mostly
  Mexican women, October 27, 1985



is not

a noun

or an




is a life





a check

mark on

a welfare




more than

a word

a nail in

the soul



it hurts

it points

it dreams

it offends

it cries


it moves

it strikes

it burns

just like


a verb

The table

Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa


My country

is this room opening onto the balcony,

it is also the balcony with its flowers

that come and go over the months, and that seem to me

luminous even when they turn the color

of a sad wind


My country

is the white cloth covering me, the dishes placed on me

each day, the arms that lean on me,

even the water in which I nearly drowned,

spilled absentmindedly by the hand that poured it

over my body, a clumsy,

thoughtless hand


I came to know it early on,

my country that is,

when it was still the perfumed landscape

of various timbers, my sisters all, of the sawmill,

its air filled with tiny filaments and sweetly

scented dust, the fingers that then chose me,

a broad piece of wood, and stroked and caressed me

with planes, varnish, polish


that was already my country: a prairie of insects,

white winds, the living sap that ran

in my veins, the water I drank to survive,

and that protected me


May the hand that rests on me

here, now,

remember this our shared condition:

we came from the same realm, and to that same realm

we will go, she and me:


the atoms that shaped and made me

could so easily have been hers

How to Get into a Poem

(Standing Stone Creek, Pa.)

[A startling observation about the nature of human life]
or [A concrete description of trout]
[Backstory, alluding to an individuating experience]
or [Personal background, like “I have a weird relationship
to rural America”]
[Imagery only loosely related to backstory/background]
or [Tropical fruits if part of you is tropical]
[Some intellectual discourse on the word “part”]
or [Agonized associative thinking about the nature
of something politically urgent, like colorism]
[A return to the opening vignette so folks stay on track,
like “is it possible that a suburban mixed kid actually
has nothing at all to claim, not the trout, not the breadfruit”]
[A direction, e.g. “towards”]
or [A time e.g. “now” or “after”]
[A prepositional or noun phrase if grammatically necessary]
[A turn, which should also be startling, as in oh
this is what the poem is really about]
or [Imagery that achieves roughly this purpose, like that of
the properties of brackish water,
or the length and nature of brackish days]

Woman Work

I've got the children to tend

The clothes to mend

The floor to mop

The food to shop

Then the chicken to fry

The baby to dry

I got company to feed

The garden to weed

I've got shirts to press

The tots to dress

The cane to be cut

I gotta clean up this hut

Then see about the sick

And the cotton to pick.


Shine on me, sunshine

Rain on me, rain

Fall softly, dewdrops

And cool my brow again.


Storm, blow me from here

With your fiercest wind

Let me float across the sky

'Til I can rest again.


Fall gently, snowflakes

Cover me with white

Cold icy kisses and

Let me rest tonight.


Sun, rain, curving sky

Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone

Star shine, moon glow


You're all that I can call my own.

Meditations in an Emergency

I wake up & it breaks my heart. I draw the blinds

& the thrill of rain breaks my heart. I go outside.

I ride the train, walk among the buildings, men in

Monday suits. The flight of doves, the city of tents

beneath the underpass, the huddled mass, old

women hawking roses, & children all of them,

break my heart. There’s a dream I have in which I

love the world. I run from end to end like fingers

through her hair. There are no borders, only wind.

Like you, I was born. Like you, I was raised in the

institution of dreaming. Hand on my heart. Hand

on my stupid heart.

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.



My father and I sit at a sushi bar in my new city

sampling three different kinds of salmon nigiri.


He tells me about a great funeral speech

he recently heard a son give for his father.


The speech was structured around regrets

everyone assumed the father didn’t have,


interspersed with hilarious stories involving boys

crashing the family van and fishing mishaps.


The ivory salmon is pale and impossibly soft.

The sliver of steelhead, orange enough


to pretend it’s salmon. How else to say it.

I am my father’s only child, and he is my mother.


We dip our chopsticks into a horseradish paste

dyed green and called wasabi. I know his regrets.


I could list them. But instead at his funeral

I will talk if I can talk about nights like this,


how good it felt just to be next to him,

to be the closest thing he had.

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 Last Bee

After the last ee

had uzzed its last uzz,


the irds and the utterflies

did what they could.


ut soon the fields lay are,

few flowers were left,


nature was roken,

and the planet ereft.


One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.


Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.


Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.


I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.


I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.


—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


All I ever wanted to be was a song— 

something soft and light held in the mouth 

sung sweet beneath the coming dawn. 

I return to that first desire—its gingham blouse 


rubbed against the heavy pull of flesh hovered

in a dark that I can only recall as that dark.

I ask what grace awaits that tender tendril’s suffered

stretch of green wide enough to tear a stark 


light out from under a troubled sky? I return

to the center of that smallness and sing its wounds—

jagged rasp crooned until edged out and earned.

I was the only boi I knew dreaming in soft bruise. 


And it made me as beautiful as the blood’s slow sprawl

at my knee, right before punching a bullying boy to crawl.

Molly Brodack

I am a good man.

The amount of fear

I am ok with 

is insane

I love many people

who don’t love me.

I don’t actually know

if that is true.

This is love.

It is a mass of ice

melting, I can’t hold

it and I have nowhere

to put it down.


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.


Each flower a wilting sun

The death of a new day is never kind

Grief ain’t no song

No loss is this romantic

excerpt from “Listen to the Golden Boomerang Return”

            our first lightning

          strike was convulsive

         we felt sad for our

       violence after


      wolves and bison

      we do not need a

       doctor to say

        dance dance 

         dance before

           the song 

             runs out

               learn how

               to live so





        we put them

      in parks to be

    wild on purpose

  a museum of fur

fangs and hooves



“I don’t know what to tell you.
Your daughter doesn’t understand
math. Numbers trouble her, leave
her stuck on ground zero.”


                              Y fueron los mayas
                              quienes imaginaron el cero,
                              un signo para nada, para todo,
                              en sus gran calculaciones.


                Is zero the velvet swoop into dream,
                the loop into plumes of our breath?


“I suggest you encourage languages.
Already she knows a little Spanish,
and you can teach her more of that.
She lives for story time.”


                In the beginning there was nothing.
                Then the green of quetzal wings.

                              Las historias siguen cambiando,
                              sus verdades vigorizadas
                              con cada narración
                              como X x X = X2

If God Asks, Tell Her I Give This Place Three Stars

No more and no fewer.


Yes, the vistas were majestic.


Yes, the smoked salmon omelets were–I’ll say it–divine.


I don’t think I’m alone, however, when I say there were never

enough Saturdays, and there were always too many options for

choosing how to spend them–cliff diving or window shopping,

getting the oil changed or self-destructing in front of a stranger.


And while some of the neighbors contributed in kind to courtyard

barbecues, others were [     ], and you never knew which you

were getting until you’d already paid the first and last month’s rent.


I’m not saying I didn’t have a good time, I’m just saying I’m not 

sure I should have. It was all too much, and it was never enough,

and I can’t help but feel as if I’ve forgotten more than I could ever



The woman who is being paid to swab my grandmother’s dry lips

sings the psalter like a seraph, and it should be me there with the

wet Q-tip, but I have to be elsewhere if I want to have the means to

afford a person to also swab my own chapped lips when it’s time.


It is the wildest, weirdest, most heartbreaking planet I’ve ever been.

I swear I just got here, but it feels like I’ve been here forever.


I don’t want to leave, & I absolutely, positively never want to ever 

come back.



At birth my parents pulled my legs

and split me lengthwise like a wish.


Rumiñahui saved his city

from Spaniards by striking two stones,

holy temples made pure as ash.


When a concerned citizen pinned

me to airport wall to check my 


origin, I whispered, thank you.

My dad says, Good, we’re safer now.

My uncle: then leave the country.


Christmases, I stay home in bed.

Only the chaste were burned alive.


One mind replies, I want to live.

The other: I want to live well.



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.

Is It Rude for Barbie Chang

Is it rude for Barbie Chang to tell men

     she doesn’t love them


just the idea of them what if we don’t

     even love living but just


the idea of it pictures always look

     lovely but it was an


ugly day if women were actually paid

     the same as men would


we all just pass on the highest bidder

     who says it’s a privilege


to be romantic romance with its antics

     and its time limits like the


nut that never tells us or other nuts

     when it will let go


we stand under the tree ready to 

     collect them with our 


arms wide open as in waltzing who

     authored the word love


does anyone know the author’s original

     intent does it matter


that no one knows exactly what it means

     does it matter that it


might signify everything what if we never

     needed a word for it


what if it is shapeless and composed

     of gestures if we name


the thing love it doesn’t mean it

     will last a nut does its


best to last but at some point just falls


     like all the others before it

God, Gods, Powers, Lord, Universe—

If you cannot, at the moment, give me much joy,

I get it. I have asked

& received many a great joy

already. Just give me, if you can spare it,

a small joy, say, the size

of a ketchup packet. If that’s too much

to ask for, then how about a small

kindness, a tiny kindness, the size of a kiss

from a dust mote? No?

Okay. Would it be possible for you to take

away some things, then? For instance,

the soreness on the right side of my neck?

If you could remove maybe half

a pinch of that soreness, I would leap up

as though it were a great joy. I mean,

it would absolutely be a great, great joy,

thank you in advance, O

highest O mightiest O most.

Still no? Well. What about this

sense that everything has become

very slippery, everything is slipping

right out of my fingers & faster

every day? I’m not asking you to cure

my fear. Nor unslipify

my fingers. Only, if you could,

if you have a quarter of a split

nanosecond, it would be

greatly appreciated, see, I don’t

need joy or kindness

or ketchup, I

beg you, if you are

a being, a higher, some

Mysteries that can listen, can

mercy, I just need to lose

a little

less quickly.

We Used Our Words We Used What Words We Had

we used our words we used what words we had

to weld, what words we had we wielded, kneeled,

we knelt. & wept we wrung the wet the sweat

we racked our lips we rang for words to ward

off sleep to warn to want ourselves. to want

the earth we mouthed it wound our vowels until

it fit, in fits the earth we mounted roused

& rocked we harped we yawned & tried to yawp

& tried to fix, affixed, we faceted, felt.

we fattened fanfared anthemed hammered, felt

the words’ worth stagnate, snap in half in heat

the wane the melt what words we’d hoarded halved

& holey, porous. meanwhile tide still tide.

& we: still washed for sounds to mark. & marked.


some dreams hang in the air

like smoke. some dreams

get all in your clothes and

be wearing them more than you do and

you be half the time trying to

hold them and half the time

trying to wave them away.

their smell be all over you and

they get to your eyes and

you cry. the fire be gone

and the wood but some dreams

hang in the air like smoke

touching everything.

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.

The Flower

I think I grow tensions

like flowers

in a wood where

nobody goes.


Each wound is perfect,

encloses itself in a tiny

imperceptible blossom,

making pain.


Pain is a flower like that one,

like this one,

like that one,

like this one.


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.

Los Angeles

the angels here 

have pigeons' wings

blue collars 

washed in sweat

the common salt 

in tears

tongues swirl 

in a stew of cultures

singing asphalt songs 

in the midst of seagulls

bebop atop 

the San Andreas

a humble plate 

of beings

The Primer

She said, I love you.


He said, Nothing.



(As if there were just one

of each word and the one

who used it, used it up).



In the history of language

the first obscenity was silence.


With the intention of abandoning the hierarchies of capitalism—

The machinery of thought. Hey, with the desire of growing lilacs

In our community garden, bougainvillea running along the wall. 

Hey, as we denounce the walls of isolation and marginalization. 

No, to the elite. No, to centuries of settler colonialism,

Their insistence, we are immigrants on our own land. 

Hey, at midnight, beneath the candle of the moon: our arms

Interlocked like laurels painted onto the rims of renaissance paintings.

Hey, I miss you. I never even met you: let’s take a deep dive

Into each other’s bookshelves, until we find oceans of imagery

And metaphors we can discuss, dissect, not for ego’s sake, but for love.

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340)

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading - treading - till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through -


And when they all were seated,

A Service, like a Drum -

Kept beating - beating - till I thought

My mind was going numb -


And then I heard them lift a Box

And creak across my Soul

With those same Boots of Lead, again,

Then Space - began to toll,


As all the Heavens were a Bell,

And Being, but an Ear,

And I, and Silence, some strange Race,

Wrecked, solitary, here -


And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down -

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing - then -


I think I forgot to turn

off the radio when

I left my mother’s



In Hasidic Judaism

it is said that before we

are born an angel

enters the womb,

strikes us on the


and we forget all

that we knew of

previous lives—

all that we know

of heaven


I think that I forgot

to forget.

I was born into two

places at once—


In one, it was chilly

lonely physical &



in the other, I stayed

in the dimension of

Spirit. What I knew,

I knew.

I did not forget


The world of spirit


held me in its arms.


Are you having a good time?

Are you having a time at all?

Everywhere in the garden I see the slime vine

of your neck, the stubborn baby curls—


I know I’m not saying this right.

“Good” hair has no body

in this country; like trained ivy,

it hangs and shines. Mine comes out


in clusters. Is there such

a thing as a warning? The Hawaiian

mulberry is turning to ash


and the snail has lost its home.

Are you really all over with? How done

is gone?


               On the other side of a mirror there's an inverse world, where the insane go

sane; where bones climb out of the earth and recede to the first slime of love.


  And in the evening the sun is just rising.


               Lovers cry because they are a day younger, and soon childhood robs them

of their pleasure.


               In such a world there is much sadness which, of course, is joy ...

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


Night Terrors in America

If I were to try, I’d begin with awe, with iron core, mantle, the oceans

full of secretive things. Land just a glimpse of skin, deliciously unblemished.

Then closer: ferns and fjords and sliding glaciers. But I’d end up leaning in

to trace walls, borders, touch a finger to the men practicing their sicknesses

and landmines. Scratching topsoil to lever out the hydrogen bombs and gas

chambers they’d have history’s dirty mirror forget. I still don’t want

to leave my want for this place behind. If I were to try again: whales,

white spiders in caves, and all those simple stones that carry no trace of us.

Poems With Disabilities

I’m sorry—this space is reserved 

for poems with disabilities. I know 

it’s one of the best spaces in the book, 

but the Poems with Disabilities Act 

requires us to make all reasonable 

accommodations for poems that aren’t 

normal. There is a nice space just 

a few pages over—in fact (don’t 

tell anyone) I think it’s better 

than this one, I myself prefer it. 

Actually I don’t see any of those 

poems right now myself, but you never know 

when one might show up, so we have to keep 

this space open. You can’t always tell 

just from looking at them, either. Sometimes 

they’ll look just like a regular poem 

when they roll in... you’re reading along 

and suddenly everything 

changes, the world tilts 

a little, angle of vision 

jumps, your entrails aren’t 

where you left them. You 

remember your aunt died 

of cancer at just your age 

and maybe yesterday’s twinge means 

something after all. Your sloppy, 

fragile heart beats 

a little faster 

and then you know. 

You just know: 

the poem 

is right 

where it 



If it had been a heart attack, the newspaper

might have used the word massive,

as if a mountain range had opened

inside her, but instead


it used the word suddenly, a light coming on


in an empty room. The telephone


fell from my shoulder, a black parrot repeating

                         something happened, something awful


a sunday, dusky. If it had been


terminal, we could have cradled her

as she grew smaller, wiped her mouth,


said good-bye. But it was sudden,


how overnight we could be orphaned

& the world become a bell we’d crawl inside

& the ringing all we’d eat.


Praise Song

After she died, I’d catch her

stuffing my nose with pine needles and oak,

staring off into the shadows of early morning.

Me, too jetlagged for the smells a ghost leaves behind.

The tailor of histories,

my mother sewed our Black Barbies and Kens

Nigerian clothes, her mind so tight against

the stitching, that in precision, she looked mean

as [     ], too. My mother’s laugh was a record skipping,

so deep she left nicks in the vinyl.

See? Even in death, she wants to be fable.

I don’t know what fathers teach sons,

but I am moving my mother

to a land where grief is no longer

gruesome. She loved top 40, yacht rock,

driving in daylight with the wind

wa-wa-ing through her cracked window

like Allah blowing breath

over the open bottle neck of our living.

She knew ninety-nine names for God,

and yet how do I remember her—

as what no god could make?

Going There

Of course it was a disaster.

That unbearable, dearest secret

has always been a disaster.

The danger when we try to leave.

Going over and over afterward

what we should have done

instead of what we did.

But for those short times

we seemed to be alive. Misled,

misused, lied to and cheated,

certainly. Still, for that

little while, we visited

our possible life.

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

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.

The Untrustworthy Speaker

Don’t listen to me; my heart’s been broken.

I don’t see anything objectively.


I know myself; I’ve learned to hear like a psychiatrist.

When I speak passionately,

that’s when I’m least to be trusted.


It’s very sad, really: all my life, I’ve been praised

for my intelligence, my powers of language, of insight.

In the end, they’re wasted—


I never see myself,

standing on the front steps, holding my sister’s hand.

That’s why I can’t account

for the bruises on her arm, where the sleeve ends.


In my own mind, I’m invisible: that’s why I’m dangerous.

People like me, who seem selfless,

we’re the cripples, the liars;

we’re the ones who should be factored out

in the interest of truth.


When I’m quiet, that’s when the truth emerges.

A clear sky, the clouds like white fibers.

Underneath, a little gray house, the azaleas

red and bright pink.


If you want the truth, you have to close yourself

to the older daughter, block her out:

when a living thing is hurt like that,

in its deepest workings,

all function is altered.


That’s why I’m not to be trusted.

Because a wound to the heart

is also a wound to the mind.


Part of Me Wanting Everything to Live

This New England kind of love reminds me

of the potted chrysanthemum my husband

gave me. I cared for it faithfully,

turning the pot a quarter turn each day

as it sat by the window. Until the blossoms

hung with broken necks on the dry stems.

Cut off the dead parts and watched

green leaves begin, new buds open.

Thinking the chrysanthemum would not die

unless I forced it to. The new flowers

were smaller and smaller, resembling

little eyes awake and alone in the dark.

I was offended by the lessening,

by the cheap renewal. By a going on

that gradually left the important behind.

But now it's different. I want the large

and near, and endings more final. If it must

be winter, let it be absolutely winter.

Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.


The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.


We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.


It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.


At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.


Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.


This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.


Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.


We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.


At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.


Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

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


excerpt from “Lost Ones”

Now, now, how come your talk turn cold?

Gained the whole world for the price of your soul

Tryin' to grab hold of what you can't control

Now you're all floss, what a sight to behold

Wisdom is better than silver and gold

I was hopeless, now I'm on Hope Road

Every man wanna act like he's exempt

Need to get down on his knees and repent

Can't slick talk on the day of judgment

Your movement's similar to a serpent

Tried to play straight, how your whole style bent?

Consequence is no coincidence

Hypocrites always wanna play innocent

Always want to take it to the full out extent

Always want to make it seem like good intent

Never want to face it when it time for punishment

I know you don't wanna hear my opinion

There come many paths and you must choose one

And if you don't change then the rain soon come

See you might win some, but you just lost one

It Was Like This: You Were Happy

It was like this:

you were happy, then you were sad,

then happy again, then not.


It went on.

You were innocent or you were guilty.

Actions were taken, or not.


At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.

Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?


Now it is almost over.


Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.


It does this not in forgiveness—

between you, there is nothing to forgive—

but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment

he sees the bread is finished with transformation.


Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.


It doesn’t matter what they will make of you

or your days: they will be wrong,

they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,

all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.


Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,

you slept, you awakened.

Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.


[Death is nothing at all]

Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened.


Everything remains exactly as it was.

I am I, and you are you,

and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.

Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.


Call me by the old familiar name.

Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.


Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.

Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.


Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same as it ever was.

There is absolute and unbroken continuity.

What is this death but a negligible accident?


Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you, for an interval,

somewhere very near,

just round the corner.


All is well.

Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.

One brief moment and all will be as it was before.

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!


What the Silence Says





I know that you think you already know but—






Longer than that.





even longer than that.

[I Thought That I Could Love]

I thought

That I could love

My fear could


Build with it

A desk and chest

Of drawers


Like fear was

Made of pine

And nails


And glue could

Sew myself

Into a dress


With it or

Matching set

In shocking blue


Could plait

My hair with it

Could paint


With it could

Thin my paint

With it


Could spread

It like a sheet

Onto my bed


Could slice a loaf

Of bread on fear’s

Serrated edge

I look at the world

I look at the world

From awakening eyes in a black face—

And this is what I see:

This fenced-off narrow space   

Assigned to me.


I look then at the silly walls

Through dark eyes in a dark face—

And this is what I know:

That all these walls oppression builds

Will have to go!


I look at my own body   

With eyes no longer blind—

And I see that my own hands can make

The world that's in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,

The road to find.

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



I’ve been old.

I’ve been poor.

I’ve been vulnerable.

I’ve been exploited.

I’ve been called an angel.

I’ve studied spiders.

I’ve lingered in love like a hummingbird outside a window.

I’ve likened myself to a pigeon, a dove.

I’ve been duped.

I’ve been brilliant.

I’ve been a genie in a bottle.

I’ve been let out.

I’ve been put back in.

I am in the dark.

How to get out with love in my mouth?

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.

For Felicity

Everyone remembers her haircut, 

lion’s mane sheared like lamb’s wool, 

but few remember why. She stood 

on the busy street corner, broke up with 

the boy she loved. I can’t change 

who I am—I don’t want to, she told him.


I’d never said that to a boy. I said, 

You’re right; that band is stupid. I said, 

I’ll stop watching soap operas. I said,  

I don’t know; what do you think? I said, 

Please don’t leave me. I said, 

I can be anyone you want me to be.  


She walked away, crossed the street, 

plopped into the plastic swivel chair.  

Her bare feet pointed and flexed over the 

metal bar, beside the pile of curls.  

Her eyes blinked in the mirror. She 

marveled at what she could leave behind.

A Spell to Banish Grief

Only when you wake to a fistful of pulled hair

on the floor beside your bed and, from a glance,

can guess its weight, when you study dried tear

streaks on your cheeks like a farmer figuring out

where the season went wrong, when a friend calls

out your name three or four times before you know

your name is yours, when your name fits like clothes

you’ve suddenly outgrown, when there is too much

of you, too few of you, too you of you, and the mirrors

wish all of you would just look away, when the clocks

can’t feel their hands and the calendars begin to doubt

themselves, when you begin to agree with the glares

from mirrors but your reflection follows you around

the house anyway, when you catch yourself drunk

on memory, candles lit, eyes closed, your head tilted

in the direction of cemetery grass, yellow and balding

above what’s left of the body that birthed you, and you

try to remember the sound of laughter in her throat

and fail, only then, orphan, will I take all my selves

and leave.

For Alice Walker (a summertime tanka)

Redwood grove and war

You and me talking Congo

gender grief and ash


I say, "God! It's all so huge"

You say, "These sweet trees: This tree"

A Brief History of Yankee Thrift, Yankee Ingenuity, and Yankee Work Ethic

To make. To make do or do without. To trust your own two hands,

maybe too much. To save the bent nails in coffee cans. To fold the

ratty towels. To value the threadbaring towels and the labor of

squaring them up. To be scrappy. To drive the S-10 into scrap and

keep driving it. To put what you make between you and your end. To

know God and know lack and think you’ll put some space between

you and both. To fill a kitchen drawer with rinsed-out bread bags. To

be handed bags to line your boots. To make do so long it feels like

devotion. To be riled by idleness: too much television or sleep, too

much time over coffee. To drink day-old coffee from a chip-rimmed

cup. To brush with whatever toothpaste’s on sale. To darn with cheap

yarn the moth holes in sweaters. The moths come for everything. To

feel satisfied when the garden’s in. To fall asleep estimating the

harvest. To put up seven quarts of pole beans no one particularly likes.

To put up. To hear a person say work and swear he said worth. To do.

To do. To abide in spareness and rarely be spared.

Ghazal, After Ferguson

Somebody go & ask Biggie to orate

what's going down in the streets.


No, an attitude is not a suicide note

written on walls around the streets.


Twitter stays lockstep in the frontal lobe

as we hope for a bypass beyond the streets,


but only each day bears witness

in the echo chamber of the streets.


Grandmaster Flash's thunderclap says

he's not the grand jury in the streets,


says he doesn't care if you're big or small

fear can kill a man on the streets.


Take back the night. Take killjoy's

cameras & microphones to the streets.


If you're holding the hand lightning strikes

juice will light you up miles from the streets


where an electric chair surge dims

all the county lights beyond the streets.


Who will go out there & speak laws

of motion & relativity in the streets?


Yusef, this morning proves a crow

the only truth serum in the street.

After Years

Today, from a distance, I saw you

walking away, and without a sound

the glittering face of a glacier

slid into the sea. An ancient oak

fell in the Cumberlands, holding only

a handful of leaves, and an old woman

scattering corn to her chickens looked up

for an instant. At the other side

of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times

the size of our own sun exploded

and vanished, leaving a small green spot

on the astronomer's retina

as he stood on the great open dome

of my heart with no one to tell.


I don’t know when it slipped into my speech

that soft word meaning, “if God wills it.”

Insha’Allah I will see you next summer.

The baby will come in spring, insha’Allah.

Insha’Allah this year we will have enough rain.


So many plans I’ve laid have unraveled

easily as braids beneath my mother’s quick fingers.


Every language must have a word for this. A word

our grandmothers uttered under their breath

as they pinned the whites, soaked in lemon,

hung them to dry in the sun, or peeled potatoes,

dropping the discarded skins into a bowl.


Our sons will return next month, insha’Allah.

Insha’Allah this war will end, soon. Insha’Allah

the rice will be enough to last through winter.


How lightly we learn to hold hope,

as if it were an animal that could turn around

and bite your hand. And still we carry it

the way a mother would, carefully,

from one day to the next.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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.

I’m Not Faking My Astonishment, Honest

Looking out over the cliff, we’re overwhelmed

by a sky that seems to heap danger upon us. We

end up staring at a single white fluff in the air—

feather, fur, dandelion puff—we don’t care

to define it. The relief of having something

to focus our attention. At home, our patio furniture

unscrews itself under the usual sun. On this trip—

well, I’m not any sadder, I just have more space

for my sadness to fill. I don’t want to give

particulars. A woman huffing up the trail behind

us says to her hiking partner, It wasn’t my size,

but it was only 9 dollars. And now all I want

is to see what it is. The future refuses

to happen, so where else should I turn?

Calling Things What They Are

I pass the feeder and yell, Grackle party! And then an hour later I yell, Mourning

dove afterparty! (I call the feeder the party and the seed on the ground the

afterparty.) I am getting so good at watching that I’ve even dug out the binoculars

an old poet gave me back when I was young and heading to the Cape with so

much future ahead of me it was like my own ocean. Tufted titmouse! I yell, and

Lucas laughs and says, Thought so. But he is humoring me, he didn’t think so at

all. My father does this same thing. Shouts out at the feeder announcing the party

attendees. He throws out a whole peanut or two to the Steller’s jay who visits on

a low oak branch in the morning. To think there was a time I thought birds were

kind of boring. Brown bird. Gray bird. Black bird. Blah blah blah bird. Then, I

started to learn their names by the ocean and the person I was dating said, That’s

the problem with you, Limón, you’re all fauna and no flora. And I began to learn

the names of trees. I like to call things as they are. Before, the only thing I was

interested in was love, how it grips you, how it terrifies you, how it annihilates and

resuscitates you. I didn’t know then that it wasn’t even love that I was interested

in, but my own suffering. I thought suffering kept things interesting. How funny

that I called it love and the whole time it was pain.

Three Lies and a Truth

We live in a world where some lies sink

to their knees in the bottomland. Others

unsheathe wings, lift and ferry their seeds, drift


up like the down of angels. My mother believed

selling vacuum cleaners and eternal salvation


were both honorable. I agree. It doesn't matter

if you're slicing limes for your fancy gin or tossing

the rinds under the porch to ward off feral cats,


you can still sever what you need the most.

These days, it's the need that interests me.


Not once have I told the kind of lie that flew away.

Like pine sap on fingers, mine have fused and clung,

tacky, awkward. And sometimes you just don't know


what you don't know. For years I said I was in love

with windows but it turned out what I loved was light.


To be honest, I'm in it for the tomatoes and the flowers.

I can't go on harvesting carrots in the rain forever.

Where the road forks right toward the meaning of life


and left toward cheese and crackers, I go left. And

in the end we will die like the cedars, wet, with cold feet.

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.


tell me a story that ends well

and is real. love


succeeding, cancer beaten, the recipe

that turns out perfect


the first time. men will compete

at anything, and I


will watch them on the TV. I want things

to turn out


right. so I watch I Shouldn’t Be Alive

followed by 


I Shouldn’t Have Survived because

in the end


they did. and by “shouldn’t” they don’t mean

“I wish I hadn’t,”


at least not in the interviews that make

the show. the boys


dragged out to the ocean’s center in the dinghy

with no phone, no


snacks, no sunscreen, no mother—they all

made it back. and I


like that. I carry almonds just about everywhere

though they won’t help


in the case of a bear attack. it’s not that I don’t

have hope, I do. it’s just


that things have not been going my way of late.

I would like to stop


believing in love. or alternatively, to have proof.

out of the hundreds


of people I know, I know two happy couples. I want

a deeply romantic attorney


and some licorice. I want a baby. I want to stand at the edge

of a rooftop overlooking the city


at dawn and say, I shouldn’t have survived this. 

but look,


just look at me now.

Holding Up

       How you holding up?

High waves of anxiety

mixed with periods of surface calm.


       How you holding up?

By a thread. I’m being held up

by a single thread and what scares me

is not knowing what’s inside

the liquid I’m being held up over

and is it cold?


       How you holding up?

With both hands. I’m holding it up

with both hands.


       How you holding up?

Like a bank with Monolopy money in the drawers.

Like a three-day-old birthday cake.

Like a middle finger out a car window.

Like a bad perm on a rainy day.

Like the hand of a mediocre student in the back row

who wants to show he’s participating

but doesn’t want to get called on.

Like the eyebrows of Winona Ryder.

Like the fist from a pile of rubble.


Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,

And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,

Stealing my breath of life, I will confess

I love this cultured [     ] that tests my youth.

Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,

Giving me strength erect against her hate,

Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.

Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,

I stand within her walls with not a shred

Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.

Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,

And see her might and granite wonders there,

Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,

Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

I Feel Most Like Myself With Painted Nails

Rouge sunset battered

atop each finger


a small galaxy

of comet & solar flare,


I am a god

of these two hands


& today let there be

unapologetic light.


Let there be an origin

story that is not bruised


fruit lodged in the throat

like a knife with no hilt.


When someone says

man [     ] up, they mean


what breathing thing

have you made


into a wound? What wounds

have you worn as trophy?


I try to name

a masculinity


that is not a wolf

masked in the body


of a wolf

& I end up howling


at the white fist pressed

into the night’s soft cheek.


I’m sorry I’m not

sorry I undressed


myself of knuckles today.

I imagined a universe


not dipped in blood

& made myself drip


with starlight.

I walked out


the front door

& marveled


at the way everything I touch




I became myself.

I became myself.


No, I always was myself.

There’s no such person as myself.


I wouldn’t have to turn my eye

inward, I thought, if I could train my eye


on him—the one I loved.

But I was wrong. My eye loved


everything it fell upon.

And then one day it fell upon


a mirror. And he was nowhere

in the mirror. And she was everywhere.


What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen

to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,


how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took

questions on how not to feel lost in the dark


After lunch she distributed worksheets

that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s


voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep

without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—


something important—and how to believe

the house you wake in is your home. This prompted


Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing

how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,


and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts

are all you hear; also, that you have enough.


The English lesson was that I am

is a complete sentence.


And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation

look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,


and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking

for whatever it was you lost, and one person


add up to something.

Why Whales Are Back in New York City

After a century, humpbacks migrate
again to Queens. They left
due to sewage and white froth


banking the shores from polychlorinated-
biphenyl-dumping into the Hudson
and winnowing menhaden schools.


But now grace, dark bodies of song
return. Go to the seaside—


Hold your breath. Submerge.
A black fluke silhouetted
against the Manhattan skyline.


Now ICE beats doors
down on Liberty Avenue
to deport. I sit alone on orange


A train seats, mouth sparkling
from Singh’s, no matter how
white supremacy gathers


at the sidewalks, flows down
the streets, we still beat our drums
wild. Watch their false-god statues


prostrate to black and brown hands.
They won’t keep us out
though they send us back.


Our songs will pierce the dark
fathoms. Behold the miracle:

what was once lost
now leaps before you.

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.

the labor movement

i never met a woman who wasn’t

fighting for freedom

an entire life

to trust

what truth


I’m rewatching the She-Ra episode where Glimmer gets sick for the first time

and I keep mistaking the screen for a 

mirror. By which I mean, I too was once

adolescent and unconquerable:

purple hair; a body unmarked by pain.

Then, the bright unholiness of onset.

She screams, glitches into crimson static.

In the right light, even pain can sparkle.

Blood cells glinting into oblivion.

Flicker of agony, scarlet against

the ego. Candescence of a body

as it burns itself undone. If I am

to live this way–neurons blazing, my fists

clenched proudly against a whimper–let me

at least malfunction in a way that shines.

Baked Goods

Flour on the floor makes my sandals 

slip and I tumble into your arms. 


Too hot to bake this morning but

blueberries begged me to fold them


into moist muffins. Sticks of rhubarb 

plotted a whole pie. The windows


are blown open and a thickfruit tang

sneaks through the wire screen


and into the home of the scowly lady

who lives next door. Yesterday, a man 


in the city was rescued from his apartment

which was filled with a thousand rats. 


Something about being angry because

his pet python refused to eat. He let the bloom 


of fur rise, rise over the little gnarly blue rug, 

over the coffee table, the kitchen countertops


and pip through each cabinet, snip

at the stumpy bags of sugar,


the cylinders of salt. Our kitchen is a riot

of pots, wooden spoons, melted butter. 


So be it. Maybe all this baking will quiet

the angry voices next door, if only


for a brief whiff. I want our summers


to always be like this—a kitchen wrecked

with love, a table overflowing with baked goods

warming the already warm air. After all the pots


are stacked, the goodies cooled, and all the counters

wiped clean—let us never be rescued from this mess. 

ode to coffee / oda al café

(after Juan Luis Guerra)


from Africa to a Caribbean hill

         de África a las lomas del Caribe

to the smiling ruin of our cities

         a la feliz ruina de ciudades

anoint the neural vessels we refill

         al matorral neural en donde vive

until your acid muse drowns our pities

         tu agria musa que ahoga soledades

return us to our tribe that grew dark beans

         devuélvenos al semillero isleño

cut through the grease of our late-night omelets

         metaboliza la grasa nocturna

and warm this empty diner by the club

         trae tu calor a nuestro desvelo

where luckless lovers stare at tiny screens

         haz que el amante no muera de sueño

and poets brew old socks into psalmlets

         tu borra es poema que embadurna

while dreaming it rains coffee from above.

         y sombría tu alegría de cielo.

The Song

From somewhere

a calm musical note arrives.

You balance it on your tongue,

a single ripe grape,

till your whole body glistens.

In the space between breaths

you apply it to any wound

and the wound heals.


Soon the nights will lengthen,

you will lean into the year

humming like a saw.

You will fill the lamps with kerosene,

knowing somewhere a line breaks,

a city goes black,

people dig for candles in the bottom drawer.

You will be ready. You will use the song like a match.

It will fill your rooms

opening rooms of its own

so you sing, I did not know

my house was this large.


Let’s Get Married

Spanish translation by David Ruano González


for Alison & Nate, on the occasion of their wedding

& always for Erika


let’s get married on a Tuesday

with a six piece from Harold’s as our witness.

let’s get married at noon & then again at 3:30

when the school day lets out & a whole block

of dandelions flower our ceremony. let’s 

get married under a full moon & then again

under a new moon, so every celestial being

can witness our vows. love, one wedding

isn’t enough for me. i want to propose

again & again. on a Wednesday because

you did the dishes. on a Thursday because

we woke up next to each other again. say yes.

say less. i’ll be on one knee asking you

to share in the delight of knowing each other.

let’s get married because Chicago. because

St. Louis is a city on a map. because your name

is my favorite word. let’s get married because

there are vows we can only make in the dark.

because we don’t need a witness to say i do.

let’s get married because it’s raining

& that’s supposed to be good luck. mi amor,

mi cielo, mi vida, let’s get married

in every language we can & can’t speak.

under every god. my god, the way you look

at me is a miracle i believe in. because

we get one life. one. say yes. then, say yes

again. let’s get married after we get married

because underneath every word i write

there is one word i carve into every desk.

one word i tag onto every building on every block

of my heart. marry me: make me (no, not complete),

but a little more alive than i’ve ever been.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees

are turning

their own bodies

into pillars


of light,

are giving off the rich

fragrance of cinnamon

and fulfillment,


the long tapers

of cattails

are bursting and floating away over

the blue shoulders


of the ponds,

and every pond,

no matter what its

name is, is


nameless now.

Every year


I have ever learned


in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side


is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world


you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it


against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it


to let it go.

excerpt from “Letter to Justin, Age Seven, Regarding Any Possible Mixed-Race Anxieties Which One Might Experience in the Near or Distant Future”

Sometimes, when people talk about white people,

exactly one half of me hits the Eject Button.

Not being white, that half says, Okay, this thing isn’t about me

so, I’m just going to hang out over there and think about other things,

and then the other half of me tries to tag along,

looks for an exit door he too can slip through,

but the half of me that just opted out, says, No, This

is important for you to hear. You really need to sit and listen to this,

and then the other half says No, I’m with you. We’re

the same person, and then the first one yells

something like, Not this time, Colonizer!

but that’s when I notice I’m talking aloud

and everyone’s looking at me. It’s okay

if everyone’s looking at you. It’s fine if both voices

are right. If both voices are wrong. If they’re not

talking about you but you should listen

because it’s important. If they are talking about you

but you shouldn’t listen because they’re clueless.

You might walk through many rooms.

You were welcome before you arrived.

It’s okay if what you feel is anxious.

If what you feel is calm. If what you feel is jarring.

If what you feel can best be described

as torsion pendulums, elm trees,

feeder roots, escrima sticks, algae on the surface

of water surrounding you and then letting you go.

Spock as a Metaphor for the Construction of Race During My Childhood

Consider the mathematics of my German father.

The unconditional tears of my Filipino mother.


Call me Spock, but it was logic versus emotion

every day on Earth.


Out in space, there are over a million miles

between asteroids in an asteroid field.

It’s pretty much impossible to hit one unless you actually aim for it.


Not so on Star Trek. There, they have to grit their teeth,

put their shields up, crash a couple times and assess the damage.

As kid, I was amazed by the skill of those spacemen,

“skill” which I soon realized was nothing more than sheer incompetence.

Hitting an asteroid? There’s just no excuse for that.


A modest revelation. But these revelations

strung themselves together, orbited the planet

in ways that messed with things like gravity and light.

It went like this: You knew you could fly

until your first attempt left you with two broken teeth.

You knew you were like all the other kids,

until your best friend said, No, you’re not.


And he was right.

And in that moment, something shifted.

The galaxy became real, and in its realness, the asteroids

seemed so much closer than you thought.

You were half-alien, staring down an eternity

that was both limitless and dangerous

as a captain’s voice boomed from above:

Brace for impact, we’re going down.


excerpt from “Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved”

To be alive: not just the carcass

But the spark.

That’s crudely put, but…


If we’re not supposed to dance,

Why all this music?


The Lifeline

Here is what I know: when 

that bell tolls again, I 

need to go and make something,

anything: a poem, a pie, a terrible

scarf with my terrible knitting, I 

need to write a letter, remind myself

of any little lifeline around me.


When death sounds, I forget most

of what I learnt before. I go below. 

I compare my echoes with other people’s 

happiness. I carve that hole in my own 

chest again, pull out all my organs once

again, wonder if they’ll ever work again

stuff them back again. Begin. Again.


Why Are Your Poems so Dark?

Isn't the moon dark too,

most of the time?


And doesn't the white page

seem unfinished


without the dark stain

of alphabets?


When God demanded light,

he didn't banish darkness.


Instead he invented

ebony and crows


and that small mole

on your left cheekbone.


Or did you mean to ask

"Why are you sad so often?"


Ask the moon.

Ask what it has witnessed.

That’s My Heart Right There

We used to say,

That’s my heart right there.


As if to say,

Don’t mess with her right there.


As if, don’t even play,

That’s a part of me right there.


In other words, okay okay,

That’s the start of me right there.


As if, come that day,

That’s the end of me right there.


As if, push come to shove,

I would fend for her right there.


As if, come what may,

I would lie for her right there.


As if, come love to pay,

I would die for that right there.

Golden Hour

When sidelong hours reach deep

into the house, objects turn

unbearably distinct and I think


of girlhood, how the sinking golden light

had to be seized, like the last

mouthful of soda in a warm can shared


with my sister. Whether I wanted to or not,

I climbed higher in the tree, higher

than I even liked, to watch the back door


where my mother would appear

and call me in. For years now

a supper made by someone else


is all I want, but this late sun

keeps pressing in. The linen chair

beside the window looks more


salmon-hued and woven now

than at noon. And the not-chair

stretches long beside it. Shadows


sharpen and themselves become

objects filling the room. A child wakes

down the hall. Light gathers on the faces


of ranunculus in a mantle vase,

browning and collapsing

in their centers. I think I have been


sad every afternoon of my life.

Outside a child runs in the grass.

Soon I will appear and call her to me.



Another word I love is evening

for the balance it implies, balance

being something I struggle with.

I suppose I would like to be more

a planet, turning in & out of light

It comes down again to polarities,

equilibrium. Evening. The moths

take the place of the butterflies,

owls the place of hawks, coyotes

for dogs, stillness for business,

& the great sorrow of brightness

makes way for its own sorrow.

Everything dances with its strict

negation, & I like that. I have no

choice but to like that. Systems

are evening out all around us—

even now, as we kneel before

a new & ruthless circumstance.

Where would I like to be in five

years, someone asks—& what

can I tell them? Surrendering

with grace to the evening, with

as much grace as I can muster

to the circumstance of darkness,

which is only something else

that does not stay.

The ‘I Want’ Song

I just want them to stop emailing. All of them. You. The bots.

I want the kids to stop whining, the floor

to sweep itself, the sun to rise blamelessly

into the sky. In every Disney movie the main character

gets to stop, look into the camera, and howl

her “I Want” song straight into our chests. Once

it’s been laid out for all of us to hear, we know

she has to get it. But there’s so much that I want—

for the trees not to burn, or at least

not these trees, not unless they’re far away or 

beneficial to the understory. I want to stop

feeling like I’d better buy the fruit

now because maybe next year there will be

no more fruit, no more water, maybe the crops will burn

or wither or be sprayed with the chemical that kills

the bees and which studies now show

kills the bees’ children and children’s children

two bee-generations after exposure. 

I want not to think about the expiration of the world.

I want to delete my profile, I want pollination

of the blossom and the swelling of fruit. 

I want to stand inside the fog socked in under a crown

of redwoods. I want to become the fog.

Child in Red

Sometimes she walks through the village in her

little red dress

all absorbed in restraining herself,

and yet, despite herself, she seems to move

according to the rhythm of her life to come.


She runs a bit, hesitates, stops,

half-turns around...

and, all while dreaming, shakes her head

for or against.


Then she dances a few steps

that she invents and forgets,

no doubt finding out that life

moves on too fast.


It's not so much that she steps out

of the small body enclosing her,

but that all she carries in herself

frolics and ferments.


It's this dress that she'll remember

later in a sweet surrender;

when her whole life is full of risks,

the little red dress will always seem right.

excerpt from “The Border: A Double Sonnet”

The border is a line that birds cannot see.

The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.

The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.

The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe.

The border is a rusted hinge that does not bend.

The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein.

The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going.

The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so many.

The border has always been a welcome stopping place but is now a stop sign, always red.

The border is a jump rope still there even after the game is finished.

The border is a real crack in an imaginary dam.

The border used to be an actual place, but now, it is the act of a thousand imaginations.

The border, the word border, sounds like order, but in this place they do not rhyme.

The border is a handshake that becomes a squeezing contest.

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.

Looking for Your Face

From the beginning of my life

I have been looking for your face

but today I have seen it


Today I have seen

the charm, the beauty,

the unfathomable grace

of the face

that I was looking for


Today I have found you

and those who laughed

and scorned me yesterday

are sorry that they were not looking

as I did


I am bewildered by the magnificence

of your beauty

and wish to see you

with a hundred eyes


My heart has burned with passion

and has searched forever

for this wondrous beauty

that I now behold


I am ashamed

to call this love human

and afraid of God

to call it divine


Your fragrant breath

like the morning breeze

has come to the stillness of the garden

You have breathed new life into me

I have become your sunshine

and also your shadow


My soul is screaming in ecstasy

Every fiber of my being

is in love with you


Your effulgence

has lit a fire in my heart

and you have made radiant

for me

the earth and sky


My arrow of love

has arrived at the target

I am in the house of mercy

and my heart

is a place of prayer


excerpt from “For Tupac Amaru Shakur”

who goes there? who is this young man born lonely?

who walks there? who goes toward death

whistling through the water

without his chorus? without his posse? without his song?


it is autumn now

in me autumn grieves

in this carved gold of shifting faces

my eyes confess to the fatigue of living.


i ask: does the morning weep for the dead?

i ask: were the bullets conscious atoms entering his chest?

i ask: did you see the light anointing his life?


the day i heard the sound of your death, my brother

i walked outside in the park

we your mothers wanted to see you safely home.

i remembered the poems in your mother's eyes as she

panther-laced warred against the state;

the day you became dust again

we your mothers held up your face green with laughter

and i saw you a child again outside your mother's womb

picking up the harsh handbook of Black life;

the day you passed into our ancestral rivers,

we your mothers listened for your intoxicating voice:

and i heard you sing of tunes bent back in a

cold curse against black

                    against black (get back)

                    against black (get back)


we anoint your life

in this absence

we anoint our tongues

with your magic. 



Immediately after the diagnosis, we flip through the racks.

Each of us yearns for a sweater or spoons—a reason to stay—a bargain—a bet.

Ma and I search different sections of the store for something—then each other.

Her—in lamps. Me—in clothes. Striking wires—

The clacking hangers clapping one after another—bursting at the joints 

mimicking the sounds of knobs turning,

or window panes breaking in slow motion, the air knocked out of them, too.

I stack clearance candles in our cart.

Ma checks out bathroom rugs and kitchen towels.

These days we build separate homes from red tag items.

I miss Ma the most between the Kitchen and Women’s Clothing departments.

Unraveled by the operation of how 

one builds a house from the inside.

A second diagnosis that day: I won’t ever come back here alone after she’s gone.

Isn’t shopping a series of searching?

On the best days, everything is a grab—a steal—cancer and—my mother from me.

My hope is that every space with four walls—that every day of treatment 

will be a door out—will be sunlight in bags—despite discount—let it be—big—

all the time we buy back.

Extreme Girlhood

A loop, a girl born

to each family,

prelude to suffering.


Bless the baby girl,

caul of dissatisfaction,

patron saint of not

good enough


Are you there, God?

It’s me, Warsan.

Maladaptive daydreaming,

obsessive, dissociative.


Born to a lullaby

lamenting melanin,

newborn ears checked

for the first signs of color.


At first I was afraid, I was petrified.


The child reads surahs each night

to veil her from il

protecting body and home

from intruders


She wakes with a fright,

someone cutting the rope,


something creeping

deep inside her


Are you there, God?

It’s me, the ugly one.


Bless the Type 4 child, 

scalp massaged with the milk

of cruelty, cranium cursed,

crushed between adult knees,

drenched in pink lotion.


Everything you did to me,

I remember.


Mama, I made it

out of your home

alive, raised by 

the voices

in my head



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.


Now They’re Saying Isolation Atrophies the Brain

Talking to yourself in an empty room

sometimes feels like prayer but isn’t.


It isn’t prayer if you’re not asking

for anything, and what would you ask for?


Any request more specific than save me

would be so granular as to be worthless.


It can’t be prayer if you’re standing

at your kitchen counter, wearing an apron


and a far-off look. It can’t be prayer

if you’re walking in your neighborhood,


muttering to yourself, while Orion

keeps buckling and unbuckling his belt


over the houses. It can’t be prayer if you have

the expectation of privacy. If you think


no one’s listening. As a child I believed

so fiercely in the power of my own mind,


when I thought apple, I half-expected

a real one, large and red, to appear


in my hand. Now I know better. I talk

to myself. Sometimes I even answer.

Ode to La Llorona

They say she weeps

Knee-deep in the river,

The gray of dusk

A shawl over her head.

She weeps for her children,

Their smothered faces

Of sleeping angels . . .

Normaaaa, Mariooo, Carlooooos.

They say she calls 

Children, offering

Them candy 

From her sleeve.

They say she will

Point a long finger,

Gnarled root of evilness,

And stare a soft

Hole in your lungs:

The air leaks 

From this hole

And climbs in the trees.

In autumn, she appears

With a pomegranate,

Each seed the heart

Of a child she took away.

She will whisper, Monicaaaaa,

Beniciooooo, Ernestooooo.

If you’re on your bike, 

Ride faster. 

If you’re on foot, 

Run without looking up. 

In these times,

The sliced moon hangs 

In the sky, moon

That is orange,

The color of

A face in the porchlight.

At home

The cooler in the window

Stops, then starts,

And the TV flickers

With a climate of snow.

These are signs, and the

Dog with mismatched eyes,

The turtle in the 

Middle of the road,

And the newspapers

Piling up on a roof.

La Llorona is the mother

of drowned children.

Beware a woman

Dripping water in July

when no rain has fallen.


A crate of peaches straight from the farm

has to be maintained, or eaten in days.

Obvious, but in my family, they went so fast,

I never saw the mess that punishes delay.


I thought everyone bought fruit by the crate,

stored it in the coolest part of the house,

then devoured it before any could rot.

I’m from the Peach State, and to those


who ask But where are you from originally,

I’d like to reply The homeland of the peach,

but I’m too nice, and they might not look it up.

In truth, the reason we bought so much


did have to do with being Chinese—at least

Chinese in that part of America, both strangers

and natives on a lonely, beautiful street

where food came in stackable containers


and fussy bags, unless you bothered to drive

to the source, where the same money landed

a bushel of fruit, a twenty-pound sack of rice.

You had to drive anyway, each house surrounded


by land enough to grow your own, if lawns

hadn’t been required. At home I loved to stare

into the extra freezer, reviewing mountains

of foil-wrapped meats, cakes, juice concentrate,


mysterious packets brought by house guests

from New York Chinatown, to be transformed

by heat, force, and my mother’s patient effort,

enough to keep us fed through flood or storm,

provided the power stayed on, or fire and ice

could be procured, which would be labor-intensive,

but so was everything else my parents did.

Their lives were labor, they kept this from the kids,


who grew up to confuse work with pleasure,

to become typical immigrants’ children,

taller than their parents and unaware of hunger

except when asked the odd, perplexing question.

I Am Filled with Love

translated from the Polish by Czesław Miłosz and Leonard Nathan


I am filled with love

as a great tree with the wind,

as a sponge with the ocean,

as a great life with suffering,

as time with death.



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.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Areyto for the Shipwrecked: The Case for Spanglish

Because a corazón is more resilient than a heart, sangre richer than

blood. Because when my abuelo’s spleen ruptured right there on

Queens Boulevard he yanked himself up with nothing but smog

to hold onto and walked home fifteen blocks before collapsing

on the bathroom floor. That takes babilla. Simple courage won’t do.

Because songs are nice but a cancion bathes inside the veins.

The dankdim nightclub lounges of my youth gave me confidence,

it’s true, but only Hector Lavoe’s rooster calls can resurrect the dead,

only Celia’s “azucar!” incites warring tribes to fall in love. Because

an abrazo can shield you from famine and flame. A hug just lacks

that kind of sorcery. Because bochinche is both science and art.

It can turn men into rats and spread through the respiratory system

like a viral infection. Gossip is clearly no match for bochinche.

Because el sol is spirit. The sun, her child. And a besito is sweeter

than any kiss. Because arboles are monasteries for the lost, while

men don’t think twice about felling trees. Because dios inspires

humility like no god can. Because vida blossoms from the mouth

like a fulgent garden, whereas life is merely the title of a children’s

                                                          game, a syllable in search of a hyphen.

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.

excerpt from “book of the other”

These things, they are just things. You are told all your life to

develop a thick skin, that you should not take these things so 

seriously. These things, these moments, they are just things in

the greater scheme of things, so what if you are consistently

called by your last name?—it is easier to pronounce—it is just

a small thing. These things, they accumulate, they stick, they

cling to your clothing, your skin, they alter your thinking, they

affect your seeing, your way of being. You wake up one day.

You look in the mirror. You have grown a thick skin, and the 

you in the mirror is no longer you. One day, in the third period 

on the first day of class, you decide to change your name to

Tom. You do not care for the name, not in the slightest. It is

easy to spell. It is easy to say. You will have plenty of time to 

regret your choices. It is just a thing, you tell yourself. You

carry these things. They are placed on you. They are thrown at

you. You walk through life. You are carrying these things. You

anticipate a time when someone is compelled to correct your

grammar; again it happens, and you collapse under the weight.

You are buried beneath a lifetime of these things.

Kissing in Vietnamese

My grandmother kisses

as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,

where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes

through the kitchen window,

as if somewhere, a body is falling apart

and flames are making their way back

through the intricacies of a young boy’s thigh,

as if to walk out the door, your torso

would dance from exit wounds.

When my grandmother kisses, there would be

no flashy smooching, no western music

of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe

you inside her, nose pressed to cheek

so that your scent is relearned

and your sweat pearls into drops of gold

inside her lungs, as if while she holds you

death also, is clutching your wrist.

My grandmother kisses as if history

never ended, as if somewhere

a body is still

falling apart.

Men Who Think I Am One of Them Speak

She really let herself go.


This story is hard to tell. 

When the men you love

insist a woman hold on


let herself go 


let herself loose


let herself leave


let herself depart


let herself mobilize


let herself imagine


let herself grow

big enough to lift off

the runway 

like a jet

full of fuel.


excerpt from “Song of Myself (2)”

Do I contradict myself? 

Very well, then I contradict myself, 

I am large, 

I contain multitudes.

As It Is on Earth

It’s like that sometimes. A man bends

so completely he begins believing in

his own holiness. An empty house

kids are too scared to vandalize sees itself

in time as haunted. Even the moon

our dogs wail to each night as if in prayer

fears a response is expected. The war

my brother brought home & the home he

pined for in war converge in an unruly

absence. Is it finally fair to say like gods

we make images to pour ourselves into?

Like rivers, how they tend to move

farther from the source? What skin

remembers & the mind reimagines:


between them a truth serrated as light.

And I wonder where you are

Sacred stars blanket a nighttime sky,

each light reminds us of the preciousness of life.

Your memory lives along the Milky Way,

each twinkle saying don’t forget my name.


It’s an epidemic, a sickness of the earth,

a war we enter as soon as we are birthed.

Indigenous women, girls, our two-spirit, too.

When did this world start disappearing you?

beverly, huh.

you must be

made of money.

your parents

must have grown

on trees.

bet you’re black

tinged with green.

bet you sleep

on bags of it.

bet your barbies

climb it.

bet you never


bet you never

had to ask.

bet you golf.

bet you tennis.

bet you got

a summer house.

bet you got

a credit card

for your 5th birthday.

bet you played

with bills for toys.

bet you chew

them up

for dinner.

bet you spit

your black out

like tobacco

that’s why you talk so

bet you listen to green day.

bet you ain’t never heard of al.

bet your daddy wears a robe

around the house.

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

bet your house is on a hill.

bet the grass is freshly cut.

bet you feel like a princess.

bet the police protect your house.

bet you know their first names.

bet your house has a hundred rooms.

bet a black lady comes to clean them.


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.


His tongue shorn, father confuses

snacks for snakes, kitchen for chicken.

It is 1992. Weekends, we paw at cheap

silverware at yard sales. I am told by mother

to keep our telephone number close,

my beaded coin purse closer. I do this.

The years are slow to pass, heavy-footed.

Because the visits are frequent, we memorize

shame’s numbing stench. I nurse nosebleeds,

run up and down stairways, chew the wind.

Such were the times. All of us nearsighted.

Grandmother prays for fortune

to keep us around and on a short leash.

The new country is ill-fitting, lined

with cheap polyester, soiled at the sleeves.

excerpt from “Poet Laureate of This Costco”

It is both on-brand and honest

for me to call this gray warehouse

the most beautiful thing for miles.


I mean aisles.


Rows of bulk to clean and feed           your family.


I go looking for something
and I find it


but it’s way too heavy
to try to carry home.


An Almond Roca melts forever in my gongong’s jacket pocket.
All summer since Popo died.


In moments of personal and national catastrophe, it is my job to tweet:
“Catch me crunching croissants at a crossroads.”


I am not on Twitter.

I am stacking glossy boxes in a cart with one bum wheel.


I am examining assorted shrink-wrapped muffins.

These muffins are Asian American cuisine.
Especially the double chocolate.


I am testing Kirkland socks for hand-feel.
These are Asian American socks.


In 1942, Isamu Noguchi drives himself into the desert of his own volition.
He is not allowed to leave.


This is an Asian America story.


Costco Iwilei is the busiest Costco in the nation, an Asian American fact.

Its pizza is the best pizza in Hawaii, but the bar is low.


Yes, I will sample anything in a small enough cup.


Where there is need

there is devotion.

I was raised a short walk away.         I’ve taken dates to this food court.

In Queens, I am never far.


On bad days, the gas lines stretched further away than my mother’s apartment.

No ocean in sight.


It was my job to push the cart.

I have history.
It’s so nice to have a place.

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.

Abuelita Says Goodbye

Javiercito, you’re leaving me tomorrow

when our tortilla-and-milk breaths will whisper

te amo. When I’ll pray the sun won’t devour

your northbound steps. I’m giving you

this conch swallowed with this delta’s

waves and the sound of absorbing sand.


Hold it to your ear. I’m tired

of my children leaving. My love for you

shatters windows with birds. Javiercito,

let your shadow return, alone,

or with sons, but soon. Call me Mamá,

not Abuelita. All my children


learned the names of seasons

from songs. Tonight, leaves fall. 

There’s no autumn here. When you mist

into tomorrow’s dawns, at the shore

of somewhere, listen to this conch.

Don’t lose me.

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.

Abecedarian for American Assimilation

& how we lose ourselves against the new year

burning brighter with each dying

candle, baiting our breaths in the temple’s

dimness. Already, the newborn lantern light

ebbs away from our fluttering fingers, echoing

fireflies mating at dusk. How we used to sink into

grey, muted by the silhouette of a nation

hungering for our heads; our hands clasping

in between gasps for mercy. Tell me, is my

jaded tongue invitation for this prayer of

knives? At night I toil among the reaping ghosts,

listening to the thunder of fireworks my ancestors

mistake for the revolution’s canons. In my family

no spirit escapes the altar where orange incense &

opium drown the cries of a body lingering against

perfumed mortuary of language. Like a daughter, I

quiet the rebellion knotted inside my throat; in

rigor mortis, morning excavates my ashes inside

sutured skies. In every dream, I consider coming clean

through my skin like a shadow, every bare bloodline

unedited & untouched. In every reality, I play

vulture to my native vocabulary; carve the exit

wounds into the spine of teeth, whispering

xīn nián​ kuài lè i​n worship of the newness

yellowing the old. Somewhere in the next life, I want to

zip these sacred scars, memorialize the forgotten.