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Intimate Set

So this is an intimate set

Between you and me

So please

Leave your bags at the door

Don't carry what you don't need

Come in, have a seat

Because I want to confess to you

Everything 

Right here

Right now

You see it’s a new year

A new sun

El sexto sol

A time of transformation

A new me

A new you

And every moment 

A snowflake

So you wanna know a secret?

You’re free to think for yourself here

You’re free to truly be yourself here

You are loved here

Because out there

In the desierto

And all along that Berlin Wall with Mexico

They can tax us

They can discriminate against us

They can deny us an education, ban our literature and our leaders,

Erase our history and our unalienable rights

They can declare war against us

They can invade us

Take us hostage and prisoner

Poison our water our food our land our air

They can even shoot and bomb our babies

Rape us

Sell us

Buy us

Eat us alive

But they cannot and will not have you

And they cannot and will not have me

And they cannot and will not have the love here

Between you and me.

String Theory Relationships

The essential idea is this — the man you love is connected to you

no matter what, but he’s also connected to the woman

 

     down the street with the small dog that barks at the lilacs,

     and she’s connected to the cashier at the market who’s a bit rough

 

with your grapes, but he thinks you’re ten years younger than you are

and he gives you free saltwater taffy and calls you

 

     darling — but he also calls her darling, and her dog

     darling, and the man you love along with the grapes.

 

The essential idea is this — all objects are composed of vibrating anxieties

— everyone wants a window or aisle seat and no one wants to sit

 

     in the middle. Call it deniability. Call it the flashlight you keep

     by the door never works in emergencies. We are all connected

 

by the blast that brought us here, the big bang,

the slam dunk, the heavy petting. We can’t always be pretty.

 

     We can’t always be the eyelash and the wink, sometimes we have to be

     the ear, sometimes the mouth. You are and are not the speaker in this story —

 

you are the bridge connected to the bridge connected to the man

you love and the woman you dislike who teaches spin class. It’s not

 

     personal. It’s not personal when the universe says it’s complicated

     and you have ten minutes to understand quantum physics.

 

When the man you love says there’s a new connection called supersymmetry

and it exists between two fundamentally different types of particles

 

     called bosons and fermions, you hear bosoms and females.

     You hear he’s thinking about the spin teacher with the nice breasts

 

and you burrow deeper. The essential idea is this — someone will always bruise

your grapes and someone will end up in the middle. Someone you love

 

     will break your favorite coffee mug and bring you lilacs. And you

     will be connected to people who make your eyes roll.

 

You’ll be connected to others who stand on the bridge and consider jumping off.

You’ll try to care for them. And you will not look your age, but you will

 

     feel sad when you look in the mirror because we all want to live

     a little longer, because the small dog has died and the cashier

 

has lost his job for stealing saltwater taffy from the bin, but he still calls you darling,

calls everyone darling, and today, darling, darling, darling, the flashlight works.

Orchids are Sprouting From the Floorboards

Orchids are sprouting from the floorboards.

Orchids are gushing out from the faucets.

The cat mews orchids from his mouth.

His whiskers are also orchids.

The grass is sprouting orchids.

It is becoming mostly orchids.

The trees are filled with orchids.

The tire swing is twirling with orchids.

The sunlight on the wet cement is a white orchid.

The car tires leave a trail of orchids.

A bouquet of orchids lifts from its tailpipe.

Teenagers are texting each other pictures

of orchids on their phones, which are also orchids.

Old men in orchid pennyloafers

furiously trade orchids.

Mothers fill bottles with warm orchids

to feed their infants, who are orchids themselves.

Their coos are a kind of orchid.

The clouds are all orchids.

They are raining orchids.

The walls are all orchids,

the teapot is an orchid,

the blank easel is an orchid

and this cold is an orchid. Oh,

Lydia, we miss you terribly.

Prayer

translated by Francisco Aragón

 

I want a god

as my accomplice

who spends nights

in houses

of ill repute

and gets up late

on Saturdays

 

a god

who whistles

through the streets

and trembles

before the lips

of his lover

 

a god

who waits in line

at the entrance

of movie houses

and likes to drink

café au lait

 

a god

who spits

blood from

tuberculosis and

doesn’t even have

enough for bus fare

 

a god

knocked

unconscious

by the billy club

of a policeman

at a demonstration

 

a god

who pisses

out of fear

before the flaring

electrodes

of torture

 

a god

who hurts

to the last

bone and

bites the air

in pain

 

a jobless god

a striking god

a hungry god

a fugitive god

an exiled god

an enraged god

 

a god

who longs

from jail

for a change

in the order

of things

 

I want a

more godlike

god

Upon a Day, Came Sorrow in to Me

Translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

Upon a day, came Sorrow in to me,

         Saying, ‘I’ve come to stay with thee a while’;

         And I perceived that she had ushered Bile

And Pain into my house for company.

Wherefore I said, ‘Go forth – away with thee!’

         But like a Greek she answered, full of guile,

         And went on arguing in an easy style.

Then, looking, I saw Love come silently,

Habited in black raiment, smooth and new,

         Having a black hat set upon his hair;

And certainly the tears he shed were true.

         So that I asked, ‘What ails thee, trifler?’

Answering, he said: ‘A grief to be gone through;

         For our own lady’s dying, brother dear.’

Teaching My Mother English over the Phone

I try to explain the difference           between pant & pants

why the former isn’t simply            one pair

 

but what the lungs do           with fear or excitement

why clothe isn’t           a singular noun

 

but what most do to the body           each morning

she calls on a Wednesday           needs help

 

with an assignment           for her third English

beginners course where she meets           twice a week

 

her classmates from countries           with names beautiful as hers

I try to make the language           clear to my mother

 

as she one day           —before my English took hold—

explained to me that           I did not in fact make friends

 

                    with a girl named Sorry:

 

          but we were on the playground and she hit me, fue accidenté,

          y me dijo “I’m sorry” & when someone says I am, yo soy—

 

that’s not how this works I remind her

 

when she asks           if the plural of dust is dusts

she asks me to conjugate           love

 

I love you           love he loves          she loved

we loved you           have loved           I am loving

 

she wants to know how           a word can be both

a thing and an action           like war & mistake

 

although I can’t           put into words in Spanish

how I know the difference           so I tell her I have to go

 

and I go & she goes           & I haven’t taught her

anything           & for that I am sorry           to no one but myself

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.

The Mothering Blackness

She came home running

    back to the mothering blackness   

    deep in the smothering blackness

white tears icicle gold plains of her face   

    She came home running

 

She came down creeping

    here to the black arms waiting

    now to the warm heart waiting

rime of alien dreams befrosts her rich brown face   

    She came down creeping

 

She came home blameless

    black yet as Hagar’s daughter

    tall as was Sheba’s daughter

threats of northern winds die on the desert’s face   

    She came home blameless

gathering words

                            para mami

One day I will write you a letter

after I have gathered enough words

I have heard

pop! pop! pop!

like little soap bubbles escaping

the animated mouths

of the women who share

pieces of gossip like bombones

in la lavandería every Sunday

 

One day I will write you a letter

after I have gathered enough words

that blossom without thorns

in painted mouths, in someone else’s countries…

In my corner, I listen to how voices ring

without the sting of bofetadas

and how they undulate above

gushing water and swirling clothes

in machines that vibrate in la lavandería

 

One day, I will write you a letter

after I have gathered enough words

and enough courage

to let them ring in my mute dreams

until they sing to me: Write us. Así.

In your childhood tongue. Recóbranos. Recover us.

At that time, I will be able to return without fear

to la lavandería with my bags of clothes

and enough words and surrender myself to the bubbles.

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

 

He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

 

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

The Average

His peasant parents killed themselves with toil

To let their darling leave a stingy soil

For any of those smart professions which

Encourage shallow breathing, and grow rich.

 

The pressure of their fond ambition made

Their shy and country-loving child afraid

No sensible career was good enough,

Only a hero could deserve such love.

 

So here he was without maps or supplies,

A hundred miles from any decent town;

The desert glared into his blood-shot eyes;

 

The silence roared displeasure: looking down,

He saw the shadow of an Average Man

Attempting the Exceptional, and ran.

Everything will hurt for a while

And the lie is that I survived because parts of me didn’t.

So take all the sorrow you can carry,

like my mother’s cabinets of Slim Fast

and Little Debbies and the weight

we would never lose, how we stood

in front of mirrors and men

hoping one would change our minds

and neither did. Look, here, in her letters

and their cursive of longing: Baby, survive this.

 

Listen, I was only sixteen and drunk

on wine coolers and teenage invincibility,

limp over a stranger’s bathtub, I was lifted

lifted into a bedroom and birdsong

erupted in the delirious morning light.

Her letters sigh, You’ve lost too much weight.

Your dad is starting to worry. Her letters remind

me it could’ve been worse. When I told her what

happened she asked, Was he cute? 

 

None of us got what we deserved.

Holiday Wish

No snow. A little fog. The afternoon

is a few short hours and evening falls.

But look how the sun hangs down

its old rope good for one more pull.

Look at the latticework of leaves

in the stricken ash, golden in the gray,

like coins in a purse or notes from some old hymn. 

I hope my friends are warm this day.

I hope the ones I love, will always love—

the one gone far away, the two sweet

souls holding hands near the end,

humming through a feverish night,

the ones whose needs I cannot guess

or have no needs this lucky day 

on earth—I hope for them, for all of us,

a little peace, a touch of hope, another day

come round with easy light. So quiet now. 

So still. A flake of snow, then two.

I hope you hear a bell from far away 

begin to peal. This bell I pull for you.

Epistemology

Mostly I’d like to feel a little less, know a little more.

 

Knots are on the top of my list of what I want to know.

 

Who was it who taught me to burn the end of the cord 

 

to keep it from fraying?

 

Not the man who called my life a debacle, 

 

a word whose sound I love.

 

In a debacle things are unleashed.

 

Roots of words are like knots I think when I read the dictionary.

 

I read other books, sure. Recently I learned how trees communicate, 

 

the way they send sugar through their roots to the trees that are ailing. 

 

They don’t use words, but they can be said to love. 

 

They might lean in one direction to leave a little extra light for another tree.

 

And I admire the way they grow right through fences, nothing

 

stops them, it’s called inosculation: to unite by openings, to connect 

 

or join so as to become or make continuous, from osculare

 

to provide with a mouth, from osculum, little mouth.

 

Sometimes when I’m alone I go outside with my big little mouth

 

and speak to the trees as if I were a birch among birches. 

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

 

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

 

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

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

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

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

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

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

 

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

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

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

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

Future Legend

And in the death,

As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy

Thoroughfare,

The shutters lifted in inches in Temperance Building,

High on Poacher's Hill.

And red, mutant, eyes gaze down on Hunger City.

No more big wheels.

 

Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats,

And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes,

Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers,

Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue.

Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now leg-warmers.

Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald.

Any day now,

The year of the Diamond Dogs.

 

"This ain't Rock'n'Roll,

This is Genocide."

a song in the front yard

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.

I want a peek at the back

Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.   

A girl gets sick of a rose.

 

I want to go in the back yard now   

And maybe down the alley,

To where the charity children play.   

I want a good time today.

 

They do some wonderful things.

They have some wonderful fun.

My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine

How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.   

My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae   

Will grow up to be a bad woman.

That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late

(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

 

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.

And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,

And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace   

And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

We Real Cool

      The Pool Players.

        Seven at the Golden Shovel.

 

            We real cool. We   

            Left school. We

 

            Lurk late. We

            Strike straight. We

 

            Sing sin. We   

            Thin gin. We

 

            Jazz June. We   

            Die soon.

The Microscopes

Heavy and expensive, hard and black

With bits of chrome, they looked

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

Hated them for that, for what our teacher said

They could do, and then I hated them

For what they did when we gave up

Stealing looks at one another's bodies

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

Our actual selves taken down to a cell

Then blown back up again, every atomic thing

About a piece of my coiled hair on one slide

Just as unimportant as anyone else's

Growing in that science

Class where I learned what little difference

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

A puny one not much worth mentioning,

Narrow as the pencil tucked behind my ear, lost

When I reached for it

To stab someone I secretly loved: a bigger boy

Who'd advance

Through those tight, locker-lined corridors shoving

Without saying

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

Not at all. Nothing necessary to study

Or recall. No fighting in the hall

On the way to an American history exam

I almost passed. Redcoats.

Red blood cells. Red-bricked

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

The exact date or

Grade, but I know when I began ignoring slight alarms

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

of camouflage. I never let on when scared

of conflicts so old they seem to amount

To nothing really-dust particles left behind

Like the viral geography of an occupied territory,

A region I imagine you imagine when you see

A white woman walking with a speck like me.

She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night 

Of cloudless climes and starry skies; 

And all that’s best of dark and bright 

Meet in her aspect and her eyes; 

Thus mellowed to that tender light 

Which heaven to gaudy day denies. 

 

One shade the more, one ray the less, 

Had half impaired the nameless grace 

Which waves in every raven tress, 

Or softly lightens o’er her face; 

Where thoughts serenely sweet express, 

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place. 

 

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow, 

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent, 

The smiles that win, the tints that glow, 

But tell of days in goodness spent, 

A mind at peace with all below, 

A heart whose love is innocent!

Hammond B3 Organ Cistern

The days I don’t want to kill myself

are extraordinary. Deep bass. All the people

in the streets waiting for their high fives

and leaping, I mean leaping,

when they see me. I am the sun-filled

god of love. Or at least an optimistic

under-secretary. There should be a word for it.

The days you wake up and do not want

to slit your throat. Money in the bank.

Enough for an iced green tea every weekday

and Saturday and Sunday! It’s like being

in the armpit of a Hammond B3 organ.

Just reeks of gratitude and funk.

The funk of ages. I am not going to ruin

my love’s life today. It’s like the time I said yes

to gray sneakers but then the salesman said

Wait. And there, out of the back room,

like the bakery’s first biscuits: bright-blue kicks.

Iridescent. Like a scarab! Oh, who am I kidding,

it was nothing like a scarab! It was like

bright. blue. fucking. sneakers! I did not

want to die that day. Oh, my God.

Why don’t we talk about it? How good it feels.

And if you don’t know then you’re lucky

but also you poor thing. Bring the band out on the stoop.

Let the whole neighborhood hear. Come on, Everybody.

Say it with me nice and slow

   no pills  no cliff  no brains onthe floor

Bring the bass back.    no rope  no hose  not today, Satan.

Every day I wake up with my good fortune

and news of my demise. Don’t keep it from me.

Why don’t we have a name for it?

Bring the bass back. Bring the band out on the stoop.

Hallelujah!

My partner wants me to write them a poem about Sheryl Crow

but all I want to do is marry them on a beach

 

that refuses to take itself too seriously.

 

So much of our lives has been serious.

 

Over time, I’ve learned that love is most astonishing

 

when it persists after learning where we come from.

 

When I bring my partner to my childhood home

 

it is all bullets and needles and trash bags held

 

at arm’s length. It is my estranged father’s damp

 

bed of cardboard and cigar boxes filled

 

with gauze and tarnished spoons. It is hard

 

to clean a home, but it is harder to clean

 

the memory of it. When I was young, my

 

father would light lavender candles and shoot

 

up. Now, my partner and I light a fire that will

 

burn all traces of the family that lived here.

 

Black plastic smoke curdles up, and loose bullets

 

discharge in the flames. My partner holds

 

my hand as gunfire rings through

 

the birch trees. Though this is almost

 

beautiful, it is not. And if I’m being honest,

 

my partner and I spend most of our time

 

on earth feeding one another citrus fruits

 

and enough strength to go on. Every morning

 

I pack them half a grapefruit and some sugar.

 

And they tell me it’s just sweet enough.

Painted

Translated by Daniel Mendelsohn

 

To my craft I’m attentive, and I love it.

But today I’m discouraged by the slow pace of the work.

My mood depends upon the day. It looks

increasingly dark. Constantly windy and raining.

What I long for is to see, and not to speak.

In this painting, now, I’m gazing at

a lovely boy who’s lain down near a spring;

it could be that he’s worn himself out from running.

What a lovely boy; what a divine afternoon

has caught him and put him to sleep.–

Like this, for some time, I sit and gaze

And once again, in art, I recover from creating it.

My Mother upon Hearing News of Her Mother’s Death

She opened her mouth and a moose came out, a donkey, and an ox—out of her mouth, years of animal grief. I lead her to the bed. She held my hand and followed. She said, Chết rồi, and like that, the cord was cut, the thread snapped, and the cable that tied my mother to her mother broke. And now her eyes red as a market fish. And now, she dropped like laundry on the bed.

 

The furniture moved toward her, the kitchen knives and spoons, the vibrating spoons—they dragged the tablecloth, the corner tilting in, her mouth a sinkhole. She wanted all of it: the house and the car too, and the flowers she planted, narcissus and hoa mai, which cracked open each spring—the sky, she brought it low until the air was hot and wet and broke into a rain—

 

the torrents like iron ropes you could climb up, only I couldn’t. I was drowning in it. I was swirled in. I leapt into her mouth, her throat, her gut, and stayed inside with the remnants of my former life. I ate the food she ate and drank the milk she drank. I grew until I crowded the furnishings. I edged out her organs, her swollen heart. I grew up and out so large that I became a woman, wearing my mother’s skin.

Frame

There is a door to the right of the woman and a door behind her. Here: a woman made of doors, who stands on the borders between rooms and is still a woman. When children smile into picture books, they are looking through a series of windows that ends in a pastel wall.The woman named her first daughter after the space between the walls the day she learned to fit. She named her daughter January. She named her second daughter after the distance between an eye and a picture book lying open on the other side of a glass door. She named her second daughter Never. This isn’t true. The woman named her daughters after grandmothers long dust, as a means of hoping they would become hallways between rooms, or at least the hollow knock that hints of secrets in the walls. The daughters named their mother after the light smiling through the bottom crack of a door.The woman named herself after the way a girl, sitting in a door frame, looks pretty enough to hang in a museum.

homage to my hips

these hips are big hips

they need space to

move around in.

they don't fit into little

petty places. these hips

are free hips.

they don't like to be held back.

these hips have never been enslaved,   

they go where they want to go

they do what they want to do.

these hips are mighty hips.

these hips are magic hips.

i have known them

to put a spell on a man and

spin him like a top!

wishes for sons

i wish them cramps.

i wish them a strange town

and the last tampon.

i wish them no 7-11.

 

i wish them one week early

and wearing a white skirt.

i wish them one week late.

 

later i wish them hot flashes

and clots like you

wouldn't believe. let the

flashes come when they

meet someone special.

let the clots come

when they want to.

 

let them think they have accepted

arrogance in the universe,

then bring them to gynecologists

not unlike themselves.

Oil & Steel

My father lived in a dirty dish mausoleum,

watching a portable black-and-white television,

reading the Encyclopedia Britannica,

which he preferred to Modern Fiction.

One by one, his schnauzers died of liver disease,

except the one that guarded his corpse

found holding a tumbler of Bushmills.

"Dead is dead," he would say, an anti-preacher.

I took a plaid shirt from the bedroom closet

and some motor oil—my inheritance.

Once, I saw him weep in a courtroom—

neglected, needing nursing—this man who never showed

me much affection but gave me a knack

for solitude, which has been mostly useful.

Wanda Why Aren't You Dead

wanda when are you gonna wear your hair down

wanda. that's a whore's name

wanda why ain't you rich

wanda you know no man in his right mind want a

          ready-made family

why don't you lose weight

wanda why are you so angry

how come your feet are so goddamn big

can't you afford to move out of this hell hole

if i were you were you were you

wanda what is it like being black

i hear you don't like black men

tell me you're ac/dc. tell me you're a nympho. tell me you're

          into chains

wanda i don't think you really mean that

you're joking. girl, you crazy

wanda what makes you so angry

wanda i think you need this

wanda you have no humor in you you too serious

wanda i didn't know i was hurting you

that was an accident

wanda i know what you're thinking

wanda i don't think they'll take that off of you

 

wanda why are you so angry

 

i'm sorry i didn't remember that that that

that that that was so important to you

 

wanda you're ALWAYS on the attack

 

wanda wanda wanda i wonder

 

why ain't you dead

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.

‘Lights Out!’

I wonder often about what goes through the mind of the first-time offender, when the lights go out. The thoughts of more than one sunset, or sunrise, witnessed on the wrong side of cinderblocks and bars? What happens in the thoughts, in the wrestling with sheets and eyelids to not be the first to sleep? What is the reaction to the sounds and scratches in the sheets, in the air, in the wind, the noise nobody can stop when everything is metal and stone? At what point does one mouth the words, or give birth to the wish of wanting to go home? What is the “fresh fish” experience like? Although I cannot say I’ve been there, I’ve witnessed the gloss of fear and unpredictability. The killing of that not-so-curious cat, the deer in the headlights, the wanderer on the pod, the one stuck in a corner. I’ve seen them all, taught them. I feel for those, no matter the offense, who have to realize their situation with time served cold.

the great advantage of being alive

the great advantage of being alive

(instead of undying)is not so much

that mind no more can disprove than prove

what heart may feel and soul may touch

— the great (my darling)happens to be

that love are in we, that love are in we

 

and here is a secret they never will share for whom create is less than have

or one times one than when times where —

that we are in love,that we are in love:

with us they’ve nothing times nothing to do

(for love are in we am in i are in you)

 

this world(as timorous itsters all

to call their cowardice quite agree)

shall never discover our touch and feel

–for love are in we are in love are in we;

for you are and i am and we are(above

and under all possible worlds)in love

 

a billion brains may coax undeath

from fancied fact and spaceful time–

no heart can leap,no soul can breathe

but by the sizeless truth of a dream

whose sleep is the sky and the earth and the sea.

For love are in you am in i are in we

The Recital

​               with lyrics from “One, Two Step” by Ciara and Missy Elliot

 

Baby Phat coat a feather-stuffed

fist around my shoulders, I shuffle

onto the playground ready to

fight. I’ve clawed months of mornings

out of my mother’s calendar to reach

today: my official tryout for the Cool

Black Girls of 4th grade.

Legend has it their gossip turns

to gloss on they lips. Legend has it they can

suspend you with a look. The glitter-clique

has a simple audition: memorize Missy and Ciara’s slick

anthem for us and spit it like I got beef

with the devil himself. My first

lesson in what ferocity means to girls

with our sunset skin. I wouldn’t call it courage,

what nudges my hand-me-down Nikes

anxious across the blacktop. Instead, I name it

what we name the wolf’s instinct to bind to its pack.

This beat is automatic.

Who can call us prey

when we fang like this?

Side-eyes so box-cutter sharp

no white boy has talked to Saniyah in months.

Supersonic, hypnotic Everybody at recess know

she lying about having a knife. But there are some truths

you don’t let off the leash. Like how our mothers send us

to school without popping the bubblegum

dream that any of this will protect us.

That there isn’t a world of things that want us

dead that we can’t even pronounce yet. But I’m here,

in the midst of this black girl blood recital,

hoping to make the cut for safety. Deja don’t

think I got what it takes. Asks why I don’t have

the mandatory crush on Usher. And all I can think

of is the way her eyes catch the light. Here I was

thinking this club, this little swingset secret, was for black girls

that love black girls for life. That wanted to hold

a hand just as soft as theirs and know every good

shade of forever. I tell Deja I would follow her lip gloss

anywhere if she’d let me. But there are certain truths

you don’t let off the leash. Deja suck her teeth.

Tells me her mom said princesses don't

marry each other and I become the swingset beneath her.

Hold her every afternoon until she decides

she’s outgrown that kind of freedom.

It don't take long for my chances

of friendship to rust in the rain between us.

When I tell this story, I always say

I pushed her off the swings.

Once All the Hounds Had Been Called Home

When the grapevine had thinned

but not broken & the worst was yet to come

of winter snow, I tracked my treed heart

to the high boughs of a quaking

aspen & shot it down.

                                           If love comes fast,

let her be a bullet & not a barking dog;

let my heart say, as that trigger’s pulled,

Are all wonders small? Otherwise, let love

be a woman of gunpowder

                                                   & lead; let her

arrive a brass angel, a dark powdered comet

whose mercy is dense as the fishing sinker

that pulleys the moon, even when it is heavy

with milk. I shot my heart

                                                 & turned myself in

to wild kindness, left the road to my coffin

that seemed also to include my carrying it & walked

back along the trampled brush I remembered

only as a blur of hot breath & a howling in my chest.

Why I Hate Raisins

And is it only the mouth and belly which are

injured by hunger and thirst?

-Mencius

 

Love is a pound of sticky raisins

packed tight in black and white

government boxes the day we had no

groceries. I told my mom I was hungry.

She gave me the whole bright box.

USDA stamped like a fist on the side.

I ate them all in ten minutes. Ate

too many too fast. It wasn’t long

before those old grapes set like black

clay at the bottom of my belly

making it ache and swell.

 

I complained, I hate raisins.

I just wanted a sandwich like other kids.

Well that’s all we’ve got, my mom sighed.

And what other kids?

Everyone but me, I told her.

She said, You mean the white kids.

You want to be a white kid?

Well too bad ’cause you’re my kid.

I cried, At least the white kids get a sandwich.

At least the white kids don’t get the shits.

 

That’s when she slapped me. Left me

holding my mouth and stomach—

devoured by shame.

I still hate raisins,

but not for the crooked commodity lines

we stood in to get them—winding

around and in the tribal gymnasium.

Not for the awkward cardboard boxes

we carried them home in. Not for the shits

or how they distended my belly.

I hate raisins because now I know

my mom was hungry that day, too,

and I ate all the raisins.

‘Faith’ is a fine invention

“Faith” is a fine invention

For Gentlemen who see!

But Microscopes are prudent

In an Emergency!

This World is not Conclusion

This World is not Conclusion.

A Species stands beyond - 

Invisible, as Music -

But positive, as Sound -

It beckons, and it baffles - 

Philosophy, dont know - 

And through a Riddle, at the last - 

Sagacity, must go -

To guess it, puzzles scholars -

To gain it, Men have borne

Contempt of Generations

And Crucifixion, shown -

Faith slips - and laughs, and rallies - 

Blushes, if any see - 

Plucks at a twig of Evidence - 

And asks a Vane, the way - 

Much Gesture, from the Pulpit -

Strong Hallelujahs roll - 

Narcotics cannot still the Tooth

That nibbles at the soul -

Excerpt From “Season of Beginning and End"

Shall we begin at zero point?

What harm in that?

The season of creation begins in the

season of nothingness:

        the arduous climb

        is the beginning of the end.

yasmeen

i was born i was planted

 

          the rupture the root where land became ocean became land anew

 

      i split from my parallel self  i split from its shape refusing root in my fallow mouth

 

       the girl i also could have been cleaving my life neatly

 

       & her name / easy / i know the story & my name / taken from a dead woman

 

  all her life / my mother wanted to remember / to fill an aperture with 

 

a girl named for a flower cut jasmine in a bowl

 

        whose oil scents all our longing

 

      our mothers / our mothers’

 

        petals wrung wilting

 

for their perfume garlands hanging from our necks

Advice to Myself

Leave the dishes.

Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator

and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.

Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.

Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.

Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.

Don’t even sew on a button.

Let the wind have its way, then the earth

that invades as dust and then the dead

foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.

Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.

Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles

or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry

who uses whose toothbrush or if anything

matches, at all.

Except one word to another. Or a thought.

Pursue the authentic–decide first

what is authentic,

then go after it with all your heart.

Your heart, that place

you don’t even think of cleaning out.

That closet stuffed with savage mementos.

Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth

or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner

again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,

or weep over anything at all that breaks.

Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons

in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life

and talk to the dead

who drift in through the screened windows, who collect

patiently on the tops of food jars and books.

Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything

except what destroys

the insulation between yourself and your experience

or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters

this ruse you call necessity.

Personal Statement

I don’t believe I was born, maybe emerged

from a soupy formation of gays 

 

and other beautiful things instead. I’ve gone

on and on telling you all about how I 

 

created myself, took a photograph of what

I was given, tore it up, set it on fire, inhaled 

 

its smoke and grew twenty times my size.

All of this has been said. Today I want to make 

 

this space my own and project my light through

every surface. I think by now I’ve earned this—

 

what with the breathing exercises just to leave

the house, and the hyper-awareness of every blade 

 

of grass’s movement, and the drinking, and the

getting high each night to stave off the nightmares. 

 

You know, just girly things. So here’s what you need

to know—any time I’m doing something I’m doing 

 

something I’m afraid of. This makes each experience

seem new and old at the same time. I’m always like 

 

I don’t give a fuck when in reality I am literally

going to die from how much of a fuck I give. Also

 

I’m a witch and I get all my powers from the wind. 

Wow. Aren’t I special? Don’t you want to love me 

 

with all of your heart for the next ten seconds? 

Don’t you want to rescue me

               

           from all the things that make you feel safe?

Excerpt From “I Am Waiting”

I am waiting for my case to come up   

and I am waiting

for a rebirth of wonder

and I am waiting for someone

to really discover America

and wail

and I am waiting   

for the discovery

of a new symbolic western frontier   

and I am waiting   

for the American Eagle

to really spread its wings

and straighten up and fly right

and I am waiting

for the Age of Anxiety

to drop dead

and I am waiting

for the war to be fought

which will make the world safe

for anarchy

and I am waiting

for the final withering away

of all governments

and I am perpetually awaiting

a rebirth of wonder

 

I am waiting for the Second Coming   

and I am waiting

for a religious revival

to sweep thru the state of Arizona   

and I am waiting

for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored   

and I am waiting

for them to prove

that God is really American

and I am waiting

to see God on television

piped onto church altars

if only they can find   

the right channel   

to tune in on

and I am waiting

for the Last Supper to be served again

with a strange new appetizer

and I am perpetually awaiting

a rebirth of wonder

 

I am waiting for my number to be called

and I am waiting

for the Salvation Army to take over

and I am waiting

for the meek to be blessed

and inherit the earth   

without taxes

and I am waiting

for forests and animals

to reclaim the earth as theirs

and I am waiting

for a way to be devised

to destroy all nationalisms

without killing anybody

and I am waiting

for linnets and planets to fall like rain

and I am waiting for lovers and weepers

to lie down together again

in a new rebirth of wonder

 

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed   

and I am anxiously waiting

for the secret of eternal life to be discovered   

by an obscure general practitioner

and I am waiting

for the storms of life

to be over

and I am waiting

to set sail for happiness

and I am waiting

for a reconstructed Mayflower

to reach America

with its picture story and tv rights

sold in advance to the natives

and I am waiting

for the lost music to sound again

in the Lost Continent

in a new rebirth of wonder

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,

On a white heal-all, holding up a moth

Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--

Assorted characters of death and blight

Mixed ready to begin the morning right,

Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--

A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,

And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,

The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?

What brought the kindred spider to that height,

Then steered the white moth thither in the night?

What but design of darkness to appall?--

If design govern in a thing so small.

Spanish Midterm

We gather in a park, four of us each

with forties in hand, among the spray-

painted tree trunks, our voices strained

against the nearby 710 freeway. Jacob

and Romeo, home from deployment,

recount stories of near death in the darkness

of another world I can only imagine. Jorge,

a father in high school, tells us how last

night, over the phone, his girlfriend told

him he would be a father again and wanted

then, to say to her that she had dialed

the wrong number or hang up, because

he says, he may be too much a coward

to be twice a father at only twenty-one.

I have nothing to offer. Instead, I talk

of days in high school when we ditched

fifth period English and drove to Pedro

with pounds of carne asada and twelve

packs of Coronas, days when we knew

little except the city in which we lived.

As we drink, drink more, drink again,

I watch a dark hush begin to fill the 710,

fill the trees, watch it crawl over countless

cigarette butts, the tossed bottle of Cuervo,

the failed Spanish midterm resting beside

my foot, an exam some student dropped

on purpose, I suppose, because of the red

“F” on top, written with a carelessness

I can remember clearly because I too

have failed. Today, here with old friends

whose faces I barely recognize in the dim

light of dusk, I am filled with a darkness,

a desire, really, I suppose fills all four of us:

to carelessly, effortlessly, as if it were that

easy to abandon all our failures on the floor.

Stampede

You don’t know this horse.

What you love most doesn’t

Have a name and runs wild.

Ridden with guilt, you slept

in a field, naked and hungry, 

committed to memory the cold

how it sunk its teeth into your

body one mouthful at a time. 

That night all the small animals 

you’d buried came alive. You 

told yourself, don’t be afraid.

I am no longer that man. Laid

your head on the dirt and watched

the grass trill, heard the beating

In your chest for the first time:

the beasts starting to stampede.

The Sleeping Pig

It is easy to love a pig in a nightgown.

See how he sleeps, white flannel

straining his neck at the neckhole.

His body swells and then deflates.

The gown is nothing to be ashamed of, only

the white clay of moonlight smeared

over his hulk, original clothing, the milk

of his loneliness. The flickering candle

of a dream moves his warty eyelids.

All sleeping things are children

In Dispraise Of Poetry

When the King of Siam disliked a courtier,

he gave him a beautiful white elephant.

The miracle beast deserved such ritual

that to care for him properly meant ruin.

Yet to care for him improperly was worse.

It appears the gift could not be refused.

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.

A Supermarket in California

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.

         In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!

         What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

 

         I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.

         I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?

         I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.

         We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

 

         Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?

         (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)

         Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely.

         Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?

         Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Kidnap Poem

ever been kidnapped

by a poet

if i were a poet

i'd kidnap you

 

put you in my phrases and meter

you to jones beach

or maybe coney island

or maybe just to my house

 

lyric you in lilacs

dash you in the rain

blend into the beach

to complement my see

 

play the lyre for you

ode you with my love song

anything to win you

wrap you in the red Black green

show you off to mama

 

yeah if i were

a poet i'd kid

nap you

Let Birds

Eight deer on the slope

in the summer morning mist.

The night sky blue.

Me like a mare let out to pasture.

The Tao does not console me. 

I was given the Way 

in the milk of childhood. 

Breathing it waking and sleeping.

But now there is no amazing smell

of sperm on my thighs,

no spreading it on my stomach

to show pleasure. 

I will never give up longing. 

I will let my hair stay long. 

The rain proclaims these trees,

the trees tell of the sun.

Let birds, let birds.

Let leaf be passion.

Let jaw, let teeth, let tongue be

between us. Let joy.

Let entering. Let rage and calm join.

Let quail come.

Let winter impress you. Let spring. 

Allow the ocean to wake in you.

Let the mare in the field

in the summer morning mist

make you whinny. Make you come 

to the fence and whinny. Let birds.

Excerpt from "She Had Some Horses"

I. She Had Some Horses

 

She had some horses.

She had horses who were bodies of sand.

She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.

She had horses who were skins of ocean water.

She had horses who were the blue air of sky.

She had horses who were fur and teeth.

She had horses who were clay and would break.

She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

 

She had some horses.

 

She had horses with eyes of trains.

She had horses with full, brown thighs.

She had horses who laughed too much.

She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.

She had horses who licked razor blades.

 

She had some horses.

 

She had horses who danced in their mothers' arms.

She had horses who thought they were the sun and their

bodies shone and burned like stars.

She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.

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

in stalls of their own making.

 

She had some horses.

 

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

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

carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.

She had horses who waited for destruction.

She had horses who waited for resurrection.

 

She had some horses.

 

She had some horses she loved.

She had some horses she hated.

 

These were the same horses.

2pac Couplets

one line for each year he lived

 

ninety six minutes after tyson wins and you’re gone

las vegas quickly strips you of your last song

 

every black man in nevada pilgrims to trudge you

walk last rites, as only god can judge you

 

nomad, you baltimore, you new york, you l.a.

captured only by wind, a consummate stray

 

west coast makes you ours. claims you loudest

you gave game for free, we recoup it proudest

 

don’t want no producers dancing in our videos

named our first borns after brenda’s embryo

 

your dear mama, eschews her crackfiend fame

afeni becomes household, recognized name

 

the people used to clown when you came around

with the underground mimic and savior your sound

 

mark your ink, the lives of thugs on their stomachs

their bottoms, their rolling twenties, their hunneds

 

your words so sacrament so memorized so litmus

test and testament so wretched so generous

 

never knew malcolm as machiavellian text, hence

you vexed and cursing: our black and shining prince

 

our sweetest thing, our prism and its light

lynched by bullet, won’t survive the knight

 

now your blood spills and the people crowd around

just one question:

 

r u

still

Down

Suicide's Note

The calm, 

Cool face of the river

Asked me for a kiss. 

Excerpt from "Bigger Than Life"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope your opportunity survives the opportunist 

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

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

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

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

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

Actin' like they not the reason we ruthless

Ode to my Uni-brow

Perhaps it is not pronounced enough to easily notice,

at least from a distance, but praise be to the hairs

populating the Bering Straight, or more accurately

 

crossing the Mediterranean — bridge like cedar planks

with black nails, bridge like the boat

my jido came here in, bridge to Dearborn,

 

Michigan. The hairs stand up like spines, like each

is a monument over the bridge

of my nose. Since high school I used to keep the middle

 

trimmed, used clippers to separate such striving

for togetherness, in the name of neatness, I told myself,

though how so many of us have tried to pass, and true —

 

that is a form of survival but this now also

a form of thriving, of what refuses to be cut down

any longer, so praise be to the hairiness my Lebanese

 

family shares, praise be to owning what may keep

the TSA’s eyes on us, though god-willing not their hands

(and fuck the TSA, while we’re at it), and praise be

 

to pride and to the Muslim man at the gas station

who asks if I am Muslim, too, and though I am not, praise

to being seen as a brother (and to the beard

 

and back and knuckle hair, while we’re at it) —

an oak with so many of its leaves

refusing to enter another shaven autumn,

 

a cedar holding tight to all its needles.

We Lived Happily During the War

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

 

protested

but not enough, we opposed them but not

 

enough. I was

in my bed, around my bed America

 

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

 

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

 

In the sixth month

of a disastrous reign in the house of money

 

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,

our great country of money, we (forgive us)

 

lived happily during the war.

When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be

When I have fears that I may cease to be 

   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain, 

Before high-pilèd books, in charactery, 

   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain; 

When I behold, upon the night’s starred face, 

   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, 

And think that I may never live to trace 

   Their shadows with the magic hand of chance; 

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, 

   That I shall never look upon thee more, 

Never have relish in the faery power 

   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore 

Of the wide world I stand alone, and think 

Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

In Vain

The stars in the sky

In vain

The tragedy of Hamlet

   In vain

The key in the lock

      In vain

The sleeping mother

      In vain

The lamp in the corner

         In vain

The lamp in the corner unlit

            In vain

Abraham Lincoln

                        In vain

The Aztec empire

                           In vain

The writing hand: in vain

(The shoetrees in the shoes

         In vain

The windowshade string upon

            the hand bible

   In vain—

   The glitter of the greenglass

         ashtray

In vain

The bear in the woods

         In vain

The Life of Buddha

         In vain)

Monologue for an Onion

I don’t mean to make you cry.

I mean nothing, but this has not kept you

From peeling away my body, layer by layer,

 

The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills

With husks, cut flesh, all the debris of pursuit.

Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.

 

Hunt all you want. Beneath each skin of mine

Lies another skin: I am pure onion–pure union

Of outside and in, surface and secret core.

 

Look at you, chopping and weeping. Idiot.

Is this the way you go through life, your mind

A stopless knife, driven by your fantasy of truth,

 

Of lasting union--slashing away skin after skin

From things, ruin and tears your only signs

Of progress? Enough is enough.

 

You must not grieve that the world is glimpsed

Through veils. How else can it be seen?

How will you rip away the veil of the eye, the veil

 

That you are, you who want to grasp the heart

Of things, hungry to know where meaning

Lies. Taste what you hold in your hands: onion-juice,

 

Yellow peels, my stinging shreds. You are the one

In pieces. Whatever you meant to love, in meaning to

You changed yourself: you are not who you are,

 

Your soul cut moment to moment by a blade

Of fresh desire, the ground sown with abandoned skins.

And at your inmost circle, what? A core that is

 

Not one. Poor fool, you are divided at the heart,

Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,

A heart that will one day beat you to death.

Trust the Hours (Wait)

Wait, for now.

Distrust everything if you have to.

But trust the hours. Haven’t they

carried you everywhere, up to now?

Personal events will become interesting again.

Hair will become interesting.

Pain will become interesting.

Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.

Second-hand gloves will become lovely again;

their memories are what give them

the need for other hands. The desolation

of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness

carved out of such tiny beings as we are

asks to be filled; the need

for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

 

Wait.

Don’t go too early.

You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.

But no one is tired enough.

Only wait a while and listen:

music of hair,

music of pain,

music of looms weaving all our loves again.

Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,

most of all to hear your whole existence,

rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

Haiku (1)

Eastern guard tower

glints in sunset; convicts rest

like lizards on rocks.

Facing It

My black face fades,   

hiding inside the black granite.   

I said I wouldn't  

dammit: No tears.   

I'm stone. I'm flesh.   

My clouded reflection eyes me   

like a bird of prey, the profile of night   

slanted against morning. I turn   

this way—the stone lets me go.   

I turn that way—I'm inside   

the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

again, depending on the light   

to make a difference.   

I go down the 58,022 names,   

half-expecting to find   

my own in letters like smoke.   

I touch the name Andrew Johnson;   

I see the booby trap's white flash.   

Names shimmer on a woman's blouse   

but when she walks away   

the names stay on the wall.   

Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's   

wings cutting across my stare.   

The sky. A plane in the sky.   

A white vet's image floats   

closer to me, then his pale eyes   

look through mine. I'm a window.   

He's lost his right arm   

inside the stone. In the black mirror   

a woman’s trying to erase names:   

No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

Told You So

When my daughter spills her orange juice, I wipe it off the linoleum

 

with the old plaid boxers of the man I thought I’d marry.

Elastic ripped out, seams unraveling—I’ve had lives

already. At night they crawl across

 

my skin before I can turn on the light. 

We spend all these years wanting, and then one day—sudden

as a lamp set to a timer—we have.

 

There were the nights I drank just so I could feel a little

more of my own unhappiness. Now, with my feet pressed

into this rug, I’ll never be that drunk again.

 

Before I went to the clinic to get pregnant, I cried onto the shoulder

of an old flame, worried that whoever I loved next would never know

my body when it was beautiful.

 

How could I have been wrong about so many things?

The Start Of The Free And Natural

Dear friend you have a problem and it’s called yourself 

Dear self you have a problem and it’s called yourself 

Dear swamp demon you stole from me 

Dear sky you have a night 

The stars they go 

Dear sun you have a problem and it’s the light 

Dear night you have a problem 

I can’t see anyone except the red music box 

Dear love you see too much 

I went to the wooden lake 

I saw the wooden people 

I took one out 

It was a boy 

It was wood and did not breathe 

It had its wood hair grain 

In a static wave 

I breathed life into it 

Its eyelids finally swung open 

I told it it was once a tree 

I laid it down I picked it up 

Out its eyes came the clear liquid 

But not tears, just humor 

Just plastic utterances 

Out its mouth came the words 

But it wasn’t alive yet 

The stars in its absence, X-ed out 

The middle sun, it shone 

But only for me 

Out your sink the bitter flowers 

Oh, they have bloomed in the sewer

And the sewer flowers are jealous 

Of what of what 

How dare you ask 

Obviously 

The air 

The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm

my father recited a story in a low voice.

I watched his lovely face and not the blade.

Before the story ended, he’d removed

the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

 

I can’t remember the tale,

but hear his voice still, a well

of dark water, a prayer.

And I recall his hands,

two measures of tenderness

he laid against my face,

the flames of discipline

he raised above my head.

 

Had you entered that afternoon

you would have thought you saw a man

planting something in a boy’s palm,

a silver tear, a tiny flame.

Had you followed that boy

you would have arrived here,

where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

 

Look how I shave her thumbnail down

so carefully she feels no pain.

Watch as I lift the splinter out.

I was seven when my father

took my hand like this,

and I did not hold that shard

between my fingers and think,

Metal that will bury me,

christen it Little Assassin,

Ore Going Deep for My Heart.

And I did not lift up my wound and cry,

Death visited here!

I did what a child does

when he’s given something to keep.

I kissed my father.

Instructions on Not Giving Up

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out

of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s

almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving

their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate

sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees

that really gets to me. When all the shock of white

and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave

the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,

the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin

growing over whatever winter did to us, a return

to the strange idea of continuous living despite

the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,

I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf

unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Zapotec Crossers (or, Haiku I Write Post-PTSD Nightmares)

i

 

Waves smack the body,

Nayeli, seven, drowning.

Spring: crossing season.

 

 

 

ii

 

Summer indicates

the migration will be “safe.”

Yej Susen, three, sprints.

 

 

 

iii

 

Inda Jani, one,

knows to crawl under the fence — 

she was trained all fall.

 

 

 

iv

 

At four ai-em, Yao,

twelve, is sewn inside car seat;

winter will protect.

 

 

 

v

 

Itzel, five, plays dead.

Border patrol agents see

her body — they leave.

Excerpt From “Le Desert”

But evening comes, evening with its magic, and we

Let ourselves be charmed all over again….

It is the delicate and charming moment in the dying

Light that is no longer day, but not yet night

Citizenship

I am afraid

 

of what I mean    by loyalty.

 

A down ass bitch.

 

I’d ride to the grave for love

 

but what of where I made country

 

of the place I live my possible death plot?

 

I wring my birth certificate of

 

what will bury me in due time.

 

what will come to the door

 

asking of my allegiance?

 

In times of war I lack metaphor

War can be defined as

 

everyone fucking up my money,

 

institutions & individuals alike

 

If I love you

 

I have threatened someone in your name.

 

I’m from America, blame my blood for the coming blood.

 

Blame my murder & assault on someone’s tame renaming

 

& still am I even from here?

 

Would I make myself violent in the name of a nation?

 

Yes.

 

I would kill for my mother.

Philosophy of Life

Whoever thinks life a heavy burden

        Is himself life’s heavy burden.

Enjoy then the morning as long as it lasts,

        Fear not its loss before it is lost.

Oh you complain when nothing ails you

        Be beautiful and you will see the world

        To be beautiful

Occidentalism

A man celebrates erstwhile conquests,

his book locked in a silo, still in print.

 

I scribble, make Sharpie lines, deface

its text like it defaces me. Outside, grain

 

fields whisper. Marble lions are silent

yet silver-tongued, with excellent teeth.

 

In this life I have worshipped so many lies.

Then I workshop them, make them better.

 

An East India Company, an opium trade,

a war, a treaty, a concession, an occupation,

 

a man parting the veil covering a woman’s

face, his nails prying her lips open. I love

 

the fragility of a porcelain bowl. How easy

it is, to shatter chinoiserie, like the Han

 

dynasty urn Ai Weiwei dropped in 1995.

If only recovering the silenced history

 

is as simple as smashing its container: book,

bowl, celadon spoon. Such objects cross

 

borders the way our bodies never could.

Instead, we’re left with history, its blonde

 

dust. That bowl is unbreakable. All its ghosts

still shudder through us like small breaths.

 

The tome of hegemony lives on, circulates

in our libraries, in our bloodstreams. One day,

 

a girl like me may come across it on a shelf,

pick it up, read about all the ways her body

 

is a thing. And I won’t be there to protect

her, to cross the text out and say: go ahead—

rewrite this.

Scientifically Speaking

There have

been exciting

 

discoveries 

in the field

 

of me.

Many

 

of which,

I have

 

made

myself. 

Excerpt From “Keeper of the Light”

My job doesn’t start till the sun drops

 

to its knees and fires pink arrows into the bellies

of clouds. Only then, do I climb the two hundred stairs,

 

spiraling up through the guts of the tower,

that from a distance in daylight looks like a brick telescope

 

wedged into the ground. Only then, do I load the lamp

with whale oil, and trim the wick so it burns evenly

 

like a red beard across a pirate’s face. Only then, do I scrub

the layer of carbon off the reflectors and adjust

 

the Fresnel lens, which is like a lampshade made out of shards

of an expensive mirror, harnessing the many stems of light

 

into a bouquet to be hurled out, in three second intervals.

Only then do I turn the shortwave to the chatter

 

of ships. Only then, binoculars around my neck,

do I slide open the door and walk the rail,

 

a salty breeze curling through my pores, as I comb

the dark waves with my eyes. Flag whipping

 

overhead. Thunder cooking up in clouds.

Then the voices start rumbling in. I read you

 

thirteen year-old girl pinned down by your friend’s

nineteen year-old brother in a basement and excavated

 

as your favorite Crosby, Stills and Nash song

plays cruelly over the speakers. I read you housewife

 

with a crushed starfish in your belly, clutching

a wine glass like a buoy. I cannot promise

 

help is on the way, but I read you high school senior

razor marks ricocheting up your forearm. I read you

 

husband watching school after school of naughty minnows

swim across the screen of your smart phone, as the rain gathers

 

around your ankles in the matrimonial rowboat. I read you

twenty year-old girl, smearing kerosene over your breasts,

 

like baby oil, a carousel of men assembling, jerking up

and down, like warped horses on a misery-go-round. I read you

 

friend from childhood, counting the petals of a daisy, I kill me,

I kill me not. I read you dockworker, wandering

 

the corridors under the ocean’s surface,

stuffing your unemployment check into the belly button

 

of a slot machine. I read you sixteen year-old girl,

getting jabbed with the t in the word slut

 

as you tremble on the train platform and lean back

into the broad metal arms of eternity. I read you

 

and chart your coordinates. Note your howls. And no,

I cannot save you, or bring supplies—just sit inside

 

this giant candle and fling thimbles of light

in your direction, whispering, I hear you, hold tight.

The White City

I will not toy with it nor bend an inch. 

Deep in the secret chambers of my heart 

I muse my life-long hate, and without flinch 

I bear it nobly as I live my part. 

My being would be a skeleton, a shell, 

If this dark Passion that fills my every mood, 

And makes my heaven in the white world's hell, 

Did not forever feed me vital blood. 

I see the mighty city through a mist-- 

The strident trains that speed the goaded mass, 

The poles and spires and towers vapor-kissed, 

The fortressed port through which the great ships pass, 

The tides, the wharves, the dens I contemplate, 

Are sweet like wanton loves because I hate. 

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,

I have forgotten, and what arms have lain

Under my head till morning; but the rain

Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh

Upon the glass and listen for reply,

And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain

For unremembered lads that not again

Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

 

Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,

Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,

Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:

I cannot say what loves have come and gone,

I only know that summer sang in me

A little while, that in me sings no more.

Excerpt From “Paradise Lost” Book IV

As I bent down to look, just opposite, 

A Shape within the wat’ry gleam appeerd 

Bending to look on me, I started back, 

It started back, but pleased I soon returned, 

Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks 

Of sympathy and love; there I had fixed 

Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire, 

Had not a voice thus warned me, ‘What thou seest, 

What there thou seest fair creature is thyself, 

With thee it came and goes: but follow me, 

And I will bring thee where no shadow stays 

Thy coming, and thy soft embraces, he 

Whose image thou art, him thou shall enjoy 

Inseparably thine, to him shalt bear 

Multitudes like thyself, and thence be call'd 

Mother of human Race:’ what could I do, 

But follow straight, invisibly thus led? 

Till I espied thee, fair indeed and tall, 

Under a platan, yet methought less fair, 

Less winning soft, less amiably mild, 

Then that smooth watry image; back I turned, 

Thou following cried'st aloud, ‘Return fair Eve, 

Whom fli'st thou? whom thou fli'st, of him thou art, 

His flesh, his bone; to give thee being I lent 

Out of my side to thee, nearest my heart 

Substantial Life, to have thee by my side 

Henceforth an individual solace dear; 

Part of my Soul I seek thee, and thee claim 

My other half:’ with that thy gentle hand 

Seized mine, I yielded, and from that time see 

How beauty is excelled by manly grace 

And wisdom, which alone is truly fair.

Song of the Open Road

I think that I shall never see

A billboard lovely as a tree

Indeed, unless the billboards fall

I’ll never see a tree at all.

Don't Go Far Off

Don't go far off, not even for a day, because --

because -- I don't know how to say it: a day is long

and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station

when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

 

Don't leave me, even for an hour, because

then the little drops of anguish will all run together,

the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift

into me, choking my lost heart.

 

Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;

may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.

Don't leave me for a second, my dearest,

 

because in that moment you'll have gone so far

I'll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,

Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?

On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance

Breathe deep even if it means you wrinkle

your nose from the fake-lemon antiseptic

 

of the mopped floors and wiped-down

doorknobs. The freshly soaped necks

 

and armpits. Your teacher means well,

even if he butchers your name like

 

he has a bloody sausage casing stuck

between his teeth, handprints

 

on his white, sloppy apron. And when

everyone turns around to check out

 

your face, no need to flush red and warm.

Just picture all the eyes as if your classroom

 

is one big scallop with its dozens of icy blues

and you will remember that winter your family

 

        took you to the China Sea and you sank

your face in it to gaze at baby clams and sea stars

 

        the size of your outstretched hand. And when

all those necks start to crane, try not to forget

 

         someone once lathered their bodies, once patted them

dry with a fluffy towel after a bath, set out their clothes

 

         for the first day of school. Think of their pencil cases

from third grade, full of sharp pencils, a pink pearl eraser.

 

         Think of their handheld pencil sharpener and its tiny blade.  

Staying Quiet

Once, a man named a thing beautiful & so we wore it,

buried it, turned it into currency. Somewhere, maybe here, maybe now,

I stand completely still until he looks in my direction. Sometimes I don’t

believe I exist until someone calls me beautiful. Sometimes

any warm thing will do. Sometimes it’s me, a warm thing in the low

light. Beautiful is what the man called me after he did

what he wanted with — I’m running out of ways to describe it

 — my body, my silence. Beautiful. Why, I ask, in order to love

yourself must you, first, be loved? A bone sucked clean

of its marrow. A trail of ants magnified into ash. & of course,

I’m asking no one. & of course, I know the answer.

Of course, I know it’s not me they’re looking for, the men, I mean.

& I wished he didn’t feel the need to speak, really wished — like me

 — he just kept quiet, but no, he had to speak, he had to say beautiful — 

& now, goddamnit, my body appears, trapped in the long tunnel

of a telescope. & now I am here attending the aftermath

of my own ruin, with nothing but beautiful to keep me company.

Maybe he meant the city beyond the window.

Maybe he was talking to himself. Maybe beautiful, as in good job,

as in look what I just did with my own two hands.

Mixed Media

The stars grow lemon

in the field, spread

like tea leaves in

a cup; red-wing

blackbirds fold themselves

into the fence,

corn dreamers.

 

The sky undulating

with clouds returns

gold-throated arpeggios

to the one walking

at sunrise, sunfall.

 

Light as the air

I sit on my

cottage steps;

a tom cat come

home to die for

the day.

Risk

And then the day came,

when the risk

to remain tight

in a bud

was more painful

than the risk

it took

to blossom.

(citizen) (illegal)

Mexican woman (illegal) and Mexican man (illegal) 

Have a Mexican (illegal)-American (citizen).

is the baby more Mexican or American?

place the baby in the arms of the mother (illegal).

if the mother holds the baby (citizen)

too long, does the baby become illegal?

 

the baby is a boy (citizen). he goes to school (citizen).

his classmates are American (citizen). He is outcast (illegal).

his “hellos” are in the wrong language (illegal).

he takes the hyphen separating loneliness (Mexican)

from friendship (American) and jabs it at the culprit (illegal).

himself (illegal). his own traitorous tongue (illegal).

his name (illegal). his mom (illegal). his dad (illegal).

 

take a Mexican woman (illegal) and a Mexican man (illegal).

if they have a baby and the baby looks white enough to pass (citizen).

if the baby grows up singing Selena songs to his reflection (illegal).

if the baby hides from el cucuy and la migra (illegal).

if the baby (illegal) (citizen) grows up to speak broken Spanish (illegal)

and perfect English (citizen). if the boy’s nickname is Güerito (citizen).

if the boy attends college (citizen). if the boy only dates women (illegal)

of color (illegal). If the boy (illegal)

uses phrases like “women of color” (citizen).

if the boy (illegal) (citizen) writes (illegal) poems (illegal).

 

if the boy (citizen) (illegal) grows up (illegal) and can only write (illegal)

this story in English (citizen), does that make him more

American (citizen) or Mexican (illegal)?

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz

You whom I could not save,

Listen to me.

 

Can we agree Kevlar

backpacks shouldn’t be needed

 

for children walking to school? 

Those same children

 

also shouldn’t require a suit

of armor when standing

 

on their front lawns, or snipers

to watch their backs

 

as they eat at McDonalds.

They shouldn’t have to stop

 

to consider the speed

of a bullet or how it might

 

reshape their bodies. But

one winter, back in Detroit,

 

I had one student

who opened a door and died. 

 

It was the front

door to his house, but

 

it could have been any door,

and the bullet could have written

 

any name. The shooter

was thirteen years old

 

and was aiming

at someone else. But

 

a bullet doesn’t care

about “aim,” it doesn't

 

distinguish between

the innocent and the innocent,

 

and how was the bullet

supposed to know this

 

child would open the door

at the exact wrong moment

 

because his friend

was outside and screaming

 

for help. Did I say

I had “one” student who

 

opened a door and died? 

That’s wrong.

 

There were many. 

The classroom of grief

 

had far more seats

than the classroom for math

 

though every student

in the classroom for math

 

could count the names

of the dead.

 

A kid opens a door. The bullet

couldn’t possibly know,

 

nor could the gun, because

“guns don't kill people,” they don't

 

have minds to decide

such things, they don’t choose

 

or have a conscience,

and when a man doesn’t

 

have a conscience, we call him

a psychopath. This is how

 

we know what type of assault rifle

a man can be,

 

and how we discover

the hell that thrums inside

 

each of them. Today,

there’s another

 

shooting with dead

kids everywhere. It was a school,

 

a movie theater, a parking lot.

The world

 

is full of doors.

And you, whom I cannot save,

 

you may open a door

and enter 

 

a meadow, or a eulogy.

And if the latter, you will be

 

mourned, then buried

in rhetoric. 

 

There will be

monuments of legislation,

 

little flowers made

from red tape. 

 

What should we do? we’ll ask

again. The earth will close

 

like a door above you. 

What should we do?

 

And that click you hear?

That’s just our voices,

 

the deadbolt of discourse

sliding into place.

Arms and the Boy

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade 

How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood; 

Blue with all malice, like a madman's flash; 

And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh. 

 

Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-leads, 

Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads, 

Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth 

Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death. 

 

For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple. 

There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple; 

And God will grow no talons at his heels, 

Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.

On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial

We invent our gods

the way the Greeks did,

in our own image– but magnified.

Athena, the very mother of wisdom,

squabbled with Poseidon

like any human sibling

until their furious tempers

made the sea writhe.

 

Zeus wore a crown

of lightning bolts one minute,

a cloak of feathers the next,

as driven by earthly lust

he prepared to swoop

down on Leda.

Despite their power,

frailty ran through them

 

like the darker veins

in the marble of these temples

we call monuments.

Looking at Jefferson now,

I think of the language

he left for us to live by.

I think of the slave

in the kitchen downstairs.

Telephone Booth (number 905 1/2)

woke up this morning

feeling excellent,

picked up the telephone

dialed the number of

my equal opportunity employer

to inform him I will not

be into work today

Are you feeling sick?

the boss asked me

No Sir I replied:

I am feeling too good

to report to work today,

if I feel sick tomorrow

I will come in early

Heavy Women

Irrefutable, beautifully smug

As Venus, pedestalled on a half-shell

Shawled in blond hair and the salt

Scrim of a sea breeze, the women

Settle in their belling dresses.

Over each weighty stomach a face

Floats calm as a moon or a cloud.

 

Smiling to themselves, they meditate

Devoutly as the Dutch bulb

Forming its twenty petals.

The dark still nurses its secret.

On the green hill, under the thorn trees,

They listen for the millennium,

The knock of the small, new heart.

 

Pink-buttocked infants attend them.

Looping wool, doing nothing in particular,

They step among the archetypes.

Dusk hoods them in Mary-blue

While far off, the axle of winter

Grinds round, bearing down the straw,

The star, the wise grey men

The Abuelita Poem

I. SKIN & CORN

 

Her brown skin glistens as the sun

pours through the kitchen window

like gold leche. After grinding

the nixtamal, a word so beautifully ethnic

it must not only be italicized but underlined

to let you, the reader, know you’ve encountered

something beautifully ethnic, she kneads

with the hands of centuries-old ancestor

spirits who magically yet realistically posses her

until the masa is smooth as a lowrider’s

chrome bumper. And I know she must do this

with care because it says so on a website

that explains how to make homemade corn tortillas.

So much labor for this peasant bread,

this edible art birthed from Abuelitas’s

brown skin, which is still glistening

in the sun.

       

 

II. APOLOGY

 

Before she died I called my abuelita

grandma. I cannot remember

if she made corn tortillas from scratch

but, O, how she’d flip the factory fresh

El Milagros (Quality Since 1950)

on the burner, bathe them in butter

& salt for her grandchildren.

How she’d knead the buttons

on the telephone, order me food

from Pizza Hut. I assure you,

gentle reader, this was done

with the spirit of Mesoamérica

ablaze in her fingertips.

Excerpt From “Citizen: An American Lyric” [The new therapist specializes]

/

The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.

 

At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house. What are you doing in my yard?

 

It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by, oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.

 

I am so sorry, so, so sorry.

 

/

A Mark of Resistance

Stone by stone I pile

this cairn of my intention

with the noon’s weight on my back,

exposed and vulnerable

across the slanting fields

which I love but cannot save

from floods that are to come;

can only fasten down

with this work of my hands,

these painfully assembled

stones, in the shape of nothing

that has ever existed before.

A pile of stones: an assertion

that this piece of country matters

for large and simple reasons.

A mark of resistance, a sign.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head

with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso

is still suffused with brilliance from inside,

like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

 

gleams in all its power. Otherwise

the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could 

a smile run through the placid hips and thighs

to that dark center where procreation flared.

 

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced

beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders

and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

 

would not, from all the borders of itself,

burst like a star: for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life.

Excerpt From “A Roman Temple”

Stunned, I gaze around

and ask the present about its past.

Did life really flow here?

Did eyelids close on happy times

and nightingales sing good fortune?

Did Fate decree its destiny and doom?

Shall I question the dumb rock

about those who carved it?

Can I summon up spectres from the grave?

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,

I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;   

I hear my echo in the echoing wood—

A lord of nature weeping to a tree.

I live between the heron and the wren,   

Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

 

What’s madness but nobility of soul

At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!   

I know the purity of pure despair,

My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.   

That place among the rocks—is it a cave,   

Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

 

A steady storm of correspondences!

A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,   

And in broad day the midnight come again!   

A man goes far to find out what he is—

Death of the self in a long, tearless night,   

All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

 

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.   

My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,   

Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?

A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.   

The mind enters itself, and God the mind,   

And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

The Breeze at Dawn

translated by Coleman Barks

 

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill

where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

Mi poema a la comida mas corto

(My shortest food poem)

 

Taco Bell                                                                                  Taco Bell

NO es                                                                                        is not

comida mexicana!                                                                   Mexican food!

Fragment 94

Translated by Anne Carson

 

I simply want to be dead.

Weeping she left me

 

with many tears and said this:

Oh how badly things have turned out for us.

Sappho, I swear, against my will I leave you.

 

And I answered her:

Rejoice, go and 

remember me. For you know how we cherished you.

 

But if not, I want

to remind you

]at my side you put on

 

and many woven garlands

made of flowers

around your soft throat.

 

And with sweet oil

costly

You anointed yourself

 

And on a soft bed

Delicate

you would let loose your longing

 

and neither any [ ]nor any

holy place nor

was there from which we were absent

 

no grove[ ]no dance

]no sound

[

Miss Piggy

Great porcine drag queen

You who grew erudite in the slaughterhouse shadow

Eyelashes like black swords teased up to challenge heaven

Eternal in your powdered foundation

Refusing everyday the knife’s inevitable & unkosher ending

Be-snouted fount of youth! Seminal queer iconoclast!

Pearls to bed, pearls in the junkyard, pearls on television

Diva of late night, of talk shows, of prime time

Door-kicker for non-conventional romance

Shown us how to love across identities arbitrary as phylum & species

Bless that impossible coupling!

How you took an entire frog inside you & remained the same bad pig

Who’d karate chopped anyone dumb enough to disrespect                                         HI-YA

What little faggot wouldn’t look upon you & be seen or saved or salved?

You who never questioned you were destined for stardom

O miss miss! O great swine demimonde! O dame pig!

I’m yours ‘til i end       You, my religion      How I understand us all now

We are ourselves & the hand inside that guides us

We who are given voice by that same spirit that gives voice

To everyone we have ever loved

The Truth the Dead Know

For my mother, born March 1902, died March 1959

and my father, born February 1900, died June 1959

 

Gone, I say and walk from church,   

refusing the stiff procession to the grave,   

letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.   

It is June. I am tired of being brave.

 

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate

myself where the sun gutters from the sky,   

where the sea swings in like an iron gate

and we touch. In another country people die.

 

My darling, the wind falls in like stones

from the whitehearted water and when we touch   

we enter touch entirely. No one’s alone.

Men kill for this, or for as much.

 

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes   

in their stone boats. They are more like stone

than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse   

to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds...

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Reaching Guantánamo

Dear Salim,

 

Love, are you well? Do they                 you?

I worry so much. Lately, my hair                         , even

my skin                            . The doctors tell me it’s

I believe them. It shouldn’t

        . Please don’t worry.

                                            in the year, and moths

have gotten to your mother’s

                                                         , remember?

I have enclosed some                             — made this

batch just for you. Please eat well. Why

did you           me to remarry? I told

                         and he couldn’t               it.

I would never                                       .

Love, I’m singing that               you loved,

remember, the line that went

“                                                     ”? I’m holding

the                   just for you.

 

Yours,

“Mutability” or “The Flower That Smiles To-day”

The flower that smiles to-day 

      To-morrow dies; 

All that we wish to stay 

      Tempts and then flies. 

What is this world's delight? 

Lightning that mocks the night, 

      Brief even as bright. 

 

   Virtue, how frail it is! 

      Friendship how rare! 

Love, how it sells poor bliss 

      For proud despair! 

But we, though soon they fall, 

Survive their joy, and all 

      Which ours we call. 

 

   Whilst skies are blue and bright, 

      Whilst flowers are gay, 

Whilst eyes that change ere night 

      Make glad the day; 

Whilst yet the calm hours creep, 

Dream thou—and from thy sleep 

      Then wake to weep. 

In Love and In War

To my daughter I will say,

‘when the men come, set yourself on fire’.

Workshop

The pale sound of jilgueros trilling in the jungle.

Abuelo rocks in his chair and maps the birds

in his head, practiced in the geometry of sound.

 

My uncle stokes the cabin’s ironblack stove

with a short rod. The flames that come are his

loves. I cook—chile panameño, coconut milk—

 

a recipe I’d wanted to try. Abuelo eats,

suppresses the color that builds in his cheek.

To him the chile is a flash of snake in the mud.

 

He asks for plain rice, beans. Tío hugs his father,

kneels in front of the fire, whispers away the dying

of his little flames. We soak rice until

 

the water clouds. On the television, a fiesta…

 

The person I am showing the poem to

stops reading. He questions the TV,

circles it with a felt pen. “This feels so

 

out of place in a jungle to me. Can you

explain to the reader why it’s there?”

For a moment, I can’t believe. 

 

You don’t think we have 1930s technology?

The poem was trying to talk about stereotype,

gentleness instead of violence for once.

 

But now I should fill the little room

of my sonnet explaining how we own a TV?

A shame, because I had a great last line—

 

there was a parade in it, and a dancing

horse like you wouldn’t believe.

[My pills doze until I wake them]

My pills doze until I wake them

on the shelf

 

behind the bathroom mirror,

the one I see myself in

 

curled over, whimpering,

eyes dark and heavy

 

like lakes at night.

My pills doze until I shake them

 

and they dissolve inside me,

make complicated arrangements

 

with my biology.

They sleep and I take them,

 

gathered in the cup of my hand.

They tick against my teeth

 

and I hold my hand over my mouth

as if to shut them up.

[Sometimes I don’t know if I’m having a feeling]

 Sometimes I don’t know if I’m having a feeling

so I check my phone or squint at the window

with a serious look, like someone in a movie

or a mother thinking about how time passes.

Sometimes I’m not sure how to feel so I think

about a lot of things until I get an allergy attack.

I take my antihistamine with beer, thank you very much,

sleep like a cut under a band aid, wake up

on the stairs having missed the entire party.

It was a real blast, I can tell, for all the vases

are broken, the flowers twisted into crowns

for the young, drunk, and beautiful. I put one on

and salute the moon, the lone face over me

shining through the grates on the front door window.

You have seen me like this before, such a strange

version of the person you thought you knew.

Guess what, I’m strange to us both. It’s like

I’m not even me sometimes. Who am I? A question

for the Lord only to decide as She looks over

my résumé. Everything is different sometimes.

Sometimes there is no hand on my shoulder

but my room, my apartment, my body are containers

and I am thusly contained. How easy to forget

the obvious. The walls, blankets, sunlight, your love.

Colors

My skin is kind of sort of brownish

Pinkish yellowish white.

My eyes are grayish blueish green,

But I’m told they look orange in the night.

My hair is reddish blondish brown,

But it’s silver when it’s wet.

And all the colors I am inside

Have not been invented yet.

Excerpt From “notes”

dear suicide

 

how is the war? is it eating?

tell me of the girls charging

backwards into dumb tides

death’s wet mouth lapping

their ankles, knees, eyebrows.

tell me of the sissies like drunk

fireworks, rocketing into earth

afterimage burned into river

& cement memory.

how is the war? does it have

a wife? does she know how

the bodies got in her bed?

 

dear suicide

 

i know your real name.

i bind you from doing harm.

i enter the room like a germ.

i say your name, it is my name.

the walls cave around me like a good aunt.

the window hums. the door rocks me.

the dresser leaves to go make tea.

the room knows my name.

it binds us from doing harm.

 

dear suicide

 

where are you keeping my friends?

every cup i turn over holds only air.

i jimmy open a tulip expecting their faces

but find only the yellow heart.

what have you done with them?

yesterday i took my body off

beat it on the front steps with a broom

& not one of them

came giggling out my skin

yelling you found me!

not one of them i called for

was already in my hand.

 

dear suicide

 

you a mutual friend

a wedding guest, a kind

of mother, a kind of self

love, a kind of freedom.

i wish you were a myth

but mothers my color

have picked ocean

over boat, have sent

children to school

in rivers. i known niggas

who just needed

quiet. i seen you

dance, it made me hard.

i would not deny you

what others have found

in the sweet mildew

behind your ear. i know

what happens when you

ask for a kiss, it’s all

tongue, you don’t

unlatch, you suck

face until the body

is gone.

Forecast

Today, I’m taking my father

for more tests, his eyes

 

failing even as we walk

out into the knee deep drifts.

 

Like his father before,

he takes two shovels from their hooks,

 

the particles of his hands

sewn somewhere in mine,

 

so much of him

silent in me as we walk

 

the bright hemorrhage of white.

He starts at one end,

 

I start the other, each scoop

unmaking the snow, which has taken

 

over porches, stoops, skeletal trees

hedging the road. Soon,

 

he won’t be able to make out the handle

he’s gripping. We don’t speak,

 

piling the crude heaps,

first him, then me, the black

 

grammar of railroad ties

announcing the perimeter.

 

The weatherman   calls for more–

seven inches by nightfall–

 

but the old Chevy rattles

as I rev the engine,

 

my father leaning to scrape

the windshield clear of ice

 

until he’s certain I can see.

Bitch Instinct

Before this day I loved

like an animal loves a human,

 

with no way to articulate

how my bones felt in bed

 

or how a telephone felt so strange

in my paw. O papa—

 

I called out to no one—

but no one understood. I didn’t

 

even. I wanted to be caught. Like

let me walk beside you on my favorite leash,

 

let my hair grow long and wild

so you can comb it in the off-hours,

 

be tender to me. Also let me eat

the meals you do not finish

 

so I can acclimate, climb into

the way you claim this world.

 

Once, I followed married men:

eager for shelter, my fur

 

curled, my lust

freshly showered.

 

I called out, Grief.

They heard, Beauty.                      

 

I called out, Why?

They said, Because I can and will.

 

One smile could sustain me for a week.

I was that hungry. Lithe and giddy,        

 

my skin carried the ether of a so-so

self-esteem. I felt fine. I was

 

fine, but I was also looking

for scraps; I wanted them all to pet me.

 

You think because I am a woman,

I cannot call myself a dog?

 

Look at my sweet canine mind,

my long, black tongue. I know

 

what I’m doing. When you’re with

the wrong person, you start barking.

 

But with you, I am looking out

this car window with a heightened sense

 

I’ve always owned. Oh every animal

knows when something is wrong.

 

Of this sweet, tender feeling, I was wrong,

and I was right, and I was wrong.

All the Dead Boys Look Like Me

Last time I saw myself die is when police killed Jessie Hernandez

 

                           A 17 year old brown queer // who was sleeping in their car

 

Yesterday I saw myself die again // Fifty times I died in Orlando // &

 

                        I remember reading // Dr. José Esteban Muñoz before he passed

 

I was studying at NYU // where he was teaching // where he wrote shit

 

                        That made me feel like a queer brown survival was possible // But he didn’t

 

Survive & now // on the dancefloor // in the restroom // on the news // in my chest

 

                        There are another fifty bodies that look like mine // & are

 

Dead // & I’ve been marching for Black Lives & talking about police brutality

 

                        Against Native communities too // for years now // but this morning

 

I feel it // I really feel it again // How can we imagine ourselves // We being black native

 

                        Today // Brown people // How can we imagine ourselves

 

When All the Dead Boys Look Like Us? // Once I asked my nephew where he wanted

 

                        To go to College // What career he would like // as if

 

The whole world was his for the choosing // Once he answered me without fearing

 

                        Tombstones or cages or the hands from a father // The hands of my lover

 

Yesterday praised my whole body // Made angels from my lips // Ave Maria

 

                        Full of Grace // He propped me up like the roof of a cathedral // in NYC

 

Before we opened the news & read // & read about people who think two brown queers

 

                        Can’t build cathedrals // only cemeteries // & each time we kiss

 

A funeral plot opens // In the bedroom I accept his kiss // & I lose my reflection

 

                        I’m tired of writing this poem // but I want to say one last word about

 

Yesterday // my father called // I heard him cry for only the second time in my life

 

                        He sounded like he loved me // it’s something I’m rarely able to hear

 

& I hope // if anything // his sound is what my body remembers first.

The End and the Beginning

After every war

someone has to clean up.

Things won't

straighten themselves up, after all.

 

Someone has to push the rubble

to the side of the road,

so the corpse-filled wagons

can pass.

 

Someone has to get mired

in scum and ashes,

sofa springs,

splintered glass,

and bloody rags.

 

Someone has to drag in a girder

to prop up a wall,

Someone has to glaze a window,

rehang a door.

 

Photogenic it's not,

and takes years.

All the cameras have left

for another war.

 

We'll need the bridges back,

and new railway stations.

Sleeves will go ragged

from rolling them up.

 

Someone, broom in hand,

still recalls the way it was.

Someone else listens

and nods with unsevered head.

But already there are those nearby

starting to mill about

who will find it dull.

 

From out of the bushes

sometimes someone still unearths

rusted-out arguments

and carries them to the garbage pile.

 

Those who knew

what was going on here

must make way for

those who know little.

And less than little.

And finally as little as nothing.

 

In the grass that has overgrown

causes and effects,

someone must be stretched out

blade of grass in his mouth

gazing at the clouds.

Three Words Most Strange

As I utter the word Future,

the first syllable has already slipped into the past.

 

As I utter the word Silence,

I shatter it.

 

As I utter the word Nothing,

I create some-thing; being bursts out of non-being.

I am not yours

I am not yours, not lost in you,

Not lost, although I long to be

Lost as a candle lit at noon,

Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

 

You love me, and I find you still

A spirit beautiful and bright,

Yet I am I, who long to be

Lost as a light is lost in light.

 

Oh plunge me deep in love—put out

My senses, leave me deaf and blind,

Swept by the tempest of your love,

A taper in a rushing wind.

Hunger is a Bride

A grave that doesn’t fill.

 

Wing starved, she can only throat.

 

Birdseed in someone else’s bed.

 

A body bouqueted

 

and budgeted. Hunger hangs like a dark

 

chandelier. She’s sick with glass.

 

Hunger takes a body like a vow.

 

A list of small violences

 

to have and to hold.

 

An anniversary

 

of knives. I slaughtered

 

the tallest tree just to find a ring.

 

Still hunger sits at the edge

 

of my bed. I surrender

 

in small bites.

Today I’ll Sit Still

Today I’ll sit still.

When my dog shuffles over and offers me

his fleas and his soul, I’ll turn away.

To everything I’ll close my eyes,

slice the darkness and eat it.

I’ll refuse to give money on a platter

or a wet kiss under the moon.

Today I’ll just sit

and say No to everyone and everything.

To the book on my desk, its sad tale

of abandonment, remorse and death;

I’ll keep it on the tip of my tongue

like a lukewarm dime.

No to the daily mail with its greasy fingers,

no to the telephone and its humming

through the carcass of a sparrow,

no to every projection of the self.

No to me, this preposterous accident

who speaks of the “self.”

Today I’ll be anti-social.

Today I’ll grow into myself, be the river

of my blood, the sky inside my eyes,

the maze of my ribs, the dust that settles

on my heart. I’ll let my bones sink

like pebbles in a pond.

I’ll let my feet grow roots and be an extra zero

on the checks that I’ll refuse to write.

Wiri Wiri

The language holds us together. 

How you are bathed in it

till you tire and run

or are pushed away from the tongue 

by parents who’d spare you the hurdles they jumped.

 

The language pulls us apart.

How we are bathed in it 

made to never forget, 

reprimanded for not speaking it

by parents would not be left behind.

¡En esta casa se habla Español!

¡No se habla el wiri wiri!

Demands for the sounds

From that singular place 

with it’s undeniable song. 

You, If No One Else

Listen, you

who transformed your anguish

into healthy awareness,

put your voice

where your memory is.

You who swallowed

the afternoon dust,

defend everything you understand

with words.

You, if no one else,

will condemn with your tongue

the erosion each disappointment brings.

 

You, who saw the images

of disgust growing,

will understand how time

devours the destitute;

you, who gave yourself

your own commandments,

know better than anyone

why you turned your back

on your town's toughest limits.

 

Don't hush,

don't throw away

the most persistent truth,

as our hard-headed brethren

sometimes do.

Remember well

what your life was like: cloudiness,

and slick mud

after a drizzle;

flimsy windows the wind

kept rattling

in winter, and that

unheated slab dwelling

where coldness crawled

up in your clothes.

 

Tell how you were able to come

to this point, to unbar

History's doors

to see your early years,

your people, the others.

Name the way

rebellion's calm spirit has served you,

and how you came

to unlearn the lessons

of that teacher,

your land's omnipotent defiler.

If I Were In Charge Of The World

If I were in charge of the world 

I'd cancel oatmeal, 

Monday mornings, 

Allergy shots, and also Sara Steinberg. 

 

If I were in charge of the world 

There'd be brighter nights lights, 

Healthier hamsters, and 

Basketball baskets forty eight inches lower. 

 

If I were in charge of the world 

You wouldn't have lonely. 

You wouldn't have clean. 

You wouldn't have bedtimes. 

Or "Don't punch your sister." 

You wouldn't even have sisters. 

 

If I were in charge of the world 

A chocolate sundae with whipped cream and nuts would be a vegetable 

All 007 movies would be G, 

And a person who sometimes forgot to brush, 

And sometimes forgot to flush, 

Would still be allowed to be 

In charge of the world.

Essay on Craft

Because the butterfly’s yellow wing

flickering in black mud

was a word

stranded by its language.

Because no one else

was coming — & I ran

out of reasons.

So I gathered fistfuls

of  ash, dark as ink,

hammered them

into marrow, into

a skull thick

enough to keep

the gentle curse

of  dreams. Yes, I aimed

for mercy — 

but came only close

as building a cage

around the heart. Shutters

over the eyes. Yes,

I gave it hands

despite knowing

that to stretch that clay slab

into five blades of light,

I would go

too far. Because I, too,

needed a place

to hold me. So I dipped

my fingers back

into the fire, pried open

the lower face

until the wound widened

into a throat,

until every leaf shook silver

with that god

-awful scream

& I was done.

& it was human.

brief lesson on marriage

I asked my wife

to check the hive,

to see

if the hive

were burning.

(I had 

no wife, no hive.)

Yes, she said,

rising up

from where she’d

been

embroidering

a new wind. Then

—Yes,

she said again,

only this time

a bit more softly.

After You Left

I said fuck it and let another man name me his ship-

wreck; call my arms and legs masts

snapping apart in his wake.

 

For every piece I gave him, I demanded a secret

about the ocean. Outside my window,

an oak tossed its helicopters to the black roof.

 

He whispered: Listen. Something’s devouring the leaves.

Like this, he said, searching my mouth until I tasted salt.

Like this, his palms said, sinking to my hipbones

 

and the oak’s branches, swollen with wind, finished

their desperate scratching on the window.

Like this, he said again and again

 

and again his fingers forged riverbeds between mine,

and his breath came and went in the canals of my ear

like tides crossing each other, until all I could imagine

 

about ocean was that it once was still

water interrupted by something heavy

collapsing into it.

Dreaming Winter

Don’t ask me if these knives are real.

I could paint a king or show a map

the way home– to go like this:

wobble me back to a tiger’s dream,

a dream of knives and bones too common

to be exposed. My secrets are ignored.

 

Here comes the man I love. His coat is wet

and his face is falling like the leaves,

tobacco stains on his Polish teeth.

I could tell jokes about him– one up

for the man who brags a lot, laughs

a little and hangs his name on the nearest knob.

Don’t ask me. I know it’s only hunger.

 

I saw that king– the one my sister knew

but was allergic to. Her face ran until

his eyes became the white of several winters.

Snow on his bed told him that the silky tears

were uniformly mad and all the money in the world

couldn’t bring him to a tragic end. Shame

or fortune tricked me to his table, shattered

my one standing lie with new kinds of fame.

 

Have mercy on me, Lord. Really. If I should die

before I wake, take me to that place I just heard

banging in my ears. Don’t ask me. Let me join

the other kings, the ones who trade their knives

for a sack of keys. Let me open any door,

stand winter still and drown in a common dream.

Requiescat

Tread lightly, she is near

Under the snow,

Speak gently, she can hear

The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair

Tarnished with rust,

She that was young and fair

Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,

She hardly knew

She was a woman, so

Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,

Lie on her breast,

I vex my heart alone

She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear

Lyre or sonnet,

All my life’s buried here,

Heap earth upon it.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens

Small Craft Talk Warning

All poetry is about hope.

A scarecrow walks into a bar.

An abandoned space station falls to earth.

When probing the monster’s brain,

you’re probably probing your own.

A beautiful woman becomes a ghost.

I hope I never miscalculate the dosage

that led to the infarction

of my lab rabbit again.

All poetry is a form of hope.

Not certain, just actual

like love and other traffic circles.

I cried on that airplane too,

midwest patchwork below

like a board game on which

mighty forces kick apart the avatars.

I always wanted to be the racecar

but usually ended up a thumbtack.

When I was young, sitting in a tree

counted as preparation and later

maybe a little whoopie in the morgue.

So go ahead, thaw the alien, break

the pentagram but watch out for

the institutional hood ornaments.

It’s not a museum, it’s a hive.

The blood may be fake

but the bleeding’s not.

The Pier of La Herradura

When I sleep I see a child 

hidden between the legs of a scarred man,

 

their sunburnt backs breathe cold air, 

the child faces me

 

and the pier’s roof swallows the moon

cut by the clouds behind them.

 

Sometimes, they’re on the same roof

wearing handkerchiefs

 

and uniformed men surround them.

I mistake bullet casings

 

for cormorant beaks diving

till water churns the color of sunsets,

 

stained barnacles line the pier

and I can’t see who’s facedown

 

on boats lulled by crimson ripples.

Once, I heard the man —

 

alive and still on the roof — say 

today for you, tomorrow for me.

 

There’s a village where men train cormorants

to fish: rope-end tied to sterns,

 

another to necks, so their beaks

won’t swallow the fish they catch.

 

My father is one of those birds.

He’s the scarred man.