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Afghan Funeral in Paris

The aunts here clink Malbec glasses

and parade their grief with musky, expensive scents

that whisper in elevators and hallways.

Each natural passing articulates

the unnatural: every aunt has a son

who fell, or a daughter who hid in rubble

for two years, until that knock of officers

holding a bin bag filled with a dress

and bones. But what do I know?

I get pedicures and eat madeleines

while reading “Swann’s Way.” When I tell

one aunt I’d like to go back,

she screams It is not yours to want.

Have some cream cheese with that, says another.

Oh, what wonder to be alive and see

my father’s footprints in his sister’s garden.

He’s furiously scissoring the hyacinths,

saying All the time when the tele-researcher asks him

How often do you think your life

is a mistake? During the procession, the aunts’ wails

vibrate: wires full of crows in heavy wind.

I hate every plumed minute of it. God invented

everything out of nothing, but the nothing

shines through, said Paul Valéry. Paris never charmed me,

but when some stranger asks

if it stinks in Afghanistan, I am so shocked

that I hug him. And he lets me,

his ankles briefly brushing against mine.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Arab Girl


She doesn't read 

The Atlantic

nor does she orgasm.




Dancing, sucking her belly toward her spine.

Black vines

sway to the mumble of a lute, 

descend the trellis of her, 

sweep bare feet. 




Princess Jasmine

Gigi Hadid 






Have you seen the brown-necked raven

who builds a home inside a bomb shelter?

The laughing dove who nests in olive trees?




I am given the name of an American cheerleader; I am 

fearfully made.




almond eyes & thighs

& rug-burned knees




I don't know which I prefer:

to be a child in my father's house

a servant in my husband's

or liberated by a






Salma Hayek

George Clooneyswifey


A Pole-Dancing Muslim Miss USA




Carrying a basket into a field

disappearing parcel by parcel.


She mourns groves of desire.




She dies

like an American   in the street   or some Mesopotamian desert 


at midnight in the afternoon.    




The bulbul also sings.




Someday my name will sound like Olds,

will sound like Plath.

Someday, in my father's Spanish inflection,

will sound like Abughattàs. 



13.created by God  

to fuck,

to serve

coffee and tea.

Ode to the Head Nod

the slight angling up of the forehead

neck extension                        quick jut of chin


meeting the strangers’ eyes

a gilded curtsy to the sunfill in another


in yourself      tithe of respect

in an early version the copy editor deleted


the word “head” from the title

the copy editor says              it’s implied


the copy editor means well

the copy editor means


she is only fluent in one language of gestures

i do not explain                     i feel sad for her


limited understanding of greetings              & maybe

this is why my acknowledgements are so long;


didn’t we learn this early?

            to look at white spaces


            & find the color       

            thank god o thank god for



                                                                                        are here.

The Star Spanglish Banner

Oh say can you see

Miguel wants to learn the Star-Spangled Banner.

Miguel was the last fourth grader to migrate 

into my English as a second language course,

and is the first to raise his hand for every question.

But Miguel views letters in a different way than most.

Because there are a lot of words in Spanish

that do not exist in English,

he learns how to pack them in a suitcase and forget.

Because many phrases translate backwards

when crossing over from Spanish to English,

throughout the whole song, 

he tends to say things in the wrong order.

So when I ask him to sing the second verse,

it sounds like

And the rocket's red glare

We watched our home

Bursting in air

It gave proof to the night

that the flag was still theirs

They say music is deeply intertwined with how we remember.

Miguel hears the marimba and learns the word home,

hears his mother's accent being mocked and learns the words shame,

hears his mother's weeping and learns the word sacrifice.

He asks, what does the word America mean?

What does the word dream mean?

I say two words with the same meaning are what we call synonyms.

You could say America is a dream,

something we all feel silly for believing in.

He says, teach me.

Teach me how to say bandera.

Teach me how to say star.

Teach me how to hide my country behind the consonants

that do not get pronounced.

Miss Angelica,

teach the letters to just flee from my lips like my parents,

and build a word out of nothing.

In my tongue, we do not pronounce the letter H.

Home is not a sound my voice knows how to make.

It's strange what our memories hold on to.

It's strange what makes it over the border

to the left side of the brain,

what our minds do not let us forget,

how an accent is just a mother tongue

that refuses to let her child go.


The language barrier is a 74 mile wall

lodged in the back of Miguel's throat,

the bodies of words so easily lost in the translation.

Oh, say for whom does that 

star-spangled banner yet wave

Give back the land to the brave

and let us make a home for us free.

Against the Parts of Me That Think They Know Anything

They want to put out the light of God with their mouths—

want, like the sovereignty of the dead, extending just short of flesh. Their

today is broken, they suggest tomorrow, who right now is dancing in the sun with

putty over his eyes. Like an ocean coughing up trash, I’m squeezing God

out from my pores, intention throbbing like a moon. Which of

the jokes I told was best—the difference between man and light?

Light won’t ask for your tongue. Good joke, the taste of lemon. The

official death toll rising while we sleep. It’s crude how they’ve figured out

God, tacky as jugglers at a funeral. Just let me grieve what I’ve lost. They were put

with me fully built, passionless as shoelaces, pitying even my name. To

their credit, they weren’t given what I have: majesty and the heft of a face. They want

mouths like mine that can blow out tiny fires. The mercy of speech. Of sleep. Of they.


The moon did not become the sun.

It just fell on the desert

in great sheets, reams

of silver handmade by you.

The night is your cottage industry now,

the day is your brisk emporium.

The world is full of paper.

Write to me.


Of this room remember heat. A fight with my father and

glass evil eyes. The television sparking like a glamorous fish.


We’ve turned off every lightbulb, fan each other with foreign

magazines. I take photographs of stray dogs. In the car,


the Turkish driver listens to horse races on the radio.

I won, he tells us. I dress like a pillar. I want to burn the verbs


I mispronounce to the Egyptian waiter. My uterus bleeds from Athens

to Istanbul and the moon is a spider tracking its white mud


across the sky. Orange blossoms open like pepper in the courtyard.

Everywhere, blue rooftops. Antibiotics for my infected jaw.


We take Rome with us to Rome. At the passport control line,

you tell me to let you speak. You tell them I'm with you.


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.

Come, and Be my Baby

The highway is full of big cars

going nowhere fast

And folks is smoking anything that’ll burn

Some people wrap their lies around a cocktail glass

And you sit wondering

where you’re going to turn

I got it.

Come. And be my baby.


Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow

But others say we’ve got a week or two

The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror

And you sit wondering

What you’re gonna do.

I got it.

Come. And be my baby.

Meditation on a Grapefruit

To wake when all is possible

before the agitations of the day

have gripped you

                    To come to the kitchen

and peel a little basketball

for breakfast

              To tear the husk

like cotton padding        a cloud of oil

misting out of its pinprick pores

clean and sharp as pepper

                             To ease

each pale pink section out of its case

so carefully       without breaking

a single pearly cell

                    To slide each piece

into a cold blue china bowl

the juice pooling       until the whole

fruit is divided from its skin

and only then to eat

                  so sweet

                            a discipline

precisely pointless       a devout

involvement of the hands and senses

a pause     a little emptiness


each year harder to live within

each year harder to live without

Pluto Shits on the Universe

On February 7, 1979, Pluto crossed over Neptune’s orbit and became the eighth planet from the sun for twenty years. A study in 1988 determined that Pluto’s path of orbit could never be accurately predicted. Labeled as “chaotic,” Pluto was later discredited from planet status in 2006.


Today, I broke your solar system. Oops.

My bad. Your graph said I was supposed

to make a nice little loop around the sun.




I chaos like a motherfucker. Ain’t no one can

chart me. All the other planets, they think

I’m annoying. They think I’m an escaped

moon, running free.


Fuck your moon. Fuck your solar system.

Fuck your time. Your year? Your year ain’t

shit but a day to me. I could spend your

whole year turning the winds in my bed. Thinking

about rings and how Jupiter should just pussy

on up and marry me by now. Your day?


That’s an asswipe. A sniffle. Your whole day

is barely the start of my sunset.


My name means hell, bitch. I am hell, bitch. All the cold

you have yet to feel. Chaos like a motherfucker.

And you tried to order me. Called me ninth.

Somewhere in the mess of graphs and math and compass

you tried to make me follow rules. Rules? Fuck your

rules. Neptune, that bitch slow. And I deserve all the sun

I can get, and all the blue-gold sky I want around me.


It is February 7th, 1979 and my skin is more

copper than any sky will ever be. More metal.

Neptune is bitch-sobbing in my rearview,

and I got my running shoes on and all this sky that’s all mine.


Fuck your order. Fuck your time. I realigned the cosmos.

I chaosed all the hell you have yet to feel. Now all your kids

in the classrooms, they confused. All their clocks:

wrong. They don’t even know what the fuck to do.

They gotta memorize new songs and shit. And the other

planets, I fucked their orbits. I shook the sky. Chaos like

a motherfucker.


It is February 7th, 1979. The sky is blue-gold:

the freedom of possibility.


Today, I broke your solar system. Oops. My bad.

Men Compliment Me

Men compliment me like I’m a distant planet

—only they have the good taste to admire its desolate beauty!


O to reach into the galaxy like it was filled just for you.


One man tells me I look sad and I think too much so

I think about that, too.


I think about his good intentions.

My freshly bloodied teeth.


The men who scare me most come not like wolves but like mice

and gnaw away at the floor beneath my feet.


I was twelve the first time I was called exotic.

Fourteen when I was deemed a terrorist.


Fifteen when I starved myself to rib

and yellowed skin. Thin as a tomato slice.


I mean a planet eventually plots its own extinction


as an aging empire waves its flag from the moon.

White men say the world is ending.


White men say the world is ending

and she's asking for it.

Love Poem

Dear Proofreader,


you’re right. It is warped.

My syntax, a sentence


on myself: third person

absent pronouns. I’m glad


you liked the article

about gender & interpretation.


Glad to grace your pages

wearing this ink


dress. Just what I wanted

I couldn’t tell you


all those Christmas nights

of family, trying


to decipher their mutant

kin. Yes, I’m certain


the fault is mine. I

a fault line, been falling


through the fissure

all my life.


At the bottom of the problem?

    [        ]


& at the bottom

of language, an animal


prayer & at the bottom of prayer

let me assure you


tangled fur, my proper name.

As a Possible Lover


silence, the way of wind


in early lull. Cold morning

to night, we go so

slowly, without


to ourselves. (Enough

to have thought

tonight, nothing

finishes it. What

you are, will have

no certainty, or

end. That you will

stay, where you are,

a human gentle wisp

of life. Ah…)



as a virtue. A single

specious need

to keep

what you have

never really


Ode to Fat

Tonight, as you undress, I watch your wondrous

flesh that’s swelled again, the way a river swells

when the ice relents. Sweet relief

just to regard the sheaves of your hips,

your boundless breasts and marshy belly.

I adore the acreage

of your thighs and praise the promising

planets of your ass.

Oh, you were lean that terrifying year

you were unraveling, as though you were returning

to the slender scrap of a girl I fell in love with.

But your skin was vacant, a ripped sack,

sugar spilling out and your bones insistent.

Oh, praise the loyalty of the body

that labors to rebuild its palatial realm.

Bless butter. Bless brie.

Sanctify schmaltz. And cream and cashews.

Stoke the furnace

of the stomach and load the vessels. Darling,

drench yourself in opulent oil,

the lamp of your body glowing. May you always

flourish enormous and sumptuous,

be marbled with fat, a great vault that

I can enter, the cathedral where I pray.

Little Stones at My Window

translated by Charles Hatfield


for roberto and adelaida


Once in a while

joy throws little stones at my window

it wants to let me know that it's waiting for me

but today I'm calm

I'd almost say even-tempered

I'm going to keep anxiety locked up

and then lie flat on my back

which is an elegant and comfortable position

for receiving and believing news


who knows where I'll be next

or when my story will be taken into account

who knows what advice I still might come up with

and what easy way out I'll take not to follow it


don't worry, I won't gamble with an eviction

I won't tattoo remembering with forgetting

there are many things left to say and suppress

and many grapes left to fill our mouths


don't worry, I'm convinced

joy doesn't need to throw any more little stones

I'm coming

I'm coming.

Excerpt from "Blessings"

I don't make songs for free, I make 'em for freedom

Don't believe in kings, believe in the Kingdom

Chisel me into stone, prayer whistle me into song air

Dying laughing with Krillin saying something 'bout blonde hair

Jesus' black life ain't matter, I know, I talked to his daddy

Said you the man of the house now, look out for your family

He has ordered my steps, gave me a sword with a crest

And gave Donnie a trumpet in case I get shortness of breath

r u dense ? {I'm the Baddest Kiss}

If there’s one boss left, it’s not you {on this stage}.

Aqua regia, step off. Come caustic, creep corrosion 

& stay salty, my rainbows {ro the gods ur :: one hit :: hon}. My

iris will weather & true whatever is burning up you. I bless


a compass with its bearings & the crucible I keep unhurried

& sane when under fever & fury of flame. I’m the iron lore

that celestials this molten core. Chasmed the Cretaceous

& shook all legion & sky & sea— :: BOOMED your beloved


dinosaurs & unknown beasts :: Believe a lot of comet I did

not cherry bomb in peace. {How I still brittle that— kiss}.

Why expose me now {‘tis not my rage}:: I’m a precious pinch,

much more mint than platinum’s greatest thick, I don’t need


to lay it on. I {for when you go amiss} I {c’mon, don’t

quit} am the only boss {make a wish}— on :: the :: stage.

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.


How you bisected me —

the elegance of the scars.

The disease? It was not chemical.

You could not cure it.


I cling to this chill.

Watch how I unfurl

before it, flag of myself,

a mirror distorted. This body —


it is nothing. In an instant

I could transform it.

Now it is a lake spreading

outward, now small and blank,


a flat stone poised

in a hand. Now it breaks apart,

only the grains of it.

Listen, how they drift and scratch.


The old story, the forms

that were broken are still here.

Now they reassemble, a buzz,

a communion.


They promise me courage,

other virtues, the rough shield,

freedom from pain. They tell me

I am this, or this —


calcium, magnesium,

a vitamin that is missing,

blue phosphorus burning.

Chips fall from a chisel.


Joints burst into loud

red flower. A bird flies

out of my mouth,

into the ceiling.


My friend is going through the fire on his knees,

His hands, crossing the entire field of it;

Once in a while he calls out, bewildered,


The other side unclear, wanting to just

Lie down and wait among the scattered stones.

Unimaginable heat: he pants, lost in the light


Of what keeps happening–think water, think water,

And he manages to make out one nurse

Up against the bright and it takes everything


To tell her what he needs, as if he had come upon

The one tree still standing, and understood

She promises nothing, who in her uniform


Was all that was ever asked for and who

Could hold him as he has never been held.

My Father in English

First half of his life lived in Spanish: the long syntax

of las montañas that lined his village, the rhyme

of sol with his soul—a Cuban alma—that swayed

with las palmas, the sharp rhythm of his machete

cutting through caña, the syllables of his canarios

that sung into la brisa of the island home he left

to spell out the second half of his life in English—

the vernacular of New York City sleet, neon, glass—

and the brick factory where he learned to polish

steel twelve hours a day. Enough to save enough

to buy a used Spanish-English dictionary he kept

bedside like a bible—studied fifteen new words

after his prayers each night, then practiced them

on us the next day: Buenos días, indeed, my family.

Indeed más coffee. Have a good day today, indeed—

and again in the evening: Gracias to my bella wife,

indeed, for dinner. Hicistes tu homework, indeed?

La vida is indeed difícil. Indeed did indeed become

his favorite word, which, like the rest of his new life,

he never quite grasped: overused and misused often

to my embarrassment. Yet the word I most learned

to love and know him through: indeed, the exile who

tried to master the language he chose to master him,

indeed, the husband who refused to say I love you

in English to my mother, the man who died without

true translation. Indeed, meaning: in fact/en efecto,

meaning: in reality/de hecho, meaning to say now

what I always meant to tell him in both languages:

thank you/gracias for surrendering the past tense

of your life so that I might conjugate myself here

in the present of this country, in truth/así es, indeed.

A Heart Can Be Broken Only Once, Like A Window

 I miss the kind of love they sing about in oldiez songs

but I don't ask for it anymore.  My palms are turned down


against gusts taking themselves away.  I listen to wild parrots

while I run between sycamores in the park.  I walk around


uncomfortable in the jeans and wonder if the holes

are something I've made.  I think about some things


so I don't think about other things: pizza, poetry, Neosporin.  

I eat my fried eggs out of a bowl shaped like a man's hands.  


The thin, gold rings on his fingers are still mine.  I have myself 

to remind me of love, and that's all.  I tie tiny triangles of glass


to string that I wear around my neck, and some say it's pretty.

When my mother doesn't recognize the jewelry adorning me,


hoping, she asks if it's new.  And even though I am Mexican,

feel deeply & joke dark, God still owes me a drink for every time


the woman I should be has died.  I no longer mean it when 

I say please.  Sometimes words belong between certain people


And neither one is you.  Sometimes people are just lines in a song.

Today, I feel like telling jokes instead of pretending


to write pretty music and I am angry with the word should.

I think about words so I don't think about loss, or all the feathers


left on my porch.  I want to open the front door and see

a clean bird waiting for me on the doormat like I'm Snow White


even if it has rusted forks for wings.  I once heard

that the world breaks everyone.  That afterwards,


many are stronger at the broken places.  I wish

a whole woman would wake up inside of me.

Oh Wonder

It’s the garden spider who eats her mistakes

at the end of day so she can billow in the lung

of night, dangling from an insecure branch 


or caught on the coral spur of a dove’s foot

and sleep, her spinnerets trailing radials like

ungathered hair. It’s a million pound cumulus. 


It’s the stratosphere, holding it, miraculous. It’s

a mammatus rolling her weight through dusk

waiting to unhook and shake free the hail. 


Sometimes it’s so ordinary it escapes your notice—

pothos reaching for windows, ease of an avocado

slipping its skin. A porcelain boy with lamp-black 


eyes told me most mammals have the same average

number of heartbeats in a lifetime. It is the mouse

engine that hums too hot to last. It is the blue whale’s 


slow electricity—six pumps per minute is the way

to live centuries. I think it’s also the hummingbird

I saw in a video lifted off a cement floor by firefighters 


and fed sugar water until she was again a tempest.

It wasn’t when my mother lay on the garage floor

and my brother lifted her while I tried to shout louder 


than her sobs. But it was her heart, a washable ink.

It was her dark’s genius, how it moaned slow enough

to outlive her. It is the orca who pushes her dead calf 


a thousand miles before she drops it or it falls apart.

And it is also when she plays with her pod the day

after. It is the night my son tugs at his pajama 


collar and cries: The sad is so big I can’t get it all out,

and I behold him, astonished, his sadness as clean

and abundant as spring. His thunder-heart, a marvel 


I refuse to invade with empathy. And outside, clouds

groan like gods, a garden spider consumes her home.

It’s knowing she can weave it tomorrow between 


citrus leaves and earth. It’s her chamberless heart

cleaving the length of her body. It is lifting my son

into my lap to witness the birth of his grieving.

Break up with your gender, I’m bored

after The Real Housewives of Atlanta


We could start this letter with the audacity.

How you ignore the growth of flesh on your chest & how

the sight of them brings you to tears like Kandi

in seasons 2–11. How they carry the world

like Kenya Moore carried season 8 of Real Housewives

& how I hate them just as much as everyone hates Kenya

for what she did to Phaedra (in season 6


exclusively). How they sway in your cerebrum & you get

nauseous with shame. How un-diligence leads to ignorance;

your back, stressed from sleeping in binders for 3 days

in a row. It’s time, KB. Break up with your gender like Nene

broke up with Greg until he got his [  ] together in season 5.

What if top surgery changes nothing; what if the [   ]

don’t heal properly? What will become of you then?


Loyalty is not gender’s language, like it isn’t

the language of Nene in seasons 1–12. I want more

for you, KB; I want more for love; this has never been it.

After this, you’ll be free (like Phaedra from her season

10 contract). You won’t have to breathe & feel

everything tonight. You’ll feel nothing, and nothing

is the true meaning of gender, isn’t it?

The Microscopes

Heavy and expensive, hard and black

With bits of chrome, they looked

Like baby cannons, the real children of war, and I

Hated them for that, for what our teacher said

They could do, and then I hated them

For what they did when we gave up

Stealing looks at one another's bodies

To press a left or right eye into the barrel and see

Our actual selves taken down to a cell

Then blown back up again, every atomic thing

About a piece of my coiled hair on one slide

Just as unimportant as anyone else's

Growing in that science

Class where I learned what little difference

God saw if God saw me. It was the start of one fear,

A puny one not much worth mentioning,

Narrow as the pencil tucked behind my ear, lost

When I reached for it

To stab someone I secretly loved: a bigger boy

Who'd advance

Through those tight, locker-lined corridors shoving

Without saying

Excuse me, more an insult than a battle. No large loss.

Not at all. Nothing necessary to study

Or recall. No fighting in the hall

On the way to an American history exam

I almost passed. Redcoats.

Red blood cells. Red-bricked

Education I rode the bus to get. I can't remember

The exact date or

Grade, but I know when I began ignoring slight alarms

That move others to charge or retreat. I'm a kind

of camouflage. I never let on when scared

of conflicts so old they seem to amount

To nothing really-dust particles left behind

Like the viral geography of an occupied territory,

A region I imagine you imagine when you see

A white woman walking with a speck like me.

Excerpt from “The Glass Essay”

You remember too much,

my mother said to me recently.


Why hold onto all that? And I said,

Where can I put it down?

Excerpt from "Obit" [Blame]

Blame—wants to die but cannot. Its

hair is untidy but it’s always here. My

mother blamed my father. I blamed my

father’s dementia. My father blamed

my mother’s lack of exercise. My

father is the story, not the storyteller.

I eventually blamed my father because

the story kept on trying to become the 

storyteller. Blame has no face. I have

walked on its staircase around and

around, trying to slap its face but only

hitting my own cheeks. When some

people suffer, they want to tell everyone

about their suffering. When the brush

hits a knot, the child cries out loud,

makes a noise that is an expression of

pain but not the pain itself. I can’t feel

the child’s pain but some echo of her 

pain, based on my imagination. Blame

is just an echo of pain, a veil across

the face of the one you blame. I blame

God. I want to complain to the boss of

God about God. What if the boss of

God is rain and the only way to speak

to rain is to open your mouth to the sky

and drown?


Five times a day, I make tea. I do this

because I like the warmth in my hands, like the feeling

of self-directed kindness. I’m not used to it—

warmth and kindness, both—so I create my own

when I can. It’s easy. You just pour

water into a kettle and turn the knob and listen

for the scream. I do this

five times a day. Sometimes, when I’m pleased,

I let out a little sound. A poet noticed this

and it made me feel I might one day

properly be loved. Because no one is here

to love me, I make tea for myself

and leave the radio playing. I must

remind myself I am here, and do so

by noticing myself: my feet are cold

inside my socks, they touch the ground, my stomach

churns, my heart stutters, in my hands I hold

a warmth I make. I come from

a people who pray five times a day

and make tea. I admire the way they do

both. How they drop to the ground

wherever they are. Drop

pine nuts and mint sprigs in a glass.

I think to care for the self

is a kind of prayer. It is a gesture

of devotion toward what is not always beloved

or believed. I do not always believe

in myself, or love myself, I am sure

there are times I am bad or gone

or lying. In another’s mouth, tea often means gossip,

but sometimes means truth. Despite

the trope, in my experience my people do not lie

for pleasure, or when they should,

even when it might be a gesture

of kindness. But they are kind. If you were

to visit, a woman would bring you

a tray of tea. At any time of day.

My people love tea so much

it was once considered a sickness. Their colonizers

tried, as with any joy, to snuff it out. They feared a love

so strong one might sell or kill their other

loves for leaves and sugar. Teaism

sounds like a kind of faith

I’d buy into, a god I wouldn’t fear. I think now I truly believe

I wouldn’t kill anyone for love,

not even myself—most days

I can barely get out of bed. So I make tea.

I stand at the window while I wait.

My feet are cold and the radio plays its little sounds.

I do the small thing I know how to do

to care for myself. I am trying to notice joy,

which means survive. I do this all day, and then the next.

Self-Portrait as a Wild Extrovert

I have 600 dear friends.

I hug each of them

daily. I never need a mint

but am always ready to offer one

or 600. I love & know a lot

about biking/baking. I love & know

a lot about Celine Dion,

thanks to my mom, who is, if I

absolutely had to pick one—but

who am I kidding, of course

she’s my best friend.

Once, every five years, I might

feel a smidge of sadness.

& when I do, I just

sit down, maintaining impeccable,

approachable posture, & breathe.

I breathe like the very well-

organized, very wall-less

ad agency I’ve run

since birth. I breathe

like breathing is my oldest

dear friend named Daphne

Daphne, whom I still call every night

before bed to say, You are

an incandescent multiverse—don’t you

forget it, & that never

fails to do the trick.

Catastrophe Is Next to Godliness

Lord, I confess I want the clarity of catastrophe but not the catastrophe.

Like everyone else, I want a storm I can dance in.

I want an excuse to change my life.


The day A. died, the sun was brighter than any sun.

I answered the phone, and a channel opened

between my stupid head and heaven, or what was left of it. The blankness

stared back; and I made sound after sound with my blood-wet gullet.

O unsayable—O tender and divine unsayable, I knew you then:

you line straight to the planet’s calamitous core; you moment moment moment;

you intimate abyss I called sister for a good reason.


When the Bad Thing happened, I saw every blade.

And every year I find out what they’ve done to us, I shed another skin.

I get closer to open air; true north.


Lord, if I say Bless the cold water you throw on my face,

does that make me a costume party. Am I greedy for comfort

if I ask you not to kill my friends; if I beg you to press

your heel against my throat—not enough to ruin me,

but just so—just so I can almost see your face—

Excerpt from "The First Black Bachelorette"

There was an episode once

on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

with the actress Tisha Campbell.

The premise: they were on a date

and stuck in a basement for hours.

She stripped off her weave, fake nails,

contacts, and eyelashes. She molted.

Will, then asks, Now, what else

on your body can I get at the mall?

RuPaul says, we’re all born naked

and the rest is drag. Derrick has a list

of funny drag names and I want one.

I want to be called what I really am

or what I pretend to be, which, I guess

in a way, is me? Or someone who I think

might be beautiful enough to be approached,

discovered. Someone who doesn’t have

to pay for movers. Someone who walks

into a party and doesn’t have to be anxious

because the privilege of their beauty

makes them at rest and people find vacations

in their faces. I require something fake.

Woven and glued, stuck to my body

but not of my body. How does a body

even start?

won’t you celebrate with me

won't you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes

in a Tex-Mex restaurant. His co-workers,

unable to utter his name, renamed him Jalapeño.


If I ask for a goldfish, he spits a glob of phlegm

into a jar of water. The silver letters


on his black belt spell Sangrón. Once, borracho,

at dinner, he said: Jesus wasn’t a snowman.


Arriba Durango. Arriba Orizaba. Packed

into a car trunk, he was smuggled into the States.


Frijolero. Greaser. In Tucson he branded

cattle. He slept in a stable. The horse blankets


oddly fragrant: wood smoke, lilac. He’s an illegal.

I’m an Illegal-American. Once, in a grove


of saguaro, at dusk, I slept next to him. I woke

with his thumb in my mouth. ¿No qué no


tronabas, pistolita? He learned English

by listening to the radio. The first four words


he memorized: In God We Trust. The fifth:

Percolate. Again and again I borrow his clothes.


He calls me Scarecrow. In Oregon he picked apples.

Braeburn. Jonagold. Cameo. Nightly,


to entertain his cuates, around a campfire,

he strummed a guitarra, sang corridos. Arriba


Durango. Arriba Orizaba. Packed into

a car trunk, he was smuggled into the States.


Greaser. Beaner. Once, borracho, at breakfast,

he said: The heart can only be broken


once, like a window. ¡No mames! His favorite

belt buckle: an águila perched on a nopal.


If he laughs out loud, his hands tremble.

Bugs Bunny wants to deport him. César Chávez


wants to deport him. When I walk through

the desert, I wear his shirt. The gaze of the moon


stitches the buttons of his shirt to my skin.

The snake hisses. The snake is torn.

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

Black Stars

Whitney was a star once.

Waltzed across our television skies,

a waning crescent.

So was Michael.

& Marvin.

All stars die though.

Explode into air thin,

cascade into black hole.

Black stars form under pressure

& leave us tragically,

either by death or betrayal.

When there was no other beacon on our screens,

we looked up to Bill.

When we wanted to name a future for ourselves,

we looked through Raven’s eyes.

When we needed validation an institution could not give,

we called on Kanye.

Astronomers say the larger a star’s mass, the faster they burn their fuel, 

the shorter their lifespan.

I say the more expansive the black star, the more mass of the explosion.

I say the greater the black star, the shorter we can expect them to shine.

Some weeks I only listen to Whitney.

Cradle her name, a prayer between my lips.

One dim dusk, her lover gifted her stardust.

Whitney danced, dosed, then drowned.

& we mourn her body celestial after all these years.

Joe Jackson tried to carve galaxies out of his children.

MJ got addicted to surgeoning his features for the masses. 

His daddy beat him, say dance, say sing, say don’t glide.

Walk on the moon, boy.

Turn this Indiana basement into a universe.

You a star, boy.

Kanye West composed pieces we didn’t know our bodies needed.

We had all the flashing lights on ‘Ye but he’s still a black star made in America

so he don’t get to shine forever.

‘Ye from the South Side resurrected and named himself Yeezus.

Got so big, white folks thought he was the sun

of God.

Now Yeezus only praises white folks in red hats

and white girls with fake asses.

Scientists say when you look up at night, some of the stars you see are already dead.

Maybe this means by the time a Black person becomes a star, they are already burnt out.

Maybe this means it takes a supernova to create a superstar.

Maybe we’re all waiting to be on fire.

Black stars disintegrate for reaching up towards a pearly gaze.

Whiteness has always been both a goal and unattainable.

Has been the measure of our success and the weapon that bludgeons us.

The higher we get, the closer we get to fame or manhood or God.

The further we get from ground or dirt or us.

Black folks stay folding in on ourselves,

stay a star on the tip of someone’s rising.

I say look at the way supremacy told Raven she ain’t black.

Misogyny told Bill he could take what wasn’t his to claim.

Masculinity gave Marvin Gaye’s father a gun,

told him to shoot his son.

& ain’t a sun the biggest star?

Don’t the biggest stars have the shortest lives?

Make the largest explosions?

Have you seen 

the energy burning out

turn to dust?

Did you know above you

there are a sea of stars


Where Did You Get That Pick-Up Line? You Should Drop it Back Off

Excuse me, sir. Are you the moon? Because I need you 

238,900 miles away from me.


You make me want to go to Hogwarts 

so I can make you disappear.


Oh my god you’re so funny…looking.


Are we at the rodeo?

Because this conversation is bullshit.


You look so strong. Why don’t you go take down the patriarchy 

and heteronormative ideals while I sit over here and watch?


Your advances and excess touching and jokes are all so funny 

I decided to tell them to my lawyer.


You make me think all kinds of naughty things,

 like where to hide a body.


If I had a nickel for every time I heard that line, 

I would throw them all at you.


You want to know how I got these guns?

Working out because I’m terrified of violent masculinity!


You remind me of 1919, 

the way I don’t have a say in this exchange.


Can I please have 78% of the time you’re giving me, please?


You and my bra have something in common— 

You’re both annoying and make everything less enjoyable.


You look like a wonderful piece of meat,

You would look great under a butcher knife.


You must be a tree the way I see you and think,


Poem That Gives No Fucks

A poem should be heavy metal

worn as armor when the world hurts.

Should be a jangly guitar arpeggio

draping the highway or blue jay pecking apart

a robin’s egg, crisp blue fragments split with red.

A poem should be a Lisa Frank unicorn

vomiting rainbows who makes you ask:

how do I continue to do what I hate

day in and day out, and then answers

“Bitch, one day you’re going to grow wings

so stop screaming into the 22nd century.

Get nasty, mechanize the messy.

Reinvent your pussy into a box of butterflies.”

Because if a poem isn’t god’s tooth

tonguing you for gold then it’s only a half moonwalk,

only a date with the toilet and last night’s chardonnay.

A poem should feel like an encyclopedia

chewed up by stray dogs behind a Tiger Mart.

Seductive as a saint with truck driver hands.

Should glint like a prayer made of bodily fluids,

make you want to burn all your clothes,

eat yourself alive, smother your heart

and say: I've been searching

for the blues my whole damn life.

Shifting the Sun

When your father dies, say the Irish,

you lose your umbrella against bad weather.

May his sun be your light, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the Welsh,

you sink a foot deeper into the earth.

May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the Canadians,

you run out of excuses. May you inherit

his sun, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the French,

you become your own father.

May you stand up in his light, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the Indians,

he comes back as the thunder.

May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the Russians,

he takes your childhood with him.

May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the English,

you join his club you vowed you wouldn't.

May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the Armenians,

your sun shifts forever.

And you walk in his light.

From the Desire Field

I don’t call it sleep anymore.

I’ll risk losing something new instead—


like you lost your rosen moon, shook it loose.


But sometimes when I get my horns in a thing—

a wonder, a grief or a line of her—it is a sticky and ruined

fruit to unfasten from,


despite my trembling.


Let me call my anxiety, desire, then.

Let me call it, a garden.


Maybe this is what Lorca meant

when he said, verde que te quiero verde


because when the shade of night comes,

I am a field of it, of any worry ready to flower in my chest.


My mind in the dark is una bestia, unfocused,

hot. And if not yoked to exhaustion


beneath the hip and plow of my lover,

then I am another night wandering the desire field—


bewildered in its low green glow,


belling the meadow between midnight and morning.

Insomnia is like Spring that way—surprising

and many petaled,


the kick and leap of gold grasshoppers at my brow.


I am struck in the witched hours of want—


I want her green life. Her inside me

in a green hour I can’t stop.

Green vein in her throat green wing in my mouth


green thorn in my eye. I want her like a river goes, bending.

Green moving green, moving.


Fast as that, this is how it happens—

soy una sonámbula.


And even though you said today you felt better,

and it is so late in this poem, is it okay to be clear,

to say, I don’t feel good,


to ask you to tell me a story

about the sweet grass you planted—and tell it again

or again—


until I can smell its sweet smoke,

leave this thrashed field, and be smooth.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant — (1263)

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

Why Bother?

Because right now, there is someone


out there with


a wound in the exact shape


of your words.

Party Dress for a First Born

Headless girl, so ill at ease on the bed,

I know, if you could, what you’re thinking of:

nothing. I used to think that, too,

whenever I sat down to a full plate

or unwittingly stepped on an ant.

When I ran to my mother, waiting radiant

as a cornstalk at the edge of the field,

nothing else mattered: the world stood still.


Tonight men stride like elegant scissors across the lawn

to the women arrayed there, petals waiting to loosen.

When I step out, disguised in your blushing skin,

they will nudge each other to get a peek

and I will smile, all the while wishing them dead.

Mother's calling. Stand up: it will be our secret.


Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear   

   one more friend   

waking with a tumor, one more maniac   


with a perfect reason, often a sweetness   

   has come   

and changed nothing in the world   


except the way I stumbled through it,   

   for a while lost   

in the ignorance of loving   


someone or something, the world shrunk   

   to mouth-size,   

hand-size, and never seeming small.   


I acknowledge there is no sweetness   

   that doesn’t leave a stain,   

no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ....   


Tonight a friend called to say his lover   

   was killed in a car   

he was driving. His voice was low   


and guttural, he repeated what he needed   

   to repeat, and I repeated   

the one or two words we have for such grief    


until we were speaking only in tones.   

   Often a sweetness comes   

as if on loan, stays just long enough   


to make sense of what it means to be alive,   

   then returns to its dark   

source. As for me, I don’t care   


where it’s been, or what bitter road   

   it’s traveled   

to come so far, to taste so good.

Magnitude and Bond

More than anything, I need this boy

so close to my ears, his questions


electric as honeybees in an acreage

of goldenrod and aster. And time where


we are, slow sugar in the veins

of white pine, rubbery mushrooms


cloistered at their feet. His tawny

listening at the water’s edge, shy


antlers in pooling green light, while

we consider fox prints etched in clay.


I need little black boys to be able to be

little black boys, whole salt water galaxies


in cotton and loudness—not fixed

in stunned suspension, episodes on hot


asphalt, waiting in the dazzling absence

of apology. I need this kid to stay mighty


and coltish, thundering alongside

other black kids, their wrestle and whoop,


the brightness of it—I need for the world

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


kneel closer, while we sit in mineral hush,

together. May the boy whose dark eyes


are an echo of my father’s dark eyes,

and his father’s dark eyes, reach


with cupped hands into the braided

current. The boy, restless and lanky, the boy


for whom each moment endlessly opens,

for the attention he invests in the beetle’s


lacquered armor, each furrowed seed

or heartbeat, the boy who once told me


the world gives you second chances, the boy

tugging my arm, saying look, saying now.

Excerpt from "Faceless"

My dear, if it is not a city, it is a prison.

If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city.

Self-Portrait without Stitches

after Tarfia Faizullah


i was hurt      i wasn’t      i saw it

on the internet      licked yogurt

from a spoon while the girls

described their blood      hot      seizing

the cotton of a sheet      i am speaking

from the cut place      from my other

mouths      do not believe me for i

was never cut      or      i was hurt but

never sewn      or      i wasn’t      i want

-ed it      i didn’t      i screamed      i didn’t

i bit down      i bled      i didn’t      i click

through pictures of the girls      moonfaced

thick-cheeked      still fastened      to the

roundness of childhood      consider

the softness of my jaw      my face without

angles      without edges      i covered

i cowered      i didn’t      i cried      i came to

i click & learn their names      incant them

i learn the names of the stones      the theory

it wasn’t me      i think of all the ways

we match      it could have been      it

couldn’t      consider the cut place      thick

liquid      of citizenship    spilling from

my many mouths      uncut      my many

uncut mouths


Blonde, chipper, & with a name like a cleaning solution

the young nurse catches my drool in a mini paper cup

as I spit out the meds, again. This is her third try. She sighs.

Only a few years older, Daveen grabs me under-the-armpits,

transports me to the chair, then wheels me to the room

at the hospital’s end. Someone/a stranger/everyone

is disappointed in me. Ten days later I’m released—is what

they call it. She breaks strict code to walk me through

the heavy doors to my car in the lot, lightly punches my shoulder

like a stepsister. I’m not just outside, I keep thinking, I’m Out.

With nothing to gain, Daveen pulls me in close. She’s hugging me

so tight, spots choke my vision. With all this concrete fog

in my head it’s hard to hold on to a sentence but she says

"I hope," she says "I never," says "see you," says "again."

A Guide to Reading Trans Literature

We’re dying and we’re really sad.

We keep dying because trans women

are supposed to die.

This is sad.


I don’t have the words for my body

so I’ll say I’m a cloud

or a mountain

or something pretty that people enjoy

so if I die

people will be like “Oh, that’s sad”.


Be sad about that.

It’s okay to be sad.

It is sad when people die.

It is sad when people want to die.


I sometimes want to die but I don’t!

I’m one of the lucky ones.

You can feel happy about that.

It’s okay to feel happy about that.


Now pretend this is very serious:


History doesn’t exist.

My body doesn’t exist.

There’s nothing left for you to be complicit in.


It’s okay for you to feel happy about that.


Now pretend I am crying

right in front of you,

opening that wound up just for you.


Now pretend you can feel my pain.


Now pretend something in you

has been moved, has been transformed.


Now pretend you are absolved.

what I mean when I say I’m sharpening my oyster knife

I mean I'm here

to eat up all the ocean you thought was yours.

I mean I brought my own quarter of a lemon,

tart and full of seeds. I mean I'm a tart.

I'm a bad seed. I'm a red-handled thing

and if you move your eyes from me

I'll cut the tender place where your fingers meet.


I mean I never met a dish of horseradish I didn't like.

I mean you're a twisted and ugly root

and I'm the pungent, stinging firmness inside.

I mean I look so good in this hat

with a feather

and I'm a feather

and I'm the heaviest featherweight you know.

I mean you can't spell anything I talk about

with that sorry alphabet you have left over from yesterday.


I mean

when I see something dull and uneven,

barnacled and ruined,

I know how to get to its iridescent everything.

I mean I eat them alive.


what I mean is I'll eat you alive,

slipping the blade in sideways, cutting

nothing because the space was always there.

The Sacrifice

  —Qurbani Eid


No, I said, I want 

to watch them behead 

the goat


                        with the men.

Her eyes glistened

as the scythe sang



                        her neck

and spine. I’m proud

of you, the uncles said. It is



                        to observe

death. Her hoof, cleaved

from her shin. Her belly.



                        I looked

was trickling ant-shadow.

Pleasant banter. Her blood.

The aunts


                        came out

to slide the chopped acres

of her into hissing oil

and onion,


                        She was

steam—sift and spice-bold.

I ate her between my cousins,



                        my palm across

the blood-gravy of what was left

on the filigreed china. Yes,

I savored


                        her more than

once: first with rice, then with

chutney. My first death. I felt


conflicted. Satisfied.

At Twenty-Eight

It seems I get by on more luck than sense,

not the kind brought on by knuckle to wood,

breath on dice, or pennies found in the mud.

I shimmy and slip by on pure fool chance.

At turns charmed and cursed, a girl knows romance

as coffee, red wine, and books; solitude

she counts as daylight virtue and muted

evenings, the inventory of absence.

But this is no sorry spinster story,

just the way days string together a life.

Sometimes I eat soup right out of the pan.

Sometimes I don’t care if I will marry.

I dance in my kitchen on Friday nights,

singing like only a lucky girl can.


after Nikki Giovanni


She asked me to kill the spider

Instead, I get the most

peaceful weapons I can find.


I take a cup and a napkin.

I catch the spider, put it outside

and allow it to walk away.


If I am ever caught in the wrong place

at the wrong time, just being alive

and not bothering anyone,


I hope I am greeted

with the same kind

of mercy.

Urban Girl Writes Another Poem About Her Dead Father

My father is dead.

I notice it most 

During things that haven’t happened 



My Father is dead 

at my wedding. 

He is a slow dance of bullets

an autopsy trying 

to make polite conversation with the guests.

My flower girl is me at every age 

he did not see me turn.

I am throwing things I haven’t seen in years

(My virginity, pig-tails, my diploma, joy and names of old lovers).


My father is dead 

at the birth of my first child 

The doctor asks where is the father

I say murdered out of habit.

The doctor does not specify so neither do I 

Instead we both stare 

at my child who is named after the chill in the room. 


My father is dead 

at my death bed. We play

Blackjack until the light comes.


When it does, he lifts me onto his shoulders

I get the piggy back ride promised to a child

who time had been waiting on.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Little Weapon

Imagine if I had to console

The families of those slain I slayed on game consoles

I aim, I hold right trigger to squeeze

Press up and Y, one less person breathe

B for the bombs, press pause for your moms

Make the room silent, she don't approve of violent games

She leave; resume activity

Scarred and blue heart, of hard, sharp wizardry

On next part, I insert code

To sweeten up the little person's murder workload

I tell him he work for CIA with A

A operative; I operate this game all day

I hold the controller connected to the soldier

With weapons on his shoulder

He's only seconds older than me

We playful but serious

Now, keep that on mind for online experience

Sorrow Is Not My Name

—after Gwendolyn Brooks

—for Walter Aikens


No matter the pull toward brink. No

matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.

There is a time for everything. Look,

just this morning a vulture

nodded his red, grizzled head at me,

and I looked at him, admiring

the sickle of his beak.

Then the wind kicked up, and,

after arranging that good suit of feathers

he up and took off.

Just like that. And to boot,

there are, on this planet alone, something like two

million naturally occurring sweet things,

some with names so generous as to kick

the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,

stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks

at the market. Think of that. The long night,

the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me

on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.

But look; my niece is running through a field

calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel

and at the end of my block is a basketball court.

I remember. My color's green. I'm spring.

Excerpt from "America"

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.

America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.   

I can’t stand my own mind.

America when will we end the human war?

Go [  ] yourself with your atom bomb.

I don’t feel good don’t bother me.

I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.

America when will you be angelic?

When will you take off your clothes?

When will you look at yourself through the grave?

When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?

America why are your libraries full of tears?

America when will you send your eggs to India?

I’m sick of your insane demands.

When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?

America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.   

Your machinery is too much for me.

You made me want to be a saint.

There must be some other way to settle this argument.   

Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.   

Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?   

I’m trying to come to the point.

I refuse to give up my obsession.

America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.

America the plum blossoms are falling.


if i can't do

what i want to do

then my job is to not

do what i don't want

to do


it's not the same thing

but it's the best i can



if i can't have

what i want    then

my job is to want

what i've got

and be satisfied

that at least there

is something more

to want


since i can't go

where i need

to go    then i must    go

where the signs point

though always understanding

parallel movement

isn't lateral


when i can't express

what i really feel

i practice feeling

what i can express

and none of it is equal

i know

but that's why mankind

alone among the animals

learns to cry

The Red Poppy

The great thing

is not having

a mind. Feelings:

oh, I have those; they

govern me. I have

a lord in heaven

called the sun, and open

for him, showing him

the fire of my own heart, fire

like his presence.

What could such glory be

if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,

were you like me once, long ago,

before you were human? Did you

permit yourselves

to open once, who would never

open again? Because in truth

I am speaking now

the way you do. I speak

because I am shattered.

Failed Essay on Privilege

I came from something popularly known as “nothing”

and in the coming I got a lot.


My parents didn’t speak money, didn’t speak college.

Still—I went to Yale.


For a while I tried to condemn.

I wrote Let me introduce you to evil.


Still, I was a guest there, I made myself at home.


And I know a fine shoe when I see one.

And I know to be sincerely sorry for those people’s problems.


I know to want nothing more

than it would be so nice to have


and I confess I’ll never hate what I’ve been given

as much as I wish I could.


Still I thought I of all people understood Aristotle: what is and isn’t the good life . . .

because, I wrote, privilege is an aggressive form of amnesia . . .


I left a house with no heat. I left the habit of hunger. I left a room

I shared with seven brothers and sisters I also left.


Even the good is regrettable, or at least sometimes

should be regretted


yet to hate myself is not to absolve her.


I paid so much

for wisdom, and look at all of this, look at all I have—


in the village

of your birth

cuts a wall

bleeds a border


in the heat

you cannot swim

in the rain

you cannot climb


in the north

you cannot be

cuts a paper

cuts a law


cuts a finger

finger bleeds

baby hungers

baby feeds


baby needs

you cannot go

you cannot buy

you cannot bring


baby grows

baby knows


seasons bring


winter border

summer border

falls a border

border spring

That's So Lame

He says when the bus is late, when the TV

show is canceled, when a fascist is elected,

when the WiFi’s bad. That’s so lame! I say

rubbernecking my own body in the bath

-room mirror. See, every time lame comes

out a mouth it doesn’t belong in, my cane

hand itches, my bum-knee cracks, my tongue’s

limp gets worse. Some days it’s so bedridden

in the bottom of my jaw, it can’t stand up

for itself. Fumbles a fuck you, trips over its

own etymology, when all I want to ask is Why

do you keep dragging my body into this? When

I want to ask, Did you know how this slur

feathered its way into language? By way of lame

duck, whose own wings sever it from the flock

& make it perfect prey. I want to ask How long

have you been naming us by our dead? Baby

-booked your broken from the textbooks of our

anatomy? A car limped along the freeway,

a child crippled by their mother’s baleful stare.

Before I could accept this body’s fractures,

I had to unlearn lame as the first breath of

lament. I’m still learning not to let a stranger speak

me into a funeral, an elegy in orthodox slang.

My dad used to tell me this old riddle: What

value is there in a lame horse that cannot gallop?


A bullet & whatever a butcher can make of it.

My Brilliant Image

translated by Daniel Ladinsky


I wish I could show you

When you are lonely or in darkness,


The Astonishing Light

Of your own Being!

Excerpt from "She Had Some Horses"

I. She Had Some Horses


She had some horses.

She had horses who were bodies of sand.

She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.

She had horses who were skins of ocean water.

She had horses who were the blue air of sky.

She had horses who were fur and teeth.

She had horses who were clay and would break.

She had horses who were splintered red cliff.


She had some horses.


She had horses with eyes of trains.

She had horses with full, brown thighs.

She had horses who laughed too much.

She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.

She had horses who licked razor blades.


She had some horses.


She had horses who danced in their mothers' arms.

She had horses who thought they were the sun and their

bodies shone and burned like stars.

She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.

She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet

in stalls of their own making.


She had some horses.


She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.

She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who

carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.

She had horses who waited for destruction.

She had horses who waited for resurrection.


She had some horses.


She had some horses she loved.

She had some horses she hated.


These were the same horses.

Makin' Jump Shots

He waltzes into the lane

’cross the free-throw line,

fakes a drive, pivots,

floats from the asphalt turf

in an arc of black light,

and sinks two into the chains.


One on one he fakes

down the main, passes

into the free lane

and hits the chains.


A sniff in the fallen air—

he stuffs it through the chains

riding high:

“traveling” someone calls—

and he laughs, stepping

to a silent beat, gliding

as he sinks two into the chains.

Carp Poem

After I have parked below the spray paint caked in the granite

grooves of the Frederick Douglass Middle School sign,


where men-size children loiter like shadows drape in outsize

denim, jerseys, braids, and boots that mean I am no longer young;


after I have made my way to the New Orleans Parish Jail down the block,

where the black prison guard wearing the same weariness


my prison guard father wears buzzes me in, I follow his pistol and shield

along each corridor trying not to look at the black men


boxed and bunked around me until I reach the tiny classroom

where two dozen black boys are dressed in jumpsuits orange as the carp


I saw in a pond once in Japan, so many fat, snaggletoothed fish

ganged in and lurching for food that a lightweight tourist could have crossed


the water on their backs so long as he had tiny rice balls or bread

to drop into the mouths below his footsteps, which I’m thinking


is how Jesus must have walked on the lake that day, the crackers and crumbs

falling from the folds of his robe, and how maybe it was the one fish


so hungry it leaped up his sleeve that he later miraculously changed

into a narrow loaf of bread, something that could stick to a believer’s ribs,


and don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer too, in the power of food at least,

having seen a footbridge of carp packed gill to gill, packed tighter


than a room of boy prisoners waiting to talk poetry with a young black poet,

packed so close they'd have eaten each other had there been nothing else to eat.

Social Distancing

with design by Anthony Cody

Fuck Your Lecture on Craft

Colonizers write about flowers.

I tell you about children throwing rocks at Israeli tanks

seconds before becoming daisies.

I want to be like those poets who care about the moon.

Palestinians don’t see the moon from jail cells and prisons.

It’s so beautiful, the moon.

They’re so beautiful, the flowers.

I pick flowers for my dead father when I’m sad.

He watches Al Jazeera all day.

I wish Jessica would stop texting me Happy Ramadan.

I know I’m American because when I walk into a room something dies.

Metaphors about death are for poets who think ghosts care about sound.

When I die, I promise to haunt you forever.

One day, I'll write about the flowers like we own them.


I loved my friend.

He went away from me.

There's nothing more to say.

The poem ends,

Soft as it began— 

I loved my friend.

Theme for English B

The instructor said,


      Go home and write

      a page tonight.

      And let that page come out of you—

      Then, it will be true.


I wonder if it’s that simple?

I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.   

I went to school there, then Durham, then here   

to this college on the hill above Harlem.   

I am the only colored student in my class.   

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,   

through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,   

Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,   

the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator   

up to my room, sit down, and write this page:


It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me   

at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what

I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.

hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.   

(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?


Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.   

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.   

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.   

So will my page be colored that I write?   

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.

Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.   

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are, that’s true!

As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me—

although you’re older—and white—

and somewhat more free.


This is my page for English B.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.


I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Excerpt from "Bigger Than Life"

No I don't want your love, it’s not why I make music 

I owe myself, I told myself back then that I would do this 

And I always look so out of reach, and just seem so confusing 

That I felt my place in life, a young black man it seems so useless 

But I don’t want no help, just let me suffer through this 

The world would not know Jesus Christ if there was never Judas 

This knife that's in my back will be the truth that introduced us 

And the distance in between us is the proof of my conclusion 

Life is what you make it, I hope you make a movement 

Hope your opportunity survives the opportunist 

Hopin' as you walk across the sand, you see my shoe print 

And you follow 'til it change your life, it’s all an evolution 

And I hope you find your passion 'cause I found mine in this music 

But I hope it’s not material 'cause that’s all an illusion 

And they all in collusion / This racist institution, double standard 

Actin' like they not the reason we ruthless

Assimilation Bouquet


your fist


like a nesting 



picture dahlia, 




in time-lapse


lightning bolts



               in a bevy

of pickling jars





               to leaf

through anther


               & filament

to a part called



               & stem 


               new replicas

to hang around


your neck

like garlands 


               & gorge 

your cheeks 



of anthems


Everyday I build the little boat,

my body boat, hold for the unique one,

the formless soul, the blue fire

that coaxes my being into being.


Yes, there was music in the woods, and

I was in love with the trees, and a beautiful man

grew my heartbeat in his hands, and there

was my mother’s regret that I slept with.


To live there is pointless. I’m building the boat,

the same way I’d build a new love—

looking ahead at the terrain. And the water

is rising, and the generous ones are moving on.


O New Day, I get to build the boat!

I tell myself to live again.

Somehow I made it out of being 15

and wanting to jump off the roof


of my attic room. Somehow I survived

my loneliness and throwing up in a jail cell.

O New Day, I’ve broken my own heart. The boat

is still here, is fortified in my brokeness.


I’ve picked up the hammer every day

and forgiven myself. There is a new

language I’m learning by speaking it.

I’m a blind cartographer, I know the way


fearing the distance. O New Day,

there isn’t a part of you I don’t love

to fear. I’m holding hands with

the poet speaking of light, saying I made it up


I made it up.

Intifada Incantation: Poem 38 for b.b.L.









































While sipping coffee in my mother’s Toyota, we hear the birdcall of two teenage boys

in the parking lot: Aiight, one says, Besaydoo, the other returns, as they reach

for each other. Their cupped handshake pops like the first, fat, firecrackers of summer,


their fingers shimmy as if they’re solving a Rubik’s cube just beyond our sight. Moments

later, their Schwinns head in opposite directions. My mother turns to me, revealing the

milky, John-Waters-mustache-thin foam on her upper lip, Wetin dem bin say?


Besaydoo? Nar English? she asks, tickled by this tangle of new language. Alright.

Be safe dude, I pull apart each syllable like string cheese for her. Oh yah, dem nar real padi,

she smiles, surprisingly broken by the tenderness expressed by what half my family might call


thugs. Besaydoo. Besaydoo. Besaydoo, we chirp in the car, then nightly into our phones

after I leave California. Besaydoo, she says as she softly muffles the rattling of my bones

in newfound sobriety. Besaydoo, I say years later, her response made raspy by an oxygen


treatment at the ER. Besaydoo, we whisper to each other across the country. Like

some word from deep in a somewhere too newborn-pure for the outdoors, but we

saw those two boys do it, in broad daylight, under a decadent, ruinous, sun.

Elegy for Bruce Lee

Somewhere in the dark sky is a beautiful fight,

one-two, cha cha chá—all our knuckles rapping


against the stars’ edges for the dancing master,

for a flying sidekick to our bodies’ centers.


My father called you Little Dragon Lee, told me

how you swiveled your hips across the floor—


three-four, cha cha chá—then you both wrote

love poems for a girl in your English class.


I practiced throwing roundhouse kicks as a boy,

feet aimed at my reflection in store windows,


at street signs, at parked cars, everything I knew

I could break. Now, my feet cannot leave


the ground, and I write love poems for the dead.

The last time I watched Enter the Dragon,


I imagined it was my father emerging victorious

from the hall of mirrors, my father hustling


on the dance floor, because the last time

I saw my father, he had been waiting for me


the whole day in the morgue. Hold me,

he said, and I did until his body stopped


acting like it was alive. There is no fight

where there is no spark, no wretched cock crow


in the dark, just this cha cha chá—grief is a fist

and a promise to hurt someone. Just give it


an inch between knuckle and breastbone.

It will punch through everyone.

The bottoms of my shoes

 The bottoms of my shoes 

     are clean 

From walking in the rain

Bad Mood, Baker Beach

Just told some dude with a poodle to fuck off.


My pound mutt humped his puppy’s ass.


He pretends to call the cops. No answer and I knew it.


Bigger problems in this town.


I will never understand the appeal of anger. 


So bored. Weather exhausts me. You call this winter?


I’ll show you winter. Tea kettle spilled over door locks.


Hot shovel from the wood stove. Ashes, pitfall.


The water here is always bitter cold. 


Big tease. Did I mention I am allergic to wet suits?


So much for surfing. Might as well move back East, 


land of snow and warm summer water. Might be better 


than sitting on a cold beach, staring at a red bridge


they never stop painting. What’s the point?  All of this beauty


everywhere. So stupid. My wet dog licks my cheek, shakes


out the water from his fur all over me. 


Dumb sun, set already. This sucks. Sand in my socks.


I will never be happy.

Blue Light Lounge Sutra for the Performance Poets at Harold Park Hotel

the need gotta be

so deep words can't

answer simple questions

all night long notes

stumble off the tongue

& color the air indigo

so deep fragments of gut

& flesh cling to the song

you gotta get into it

so deep salt crystalizes on eyelashes

the need gotta be

so deep you can vomit up ghosts

& not feel broken

till you are no more

than a half ounce of gold

in painful brightness

you gotta get into it

blow that saxophone

so deep all the sex & dope in this world

can't erase your need

to howl against the sky

the need gotta be

so deep you can't

just wiggle your hips

& rise up out of it

chaos in the cosmos

modern man in the pepperpot

you gotta get hooked

into every hungry groove

so deep the bomb locked

in rust opens like a fist

into it into it so deep

rhythm is pre-memory

the need gotta be basic

animal need to see

& know the terror

we are made of honey

cause if you wanna dance

this boogie be ready

to let the devil use your head

for a drum


When you showed up drunk as hell, humming

tunelessly to yourself, and slumped against

the auditorium's faux-wood paneling  — when

you fumbled in the pockets of your coat,

fished out a cigarette, brought it to your lips,

then, realizing for the first time where you were,

tossed it away and said Fuck it loud enough

that everyone turned in their seats and a friend

elbowed me and asked if I knew you — I shook

my head and spent the next hour wondering why

I was so glad you came. You, who slept

each night in your battered van, who skipped

meetings and lied to your sponsor, who still

called your ex-wife every day, restraining order

be damned. You shouldn't have been there

either: a hundred yards was the agreement

after you gathered all the meds in the house

into a shoebox and threatened to take them.

You had come regardless. You were there.

And I was there. And when I walked the stage

you hollered my name with a kind

of wild conviction, then said it a second time,

less convinced, and I thought of that night

when the cops came and you, unashamed

of the fuss you caused, of your desperate,

public struggle for happiness, kissed me

on the head — once, twice — and went quietly.

Small Kindnesses

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk

down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs

to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”

when someone sneezes, a leftover

from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.

And sometimes, when you spill lemons

from your grocery bag, someone else will help you

pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.

We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,

and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile

at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress

to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,

and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.

We have so little of each other, now. So far

from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.

What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these

fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,

have my seat," "Go ahead — you first," "I like your hat."

Out of Hiding

Someone said my name in the garden,


while I grew smaller

in the spreading shadow of the peonies,


grew larger by my absence to another,

grew older among the ants, ancient


under the opening heads of the flowers,

new to myself, and stranger.


When I heard my name again, it sounded far,

like the name of the child next door,

or a favorite cousin visiting for the summer,


while the quiet seemed my true name,

a near and inaudible singing

born of hidden ground.


Quiet to quiet, I called back.

And the birds declared my whereabouts all morning.


I like the idea of a spratchet,

which today I learned

is the plastic divider

used in check-out lines

that says this is almost mine

and this is almost yours.

I like how it helps two strangers

not skinny dip in the reservoirs

of each other’s bank accounts.

There’s nothing rude about a spratchet—

it’s polite as plastic can possibly be.

Unlike the bolt click behind a door

or the whining hinge of a fence gate,

the spratchet keeps things

only subtly separate.

Gently, the cashier lowers

my oyster crackers into a bag.

He divides the dry from the frozen.

I nod my spratchet nod. At work

I shake with my practiced

spratchet hand. At home,

I put the groceries in the cupboard

and kiss my love, and even our lips

are little spratchets. I cannot know her.

She cannot know me. No matter

how intimate. Not really.

That’s what we have to agree on.

That's what I intend on forgetting.

The Conditional

Say tomorrow doesn't come.


Say the moon becomes an icy pit.


Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.


Say the sun's a foul black tire fire.


Say the owl's eyes are pinpricks.


Say the raccoon's a hot tar stain.


Say the shirt's plastic ditch-litter.


Say the kitchen's a cow's corpse.


Say we never get to see it: bright


future, stuck like a bum star, never


coming close, never dazzling.


Say we never meet her. Never him.


Say we spend our last moments staring


at each other, hands knotted together,


clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.


Say, It doesn't matter. Say, That would be


enough. Say you'd still want this: us alive,


right here, feeling lucky.

I Used to Pray

to any God that made me

feel ashamed. 


Girls are takers,

Mama used to say.


I took every lesson     

she gave me, learned 


to swim out of my body 

& abandon it.


With incense I burned pages

until a perfect eye stared back. 


God drilled a hole to make us see. 

See? Mine is filthy.  


He, too, eyed me 

each day afterschool,   


clutching the line to the lure.

When I walked by 


he’d catch me & groan     

Oh you’ve grown so heavy. 


Like his breath, his fingers 

were meaty & thick.


For years I weighed myself 

then I weighed myself down.


In the water, my scaled body 

lay bent & murky.


Listen — Don’t believe in God 

unless he admits 


he was always watching.

Look back at him. 


If he had my courage

he’d choose to be born 


a daughter. 

What am I begging for? 


I have two mouths.

One remembers.


Neither forgives.

The Lovers

I was always afraid

of the next card


the psychic would turn

over for us—

                              Forgive me

for not knowing

how we were


every card in the deck.

Obligations 2

        As we


                                           embrace          resist


                          the future       the present      the past


            we work          we struggle          we begin          we fail

to understand       to find        to unbraid        to accept        to question


              the grief          the grief           the grief          the grief


                          we shift         we wield           we bury​


                                     into light               as ash


                                               across our faces

Gacela of the Remembrance of Love

translated by James Wright


Do not carry your remembrance.

Leave it, alone, in my breast,


     tremor of a white cherry tree

in the torment of January.


     There divides me from the dead

a wall of difficult dreams.


     I give the pain of a fresh lily

for a heart of chalk.


     All night long, in the orchard

my eyes, like two dogs.


     All night long, quinces

of poison, flowing.


     Sometimes the wind

is a tulip of fear,


     a sick tulip,

daybreak of winter.


     A wall of difficult dreams

divides me from the dead.

Excerpt from "Power"

The difference between poetry and rhetoric

is being ready to kill


instead of your children.


I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds

and a dead child dragging his shattered black

face off the edge of my sleep

blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders

is the only liquid for miles

and my stomach

churns at the imagined taste while

my mouth splits into dry lips

without loyalty or reason

thirsting for the wetness of his blood

as it sinks into the whiteness

of the desert where I am lost

without imagery or magic

trying to make power out of hatred and destruction

trying to heal my dying son with kisses

only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.


I have not been able to touch the destruction

within me.

Still, I Don’t Love My Father

In a Greyhound Station his last name

is read before my first


by the entrance attendant I hand my ticket to. Who

is kind & asks me “Why didn’t you bring


me breakfast?” It is 4 in the morning, I blush

to myself. Oedipus, I do not want


the older stranger inquiring

on his day’s first meal. I respond, “You


were bringing me breakfast today” a snappy

teen in my gullet. Glum, but glinting


in my cheekiness extended

to the aged stranger who I knew


was Nigerian before his exhort of such. I don’t love

my father, but the Greyhound says, “Your name


is beautiful is it African?” & he means

my name,


my last.


& I cannot say I believe in love because

I love my father. No. That country stretched


itself large w/ new children. There is no room.

But I believe in love, 20th of January, even


in a Greyhound bus station where

fluorescents blink to bleakness, even


as my country inchoate

itches to slide me off its flag,


when I remember the Attendant in Atlanta

taught me hello in Ibo


when I told him I could not speak

my father’s language. Oh,


how the weeping followed.

The Women in My Family Are Bitches

cranky! bitches

stuck up! bitches

customer service turned sour! bitches.

can i help you? bitches

next in line! bitches

i like this purse 'cause it makes me look mean bitches

can you take a picture of my outfit? full length!

get the shoes in! bitches

i always wear heels to la fiesta! and i never take 

them off! bitches

all men will kill you! bitches

all men will leave you anyway! bitches

you better text me when you get home okay! bitches

pray before the plane takes off! bitches

pray before the baby comes! bitches

she has my eyes my big mouth, my fight! bitches

sing to the scabs on her knees when she falls 

down! bitches

give abuelita bendiciones! bitches

it's okay not to be liked! bitches

on our own til infinity! bitches

the vengeful violent

pissed prissed and polished

lipstick stained on an envelope,

i'll be damned if i'm compliant! bitches

the what did you call us? 

what did you say to us? 

what's that kind of love called again?


Everyone I Love is Drafting Their Own Eulogies

in parking lots, in bedrooms,  

in supermarkets between the ground beef 

and the egg noodles. Let's try that again:

so much comes down to a body

handcuffing itself to its ghost. 

I want to tell you about the time 

the past was an earring 

under the bed. How I lived 

in the space between touching

and not touching, how I wanted 

everyone I love 

to wear me like a hat. Now I'm the darkness

a city bus moves through, 

but not always, not when I pass someone

walking more than three dogs, 

not when everyone I love

is working full-time as my lungs. 

In Los Angeles, someone's replaced

all the oxygen with surgical grade stainless steel,  

someone's tagged all the freeway overpasses

and I can't tell if they wrote HELEN

or HELP. Everyone I love is trying 

to shine me like a flashlight, 

everyone I love is telling me 

to say ahh. In my backyard, forty ants

are sharing a slice of watermelon, 

and I don't know why that makes me feel

lonely, why I wish I was their size 

and with them, fighting for the juiciest piece

with everyone I love

or just letting them have it.

Like a Freedom Too Strange to be Conquered

i pretend to cut


my eyes at you             


                                    in line




for water


swat your laugh away


from my neck in the hall


you got a mouth that


like a ‘lil nip    anyway


i change your name in


my journal to Marcus


surrounded by petals


in each, a letter


spelling                          out into bloom


damn.  even here in my


own private truth I can’t say


yes i love                       and it


is the youngest, freshest thang


yes i love                       and at


the formal we gon dance the way


children dance— bodies rubbin


hard against imagination & bone,


pantin before we even know 


why, droolin the lyrics of our


mothers favorite poems into


one another’s ear— oh,                          , yes


imma moan your whole name


into a roll of toilet paper and


flush. i swear, imma play dead 


on the black top. i wanna tell the world 


about you & i can’t. i wanna tell the world


about me but i ain’t met her yet. 


i wanna tell the world somethin


other than ooo Fidel Lee so fine


man fuck that nigga & his sweaty hands


i’d rather dance in the thursday sun


that is your name. that is your laugh.


i wanna toil in a queerness that ain’t


nobody punch line       & speaking of strike —


somehow it was just the two of us


in a bathroom on the third floor that first time


i wash my hands and keep my eyes out the mirror


auri                             you say my name


                                    like a damned flute


auri                             & i turn slower than worlds


your lips are there & my lips are there & oh god


i love you i love you i love you & was the freest me                right then.


      is the sound of me thinking

in a language stolen from my

ancestors. I can’t tell you who the

first slave in my family was, but we

are the last. Descendants

of the sun. Rye skinned

and vibrant, wailing to

a sailing tomb. We twist

creoled tongues. Make English

a song worth singing. You erase

our history and call it freedom.

Take our flesh and call it fashion.

Swallow nations and call it

humanity. We so savage

we let you live. 

       I can’t tell you who the first slave

in my family was, but we remember

the bodies.   Our bodies remember.

We are their favorite melody. Beat

into bucket. Broken

into cardboard covered

concrete. Shaken

into Harlem. The getting over

never begins, but there

is always the get down. Our DNA

sheet music humming

at the bottom

of the ocean.

Athazagoraphobia (Fear of Being Ignored)

II used to bury plum pits between houses. Buried

bits of wire there too. Used to bury matches

but nothing ever burned and nothing ever thrived

so I set fire to a mattress, disassembled a stereo,

attacked flies with a water pistol, and drowned ants

in perfume. I pierced my eyebrow, inserted

a stainless steel bar, traded that for a scar in a melee, [

  ], swerved

into traffic while unbuttoning my shirt—

                                                                  There is a woman

waiting for me to marry her or forget her name

forever—whichever loosens the ribbons from her hair.

I fill the bathtub for an enemy, lick the earlobe

of my nemesis. I try to dance like firelight

without setting anyone ablaze. I am leaning over

the railing of a bridge, seeing my face shimmer

on the river below—it’s everywhere now—

                                                                  Look for me

in scattered windshield beneath an overpass,

on the sculpture of a man with metal skin grafts,

in patterns on mud-draggled wood, feathers

circling leaves in rainwater—look. Even the blade

of a knife holds my quickly fading likeness

while I run out of ways to say I am here.

Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell

leaving is not enough; you must

stay gone. train your heart

like a dog. change the locks

even on the house he’s never

visited. you lucky, lucky girl.

you have an apartment

just your size. a bathtub

full of tea. a heart the size

of Arizona, but not nearly

so arid. don’t wish away

your cracked past, your

crooked toes, your problems

are papier mache puppets

you made or bought because the vendor

at the market was so compelling you just

had to have them. you had to have him.

and you did. and now you pull down

the bridge between your houses,

you make him call before

he visits, you take a lover

for granted, you take

a lover who looks at you

like maybe you are magic. make

the first bottle you consume

in this place a relic. place it

on whatever altar you fashion

with a knife and five cranberries.

don’t lose too much weight.

stupid girls are always trying

to disappear as revenge. and you

are not stupid. you loved a man

with more hands than a parade

of beggars, and here you stand. heart

like a four poster bed. heart like a canvas.

heart leaking something so strong

they can smell it in the street.

Standing at The Mirror, The Author Writes A Poem for Himself in Which the Word Hate Is Replaced with The Word Forgive

& while I wait for my eyes to relearn open  I [forgive] myself      for the slow rise
the deep ache in the crane of my neck               from bowing down inside myself

I [forgive] the surrender the swollen knee the bruise on my rib  shape & shade
of an August sunrise    I [forgive] the fence I could swear was the horizon or at least

a way out     I [forgive] myself for imagining     a way out is a place I could visit
like a corner café   or ex-lover’s thigh I [forgive] myself for loving

those who have harmed me    for cooking them dinner & burning the rice    forgetting
to add pepper    or make myself a plate I [forgive] myself for staying I [forgive]

myself for staying      until I left my skin another blanket on the bed until the sound
of a door opening    turned each room into a reason to leave I counted each second

alone as a tiny victory      until I lost count   which is the only victory that matters
please let healing be not a season but the body that still belongs to me & every day

I remember to buy bread to hide the keys beneath the window succulent
or walk along the road dreaming of anything other than traffic      is a day I get closer

to a future made better by how I live through it I [forgive] myself for failing
today for falling back into bed & drawing the blinds give me time

I’ll get up I promise I know it doesn’t matter where I go every direction is forward
I just have to get there      I take a step & step naked into the shower the water

so cold I forget to breathe my body yearns to follow the pearls      falling through
the metal grate to become not quite a ghost but a shadow just out of frame I say no

I [forgive] I [forgive] myself      with my body right in front of me


Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;

    It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—

    It gives a lovely light!

Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent

When I consider how my light is spent,

   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,

   And that one Talent which is death to hide

   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

   My true account, lest he returning chide;

   “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

   I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need

   Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best

   Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

   And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:

   They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Mercy, Mercy Me

Crips, Bloods, and butterflies.

   A sunflower somehow planted

in the alley. Its broken neck.

   Maybe memory is all the home

you get. And rage, where you

   first learn how fragile the axis

upon which everything tilts.

   But to say you’ve come to terms

with a city that’s never loved you

   might be overstating things a bit.

All you know is there was once

   a walk-up where now sits a lot,

vacant, and rats in deep grass

   hide themselves from the day.

That one apartment fire

   set back in ’76—one the streets

called arson to collect a claim—

   could not do, ultimately, what

the city itself did, left to its own dank

   devices, some sixteen years later.

Rebellions, said some. Riots,

   said the rest. In any case, flames;

and the home you knew, ash.

   It’s not an actual memory, but

you remember it still: a rust-

   bottomed Datsun handed down,

then stolen. Stripped, recovered,

   and built back from bolts.

Driving away in May. 1992.

   What’s left of that life quivers

in the rearview—the world on fire,

   and half your head with it.

Sonnet 65

Matilde, where are you? I only just noticed

behind my necktie and above my heart,

a certain melancholy between my ribs:

It was that, all of a sudden, you are gone.


I needed the light of your energy so much.

I looked all around me, devouring hope,

and saw that the space without you is a house,

with nothing left in it but tragic windows.


In the pure silence now, the roof is listening

to the falling of ancient leafless rain,

to feathers, to what the night has imprisoned.


And so I still wait, like a lonely house,

for you to see me and inhabit me again.

Until that time, my windows ache.

MSP to ____

Though I am often, I am bad

at being alone. I turn off the bathroom lights

& let the shower steam fill the room.

I draw a new face in the mirror.

I imagine my friends, when I don’t see them 

for a while, as little dots roaming a map. 

Being a poet means being far from the people you love. 

Someone I no longer love said that. 

My friend says he can’t do another winter 

in Minnesota, but leaving seems impractical.

I thought I could keep them all,

but I did not notice the door

until the room was empty.

There are people who don’t need

to hear from me to know I love them.

That’s what happens, I miss people 

when I know they are happy. 

It’s true: I’ve stopped drinking

because I needed it. I know who to call

in an emergency; that’s not the problem.

I could do it, you know, disappear

& be missed—there was, at one point, a boy 

who asked me to stay, asked if I could 

be happy there. I told him no. Told him 

I had dreams & aspirations,

whatever that means. Truth is, 

I think I could’ve been. Happy, I mean. 

Fuck me if I’m wrong, but I am doing 

some things right, right? What’s up, buttercup. 

Howdy-do, buckaroo. I could be happy 

anywhere, I think. I’m off again in the morning,

so I drag the suitcase from my closet 

& fill it with obnoxious colors, 

a green jumper, a yellow scarf, a red coat

I've been meaning to wear where it rains.

Gate A-4

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning

my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:

"If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please

come to the gate immediately."


Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.


An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just

like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. "Help,"

said the flight agent. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We

told her the flight was going to be late and she did this."


I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.

"Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-

se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly

used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled

entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the

next day. I said, "No, we're fine, you'll get there, just later, who is

picking you up? Let's call him."


We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would

stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to

her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just

for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while

in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I

thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know

and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.


She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,

answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool

cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and

nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a

sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the

lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered

sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.


And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two

little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they

were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—

by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,

some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-

tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.


And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This

is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that

gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about

any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.


This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Black Stars

Whitney was a star once.

Waltzed across our television skies,

a waning crescent.

So was Michael.

& Marvin.

All stars die though.

Explode into air thin,

cascade into black hole.

Black stars form under pressure

& leave us tragically,

either by death or betrayal.

When there was no other beacon on our screens,

we looked up to Bill.

When we wanted to name a future for ourselves,

we looked through Raven’s eyes.

When we needed validation an institution could not give,

we called on Kanye.

Astronomers say the larger a star’s mass, the faster they burn their fuel, 

the shorter their lifespan.

I say the more expansive the black star, the more mass of the explosion.

I say the greater the black star, the shorter we can expect them to shine.

Some weeks I only listen to Whitney.

Cradle her name, a prayer between my lips.

One dim dusk, her lover gifted her stardust.

Whitney danced, dosed, then drowned.

& we mourn her body celestial after all these years.

Joe Jackson tried to carve galaxies out of his children.

MJ got addicted to surgeoning his features for the masses. 

His daddy beat him, say dance, say sing, say don’t glide.

Walk on the moon, boy.

Turn this Indiana basement into a universe.

You a star, boy.

Kanye West composed pieces we didn’t know our bodies needed.

We had all the flashing lights on ‘Ye but he’s still a black star made in America

so he don’t get to shine forever.

‘Ye from the South Side resurrected and named himself Yeezus.

Got so big, white folks thought he was the sun

of God.

Now Yeezus only praises white folks in red hats

and white girls with fake asses.

Scientists say when you look up at night, some of the stars you see are already dead.

Maybe this means by the time a Black person becomes a star, they are already burnt out.

Maybe this means it takes a supernova to create a superstar.

Maybe we’re all waiting to be on fire.

Black stars disintegrate for reaching up towards a pearly gaze.

Whiteness has always been both a goal and unattainable.

Has been the measure of our success and the weapon that bludgeons us.

The higher we get, the closer we get to fame or manhood or God.

The further we get from ground or dirt or us.

Black folks stay folding in on ourselves,

stay a star on the tip of someone’s rising.

I say look at the way supremacy told Raven she ain’t black.

Misogyny told Bill he could take what wasn’t his to claim.

Masculinity gave Marvin Gaye’s father a gun,

told him to shoot his son.

& ain’t a sun the biggest star?

Don’t the biggest stars have the shortest lives?

Make the largest explosions?

Have you seen 

the energy burning out

turn to dust?

Did you know above you

there are a sea of stars


Getting Ready to Say I Love You to My Dad, It Rains

i love you dad, i say to the cat.

i love you dad, i say to the sky.

i love you dad, i say to the mirror.


it rains, & my mom's plants

open their mouths. my dad stays

on the couch. maybe the couch opened


its mouth & started eating my dad. 

i love you dad, i say to the couch,

its tongue working my dad like a puppet.


i hear the rain fall & think the city is drinking.

or making itself clean. i am here

with my dad & the TV & the TV drones


on & on, so i'm not sure i hear it--

my dad grunting and nodding,

not the mushy stuff i was expecting,


neither of us cry, no hug or kiss.

a grunt & a nod.  i love* you dad,

i say to my dad.  we sit together


and watch TV.  outside it rains. my dad

turns the volume up. the city is drunk.

the city is singing badly in the shower.


i killed a plant once because i gave

it too much water. lord, i worry

that love is violence.  my dad is silent


& our relationship is not new or clean.

i killed a plant once because i didn't give

it enough water. my dad & i watch TV


on a rainy day. we rinse our mouths 

with this water.


*America loves me most when i strum a Spanish song. mi boca guitarrón. when i say me estoy muriendo, they say that's my jam.

The Uses of Sorrow

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.


It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.


translated by Charles Tomlinson


If it is real the white

Light from this lamp, real

The writing hand, are they

Real, the eyes looking at what I write?


From one word to the other

What I say vanishes.

I know that I am alive

Between two parentheses.

Excerpt from "Nature Poem"

When a star dies, it becomes any number of things

like a black hole, or a documentary.


The early universe of our skin was remarkably smooth

now I stand in a rapidly dampening Christina Aguilera tee


The first stars were born of a gravity, my ancestors—

our sky is really the only thing same for me as it was for them,

which is a pretty stellar inheritance


I don’t know how they made sense of that swell, how they survived long enough to make me, and am sort of at war with sentimentality, generally


but that absence of an answer, yet suggestion of meaning

isn’t ultimately that different from a poem

So I’ve started reading the stars


Nothing is possible until it happens, like digesting sulfur instead of sunlight

or friends with benefits


Poems were my scripture and the poets, my gods

but even gods I mean especially gods are subject to the artifice

of humanity.


I look up at the poem, all of them up there in the hot sky and fall

into the water, a stone


After my father

would beat one of us

he would place flowers

on the kitchen table

the next morning


he cut the stems flush

and laid the begonias in a circle

in an inch of water


the lavender and fuchsia

permeated the morning


we were called to breakfast

we ate waffles

and said nothing of the raging blooms


the apologies

buried in the ordered way

the flowers were arranged


we looked down at our plates




ignoring his

sun scorched hands


these days

I spend time

pulling petals

out of my body


placing a shovel

in the open earth

placing flowers

back into the ground

day’s end

These days I work

the garden—pulling

up the old, turning

the soil for the new.

This keeps my ghost

in prosperity—a bright

exhaustion; bright yet

unsensational. Parsley

& tomatoes & peppers

to inquire into the silence

that inquires into me.

I imagine I’ll love people

again, eventually. But not

today—& not up close.

I’m learning how time,

its blank shimmer, plays

across my absence which

is not quite absence, not

anymore—it’s greener

than absence, closer to

ritual, a strategy against

the debasements. Ignored

by the goldfinch, I hum

to the dirt, requiring no

crumb of compensation.

Sunlight buries its body

in earth, compost sets

forth its gift of rotting,

from this rotting blooms

my emptiness. Nothing

to be but silent here, amid

the thirsty miracles. Why

continue making such

noise—no matter what

I say I'm saying hold me.

Ways to Disappear

In the dark

Down a stairwell

Through the doorway

Gone west

With a new wish

In daylight

Down the sidewalk

In a wool coat

In a white dress

Without a name

Without asking

On your knees

On your stomach

Gone silent

In the backseat

In the courtroom

In a cage

In the desert

In the park

Gone swimming

On the shortest night

At the bottom of the lake

In pieces

In pictures

Without meaning

Without a face

Seeking refuge

In a new land

Gone still

In the heart

With your head bowed

In deference

In sickness

In surrender 

With your hands up

On the sidewalk

In the daylight

In the dark


You’re wondering if I’m lonely:

OK then, yes, I’m lonely

as a plane rides lonely and level

on its radio beam, aiming

across the Rockies

for the blue-strung aisles

of an airfield on the ocean


You want to ask, am I lonely?

Well, of course, lonely

as a woman driving across country

day after day, leaving behind

mile after mile

little towns she might have stopped

and lived and died in, lonely


If I’m lonely

it must be the loneliness

of waking first, of breathing

dawns’ first cold breath on the city

of being the one awake

in a house wrapped in sleep


If I’m lonely

it’s with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore

in the last red light of the year

that knows what it is, that knows it’s neither

ice nor mud nor winter light

but wood, with a gift for burning

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!

Mexican American Sonnet

with gratitude to Wanda Coleman & Terrance Hayes


for Kristen


We have the same ankles, hips, nipples, knees—

our bodies bore the forks/tenedors

we use to eat. What do we eat? Darkness

from cathedral floors,


the heart’s woe in abundance. Please let us

go through the world touching what we want,

knock things over. Slap & kick & punch

until we get something right. ¿Verdad?


Isn’t it true, my father always asks.

Your father is the ghost of mine & vice

versa. & when did our pasts

stop recognizing themselves? It was always like


us to first person: yo. To disrupt a hurricane’s

path with our own inwardness.

C’mon huracán, you watery migraine,

prove us wrong for once. This sadness


lasts/esta tristeza perdura. Say it both ways

so language doesn't bite back, but stays.

Despedida Ardiente

For Dale, Elizabeth, Stephen, J.D., Tori, and Cara


Dear feverless, dear poets, dear love-

sick ones, now cured, there are

bloodless battles

to be won. Stout your maw

with your finest curses. Yap

your demons to their proper graves. O,

meek weepers! Asymmetries! Be

kissed! Let the trash stack

in the kitchen. Keep your lover

a full day from work. O, sweet

neglect! O, nectarine! Those

bitter pits are meant

for more than nibbling. There is

a holy jump off. There is a funky

genesis. There is

a reason love and jive

kind of rhyme. You oblong fruit

not three days ripe, somewhere in you

lies the science of typhoons, a dream

of strings. O, dirty word! O, first murder!

(O, cocoa butter whiff

on a smoky bus!) There are theories

we’re made of mostly nothing

but motion. O,

gap-toothed guitar! O, sound hole!

You faraway drum. You slang-

mouthed blessing. You long

chime. You chamberless

sextet. Let me leave you

with a few last words: When

mad dogs break chains

to run at you, charge

back. Bare your very

teeth. No monster, I promise,

outruns you. Whack them on the ankle

with a stick. Chase the bastards

down. Listen—this vertigo, this

wreckage, this bad ballad

straining the thickest tendons of your legs—O,

darling sleepers, may you wake

in the middle of the night to strange

sounds. You champions

of laughter. All you have to do is speak

simply. Your business

is the truth. Your heart's 

catastrophe is just

a little of history’s 

twisted bulwark.

If there weren’t a sky

within your chest

worth breaking, believe

me, you

would have stopped

all this singing

by now.


I fucking depended on you and

you left the fucking wheelbarrow

out and it’s fucking raining

and now the white chickens

are fucking filthy

Depression is My Daughter and Now I Brush Her Hair

I know I am a mother

because I have had so many

       things escape my body.


Today my daughter sits on cold

tile. Her knees, a dry aftertaste.

I brush her hair. It

tangles. The dark coiled silk,

Tough like mine.

I brush her hair, because she asks me to.

Because if I do not, she will cry—wither maybe.

And my heart is too soft to hear such terrible sounds.

I am her mother after all. I did make her in my body.

I must care for her, tend to the knots. 


you take the word. the one that sliced through you like a

knife through pan fresco. the one your Tío called you de 

cariño. the one the boys in school hissed as you walked

by. you take the word and write it down. one time. two

times. say it in English. Fat. it hurts that way too. maybe

even more. the word is now a blade. two sides. you write

it down. hundreds of times. you start saying it to describe

yourself. you don’t flinch. others do. they fear it more

than they do [   ]. the word gives you power.

you date a few men. they won’t say the word. they prefer

thick or curvy or big. you say you want to hear it. like

you hear your name. some can’t say it without laughing.

embarrassed. like you just flashed a [   ] in public. they

call you brave. you say it’s just the parts of you that you

can touch. like short. like glasses. like curly. like brown.

the word is home. you write it down. you write it down.

you write it down. you are a bruja when you write it down.

look at that magic. Gorda. mira que bella. Gorda. your

body answers: hello. I’m here. thank you. 

Haiku [for you]

love between us is

speech and breath. loving you is

a long river running.

[It’s no use / Mother dear...]

translated by Mary Barnard


It’s no use


Mother dear, I

can’t finish my


            You may

blame Aphrodite


soft as she is


she has almost

killed me with

love for that boy

First Will and Testament

i look to history to explain & this is my first mistake

when i say history i mean the stone

half-buried by the roadside has witnessed

more tragedy than a filthy glass of a water. i look to the water

but all i see is dust. i look to the dust & all there is

is history. here’s a feather & well of blood

to write the labor movement across the fractal

back of infrastructure. here’s a father leaving home

to build railroads with his bare hands. write the laws

that claw the eyes from owls, that build a wall

between the river & the thirsty, that drag families

from one hell into the next. o this house of mine

was built by men & o i, a man sometimes, pass

through its acid chambers & leave out the backdoor

dust. when i say history i mean what lives in us,

i mean the faux gold chain around my neck,

the diseases passed from generation to generation

dating back to a time before christ, i mean any word

traced to its origin is a small child begging for water.

Buen Esqueleto

after Maggie Smith


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

Life is short, & I show them how to talk

to police without opening the door, how

to leave the social security number blank

on the exam, I tell this to mis hijas.

This world tells them I hate you every day

& I don’t keep this from mis hijas

because of the bus driver who kicks them

to the street for fare evasion. Because I love

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

their heads together just to hear the chime.

Life is short & the world is terrible. I know

no kind strangers in this country who aren’t

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

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

them the world, but to keep them safe

in case I get deported. Our first

landlord said with a bucket of bleach

the mold would come right off. He shook

mis hijas, said they had good bones

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

beautiful? I tried to make this place beautiful.


We are from the border

like the sun that is born there

behind the eucalyptus

shines all day

above the river

and goes to sleep there

beyond the Rodrígueses’ house.


From the border like the moon

that makes the night nearly day

resting its moonlight

on the banks of the Cuareim.


Like the wind

that makes the flags dance

like the rain

carries away their shacks

together with ours.


All of us are from the border

like those birds

flying from there to here

singing in a language

everyone understands.


We came from the border

we go to the border

like our grandparents and our children

eating bread that the Devil kneaded

suffering in this end of the world.


We are the border

more than any river and more

way more

than any bridge.

Speech: To be, or not to be, that is the question

(from Hamlet, spoken by Hamlet)


To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing, end them. To die—to sleep,

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub:

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause—there's the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,

The pangs of dispriz'd love, the law's delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action.

Excerpt from “The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and Poetical: Erasure”

A lover, once: You can’t say every action is political. Then the word political loses all meaning.


He added: What is political about this moment?


I was washing his dishes. I had left the water running.

Real Estate

My mother married a man who divorced her for money. Phyllis, he would say, If you don’t stop buying jewelry, I will have to divorce you to keep us out of the poorhouse. When he said this, she would stub out a cigarette, mutter something under her breath. Eventually, he was forced to divorce her. Then, he died. Then she did. The man was not my father. My father was buried down the road, in a box his other son selected, the ashes of his third wife in a brass urn that he will hold in the crook of his arm forever. At the reception, after his funeral, I got mean on four cups of Lime Sherbet Punch. When the man who was not my father divorced my mother, I stopped being related to him. These things are complicated, says the Talmud. When he died, I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t get a death certificate. These things are complicated, says the Health Department. Their names remain on the deed to the house. It isn’t haunted, it’s owned by ghosts. When I die, I will come in fast and low. I will stick the landing. There will be no confusion. The dead will make room for me.


Barely-morning pink curtains

drape an open window. Roaches scatter,


the letter t vibrating in cottonwoods.

His hair horsetail and snakeweed.


I siphon doubt from his throat

for the buffalograss.


Seep willow antler press against

the memory of the first man I saw naked.


His tongue a mosquito whispering

its name a hymn on mesquite,


my cheek. The things we see the other do

collapse words into yucca bone.


The Navajo word for eye

hardens into the word for war.

i didn’t like you when i met you

but like the funk of a dude unwashed & sun-whooped

i learned the need. & like dude, you were stank & i

was stank right back, two skunks pissed & pissing, smelling like skunks.

but somehow (was it mutual hate for a stanker fuck? a song

our dueling shoulders found each other in? a synced nod?

being the only of our kind in a room full of not-us?) here we live

two stank bitches, thick as mothers, a lil gone off love’s gold milk.

i didn’t know when i thought, i don’t like that hoe, it was just

my reflection i couldn’t stand. i saw it. the way you would break me

into a better me. i ran from it. like any child, i saw my medicine

& it looked so sharp, so exact, a blade fit to the curve of my name.

what a shame. i was slow to you. walked up on you like a bee trapped

in a car—all that fear pent in my wings, those screaming, swatting giants

& then, finally, the window, the wind, the flowers, the honey


What Betsy Has to Say

In 1965, Hurricane Betsy swept through the Bahamas and South Florida, then hit Louisiana coast, flooding New Orleans. During the four days of the storm, 75 people died.


No nuance. Got no whisper

in you, do you girl?


The idea was not

to stomp it flat, ‘trina,

all you had to do was kiss the land, 

brush your thunderous lips against it

and leave it stuttering, scared barren

at your very notion. Instead,


You roared through like

a [  ] man, all biceps and must, 

flinging your dreaded mane

and lifting souls up to feed your ravenous eye.


I thought I taught you better, girl. 

I showed you the right way to romance that city,

how to break its heart

and leave it pining for more of your slap.


So if this was your way of erasing me, 

turning me from rough lesson to raindrop,

you did it ugly, chile. Yeah, I truly enjoyed 


being God for that minute. But unlike you, 

rash gal, I left some of my signature standing. 

I only killed what got in my way.


I believe in his foot hitting the accelerator.


I believe in the traffic light, its green fuse over every street.


I believe in bows hemmed in by rain and milk.


The secret places we go: old Yoder Road, lots behind the gutted saw mill.


Heaven, Nick jokes, is the back of his car.


I believe ephemerals.


Turnips push, radishes root down.


I believe the cracked mounts nurse the oil leak, steady shiver in the light.


I believe in creek, corn and sycamore, vastness broken where thorns unwind.


I believe in the lake, turtles tucked in burrows, their drowsing three-chambered hearts.


I believe our hands in the icy water. I’m a kid, and then I’m not.


I believe in the crumbling elm, which owes nothing to memory.


Let the loons lift. Let the past recede into rapeseed.


Faith is the shrinking distance between his mouth and mine.


I believe the fate of the shoreline.


I believe cattails shattering into seed.


Nothing can stop the waves.


Let the fish strain against fish lines.


Let the bloody pliers tear out the hooks.

Sestina: Like

With a nod to Jonah Winter


Now we’re all “friends,” there is no love but Like,

A semi-demi goddess, something like

A reality-TV star look-alike,

Named Simile or Me Two. So we like

In order to be liked. It isn’t like

There’s Love or Hate now. Even plain “dislike”


Is frowned on: there’s no button for it. Like

Is something you can quantify: each “like”

You gather’s almost something money-like,

Token of virtual support. “Please like

This page to stamp out hunger.” And you’d like

To end hunger and climate change alike,


But it’s unlikely Like does diddly. Like

Just twiddles its unopposing thumbs-ups, like-

Wise props up scarecrow silences. “I’m like,

So OVER him,” I overhear. “But, like,

He doesn’t get it. Like, you know? He’s like

It’s all OK. Like I don’t even LIKE


Him anymore. Whatever. I’m all like ... ”

Take “like” out of our chat, we’d all alike

Flounder, agape, gesticulating like

A foreign film sans subtitles, fall like

Dumb phones to mooted desuetude. Unlike

With other crutches, um, when we use “like,”


We’re not just buying time on credit: Like

Displaces other words; crowds, cuckoo-like,

Endangered hatchlings from the nest. (Click “like”

If you’re against extinction!) Like is like

Invasive zebra mussels, or it’s like

Those nutria-things, or kudzu, or belike


Redundant fast food franchises, each like

(More like) the next. Those poets who dislike

Inversions, archaisms, who just like

Plain English as she’s spoke — why isn’t “like”

Their (literally) every other word? I’d like

Us just to admit that’s what real speech is like.


But as you like, my friend. Yes, we’re alike,

How we pronounce, say, lichen, and dislike

Cancer and war. So like this page. Click Like.

What Do I Care

What do I care, in the dreams and the languor of spring,

That my songs do not show me at all?

For they are a fragrance, and I am a flint and a fire,

I am an answer, they are only a call.


But what do I care, for love will be over so soon,

Let my heart have its say and my mind stand idly by,

For my mind is proud and strong enough to be silent, 

It is my heart that makes my songs, not I.

Detox Passage

after William Brewer


You find spoons everywhere:

under kitchen cabinets, inside comforters,

poking through boxer briefs. Yesterday,

you sat on the sofa and discovered spoons 

had replaced stuffing. You cut open cushions,

heaved out hundreds. This is a clearing process.


You dream only of metal. The pastor tells you:

This is normal.  You must simply let go of the spoons.

You accept this but the sink still fills up with silver.

The shower spits sterling.  Rid yourself of the temptation, 

my son. The pastor has our father's blue-green eyes.


You listen and nod: throw out every spoon in the house.

You tell the pastor you can do it. You believe

you can do it. God is with you, my son.

The jerks in your arms and teeth begin

to go. All you had to do was rid yourself


of temptation.  You thank God for new strength,

bow your head to pray for more good,

more clean, but every time you close

your eyes you see

that silver curve

and linger.

French Toast

ah my mother used to make it

with eggs and milk

and stale white bread


slid onto a plate with

Log Cabin fake maple syrup

and I always wanted more


to disappear what troubled me

the man under the moon

the man in our living room


make enough spitting bacon

to forget the broken gameboards

splintered bat


missing family car

his vanishings and sudden returns

smelling of other rooms


my mother’s tears

over the stove

her catchy milky breath

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.


I thought I could stop

time by taking apart

the clock. Minute hand. Hour hand.


Nothing can keep. Nothing

is kept. Only kept track of. I felt


passing seconds

accumulate like dead calves

in a thunderstorm


of the mind no longer a mind

but a page torn

from the dictionary with the definition of self


effaced. I couldn’t face it: the world moving


on as if nothing happened.

Everyone I knew got up. Got dressed.

Went to work. Went home.


There were parties. Ecstasy.

Hennessy. Dancing

around each other. Bluntness. Blunts


rolled to keep

thought after thought

from roiling


like wind across water—

coercing shapelessness into shape.


I put on my best face.

I was glamour. I was grammar.


Yet my best couldn’t best my beast.


I, too, had been taken apart.

I didn’t want to be

fixed. I wanted everything dismantled and useless


like me. Case. Wheel. Hands. Dial. Face.

And the News Reporter Says ‘Jesus is White’

She says it with a smile

Like it’s the most obvious thing in the world

So sure of herself

Of her privilege

Her ability to change history

Rewrite bodies to make them look like her


She says it the same way politicians say racism no longer exists

The same way police officers call dead Black boys thugs

The same way white gentrifiers call Brooklyn home


She says it with an American accent

Her voice doing that American thing

Crawling out of her throat

Reaching to clasp onto something 

That does not belong to her 


I laugh to myself


What makes a Black man a Black man?

Is it a white woman’s confirmation?

Is it her head nod?

Is it the way she’s allowed to go on national television

And auto correct the Bible and God himself,

Tell him who his son really was?


What makes a black man a black man:

The way reporters retell their deaths like fairytales

The way their skulls split across pavement

The way they cannot outrun a bullet

The way they cannot inherit privilege


How can she say Jesus was a white man 

when he died the blackest way possible?


With his hands up

With his mother watching,

Crying at his feet

Her tears nothing more than gossip 

for the news reporters or prophets to document

With his body left to sour in the sun

With his human stripped from his Black


Remember that?

How the whole world was saved by a Black man

By a man so loved by God,

He called him kin

He called him Black


Now ain’t that suspicious?

Ain’t that news worthy?

Ain't that something worth being killed over?

Professional Spanish Knocks on the Door

At first we don’t answer. 

Knocks that loud usually mean 5-0 is on the other end.


                                 Señora ábrenos la puerta porfavor.

                                 Estamos aquí para platicar con usted.

                                 No queremos llamar la policía.


The person on the other side of the door

is speaking professional Spanish.


Professional Spanish is fake friendly.

Is a warning.


Is a downpour when you

Just spent your last twenty dollars on a wash and set.


Is the kind of Spanish that comes

to take things away from you.


The kind of Spanish that looks at your Spanish like it needs help.

Professional Spanish of course doesn’t offer help.


It just wants you to know that it knows you need some.

Professional Spanish is stuck up


like most people from the hood who get good jobs.

Professional Spanish is all like I did it you can do it too.


Professional Spanish thinks it gets treated better than us

because it knows how to follow the rules.


Because it says Abrigo instead of .

Because it knows which fork belongs to the salad


and which spoon goes in the coffee.


Because it gets to be the anchor on Telemundo and Univision

and we get to be the news that plays behind its head in the background.

Reasons for Staying

The October leaves coming down, as if called.


Morning fog through the wild rye beyond the train tracks.


A cigarette. A good sweater. On the sagging porch. While the family sleeps.


That I woke at all & the hawk up there thought nothing of its wings.


That I snuck onto the page while the guards were shit-faced on codeine.


That I read my books by the light of riot fire.


That my best words came farthest from myself & it’s awesome.


That you can blow a man & your voice speaks through his voice.


Like Jonah through the whale.


Because a blade of brown rye, multiplied by thousands, makes a purple field.


Because this mess I made I made with love.


Because they came into my life, my brothers, like something poured.


Because crying, believe it or not, did wonders.


Because my uncle never killed himself—but simply died, on purpose.


Because I made a promise.


That the McDonald’s arch, glimpsed from the 2 AM rehab window, was enough.


That mercy is small but the earth is smaller.


Summer rain hitting Peter’s bare shoulders.


Because I stopped apologizing myself toward visibility.


Because this body is my last address.


The moment just before morning, like right now, when it’s blood-blue & the terror incumbent.


Because the sound of bike spokes heading home at dawn is unbearable.


Because the hills keep burning in California.


Through red smoke, singing. Through the singing, an exit.


Because only music rhymes with music.


The words I’ve yet to use: Timothy grass, Jeffrey pine, celloing, cocksure, light-lusty, midnight-green, gentled, water-thin, lord (as verb), russet, pewter, lobotomy.


The night’s worth of dust on his upper lip.


Barnjoy on the cusp of winter.


The broken piano under a bridge in Windsor that sounds like footsteps when you play it.


The Sharpied sign outside the foreclosed house: SEEKING PUSH MOWER. PLEASE CALL KAYLA.


The train whistle heard through an open window after a nightmare.


Sleeping in the back seat, leaving the town that broke me, intact.


Early snow falling from a clear, blushed sky.


As if called.


And worn my melancholy with an air.

My tears were big as stars to deck my hair,

My silence stunning as a sapphire ring.

Oh, more than any light the dark could fling

A glamour over me to make me rare,

Better than any color I could wear

The pearly grandeur that the shadows bring.

What is there left to joy for such as I?

What throne can dawn upraise for me who found

The dusk so royal and so rich a one?

Laughter will whirl and whistle on the sky—

Far from this riot I shall stand uncrowned,

Disrobed, bereft, an outcast in the sun.


Hope staggers in like a drunk

to the last bar open. Lays down a five

and groans However much can this get me.

Reeks of cigarettes and bleach.

God, he is uneven and shaky

but his eyes are steely jade,

his pulse throbs sweetly

above his eyelid. The crowd

thins quick when the news

comes on, but I’m swooning

by the jukebox as another country

crooner belts out woes. Hope

flicks a Zippo, can’t get it to light.

He keeps trying. I like that about him.

We Two, How Long We Were Fool'd

We two, how long we were fool’d,

Now transmuted, we swiftly escape as Nature escapes,

We are Nature, long have we been absent, but now we return,

We become plants, trunks, foliage, roots, bark,

We are bedded in the ground, we are rocks,

We are oaks, we grow in the openings side by side,

We browse, we are two among the wild herds spontaneous as any,

We are two fishes swimming in the sea together,

We are what locust blossoms are, we drop scent around lanes mornings and evenings,

We are also the coarse smut of beasts, vegetables, minerals,

We are two predatory hawks, we soar above and look down,

We are two resplendent suns, we it is who balance ourselves orbic and stellar, we are as two comets,

We prowl fang’d and four-footed in the woods, we spring on prey,

We are two clouds forenoons and afternoons driving overhead,

We are seas mingling, we are two of those cheerful waves rolling over each other and interwetting each other,

We are what the atmosphere is, transparent, receptive, pervious, impervious,

We are snow, rain, cold, darkness, we are each product and influence of the globe,

We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again, we two,

We have voided all but freedom and all but our own joy.

Danse Russe

If I when my wife is sleeping

and the baby and Kathleen

are sleeping

and the sun is a flame-white disc

in silken mists

above shining trees,—

if I in my north room

dance naked, grotesquely

before my mirror

waving my shirt round my head

and singing softly to myself:

“I am lonely, lonely.

I was born to be lonely,

I am best so!”

If I admire my arms, my face,

my shoulders, flanks, buttocks

against the yellow drawn shades,—


Who shall say I am not

the happy genius of my household?

Excerpt from "I Can't Breathe"

Trying times all the time

Destruction of minds, bodies, and human rights

Stripped of bloodlines, whipped and confined

This is the American pride

It's justifying a genocide

Romanticizing the theft and bloodshed

That made America the land of the free

To take a black life, land of the free

To bring a gun to a peaceful fight for civil rights

You are desensitized to pulling triggers on innocent lives

Because that's how we got here in the first place

These wounds sink deeper than the bullet

Your entitled hands could ever reach

Generations and generations of pain, fear, and anxiety

Equality is walking without intuition

Saying the protector and the killer is wearing the same uniform

The revolution is not televised

Media perception is forced down the throats of closed minds

So it's lies in the headlines

And generations of supremacy resulting in your ignorant, privileged eyes

We breathe the same and we bleed the same

But still, we don't see the same

Be thankful we are God-fearing

Because we do not seek revenge

We seek justice, we are past fear

We are fed up eating your shit

Because you think your so-called "black friend"

Validates your wokeness and erases your racism

That kind of uncomfortable conversation is too hard for your trust-fund pockets to swallow

To swallow the strange fruit hanging from my family tree

Because of your audacity

To say all men are created equal in the eyes of God

But disparage a man based on the color of his skin

Do not say you do not see color

When you see us, see us

We can't breathe

The World is Too Much with Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his weathèd horn.

Music From Childhood

You grow up hearing two languages. Neither fits your fits

Your mother informs you “moon” means “window to another world.”


You begin to hear words mourn the sounds buried inside their mouths

A row of yellow windows and a painting of them


Your mother informs you “moon” means “window to another world.”

You decide it is better to step back and sit in the shadows


A row of yellow windows and a painting of them

Someone said you can see a blue pagoda or a red rocket ship


You decide it is better to step back and sit in the shadows

Is it because you saw a black asteroid fly past your window


Someone said you can see a blue pagoda or a red rocket ship

I tried to follow in your footsteps, but they turned to water


Is it because I saw a black asteroid fly past my window

The air hums—a circus performer riding a bicycle towards the ceiling


I tried to follow in your footsteps, but they turned to water

The town has started sinking back into its commercial


The air hums—a circus performer riding a bicycle towards the ceiling

You grow up hearing two languages. Neither fits your fits


The town has started sinking back into its commercial

You begin to hear words mourn the sounds buried inside their mouths

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.


Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   

The darkness drops again; but now I know   

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,  

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? 


I. 태우다 ・(T’aeuda)

    1. To burn or singe by fire

    2. To carry, give a ride, pick up


I burned you. You grew up

burning, bundled on my back.

Petulant petal, jaundiced thing,

plucked from my amniotic rib.

I had you suck the milk

of dandelions to take the yellow

from your skin, sliced antlers

rendered to wretched tea

to temper your bloodied

coughing. I dislodged

your limbs in hopes

you’d grow to something

lithe and desired, the suggestion

of a girl. And you did

until your girlhood grew

dangerous as it does

for all girls. I’ve been sorry

ever since. You burned

on the coattails of our

immigration. Signed

your tongue on America

until no tongue was rightfully

yours, until you came home

disgraced having pissed yourself

instead of asking to go

to the restroom in English.

But I wasn’t ashamed. I burned

you gently in my arms, burned

you all the way home, away

from the laughter, burned you

against my breast to safety.

And daughter, you will not 

forget these aches you learned.

If you have a daughter,

you will burn her too.

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.