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Middle - 2022

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Bilingual

Because I speak Spanish  

I can listen to my grandmother’s stories 

and say familia, madre, amor. 

Because I speak English 

I can learn from my teacher  

and say I love school. 

 

Because I am bilingual 

I can read libros and books, 

I have amigos and friends, 

I enjoy canciones and songs, 

juegos and games, 

and have twice as much fun. 

 

And someday, 

because I speak two languages, 

I will be able to do twice as much, 

to help twice as many people 

and be twice as good in what I do.

A Blank White Page

is a meadow

after a snowfall

that a poem

hopes to cross

In a Neighborhood in Los Angeles

translated by Francisco Aragón

 

I learned

Spanish

from my grandma

 

mijito

don’t cry

she’d tell me

 

on the mornings

my parents

would leave

 

to work

at the fish

canneries

 

my grandma

would chat

with chairs

 

sing them

old

songs

 

dance

waltzes with them

in the kitchen

 

when she’d say

niño barrigón

she’d laugh

 

with my grandma

I learned

to count clouds

 

to recognize

mint leaves

in flowerpots

 

my grandma

wore moons

on her dress

 

Mexico’s mountains

deserts

ocean

 

in her eyes

I’d see them

in her braids

 

I’d touch them

in her voice

smell them

 

one day

I was told:

she went far away

 

but still

I feel her

with me

 

whispering

in my ear:

 

mijito

Ode to My Shoes

my shoes

rest

all night

under my bed

 

tired

they stretch

and loosen

their laces

 

wide open

they fall asleep

and dream

of walking

 

they revisit

the places

they went to

during the day

 

and wake up

cheerful

relaxed

so soft

Praise Song for the Day

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

 

Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other’s

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

 

All about us is noise. All about us is

noise and bramble, thorn and din, each

one of our ancestors on our tongues.

 

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning

a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,

repairing the things in need of repair.

 

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,

with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,

with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

 

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky.

A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

 

We encounter each other in words, words

spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

words to consider, reconsider.

 

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark

the will of some one and then others, who said

I need to see what’s on the other side.

 

I know there’s something better down the road.

We need to find a place where we are safe.

We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

 

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,

who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

 

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built

brick by brick the glittering edifices

they would then keep clean and work inside of.

 

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.

Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,

the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

 

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

 

Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

 

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

 

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Alone

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.

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind   

and floats downstream   

till the current ends

and dips his wing

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

 

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and   

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

 

The caged bird sings   

with a fearful trill   

of things unknown   

but longed for still   

and his tune is heard   

on the distant hill   

for the caged bird   

sings of freedom.

 

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn

and he names the sky his own

 

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   

so he opens his throat to sing.

 

The caged bird sings   

with a fearful trill   

of things unknown   

but longed for still   

and his tune is heard   

on the distant hill   

for the caged bird   

sings of freedom.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

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

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,   

The stride of my step,   

The curl of my lips.   

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,   

That’s me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,   

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.   

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.   

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,   

And the flash of my teeth,   

The swing in my waist,   

And the joy in my feet.   

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered   

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,   

They say they still can’t see.   

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,   

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.   

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.   

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,   

The bend of my hair,   

the palm of my hand,   

The need for my care.   

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Twelfth Song of Thunder [Navajo Tradition]

The voice that beautifies the land! 

The voice above,

The voice of thunder

Within the dark cloud 

Again and again it sounds,

The voice that beautifies the land. 

 

The voice that beautifies the land! 

The voice below,

The voice of the grasshopper 

Among the plants 

Again and again it sounds,

The voice that beautifies the land. 

Old Country (Edited)

Old Country Buffet, where our family

went on the days we saved enough money.

Everyone was in a good mood, even Ullu—

our uncle who never smiled or took off his coat

 

& dyed his hair black every two weeks

so we couldn’t tell how old he was. We marched

single file towards the gigantic red lettering

across the gravel parking lot to announce

 

our arrival. We, children carrying our rectangle 

backpacks brimming with homework, calculators

& Lisa Frank trapper keepers, for we knew this was a day

without escape, spread out across all the booths

 

possible while our family ate & ate & snuck

food into the Tupperware they smuggled in

& no matter how we begged & whined

or the waitresses yelled or threatened to charge

 

us more money we weren’t leaving 

until my greedy family had their fill.

O, Old Country! The only place

we could get dessert & eat as much of it

 

as we wanted before our actual meal.

The only place we didn’t have to eat all

the meat on our plates or else we were accused

of being wasteful, told our husbands

 

would have as many pimples as rice we left behind.

Here, our family reveled in the American 

way of waste, manifest destinied our way

through the mac & cheese, & green bean

 

casseroles, mythical foods we had only

heard about on TV where American 

children rolled their eyes in disgust. Here

we learned how to say I too have had meat loaf

 

& hate it, evidence we could bring back

to the lunch table as we guessed

what the other kids ate as they scoffed

at our biriyani. Here, the adults told

 

us if we didn’t like the strawberry shortcake

we could eat the ice cream or jello we could

get a whole plate just to try a bite

to turn up our noses & that was fine.

 

Here we loosened the drawstrings

on our shalwaars & gained ten pounds.

Here we arrived at the beginning of lunch

hour & stayed until dinner approached

 

until they made us leave. Here we learned

how to be American & say:

we got the money

we’re here to stay.

Meditations in an Emergency

I wake up & it breaks my heart. I draw the blinds & the thrill of rain breaks my heart. I go outside. I ride the train, walk among the buildings, men in Monday suits. The flight of doves, the city of tents beneath the underpass, the huddled mass, old women hawking roses, & children all of them, break my heart. There’s a dream I have in which I love the world. I run from end to end like fingers through her hair. There are no borders, only wind. Like you, I was born. Like you, I was raised in the institution of dreaming. Hand on my heart. Hand on my stupid heart.

I Am Offering This Poem

I am offering this poem to you,

since I have nothing else to give.

Keep it like a warm coat

when winter comes to cover you,

or like a pair of thick socks

the cold cannot bite through,

 

                      I love you,

 

I have nothing else to give you,

so it is a pot full of yellow corn

to warm your belly in winter,

it is a scarf for your head, to wear

over your hair, to tie up around your face,

 

                      I love you,

 

Keep it, treasure this as you would

if you were lost, needing direction,

in the wilderness life becomes when mature;

and in the corner of your drawer,

tucked away like a cabin or hogan

in dense trees, come knocking,

and I will answer, give you directions,

and let you warm yourself by this fire,

rest by this fire, and make you feel safe

 

                      I love you,

 

It’s all I have to give,

and all anyone needs to live,

and to go on living inside,

when the world outside

no longer cares if you live or die;

remember,

 

                      I love you.

Caterpillars

They came like dewdrops overnight

Eating every plant in sight,

Those nasty worms with legs that crawl

So creepy up the garden wall,

Green prickly fuzz to hurt and sting

Each unsuspecting living thing.

How I hate them!   Oh, you know

I’d love to squish them with my toe.

But then I see past their disguise,

Someday they’ll all be butterflies.

[An ancient pond!]

An ancient pond!

With a sound from the water

Of the frog as it plunges in.

Excerpt from "The Fish"

I caught a tremendous fish

and held him beside the boat

half out of water, with my hook

fast in a corner of his mouth.

He didn't fight.

He hadn't fought at all.

He hung a grunting weight,

battered and venerable

and homely. Here and there

his brown skin hung in strips

like ancient wallpaper,

and its pattern of darker brown

was like wallpaper:

shapes like full-blown roses

stained and lost through age.

I looked into his eyes

which were far larger than mine.

They shifted a little, but not

to return my stare.

I admired his sullen face,

the mechanism of his jaw,

and then I saw

that from his lower lip

grim, wet, and weaponlike,

hung five old pieces of fish-line,

or four and a wire leader

with the swivel still attached,

with all their five big hooks

grown firmly in his mouth.

A green line, frayed at the end

where he broke it, two heavier lines,

and a fine black thread

still crimped from the strain and snap

when it broke and he got away.

Like medals with their ribbons

frayed and wavering,

a five-haired beard of wisdom

trailing from his aching jaw.

I stared and stared

and victory filled up

the little rented boat,

from the pool of bilge

where oil had spread a rainbow

around the rusted engine

to the bailer rusted orange,

the sun-cracked thwarts,

the oarlocks on their strings,

the gunnels—until everything

was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!

 

And I let the fish go.

The Ecchoing Green

The sun does arise,

And make happy the skies.

The merry bells ring

To welcome the Spring.

The sky-lark and thrush,

The birds of the bush,

Sing louder around,

To the bells’ cheerful sound. 

While our sports shall be seen

On the Ecchoing Green.

 

Old John, with white hair 

Does laugh away care,

Sitting under the oak,

Among the old folk, 

They laugh at our play, 

And soon they all say.

‘Such, such were the joys. 

When we all girls & boys, 

In our youth-time were seen, 

On the Ecchoing Green.’

 

Till the little ones weary

No more can be merry

The sun does descend,

And our sports have an end: 

Round the laps of their mothers, 

Many sisters and brothers,

Like birds in their nest,

Are ready for rest;

And sport no more seen,

On the darkening Green. 

Lies I Tell

A woman has a window in her face: that is the truth. I look like my mother: that is the truth. I want to tell you I am not like her: that is the truth. I am ashamed walking in a woman’s body: that is the truth. I wish to take back everything I say: that is the truth. A window can be a mirror. It can also be a door: that is the truth. As a girl, my mother slept in a shack with no windows and one door: that is the truth. My grandma would slam windows: truth. A mother’s hands are stronger than God: truth. We often use fruit to describe a bruise, like plum or blackberry: truth. My mother’s window blackberried: truth. My mother’s door peached: truth. She loves peaches: that is the truth. My father could not stand them in our house: that is the truth. We had three doors and nine windows in our house: that is the truth. A woman has a face in her window: truth. A father has a window but I don’t know where it is: truth. What burrows is the peach fuzz, he said: that is the truth. I have never been close enough to a peach to eat one: truth. The worst things last on the skin: truth. I don’t like not having things: truth. My father has one door but I can’t find it: truth. Not all windows open: that is the truth. One night I see my father crying in the yard, head in his hands: that is the truth. I make things up that I want for myself: that is the truth.

Mexcian Bingo (Edited)

My family won't let me play unless I call the cards in Spanish: la botella, el apache, el cantarito.  We cover our cards with beans we can barely see against our skin, plop down tough little hearts of dirt that might split in our hands.  We become clichés.  My cousin Ruby strolls through the house in a black tank top, asking if anyone wants a tattoo in Old English.   My tia asks me to order the package for Daniel.  Use Gol·en State Care, Mija, I hear· from Rachel that they were the best.  I order ten Top Ramens and a pair of Nike Cortez for my cousin who lives in a box at Wasco.  I can't help but think he's built it himself.  We say our own names for the people on the cards.  La chalupa is the girl in the boat; el negro is my cousin's Oaxacan boyfriend Sleepy; el soldado is my brother in Iraq; el borracho is my Tio Gilbert splayed on the couch; el corazón is my sister, the only reason my father does not leave; and el Diablo, my mother says that's me.  No matter how many chances I get to correct, no matter how much my tia glares, I cannot call the cards by their rightful names if they don't have one.  We are both el apache and la dama, the lost and the found.  I have twice inherited one language and lost my atlas to the fifth dimension of Chicanismo.  The words we never asked for make us illegible.  Nights like this, I drink to remember the friar forcing my r's with curled leather, the quiet god making my a's a little dirtier.  I reclaim mutilation, roll it like a velvet red carpet to the dining table, play the appropriator, play the priest but not the pocha, not here, just the halves of myself I never wanted to be.  I know I'll be ashamed of it tomorrow.  That's why I'm praying with my hands in my coat.  That's why I throw the beans away every time.

Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward

Say to them,

say to the down-keepers,

the sun-slappers,

the self-soilers,

the harmony-hushers,

"Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night."

You will be right.

For that is the hard home-run.

 

Live not for battles won.

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

Live in the along.

The Boy Died in My Alley

to Running Boy

 

The Boy died in my alley

without my Having Known.

Policeman said, next morning,

"Apparently died Alone."

 

"You heard a shot?" Policeman said.

Shots I hear and Shots I hear.

I never see the Dead.

 

The Shot that killed him yes I heard

as I heard the Thousand shots before;

careening tinnily down the nights

across my years and arteries.

 

Policeman pounded on my door.

"Who is it?" "POLICE!" Policeman yelled.

"A Boy was dying in your alley.

A Boy is dead, and in your alley.

And have you known this Boy before?"

 

I have known this Boy before.

I have known this boy before, who ornaments my alley.

I never saw his face at all.

I never saw his futurefall.

But I have known this Boy.

 

I have always heard him deal with death.

I have always heard the shout, the volley.

I have closed my heart-ears late and early.

And I have killed him ever.

 

I joined the Wild and killed him

with knowledgeable unknowing.

I saw where he was going.

I saw him Crossed.  And seeing,

I did not take him down.

 

He cried not only "Father!"

but "Mother!

Sister!

Brother."

The cry climbed up the alley.

It went up to the wind.

It hung upon the heaven

for a long

stretch-strain of Moment.

 

The red floor of my alley

is a special speech to me.

Bluebird (Edited)

there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too tough for him,

I say, stay in there, I’m not going

to let anybody see

you.

 

there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too tough for him,

I say,

stay down, do you want to mess

me up?

you want to mess up the

works?

you want to mess up my book sales in

Europe?

 

there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too clever, I only let him out

at night sometimes

when everybody’s asleep.

I say, I know that you’re there,

so don’t be

sad.

 

then I put him back,

but he’s singing a little

in there, I haven’t quite let him

die

and we sleep together like

that

with our

secret pact

and it’s nice enough to

make a man

weep, but I don’t

weep, do

you?

Excerpt from "Obit" [Empathy]

Empathy—died sometime before

January 20, 2017. The gate vanished 

but we don’t know when. The doorbell

vanished. The trains stopped moving.

Someone stole the North Pole sign. I

am you, and you, and you. But there

are so many obstacles between us. I

can never feel my mother’s illness or

my father’s dementia. The black notes

on the score are only representations

of sound, the keys must knock certain

strings which are made of steel, steel

is made of iron and carbon from the

earth. Why do we make things like a

piano that try to represent beauty or

pain? Why must we always draw what

we see? Just copy it, my mother used

to say about drawing. The artist is only

visiting pain, imagining it. We praise

the artist, not the apple, not the apple’s

shadow which is murdered slowly.

There must be some way of drawing

a picture so that it doesn’t become an

elegy. 

i love you to the moon &

not back, let’s not come back, let’s go by the speed of 

queer zest & stay up 

there & get ourselves a little 

moon cottage (so pretty), then start a moon garden 

 

with lots of moon veggies (so healthy), i mean 

i was already moonlighting 

as an online moonologist 

most weekends, so this is the immensely 

 

logical next step, are you 

packing your bags yet, don’t forget your 

sailor moon jean jacket, let’s wear 

our sailor moon jean jackets while twirling in that lighter, 

 

queerer moon gravity, let’s love each other 

(so good) on the moon, let’s love 

the moon        

on the moon

 

Bluet

Flowers have faces. They are happy or sad.

Their faces change, like ours;

unlike us, it doesn’t mean

uh-oh a new mood out of nowhere dawned.

 

Technically it is immoral to kill a flower

but people do it all the time,

to smooth something over or to please a lover.

Nature just rolls right on, headless.

Excerpt from "The Yellow House"

we touch down on US soil

we are taken to Santa Monica beach

i don’t remember having seen the ocean before

 

there is the touch of sand at the bottom of my feet

i look up at the sun

and suddenly i can’t remember my name

 

a hand pulls at my arm

this is skin on my skin

he wants me to race against him

 

i tumble into the sand

he pulls away toward the finish line

and stops to tell me to keep running

 

but i don’t rise into the air

and instead watch him cry

as he promises to make me whole

 


 

we stood out in the front yard

i stared at the giant ant hills

 

in the center divider of our street.

he looked up at the sky

 

and put his hand on my shoulder

i turned and tilted my head to face him.

 


 

“this is what i want for you,” he said

“to learn to stand in the light and see the storm.”

A Self-Portrait

translated by Cathy Park Hong and Won-Chun Kim

 

I am no-one follower

nor anyone’s friend. 

I am the daughter of darkness dreaming

among weeds, a bog, or a body

possessed by intimation.

Mother, I am darkness.

Since the morning of old

when Adam and Eve rose from grass,

I have been the long body’s sorrow.

Children sing like birds

and bloom like flowers

on the shining street.

In sunlight, there are shining people

with heavenly minds, but I cannot taste

their mild wine with my forked tongue.

I coil myself among the weeds or a bog.

I wait for sorrow’s poison to ferment

in my whole body.

A baby inside a womb, yearning

for a mother’s love, I dream

the evil dream of the sun

secretly crying towards the sky.

blessing the boats

(at St. Mary’s) 

 

may the tide 

that is entering even now 

the lip of our understanding  

carry you out 

beyond the face of fear 

may you kiss 

the wind then turn from it 

certain that it will 

love your back may you 

open your eyes to water 

water waving forever 

and may you in your innocence 

sail through this to that.

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel

like I’m coming down with something,

something worse than any stomach ache

or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–

a kind of measles of the spirit,

a mumps of the psyche,

a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

 

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,

but that is because you have forgotten

the perfect simplicity of being one

and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.

But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.

At four I was an Arabian wizard.

I could make myself invisible

by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.

At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

 

But now I am mostly at the window

watching the late afternoon light.

Back then it never fell so solemnly

against the side of my tree house,

and my bicycle never leaned against the garage

as it does today,

all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

 

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,

as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.

It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,

time to turn the first big number.

 

It seems only yesterday I used to believe

there was nothing under my skin but light.

If you cut me I could shine.

But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,

I skin my knees. I bleed.

What's Not to Love

about a broken bowl,

now two half-bowls,

 

still ready to hold

what they can, even

 

if that’s nothing

 

What’s not to love

about weeds and weeds

 

and weeds that crowd

the yard, and thrive

 

amazingly on the same

nothing

 

What’s not to love

about a virus crowding

 

the blood, putting a doll

of itself in each cell

 

and sailing it away

to find fortune

 

in the heart

What’s not to love

 

about the dying heart

with its four dark rooms

 

full of grass and broken

china, a sheeted piano

 

about to play

What’s not to love

 

about a sonata played

by a lonely child

 

who would rather do

anything else,

 

sleep in a garden

or pull up the flowers,

 

who would rather be sick

What’s not to love

 

about reading aloud

to someone fast asleep,

 

about not stopping,

not even when

 

a bowl slides from the bed

and crashes

 

like a bell in water

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank you god for most this amazing 

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees  

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything  

which is natural which is infinite which is yes 

[love is more thicker than forget]

love is more thicker than forget

more thinner than recall

more seldom than a wave is wet

more frequent than to fail

 

it is most mad and moonly

and less it shall unbe

than all the sea which only

is deeper than the sea

 

love is less always than to win

less never than alive

less bigger than the least begin

less littler than forgive

 

it is most sane and sunly

and more it cannot die

than all the sky which only

is higher than the sky

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

Not This (Edited)

my god all the days we have lived thru

saying

 

not this

one, not this,

not now,

not yet, this week

doesn’t count, was lost, this month

was trash, what a year, it sucked,

it flew, that decade was for

what? i raised my kids, they

grew i lost two pasts–i am

not made of them and they

are through.

 

we forget what

we remember:

 

each of the five

the fevered few

 

days we used to

fall in love.

Joy #1

Joy shakes me like the wind that lifts a sail,

Like the roistering wind

That laughs through stalwart pines.

It floods me like the sun

On rain-drenched trees

That flash with silver and green,

I abandon myself to joy— 

I laugh—I sing.

Too long have I walked a desolate way,

Too long stumbled down a maze

Bewildered.

They Don't Love You Like I Love You

My mother said this to me

long before Beyoncé lifted the lyrics

from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,

 

and what my mother meant by

Don’t stray was that she knew

all about it—the way it feels to need

 

someone to love you, someone

not your kind, someone white,

some one some many who live

 

because so many of mine

have not, and further, live on top of

those of ours who don’t.

 

I’ll say, say, say,

I’ll say, say, say,

What is the United States if not a clot

 

of clouds? If not spilled milk? Or blood?

If not the place we once were

in the millions? America is Maps

 

Maps are ghosts: white and 

layered with people and places I see through.

My mother has always known best,

 

knew that I’d been begging for them,

to lay my face against their white

laps, to be held in something more

 

than the loud light of their projectors

of themselves they flicker—sepia

or blue—all over my body.

 

All this time,

I thought my mother said, Wait,

as in, Give them a little more time

 

to know your worth,

when really, she said, Weight,

meaning heft, preparing me

 

for the yoke of myself,

the beast of my country’s burdens,

which is less worse than

 

my country’s plow. Yes,

when my mother said,

They don’t love you like I love you,

 

she meant,

Natalie, that doesn’t mean

you aren’t good.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - 

That perches in the soul - 

And sings the tune without the words - 

And never stops - at all - 

 

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard - 

And sore must be the storm - 

That could abash the little Bird 

That kept so many warm - 

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land - 

And on the strangest Sea - 

Yet - never - in Extremity, 

It asked a crumb - of me. 

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

I'm Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there's a pair of us!

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

 

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell one's name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog!

[Untitled- Split the Lark]

Split the Lark — and you’ll find the Music — 

Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled — 

Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning 

Saved for your Ear, when Lutes be old —

 

Loose the Flood — you shall find it patent — 

Gush after Gush, reserved for you — 

Scarlet Experiment!  Sceptic Thomas! 

Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true? 

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

    We wear the mask.

 

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

    We wear the mask!

Trophic Cascade

After the reintroduction of gray wolves

to Yellowstone and, as anticipated, their culling

of deer, trees grew beyond the deer stunt

of the mid century. In their up reach

songbirds nested, who scattered

seed for underbrush, and in that cover

warrened snowshoe hare. Weasel and water shrew

returned, also vole, and came soon hawk

and falcon, bald eagle, kestrel, and with them

hawk shadow, falcon shadow. Eagle shade

and kestrel shade haunted newly-berried

runnels where mule deer no longer rummaged, cautious

as they were, now, of being surprised by wolves. Berries

brought bear, while undergrowth and willows, growing

now right down to the river, brought beavers,

who dam. Muskrats came to the dams, and tadpoles.

Came, too, the night song of the fathers

of tadpoles. With water striders, the dark

gray American dipper bobbed in fresh pools

of the river, and fish stayed, and the bear, who

fished, also culled deer fawns and to their kill scraps

came vulture and coyote, long gone in the region

until now, and their scat scattered seed, and more

trees, brush, and berries grew up along the river

that had run straight and so flooded but thus dammed,

compelled to meander, is less prone to overrun. Don’t

you tell me this is not the same as my story. All this

life born from one hungry animal, this whole,

new landscape, the course of the river changed,

I know this. I reintroduced myself to myself, this time

a mother. After which, nothing was ever the same.

Self-Portrait With No Flag

i pledge allegiance to my

homies      to my mother’s

small & cool palms     to 

the gap between my brother’s

two front teeth      & to 

my grandmother’s good brown

hands       good strong brown

hands gathering my bare feet

in her lap

 

i pledge allegiance    to the

group text      i pledge allegiance

to laughter & to all the boys 

i have a crush on      i pledge

allegiance to my spearmint plant

to my split ends      to my grandfather’s

brain & gray left eye

 

i come from two failed countries

& i give them back      i pledge

allegiance to no land    no border

cut by force to draw blood    i pledge

allegiance to no government    no 

collection of white men carving up

the map with their pens

 

i choose the table at the waffle house

with all my loved ones crowded

into the booth     i choose the shining

dark of our faces through a thin sheet

of smoke     glowing dark of our faces

slick under layers of sweat     i choose

the world we make with our living

refusing to be unmade by what surrounds

us      i choose us gathered at the lakeside

the light glinting off the water & our 

laughing teeth     & along the living

dark of our hair    & this is my only country

Mind Over Matter

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

is matter. Someone’s unprofessional opinion

was to “relax” over matter. To sandcastle over

wave. They aimed to clean up a murder scene

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

Mine. As if I could possess the firegrief that

possessed me. Wrestle the wind to the floor for

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

there, gripping my shoulders, threatening my

own heart. Have you ever seen the dark split

into two peaches? Sickness is a lot like that.

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

certifiably cherry. Do you mind if I die while I

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

matter if I tried while I died? Will you relax

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

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

listening.

Bilingual / Bilingüe

My father liked them separate, one there,  

one here (allá y aquí), as if aware 

 

that words might cut in two his daughter’s heart  

(el corazón) and lock the alien part 

 

to what he was—his memory, his name  

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

 

“English outside this door, Spanish inside,”  

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

 

the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from  

any child? I knew how to be dumb 

 

and stubborn (testaruda); late, in bed,  

I hoarded secret syllables I read 

 

until my tongue (mi lengua) learned to run  

where his stumbled. And still the heart was one. 

 

I like to think he knew that, even when,  

proud (orgulloso) of his daughter’s pen, 

 

he stood outside mis versos, half in fear  

of words he loved but wanted not to hear.

Autopainophile

My favorite thing is slowly pulling 

into my parking spot at home

just as the song I’ve been feeling 

things to finally ends.

 

All these movie moments and 

hand cutting wind in half dreams

come for me as if 

sent by some light that wants 

to watch me survive.

 

In the movies people like me 

don’t survive and it’s the same 

in real life so I make my own 

movies in my head and I last 

to the end and I am not 

happy even in my own 

fantasy but I am strong.

 

I am holding the camera and

pointing it at myself so I am 

trapped in my own gaze

which is fine

which feels great

which is like the taste of my

own blood

which is great.

 

I wish I loved my body the 

way you say I love my body and 

I wish the sun would stay just 

below the horizon forever.

Self-Portrait as Slinky

It’s true I wanted

             to be beautiful before

                         authentic. Say the word

                                      exotic. Say minority

 

a coiled, dark curl

            a finger might wrap

                         itself in—the long

                                    staircase, and I was

 

the momentum

           of metal springs

                       descending down

                                    and down,

a tension

 

—the long staircase,

            and I was a stacked series

                       of spheres finger-tipped

                                  again into motion—say

 

taut, like a child

            who must please

                        the elders and doesn’t

                                    know how, a curl pulled

 

thin. I wanted to be

            a reckoning, to tornado

                       into each day’s hard

                                  hands, that wanton

 

lurching forward

            in the dark, another

                        soaked black ringlet,

                                    that sudden halting

Letter

Tonight, as you walk out

into the stars, or the forest, or the city,

look up

as you must have looked

before love came,

before love went, 

before ash was ash.

Look at them: the city’s

mists, the winters.

And the moon’s glass

you must have held once

in beginning. 

That new moon

you must have touched once

in the waters,

saying change me, change

me, change me. All I want

is to be more of what I am.

Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]

I am signaling you through the flames. 

 

The North Pole is not where it used to be. 

 

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest. 

 

Civilization self-destructs. 

 

Nemesis is knocking at the door. 

 

What are poets for, in such an age?  

What is the use of poetry? 

 

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it. 

 

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the  

challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds  

apocalyptic. 

 

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are  

Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda 

and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non- 

American, you can conquer the conquerors with words.... 

Bilingual Blues

Soy un ajiaco de contradicciones. 

I have mixed feelings about everything. 

Name your tema, I'll hedge; 

name your cerca, I'll straddle it 

like a cubano. 

 

I have mixed feelings about everything. 

Soy un ajiaco de contradicciones. 

Vexed, hexed, complexed, 

hyphenated, oxygenated, illegally alienated, 

psycho soy, cantando voy: 

You say tomato, 

I say tu madre; 

You say potato, 

I say Pototo. 

Let's call the hole 

un hueco, the thing 

a cosa, and if the cosa goes into the hueco, 

consider yourself en casa, 

consider yourself part of the family. 

 

Soy un ajiaco de contradicciones, 

un puré de impurezas: 

a little square from Rubik's Cuba 

que nadie nunca acoplará. 

(Cha-cha-chá.) 

Mercy

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.

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.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.   

His house is in the village though;   

He will not see me stopping here   

To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

 

My little horse must think it queer   

To stop without a farmhouse near   

Between the woods and frozen lake   

The darkest evening of the year.   

 

He gives his harness bells a shake   

To ask if there is some mistake.   

The only other sound’s the sweep   

Of easy wind and downy flake.   

 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep; 

I am not there. I do not sleep. 

I am a thousand winds that blow. 

I am the diamond glints on snow. 

I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 

I am the gentle autumn rain. 

When you awaken in the morning’s hush 

I am the swift uplifting rush 

Of quiet birds in circled flight. 

I am the soft stars that shine at night. 

Do not stand at my grave and cry; 

I am not there. I did not die. 

A Small Needful Fact

Is that Eric Garner worked

for some time for the Parks and Rec.

Horticultural Department, which means,

perhaps, that with his very large hands,

perhaps, in all likelihood,

he put gently into the earth

some plants which, most likely,

some of them, in all likelihood,

continue to grow, continue

to do what such plants do, like house

and feed small and necessary creatures,

like being pleasant to touch and smell,

like converting sunlight

into food, like making it easier

for us to breathe.

The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,

and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,

God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words

get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according

to which nation. French has no word for home,

and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people

in northern India is dying out because their ancient

tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost

vocabularies that might express some of what

we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would

finally explain why the couples on their tombs

are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands

of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,

they seemed to be business records. But what if they

are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve

Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.

O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,

as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind's labor.

Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts

of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred

pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what

my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this

desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script

is not language but a map. What we feel most has

no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

Legacies

her grandmother called her from the playground   

       “yes, ma’am”

       “i want chu to learn how to make rolls” said the old   

woman proudly

but the little girl didn’t want

to learn how because she knew

even if she couldn’t say it that

that would mean when the old one died she would be less   

dependent on her spirit so

she said

       “i don’t want to know how to make no rolls”

with her lips poked out

and the old woman wiped her hands on

her apron saying “lord

       these children”

and neither of them ever

said what they meant

and i guess nobody ever does

My First Memory (of Librarians)

This is my first memory:

A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky

       wood floor

A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center

Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply

       too short

              For me to sit in and read

So my first book was always big

 

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided

To the left side the card catalogue

On the right newspapers draped over what looked like

       a quilt rack

Magazines face out from the wall

 

The welcoming smile of my librarian

The anticipation in my heart

All those books—another world—just waiting

At my fingertips.

The Resurrection

Let the tower in your city burn. Let the steps

to the shadowed building by the lake burn

even though it is made of stone. Let the lion

house burn so that the roaring and burning

will be heard together. Let the old, poor

wooden house where I lived go up in flames, even though

you returned and sat on the steps that led

up to where we used to exist. Let it all burn,

not to destroy them, but to give them the life

my life gives to them now. To make them flare

as they do in me, bright and hot, bright and burning.

Stomp

I come home,

feet about to bleed

from angry stomping.

“Boy!” says Mom.

“Quit making all that racket.”

But what does she expect

when, day after day,

haters sling words at me

like jagged stones

designed to split my skin?

I retreat to my room,

collapse on the bed,

count, “One. Two. Three...”

When I get to ten,

I snatch up journal and pen,

flip to a clean page,

and unload my hurt, my rage

’til I can breathe, again.

Letter by letter,

I rediscover

my power to decide

which words matter,

which words don’t,

and whose.

Calm, now, I remember:

I get to choose.

Clarinet

Apart, we are two quiet things:

a person and an instrument.

I in my body,

the clarinet in its case.

 

We are like good friends.

The clarinet takes nothing away from me.

It lets me borrow its notes.

 

If I loan it my breath,

I can speak with its sweet voice.

Together, we will make a world

full of song.

For Earth's Grandsons

Stand tall, no matter height, how dark your skin

Your spirit is all colors within

You are made of the finest woven light

From the iridescent love that formed your mothers, fathers

Your grandparents all the way back on the spiral road— 

There is no end to this love

It has formed your bodies

Feeds your bright spirits

And no matter what happens in these times of breaking— 

No matter dictators, the heartless, and liars

No matter—you are born of those

Who kept ceremonial embers burning in their hands

All through the miles of relentless exile

Those who sang the path through massacre

All the way to sunrise

You will make it through— 

Remember

Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the star's stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

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

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

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

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

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

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

listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

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

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Remember.

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.

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [Probably twilight makes blackness dangerous] (Edited)

Probably twilight makes blackness dangerous

Darkness. Probably all my encounters

Are existential jambalaya. Which is to say,

A brother can survive. Something happened

In Sanford, something happened in Ferguson

And Brooklyn & Charleston, something happened

In Chicago & Cleveland & Baltimore & happens

Almost everywhere in this country every day.

Probably someone is prey in all of our encounters.

You won’t admit it. The names alive are like the names

In graves. Probably twilight makes blackness

Darkness. And a gate. Probably the dark blue skin

Of a black man matches the dark blue skin

Of his son the way one twilight matches another.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.

Five Directions to My House

1. Go back to the grain yellow hills where the broken speak of elegance

2. Walk up to the canvas door, the short bed stretched against the clouds

3. Beneath the earth, an ant writes with the grace of a governor

4. Blow, blow Red Tail Hawk, your hidden sleeve—your desert secrets

5. You are there, almost, without a name, without a body, go now

6. I said five, said five like a guitar says six. 

The Promise

Stay, I said 

to the cut flowers. 

They bowed 

their heads lower.

 

Stay, I said to the spider, 

who fled.

 

Stay, leaf. 

It reddened, 

embarrassed for me and itself.

 

Stay, I said to my body. 

It sat as a dog does, 

obedient for a moment, 

soon starting to tremble.

 

Stay, to the earth 

of riverine valley meadows, 

of fossiled escarpments, 

of limestone and sandstone. 

It looked back 

with a changing expression, in silence.

 

Stay, I said to my loves. 

Each answered, 

Always.

[Death is nothing at all]

Death is nothing at all

I have only slipped away into the next room

I am I and you are you

Whatever we were to each other

That we are still

Call me by my old familiar name

Speak to me in the easy way you always used

Put no difference into your tone

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow

Laugh as we always laughed

At the little jokes we always enjoyed together

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me

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

Let it be spoken without effort

Without the ghost of a shadow in it

Life means all that it ever meant

It is the same as it ever was

There is absolute unbroken continuity

What is death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind

Because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you for an interval

Somewhere very near

Just around the corner

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost

One brief moment and all will be as it was before

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

Mother to Son

Well, son, I'll tell you:

Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

It's had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—

Bare.

But all the time

I'se been a-climbin' on,

And reachin' landin's,

And turnin' corners,

And sometimes goin' in the dark 

Where there ain't been no light.

So, boy, don't you turn back.

Don't you set down on the steps. 

'Cause you finds it's kinder hard. 

Don't you fall now—

For I'se still goin', honey,

I'se still climbin',

And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Words Like Freedom

There are words like Freedom 

Sweet and wonderful to say. 

On my heartstrings freedom sings 

All day every day. 

 

There are words like Liberty 

That almost makes me cry, 

If you had known what I know 

You would know why. 

Your World

Your world is as big as you make it. 

I know, for I used to abide

In the narrowest nest in a corner, 

My wings pressing close to my side. 

 

But I sighted the distant horizon 

Where the skyline encircled the sea 

And I throbbed with a burning desire 

To travel this immensity. 

 

I battered the cordons around me 

And cradled my wings on the breeze, 

Then soared to the uttermost reaches 

With rapture, with power, with ease!

First Grade

Until then, every forest

had wolves in it, we thought

it would be fun to wear snowshoes

all the time, and we could talk to water.

 

So who is this woman with the gray

breath calling out names and pointing

to the little desks we will occupy

for the rest of our lives?

You and I Are Dissapearing

The cry I bring down from the hills

belongs to a girl still burning

inside my head. At daybreak

 

she burns like a piece of paper.

 

She burns like foxfire

in a thigh-shaped valley.

A skirt of flames

dances around her

at dusk.

 

We stand with our hands

 

hanging at our sides,

while she burns 

 

like a sack of dry ice.

 

She burns like oil on water.

She burns like a cattail torch

dipped in gasoline.

She glows like the fat tip

of a banker's cigar,

 

silent as quicksilver.

 

A tiger under a rainbow

    at nightfall.

She burns like a shot glass of vodka.

She burns like a field of poppies

at the edge of a rain forest.

She rises like dragonsmoke

    to my nostrils.

She burns like a burning bush

driven by a godawful wind.

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."

my graduation speech

i think in spanish

i write in english

 

i want to go back to puerto rico,

but i wonder if my kink could live

in ponce, mayagüez and carolina

 

tengo las venas aculturadas

escribo en spanglish

abraham in español

abraham in english

tato in spanish

"taro" in english

tonto in both languages

 

how are you?

¿cómo estás?

i don't know if i'm coming

or si me fui ya

 

si me dicen barranquitas, yo reply,

"¿con qué se come eso?"

si me dicen caviar, i digo,

"a new pair of converse sneakers."

 

ahí supe que estoy jodío

ahí supe que estamos jodíos

 

english or spanish

spanish or english

spanenglish

now, dig this:

 

hablo lo inglés matao

hablo lo español matao

no sé leer ninguno bien

 

so it is, spanglish to matao

what i digo

             ¡ay, virgen, yo no sé hablar!

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes

this brown paper bag of peaches

we bought from the boy

at the bend in the road where we turned toward   

signs painted Peaches.

 

From laden boughs, from hands,

from sweet fellowship in the bins,

comes nectar at the roadside, succulent

peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,

comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

 

O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into   

the round jubilance of peach.

 

There are days we live

as if death were nowhere

in the background; from joy

to joy to joy, from wing to wing,

from blossom to blossom to

impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Before

No shoes and a glossy

red helmet, I rode

on the back of my dad’s

Harley at seven years old.

Before the divorce.

Before the new apartment.

Before the new marriage.

Before the apple tree.

Before the ceramics in the garbage.

Before the dog’s chain.

Before the koi were all eaten

by the crane. Before the road

between us, there was the road

beneath us, and I was just

big enough not to let go:

Henno Road, creek just below,

rough wind, chicken legs,

and I never knew survival

was like that. If you live,

you look back and beg

for it again, the hazardous

bliss before you know

what you would miss.

How to Triumph Like a Girl

I like the lady horses best,

how they make it all look easy,

like running 40 miles per hour

is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.

I like their lady horse swagger,

after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!

But mainly, let’s be honest, I like

that they’re ladies. As if this big

dangerous animal is also a part of me,

that somewhere inside the delicate

skin of my body, there pumps

an 8-pound female horse heart,

giant with power, heavy with blood.

Don’t you want to believe it?

Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see

the huge beating genius machine

that thinks, no, it knows,

it’s going to come in first.

The Raincoat

When the doctor suggested surgery

and a brace for all my youngest years,

my parents scrambled to take me

to massage therapy, deep tissue work,

osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine

unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,

and move more in a body unclouded

by pain. My mom would tell me to sing

songs to her the whole forty-five minute

drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-

five minutes back from physical therapy.

She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered

by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,

because I thought she liked it. I never

asked her what she gave up to drive me,

or how her day was before this chore. Today,

at her age, I was driving myself home from yet

another spine appointment, singing along

to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,

and I saw a mom take her raincoat off

and give it to her young daughter when

a storm took over the afternoon. My god,

I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her

raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel

that I never got wet.

Coping

It has rained for five days

running

the world is

a round puddle

of sunless water

where small islands

are only beginning

to cope

a young boy

in my garden

is bailing out water

from his flower patch

when I ask him why

he tells me

young seeds that have not seen sun

forget

and drown easily.

Now

Woman power

is

Black power

is

Human power

is

always feeling

my heart beats

as my eyes open

as my hands move

as my mouth speaks

 

I am

are you

 

Ready.

Excerpt from "Like Totally Whatever"

In case you haven’t realized it has somehow become necessary for old white men to tell me how to speak

They like, interrupt a conversation that isn’t even theirs, and are like “speak like you mean it” and like “the internet is ruining the English language.”

And they like, put my “parentheticals,” my “likes” and “ums,” and “you knows” on a wait list.

 

Tell them no one will take them seriously in a frilly pink dress. Or that make-up.

Tell them they have a confidence problem. That they should learn to speak up, like the hyper-masculine words were always the first to raise their hands.

 

Declarative sentences, so-called, because they declared themselves to be the loudest, most truest, most taking up the most space, most totally white man sentences.

Have always told me that being angry has never helped like, anybody.

Has only gotten in the way of helping them declare more about how they’ll never be forgotten like, ever.

 

And it’s like maybe I’m always speaking in questions because I’m so used to being cut off.

Like maybe, this is a defense mechanism: Maybe everything girls do is evolution of defense mechanism.

 

But I guess feelings never helped anybody.

I guess like, tears never made change.

I guess like everything girls do is a waste of time

 

So welcome to the bandwagon of my own uncertainty.

Watch as I stick flowers into your “punctuation mark” guns, ’cause you can’t just challenge authority. You have to take it to the mall, too.

Teach it to do the “bend and snap.” Paint its nails, braid its hair, tell it it looks like, really good today.

 

And in that moment before you murder it with all of the in your like, softness, you let it know that like this, like this moment is like, um, you know, me using my voice.

Excerpt from "My Spanish"

If you ask me if I am fluent in Spanish I will tell you

My Spanish is an itchy phantom limb: reaching for a word and only finding air

My Spanish is my third birthday party: half of it is memory, and the other half is a photograph on the fridge is what my family has told me 

 

If you ask me if I am fluent I I will tell you that

My Spanish is a puzzle left in the rain 

Too soggy to make its parts fit so that it can look just like the picture on the box. 

 

If you ask me I will tell you 

My Spanish is hungrier than it was before. 

My Spanish reaches for words at the top of a shelf without a stepping stool 

is hit in the head with all of the old words that have been hiding up there

My Spanish wonders how bad is it to eat something that’s expired

My Spanish wonders if it has an expiration date

My Spanish asks you why it is always being compared to food

spicy, hot, sizzle

my Spanish tells you it is not something to be eaten 

but does not really believe it. 

 

If you ask me if I am fluent in Spanish I will try to tell you the story

of how my parents met in an ESL class

How it was when they trained their mouths to say 

I love you in a different language, I hate you with their mouths shut

I will tell you how my father’s accent makes him sound like Zorro 

how my mother tried to tie her tongue to a post with an English language leash

I will tell you that the tongue always ran stubbornly back to the language it had always been in love with 

Even when she tried to tame it it always turned loose 

If you ask me if I am in fluent 

I will tell you 

My Spanish is understanding that there are stories will always be out of my reach

there are people who will never fit together the way that i want them to 

there are letters that will always stay silent

there are some words that will always escape me. 

Some Girls

Some girls can’t help it; they are lit sparklers,

hot-blooded, half naked in the depths of winter,

tagging moving trains with the bright insignia of their

    fury.

I’ve seen their inked torsos: falcons, swans, meteor

    showers.

And shadowed their secret rendezvous,

walking and flying all night over paths traced like veins

through the deep body of the forest

where they are trying on their new wings,

rising to power with a ferocious mercy

not seen before in the cities of men.

Having survived slander, abuse, and every kind of exile,

they’re swooping down even now

from treetops where they were roosting,

wearing robes woven of spider webs and pigeon

    feathers.

They have pulled the living child out of the flames

and are prepared to take charge through the coming

    apocalypse.

I have learned that some girls are boys; some are birds,

some are oases ringed with stalking lions. See,

I cannot even name them,

although one of them is looking out through my eyes

    right now,

one of them

is writing all this down with light-struck fingers.

Here's an Ocean Tale

My brother still bites his nails to the quick,

but lately he’s been allowing them to grow.

So much hurt is forgotten with the horizon

as backdrop. It comes down to simple math.

 

The beach belongs to none of us, regardless

of color, or money. We all come to sit

at the feet of the surf, watch waves

drag the sand and crush shells for hours.

 

My brother’s feet are coated in sparkly powder

that leaves a sticky residue when dry.

He’s twenty-three, still unaware of his value.

It is too easy, reader, for me to call him

 

beautiful, standing against the sky

in cherrywood skin and almond

eyes in the sun, so instead I tell him

he is handsome. I remind him

 

of a day when I brought him to the beach

as a boy. He’d wandered, trailing a tourist,

a white man pointing toward his hotel—

all for a promised shark tooth.

 

I yelled for him, pulled him to me,

drove us home. Folly Beach. He was six.

He almost went.

There Are Birds Here

For Detroit

 

There are birds here,

so many birds here

is what I was trying to say

when they said those birds were metaphors

for what is trapped

between buildings

and buildings. No.

The birds are here

to root around for bread

the girl’s hands tear

and toss like confetti. No,

I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,

I said confetti, and no

not the confetti

a tank can make of a building.

I mean the confetti

a boy can’t stop smiling about

and no his smile isn’t much

like a skeleton at all. And no

his neighborhood is not like a war zone.

I am trying to say

his neighborhood

is as tattered and feathered

as anything else,

as shadow pierced by sun

and light parted

by shadow-dance as anything else,

but they won’t stop saying

how lovely the ruins,

how ruined the lovely

children must be in that birdless city.

Wolf Energy

Some people have wolf energy—visible

either in the jaw or the lean, rising shoulders,

a gait radiating speed. Other people

have rabbit energy. If you were sleeping

and they bit your neck, it might strike you

as ticklish. Others have bear energy—oversized,

cuddly, but liable to snarl and swipe your face

with a paw. Cat energy is first cousins

with skunk energy. My wife says my face

looks like a shark’s, but squirrel teeth

line my gums. If I chomp you,

you won’t lose an arm. My half-brother

is an owl that flew into the woods

and never came back. My one brother

is half-rhino and half-blowtorch.

My other brother is a puddle of water

evaporating in a cave. Each day

I check to make sure he’s still there. 

I Know My Soul

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,

And held it to the mirror of my eye,

To see it like a star against the sky,

A twitching body quivering in space,

A spark of passion shining on my face.

And I explored it to determine why

This awful key to my infinity

Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.

And if the sign may not be fully read,

If I can comprehend but not control,

I need not gloom my days with futile dread,

Because I see a part and not the whole.

Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted

By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

To a Young Poet

Time cannot break the bird's wing from the bird.

Bird and wing together

Go down, one feather.

 

No thing that ever flew,

Not the lark, not you,

Can die as others do.

Things

What happened is, we grew lonely

living among the things,

so we gave the clock a face,

the chair a back,

the table four stout legs

which will never suffer fatigue.

 

We fitted our shoes with tongues

as smooth as our own

and hung tongues inside bells

so we could listen

to their emotional language,

 

and because we loved graceful profiles

the pitcher received a lip,

the bottle a long, slender neck.

 

Even what was beyond us

was recast in our image;

we gave the country a heart,

the storm an eye,

the cave a mouth

so we could pass into safety.

If You Forget Me

I want you to know

one thing.

 

You know how this is:

if I look

at the crystal moon, at the red branch

of the slow autumn at my window,

if I touch

near the fire

the impalpable ash

or the wrinkled body of the log,

everything carries me to you,

as if everything that exists,

aromas, light, metals,

were little boats

that sail

toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

 

Well, now,

if little by little you stop loving me

I shall stop loving you little by little.

 

If suddenly

you forget me

do not look for me,

for I shall already have forgotten you.

 

If you think it long and mad,

the wind of banners

that passes through my life,

and you decide

to leave me at the shore

of the heart where I have roots,

remember

that on that day,

at that hour,

I shall lift my arms

and my roots will set off

to seek another land.

 

But

if each day,

each hour,

you feel that you are destined for me

with implacable sweetness,

if each day a flower

climbs up to your lips to seek me,

ah my love, ah my own,

in me all that fire is repeated,

in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,

my love feeds on your love, beloved,

and as long as you live it will be in your arms

without leaving mine.

The Bronze Legacy

To a Brown Boy

 

’Tis a noble gift to be brown, all brown,

  Like the strongest things that make up this earth,

Like the mountains grave and grand,

  Even like the very land,

  Even like the trunks of trees—

  Even oaks, to be like these!

God builds His strength in bronze.

 

To be brown like thrush and lark!

  Like the subtle wren so dark!

Nay, the king of beasts wears brown;

  Eagles are of this same hue.

I thank God, then, I am brown.

  Brown has mighty things to do.

Famous

The river is famous to the fish.

 

The loud voice is famous to silence,   

which knew it would inherit the earth   

before anybody said so.   

 

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   

watching him from the birdhouse.   

 

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

 

The idea you carry close to your bosom   

is famous to your bosom.   

 

The boot is famous to the earth,   

more famous than the dress shoe,   

which is famous only to floors.

 

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   

and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

 

I want to be famous to shuffling men   

who smile while crossing streets,   

sticky children in grocery lines,   

famous as the one who smiled back.

 

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   

but because it never forgot what it could do.

How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?

When you quietly close

the door to a room

the room is not finished.

 

It is resting. Temporarily.

Glad to be without you

for a while.

 

Now it has time to gather

its balls of gray dust,

to pitch them from corner to corner.

 

Now it seeps back into itself,

unruffled and proud.

Outlines grow firmer.

 

When you return,

you might move the stack of books,

freshen the water for the roses.

 

I think you could keep doing this

forever. But the blue chair looks best

with the red pillow. So you might as well

 

leave it that way.

Katy

They say I mope too much

but really I’m loudly dancing.

I eat paper. It’s good for my bones.

I play the piano pedal. I dance,

I am never quiet, I mean silent.

Some day I’ll love Frank O’Hara.

I think I’ll be alone for a little while.

My Therapist Says Make Friends with your Monsters

we are gathered in truth,

because my therapist said

it was time to stop running,

 

& i pay my therapist too much

to be wrong, so i am here.

my monsters look almost human

 

in the sterile office light.

my monsters say they want 

to be friends. i remember

 

when we first met, me & my 

monsters. i remember the moment

i planted each one. each time

 

i tried to shed a piece of myself,

it grew into a monster. take this one

with the collar of belly fat

 

the monster called Chubby, Husky,

Gordito. i climbed out of that skin

as fast as i could, only to see some spirit

 

give it legs. i ran & it never stopped

chasing me. each new humiliation 

coming to life & following after me.

 

after me, a long procession of sad 

monsters. each monster hungry

to drag me back, to return me

 

to the dirt i came from. ashes

to ashes, fat boy to fat.

my monsters crowd around me,

 

my therapist says i can't 

make the monsters disappear

no matter how much i pay her.

 

all she can do is bring them

into the room, so i can get

to know them, so i can learn

 

their names, so i can see

clearly their toothless mouths,

their empty hands, their pleading eyes.

Breakage

I go down to the edge of the sea.

How everything shines in the morning light!

The cusp of the whelk,

the broken cupboard of the clam,

the opened, blue mussels,

moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—

and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,

dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.

It's like a schoolhouse

of little words,

thousands of words.

First you figure out what each one means by itself,

the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop

       full of moonlight.

 

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

Small Town

Listen. The rug is wet because

I stood here. Because

it started pouring. Because

your door was open and I was

under a tree. Because

it was raining. Because the rain

and tree both

were in your backyard. Because

so was I. Because you

weren’t home. Because I knew

you were bowling. Because

I walk your road. Because your road

goes by your house. Because

I felt like a walk. Because

it was going to rain. Because your door

is never locked.

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago, 

   In a kingdom by the sea, 

That a maiden there lived whom you may know 

   By the name of Annabel Lee; 

And this maiden she lived with no other thought 

   Than to love and be loved by me. 

 

I was a child and she was a child, 

   In this kingdom by the sea, 

But we loved with a love that was more than love— 

   I and my Annabel Lee— 

With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven 

   Coveted her and me. 

 

And this was the reason that, long ago, 

   In this kingdom by the sea, 

A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling 

   My beautiful Annabel Lee; 

So that her highborn kinsmen came 

   And bore her away from me, 

To shut her up in a sepulchre 

   In this kingdom by the sea. 

 

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven, 

   Went envying her and me— 

Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know, 

   In this kingdom by the sea) 

That the wind came out of the cloud by night, 

   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee. 

 

But our love it was stronger by far than the love 

   Of those who were older than we— 

   Of many far wiser than we— 

And neither the angels in Heaven above 

   Nor the demons down under the sea 

Can ever dissever my soul from the soul 

   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 

 

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams 

   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 

And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes 

   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side 

   Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride, 

   In her sepulchre there by the sea— 

   In her tomb by the sounding sea. 

The Banana Room

Meet me here / in whatever some-odd years / perhaps longer / perhaps tomorrow / I’ll be here / slipping on the peels / laughing / slipping on the peels / laughing / practicing for your arrival / a word about what you are afraid of / maybe / meet me here / I am so lonely / I learned a second language / this place bubbles up / from my belly button / every month / a new room / in each I slip fall & laugh / at what I imagine / you will find amazingly funny / each room yellow / sometimes with blood / & bundles of bananas / swaying from the ceiling / a thousand sugary chandeliers / bathing the dark / in bruises

Don't Go Into the Library

The library is dangerous—

Don’t go in. If you do

 

You know what will happen.

It’s like a pet store or a bakery—

 

Every single time you’ll come out of there

Holding something in your arms.

 

Those novels with their big eyes.

And those no-nonsense, all muscle

 

Greyhounds and Dobermans,

All non-fiction and business,

 

Cuddly when they’re young,

But then the first page is turned.

 

The doughnut scent of it all, knowledge,

The aroma of coffee being made

 

In all those books, something for everyone,

 

The deli offerings of civilization itself.

 

The library is the book of books,

Its concrete and wood and glass covers

 

Keeping within them the very big,

Very long story of everything.

 

The library is dangerous, full

Of answers. If you go inside,

 

You may not come out

The same person who went in.

Excerpt from "On Spring Giddiness"

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty

and frightened. Don't open the door to the study

and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

 

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Prayer for the Mutilated World

what will be left after the last fidget

spinner’s spun its last spin

 

after the billboards accrue their thick

layer of grit masking advertisements

for teeth paste & tanqueray gin

 

after the highways are overtaken

by invasive forests

 

after the ministers give up their gods

& the rabbis their congregations

for drink

 

after new men rise to lead us sheep

toward our shearing, to make bed

sheets from our hair

 

after the high towers have no airplanes

to warn away & instead blink purely

toward heaven like children

with one red eye

 

after phone lines do nothing

but cut the sky into sheet music

& our phones are just expensive

bricks of metal & glass

 

after our cloud of photographs collapses

& all memories retreat back

into their privatized skulls

 

after the water taps gasp out their final

blessing

what then?

 

when even the local militias run

out of ammunitions

 

when the blast radii have been

chalked & the missiles do all they were

built to

 

when us jews have given up our state

for that much older country of walking

& then that even older religion of dirt

 

when all have succumbed to illness

inside the church of our gutted pharmacies

 

when the seas eat their cities

 

when the ground splits like a dress

 

when the trash continent in the mid-atlantic

at last opens its mouth to spit

 

what will be left after we’ve left

 

i dare not consider it

 

instead dance with me a moment

late in this last extinction

 

that you are reading this

must be enough

[I feel to porous to read, and too empty to write]

I feel too porous to read, and too empty to write. In bed, I picture my whole body as a sea sponge— foamy and yielding, with big soft holes. I get angry with myself because this is not how a poet should be. A poet is emotional, yes, but rigid, too—they make their mess within a form, which is the only way people can stand them. I don’t know any forms and am drained of my feelings just from being alive. Still, supposedly, I want to be an artist. I eat buttered toast at the coffee table, thinking this over. When a tree is too slow to fruit, scientists invent new trees with quicker apples. This thought makes me scared, and emptier still. Who are the scientists? I wonder. What did a quick apple taste like?

The Surface of the Water

has properties, tension, behaves differently

from the rest of the water. If you fell

 

onto it from a height, you would bounce.

The surface would reject you, say

 

I’m a solid too – we can’t both be here, 

but then the rest of the water would accept you,

 

take you into itself, pull you down

away from the surface, saying I’m sorry,

 

I want you, come in. 

My Gender Is

a) a dragon

b) who?

c) kidnapped

d) a little girl

e) a treasure

f) no

g) one

h) wanted

 

my gender is a broken haiku

 

a dragon who kidnapped

a little girl a treasure

no one wanted

Mi Problema

My sincerity isn’t good enough.

Eyebrows raise

when I request:

“Hable mas despacio por favor.”

My skin is brown

just like theirs,

but now I’m unworthy of the color

‘cause I don’t speak Spanish

the way I should.

Then they laugh and talk about

mi problema

in the language I stumble over.

 

A white person gets encouragement,

praise,

for weak attempts at a second language.

“Maybe he wants to be brown

like us.”

and that is good.

 

My earnest attempts

make me look bad,

dumb.

“Perhaps she wanted to be white

like THEM.”

and that is bad.

 

I keep my flash cards hidden

a practice cassette tape

not labeled

‘cause I am ashamed.

I “should know better”

they tell me

“Spanish is in your blood.”

 

I search for SSL classes,

(Spanish as a Second Language)

in college catalogs

and practice

with my grandma.

who gives me patience,

permission to learn.

 

And then one day,

I’ll be a perfected “r” rolling

tilde using Spanish speaker

A true Mexican at last!

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

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

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

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

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

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

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

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

   So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

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

The Poets Are Dying

It seems impossible

they seemed immortal.

 

Where are they going

if not to their next poems?

 

Poems that, like lives, make do

and make that doing do more—-

 

holding a joly like a newborn,

a volta turning toward a god-load

 

of grief dumped from some heaven

where words rain down

 

and the poet is soaked. Cold

to the bone, we’ve become. Thick-

 

headed, death-bedded, heartsick.

Poets. Flowers picked, candles wicked,

 

forgiving everyone they tricked.

One of Us

“That kid is weird,” says

the teacher, flipping her shining hair.

“I don’t know where he’s at.”

Indeed, he is quiet

in the way of a giraffe:

ears tuned to something we can’t hear.

He turns his sleepy eyes on me—

chocolate brown

with long, extraordinary lashes—

as I hand him a seashell:

something to write about, you know,

something to focus on.

 

Suddenly, silently,

in the mysterious way of  poetry,

he is at

           that shell,

he is in it,

his heart fills up with it.

O Shell, he writes,

you make lizards dance

in the sky with birds.

Never leave me, Shell.

 

During sharing time,

he reads his poem aloud—

reverently,

almost to himself.

Half the class is stunned,

half embarrassed.

The teacher shakes her head.

 

I am barely breathing.

One of  us, I sing, one of  us!

Invitation

If you are a dreamer, come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,

A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire,

For we have some flax golden tales to spin.

Come in!

Come in!

Whatif

Last night, while I lay thinking here,

some Whatifs crawled inside my ear

and pranced and partied all night long

and sang their same old Whatif song:

Whatif I'm dumb in school?

Whatif they've closed the swimming pool?

Whatif I get beat up?

Whatif there's poison in my cup?

Whatif I start to cry?

Whatif I get sick and die?

Whatif I flunk that test?

Whatif green hair grows on my chest?

Whatif nobody likes me?

Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?

Whatif I don't grow taller?

Whatif my head starts getting smaller?

Whatif the fish won't bite?

Whatif the wind tears up my kite?

Whatif they start a war?

Whatif my parents get divorced?

Whatif the bus is late?

Whatif my teeth don't grow in straight?

Whatif I tear my pants?

Whatif I never learn to dance?

Everything seems well, and then

the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

April Is a Dog’s Dream

april is a dog's dream

the soft grass is growing

the sweet breeze is blowing

the air all full of singing feels just right

so no excuses now

we're going to the park

to chase and charge and chew

and I will make you see

what spring is all about

not an elegy for Mike Brown

I am sick of writing this poem

but bring the boy. his new name

 

his same old body. ordinary, black

dead thing. bring him & we will mourn

until we forget what we are mourning

 

& isn’t that what being black is about?

not the joy of it, but the feeling

 

you get when you are looking

at your child, turn your head,

then, poof, no more child.

 

that feeling. that’s black.

 

\\

 

think: once, a white girl

 

was kidnapped & that’s the Trojan war.

 

later, up the block, Troy got shot

& that was Tuesday. are we not worthy

 

of a city of ash? of 1000 ships

launched because we are missed?

 

always, something deserves to be burned.

it’s never the right thing now a days.

 

I demand a war to bring the dead boy back

no matter what his name is this time.

 

I at least demand a song. a song will do just fine.

 

\\

 

look at what the lord has made.

above Missouri, sweet smoke.

It & Co.

We are a part of It. Not guests.

Is It us, or what contains us?

How can It be anything but an idea,

Something teetering on the spine

Of the number i? It is elegant

But coy. It avoids the blunt ends

Of our fingers as we point. We

Have gone looking for It everywhere:

In Bibles and bandwidth, blooming

Like a wound from the ocean floor.

Still, It resists the matter of false vs. real.

Unconvinced by our zeal, It is un-

Appeasable. It is like some novels:

Vast and unreadable.

ABC for Refugees

Cherub-bee-dee how does a man

who doesn’t read English well know that cherub-bee-dum

those aren’t really words-bee-dee.

But birds.

 

Cherub-bee-dum, he stumbles, reading to me

by the sliding glass door cherub-bee-dee, through which I watch

my brother play in the dum-dum-yard.

 

Cherub-bee-dee, cherub-bee-dum, like how my father says

Fine then! Leave! My mother shouts, Stupid! Dumb!

We live in a small bee-dee-nest too, one hallway to bee-dum-slam doors.

 

Birds? What are birds?

Thanks to my father, reading with me, I have more feathers.

 

T-H-E. First word he ever taught me to pluck  …    

It is a word used all the time. Cherub-cherub-bee-dum!

 

The mail. The mailbox. The school bus. The the.

 

He asks me to read the mail. Not birds, mail.

If you don’t read this, you will turn into birds.

And I read it to him the best I can.

The end. A feather. Two feathers. The. The end.

 

Mother, mother. Repeat after me.

Cherub-bee-dee, cherub-bee-dum!

We read together before bedtime.

I Am Alive in Los Angeles!

          I am alive in Los Angeles!

          I am alive in Los Angeles!

Here in the wild, wild west..

The warm wind hits my face,

I walk across stained concrete,

I cry tears of joy on Flower Street..

I watch families dancing

on their porches on Christmas Eve.

I smile widely.

I move thru the city,

my heart beating swiftly

as sirens speed by me.

I revel in the sadness—my soul is deep

I take full responsibility.

Give me everything!

It hurts—it's so beautiful!

The universal

Soulful multicultural

Emerging worldwide

tribe people

          I am alive in Los Angeles!

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am

and I don't know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

 

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,

a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break

sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood

storming out to play through the broken dike.

 

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,

but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,

I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty

to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

 

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,

a remote important region in all who talk:

though we could fool each other, we should consider—

lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

 

For it is important that awake people be awake,

or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;

the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Whenever you see a tree

Think

how many long years

this tree waited as a seed

for an animal or bird or wind or rain

to maybe carry it to maybe the right spot

where again it waited months for seasons to change

until time and temperature were fine enough to coax it

to swell and burst its hard shell so it could send slender roots

to clutch at grains of soil and let tender shoots reach toward the sun

Think how many decades or centuries it thickened and climbed and grew

taller and deeper never knowing if it would find enough water or light

or when conditions would be right so it could keep on spreading leaves

adding blossoms and dancing

Next time

you see

a tree

think

how

much

hope

it holds

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.

No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you.

How Poems Are Made / A Discredited View

Letting go

In order to hold one

I gradually understand

How poems are made.

 

There is a place the fear must go.

There is a place the choice must go.

There is a place the loss must go.

The leftover love.

The love that spills out

Of the too full cup

And runs and hides

Its too full self

In shame.

 

I gradually comprehend

How poems are made.

To the upbeat flight of memories.

The flagged beats of the running

Heart.

 

I understand how poems are made.

They are the tears

That season the smile.

The stiff-neck laughter

That crowds the throat.

The leftover love.

I know how poems are made.

 

There is a place the loss must go.

There is a place the gain must go.

The leftover love.

Did I Miss Anything?

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here

we sat with our hands folded on our desks

in silence, for the full two hours

 

   Everything. I gave an exam worth

   40 percent of the grade for this term

   and assigned some reading due today

   on which I’m about to hand out a quiz

   worth 50 percent

 

Nothing. None of the content of this course

has value or meaning

Take as many days off as you like:

any activities we undertake as a class

I assure you will not matter either to you or me

and are without purpose

 

   Everything. A few minutes after we began last time

   a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel

   or other heavenly being appeared

   and revealed to us what each woman or man must do

   to attain divine wisdom in this life and

   the hereafter

   This is the last time the class will meet

   before we disperse to bring the good news to all people on earth.

 

Nothing. When you are not present

how could something significant occur?

 

   Everything. Contained in this classroom

   is a microcosm of human experience

   assembled for you to query and examine and ponder

   This is not the only place such an opportunity has been gathered

 

   but it was one place

 

   And you weren’t here

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

 

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here Captain! dear father!

This arm beneath your head!

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.

 

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

Life's Scars

They say the world is round, and yet

I often think it square,

So many little hurts we get

From corners here and there.

But one great truth in life I've found,

While journeying to the West-

The only folks who really wound

Are those we love the best.

 

The man you thoroughly despise

Can rouse your wrath, 'tis true;

Annoyance in your heart will rise

At things mere strangers do;

But those are only passing ills;

This rule all lives will prove;

The rankling wound which aches and thrills

Is dealt by hands we love.

 

The choicest garb, the sweetest grace,

Are oft to strangers shown;

The careless mien, the frowning face,

Are given to our own.

We flatter those we scarcely know,

We please the fleeting guest,

And deal full many a thoughtless blow

To those who love us best.

 

Love does not grow on every tree,

Nor true hearts yearly bloom.

Alas for those who only see

This cut across a tomb!

But, soon or late, the fact grows plain

To all through sorrow's test:

The only folks who give us pain

Are those we love the best.

Boatbuilding

And yes, we all learn to be boats by

navigating our mother’s sleeping

chests. Calm sea of linen on lung.

Two tiny oars growing less useless

every stroke. And yes, our fathers

stand taller than a hundred masts yet

tremble when handed the frailest of

bodies. Their heavy silence is a net

dragging empty behind us. And yes,

we’ll end up casting it all back to the

sea someday. Someday it will be our

turn to grieve, to distance. But how

close skin feels, briefly, now, as

we’re learning its edges.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel

when Icarus fell

it was spring

a farmer was ploughing

his field

the whole pageantry

of the year was

awake tingling

near

the edge of the sea

concerned 

with itself

sweating in the sun

that melted

the wings' wax

unsignificantly

off the coast

there was

a splash quite unnoticed

this was

Icarus drowning

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

 

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

 

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

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 Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.

 

When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire a-flame,

But something rustled on the floor,

And someone called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran

And faded through the brightening air.

 

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done,

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

Earth Day

I am the Earth

And the Earth is me.

Each blade of grass,

Each honey tree,

Each bit of mud,

And stick and stone

Is blood and muscle,

Skin and bone.

 

And just as I

Need every bit

Of me to make

My body fit,

So Earth needs

Grass and stone and tree

And things that grow here

Naturally.

 

That’s why we

Celebrate this day.

That’s why across

The world we say:

As long as life,

As dear, as free,

I am the Earth

And the Earth is me.

Speech Therapy

The ugly duckling remained ugly

its whole life but found others

as ugly as itself, I guess that’s the message.

Smoke rises from the heads in the backyard.

Do you think if I hang around here long enough

someone will proffer a muffin,

one skulking shadow to another?

Soon, my shoes will be part of the populous dirt.

Have I learned all the wrong lessons,

the ones you shouldn’t know until

the last dew-clogged lawn is mowed

and the sun goes down on the ruined battlements?

Why was I given a toy train if not

to stage stupendous wrecks? Sure,

I can walk by the sea holding a hand

with as much melancholy as the next fellow,

substituting the cries of slammed waves

for the droll adumbrations of distraught

skeletons, the day taking on the sheen

of a stone removed from the mouth

and skipped between the breakers jubilant and sunk.