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translated by Ahmad Nadalizadeh and Idra Novey 


Your dress waving in the wind.


is the only flag I love.

Excerpt from "Brief Notes On Staying // No One is Making Their Best Work When They Want To Die"

I don’t mean sadness as much as I mean the obsession with it. Once, on the wrong edge of a bridge, a boy I knew who played songs let his feet slip off. I found a tape of his after he was gone, and the music sounded sweeter, or at least I told myself it did. What I really want to do is say that life is impossible, and the lie we tell ourselves is that it is too short. Life, if anything, is too long. We accumulate too much along the way. Too many heartbreaks, too many funerals, too many physical setbacks. It’s a miracle any of us survive at all. I know that I stopped thinking about extreme grief as the sole vehicle for great art when the grief started to take people with it. And I get it. The tortured artist is the artist that gets remembered for all time, particularly if they either perish or overcome. But the truth is that so many of us are stuck in the middle. So many of us begin tortured and end tortured, with only brief bursts of light in between, and I’d rather have average art and survival than miracles that come at the cost of someone’s life.

Afghan Funeral in Paris

The aunts here clink Malbec glasses

and parade their grief with musky, expensive scents

that whisper in elevators and hallways.

Each natural passing articulates

the unnatural: every aunt has a son

who fell, or a daughter who hid in rubble

for two years, until that knock of officers

holding a bin bag filled with a dress

and bones. But what do I know?

I get pedicures and eat madeleines

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

one aunt I’d like to go back,

she screams It is not yours to want.

Have some cream cheese with that, says another.

Oh, what wonder to be alive and see

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

He’s furiously scissoring the hyacinths,

saying All the time when the tele-researcher asks him

How often do you think your life

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

vibrate: wires full of crows in heavy wind.

I hate every plumed minute of it. God invented

everything out of nothing, but the nothing

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

but when some stranger asks

if it stinks in Afghanistan, I am so shocked

that I hug him. And he lets me,

his ankles briefly brushing against mine.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Arab Girl


She doesn't read 

The Atlantic

nor does she orgasm.




Dancing, sucking her belly toward her spine.

Black vines

sway to the mumble of a lute, 

descend the trellis of her, 

sweep bare feet. 




Princess Jasmine

Gigi Hadid 






Have you seen the brown-necked raven

who builds a home inside a bomb shelter?

The laughing dove who nests in olive trees?




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

fearfully made.




almond eyes & thighs

& rug-burned knees




I don't know which I prefer:

to be a child in my father's house

a servant in my husband's

or liberated by a






Salma Hayek

George Clooneyswifey


A Pole-Dancing Muslim Miss USA




Carrying a basket into a field

disappearing parcel by parcel.


She mourns groves of desire.




She dies

like an American   in the street   or some Mesopotamian desert 


at midnight in the afternoon.    




The bulbul also sings.




Someday my name will sound like Olds,

will sound like Plath.

Someday, in my father's Spanish inflection,

will sound like Abughattàs. 



13.created by God  

to fuck,

to serve

coffee and tea.



Camina conmigo.

Salsa swagger

anywhere she go


'¡la negra tiene tumbao!


Dance to the rhythm.

Beat the drums of my skin.


the rhythms within.

The first language

I spoke was Spanish.

Learned from lullabies

whispered in my ear.

My parents’ tongue

was a gift

which I quickly forgot

after realizing

my peers did not understand it. 

They did not understand me.

So I rejected

habichuela y mangú,

much preferring Happy Meals

and Big Macs.

Straightening my hair

in imitation of Barbie.

I was embarrassed

by my grandmother’s

colorful skirts

and my mother’s

eh brokee inglee

which cracked my pride

when she spoke.

So, shit, I would poke fun

at her myself,

hoping to lessen

the humiliation.

Proud to call myself


a citizen

of this nation,

I hated

Caramel-color skin.

Cursed God

I’d been born

the color of cinnamon.

How quickly we forget

where we come from.

So remind me,

remind me

that I come from

the Taínos of the río

the Aztec,

the Mayan,

Los Incas,

los Españoles

con sus fincas

buscando oro,

and the Yoruba Africanos

que con sus manos

built a mundo

nunca imaginado.

I know I come

from stolen gold.

From cocoa,

from sugarcane,

the children

of slaves

and slave masters.

A beautifully tragic mixture,

a sancocho

of a race history.

And my memory

can't seem to escape

the thought

of lost lives

and indigenous rape.

Of bittersweet bitterness,

of feeling innate,

the soul of a people,

past, present and fate,

our stories cannot

be checked into boxes.

They are in the forgotten.

The undocumented,

the passed-down spoonfuls

of arroz con dulce

a la abuela's knee.

They're the way our hips


to the beat of cumbia,


y salsa.

They're in the bending

and blending

of backbones.

We are deformed

and reformed


It's in the sway

of our song,

the landscapes

of our skirts,

the azúcar

beneath our tongues.

We are

the unforeseen children.

We're not a cultural wedlock,

hair too kinky for Spain,

too wavy for dreadlocks.

So our palms

tell the cuentos

of many tierras.

Read our lifeline,

birth of intertwine,


and starshine.

We are every

ocean crossed.

North Star navigates

our waters.

Our bodies

have been bridges.

We are the sons

and daughters,

el destino de mi gente,




Viviremos para siempre


hasta la muerte.

Ode to the Head Nod

the slight angling up of the forehead

neck extension                        quick jut of chin


meeting the strangers’ eyes

a gilded curtsy to the sunfill in another


in yourself      tithe of respect

in an early version the copy editor deleted


the word “head” from the title

the copy editor says              it’s implied


the copy editor means well

the copy editor means


she is only fluent in one language of gestures

i do not explain                     i feel sad for her


limited understanding of greetings              & maybe

this is why my acknowledgements are so long;


didn’t we learn this early?

            to look at white spaces


            & find the color       

            thank god o thank god for



                                                                                        are here.

The Star Spanglish Banner

Oh say can you see

Miguel wants to learn the Star-Spangled Banner.

Miguel was the last fourth grader to migrate 

into my English as a second language course,

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

But Miguel views letters in a different way than most.

Because there are a lot of words in Spanish

that do not exist in English,

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

Because many phrases translate backwards

when crossing over from Spanish to English,

throughout the whole song, 

he tends to say things in the wrong order.

So when I ask him to sing the second verse,

it sounds like

And the rocket's red glare

We watched our home

Bursting in air

It gave proof to the night

that the flag was still theirs

They say music is deeply intertwined with how we remember.

Miguel hears the marimba and learns the word home,

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

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

He asks, what does the word America mean?

What does the word dream mean?

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

You could say America is a dream,

something we all feel silly for believing in.

He says, teach me.

Teach me how to say bandera.

Teach me how to say star.

Teach me how to hide my country behind the consonants

that do not get pronounced.

Miss Angelica,

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

and build a word out of nothing.

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

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

It's strange what our memories hold on to.

It's strange what makes it over the border

to the left side of the brain,

what our minds do not let us forget,

how an accent is just a mother tongue

that refuses to let her child go.


The language barrier is a 74 mile wall

lodged in the back of Miguel's throat,

the bodies of words so easily lost in the translation.

Oh, say for whom does that 

star-spangled banner yet wave

Give back the land to the brave

and let us make a home for us free.

Against the Parts of Me That Think They Know Anything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a Neighborhood in Los Angeles

translated by Francisco Aragón


I learned


from my grandma



don’t cry

she’d tell me


on the mornings

my parents

would leave


to work

at the fish



my grandma

would chat

with chairs


sing them





waltzes with them

in the kitchen


when she’d say

niño barrigón

she’d laugh


with my grandma

I learned

to count clouds


to recognize

mint leaves

in flowerpots


my grandma

wore moons

on her dress


Mexico’s mountains




in her eyes

I’d see them

in her braids


I’d touch them

in her voice

smell them


one day

I was told:

she went far away


but still

I feel her

with me



in my ear:



Ode to My Shoes

my shoes


all night

under my bed



they stretch

and loosen

their laces


wide open

they fall asleep

and dream

of walking


they revisit

the places

they went to

during the day


and wake up



so soft

Praise Song for the Day

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration


Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other’s

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.


All about us is noise. All about us is

noise and bramble, thorn and din, each

one of our ancestors on our tongues.


Someone is stitching up a hem, darning

a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,

repairing the things in need of repair.


Someone is trying to make music somewhere,

with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,

with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.


A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky.

A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.


We encounter each other in words, words

spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

words to consider, reconsider.


We cross dirt roads and highways that mark

the will of some one and then others, who said

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


I know there’s something better down the road.

We need to find a place where we are safe.

We walk into that which we cannot yet see.


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

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,

who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,


picked the cotton and the lettuce, built

brick by brick the glittering edifices

they would then keep clean and work inside of.


Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.

Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,

the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.


Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

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


Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.


In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

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


praise song for walking forward in that light.


The moon did not become the sun.

It just fell on the desert

in great sheets, reams

of silver handmade by you.

The night is your cottage industry now,

the day is your brisk emporium.

The world is full of paper.

Write to me.


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

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


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

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


the Turkish driver listens to horse races on the radio.

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


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

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


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

Everywhere, blue rooftops. Antibiotics for my infected jaw.


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

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

body without the "d"

the bo’y wakes up

the bo’y looks at itself

the bo’y notices something missing

there is both too much and not enough flesh on the bo’y


the bo’y is covered in hair

what a hairy bo’y

some makes it look more like a bo’y

some makes it look more like a monster


the bo’y did not learn to shave from its father

so it taught itself how to graze its skin and cut things off

the bo’y cuts itself by accident

the blood reminds the bo’y it is a bo’y

reminds the bo’y how a bo’y bleeds

reminds the bo’y that not every bo’y bleeds


the bo’y talks to a girl about bleeding

she explains how this bo’y works

this bo’y is different from hers

bo’y has too much and not enough flesh to be her

the biology of a bo’y is just

bo’y will only ever be a bo’y


the bo’y is Black

so the bo’y is and will only ever be a bo’y

the bo’y couldn’t be a man if it tried

the bo’y tried


the bo’y feels empty

the bo’y feels like it will only ever be empty

the bo’y feels that it will never hold the weight of another bo’y inside of it

no matter how many ds fit inside the bo’y


the bo’y is a hollow facade

it attempts a convincing veneer

bo’y dresses — what hips on the bo’y

bo’y paints its face — what lips on the bo’y

bo’y adorns itself with labels written for lovelier frames

what a beautiful bo’y

still a bo’y

but a fierce bo’y now

a royal bo’y now

a bo’y worthy of  being called queen

what a dazzling ruse

to turn a bo’y into a lie everyone loves to look at


the bo’y looks at itself

the bo’y sees all the gawking at its gloss

the bo’y hears all the masses asking for its missing

the bo’y offers all of its letters

— ‘ b ’ for the birth

— ‘ o ’ for the operation

— ‘ y ’ for the lack left in its genes

what this bo’y would abandon

for the risk of  being real


the bo’y is real

enough and too much

existing as its own erasure

— what an elusive d 

evading removal

avoiding recognition

leaving just a bo’y


that is never lost

but can’t be found

When I Grow Up

Ask me now

Am I too late?

Ask me now what I want to do for a living.

Am I too late? Cause I think I finally figured it out

I don't want to do for a living

I want to be life.

I want to make things grow, and move, and breath, and reproduce, and respond.

I just want to make things respond and react and rejoice and relax and relate and release and receive

as soon as I recite.

When I grow up, 

I don't want to be like those other kids who want to be doctors and ballers and astronauts.

I want to be passion, and heat and energy.


When I grow up,

I don't want to be a fireman, let me be the fire

The explosion behind the soul's big bang theory that leaves in it's place ... desire

That burning within that gives life to the word "aspire"

Let me warm the cold souls of the despairing and heartless

Let me light the paths of those wandering in the darkness

And provide children with their first definition of "hot" 

And when the artists of the world have become so infatuated with ice that the whole world freezes over, 

Let me be the poet that melts the ice-caps, drowns the planet, and starts this world over -

2 poets at a time like Noah ...


When I grow up

I don't want to be an astronaut, I want to be the space that he explores - 

Not the doctor, let me be the cure.

The prescription for a better life ...

the way through which the sick and the shut-in can find hope, health, happiness, and healing.

I want to be the pill of which they take two, and the call that is placed that next morning.

I want to be the white blood cell that strengthens the immune system,

the clot that stops the bleeding,

the antidote that counters the poison;

I want to speak antibiotic poetry that defeats your life's viruses,

but only if you take my words in 3 times a day until the entire bottle is gone;

I want to be the perspective of the world through the eyes of an autistic child who is diagnosed with a sickness

when in fact she merely sees the world with a clarity that the rest of us could only dream of having ...


When I grow up

I don't want to be a preacher, I want to be the word

Not the artist, I want to be the art

Not the painter, let me be the canvas

Not the choreographer, let me be the dances

Not the poet, let me be the stanzas

When I grow up

I don't want to be the singer, I want to be the sound!

The song you sing the way you sing it when you think aint nobody else around


When I grow up,

I don't want to be a lawyer I want to be justice.

Not the philosopher, but the philosophy that the brilliant minds try to follow,

Or the brilliance in those minds,

Or even the elusive concepts that they can't quite figure out like

hope, purpose, faith ... and time.

I wanna be time

When I grow up,

I want to be the antonym of void,

the antithesis of without,

the contradiction of silence,

the inverse of absence,

the reverse of regression,

the antilogy to emptiness,

the illumination of shadows,

the opposite of darkness...

I wanna be the opposite of darkness when I grow up!

So that when the greatest poet in existence

recites the first line 

of the greatest poem ever written

"let there be light"

then - I can begin.

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.

Come, and Be my Baby

The highway is full of big cars

going nowhere fast

And folks is smoking anything that’ll burn

Some people wrap their lies around a cocktail glass

And you sit wondering

where you’re going to turn

I got it.

Come. And be my baby.


Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow

But others say we’ve got a week or two

The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror

And you sit wondering

What you’re gonna do.

I got it.

Come. And be my baby.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

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

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,   

The stride of my step,   

The curl of my lips.   

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,   

That’s me.


I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,   

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.   

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.   

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,   

And the flash of my teeth,   

The swing in my waist,   

And the joy in my feet.   

I’m a woman



Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.


Men themselves have wondered   

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,   

They say they still can’t see.   

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,   

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.


Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.   

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.   

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,   

The bend of my hair,   

the palm of my hand,   

The need for my care.   

’Cause I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.


Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.


Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?


Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.


You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.


Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?


Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.


Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Twelfth Song of Thunder [Navajo Tradition]

The voice that beautifies the land! 

The voice above,

The voice of thunder

Within the dark cloud 

Again and again it sounds,

The voice that beautifies the land. 


The voice that beautifies the land! 

The voice below,

The voice of the grasshopper 

Among the plants 

Again and again it sounds,

The voice that beautifies the land. 

Meditation on a Grapefruit

To wake when all is possible

before the agitations of the day

have gripped you

                    To come to the kitchen

and peel a little basketball

for breakfast

              To tear the husk

like cotton padding        a cloud of oil

misting out of its pinprick pores

clean and sharp as pepper

                             To ease

each pale pink section out of its case

so carefully       without breaking

a single pearly cell

                    To slide each piece

into a cold blue china bowl

the juice pooling       until the whole

fruit is divided from its skin

and only then to eat

                  so sweet

                            a discipline

precisely pointless       a devout

involvement of the hands and senses

a pause     a little emptiness


each year harder to live within

each year harder to live without

Old Country (Edited)

Old Country Buffet, where our family

went on the days we saved enough money.

Everyone was in a good mood, even Ullu—

our uncle who never smiled or took off his coat


& dyed his hair black every two weeks

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

single file towards the gigantic red lettering

across the gravel parking lot to announce


our arrival. We, children carrying our rectangle 

backpacks brimming with homework, calculators

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

without escape, spread out across all the booths


possible while our family ate & ate & snuck

food into the Tupperware they smuggled in

& no matter how we begged & whined

or the waitresses yelled or threatened to charge


us more money we weren’t leaving 

until my greedy family had their fill.

O, Old Country! The only place

we could get dessert & eat as much of it


as we wanted before our actual meal.

The only place we didn’t have to eat all

the meat on our plates or else we were accused

of being wasteful, told our husbands


would have as many pimples as rice we left behind.

Here, our family reveled in the American 

way of waste, manifest destinied our way

through the mac & cheese, & green bean


casseroles, mythical foods we had only

heard about on TV where American 

children rolled their eyes in disgust. Here

we learned how to say I too have had meat loaf


& hate it, evidence we could bring back

to the lunch table as we guessed

what the other kids ate as they scoffed

at our biriyani. Here, the adults told


us if we didn’t like the strawberry shortcake

we could eat the ice cream or jello we could

get a whole plate just to try a bite

to turn up our noses & that was fine.


Here we loosened the drawstrings

on our shalwaars & gained ten pounds.

Here we arrived at the beginning of lunch

hour & stayed until dinner approached


until they made us leave. Here we learned

how to be American & say:

we got the money

we’re here to stay.

Pluto Shits on the Universe

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


Today, I broke your solar system. Oops.

My bad. Your graph said I was supposed

to make a nice little loop around the sun.




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

chart me. All the other planets, they think

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

moon, running free.


Fuck your moon. Fuck your solar system.

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

shit but a day to me. I could spend your

whole year turning the winds in my bed. Thinking

about rings and how Jupiter should just pussy

on up and marry me by now. Your day?


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

is barely the start of my sunset.


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

you have yet to feel. Chaos like a motherfucker.

And you tried to order me. Called me ninth.

Somewhere in the mess of graphs and math and compass

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

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

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


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

copper than any sky will ever be. More metal.

Neptune is bitch-sobbing in my rearview,

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


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

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

in the classrooms, they confused. All their clocks:

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

They gotta memorize new songs and shit. And the other

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

a motherfucker.


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

the freedom of possibility.


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

Men Compliment Me

Men compliment me like I’m a distant planet

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


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


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

I think about that, too.


I think about his good intentions.

My freshly bloodied teeth.


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

and gnaw away at the floor beneath my feet.


I was twelve the first time I was called exotic.

Fourteen when I was deemed a terrorist.


Fifteen when I starved myself to rib

and yellowed skin. Thin as a tomato slice.


I mean a planet eventually plots its own extinction


as an aging empire waves its flag from the moon.

White men say the world is ending.


White men say the world is ending

and she's asking for it.

Cento Between the Ending and the End

Sometimes you don’t die


when you’re supposed to


& now I have a choice


repair a world or build


a new one inside my body


a white door opens


into a place queerly brimming


gold light so velvet-gold


it is like the world


hasn’t happened


when I call out


all my friends are there


everyone we love


is still alive gathered


at the lakeside


like constellations


my honeyed kin


honeyed light


beneath the sky


a garden blue stalks


white buds the moon’s


marble glow the fire


distant & flickering


the body whole bright-


winged brimming


with the hours


of the day beautiful


nameless planet. Oh


friends, my friends—


bloom how you must, wild


until we are free.

Love Poem

Dear Proofreader,


you’re right. It is warped.

My syntax, a sentence


on myself: third person

absent pronouns. I’m glad


you liked the article

about gender & interpretation.


Glad to grace your pages

wearing this ink


dress. Just what I wanted

I couldn’t tell you


all those Christmas nights

of family, trying


to decipher their mutant

kin. Yes, I’m certain


the fault is mine. I

a fault line, been falling


through the fissure

all my life.


At the bottom of the problem?

    [        ]


& at the bottom

of language, an animal


prayer & at the bottom of prayer

let me assure you


tangled fur, my proper name.

Meditations in an Emergency

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

That Girl

people only see me as that girl 

that fat girl just a little too black girl 

always sitting in the back girl 

that girl

people tell me you're weak girl 

no one wants to hear you speak girl 

look at me

I'm not at your feet girl 

stop crying girl 

it's not like you're dying girl 

no one would like you for who you are

and your career definitely won't go far

not with that hair those clothes those shoes 

you really need to change all of you girl

sometimes I tell myself 

you know depression ain’t cute girl 

and you should stop waiting 

and do what you have to do girl 

I mean if you're gonna end it then do it already girl 

just make sure you keep your hands steady girl 

you want to get it right girl 

just wait til night girl 

then get the knife girl

it only takes one slice girl 

look at you 

too weak to take your own life girl 

but God told me

aren't you tired of waiting to die girl 

all you have to do is try girl

I gave you life to live girl 

I gave you your gift to give girl 

I'm always here girl 

it's okay to shed a tear girl 

just don't fear girl 

because you are that girl 

made strong enough to carry the world on your back girl 

so stand up straight girl 

you will be great girl 

it is your fate girl 

don't worry about the past 

remember who was first shall be last 

so you've endured the worst girl

now it's your turn to be first girl 

then God held out his hands 

he said take this girl

don't waste it girl

you'll know when to use it girl 

it's a miracle girl 

like you, you are a miracle girl

Excerpt from "Giovanni's Room"

To remember it so clearly, so painfully tonight tells me that I have never for an instant truly forgotten it. I feel in myself now a faint, a dreadful stirring of what so overwhelmingly stirred in me then, great thirsty heat, and trembling, and tenderness so painful I thought my heart would burst. But out of this astounding, intolerable pain came joy; we gave each other joy that night. It seemed, then, that a lifetime would not be long enough for me to act with Joey the act of love.

Excerpt from "The Fire Next Time: My Dungeon Shook"

There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don't be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man's definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and, by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers—your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.

As a Possible Lover


silence, the way of wind


in early lull. Cold morning

to night, we go so

slowly, without


to ourselves. (Enough

to have thought

tonight, nothing

finishes it. What

you are, will have

no certainty, or

end. That you will

stay, where you are,

a human gentle wisp

of life. Ah…)



as a virtue. A single

specious need

to keep

what you have

never really


Ka 'Ba

A closed window looks down

on a dirty courtyard, and black people

call across or scream or walk across

defying physics in the stream of their will


Our world is full of sound

Our world is more lovely than anyone's

tho we suffer, and kill each other

and sometimes fail to walk the air


We are beautiful people

with african imaginations

full of masks and dances and swelling chants


with african eyes, and noses, and arms, 

though we sprawl in grey chains in a place

full of winters, when what we want is sun.


We have been captured, 

brothers. And we labor

to make our getaway, into

the ancient image, into a new


correspondence with ourselves

and our black family. We read magic

now we need the spells, to rise up

return, destroy, and create. What will be


the sacred words?

my dad asks "how come black folk can't just write about flowers?"

bijan been dead 11 months & my blue margin reduced to arterial, there’s a party at my house, a 

     house held by legislation vocabulary & trill. but hell, it’s ours & it sparkle on the corner of view 

     park, a channel of blk electric. danny wants to walk to the ledge up the block, & we an open 

     river of flex: we know what time it is. on the ledge, folk give up neck & dismantle gray 

     navigation for some slice of body. it’s june. it’s what we do.


walk down the middle of our road, & given view park, a lining of dubois’ 10th, a jack n jill feast, & 

     good blk area, it be our road. we own it. I’m sayin’ with money. our milk neighbors, collaborate 

     in the happy task of surveillance. they new. they pivot function. they call the khaki uniforms. i 

     swift. review the architecture of desire spun clean, & I could see how we all look like ghosts.


3 squad cars roll up at my door & it’s a fucking joke cuz exactly no squad cars rolled up to the 

     mcdonald’s bijan was shot at & exactly no squad cars rolled up to find the murders & exactly no 

     one did what could be categorized as they “job,” depending on how you define time spent for 

     money earned for property & it didn’t make me feel like I could see less of the gun in her holster 

     because she was blk & short & a woman, too. she go,


this your house?

I say yeah. she go,

can you prove it?

I say it mine.

she go ID? I say it mine.

she go backup on the sly

& interview me going all what’s your address—don’t look!

& hugh say I feel wild disrespected.

& white go can you explain that?

& danny say how far the nearest precinct?

& christian say fuck that.

& white go can you explain that?


I cross my arms. I’m bored & headlights quit being interesting after I called 911 when I was 2 years old because it was the only phone number I knew by heart.

Ode to Fat

Tonight, as you undress, I watch your wondrous

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

when the ice relents. Sweet relief

just to regard the sheaves of your hips,

your boundless breasts and marshy belly.

I adore the acreage

of your thighs and praise the promising

planets of your ass.

Oh, you were lean that terrifying year

you were unraveling, as though you were returning

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

But your skin was vacant, a ripped sack,

sugar spilling out and your bones insistent.

Oh, praise the loyalty of the body

that labors to rebuild its palatial realm.

Bless butter. Bless brie.

Sanctify schmaltz. And cream and cashews.

Stoke the furnace

of the stomach and load the vessels. Darling,

drench yourself in opulent oil,

the lamp of your body glowing. May you always

flourish enormous and sumptuous,

be marbled with fat, a great vault that

I can enter, the cathedral where I pray.

Little Stones at My Window

translated by Charles Hatfield


for roberto and adelaida


Once in a while

joy throws little stones at my window

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

but today I'm calm

I'd almost say even-tempered

I'm going to keep anxiety locked up

and then lie flat on my back

which is an elegant and comfortable position

for receiving and believing news


who knows where I'll be next

or when my story will be taken into account

who knows what advice I still might come up with

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


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

I won't tattoo remembering with forgetting

there are many things left to say and suppress

and many grapes left to fill our mouths


don't worry, I'm convinced

joy doesn't need to throw any more little stones

I'm coming

I'm coming.

Excerpt from "Blessings"

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

Don't believe in kings, believe in the Kingdom

Chisel me into stone, prayer whistle me into song air

Dying laughing with Krillin saying something 'bout blonde hair

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aqua regia, step off. Come caustic, creep corrosion 

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

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


a compass with its bearings & the crucible I keep unhurried

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

that celestials this molten core. Chasmed the Cretaceous

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

failed avoidance of 'the body' in a poem

after TJ Jarrett


your therapist wants to know where

in your body you most feel your anxiety.


you tell her in the bones

behind your face. they have their own


music, like ptolemy’s universe,

and chirp like shuriken


dancing in the road. your therapist says

you hurt because there are things


you’ve never been taught to do:

how to hold yourself in sleep.


how to drive. how to live with men.

back when you were five—or maybe four—


your father knelt before you for the last

time, close enough


that you could smell him, a zephyr

of kool’s filter kings and leaving.


he pushed the tricycle toward you, purple and white

streamers limp as hair on the handlebars.


by the time you mounted the cranium-shaped

seat, he was gone.


your new goal is to learn to breathe

through bones, to make flutes of them.


although, in reality, you are much more supple:

a crooked fold of flesh that comes so quickly


when called. you are the warm-bellied

animal on the shoulder,


coated in sunscreen and your father’s curiosity:

white-haired possum with his green, green eyes.


you’re now the oldest you may ever be.

you have never before been this afraid.


there are no bodies bound to rush in the room

when your own becomes a bullet ringing the tiles.


you know all about “love’s austere and lonely

offices”: checking your stools for blood.


checking your breasts for lumps. checking your neck

for swelling nodes. checking the locks,


the coffeepot, all the cracked

eyes blinking fire on the kitchen stove.


your own weep against a pillowcase

you haven’t washed, stiff with the


miasma of your hair. you stare

at pictures of the girlfriend grinning in sunlight.


you feel bad for not being taken with yourself more,

but your body is all asymptotes and fractals.


your own skin splinters in the dark

from your dense heat. the pieces


come back together under a halo of prescriptions

steeping your head in yellow light. sometimes,


while combing your hair, a sliver of cartilage

lodges in your finger pad. you lick


the glittering blood and spit out the shard.

compared to your father, this is not unkind.


somewhere between your skull and the skin

that swaddles it, all the songs you didn’t know


you needed to learn from him appear

and vanish with the rhythm of your breathing.

Excerpt from "The Fish"

I caught a tremendous fish

and held him beside the boat

half out of water, with my hook

fast in a corner of his mouth.

He didn't fight.

He hadn't fought at all.

He hung a grunting weight,

battered and venerable

and homely. Here and there

his brown skin hung in strips

like ancient wallpaper,

and its pattern of darker brown

was like wallpaper:

shapes like full-blown roses

stained and lost through age.

I looked into his eyes

which were far larger than mine.

They shifted a little, but not

to return my stare.

I admired his sullen face,

the mechanism of his jaw,

and then I saw

that from his lower lip

grim, wet, and weaponlike,

hung five old pieces of fish-line,

or four and a wire leader

with the swivel still attached,

with all their five big hooks

grown firmly in his mouth.

A green line, frayed at the end

where he broke it, two heavier lines,

and a fine black thread

still crimped from the strain and snap

when it broke and he got away.

Like medals with their ribbons

frayed and wavering,

a five-haired beard of wisdom

trailing from his aching jaw.

I stared and stared

and victory filled up

the little rented boat,

from the pool of bilge

where oil had spread a rainbow

around the rusted engine

to the bailer rusted orange,

the sun-cracked thwarts,

the oarlocks on their strings,

the gunnels—until everything

was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!


And I let the fish go.

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.


Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.


Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.


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

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

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.


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

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

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


—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

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

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

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


How you bisected me —

the elegance of the scars.

The disease? It was not chemical.

You could not cure it.


I cling to this chill.

Watch how I unfurl

before it, flag of myself,

a mirror distorted. This body —


it is nothing. In an instant

I could transform it.

Now it is a lake spreading

outward, now small and blank,


a flat stone poised

in a hand. Now it breaks apart,

only the grains of it.

Listen, how they drift and scratch.


The old story, the forms

that were broken are still here.

Now they reassemble, a buzz,

a communion.


They promise me courage,

other virtues, the rough shield,

freedom from pain. They tell me

I am this, or this —


calcium, magnesium,

a vitamin that is missing,

blue phosphorus burning.

Chips fall from a chisel.


Joints burst into loud

red flower. A bird flies

out of my mouth,

into the ceiling.


My friend is going through the fire on his knees,

His hands, crossing the entire field of it;

Once in a while he calls out, bewildered,


The other side unclear, wanting to just

Lie down and wait among the scattered stones.

Unimaginable heat: he pants, lost in the light


Of what keeps happening–think water, think water,

And he manages to make out one nurse

Up against the bright and it takes everything


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

The one tree still standing, and understood

She promises nothing, who in her uniform


Was all that was ever asked for and who

Could hold him as he has never been held.

My Father in English

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

of las montañas that lined his village, the rhyme

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

with las palmas, the sharp rhythm of his machete

cutting through caña, the syllables of his canarios

that sung into la brisa of the island home he left

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

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

and the brick factory where he learned to polish

steel twelve hours a day. Enough to save enough

to buy a used Spanish-English dictionary he kept

bedside like a bible—studied fifteen new words

after his prayers each night, then practiced them

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

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

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

indeed, for dinner. Hicistes tu homework, indeed?

La vida is indeed difícil. Indeed did indeed become

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

he never quite grasped: overused and misused often

to my embarrassment. Yet the word I most learned

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

tried to master the language he chose to master him,

indeed, the husband who refused to say I love you

in English to my mother, the man who died without

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

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

what I always meant to tell him in both languages:

thank you/gracias for surrendering the past tense

of your life so that I might conjugate myself here

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

The Pedestrian

When the pickup truck, with its side mirror,

almost took out my arm, the driver’s grin


reflected back; it was just a horror


show that was never going to happen,

don’t protest, don’t bother with the police


for my benefit, he gave me a smile—


he too was startled, redness in his face—

when I thought I was going, a short while,


to get myself killed: it wasn’t anger


when he bared his teeth, as if to caution

calm down, all good, no one died, ni[ght, neighbor]—


no sense getting all pissed, the commotion


of the past is the past; I was so dim,

he never saw me—of course, I saw him

A Heart Can Be Broken Only Once, Like A Window

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

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


against gusts taking themselves away.  I listen to wild parrots

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


uncomfortable in the jeans and wonder if the holes

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

I say please.  Sometimes words belong between certain people


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

Today, I feel like telling jokes instead of pretending


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

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


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

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


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

that the world breaks everyone.  That afterwards,


many are stronger at the broken places.  I wish

a whole woman would wake up inside of me.

Lies I Tell

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

Mexcian Bingo (Edited)

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

Oh Wonder

It’s the garden spider who eats her mistakes

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

of night, dangling from an insecure branch 


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

and sleep, her spinnerets trailing radials like

ungathered hair. It’s a million pound cumulus. 


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

a mammatus rolling her weight through dusk

waiting to unhook and shake free the hail. 


Sometimes it’s so ordinary it escapes your notice—

pothos reaching for windows, ease of an avocado

slipping its skin. A porcelain boy with lamp-black 


eyes told me most mammals have the same average

number of heartbeats in a lifetime. It is the mouse

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


slow electricity—six pumps per minute is the way

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

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


and fed sugar water until she was again a tempest.

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

and my brother lifted her while I tried to shout louder 


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

and I behold him, astonished, his sadness as clean

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


I refuse to invade with empathy. And outside, clouds

groan like gods, a garden spider consumes her home.

It’s knowing she can weave it tomorrow between 


citrus leaves and earth. It’s her chamberless heart

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

into my lap to witness the birth of his grieving.

Boy Breaking Glass

To Marc Crawford

from whom the commission


Whose broken window is a cry of art   

(success, that winks aware

as elegance, as a treasonable faith)

is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed première.

Our beautiful flaw and terrible ornament.   

Our barbarous and metal little man.


“I shall create! If not a note, a hole.   

If not an overture, a desecration.”


Full of pepper and light

and Salt and night and cargoes.


“Don’t go down the plank

if you see there’s no extension.   

Each to his grief, each to

his loneliness and fidgety revenge.

Nobody knew where I was and now I am no longer there.”


The only sanity is a cup of tea.   

The music is in minors.


Each one other

is having different weather.


“It was you, it was you who threw away my name!   

And this is everything I have for me.”


Who has not Congress, lobster, love, luau,   

the Regency Room, the Statue of Liberty,   

runs. A sloppy amalgamation.

A mistake.

A cliff.

A hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun.

Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward

Say to them,

say to the down-keepers,

the sun-slappers,

the self-soilers,

the harmony-hushers,

"Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night."

You will be right.

For that is the hard home-run.


Live not for battles won.

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

Live in the along.

The Boy Died in My Alley

to Running Boy


The Boy died in my alley

without my Having Known.

Policeman said, next morning,

"Apparently died Alone."


"You heard a shot?" Policeman said.

Shots I hear and Shots I hear.

I never see the Dead.


The Shot that killed him yes I heard

as I heard the Thousand shots before;

careening tinnily down the nights

across my years and arteries.


Policeman pounded on my door.

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

"A Boy was dying in your alley.

A Boy is dead, and in your alley.

And have you known this Boy before?"


I have known this Boy before.

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

I never saw his face at all.

I never saw his futurefall.

But I have known this Boy.


I have always heard him deal with death.

I have always heard the shout, the volley.

I have closed my heart-ears late and early.

And I have killed him ever.


I joined the Wild and killed him

with knowledgeable unknowing.

I saw where he was going.

I saw him Crossed.  And seeing,

I did not take him down.


He cried not only "Father!"

but "Mother!



The cry climbed up the alley.

It went up to the wind.

It hung upon the heaven

for a long

stretch-strain of Moment.


The red floor of my alley

is a special speech to me.

To the Young Who Want to Die

Sit down. Inhale. Exhale.

The gun will wait. The lake will wait.

The tall gall in the small seductive vial

will wait will wait:

will wait a week: will wait through April.

You do not have to die this certain day.

Death will abide, will pamper your postponement.

I assure you death will wait. Death has

a lot of time. Death can

attend to you tomorrow. Or next week. Death is

just down the street; is most obliging neighbor;

can meet you any moment.


You need not die today.

Stay here--through pout or pain or peskyness.

Stay here. See what the news is going to be tomorrow.


Graves grow no green that you can use.

Remember, green's your color. You are Spring.


And if sun comes

How shall we greet him?

Shall we not dread him,

Shall we not fear him

After so lengthy a

Session with shade?


Though we have wept for him,

Though we have prayed

All through the night-years—

What if we wake one shimmering morning to

Hear the fierce hammering

Of his firm knuckles

Hard on the door?


Shall we not shudder?—

Shall we not flee

Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter

Of the familiar

Propitious haze?


Sweet is it, sweet is it

To sleep in the coolness

Of snug unawareness.


The dark hangs heavily

Over the eyes.

How to Tell My Dad that I Kissed a Man

Blame your drag queen roommate—Lamar by day, Mahogany by night—and then

blame his sequined dresses—all slit high, up to his balls


Explain that dusk smells so different in Spain—musky cherry—tight tangerine burst—sage

mixed with lavender


Tell him you were under the influence of bees or bats—the spin and swirl of doves


Tell him you were half asleep—about to leave to the dunes just west of Madrid—better

yet say forest—he knows that crazy shit happens in a forest


Tell him no tongue but his mouth—wax-like and wet


Tell him timing


Tell him ease


Tell him sweat and sweat


Tell him lips


Tell him the juice—yeah saffron juice


Tell him flat-chested


Tell him, “crook”—I mean, “creek”


Tell him tales—lies—tears—water—weakness—churros—chocolate—hot—heat—heave—  








Tell him anything you want—then tell him


You did it again


I begin with love, hoping to end there.

I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.


              I don’t want to leave a messy corpse

              Full of medicines that turn in the sun.


Some of my medicines turn in the sun.

Some of us don’t need hell to be good.


              Those who need most, need hell to be good.

              What are the symptoms of your sickness?


Here is one symptom of my sickness:

Men who love me are men who miss me.


              Men who leave me are men who miss me

              In the dream where I am an island.


In the dream where I am an island,

I grow green with hope. I’d like to end there.

Say Thank You Say I'm Sorry

I don’t know whose side you’re on,


But I am here for the people


Who work in grocery stores that glow in the morning


And close down for deep cleaning at night


Right up the street and in cities I mispronounce,


In towns too tiny for my big black


Car to quit, and in every wide corner


Of Kansas where going to school means


At least one field trip


To a slaughterhouse. I want so little: another leather bound


Book, a gimlet with a lavender gin, bread


So good when I taste it I can tell you


How it’s made. I’d like us to rethink


What it is to be a nation. I’m in a mood about America


Today. I have PTSD


About the Lord. God save the people who work


In grocery stores. They know a bit of glamour


Is a lot of glamour. They know how much


It costs for the eldest of us to eat. Save


My loves and not my sentences. Before I see them,


I draw a mole near my left dimple,


Add flair to the smile they can’t see


Behind my mask. I grin or lie or maybe


I wear the mouth of a beast. I eat wild animals


While some of us grow up knowing


What gnocchi is. The people who work at the grocery don’t care.


They say, Thank you. They say, Sorry,


We don’t sell motor oil anymore with a grief so thick


You could touch it. Go on. Touch it.


It is early. It is late. They have washed their hands.


They have washed their hands for you.


And they take the bus home.

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.

working title

The name of this poem is: 

How to write a poem about Ferguson 


The name of this poem is: 

How a black man dies and no one makes a sound 


The name of this poem is: 

Everywhere is Ferguson 


The name of this poem is: 

When the moonrise sounds like gunshots 


The name of this poem is: 

How to teach your babies to walk and not run, ever.


The name of this poem is: 

How to teach your babies to carry a wallet 

the size of your smile 


The name of this poem is: 

How to smile & not make yourself a target 


The name of this poem is: 

How to write a poem the same size of Emmett Till’s lungs 


The name of this poem is: 

How to write a poem about America’s thirst 


The name of this poem is: 

Black blood’ll keep you thirsty 


The name of this poem is: 

I’m still thirsty, An American Horror Story 


The name of this poem is:

How to write an escape route from a tornado 


The name of this poem is: 

How to write an escape route 

when the tornado’s name is Stop & Frisk 


The name of this poem is: 

How walk the streets without fearing 

someone will cut your neck open 


How to walk into a boardroom 

without fearing someone will cut your legacy open 


How to walk without asking for it 


How to walk without asking for it 


How to determine what “asking for it” looks like 


The name of this poem is: 

How “asking for it” feel like a church bombing 


The name of this poem is: 

How to not intimidate nobody in 3 small steps 


The name of this poem is: 

How to use your science books as Teflon 

& how that still might not work 


The name of this poem is: 

How to write about the one time you held a gun 


The name of this poem is: 

  How to write about the one time you had a gun pointed to your face 


The name of this poem is: 

How to write about the one time you had a gun pointed to your face 


The name of this poem is: 

How to write about the one time you had a gun pointed to your face 


The name of this poem is: 

How to write about the one time you had a gun pointed to your face 


The name of this poem is: 

How to write a poem from the perspective of a cop’s gun 

a cop’s Taser

a cop’s baton

a cop’s boot


The name of this poem is: 

How to write poem without r e p e a t i n g yourself

Excerpt from "Parable of the Sower"

There is no end

To what a living world

Will demand of you.

Excerpt from “The Glass Essay”

You remember too much,

my mother said to me recently.


Why hold onto all that? And I said,

Where can I put it down?

Excerpt from "Obit" [Blame]

Blame—wants to die but cannot. Its

hair is untidy but it’s always here. My

mother blamed my father. I blamed my

father’s dementia. My father blamed

my mother’s lack of exercise. My

father is the story, not the storyteller.

I eventually blamed my father because

the story kept on trying to become the 

storyteller. Blame has no face. I have

walked on its staircase around and

around, trying to slap its face but only

hitting my own cheeks. When some

people suffer, they want to tell everyone

about their suffering. When the brush

hits a knot, the child cries out loud,

makes a noise that is an expression of

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

the child’s pain but some echo of her 

pain, based on my imagination. Blame

is just an echo of pain, a veil across

the face of the one you blame. I blame

God. I want to complain to the boss of

God about God. What if the boss of

God is rain and the only way to speak

to rain is to open your mouth to the sky

and drown?

Excerpt from "Obit" [Empathy]

Empathy—died sometime before

January 20, 2017. The gate vanished 

but we don’t know when. The doorbell

vanished. The trains stopped moving.

Someone stole the North Pole sign. I

am you, and you, and you. But there

are so many obstacles between us. I

can never feel my mother’s illness or

my father’s dementia. The black notes

on the score are only representations

of sound, the keys must knock certain

strings which are made of steel, steel

is made of iron and carbon from the

earth. Why do we make things like a

piano that try to represent beauty or

pain? Why must we always draw what

we see? Just copy it, my mother used

to say about drawing. The artist is only

visiting pain, imagining it. We praise

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

shadow which is murdered slowly.

There must be some way of drawing

a picture so that it doesn’t become an



My house got robbed in New York. I didn't even call the police. I wanted to, but I couldn't. My crib is too nice. It's not that it's too nice, but it's too nice for me. You know how the police are in New York. Soon as I open the door, they'll be like, "He's still here! Open and shut case, Johnson. Apparently this black guy broke in and hung up pictures of his family everywhere. Never seen anything like it.


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

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

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

warmth and kindness, both—so I create my own

when I can. It’s easy. You just pour

water into a kettle and turn the knob and listen

for the scream. I do this

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

I let out a little sound. A poet noticed this

and it made me feel I might one day

properly be loved. Because no one is here

to love me, I make tea for myself

and leave the radio playing. I must

remind myself I am here, and do so

by noticing myself: my feet are cold

inside my socks, they touch the ground, my stomach

churns, my heart stutters, in my hands I hold

a warmth I make. I come from

a people who pray five times a day

and make tea. I admire the way they do

both. How they drop to the ground

wherever they are. Drop

pine nuts and mint sprigs in a glass.

I think to care for the self

is a kind of prayer. It is a gesture

of devotion toward what is not always beloved

or believed. I do not always believe

in myself, or love myself, I am sure

there are times I am bad or gone

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

but sometimes means truth. Despite

the trope, in my experience my people do not lie

for pleasure, or when they should,

even when it might be a gesture

of kindness. But they are kind. If you were

to visit, a woman would bring you

a tray of tea. At any time of day.

My people love tea so much

it was once considered a sickness. Their colonizers

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

so strong one might sell or kill their other

loves for leaves and sugar. Teaism

sounds like a kind of faith

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

I wouldn’t kill anyone for love,

not even myself—most days

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

I stand at the window while I wait.

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

I do the small thing I know how to do

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

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

Self-Portrait as a Wild Extrovert

I have 600 dear friends.

I hug each of them

daily. I never need a mint

but am always ready to offer one

or 600. I love & know a lot

about biking/baking. I love & know

a lot about Celine Dion,

thanks to my mom, who is, if I

absolutely had to pick one—but

who am I kidding, of course

she’s my best friend.

Once, every five years, I might

feel a smidge of sadness.

& when I do, I just

sit down, maintaining impeccable,

approachable posture, & breathe.

I breathe like the very well-

organized, very wall-less

ad agency I’ve run

since birth. I breathe

like breathing is my oldest

dear friend named Daphne

Daphne, whom I still call every night

before bed to say, You are

an incandescent multiverse—don’t you

forget it, & that never

fails to do the trick.

Excerpt from "The Yellow House"






we touch down on US soil

we are taken to Santa Monica beach

i don’t remember having seen the ocean before


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

i look up at the sun

and suddenly i can’t remember my name


a hand pulls at my arm

this is skin on my skin

he wants me to race against him


i tumble into the sand

he pulls away toward the finish line

and stops to tell me to keep running


but i don’t rise into the air

and instead watch him cry

as he promises to make me whole



we stood out in the front yard

i stared at the giant ant hills


in the center divider of our street.

he looked up at the sky


and put his hand on my shoulder

i turned and tilted my head to face him.



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

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

Catastrophe Is Next to Godliness

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

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

I want an excuse to change my life.


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

I answered the phone, and a channel opened

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

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

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

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

you intimate abyss I called sister for a good reason.


When the Bad Thing happened, I saw every blade.

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

I get closer to open air; true north.


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

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

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

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

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

A Self-Portrait

translated by Cathy Park Hong and Won-Chun Kim


I am no-one follower

nor anyone’s friend. 

I am the daughter of darkness dreaming

among weeds, a bog, or a body

possessed by intimation.

Mother, I am darkness.

Since the morning of old

when Adam and Eve rose from grass,

I have been the long body’s sorrow.

Children sing like birds

and bloom like flowers

on the shining street.

In sunlight, there are shining people

with heavenly minds, but I cannot taste

their mild wine with my forked tongue.

I coil myself among the weeds or a bog.

I wait for sorrow’s poison to ferment

in my whole body.

A baby inside a womb, yearning

for a mother’s love, I dream

the evil dream of the sun

secretly crying towards the sky.

Excerpt from "The First Black Bachelorette"

There was an episode once

on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

with the actress Tisha Campbell.

The premise: they were on a date

and stuck in a basement for hours.

She stripped off her weave, fake nails,

contacts, and eyelashes. She molted.

Will, then asks, Now, what else

on your body can I get at the mall?

RuPaul says, we’re all born naked

and the rest is drag. Derrick has a list

of funny drag names and I want one.

I want to be called what I really am

or what I pretend to be, which, I guess

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

might be beautiful enough to be approached,

discovered. Someone who doesn’t have

to pay for movers. Someone who walks

into a party and doesn’t have to be anxious

because the privilege of their beauty

makes them at rest and people find vacations

in their faces. I require something fake.

Woven and glued, stuck to my body

but not of my body. How does a body

even start?

Mixed Bitch

is allowed to love herself.


She wants to tell Nikky Finney

about her beautiful black girl arms

how they shimmer and shimmy in space—  

making muscle songs of her tendons

and the dark matter beef.


Mixed Bitch wants to commission Kehinde Wiley.

She wants renaissance prints behind her mulatto skin,

gold lamé and a big ass frame inside the First



She was caught between two allegiances, different,

yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race! The thing

that bound and suffocated her. Whatever steps

she took, or if she took none at all, something

would be crushed. Crushed?


Mixed Bitch don’t know her Daddy.

Mixed Bitch don’t know her Daddy.

Mixed          Bitch

           don’t know

her       Daddy.


But ain’t she still allowed to love herself?


Mixed Bitch lets herself love— 

the black inside: the white inside: the black of herself.

My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work

I hustle


I grasp.

                I grind.

I control & panic. Poke

balloons in my chest,

always popping there,

always my thoughts thump,

thump. I snooze — wake & go

boom. All day, like this I short

my breath. I scroll & scroll.

I see what you wrote — I like.

I heart. My thumb, so tired.

My head bent down, but not

in prayer, heavy from the looking.

I see your face, your phone-lit

faces. I tap your food, two times

for more hearts. I retweet.

I email: yes & yes & yes.

Then I cry & need to say: no-no-no.

Why does it take so long to reply?

I FOMO & shout. I read. I never

enough. New book. New post.

New ping. A new tab, then another.

Papers on the floor, scattered & stacked.

So many journals, unbroken white spines,

waiting. Did you hear that new new?

I start to text back. Ellipsis, then I forget.

I balk. I lazy the bed. I wallow when I write.

I truth when I lie. I throw a book

when a poem undoes me. I underline

Clifton: today we are possible. I start

from image. I begin with Phillis Wheatley.

I begin with Phillis Wheatley. I begin

with Phillis Wheatley reaching for coal.

I start with a napkin, receipt, or my hand.

I muscle memory. I stutter the page. I fail.

Hit delete — scratch out one more line. I sonnet,

then break form. I make tea, use two bags.

Rooibos again. I bathe now. Epsom salt.

No books or phone. Just water & the sound

of water filling, glory — be my buoyant body,

bowl of me. Yes, lavender, more bubbles

& bath bomb, of course some candles too.

All alone with Coltrane. My favorite, “Naima,”

for his wife, now for me, inside my own womb.

Again, I child back. I float. I sing. I simple

& humble. Eyes close. I low my voice,

was it a psalm? Don’t know. But I stopped.

blessing the boats

(at St. Mary’s) 


may the tide 

that is entering even now 

the lip of our understanding  

carry you out 

beyond the face of fear 

may you kiss 

the wind then turn from it 

certain that it will 

love your back may you 

open your eyes to water 

water waving forever 

and may you in your innocence 

sail through this to that.

poem in praise of menstruation

if there is a river

more beautiful than this

bright as the blood

red edge of the moon          if


there is a river

more faithful than this

returning each month

to the same delta          if there


is a river

braver than this

coming and coming in a surge

of passion, of pain          if there is


a river

more ancient than this

daughter of eve

mother of cain and of abel          if there is in


the universe such a river          if

there is some where water

more powerful than this wild


pray that it flows also

through animals

beautiful and faithful and ancient

and female and brave

why some people be mad at me sometimes

they ask me to remember

but they want me to remember

their memories

and i keep on remembering


won’t you celebrate with me

won't you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Excerpt from "Between the World and Me" 1

Think of all the love poured into him. Think of the tuitions for Montessori and music lessons. Think of the gasoline expended, the treads worn carting him to football games, basketball tournaments, and Little League. Think of the time spent regulating sleepovers. Think of the surprise birthday parties, the daycare, and the reference checks on babysitters. Think of World Book and Childcraft. Think of checks written for family photos. Think of credit cards charged for vacations. Think of soccer balls, science kits, chemistry sets, racetracks, and model trains. Think of all the embraces, all the private jokes, customs, greetings, names, dreams, all the shared knowledge and capacity of a black family injected into that vessel of flesh and bone. And think of how that vessel was taken, shattered on the concrete, and all its holy contents, all that had gone into him, sent flowing back to the earth.

Excerpt from "Between The World And Me" 2

To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.

Bedtime Story

bed calls. i sit in the dark in the living room 

trying to ignore them


in the morning, especially Sunday mornings 

it will not let me up. you must sleep 

longer, it says


facing south

the bed makes me lay heavenward on my back 

while i prefer a westerly fetal position 

facing the wall


the bed sucks me sideways into it when i  

sit down on it to put on my shoes. this

persistence on its part forces me to dress in 

the bathroom where things are less subversive


the bed lumps up in anger springs popping out to

scratch my dusky thighs


my little office sits in the alcove adjacent to 

the bed. it makes strange little sighs

which distract me from my work 

sadistically i pull back the covers 

put my typewriter on the sheet and turn it on


the bed complains that i'm difficult duty 

its slats are collapsing. it bitches when i 

blanket it with books and papers. it tells me

it's made for blood and bone


lately spiders ants and roaches

have invaded it searching for food

Dear Mama (4)

when did we become friends?

it happened so gradual i didn't notice

maybe i had to get my run out first

take a big bite of the honky world and choke on it

maybe that's what has to happen with some uppity youngsters

if it happens at all


and now

the thought stark and irrevocable

of being here without you

shakes me


beyond love, fear, regret or anger

into that realm children go

who want to care for/protect their parents

as if they could

and sometimes the lucky ones do


into the realm of making every moment


laughing as though laughter wards off death

each word given

received like spanish eight


treasure to bury within

against that shadow day

when it will be the only coin i possess

with which to buy peace of mind

What's Not to Love

about a broken bowl,

now two half-bowls,


still ready to hold

what they can, even


if that’s nothing


What’s not to love

about weeds and weeds


and weeds that crowd

the yard, and thrive


amazingly on the same



What’s not to love

about a virus crowding


the blood, putting a doll

of itself in each cell


and sailing it away

to find fortune


in the heart

What’s not to love


about the dying heart

with its four dark rooms


full of grass and broken

china, a sheeted piano


about to play

What’s not to love


about a sonata played

by a lonely child


who would rather do

anything else,


sleep in a garden

or pull up the flowers,


who would rather be sick

What’s not to love


about reading aloud

to someone fast asleep,


about not stopping,

not even when


a bowl slides from the bed

and crashes


like a bell in water

In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes

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

unable to utter his name, renamed him Jalapeño.


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

into a jar of water. The silver letters


on his black belt spell Sangrón. Once, borracho,

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


Arriba Durango. Arriba Orizaba. Packed

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


Frijolero. Greaser. In Tucson he branded

cattle. He slept in a stable. The horse blankets


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

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


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

with his thumb in my mouth. ¿No qué no


tronabas, pistolita? He learned English

by listening to the radio. The first four words


he memorized: In God We Trust. The fifth:

Percolate. Again and again I borrow his clothes.


He calls me Scarecrow. In Oregon he picked apples.

Braeburn. Jonagold. Cameo. Nightly,


to entertain his cuates, around a campfire,

he strummed a guitarra, sang corridos. Arriba


Durango. Arriba Orizaba. Packed into

a car trunk, he was smuggled into the States.


Greaser. Beaner. Once, borracho, at breakfast,

he said: The heart can only be broken


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

belt buckle: an águila perched on a nopal.


If he laughs out loud, his hands tremble.

Bugs Bunny wants to deport him. César Chávez


wants to deport him. When I walk through

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


stitches the buttons of his shirt to my skin.

The snake hisses. The snake is torn.

Fruit Of The Flower

My father is a quiet man

With sober, steady ways;

For simile, a folded fan;

His nights are like his days.

My mother's life is puritan,

No hint of cavalier,

A pool so calm you're sure it can

Have little depth to fear.


And yet my father's eyes can boast

How full his life has been;

There haunts them yet the languid ghost

Of some still sacred sin.


And though my mother chants of God,

And of the mystic river,

I've seen a bit of checkered sod

Set all her flesh aquiver.


Why should he deem it pure mischance

A son of his is fain

To do a naked tribal dance

Each time he hears the rain?


Why should she think it devil's art

That all my songs should be

Of love and lovers, broken heart,

And wild sweet agony?


Who plants a seed begets a bud,

Extract of that same root;

Why marvel at the hectic blood

That flushes this wild fruit?

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank you god for most this amazing 

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees  

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything  

which is natural which is infinite which is yes 

Black Stars

Whitney was a star once.

Waltzed across our television skies,

a waning crescent.

So was Michael.

& Marvin.

All stars die though.

Explode into air thin,

cascade into black hole.

Black stars form under pressure

& leave us tragically,

either by death or betrayal.

When there was no other beacon on our screens,

we looked up to Bill.

When we wanted to name a future for ourselves,

we looked through Raven’s eyes.

When we needed validation an institution could not give,

we called on Kanye.

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

the shorter their lifespan.

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

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

Some weeks I only listen to Whitney.

Cradle her name, a prayer between my lips.

One dim dusk, her lover gifted her stardust.

Whitney danced, dosed, then drowned.

& we mourn her body celestial after all these years.

Joe Jackson tried to carve galaxies out of his children.

MJ got addicted to surgeoning his features for the masses. 

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

Walk on the moon, boy.

Turn this Indiana basement into a universe.

You a star, boy.

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

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

so he don’t get to shine forever.

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

Got so big, white folks thought he was the sun

of God.

Now Yeezus only praises white folks in red hats

and white girls with fake asses.

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

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

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

Maybe we’re all waiting to be on fire.

Black stars disintegrate for reaching up towards a pearly gaze.

Whiteness has always been both a goal and unattainable.

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

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

The further we get from ground or dirt or us.

Black folks stay folding in on ourselves,

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

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

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

Masculinity gave Marvin Gaye’s father a gun,

told him to shoot his son.

& ain’t a sun the biggest star?

Don’t the biggest stars have the shortest lives?

Make the largest explosions?

Have you seen 

the energy burning out

turn to dust?

Did you know above you

there are a sea of stars


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

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

238,900 miles away from me.


You make me want to go to Hogwarts 

so I can make you disappear.


Oh my god you’re so funny…looking.


Are we at the rodeo?

Because this conversation is bullshit.


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

and heteronormative ideals while I sit over here and watch?


Your advances and excess touching and jokes are all so funny 

I decided to tell them to my lawyer.


You make me think all kinds of naughty things,

 like where to hide a body.


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

I would throw them all at you.


You want to know how I got these guns?

Working out because I’m terrified of violent masculinity!


You remind me of 1919, 

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


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


You and my bra have something in common— 

You’re both annoying and make everything less enjoyable.


You look like a wonderful piece of meat,

You would look great under a butcher knife.


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


Flu Season

In the summer of 2014, hundred of Memphis police officers

caught the “blue flu,” and took sick days to protest a reduction in

benefits. Almost 40% of the City’s general fund is spent on policing.


It's flu season and I'm sick of bills. It's all 

Destiny's Child: bills, bills, bills. We have 

armored trucks and SkyCops and no food. 

We have body cams and no food and the body 

cams are never recording. Have you ever been 

denied so much you came down with a blue flu? 

Have you ever been as blue as a jar of Blue Magic, 

set of blueprints, a river filling with femurs, dull, 

red kidneys? I've heard the cops started as a better 

way to catch niggas. Somehow a person with no

-thing is always the most dangerous. How many 

times have my taxes paid for riot shields 

cliquing together like birds? How much over-

time occupies my block and its quiet? Look: 

I lock the door when I'm sure no one's coming. 

I ask the ghetto bird, if only briefly, to wait. All my 

life, I've been asking for a park. Fresh oranges 

that don't take 3 hours to bring home.

Not This (Edited)

my god all the days we have lived thru



not this

one, not this,

not now,

not yet, this week

doesn’t count, was lost, this month

was trash, what a year, it sucked,

it flew, that decade was for

what? i raised my kids, they

grew i lost two pasts–i am

not made of them and they

are through.


we forget what

we remember:


each of the five

the fevered few


days we used to

fall in love.

Learning Whitney

My father loved my mama

quiet. She never was.


Sang as she dusted,

Whitney was her back-up singer.


He’d disappear, stumble in,

bright blues still in his mouth.


I come from a family of men

who thought saying I love you


was something you saved for sleep or the dead

and tears could get your ass whooped.

Poem That Gives No Fucks

A poem should be heavy metal

worn as armor when the world hurts.

Should be a jangly guitar arpeggio

draping the highway or blue jay pecking apart

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

A poem should be a Lisa Frank unicorn

vomiting rainbows who makes you ask:

how do I continue to do what I hate

day in and day out, and then answers

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

so stop screaming into the 22nd century.

Get nasty, mechanize the messy.

Reinvent your pussy into a box of butterflies.”

Because if a poem isn’t god’s tooth

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

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

A poem should feel like an encyclopedia

chewed up by stray dogs behind a Tiger Mart.

Seductive as a saint with truck driver hands.

Should glint like a prayer made of bodily fluids,

make you want to burn all your clothes,

eat yourself alive, smother your heart

and say: I've been searching

for the blues my whole damn life.

Joy #1

Joy shakes me like the wind that lifts a sail,

Like the roistering wind

That laughs through stalwart pines.

It floods me like the sun

On rain-drenched trees

That flash with silver and green,

I abandon myself to joy— 

I laugh—I sing.

Too long have I walked a desolate way,

Too long stumbled down a maze


Shifting the Sun

When your father dies, say the Irish,

you lose your umbrella against bad weather.

May his sun be your light, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the Welsh,

you sink a foot deeper into the earth.

May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the Canadians,

you run out of excuses. May you inherit

his sun, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the French,

you become your own father.

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


When your father dies, say the Indians,

he comes back as the thunder.

May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the Russians,

he takes your childhood with him.

May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the English,

you join his club you vowed you wouldn't.

May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.


When your father dies, say the Armenians,

your sun shifts forever.

And you walk in his light.

Why I don't write about George Floyd

Because there is too much to say

Because I have nothing to say

Because I don’t know what to say

Because everything has been said

Because it hurts too much to say

What can I say what can I say

Something is stuck in my throat

Something is stuck like an apple

Something is stuck like a knife

Something is stuffed like a foot

Something is stuffed like a body

From the Desire Field

I don’t call it sleep anymore.

I’ll risk losing something new instead—


like you lost your rosen moon, shook it loose.


But sometimes when I get my horns in a thing—

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

fruit to unfasten from,


despite my trembling.


Let me call my anxiety, desire, then.

Let me call it, a garden.


Maybe this is what Lorca meant

when he said, verde que te quiero verde


because when the shade of night comes,

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


My mind in the dark is una bestia, unfocused,

hot. And if not yoked to exhaustion


beneath the hip and plow of my lover,

then I am another night wandering the desire field—


bewildered in its low green glow,


belling the meadow between midnight and morning.

Insomnia is like Spring that way—surprising

and many petaled,


the kick and leap of gold grasshoppers at my brow.


I am struck in the witched hours of want—


I want her green life. Her inside me

in a green hour I can’t stop.

Green vein in her throat green wing in my mouth


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

Green moving green, moving.


Fast as that, this is how it happens—

soy una sonámbula.


And even though you said today you felt better,

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

to say, I don’t feel good,


to ask you to tell me a story

about the sweet grass you planted—and tell it again

or again—


until I can smell its sweet smoke,

leave this thrashed field, and be smooth.

They Don't Love You Like I Love You

My mother said this to me

long before Beyoncé lifted the lyrics

from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,


and what my mother meant by

Don’t stray was that she knew

all about it—the way it feels to need


someone to love you, someone

not your kind, someone white,

some one some many who live


because so many of mine

have not, and further, live on top of

those of ours who don’t.


I’ll say, say, say,

I’ll say, say, say,

What is the United States if not a clot


of clouds? If not spilled milk? Or blood?

If not the place we once were

in the millions? America is Maps


Maps are ghosts: white and 

layered with people and places I see through.

My mother has always known best,


knew that I’d been begging for them,

to lay my face against their white

laps, to be held in something more


than the loud light of their projectors

of themselves they flicker—sepia

or blue—all over my body.


All this time,

I thought my mother said, Wait,

as in, Give them a little more time


to know your worth,

when really, she said, Weight,

meaning heft, preparing me


for the yoke of myself,

the beast of my country’s burdens,

which is less worse than


my country’s plow. Yes,

when my mother said,

They don’t love you like I love you,


she meant,

Natalie, that doesn’t mean

you aren’t good.

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

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - 

That perches in the soul - 

And sings the tune without the words - 

And never stops - at all - 


And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard - 

And sore must be the storm - 

That could abash the little Bird 

That kept so many warm - 


I’ve heard it in the chillest land - 

And on the strangest Sea - 

Yet - never - in Extremity, 

It asked a crumb - of me. 

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

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

[Untitled- Split the Lark]

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

Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled — 

Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning 

Saved for your Ear, when Lutes be old —


Loose the Flood — you shall find it patent — 

Gush after Gush, reserved for you — 

Scarlet Experiment!  Sceptic Thomas! 

Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true? 


Work out. Ten laps.

Chin ups. Look good.


Steam room. Dress warm.

Call home. Fresh air.


Eat right. Rest well.

Sweetheart. Safe sex.


Sore throat. Long flu.

Hard nodes. Beware.


Test blood. Count cells.

Reds thin. Whites low.


Dress warm. Eat well.

Short breath. Fatigue.


Night sweats. Dry cough.

Loose stools. Weight loss.


Get mad. Fight back.

Call home. Rest well.


Don’t cry. Take charge.

No sex. Eat right.


Call home. Talk slow.

Chin up. No air.


Arms wide. Nodes hard.

Cough dry. Hold on.


Mouth wide. Drink this.

Breathe in. Breathe out.


No air. Breathe in.

Breathe in. No air.


Black out. White rooms.

Head hot. Feet cold.


No work. Eat right.

CAT scan. Chin up.


Breathe in. Breathe out.

No air. No air.


Thin blood. Sore lungs.

Mouth dry. Mind gone.


Six months? Three weeks?

Can’t eat. No air.


Today? Tonight?

It waits. For me.


Sweet heart. Don’t stop.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Why Bother?

Because right now, there is someone


out there with


a wound in the exact shape


of your words.

Heart to Heart

It’s neither red

nor sweet.

It doesn’t melt

or turn over,

break or harden,

so it can’t feel





It doesn’t have 

a tip to spin on,

it isn’t even


just a thick clutch

of muscle,


mute. Still,

I feel it inside

its cage sounding

a dull tattoo:

I want, I want—


but I can’t open it:

there’s no key.

I can’t wear it

on my sleeve,

or tell you from

the bottom of it

how I feel. Here,

it’s all yours, now—

but you’ll have

to take me,


Party Dress for a First Born

Headless girl, so ill at ease on the bed,

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

nothing. I used to think that, too,

whenever I sat down to a full plate

or unwittingly stepped on an ant.

When I ran to my mother, waiting radiant

as a cornstalk at the edge of the field,

nothing else mattered: the world stood still.


Tonight men stride like elegant scissors across the lawn

to the women arrayed there, petals waiting to loosen.

When I step out, disguised in your blushing skin,

they will nudge each other to get a peek

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

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

The Debt

This is the debt I pay

Just for one riotous day,

Years of regret and grief,

Sorrow without relief.


Pay it I will to the end —

Until the grave, my friend,

Gives me a true release —

Gives me the clasp of peace.


Slight was the thing I bought,

Small was the debt I thought,

Poor was the loan at best —

God! but the interest!

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.


Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

    We wear the mask.


We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

    We wear the mask!

Characteristics of Life

A fifth of animals without backbones could be at risk of extinction, say scientists.

-BBC Nature News


Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you

I speak for the snail.

                          speak of underneathedness

and the welcome of mosses,

                                        of life that springs up,

little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.


I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,

the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.

                                                        I speak

from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.


Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you

                        one thing today and another tomorrow

        and I will be as consistent as anything alive

on this earth.


              I move as the currents move, with the breezes.

What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle

ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.


Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent

as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful

and useless if that's all you know to ask of me.


Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances

        between meadows of night-blooming flowers.

                                                        I will speak

                        the impossible hope of the firefly.


                                                You with the candle

burning and only one chair at your table must understand

        such wordless desire.


                         To say it is mindless is missing the point.

Trophic Cascade

After the reintroduction of gray wolves

to Yellowstone and, as anticipated, their culling

of deer, trees grew beyond the deer stunt

of the mid century. In their up reach

songbirds nested, who scattered

seed for underbrush, and in that cover

warrened snowshoe hare. Weasel and water shrew

returned, also vole, and came soon hawk

and falcon, bald eagle, kestrel, and with them

hawk shadow, falcon shadow. Eagle shade

and kestrel shade haunted newly-berried

runnels where mule deer no longer rummaged, cautious

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

brought bear, while undergrowth and willows, growing

now right down to the river, brought beavers,

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

Came, too, the night song of the fathers

of tadpoles. With water striders, the dark

gray American dipper bobbed in fresh pools

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

fished, also culled deer fawns and to their kill scraps

came vulture and coyote, long gone in the region

until now, and their scat scattered seed, and more

trees, brush, and berries grew up along the river

that had run straight and so flooded but thus dammed,

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

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

life born from one hungry animal, this whole,

new landscape, the course of the river changed,

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

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


Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear   

   one more friend   

waking with a tumor, one more maniac   


with a perfect reason, often a sweetness   

   has come   

and changed nothing in the world   


except the way I stumbled through it,   

   for a while lost   

in the ignorance of loving   


someone or something, the world shrunk   

   to mouth-size,   

hand-size, and never seeming small.   


I acknowledge there is no sweetness   

   that doesn’t leave a stain,   

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


Tonight a friend called to say his lover   

   was killed in a car   

he was driving. His voice was low   


and guttural, he repeated what he needed   

   to repeat, and I repeated   

the one or two words we have for such grief    


until we were speaking only in tones.   

   Often a sweetness comes   

as if on loan, stays just long enough   


to make sense of what it means to be alive,   

   then returns to its dark   

source. As for me, I don’t care   


where it’s been, or what bitter road   

   it’s traveled   

to come so far, to taste so good.

Magnitude and Bond

More than anything, I need this boy

so close to my ears, his questions


electric as honeybees in an acreage

of goldenrod and aster. And time where


we are, slow sugar in the veins

of white pine, rubbery mushrooms


cloistered at their feet. His tawny

listening at the water’s edge, shy


antlers in pooling green light, while

we consider fox prints etched in clay.


I need little black boys to be able to be

little black boys, whole salt water galaxies


in cotton and loudness—not fixed

in stunned suspension, episodes on hot


asphalt, waiting in the dazzling absence

of apology. I need this kid to stay mighty


and coltish, thundering alongside

other black kids, their wrestle and whoop,


the brightness of it—I need for the world

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


kneel closer, while we sit in mineral hush,

together. May the boy whose dark eyes


are an echo of my father’s dark eyes,

and his father’s dark eyes, reach


with cupped hands into the braided

current. The boy, restless and lanky, the boy


for whom each moment endlessly opens,

for the attention he invests in the beetle’s


lacquered armor, each furrowed seed

or heartbeat, the boy who once told me


the world gives you second chances, the boy

tugging my arm, saying look, saying now.

Excerpt from "Faceless"

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

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

Ode to Gossips

i was mothered by lonely women       some

of  them wives     some of them             with


plumes of  smoke for husbands    all    lonely

smelling of  onions & milk         all mothers


some of them to children some to old names

phantom girls acting out a life        only half


a life away      instead        copper kitchenware

bangles pushed up the arm    fingernails rusted


with henna          kneading raw meat with salt

with coriander                     sweating upper lip


in the steam       weak tea          hair unwound

against the nape         my deities      each one


sandal slapping against stone heel      sandal-

wood & oud                    bright chiffon spun


about each head     coffee in the dowry china

butter biscuits on a painted plate      crumbs


suspended in eggshell demitasse       & they

begin                  i heard       people are saying


i saw it with my own eyes       [      ]’s daughter

a scandal                  she was wearing [      ]


& not wearing [   ]            can you imagine

a shame                                             a shame

Self-Portrait With No Flag

i pledge allegiance to my

homies      to my mother’s

small & cool palms     to 

the gap between my brother’s

two front teeth      & to 

my grandmother’s good brown

hands       good strong brown

hands gathering my bare feet

in her lap


i pledge allegiance    to the

group text      i pledge allegiance

to laughter & to all the boys 

i have a crush on      i pledge

allegiance to my spearmint plant

to my split ends      to my grandfather’s

brain & gray left eye


i come from two failed countries

& i give them back      i pledge

allegiance to no land    no border

cut by force to draw blood    i pledge

allegiance to no government    no 

collection of white men carving up

the map with their pens


i choose the table at the waffle house

with all my loved ones crowded

into the booth     i choose the shining

dark of our faces through a thin sheet

of smoke     glowing dark of our faces

slick under layers of sweat     i choose

the world we make with our living

refusing to be unmade by what surrounds

us      i choose us gathered at the lakeside

the light glinting off the water & our 

laughing teeth     & along the living

dark of our hair    & this is my only country

Self-Portrait without Stitches

after Tarfia Faizullah


i was hurt      i wasn’t      i saw it

on the internet      licked yogurt

from a spoon while the girls

described their blood      hot      seizing

the cotton of a sheet      i am speaking

from the cut place      from my other

mouths      do not believe me for i

was never cut      or      i was hurt but

never sewn      or      i wasn’t      i want

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

i bit down      i bled      i didn’t      i click

through pictures of the girls      moonfaced

thick-cheeked      still fastened      to the

roundness of childhood      consider

the softness of my jaw      my face without

angles      without edges      i covered

i cowered      i didn’t      i cried      i came to

i click & learn their names      incant them

i learn the names of the stones      the theory

it wasn’t me      i think of all the ways

we match      it could have been      it

couldn’t      consider the cut place      thick

liquid      of citizenship    spilling from

my many mouths      uncut      my many

uncut mouths

Fuck / Shakespeare

And another thing / the grace you brought Othello / how you forged that moor / got him talking down his eloquence as if his tongue wasn’t part swan feather / part molasses / how you wrote a church of darkness steepled by Iago / and Ol’ Thello its soul / beacon of honor and light / Bruh / that shit literary fire / race-theory brimstone / middle-passage gold


but /


how you played Caliban / his tongue as Othello’s / and just as wronged / How you imbibed him with / emblemed him of colonized peoples / got me all riled up / imagining my ancestor’s vengeance / a rough blade thrust through Prospero’s proud heart / but you didn’t / Play ends / Cali still enslaved / Bruh / that shit fucked


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

the young nurse catches my drool in a mini paper cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind Over Matter

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

is matter. Someone’s unprofessional opinion

was to “relax” over matter. To sandcastle over

wave. They aimed to clean up a murder scene

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

Mine. As if I could possess the firegrief that

possessed me. Wrestle the wind to the floor for

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

there, gripping my shoulders, threatening my

own heart. Have you ever seen the dark split

into two peaches? Sickness is a lot like that.

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

certifiably cherry. Do you mind if I die while I

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

matter if I tried while I died? Will you relax

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

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


A Guide to Reading Trans Literature

We’re dying and we’re really sad.

We keep dying because trans women

are supposed to die.

This is sad.


I don’t have the words for my body

so I’ll say I’m a cloud

or a mountain

or something pretty that people enjoy

so if I die

people will be like “Oh, that’s sad”.


Be sad about that.

It’s okay to be sad.

It is sad when people die.

It is sad when people want to die.


I sometimes want to die but I don’t!

I’m one of the lucky ones.

You can feel happy about that.

It’s okay to feel happy about that.


Now pretend this is very serious:


History doesn’t exist.

My body doesn’t exist.

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


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


Now pretend I am crying

right in front of you,

opening that wound up just for you.


Now pretend you can feel my pain.


Now pretend something in you

has been moved, has been transformed.


Now pretend you are absolved.



My favorite thing is slowly pulling 

into my parking spot at home

just as the song I’ve been feeling 

things to finally ends.


All these movie moments and 

hand cutting wind in half dreams

come for me as if 

sent by some light that wants 

to watch me survive.


In the movies people like me 

don’t survive and it’s the same 

in real life so I make my own 

movies in my head and I last 

to the end and I am not 

happy even in my own 

fantasy but I am strong.


I am holding the camera and

pointing it at myself so I am 

trapped in my own gaze

which is fine

which feels great

which is like the taste of my

own blood

which is great.


I wish I loved my body the 

way you say I love my body and 

I wish the sun would stay just 

below the horizon forever.

I Turn the Volume Down Because Beyonce Says Fuck in Car While I Drive My Daughter to School

the four-year-old                  gives her              first


            protest of the   morning                whether intentional


            or the default position of her mother's resolve


her fist is balled in              the way a boy would          grip her  hair


              in a   kindergarten class or                at any age that    boys


               put                         their        names  on things


she says, hey I   like       that song and Beyoncé has         already finished


              saying                  I'm gonna fuck me up a bitch                          so


               I turn the             volume back up                to five seconds                 ago


before a father                 once told a Black woman she was                too loud to         


            fill        his daughter's lungs      before the        tabernacle


            of mist filled the               car until all we   knew to               breathe  was


gunsmoke        and the ire of   men  interrupting  the choir     of crows


              that               ain't meant for                  their ears             and I        know


               it doesn't                             take much          to get this little                  girl's blood


​into      a spell  because it was once                       her              grandmother's


               blood                    which    means                                  there will             be


               a                   day when            someone             some man              tries to pull      it            


out of   her       and      she becomes a wound                  where the curses             her


           father hid         from  her come                 tumbling  out of                  the     


​            same


​tomb    where   she once buried a         woman with a too        quiet    face

I come from the fire city

i come from the fire city / fire came and licked up our houses, 

lapped them up like they were nothing / drank them like the last 

dribbling water from a concrete fountain / the spigot is too hot to 

touch with your lips be careful / fire kissed us and laughed / and 

even now the rust climbs the walls, red ivy / iron fire and the brick 

blossoms florid / red like stolen lipstick ground down to a small 

flat earth / stand on any corner of the fire city, look west to death 

/ the red sun eats the bungalows / the fire city children watch 

with their fingers in their mouths / to savor the flaming hots or 

hot flamins or hot crunchy curls or hot chips / they open the fire 

hydrants in the fire city and lay dollar store boats in the gutters / 

warrior funeral pyres unlit

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

I mean I'm here

to eat up all the ocean you thought was yours.

I mean I brought my own quarter of a lemon,

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

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

and if you move your eyes from me

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


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

I mean you're a twisted and ugly root

and I'm the pungent, stinging firmness inside.

I mean I look so good in this hat

with a feather

and I'm a feather

and I'm the heaviest featherweight you know.

I mean you can't spell anything I talk about

with that sorry alphabet you have left over from yesterday.


I mean

when I see something dull and uneven,

barnacled and ruined,

I know how to get to its iridescent everything.

I mean I eat them alive.


what I mean is I'll eat you alive,

slipping the blade in sideways, cutting

nothing because the space was always there.

Self-Portrait as Slinky

It’s true I wanted

             to be beautiful before

                         authentic. Say the word

                                      exotic. Say minority


a coiled, dark curl

            a finger might wrap

                         itself in—the long

                                    staircase, and I was


the momentum

           of metal springs

                       descending down

                                    and down,

a tension


—the long staircase,

            and I was a stacked series

                       of spheres finger-tipped

                                  again into motion—say


taut, like a child

            who must please

                        the elders and doesn’t

                                    know how, a curl pulled


thin. I wanted to be

            a reckoning, to tornado

                       into each day’s hard

                                  hands, that wanton


lurching forward

            in the dark, another

                        soaked black ringlet,

                                    that sudden halting

The Sacrifice

  —Qurbani Eid


No, I said, I want 

to watch them behead 

the goat


                        with the men.

Her eyes glistened

as the scythe sang



                        her neck

and spine. I’m proud

of you, the uncles said. It is



                        to observe

death. Her hoof, cleaved

from her shin. Her belly.



                        I looked

was trickling ant-shadow.

Pleasant banter. Her blood.

The aunts


                        came out

to slide the chopped acres

of her into hissing oil

and onion,


                        She was

steam—sift and spice-bold.

I ate her between my cousins,



                        my palm across

the blood-gravy of what was left

on the filigreed china. Yes,

I savored


                        her more than

once: first with rice, then with

chutney. My first death. I felt


conflicted. Satisfied.


Tonight, as you walk out

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

look up

as you must have looked

before love came,

before love went, 

before ash was ash.

Look at them: the city’s

mists, the winters.

And the moon’s glass

you must have held once

in beginning. 

That new moon

you must have touched once

in the waters,

saying change me, change

me, change me. All I want

is to be more of what I am.

Thank God I Can't Drive

My brain is trying so hard to outrun this. 

It is doing more work than the lie.


I could go to jail for anything. I look like that 

kind of girl. I only speak one language. I am


of prestige but can’t really prove it. Not if 

my hands are tied. Not if my smartphone is


seized. Not if you can’t google me. Without 

an archive of human bragging rights, I’m


fucking nobody, an empty bag, two-toned 

luggage. I’m not trying to be sanctimonious,


I just found out that I’m afraid to die, like, 

there goes years of posturing about, beating it


like I own it, taking it to the bathroom with 

the tampons—like, look at me, I am so agent


and with all this agency I can just deploy 

death at any time. The truth is


that I’m already on the clock, I’m just a few 

notches down on the “black-girl-with-bad


mouth” list, the street lights go out and I’m 

just at the mercy of my own bravery and


their punts of powerlessness, their “who 

the hell do you think you are’s?”

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

I am signaling you through the flames. 


The North Pole is not where it used to be. 


Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest. 


Civilization self-destructs. 


Nemesis is knocking at the door. 


What are poets for, in such an age?  

What is the use of poetry? 


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


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

challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds  



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

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

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

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

At Twenty-Eight

It seems I get by on more luck than sense,

not the kind brought on by knuckle to wood,

breath on dice, or pennies found in the mud.

I shimmy and slip by on pure fool chance.

At turns charmed and cursed, a girl knows romance

as coffee, red wine, and books; solitude

she counts as daylight virtue and muted

evenings, the inventory of absence.

But this is no sorry spinster story,

just the way days string together a life.

Sometimes I eat soup right out of the pan.

Sometimes I don’t care if I will marry.

I dance in my kitchen on Friday nights,

singing like only a lucky girl can.

fat girl Confuses Food & Therapy, Again

after Jennifer Jackson Berry


Who hasn’t carved a fork

through a cut of cake and tasted

dollar store crowns, neon streamers,

wind-up toys coruscating on the rug

like confetti, tune of our skittering

shoes, fingers hooked to scoop

jam from the sandwiches, thumbs plump

as blackberries in our wild, wagging

mouths—those honeyed years

before I understood my body’s struggle

against the morning’s golden net.

Now, the patterned progress of neighbors

through the day’s long maw goes grayscale

and the nearby train scrambling the tracks

hums like static. My partner slabs

his tongue inside me, layers each lick

like strips of papier-mâché. I should tell him

there’s no use, but instead pour ink-like

to the fridge for another bite of cake,

feel, finally, like a bird’s nest, its delicate dip

of twig and twine, slip a new gown

of frosting on my tongue, hope what sugars

stays long enough for one of us to taste it.

Confronting Hatred

how beautiful would it be

if we lived in a place


where everyone called hatred

by its full name,


tapped it on the shoulder,

looked into its eyes

without shaking

and said


“you cannot live here


Urban Girl Writes another Poem About Her Dead Father

My father is dead.

I notice it most 

During things that haven’t happened 



My Father is dead 

at my wedding. 

He is a slow dance of bullets

an autopsy trying 

to make polite conversation with the guests.

My flower girl is me at every age 

he did not see me turn.

I am throwing things I haven’t seen in years

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


My father is dead 

at the birth of my first child 

The doctor asks where is the father

I say murdered out of habit.

The doctor does not specify so neither do I 

Instead we both stare 

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


My father is dead 

at my death bed. We play

Blackjack until the light comes.


When it does, he lifts me onto his shoulders

I get the piggy back rise promised to a child

who time had been waiting on.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Little Weapon

Imagine if I had to console

The families of those slain I slayed on game consoles

I aim, I hold right trigger to squeeze

Press up and Y, one less person breathe

B for the bombs, press pause for your moms

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

She leave; resume activity

Scarred and blue heart, of hard, sharp wizardry

On next part, I insert code

To sweeten up the little person's murder workload

I tell him he work for CIA with A

A operative; I operate this game all day

I hold the controller connected to the soldier

With weapons on his shoulder

He's only seconds older than me

We playful but serious

Now, keep that on mind for online experience

Potato Chips

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch

All I want is potato chips

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch

All I want is potato chips

No matter where it is

You'll always find a bag around

Be it in a bar or picnic, even a baseball ground

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Potato Chips, holy drip drip drips

Crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch

All I want is potato chips

Bag bag bag

Bag of Potato Chips

Potato Chips, high crunchy, crunchy

Potato Chips, crunch, crunchy, crunchy

Crunch, crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch

All I want is potato chips

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Potato Chips, crunchy, crunchy, crunchy, crunchy, crunchy, crunchy

Don't bring me no lunch, All I want is potato chips

No matter where it is

You'll find a bag around

I could be even in a bar or picnic, or a baseball ground

Doesn't matter

Potato, potato, a chippy chipo

Crunch, crunch

Bring me no lunch, All I want is potato chips

A Small Needful Fact

Is that Eric Garner worked

for some time for the Parks and Rec.

Horticultural Department, which means,

perhaps, that with his very large hands,

perhaps, in all likelihood,

he put gently into the earth

some plants which, most likely,

some of them, in all likelihood,

continue to grow, continue

to do what such plants do, like house

and feed small and necessary creatures,

like being pleasant to touch and smell,

like converting sunlight

into food, like making it easier

for us to breathe.

Love, I'm Done with You

You ever wake up with your footie PJs warming

your neck like a noose? Ever upchuck

after a home-cooked meal? Or notice

how the blood on the bottoms of your feet

just won’t seem to go away? Love, it used to be

you could retire your toothbrush for like two or three days and still

I’d push my downy face into your neck. Used to be

I hung on your every word. (Sing! you’d say: and I was a bird.

Freedom! you’d say: and I never really knew what that meant,

but liked the way it rang like a rusty bell.) Used to be. But now

I can tell you your breath stinks and you’re full of shit.

You have more lies about yourself than bodies

beneath your bed. Rooting

for the underdog. Team player. Hook,

line and sinker. Love, you helped design the brick

that built the walls around the castle

in the basement of which is a vault

inside of which is another vault

inside of which . . . you get my point. Your tongue

is made of honey but flicks like a snake’s. Voice

like a bird but everyone’s ears are bleeding.

From the inside your house shines

and shines, but from outside you can see

it’s built from bones. From out here it looks

like a graveyard, and the garden’s

all ash. And besides,

your breath stinks. We’re through.

Sorrow Is Not My Name

—after Gwendolyn Brooks

—for Walter Aikens


No matter the pull toward brink. No

matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.

There is a time for everything. Look,

just this morning a vulture

nodded his red, grizzled head at me,

and I looked at him, admiring

the sickle of his beak.

Then the wind kicked up, and,

after arranging that good suit of feathers

he up and took off.

Just like that. And to boot,

there are, on this planet alone, something like two

million naturally occurring sweet things,

some with names so generous as to kick

the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,

stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks

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

the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me

on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.

But look; my niece is running through a field

calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel

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

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

Excerpt from "Hunger"

When you’re overweight, your body becomes a matter of public record in many respects. Your body is constantly and prominently on display. People project assumed narratives onto your body and are not at all interested in the truth of your body, whatever that truth might be. Fat, much like skin color, is something you cannot hide, no matter how dark the clothing you wear, or how diligently you avoid horizontal stripes.

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.

Excerpt from "America"

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

America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.   

I can’t stand my own mind.

America when will we end the human war?

Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.

I don’t feel good don’t bother me.

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

America when will you be angelic?

When will you take off your clothes?

When will you look at yourself through the grave?

When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?

America why are your libraries full of tears?

America when will you send your eggs to India?

I’m sick of your insane demands.

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

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

Your machinery is too much for me.

You made me want to be a saint.

There must be some other way to settle this argument.   

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

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

I’m trying to come to the point.

I refuse to give up my obsession.

America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.

America the plum blossoms are falling.


I killed a spider

Not a murderous brown recluse

Nor even a black widow

And if the truth were told this

Was only a small

Sort of papery spider

Who should have run

When I picked up the book

But she didn’t

And she scared me

And I smashed her


I don’t think

I’m allowed


To kill something


Because I am




if i can't do

what i want to do

then my job is to not

do what i don't want

to do


it's not the same thing

but it's the best i can



if i can't have

what i want    then

my job is to want

what i've got

and be satisfied

that at least there

is something more

to want


since i can't go

where i need

to go    then i must    go

where the signs point

though always understanding

parallel movement

isn't lateral


when i can't express

what i really feel

i practice feeling

what i can express

and none of it is equal

i know

but that's why mankind

alone among the animals

learns to cry

I Take Master Card (Charge Your Love To Me)

I've heard the stories

'bout how you don't deserve me

'cause I'm so strong and beautiful and wonderful and you could

never live up to what you know I should have but I just want to let you know:


I take Master Card


You can love me as much as your heart can stand

then put the rest on

account and pay the interest

each month until we get this thing settled


You see we modern women do comprehend

that we deserve a whole lot more

than what is normally being offered but we are trying

to get aligned with the modern world


So baby you can love me all

you like 'cause you're pre-approved

and you don't have to sign on

the bottom line


Charge it up

'til we just can't take no more

it's the modern way


I take Master Card

to see your Visa

and I deal with a Discovery but I don't want any American

Express 'cause like the Pointer Sisters say:  I need a slow hand

Noche de Lluvia, San Salvador

Rain who nails the earth,

whose infinite legs

nail the earth, whose silver faces

touch my faces, I marry you. & open

all the windows of my house to hear

your million feral versions

of si si





The Red Poppy

The great thing

is not having

a mind. Feelings:

oh, I have those; they

govern me. I have

a lord in heaven

called the sun, and open

for him, showing him

the fire of my own heart, fire

like his presence.

What could such glory be

if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,

were you like me once, long ago,

before you were human? Did you

permit yourselves

to open once, who would never

open again? Because in truth

I am speaking now

the way you do. I speak

because I am shattered.

Failed Essay on Privilege

I came from something popularly known as “nothing”

and in the coming I got a lot.


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

Still—I went to Yale.


For a while I tried to condemn.

I wrote Let me introduce you to evil.


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


And I know a fine shoe when I see one.

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


I know to want nothing more

than it would be so nice to have


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

as much as I wish I could.


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

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


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

I shared with seven brothers and sisters I also left.


Even the good is regrettable, or at least sometimes

should be regretted


yet to hate myself is not to absolve her.


I paid so much

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


in the village

of your birth

cuts a wall

bleeds a border


in the heat

you cannot swim

in the rain

you cannot climb


in the north

you cannot be

cuts a paper

cuts a law


cuts a finger

finger bleeds

baby hungers

baby feeds


baby needs

you cannot go

you cannot buy

you cannot bring


baby grows

baby knows


seasons bring


winter border

summer border

falls a border

border spring

Some of My Worst Wounds

Some of my worst wounds

have healed into poems.

A few well-placed

stabs in the back

have released a singing

trapped between my shoulders.

A carrydown

has lent leverage

to the tongue’s rise

and betrayals sent words

hurrying home

to toe the line again.

The Hill We Climb

When day comes we ask ourselves,

where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry,

a sea we must wade

We've braved the belly of the beast

We've learned that quiet isn't always peace

And the norms and notions

of what just is

Isn't always just-ice

And yet the dawn is ours

before we knew it

Somehow we do it

Somehow we've weathered and witnessed

a nation that isn't broken

but simply unfinished

We the successors of a country and a time

Where a skinny Black girl

descended from slaves and raised by a single mother

can dream of becoming president

only to find herself reciting for one

And yes we are far from polished

far from pristine

but that doesn't mean we are

striving to form a union that is perfect

We are striving to forge a union with purpose

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and

conditions of man

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us

but what stands before us

We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,

we must first put our differences aside

We lay down our arms

so we can reach out our arms

to one another

We seek harm to none and harmony for all

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:

That even as we grieved, we grew

That even as we hurt, we hoped

That even as we tired, we tried

That we'll forever be tied together, victorious

Not because we will never again know defeat

but because we will never again sow division

Scripture tells us to envision

that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree

And no one shall make them afraid

If we're to live up to our own time

Then victory won't lie in the blade

But in all the bridges we've made

That is the promise to glade

The hill we climb

If only we dare

It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,

it's the past we step into

and how we repair it

We've seen a force that would shatter our nation

rather than share it

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy

And this effort very nearly succeeded

But while democracy can be periodically delayed

it can never be permanently defeated

In this truth

in this faith we trust

For while we have our eyes on the future

history has its eyes on us

This is the era of just redemption

We feared at its inception

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs

of such a terrifying hour

but within it we found the power

to author a new chapter

To offer hope and laughter to ourselves

So while once we asked,

how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert

How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was

but move to what shall be

A country that is bruised but whole,

benevolent but bold,

fierce and free

We will not be turned around

or interrupted by intimidation

because we know our inaction and inertia

will be the inheritance of the next generation

Our blunders become their burdens

But one thing is certain:

If we merge mercy with might,

and might with right,

then love becomes our legacy

and change our children's birthright

So let us leave behind a country

better than the one we were left with

Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,

we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one

We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,

we will rise from the windswept northeast

where our forefathers first realized revolution

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,

we will rise from the sunbaked south

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover

and every known nook of our nation and

every corner called our country,

our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,

battered and beautiful

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it

If only we're brave enough to be it

Gallery Songs

for Cynthia


I. If you want to buy my wares…


In the gallery, Desperation and Need are not for sale,

neither is Night’s Mist,


but you can buy What Makes Love 


Come, see:


the crescent of her body in the clutch of need,


the drenched mop of her body

cutting the red flame with its shadows,


these small photos you can buy.


II. What Makes Love Fade?


Money or Lack, Noise or Silence,

I answer expertly.


I am a scientist, dissecting

this heart like a greasy frog,

handlings its limp tubes

with my metal fingers.


III. Estas son las mañanitas…


You said my heart hopped

like a rana and sang me a frog song,

rubbing your fingers on me,

fingers that you think are crooked.


Sana, sana, heal, heal,

you sang, if not today, mañana,

rubbing your hands on me,

hands too small to hide a strawberry.


Despierta, mi bien, despierta,

I want to touch you

while you are wide awake

with my dirty mouth.

That's So Lame

He says when the bus is late, when the TV

show is canceled, when a fascist is elected,

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

rubbernecking my own body in the bath

-room mirror. See, every time lame comes

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

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

limp gets worse. Some days it’s so bedridden

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

for itself. Fumbles a fuck you, trips over its

own etymology, when all I want to ask is Why

do you keep dragging my body into this? When

I want to ask, Did you know how this slur

feathered its way into language? By way of lame

duck, whose own wings sever it from the flock

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

have you been naming us by our dead? Baby

-booked your broken from the textbooks of our

anatomy? A car limped along the freeway,

a child crippled by their mother’s baleful stare.

Before I could accept this body’s fractures,

I had to unlearn lame as the first breath of

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

me into a funeral, an elegy in orthodox slang.

My dad used to tell me this old riddle: What

value is there in a lame horse that cannot gallop?


A bullet & whatever a butcher can make of it.

The Resurrection

Let the tower in your city burn. Let the steps

to the shadowed building by the lake burn

even though it is made of stone. Let the lion

house burn so that the roaring and burning

will be heard together. Let the old, poor

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

you returned and sat on the steps that led

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

not to destroy them, but to give them the life

my life gives to them now. To make them flare

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


I come home,

feet about to bleed

from angry stomping.

“Boy!” says Mom.

“Quit making all that racket.”

But what does she expect

when, day after day,

haters sling words at me

like jagged stones

designed to split my skin?

I retreat to my room,

collapse on the bed,

count, “One. Two. Three...”

When I get to ten,

I snatch up journal and pen,

flip to a clean page,

and unload my hurt, my rage

’til I can breathe, again.

Letter by letter,

I rediscover

my power to decide

which words matter,

which words don’t,

and whose.

Calm, now, I remember:

I get to choose.

My Brilliant Image

translated by Daniel Ladinsky


I wish I could show you

When you are lonely or in darkness,


The Astonishing Light

Of your own Being!

Excerpt from "The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley"

I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. Not long ago, an English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, “What’s your alma mater?” I told him, “Books.” You will never catch me with a free fifteen minutes in which I’m not studying something I feel might be able to help the black man.

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.

For Earth's Grandsons

Stand tall, no matter height, how dark your skin

Your spirit is all colors within

You are made of the finest woven light

From the iridescent love that formed your mothers, fathers

Your grandparents all the way back on the spiral road— 

There is no end to this love

It has formed your bodies

Feeds your bright spirits

And no matter what happens in these times of breaking— 

No matter dictators, the heartless, and liars

No matter—you are born of those

Who kept ceremonial embers burning in their hands

All through the miles of relentless exile

Those who sang the path through massacre

All the way to sunrise

You will make it through— 


Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the star's stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

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

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

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

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

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

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

listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

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

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.


Song for the People

Let me make the songs for the people,

   Songs for the old and young;

Songs to stir like a battle-cry

   Wherever they are sung.


Not for the clashing of sabres,

   For carnage nor for strife;

But songs to thrill the hearts of men

   With more abundant life.


Let me make the songs for the weary,

   Amid life’s fever and fret,

Till hearts shall relax their tension,

   And careworn brows forget.


Let me sing for little children,

   Before their footsteps stray,

Sweet anthems of love and duty,

   To float o’er life’s highway.


I would sing for the poor and aged,

   When shadows dim their sight;

Of the bright and restful mansions,

   Where there shall be no night.


Our world, so worn and weary,

   Needs music, pure and strong,

To hush the jangle and discords

   Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.


Music to soothe all its sorrow,

   Till war and crime shall cease; 

And the hearts of men grown tender

   Girdle the world with peace.

Single Lines Looking Forward. or One Monostich Past 45

The joke is orange. which has never been funny.


For awhile I didn’t sleep on my bright side.


Many airplanes make it through sky.


The joke is present. dented and devil.


For awhile, yellow spots on the wall.


Obama on water skis, the hair in his armpits, free.


I thought the CIA was operative. 


Across the alley, a woman named Mildred.


Above the clouds in a plane, a waistline of sliced white.


I don’t sound like TED Talk, or smart prose on Facebook.


These clouds are not God. 


I keep thinking about Coltrane; how little he talked. 


This is so little; I give so little.


Sometimes when I say something to white people, they say “I’m sorry?”


During Vietnam, Bob Kaufman stopped talking. 


The CIA was very good at killing Panthers. 


Mildred in a housecoat, calling across the fence, over her yard.


If I were grading this, I’d be muttering curses.


The joke is a color. a color for prison.


Is it me, or is the sentence, as structure, arrogant?


All snow, in here, this writing, departure.


All miles are valuable. all extension. all stretch.


I savor the air with both fingers, and tongue.


Mildred asks about the beats coming from my car.


I forgot to bring the poem comparing you to a garden.


Someone tell me what to say to my senators.


No one smokes here; in the rain, I duck away and smell piss.


I thought the CIA was. the constitution.


I feel like he left us, for water skis, for kitesurfing. 


The sun will not always be so gracious.


From the garden poem, one line stands out.


Frank Ocean’s “Nights” is a study in the monostich.


Pace is not breathing, on and off. off.


Mildred never heard of Jneiro Jarel.


I’m afraid one day I’ll find myself remembering this air.


The last time I saw my mother, she begged for fried chicken. 


My father still sitting there upright, a little high.  


Melissa McCarthy could get it.


Sometimes, I forget how to touch.


In a parking garage, I wait for the toothache.


I watch what I say all the time now.


She said she loved my touch, she used the word love.


In 1984, I’d never been in the sky.


My mother walked a laundry cart a mile a day for groceries.


Betsy DeVos is confirmed. with a broken tie.


Mildred’s five goes way up, and my five reaches.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.


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

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,


Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin (Edited)

Probably twilight makes blackness dangerous

Darkness. Probably all my encounters

Are existential jambalaya. Which is to say,

A brother can survive. Something happened

In Sanford, something happened in Ferguson

And Brooklyn & Charleston, something happened

In Chicago & Cleveland & Baltimore & happens

Almost everywhere in this country every day.

Probably someone is prey in all of our encounters.

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

In graves. Probably twilight makes blackness

Darkness. And a gate. Probably the dark blue skin

Of a black man matches the dark blue skin

Of his son the way one twilight matches another.

Carp Poem

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

grooves of the Frederick Douglass Middle School sign,


where men-size children loiter like shadows drape in outsize

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


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

where the black prison guard wearing the same weariness


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

along each corridor trying not to look at the black men


boxed and bunked around me until I reach the tiny classroom

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

George Floyd

You can be a bother who dyes

his hair Dennis Rodman blue

in the face of the man kneeling in blue

in the face the music of his wrist-

watch your mouth is little more

than a door being knocked

out of the ring of fire around

the afternoon came evening’s bell

of the ball and chain around the neck

of the unarmed brother ground down

to gunpowder dirt can be inhaled

like a puff the magic bullet point

of transformation both kills and fires

the life of the party like it’s 1999 bottles

of beer on the wall street people

who sleep in the streets do not sleep

without counting yourself lucky

rabbit’s foot of the mountain

lion do not sleep without

making your bed of the river

boat gambling there will be

no stormy weather on the water

bored to death any means of killing

time is on your side of the bed

of the truck transporting Emmett

till the break of day Emmett till

the river runs dry your face

the music of the spheres

Emmett till the end of time


Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds and shall find me unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.

Social Distancing

with design by Anthony Cody


I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.

It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache. 

She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question. 

I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt, 

I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.

I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house. 

I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help. 

I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads. 

I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat. 

Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her, 

and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,

and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself. 

Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it. 

I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt 

was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.

I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me 

in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming 

underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see. 

Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume 

and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked 

into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god 

up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live 

inside the words more than my own black body. 

When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first, 

when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him, 

I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born. 

My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say 

there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell 

the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do 

for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus. 

They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her. 

Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand 

when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it. 

My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but 

I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed 

for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels 

like nothing can stop him, and his laugher unlocks a door. He invites me 

into his living.

Fuck Your Lecture on Craft

Colonizers write about flowers.

I tell you about children throwing rocks at Israeli tanks

seconds before becoming daisies.

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

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

It’s so beautiful, the moon.

They’re so beautiful, the flowers.

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

He watches Al Jazeera all day.

I wish Jessica would stop texting me Happy Ramadan.

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

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

When I die, I promise to haunt you forever.

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

The Promise

Stay, I said 

to the cut flowers. 

They bowed 

their heads lower.


Stay, I said to the spider, 

who fled.


Stay, leaf. 

It reddened, 

embarrassed for me and itself.


Stay, I said to my body. 

It sat as a dog does, 

obedient for a moment, 

soon starting to tremble.


Stay, to the earth 

of riverine valley meadows, 

of fossiled escarpments, 

of limestone and sandstone. 

It looked back 

with a changing expression, in silence.


Stay, I said to my loves. 

Each answered, 


Cardi B Tells Me About Myself

Dear Frustrated in Flatbush,

Gurl, just go on ahead then.

You waiting for your Daddy

to give you the thumbs up?

Do what you like.

Do what makes your ass happy.

They gon’ call you all makes

and sizes of hoe anyway.

That’s how this thing been set up.

But just cuz they name a thing a thing,

don’t mean it ain’t still named God

in some other language.


Your fortune cookie say you poppin’.

You a full spread of good shit.

Your rotten wisdom tooth.

Your pockmarked shoulders.

Those eyelashes ain’t come here

to talk about the weather.

You the hottest day in July

and every fire hydrant in this city

is written out to your name.


Whatchu dead fish for?

Whatchu call that stroke?

Drowning? Baptism?

Gurl, you betta lick that

collection plate clean

and stop pretending you just

got off the first canoe from Heaven.

You ain’t nothin but

a big bowl of sweat rice.

You wring your left thigh,

they call you Vintage JuJu.

They like, “This some kind of nightmare?”

And it’s just you, smoking a blunt in the dark,

cackling like rain. Like your grandmama

at her ain’t-shit husband’s funeral.

Bitch, you been a woman.

This ain’t new skin.

Slap some Lycra on it

and call yourself a predicament.

You ain’t just somebody’s meal plan.

Pull back your hair and eat.


And look at this muhfukka,

sittin across the table,

lookin like he wanna bite you.

Tonight is tonight and tomorrow

might be somewhere else,

serenading some lesser bitch.

Throw his ass a bone and

stop worrying about your credit score.


You stay banging your tambourine

to the wrong hymnal.

I’m sure they had names

and inescapable mouths but

what your ex gotta do with this?

Why you still got his body in your linen closet?

That’s nasty. Bitch, keep your house clean.

You crying over spilled dick. Gurl buh-bye.

Getchu a free refill.


You too black for indie film housewife.

You too naked for conversation like this.

Too much soft brutality,

too much bathtub depression.

Why you always got your neck swung open?

Free throat don’t pay for your boy’s sneakers.

You already know I don’t even sigh for free.

Shit, I stroke a shallow strobe light,

inchworm down 4 feet of greasy pole,

and I still don’t feel like any less than a miracle.

Excerpt from "Let America be America Again"

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free.


(America never was America to me.)


Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—

Let it be that great strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme

That any man be crushed by one above.


(It never was America to me.)


O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.


(There's never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")


Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?

And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?


I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,

I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.

I am the red man driven from the land,

I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—

And finding only the same old stupid plan

Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.


I am the young man, full of strength and hope,

Tangled in that ancient endless chain

Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!

Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!

Of work the men! Of take the pay!

Of owning everything for one's own greed!


I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.

I am the worker sold to the machine.

I am the Negro, servant to you all.

I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—

Hungry yet today despite the dream.

Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!

I am the man who never got ahead,

The poorest worker bartered through the years.


Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream

In the Old World while still a serf of kings,

Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,

That even yet its mighty daring sings

In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned

That's made America the land it has become.

O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas

In search of what I meant to be my home—

For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,

And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,

And torn from Black Africa's strand I came

To build a "homeland of the free."


The free?


Who said the free?  Not me?

Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?

The millions shot down when we strike?

The millions who have nothing for our pay?

For all the dreams we've dreamed

And all the songs we've sung

And all the hopes we've held

And all the flags we've hung,

The millions who have nothing for our pay—

Except the dream that's almost dead today.


O, let America be America again—

The land that never has been yet—

And yet must be—the land where every man is free.

The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—

Who made America,

Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,

Must bring back our mighty dream again.


Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—

The steel of freedom does not stain.

From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,

We must take back our land again,



O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—

America will be!

Harlem Sweeties

Have you dug the spill

Of Sugar Hill?

Cast your gims

On this sepia thrill:

Brown sugar lassie,

Caramel treat,

Honey-gold baby

Sweet enough to eat.

Peach-skinned girlie,

Coffee and cream,

Chocolate darling

Out of a dream.

Walnut tinted

Or cocoa brown,


Pride of the town.

Rich cream-colored

To plum-tinted black,

Feminine sweetness

In Harlem’s no lack.

Glow of the quince

To blush of the rose.

Persimmon bronze

To cinnamon toes.

Blackberry cordial,

Virginia Dare wine—

All those sweet colors

Flavor Harlem of mine!

Walnut or cocoa,

Let me repeat:

Caramel, brown sugar,

A chocolate treat.

Molasses taffy,

Coffee and cream,

Licorice, clove, cinnamon

To a honey-brown dream.

Ginger, wine-gold,

Persimmon, blackberry,

All through the spectrum

Harlem girls vary—

So if you want to know beauty’s

Rainbow-sweet thrill,

Stroll down luscious,

Delicious, fine Sugar Hill.


I could tell you

If I wanted to,

What makes me

What I am.


But I don't

Really want to –

And you don't

Give a damn.

Mother to Son

Well, son, I'll tell you:

Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

It's had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—


But all the time

I'se been a-climbin' on,

And reachin' landin's,

And turnin' corners,

And sometimes goin' in the dark 

Where there ain't been no light.

So, boy, don't you turn back.

Don't you set down on the steps. 

'Cause you finds it's kinder hard. 

Don't you fall now—

For I'se still goin', honey,

I'se still climbin',

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


I loved my friend.

He went away from me.

There's nothing more to say.

The poem ends,

Soft as it began— 

I loved my friend.

Theme for English B

The instructor said,


      Go home and write

      a page tonight.

      And let that page come out of you—

      Then, it will be true.


I wonder if it’s that simple?

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

I went to school there, then Durham, then here   

to this college on the hill above Harlem.   

I am the only colored student in my class.   

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,   

through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,   

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

the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator   

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


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

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

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

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

(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?


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

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

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.   

So will my page be colored that I write?   

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

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

That’s American.

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

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

But we are, that’s true!

As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me—

although you’re older—and white—

and somewhat more free.


This is my page for English B.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:

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


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

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

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

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


I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Words Like Freedom

There are words like Freedom 

Sweet and wonderful to say. 

On my heartstrings freedom sings 

All day every day. 


There are words like Liberty 

That almost makes me cry, 

If you had known what I know 

You would know why. 

Excerpt from "How It Feels To Be Colored Me"

But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.


Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.

Excerpt from "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

Oh to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom!  With Kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world!  She was sixteen.  She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her.  Where were the singing bees for her?  Nothing on the place nor in her grandma's house answered her.  She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road.  Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience.  Waiting for the world to be made.

Excerpt from "Bigger Than Life"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope your opportunity survives the opportunist 

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

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

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

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

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

Actin' like they not the reason we ruthless

Assimilation Bouquet


your fist


like a nesting 



picture dahlia, 




in time-lapse


lightning bolts



               in a bevy

of pickling jars





               to leaf

through anther


               & filament

to a part called



               & stem 


               new replicas

to hang around


your neck

like garlands 


               & gorge 

your cheeks 



of anthems

RuPaul Gives The Black Girl Miracle Her First Lesson in Realness

how can i be a black woman in this fierce world 

and not have needs? i know what it is to be

the crash and current of the sea, honey. to shelter 

my own villain and pronounce its hope. but 

i say, take my love as the good mundane. 

as the extraordinary silence, the fahrenheit.

to be in love with another is to be an open door.

to be in love with yourself is to be the whole damn


A sestina for a black girl who does not know how to braid hair

Your hands have no more worth than tree stumps at harvest.

Don’t sit on my porch while I make myself useful.

Braid secrets in scalps on summer days for my sisters.

Secure every strand of gossip with tight rubber bands of value.

What possessed you to ever grow your nails so long?

How can you have history without braids?


A black girl is happiest when rooted to the scalp are braids.

She dances with them whipping down her back like corn in winds of harvest.

Braiding forces our reunions to be like the shifts your mothers work, long.

I find that being surrounded by only your own is more useful.

Gives our mixed blood more value.

Solidifies your place with your race, with your sisters.


Your block is a layered cake of your sisters.

Force your lips quiet and sweet and they’ll speak when they need to practice braids.

Your hair length is the only part of you that holds value.

The tallest crop is worshipped at harvest.

So many little hands in your head. You are finally useful.

Your hair is yours, your hair is theirs, your hair is, for a black girl, long.


Tender-headed ass won’t last ’round here long.

Cut your nails and use your fists to protect yourself against your sisters.

Somehow mold those hands useful.

You hair won’t get pulled in fights if they are in braids.

Beat out the weak parts of the crops during harvest.

When they are limp and without soul they have value.


If you won’t braid or defend yourself what is your value?

Sitting on the porch until dark sweeps in needing to be invited, you’ll be needing long.

When the crop is already used what is its worth after harvest?

You’ll learn that you can’t ever trust those quick to call themselves your sisters.

They yearn for the gold that is your braids.

You hold on your shoulders a coveted item that is useful.


Your presence will someday become useful.

One day the rest of your body will stagger under the weight of its value.

Until then, sit in silence in the front with your scalp on fire from the braids.

I promise you won’t need anyone too long.

One day you will love yourself on your own, without the validation of sisters.

No longer a stump wailing for affection at harvest.


after Margaret Walker’s “For My People”


The Lord clings to my hands

             after a night of shouting.

                           The Lord stands on my roof

             & sleeps in my bed.

Sings the darkened, Egun tunnel—

             cooks my food in abundance,

                           though I was once foolish

             & wished for an emptied stomach.

The Lord drapes me with rolls of fat

             & plaits my hair with sanity.

                           Gives me air,

             music from unremembered fever.

This air


                                         oh that i may give air to my people

                                         oh interruption of murder

                                         the welcome Selah


The Lord is a green, Tubman escape.

             A street buzzing with concern,

                           minds discarding answers.

             Black feet on a centuries-long journey.

The Lord is the dead one scratching my face,

             pinching me in dreams.

                           The screaming of the little girl that I was,

             the rocking of the little girl that I was—

the sweet hush of her healing.

             Her syllables

                           skipping on homesick pink.

             I pray to my God of confused love,

a toe touching blood

             & swimming through Moses-water.

                           A cloth & wise rocking.

             An eventual Passover,

outlined skeletons will sing

             this day of air

                           for my people—


                                         oh the roar of God

                                         oh our prophesied walking


the war speaks at night

with its lips of shredded children,

with its brow of plastique

and its fighter jet breath,

and then it speaks at daybreak

with the soft slur of money

unfolding leaf upon leaf.

it speaks between the news

programs in the music

of commercials, then sings

in the voices of a national anthem.

it has a dirty coin jingle in its step,

it has a hand of many lost hands,

a palm of missing fingers,

the stump of an arm that it lost

reaching up to heaven, a foot

that digs a trench for its dead.

the war staggers forward,

compelled, inexorable, ticking.

it looks to me

with its one eye of napalm

and one eye of ice,

with its hair of fire

and its nuclear heart,

and yes, it is so human

and so pitiful as it stands there,

waiting for my hand.

it wants to know my answer.

it wants to know how i intend

to show it out of its misery,

and i only want it

to teach me how to kill.


I'm tired of pacing the petty round of the ring of the thing I


I want to stand on the daylight's edge and see where the sunsets



I want to sail on a swallow's tail and peep through the sky's blue


I want to see if the dreams in me shall perish or come to pass.


I want to look through the moon's pale crook and gaze on the

 moon-man's face.

I want to keep all the tears I weep and sail to some unknown


Art vs. Trade

Trade, Trade versus Art,

Brain, Brain versus Heart;

Oh, the earthiness of these hard-hearted times,   

When clinking dollars, and jingling dimes,   

Drown all the finer music of the soul.


Life as an Octopus with but this creed,

That all the world was made to serve his greed;

Trade has spread out his mighty myriad claw,

And drawn into his foul polluted maw,

The brightest and the best,   

Well nigh,

Has he drained dry,

The sacred fount of Truth;   

And if, forsooth,

He has left yet some struggling streams from it to go,

He has contaminated so their flow,

That Truth, scarce is it true.


Poor Art with struggling gasp,

Lies strangled, dying in his mighty grasp;

He locks his grimy fingers ’bout her snowy throat so tender.   

Is there no power to rescue her, protect, defend her?   

Shall Art be left to perish?

Shall all the images her shrines cherish

Be left to this iconoclast, to vulgar Trade?


Oh, that mankind had less of Brain and more of Heart,   

Oh, that the world had less of Trade and more of Art;   

Then would there be less grinding down the poor,   

Then would men learn to love each other more;   

For Trade stalks like a giant through the land,   

Bearing aloft the rich in his high hand,

While down beneath his mighty ponderous tread,   

He crushes those who cry for daily bread.


O Sleep, thou kindest minister to man,

Silent distiller of the balm of rest,

How wonderful thy power, when naught else can,

To soothe the torn and sorrow-laden breast!

When bleeding hearts no comforter can find,

When burdened souls droop under weight of woe,

When thought is torture to the troubled mind,

When grief-relieving tears refuse to flow;

'Tis then thou comest on soft-beating wings,

And sweet oblivion's peace from them is shed;

But ah, the old pain that the waking brings!

That lives again so soon as thou art fled!


Man, why should thought of death cause thee to weep;

Since death be but an endless, dreamless sleep?


Everyday I build the little boat,

my body boat, hold for the unique one,

the formless soul, the blue fire

that coaxes my being into being.


Yes, there was music in the woods, and

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

grew my heartbeat in his hands, and there

was my mother’s regret that I slept with.


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

the same way I’d build a new love—

looking ahead at the terrain. And the water

is rising, and the generous ones are moving on.


O New Day, I get to build the boat!

I tell myself to live again.

Somehow I made it out of being 15

and wanting to jump off the roof


of my attic room. Somehow I survived

my loneliness and throwing up in a jail cell.

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

is still here, is fortified in my brokeness.


I’ve picked up the hammer every day

and forgiven myself. There is a new

language I’m learning by speaking it.

I’m a blind cartographer, I know the way


fearing the distance. O New Day,

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

to fear. I’m holding hands with

the poet speaking of light, saying I made it up


I made it up.

Blue Prelude

Last night, the ceiling above me ached 

with dance. Music dripped down the walls


like rain in a broken house. My eyes followed 

the couple's steps from one corner 


to the other, pictured the press of two chests

against soft breathing, bodies slipping


in and out of candlelight. The hurt 

was exquisite. In my empty bed, I dreamed


the record's needle pointed into my back, 

spinning me into no one's song.

A Short Note to My Very Critical and Well-Beloved Friends and Comrades

First they said I was too light

Then they said I was too dark

Then they said I was too different

Then they said I was too much the same

Then they said I was too young

Then they said I was too old

Then they said I was too interracial

Then they said I was too much a nationalist

Then they said I was too silly

Then they said I was too angry

Then they said I was too idealistic

Then they said I was too confusing altogether:

Make up your mind! They said. Are you militant

or sweet? Are you vegetarian or meat? Are you straight

or are you gay?


And I said, Hey! It’s not about my mind

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








































These Poems

These poems

they are things that I do

in the dark

reaching for you

whoever you are


are you ready?


These words

they are stones in the water

running away


These skeletal lines

they are desperate arms for my longing and love.


I am a stranger

learning to worship the strangers

around me


whoever you are

whoever I may become.


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Elegy for Bruce Lee

Somewhere in the dark sky is a beautiful fight,

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


against the stars’ edges for the dancing master,

for a flying sidekick to our bodies’ centers.


My father called you Little Dragon Lee, told me

how you swiveled your hips across the floor—


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

love poems for a girl in your English class.


I practiced throwing roundhouse kicks as a boy,

feet aimed at my reflection in store windows,


at street signs, at parked cars, everything I knew

I could break. Now, my feet cannot leave


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

The last time I watched Enter the Dragon,


I imagined it was my father emerging victorious

from the hall of mirrors, my father hustling


on the dance floor, because the last time

I saw my father, he had been waiting for me


the whole day in the morgue. Hold me,

he said, and I did until his body stopped


acting like it was alive. There is no fight

where there is no spark, no wretched cock crow


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

and a promise to hurt someone. Just give it


an inch between knuckle and breastbone.

It will punch through everyone.


actually i don't understand martha, what do you mean 

when you say i speak so well? oh, where did you expect 

me to work mary-beth? i don't remember saying i lived on

the South Side muriel. are you telling me your hair doesn't 

grow thirty inches overnight melanie? if i'm not like the 

other ones, then who am i like melissa? do you follow 

everyone around the store macy? when you say my 

sentences connect do you mean like conjunctions molly? 

well, where else could i have gotten my degree myrtle? 

maggie i don't think i understand, what do you mean by 

urban? are all kids inner city youth or just the Black ones 

marilyn? so missy, beyonce is your spirit animal…explain. 

and why wouldn't you go back after you go Black mallory? 

let me clarify when you say you wish you had skin like 

mine do you mean scarred or sensitive maureen? do they 

not have chicken where you're from magda? mackenzie 

what's your name mean…no i mean back where your 

family's from? i don't think i can be racist, i have a white 

friend miranda, right?


yes, I do like pans. and pots. and slow cookers. and woks. 

and crock-pots. and rice makers. and panini presses. and 

waffle irons. and blenders when i am feeling dangerous.

 and juicers. and cold presses. and food processors. and

watercoolers. and espresso makers. and cast-iron skillets. 

god damn i do love a good cast-iron skillet. and 

microwaves. and griddles. and plates. and whatever the 

fuck my partner wants to call themselves.

Break up with your gender, I’m bored

after The Real Housewives of Atlanta


We could start this letter with the audacity.

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

the sight of them brings you to tears like Kandi

in seasons 2-11. How they carry the world

like Kenya Moore carried season 8 of Real Housewives

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

for what she did to Phaedra (in season 6


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

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

your back, stressed from sleeping in binders for 3 days

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

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

What if top surgery changes nothing; what if the nipples

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


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

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

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

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

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

everything tonight. You’ll feel nothing, and nothing

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

What It Do Done Red

I love your body. I hate it.


but do I hate to love your body

or do I love hating your body

or do I hate “I love your body”

or do I love your body to hate it

or do I love your body since I hate it

or do I hate loving your body because of it?


The tide pool crumples like a woman

into the smallest version of herself,

bleeding onto whatever touches her.


The ocean, I mean, not a woman, filled

with plastic lace, and closer to the vanishing

point, something brown breaks  the surface—human,


maybe, a hand or foot or an island

of trash—but no, it’s just a garden of kelp.

A wild life.


This is a prayer like the sea

urchin is a prayer, like the sea

star is a prayer, like the otter and cucumber—


as if I know what prayer means. 


I call this the difficulty of the non-believer,

or, put another way, waking, every morning, without a god. 


How to understand, then, what deserves rescue

and what deserves to suffer.




Or should I say, what must

be sheltered and what abandoned. 




I might ask you to imagine a young girl,

no older than ten but also no younger,

on a field trip to a rescue. Can you


see her? She is led to the gates that separate

the wounded sea lions from their home and the class.

How the girl wishes this measure of salvation for herself:


to claim her own barking voice, to revel

in her own scent and sleek brown body, her fingers

woven into the cyclone fence.

The bottoms of my shoes

 The bottoms of my shoes 

     are clean 

From walking in the rain

Diaspora #1

my joy is a dead language.

cherubs sob when i pass them by

as if my fingers carry the wilt

of baby’s breath. i lie in bed & suddenly

i’m closer to my ghosts.

another boy tells me he loves me &

i cannot look him in the eye. another

mother says, “smile, child,” & the clouds

open up to swallow me whole.


the last time i loved, the words died in my belly.

the sparks quit next, & then the boy.

i say i cannot carry another day & the shadows

rejoice. i say i’m going to love me today

& i can hear laughter.


worry about me. i am not well. a child

has gone missing within me & left

not even detritus. all the things in this world

set to kill me encroach upon

the one smile i can offer a new day.

i have said it once & if i do not say

it again, the tigers clawing the insides

of my brain will never sleep: home is nowhere

when you are a stolen thing. an heirloom of haint

& hate.

Bad Mood, Baker Beach

Just told some dude with a poodle to fuck off.


My pound mutt humped his puppy’s ass.


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


Bigger problems in this town.


I will never understand the appeal of anger. 


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


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


Hot shovel from the wood stove. Ashes, pitfall.


The water here is always bitter cold. 


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


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


land of snow and warm summer water. Might be better 


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


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


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


out the water from his fur all over me. 


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


I will never be happy.

Excerpt From Belly Song

And I  and I/ must admit

that the sea in you 

            has sung/ to the sea/ in me

and I               and I/ must admit

that the sea in me

         has fallen/ in love

         with the sea in you

because you have made something 

out of the sea

         that nearly swallowed you


And this poem

This poem

This poem/ I give / to you.

This poem is a song/I sing/I sing/ to you

from the bottom

        of the sea

                in my belly


This poem/is a song/ about FEELINGS

about the Bone of  feeling

about the Stone of feeling

         And the Feather of feeling



This poem

This poem

This poem/ is /

a death / chant

and a prayer for the dead:

              for the young Jackie Robinson.

a moving Blk/warrior who walked

among us

            with a wide/ stride and heavy heels

moving                moving             moving

thru the blood and mud and shit of Vietnam


through the blood and mud and dope of America

             for Jackie/ who was/


a song

and a stone

and a Feather of feeling

             now dead

and/ gone/in the month of love


This poem

this poem /is / a silver feather

and the sun-gold/ glinting/ green hills breathing

river flowing...



This poem

This poem

This poem/ is for ME- for me

and the days/ that lay/ in the back/ of my mind

when the sea/ rose up/

           to swallow me

and the streets I walked

      were lonely streets

      were stone / cold streets


This poem

this poem

This poem /is / for me

           and my woman

           and the yesterdays

when she opened

        to me like a flower

        But I fell on her

        like a stone

I fell on her like a stone...



And now- in my 40th year

          I have come here

to this House of Feelings

to this Singing  Sea

and I    and I / must admit

that the sea in me

          has fallen / in love

with the sea in you

because the sea 

that now sings/ in you

            is the same sea

that nearly swallowed you - 

             and me too.

First Grade

Until then, every forest

had wolves in it, we thought

it would be fun to wear snowshoes

all the time, and we could talk to water.


So who is this woman with the gray

breath calling out names and pointing

to the little desks we will occupy

for the rest of our lives?

Beauty is My Revenge

each wig represents a world/one I hope to become a part of/in my line of work femininity exists in a land of fantasy/where songs rival the impact of bombs and dresses are loaded with more artillery than tanks/excuse me if I sound unrealistic/but the world has entitled me to only my dreams/unfortunately the necessity of survival always trumps the longing for escape/reality witnesses me saving tips to a place where my body is more than just your entertainment/one day imma dance to original material/fling back my head and listen to folks reciting my lyrics with abandon/choreographin productions ta my virtuosity/bendin hardwood floors/splittin vocal chords to the soundtrack of my evolution/in my story imma princess/I use garters, satin, duct tape, and oil sheen as my weapons of choice/I go into battle not with a metal suit/but girdled silhouette/those who take me as jest come to dey senses when the spotlight touches me/equipped wif countless facial contortions and arm gesticulations/I undo the memory of your favorite antiquated idol/ocean of hair/mountain of body/I can be reached through only a punctual high-five, organic work bitch, or demurely folded dollar bill/gather around children and let me tell you the story of one who from the bottom of nowhere/built dazzling spectacle from nothing more than wardrobe, imagination, and insanity/once upon a time/there was a queen, no, a goddess, with a penis/and she  lived, happily, ever, after!


I love how it swells

into a temple where it is

held prisoner, where the god

of blame resides. I love

slopes & peaks, the secret

paths that make me selfish.

I love my crooked feet

shaped by vanity & work

shoes made to outlast

belief. The hardness

coupling milk it can't

fashion. I love the lips,

salt & honeycomb on the tongue.

The hair holding off rain

& snow. The white moons

on my fingernails. I love

how everything begs

blood into song & prayer

inside an egg. A ghost

hums through my bones

like Pan's midnight flute

shaping internal laws

beside a troubled river.

I love this body

made to weather the storm

in the brain, raised

out of the deep smell

of fish & water hyacinth,

out of rapture & the first

regret. I love my big hands.

I love it clear down to the soft

quick motor of each breath,

the liver's ten kinds of desire

& the kidney's lust for sugar.

This skin, this sac of dung

& joy, this spleen floating

like a compass needle inside

nighttime, always divining

West Africa's dusty horizon.

I love the birthmark

posed like a fighting cock

on my right shoulder blade.

I love this body, this

solo & ragtime jubilee

behind the left nipple,

because I know I was born

to wear out at least

one hundred angels.

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

the need gotta be

so deep words can't

answer simple questions

all night long notes

stumble off the tongue

& color the air indigo

so deep fragments of gut

& flesh cling to the song

you gotta get into it

so deep salt crystalizes on eyelashes

the need gotta be

so deep you can vomit up ghosts

& not feel broken

till you are no more

than a half ounce of gold

in painful brightness

you gotta get into it

blow that saxophone

so deep all the sex & dope in this world

can't erase your need

to howl against the sky

the need gotta be

so deep you can't

just wiggle your hips

& rise up out of it

chaos in the cosmos

modern man in the pepperpot

you gotta get hooked

into every hungry groove

so deep the bomb locked

in rust opens like a fist

into it into it so deep

rhythm is pre-memory

the need gotta be basic

animal need to see

& know the terror

we are made of honey

cause if you wanna dance

this boogie be ready

to let the devil use your head

for a drum

You and I Are Dissapearing

The cry I bring down from the hills

belongs to a girl still burning

inside my head. At daybreak


she burns like a piece of paper.


She burns like foxfire

in a thigh-shaped valley.

A skirt of flames

dances around her

at dusk.


We stand with our hands


hanging at our sides,

while she burns 


like a sack of dry ice.


She burns like oil on water.

She burns like a cattail torch

dipped in gasoline.

She glows like the fat tip

of a banker's cigar,


silent as quicksilver.


A tiger under a rainbow

    at nightfall.

She burns like a shot glass of vodka.

She burns like a field of poppies

at the edge of a rain forest.

She rises like dragonsmoke

    to my nostrils.

She burns like a burning bush

driven by a godawful wind.


When you showed up drunk as hell, humming

tunelessly to yourself, and slumped against

the auditorium's faux-wood paneling  — when

you fumbled in the pockets of your coat,

fished out a cigarette, brought it to your lips,

then, realizing for the first time where you were,

tossed it away and said Fuck it loud enough

that everyone turned in their seats and a friend

elbowed me and asked if I knew you — I shook

my head and spent the next hour wondering why

I was so glad you came. You, who slept

each night in your battered van, who skipped

meetings and lied to your sponsor, who still

called your ex-wife every day, restraining order

be damned. You shouldn't have been there

either: a hundred yards was the agreement

after you gathered all the meds in the house

into a shoebox and threatened to take them.

You had come regardless. You were there.

And I was there. And when I walked the stage

you hollered my name with a kind

of wild conviction, then said it a second time,

less convinced, and I thought of that night

when the cops came and you, unashamed

of the fuss you caused, of your desperate,

public struggle for happiness, kissed me

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

Excerpt from "Momma"

I know everything, I know everything, know myself

I know morality, spirituality, good and bad health

I know fatality might haunt you

I know everything, I know Compton

I know street shit, I know shit that's conscious, I know everything

I know lawyers, advertisement their sponsors

I know wisdom, I know bad religion, I know good karma

I know everything, I know history

I know the universe works mentally

I know the perks of bullshit isn't meant for me

I know everything, I know cars, clothes, hoes and money

I know loyalty, I know respect, I know those that's Ornery

I know everything, the highs the lows the groupies the junkies

I know if I'm generous at heart, I don't need recognition

The way I'm rewarded, well, that's God's decision

I know you know that lines from Compton School District

Just give it to the kids, don't gossip about how it was distributed

I know how people work, I know the price of life

I know how much it's worth, I know what I know and I know it well

Not to ever forget until I realized I didn't know shit

The day I came home


I don’t know when it slipped into my speech

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

Insha’Allah I will see you next summer.

The baby will come in spring, insha’Allah.

Insha’Allah this year we will have enough rain.


So many plans I’ve laid have unraveled

easily as braids beneath my mother’s quick fingers.


Every language must have a word for this. A word

our grandmothers uttered under their breath

as they pinned the whites, soaked in lemon,

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

dropping the discarded skins into a bowl.


Our sons will return next month, insha’Allah.

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

the rice will be enough to last through winter.


How lightly we learn to hold hope,

as if it were an animal that could turn around

and bite your hand. And still we carry it

the way a mother would, carefully,

from one day to the next.

Small Kindnesses

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

down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs

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

when someone sneezes, a leftover

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

And sometimes, when you spill lemons

from your grocery bag, someone else will help you

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

We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from "Heavy: An American Memoir"

For the first time in my life, I realized telling the truth was way different from finding the truth, and finding the truth had everything to do with revisiting and rearranging words. Revisiting and rearranging words didn't only require vocabulary; it required will, and maybe courage. Revised word patterns were revised thought patterns. Revised thought patterns shaped memory. I knew, looking at all those words, that memories were there, I just had to rearrange, add, subtract, sit, and sift until I found a way to free the memory.

One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying

is born


out of nothing. The first sky

is inside you, open


at either end of day.

The work of wings


was always freedom, fastening

one heart to every falling thing.

Out of Hiding

Someone said my name in the garden,


while I grew smaller

in the spreading shadow of the peonies,


grew larger by my absence to another,

grew older among the ants, ancient


under the opening heads of the flowers,

new to myself, and stranger.


When I heard my name again, it sounded far,

like the name of the child next door,

or a favorite cousin visiting for the summer,


while the quiet seemed my true name,

a near and inaudible singing

born of hidden ground.


Quiet to quiet, I called back.

And the birds declared my whereabouts all morning.


I like the idea of a spratchet,

which today I learned

is the plastic divider

used in check-out lines

that says this is almost mine

and this is almost yours.

I like how it helps two strangers

not skinny dip in the reservoirs

of each other’s bank accounts.

There’s nothing rude about a spratchet—

it’s polite as plastic can possibly be.

Unlike the bolt click behind a door

or the whining hinge of a fence gate,

the spratchet keeps things

only subtly separate.

Gently, the cashier lowers

my oyster crackers into a bag.

He divides the dry from the frozen.

I nod my spratchet nod. At work

I shake with my practiced

spratchet hand. At home,

I put the groceries in the cupboard

and kiss my love, and even our lips

are little spratchets. I cannot know her.

She cannot know me. No matter

how intimate. Not really.

That’s what we have to agree on.

That's what I intend on forgetting.


Last summer, two discrete young snakes left their skin

on my small porch, two mornings in a row. Being


postmodern now, I pretended as if I did not see

them, nor understand what I knew to be circling


inside me. Instead, every hour I told my son

to stop with his incessant back-chat. I peeled


a banana. And cursed God—His arrogance,

His gall—to still expect our devotion


after creating love. And mosquitoes. I showed

my son the papery dead skins so he could


know, too, what it feels like when something shows up

at your door—twice—telling you what you already know.

How to Triumph Like a Girl

I like the lady horses best,

how they make it all look easy,

like running 40 miles per hour

is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.

I like their lady horse swagger,

after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!

But mainly, let’s be honest, I like

that they’re ladies. As if this big

dangerous animal is also a part of me,

that somewhere inside the delicate

skin of my body, there pumps

an 8-pound female horse heart,

giant with power, heavy with blood.

Don’t you want to believe it?

Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see

the huge beating genius machine

that thinks, no, it knows,

it’s going to come in first.

The Conditional

Say tomorrow doesn't come.


Say the moon becomes an icy pit.


Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.


Say the sun's a foul black tire fire.


Say the owl's eyes are pinpricks.


Say the raccoon's a hot tar stain.


Say the shirt's plastic ditch-litter.


Say the kitchen's a cow's corpse.


Say we never get to see it: bright


future, stuck like a bum star, never


coming close, never dazzling.


Say we never meet her. Never him.


Say we spend our last moments staring


at each other, hands knotted together,


clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.


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


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


right here, feeling lucky.

I Used to Pray

to any God that made me

feel ashamed. 


Girls are takers,

Mama used to say.


I took every lesson     

she gave me, learned 


to swim out of my body 

& abandon it.


With incense I burned pages

until a perfect eye stared back. 


God drilled a hole to make us see. 

See? Mine is filthy.  


He, too, eyed me 

each day afterschool,   


clutching the line to the lure.

When I walked by 


he’d catch me & groan     

Oh you’ve grown so heavy. 


Like his breath, his fingers 

were meaty & thick.


For years I weighed myself 

then I weighed myself down.


In the water, my scaled body 

lay bent & murky.


Listen — Don’t believe in God 

unless he admits 


he was always watching.

Look back at him. 


If he had my courage

he’d choose to be born 


a daughter. 

What am I begging for? 


I have two mouths.

One remembers.


Neither forgives.

The Lovers

I was always afraid

of the next card


the psychic would turn

over for us—

                              Forgive me

for not knowing

how we were


every card in the deck.

Obligations 2

As we


                                           embrace          resist


                          the future       the present      the past


            we work          we struggle          we begin          we fail

to understand       to find        to unbraid        to accept        to question


              the grief          the grief           the grief          the grief


                          we shift         we wield           we bury​


                                     into light               as ash


                                               across our faces

Gacela of the Remembrance of Love

translated by James Wright


Do not carry your remembrance.

Leave it, alone, in my breast,


     tremor of a white cherry tree

in the torment of January.


     There divides me from the dead

a wall of difficult dreams.


     I give the pain of a fresh lily

for a heart of chalk.


     All night long, in the orchard

my eyes, like two dogs.


     All night long, quinces

of poison, flowing.


     Sometimes the wind

is a tulip of fear,


     a sick tulip,

daybreak of winter.


     A wall of difficult dreams

divides me from the dead.

A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

for those of us who cannot indulge

the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going

in the hours between dawns

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed


like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours;


For those of us

who were imprinted with fear

like a faint line in the center of our foreheads

learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk

for by this weapon

this illusion of some safety to be found

the heavy-footed hoped to silence us

For all of us

this instant and this triumph

We were never meant to survive.


And when the sun rises we are afraid

it might not remain

when the sun sets we are afraid

it might not rise in the morning

when our stomachs are full we are afraid

of indigestion

when our stomachs are empty we are afraid

we may never eat again

when we are loved we are afraid

love will vanish

when we are alone we are afraid

love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid


So it is better to speak


we were never meant to survive.


It has rained for five days


the world is

a round puddle

of sunless water

where small islands

are only beginning

to cope

a young boy

in my garden

is bailing out water

from his flower patch

when I ask him why

he tells me

young seeds that have not seen sun


and drown easily.

Excerpt from "Power"

The difference between poetry and rhetoric

is being ready to kill


instead of your children.


I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds

and a dead child dragging his shattered black

face off the edge of my sleep

blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders

is the only liquid for miles

and my stomach

churns at the imagined taste while

my mouth splits into dry lips

without loyalty or reason

thirsting for the wetness of his blood

as it sinks into the whiteness

of the desert where I am lost

without imagery or magic

trying to make power out of hatred and destruction

trying to heal my dying son with kisses

only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.


I have not been able to touch the destruction

within me.


Woman power


Black power


Human power


always feeling

my heart beats

as my eyes open

as my hands move

as my mouth speaks


I am

are you



Don't Pretty Me


Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.


Still, I Don’t Love My Father

In a Greyhound Station his last name

is read before my first


by the entrance attendant I hand my ticket to. Who

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


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

to myself. Oedipus, I do not want


the older stranger inquiring

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


were bringing me breakfast today” a snappy

teen in my gullet. Glum, but glinting


in my cheekiness extended

to the aged stranger who I knew


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

my father, but the Greyhound says, “Your name


is beautiful is it African?” & he means

my name,


my last.


& I cannot say I believe in love because

I love my father. No. That country stretched


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

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


in a Greyhound bus station where

fluorescents blink to bleakness, even


as my country inchoate

itches to slide me off its flag,


when I remember the Attendant in Atlanta

taught me hello in Ibo


when I told him I could not speak

my father’s language. Oh,


how the weeping followed.

Excerpt from "Like Totally Whatever"

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


But I guess feelings never helped anybody.

I guess like, tears never made change.

I guess like everything girls do is a waste of time


So welcome to the bandwagon of my own uncertainty.

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

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


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

Excerpt from "My Spanish"

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

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

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


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

My Spanish is a puzzle left in the rain 

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


If you ask me I will tell you 

My Spanish is hungrier than it was before. 

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

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

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

My Spanish wonders if it has an expiration date

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

spicy, hot, sizzle

my Spanish tells you it is not something to be eaten 

but does not really believe it. 


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

of how my parents met in an ESL class

How it was when they trained their mouths to say 

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

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

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

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

Even when she tried to tame it it always turned loose 

If you ask me if I am in fluent 

I will tell you 

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

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

there are letters that will always stay silent

there are some words that will always escape me. 

The Women in My Family Are Bitches

cranky! bitches

stuck up! bitches

customer service turned sour! bitches.

can i help you? bitches

next in line! bitches

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

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

get the shoes in! bitches

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

them off! bitches

all men will kill you! bitches

all men will leave you anyway! bitches

you better text me when you get home okay! bitches

pray before the plane takes off! bitches

pray before the baby comes! bitches

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

sing to the scabs on her knees when she falls 

down! bitches

give abuelita bendiciones! bitches

it's okay not to be liked! bitches

on our own til infinity! bitches

the vengeful violent

pissed prissed and polished

lipstick stained on an envelope,

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

the what did you call us? 

what did you say to us? 

what's that kind of love called again?


Some Girls

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

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

tagging moving trains with the bright insignia of their


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


And shadowed their secret rendezvous,

walking and flying all night over paths traced like veins

through the deep body of the forest

where they are trying on their new wings,

rising to power with a ferocious mercy

not seen before in the cities of men.

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

they’re swooping down even now

from treetops where they were roosting,

wearing robes woven of spider webs and pigeon


They have pulled the living child out of the flames

and are prepared to take charge through the coming


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

some are oases ringed with stalking lions. See,

I cannot even name them,

although one of them is looking out through my eyes

    right now,

one of them

is writing all this down with light-struck fingers.

Everyone I Love is Drafting Their Own Eulogies

in parking lots, in bedrooms,  

in supermarkets between the ground beef 

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

so much comes down to a body

handcuffing itself to its ghost. 

I want to tell you about the time 

the past was an earring 

under the bed. How I lived 

in the space between touching

and not touching, how I wanted 

everyone I love 

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

a city bus moves through, 

but not always, not when I pass someone

walking more than three dogs, 

not when everyone I love

is working full-time as my lungs. 

In Los Angeles, someone's replaced

all the oxygen with surgical grade stainless steel,  

someone's tagged all the freeway overpasses

and I can't tell if they wrote HELEN

or HELP. Everyone I love is trying 

to shine me like a flashlight, 

everyone I love is telling me 

to say ahh. In my backyard, forty ants

are sharing a slice of watermelon, 

and I don't know why that makes me feel

lonely, why I wish I was their size 

and with them, fighting for the juiciest piece

with everyone I love

or just letting them have it.

Excerpt from "Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela"

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.

Here's an Ocean Tale


My brother still bites his nails to the quick,

but lately he’s been allowing them to grow.

So much hurt is forgotten with the horizon

as backdrop. It comes down to simple math.


The beach belongs to none of us, regardless

of color, or money. We all come to sit

at the feet of the surf, watch waves

drag the sand and crush shells for hours.


My brother’s feet are coated in sparkly powder

that leaves a sticky residue when dry.

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

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


beautiful, standing against the sky

in cherrywood skin and almond

eyes in the sun, so instead I tell him

he is handsome. I remind him


of a day when I brought him to the beach

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

a white man pointing toward his hotel—

all for a promised shark tooth.


I yelled for him, pulled him to me,

drove us home. Folly Beach. He was six.

He almost went.

Like a Freedom Too Strange to be Conquered

i pretend to cut


my eyes at you             


                                    in line




for water


swat your laugh away


from my neck in the hall


you got a mouth that


like a ‘lil nip    anyway


i change your name in


my journal to Marcus


surrounded by petals


in each, a letter


spelling                          out into bloom


damn.  even here in my


own private truth I can’t say


yes i love                       and it


is the youngest, freshest thang


yes i love                       and at


the formal we gon dance the way


children dance— bodies rubbin


hard against imagination & bone,


pantin before we even know 


why, droolin the lyrics of our


mothers favorite poems into


one another’s ear— oh,                          , yes


imma moan your whole name


into a roll of toilet paper and


flush. i swear, imma play dead 


on the black top. i wanna tell the world 


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


about me but i ain’t met her yet. 


i wanna tell the world somethin


other than ooo Fidel Lee so fine


man fuck that nigga & his sweaty hands


i’d rather dance in the thursday sun


that is your name. that is your laugh.


i wanna toil in a queerness that ain’t


nobody punch line       & speaking of strike —


somehow it was just the two of us


in a bathroom on the third floor that first time


i wash my hands and keep my eyes out the mirror


auri                             you say my name


                                    like a damned flute


auri                             & i turn slower than worlds


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


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


      is the sound of me thinking

in a language stolen from my

ancestors. I can’t tell you who the

first slave in my family was, but we

are the last. Descendants

of the sun. Rye skinned

and vibrant, wailing to

a sailing tomb. We twist

creoled tongues. Make English

a song worth singing. You erase

our history and call it freedom.

Take our flesh and call it fashion.

Swallow nations and call it

humanity. We so savage

we let you live. 

       I can’t tell you who the first slave

in my family was, but we remember

the bodies.   Our bodies remember.

We are their favorite melody. Beat

into bucket. Broken

into cardboard covered

concrete. Shaken

into Harlem. The getting over

never begins, but there

is always the get down. Our DNA

sheet music humming

at the bottom

of the ocean.

praise song

praise the Hennessy, the brown

shine, the dull burn. praise

the dare, the take it, the no face

you’re supposed to make.

praise the house, its many rooms,

hardwood and butter leather couches;

its richness. praise the rich, their friendship.

praise the friends: the child of the well off,

the child of the well off, the child of  well,

the child of welfare, the child of welfare.

praise the diversity but praise the Hennessy,

and again,           and again.           praise

the new year upon us. praise my stumble,

the shaky eye, the fluid arm, but the steady

hand. praise my hand, the burning it has.

praise the dive into the gut of a friend; the dousing

of my hand in his ribs. praise the softness of skin,

the way it always gives.


praise the pulling, the calming down.


praise the fuck that, the jump back into all

five of my friends fist first. praise all

five of my friends pinning me into the thick

carpet, knees in my back. praise my back,

how it hurts and raises anyway, how it flips,

how it’s the best friend of my fists.

praise the swinging pool cue, how it whips

air like a disobedient child, praise the disobedient

and all the chilling           i won’t do.

praise the child smile on my face, the fun

plunging a knee into a cheek of my best friend.

praise his blood, the brightness of it, a sun i bask in.

praise my blood, the nose flowing wild with effort,

the mess and taste of it, praise the swallowing,

salt and its sweetness.


praise the morning, the impossible blue,

Midwestern  January above us. praise

the blues dulled in my denim by all

the brown. praise the brown shine, the dull



praise all six in my jeans, our salt

and life sitting dry on my thighs

mixing, refusing to wash away.

Athazagoraphobia (Fear of Being Ignored)

I used to bury plum pits between houses. Buried

bits of wire there too. Used to bury matches

but nothing ever burned and nothing ever thrived

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

attacked flies with a water pistol, and drowned ants

in perfume. I pierced my eyebrow, inserted

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

tongue to nipple in a well-lit parking lot, swerved

into traffic while unbuttoning my shirt—

                                                                  There is a woman

waiting for me to marry her or forget her name

forever—whichever loosens the ribbons from her hair.

I fill the bathtub for an enemy, lick the earlobe

of my nemesis. I try to dance like firelight

without setting anyone ablaze. I am leaning over

the railing of a bridge, seeing my face shimmer

on the river below—it’s everywhere now—

                                                                  Look for me

in scattered windshield beneath an overpass,

on the sculpture of a man with metal skin grafts,

in patterns on mud-draggled wood, feathers

circling leaves in rainwater—look. Even the blade

of a knife holds my quickly fading likeness

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

Pomegranate Means Grenade

The heart trembles like a herd of horses. —Jontae McCrory, age 11


Hold a pomegranate in your palm,

imagine ways to split it, think of the breaking

skin as shrapnel. Remember granada

means pomegranate and granada

means grenade because grenade

takes its name from the fruit;

identify war by what it takes away

from fecund orchards. Jontae,

there will always be one like you:

a child who gets the picked over box

with mostly black crayons. One who wonders

what beautiful has to do with beauty, as he darkens

a sun in the corner of every page,

constructs a house from ashen lines,

sketches stick figures lying face down-

I know how often red is the only color

left to reach for. I fear for you.

You are writing a stampede

into my chest, the same anxiety that shudders

me when I push past marines in high school

hallways, moments after video footage

of young men dropping from helicopters

in night vision goggles. I want you to see in the dark

without covering your face and carry verse

as countermeasure to recruitment videos

and remember the cranes buried inside the poems

painted on banners that hung in Tiananmen Square—

remember because Huang Xiang was exiled

for these. Remember because the poet Huang Xiang

was exiled for this: the calligraphy of revolt.

Always know that you will stand nameless

in front of a tank, always know you will not stand

alone, but there will always be those

who would rather see you pull a pin

from a grenade than pull a pen

from your backpack. Jontae,

they are afraid.

Love Elegy in the Chinese Garden, with Koi

Near the entrance, a patch of tall grass.

Near the tall grass, long-stemmed plants;


each bending an ear-shaped cone

to the pond’s surface. If you looked closely,


you could make out silvery koi

swishing toward the clouded pond’s edge


where a boy tugs at his mother’s shirt for a quarter.

To buy fish feed. And watching that boy,


as he knelt down to let the koi kiss his palms,

I missed what it was to be so dumb


as those koi. I like to think they’re pure,

that that’s why even after the boy’s palms were empty,


after he had nothing else to give, they still kissed

his hands. Because who hasn’t done that—


loved so intently even after everything

has gone? Loved something that has washed


its hands of you? I like to think I’m different now,

that I’m enlightened somehow,


but who am I kidding? I know I’m like those koi,

still, with their popping mouths, that would kiss


those hands again if given the chance. So dumb.

Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell

leaving is not enough; you must

stay gone. train your heart

like a dog. change the locks

even on the house he’s never

visited. you lucky, lucky girl.

you have an apartment

just your size. a bathtub

full of tea. a heart the size

of Arizona, but not nearly

so arid. don’t wish away

your cracked past, your

crooked toes, your problems

are papier mache puppets

you made or bought because the vendor

at the market was so compelling you just

had to have them. you had to have him.

and you did. and now you pull down

the bridge between your houses,

you make him call before

he visits, you take a lover

for granted, you take

a lover who looks at you

like maybe you are magic. make

the first bottle you consume

in this place a relic. place it

on whatever altar you fashion

with a knife and five cranberries.

don’t lose too much weight.

stupid girls are always trying

to disappear as revenge. and you

are not stupid. you loved a man

with more hands than a parade

of beggars, and here you stand. heart

like a four poster bed. heart like a canvas.

heart leaking something so strong

they can smell it in the street.

If We Must Die

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursèd lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

I Am Too Pretty For Some Ugly Laws

I am not suppose to be here

in this body,


speaking to you.

My mere presence

of erratic moving limbs

and drooling smile

used to be scrubbed

off the public pavement.

Ugly laws used to be

on many U.S. cities’ law books,

beginning in Chicago in 1867,

stating that “any person who is

diseased, maimed, mutilated,

or in any way deformed

so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object,

or an improper person to be allowed

in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares,

or public places in this city,

shall not therein or thereon

expose himself to public view,

under the penalty of $1 for each offense.”

Any person who looked like me

was deemed disgusting

and was locked away

from the eyes of the upstanding citizens.

I am too pretty for some Ugly Laws,

Too smooth to be shut in.

Too smart and eclectic

for any box you put me in.

My swagger is too bold

to be swept up in these public streets.

You can stare at me all you want.

No cop will buss in my head

and carry me away to an institution.

No doctor will diagnose me

a helpless invalid with an incurable disease.

No angry mob with clubs and torches

will try to run me out of town.

Whatever you do,

my roots are rigid

like a hundred-year-old tree.

I will stay right here

to glare at your ugly face too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Study in Perspective


Looking at you was the hardest thing.


Taking off my clothes

While you stayed dressed,






My body a knife, my shoulder

Its blade, I cut a path before me.


Or sometimes I’m an apprentice ghost

Unsure in the art of haunting;


No one sees me as I pass.



No one sees me as I pass

Though someone is always looking,

Translating texts of skin and eyes

As: our lives are whole without her. 



The intention of the taker doesn’t matter;

Shame lies only in not being had,

Pain in too much having.



If you weren’t older by twenty years,

Superior in race, middle-class

By marriage and sighted,

You couldn’t whisper strip

And then refuse to do the same.


We get away with what we can,

And this poet gives what she gives.



Historically, it was a woman’s fate, a slave’s:

Submission to a gaze s/he can’t return.



I am not you; that’s you and not me.

From a distance the boundaries stay clear,

And fear lies coiled and sleeping in its place.



Up close, I look at you, give you

My body without its mask of blindness,

Allow you to see me, my eyes

As they work at seeing you.


And not because, as I have said,

I loved you more, or am most good,


Just well-rehearsed as vulnerable. 


Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

To a Young Poet

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

Bird and wing together

Go down, one feather.


No thing that ever flew,

Not the lark, not you,

Can die as others do.

Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent

When I consider how my light is spent,

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

   And that one Talent which is death to hide

   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

   My true account, lest he returning chide;

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

   I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need

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

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

Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

   And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:

   They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Hon or We have both traveled from the other side of some hill, one side of which we may wish we could forget

Love me stupid.

Love me terrible.

And when I am no

mountain but rather

a monsoon of imperfect

thunder love me. When

I am blue in my face

from swallowing myself

yet wearing my best heart

even if my best heart

is a century of hunger

an angry mule breathing

hard or perhaps even

hopeful. A small sun.

Little & bright.

i'm just doing my job

is not an answer or solution or remedy

is not what you say 

is not how you respond

is not professional or kind or noble

is not a prayer or lending a hand

is not a sermon

is not a law

is not an offering

is not altruistic or people-spirited

is not protecting

is not comforting

is not listening or seeing or doing

is not enuff

just doing my job

is not a being

Ode to a Dominican Breakfast

Keep your pancakes, french toast, eggs

benedict, your muffins and scones


Keep your waffles and four types of syrup

the way your eggs scramble but never sizzle


Nothing more scrumptious than mangu con queso frito


The other day I wore a white dress

with a wide skirt and a red sash


I danced merengue barefoot on my stoop. I kissed the

Dominican flag, once for each time I remembered a taino word


yuca, batata, tanama, ocama, yautia, cacique, juracan,

every bite on the plate, every morsel like a bachata tune


This can all be yours, get off the long lines at the brunch spot

Forget the grits and cheesy okra. Ring my doorbell


Five ingredients: Olive oil, onions, plantain, white cheese and flour

Excerpt from "Song of Solomon" 1

You think dark is just one color, but it ain’t.  There’s five or six kinds of black.  Some silk, some woolly.  Some just empty.  Some like fingers.  And it don’t stay still.  It moves and changes from one kind of black to another.  Saying something is like pitch black is like saying something is green.  What kind of green?  Green like my bottles?  Green like a grasshopper?  Green like a cucumber, lettuce, or green like the sky is just before it breaks loose to storm?  Well, night black is the same way. May as well be a rainbow.

Excerpt from "Song of Solomon" 2

“Stop picking around the edges of the world.  Take advantage…We live here.  On this planet, in this nation, in this country right here.  Nowhere else!  We got a home in this rock, don’t you see?  Nobody starving in my home; nobody crying in my home, and if I got a home you got one too!  Grab it.  Grab this land!  Take it, hold it, my brothers, make it, my brothers, shake it, squeeze it, turn it, twist it, beat it, kick it, kiss it, whip it, stomp it, dig it, plow it, seed it, reap it, rent it, buy it, sell it, own it, build it, multiply it, and pass it on-can you hear me?  Pass it on!


What happened is, we grew lonely

living among the things,

so we gave the clock a face,

the chair a back,

the table four stout legs

which will never suffer fatigue.


We fitted our shoes with tongues

as smooth as our own

and hung tongues inside bells

so we could listen

to their emotional language,


and because we loved graceful profiles

the pitcher received a lip,

the bottle a long, slender neck.


Even what was beyond us

was recast in our image;

we gave the country a heart,

the storm an eye,

the cave a mouth

so we could pass into safety.

We Are Not Responsible

We are not responsible for your lost or stolen relatives. 

We cannot guarantee your safety if you disobey our instructions. 

We do not endorse the causes or claims of people begging for handouts. 

We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. 


Your ticket does not guarantee that we will honor your reservations. 

In order to facilitate our procedures, please limit your carrying on. 

Before taking off, please extinguish all smoldering resentments. 


If you cannot understand English, you will be moved out of the way. 

In the event of a loss, you’d better look out for yourself. 

Your insurance was cancelled because we can no longer handle

your frightful claims. Our handlers lost your luggage and we

are unable to find the key to your legal case. 


You were detained for interrogation because you fit the profile. 

You are not presumed to be innocent if the police 

have reason to suspect you are carrying a concealed wallet. 

It’s not our fault you were born wearing a gang color. 

It is not our obligation to inform you of your rights. 


Step aside, please, while our officer inspects your bad attitude. 

You have no rights we are bound to respect. 

Please remain calm, or we can’t be held responsible 

for what happens to you.

Mercy, Mercy Me

Crips, Bloods, and butterflies.

   A sunflower somehow planted

in the alley. Its broken neck.

   Maybe memory is all the home

you get. And rage, where you

   first learn how fragile the axis

upon which everything tilts.

   But to say you’ve come to terms

with a city that’s never loved you

   might be overstating things a bit.

All you know is there was once

   a walk-up where now sits a lot,

vacant, and rats in deep grass

   hide themselves from the day.

That one apartment fire

   set back in ’76—one the streets

called arson to collect a claim—

   could not do, ultimately, what

the city itself did, left to its own dank

   devices, some sixteen years later.

Rebellions, said some. Riots,

   said the rest. In any case, flames;

and the home you knew, ash.

   It’s not an actual memory, but

you remember it still: a rust-

   bottomed Datsun handed down,

then stolen. Stripped, recovered,

   and built back from bolts.

Driving away in May. 1992.

   What’s left of that life quivers

in the rearview—the world on fire,

   and half your head with it.

Variation on a Theme by Elizabeth Bishop

Start with loss. Lose everything. Then lose it all again.

Lose a good woman on a bad day. Find a better woman,

Then lose five friends chasing her. Learn to lose as if

Your life depended on it. Learn that your life depends on it.

Learn it like karate, like riding a bike. Learn to fall

Forever. Lose money, lose time, lose your natural mind.

Get left behind, then learn to leave others. Lose and

Lose again. Measure a father’s coffin against a cousin’s

Crashing T-cells. Kiss your sister through prison glass.

Know why your woman’s not answering her phone.

Lose sleep. Lose religion. Lose your wallet in El Segundo.

Open your window. Listen: the last slow notes

Of a Donny Hathaway song. A child crying. Listen:

A drunk man is cussing out the moon. He sounds like

Your dead uncle, who, before he left, lost a leg

To sugar. Shame. Learn what’s given can be taken;

What can be taken, will. This you can bet on without

Losing. Sure as nightfall and an empty bed. Lose

And lose again. Lose until it’s second nature. Losing

Farther, losing faster. Lean out your open window, listen:

The child is laughing now. No, it’s the drunk man again

In the street, losing his voice, suffering each invisible star.

Woo Woo Roll Deep

it’s not just me. Be clear,

the whole squad Woo Woo. Kin

stay lifted up in metal clouds. Or

knuckle deep in earth. Talking

about how they periods right

around the corner and what that means

alongside Chani’s latest Mercury read.

Shira can’t wait to tell you

about the dream she had.

Big eyes growing wider at each detail.

Freaked out and charged at the spirit’s hooks

deep in her brain’s knowing signal.

It all connected. Courtney paints

one wall miss-my-daddy red

in every new home she stays in.

Morgan say she wants to find love

this year, keeps a rose quartz between

her tits. Gio the 3rd grade teacher

in Bed-Stuy use to end her emails

‘bet you love could make it better.’

A week after the 314th police killing this

year, Jenna mixes up a tincture of charcoal,

lemon, and lavender in little spray bottles.

Hands them out to us after burgers in Harlem.

Woo Woo. Jozie got her man’s EKGs tatted

on her ring finger. 3 years since he crossed

and you best believe she correct when she

talk about him in the present-tense. Gerloni

keeps a frothy pot of black eyed peas boiling

on News Years day. Marlee staves off the yeast

with a garlic clove in her puss. You can’t tell us

shit. We always down for the miracle.

The regular-as-fuck dawn making brand new

the farm of our hearts. Jessie, the filmmaker

slash jewelry maker slash teaching-artist, dangles

a dried out tea bag above her nose, gapes

intently at this new face of God appearing

right before her like, isn’t this just

the most beautiful thing

you’ve ever seen?

If You Forget Me

I want you to know

one thing.


You know how this is:

if I look

at the crystal moon, at the red branch

of the slow autumn at my window,

if I touch

near the fire

the impalpable ash

or the wrinkled body of the log,

everything carries me to you,

as if everything that exists,

aromas, light, metals,

were little boats

that sail

toward those isles of yours that wait for me.


Well, now,

if little by little you stop loving me

I shall stop loving you little by little.


If suddenly

you forget me

do not look for me,

for I shall already have forgotten you.


If you think it long and mad,

the wind of banners

that passes through my life,

and you decide

to leave me at the shore

of the heart where I have roots,


that on that day,

at that hour,

I shall lift my arms

and my roots will set off

to seek another land.



if each day,

each hour,

you feel that you are destined for me

with implacable sweetness,

if each day a flower

climbs up to your lips to seek me,

ah my love, ah my own,

in me all that fire is repeated,

in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,

my love feeds on your love, beloved,

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

without leaving mine.

Sonnet 65

Matilde, where are you? I only just noticed

behind my necktie and above my heart,

a certain melancholy between my ribs:

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


I needed the light of your energy so much.

I looked all around me, devouring hope,

and saw that the space without you is a house,

with nothing left in it but tragic windows.


In the pure silence now, the roof is listening

to the falling of ancient leafless rain,

to feathers, to what the night has imprisoned.


And so I still wait, like a lonely house,

for you to see me and inhabit me again.

Until that time, my windows ache.

MSP to ____

Though I am often, I am bad

at being alone. I turn off the bathroom lights

& let the shower steam fill the room.

I draw a new face in the mirror.

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

for a while, as little dots roaming a map. 

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

Someone I no longer love said that. 

My friend says he can’t do another winter 

in Minnesota, but leaving seems impractical.

I thought I could keep them all,

but I did not notice the door

until the room was empty.

There are people who don’t need

to hear from me to know I love them.

That’s what happens, I miss people 

when I know they are happy. 

It’s true: I’ve stopped drinking

because I needed it. I know who to call

in an emergency; that’s not the problem.

I could do it, you know, disappear

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

who asked me to stay, asked if I could 

be happy there. I told him no. Told him 

I had dreams & aspirations,

whatever that means. Truth is, 

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

Fuck me if I’m wrong, but I am doing 

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

Howdy-do, buckaroo. I could be happy 

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

so I drag the suitcase from my closet 

& fill it with obnoxious colors, 

a green jumper, a yellow scarf, a red coat

I've been meaning to wear where it rains.

Song 33

I saw a demon on my shoulder, it's lookin' like patriarchy

Like scrubbin' blood off the ceiling and bleachin' another carpet

How my house get haunted?

Why Toyin body don't embody all the life she wanted?

A baby, just nineteen

I know I dream all black

I seen her everything, immortalizin' tweets all caps

They say they found her dead


One girl missin', another one go missin'

One girl missin', another


But niggas in the back quiet as a church mouse

Basement studio when duty calls to get the verse out

I guess the ego hurt now

It's time to go to work, wow, look at him go

He really 'bout to write about me when the world is in smokes?

When it's people in trees?

When George was beggin' for his mother, saying he couldn't breathe

You thought to write about me?


One girl missin', another one go missin'

One girl missin', another one


Yo, but little did I know all my readin' would be a bother

It's trans women bein' murdered and this is all he can offer?

And this is all y'all receive?

Distracting from the convo with organizers

They talkin' abolishin' the police

And this the new world order

We democratizin' Amazon, we burn down borders

This a new vanguard, this a new vanguard

I'm the new vanguard

Gate A-4

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning

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

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

come to the gate immediately."


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


An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

picking you up? Let's call him."


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool

cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and

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

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

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

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

sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.


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

little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.


They say I mope too much

but really I’m loudly dancing.

I eat paper. It’s good for my bones.

I play the piano pedal. I dance,

I am never quiet, I mean silent.

Some day I’ll love Frank O’Hara.

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

Black Stars

Whitney was a star once.

Waltzed across our television skies,

a waning crescent.

So was Michael.

& Marvin.

All stars die though.

Explode into air thin,

cascade into black hole.

Black stars form under pressure

& leave us tragically,

either by death or betrayal.

When there was no other beacon on our screens,

we looked up to Bill.

When we wanted to name a future for ourselves,

we looked through Raven’s eyes.

When we needed validation an institution could not give,

we called on Kanye.

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

the shorter their lifespan.

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

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

Some weeks I only listen to Whitney.

Cradle her name, a prayer between my lips.

One dim dusk, her lover gifted her stardust.

Whitney danced, dosed, then drowned.

& we mourn her body celestial after all these years.

Joe Jackson tried to carve galaxies out of his children.

MJ got addicted to surgeoning his features for the masses. 

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

Walk on the moon, boy.

Turn this Indiana basement into a universe.

You a star, boy.

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

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

so he don’t get to shine forever.

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

Got so big, white folks thought he was the sun

of God.

Now Yeezus only praises white folks in red hats

and white girls with fake asses.

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

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

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

Maybe we’re all waiting to be on fire.

Black stars disintegrate for reaching up towards a pearly gaze.

Whiteness has always been both a goal and unattainable.

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

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

The further we get from ground or dirt or us.

Black folks stay folding in on ourselves,

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

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

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

Masculinity gave Marvin Gaye’s father a gun,

told him to shoot his son.

& ain’t a sun the biggest star?

Don’t the biggest stars have the shortest lives?

Make the largest explosions?

Have you seen 

the energy burning out

turn to dust?

Did you know above you

there are a sea of stars


Twerk Villanelle

for Valentine


my girl positioned for a twerk session —

            knees bent, hands below the thigh, tongue out, head

turned to look at her body’s precession.


she in tune. breath in. breasts hang. hips freshen.

            she slow-wine. pulse waistline to a beat bled

for her, un-guilt the knees for the session.


fair form of vertebrae- backbone blessing,

            her pop-in innate. her pop-out self-bred,

head locked into her holied procession.


dance is proof she loves herself, no questions —

            no music required, no crowd needed.

she arched into a gateway, protecting —


this dance is proof she loves me, no guessing.

            a bronx bedroom, we hip-to-hip threaded.

she turn to me, tranced by her possessing.


she coils herself to, calls forth a legend —

            round bodied booty, bounce a praise ballad.

she break hold, turn whole in a twerk session.

body charmed, spell-bent, toward procession.

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

i love you dad, i say to the cat.

i love you dad, i say to the sky.

i love you dad, i say to the mirror.


it rains, & my mom's plants

open their mouths. my dad stays

on the couch. maybe the couch opened


its mouth & started eating my dad. 

i love you dad, i say to the couch,

its tongue working my dad like a puppet.


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

or making itself clean. i am here

with my dad & the TV & the TV drones


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

my dad grunting and nodding,

not the mushy stuff i was expecting,


neither of us cry, no hug or kiss.

a grunt & a nod.  i love* you dad,

i say to my dad.  we sit together


and watch TV.  outside it rains. my dad

turns the volume up. the city is drunk.

the city is singing badly in the shower.


i killed a plant once because i gave

it too much water. lord, i worry

that love is violence.  my dad is silent


& our relationship is not new or clean.

i killed a plant once because i didn't give

it enough water. my dad & i watch TV


on a rainy day. we rinse our mouths 

with this water.


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

My Therapist Says Make Friends with your Monsters

we are gathered in truth,

because my therapist said

it was time to stop running,


& i pay my therapist too much

to be wrong, so i am here.

my monsters look almost human


in the sterile office light.

my monsters say they want 

to be friends. i remember


when we first met, me & my 

monsters. i remember the moment

i planted each one. each time


i tried to shed a piece of myself,

it grew into a monster. take this one

with the collar of belly fat


the monster called Chubby, Husky,

Gordito. i climbed out of that skin

as fast as i could, only to see some spirit


give it legs. i ran & it never stopped

chasing me. each new humiliation 

coming to life & following after me.


after me, a long procession of sad 

monsters. each monster hungry

to drag me back, to return me


to the dirt i came from. ashes

to ashes, fat boy to fat.

my monsters crowd around me,


my therapist says i can't 

make the monsters disappear

no matter how much i pay her.


all she can do is bring them

into the room, so i can get

to know them, so i can learn


their names, so i can see

clearly their toothless mouths,

their empty hands, their pleading eyes.

The Uses of Sorrow

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.


It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.


A gray hoodie will not protect my son 

from rain, from the New England cold.


I see the partial eclipse of his face

as his head sinks into the half-dark


and shades his eyes. Even in our 

quiet suburb with its unlocked doors, 


I fear for his safety—the darkest child

on our street in the empire of blocks.


Sometimes I don’t know who he is anymore 

traveling the back roads between boy and man.


He strides a deep stride, pounds a basketball 

into wet pavement. Will he take his shot 


or is he waiting for the open-mouthed 

orange rim to take a chance on him? I sing 


his name to the night, ask for safe passage 

from this borrowed body into the next   


and wonder who could mistake him 

for anything but good.

Small Town

Listen. The rug is wet because

I stood here. Because

it started pouring. Because

your door was open and I was

under a tree. Because

it was raining. Because the rain

and tree both

were in your backyard. Because

so was I. Because you

weren’t home. Because I knew

you were bowling. Because

I walk your road. Because your road

goes by your house. Because

I felt like a walk. Because

it was going to rain. Because your door

is never locked.

Heaven Be a Xanax

When people say how are you

I say good

It is a rule no one can answer

Crying in The Gap by my therapist’s office

or I am still angry with my parents

for traumatizing me

through organized sports

Dangerous and satisfying body of water

I can almost remember heaven

or Still a woman slaughtered for wonder

or Unfortunately misplaced grip

I am not doing a good job waiting

When I get to heaven I’m going

to wear my good bra

so no one can stay mad at me

I won’t have any feelings to hurt just

cheeseburgers on cheeseburgers on

deep colored slumber

Just men offering their golden bodies

And I will take the offering on my tongue

And it will not be a vault

And someone will not invade me

And I will kneel to pray

And I will address the prayer to myself

And I will be allowed


translated by Charles Tomlinson


If it is real the white

Light from this lamp, real

The writing hand, are they

Real, the eyes looking at what I write?


From one word to the other

What I say vanishes.

I know that I am alive

Between two parentheses.

Bad Habits

Petey liked to twist the right end of his mustache when he was

      listening for updates. (Y’all remember Petey. He was always

      on that chuck chill-out tip, but most days he didn’t get

      to choose.)


When he ignited a squabble, Chuna would slap his right thigh to

      get every syllable out with a violent scansion.


Tommy Lee threw rocks at unsuspecting pigeons.


Dwight kept his right hand tucked into the crotch of his Lees,

      steady stunting on some bollo.


Angel bit his tongue when he wanted to ask a question.


Max counted his money and his money counted him.


Brother Lo liked to whistle “All the Things You Are” when it

      rained that Puerto Rico rain.


Chee-wa’s nose used to break out into an anxious table of

      contents when he was skied up.


Papu would dance if he wanted to make a point. So, imagine

      him saying, Nah, nah, nah, fuck that shit, and poppin’ &

      lockin’ on every word.


Nestor hated the words Stop, I was only playing.


Loco Tommy blinked three times, convulsively, and then tapped

      the right side of his face against his right shoulder blade.


Jujo spit and spit and spit and spit.


Popeye had a villainous laugh.


Dre loved to crash revivals.


Chino Chan did back handsprings from sewer to sewer

      whenever he received good news.


Georgie could scratch his ankle straight through a

      graveyard shift.


The first thing out of Skinicky’s mouth was always a feeling.

A Little Close Though, If You Can, for What Got Lost Here

            Other than that, all was still — a quiet

so quiet that, as if silence were a kind of spell, and

words the way to break it, they began speaking.

            They spoke of many things:

sunset as a raft leaving the water in braids behind it;

detachment, the soul, obedience;

swans rowing at nightfall across a sky filled with snow;

what did they wish they could see, that they used to see;

to mean no harm, or to not especially, just now, be looking for it;

what would they wish not to see, could they stop seeing;

courage mattering so much less than not spooking easily — 

maybe all nerve is; the search-and-rescue map wildflowers

make of a field in summer; deserving it, versus asking for it,

versus having asked, and been softly turned from.

            They said it would hurt, and it does.

Excerpt from "Nature Poem"

When a star dies, it becomes any number of things

like a black hole, or a documentary.


The early universe of our skin was remarkably smooth

now I stand in a rapidly dampening Christina Aguilera tee


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

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

which is a pretty stellar inheritance


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


but that absence of an answer, yet suggestion of meaning

isn’t ultimately that different from a poem

So I’ve started reading the stars


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

or friends with benefits


Poems were my scripture and the poets, my gods

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

of humanity.


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

into the water, a stone

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago, 

   In a kingdom by the sea, 

That a maiden there lived whom you may know 

   By the name of Annabel Lee; 

And this maiden she lived with no other thought 

   Than to love and be loved by me. 


I was a child and she was a child, 

   In this kingdom by the sea, 

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

   I and my Annabel Lee— 

With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven 

   Coveted her and me. 


And this was the reason that, long ago, 

   In this kingdom by the sea, 

A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling 

   My beautiful Annabel Lee; 

So that her highborn kinsmen came 

   And bore her away from me, 

To shut her up in a sepulchre 

   In this kingdom by the sea. 


The angels, not half so happy in Heaven, 

   Went envying her and me— 

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

   In this kingdom by the sea) 

That the wind came out of the cloud by night, 

   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee. 


But our love it was stronger by far than the love 

   Of those who were older than we— 

   Of many far wiser than we— 

And neither the angels in Heaven above 

   Nor the demons down under the sea 

Can ever dissever my soul from the soul 

   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 


For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams 

   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 

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

   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 

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

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

   In her sepulchre there by the sea— 

   In her tomb by the sounding sea. 


After my father

would beat one of us

he would place flowers

on the kitchen table

the next morning


he cut the stems flush

and laid the begonias in a circle

in an inch of water


the lavender and fuchsia

permeated the morning


we were called to breakfast

we ate waffles

and said nothing of the raging blooms


the apologies

buried in the ordered way

the flowers were arranged


we looked down at our plates




ignoring his

sun scorched hands


these days

I spend time

pulling petals

out of my body


placing a shovel

in the open earth

placing flowers

back into the ground

day’s end

These days I work

the garden—pulling

up the old, turning

the soil for the new.

This keeps my ghost

in prosperity—a bright

exhaustion; bright yet

unsensational. Parsley

& tomatoes & peppers

to inquire into the silence

that inquires into me.

I imagine I’ll love people

again, eventually. But not

today—& not up close.

I’m learning how time,

its blank shimmer, plays

across my absence which

is not quite absence, not

anymore—it’s greener

than absence, closer to

ritual, a strategy against

the debasements. Ignored

by the goldfinch, I hum

to the dirt, requiring no

crumb of compensation.

Sunlight buries its body

in earth, compost sets

forth its gift of rotting,

from this rotting blooms

my emptiness. Nothing

to be but silent here, amid

the thirsty miracles. Why

continue making such

noise—no matter what

I say I'm saying hold me.

The Banana Room

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

Booker T. and W.E.B

“It seems to me,” said Booker T.,

“It shows a mighty lot of cheek

To study chemistry and Greek

When Mister Charlie needs a hand

To hoe the cotton on his land,

And when Miss Ann looks for a cook,

Why stick your nose inside a book?”


“I don’t agree,” said W.E.B.,

“If I should have the drive to seek

Knowledge of chemistry or Greek,

I’ll do it. Charles and Miss can look

Another place for hand or cook.

Some men rejoice in skill of hand,

And some in cultivating land,

But there are others who maintain

The right to cultivate the brain.”


“It seems to me,” said Booker T.,

“That all you folks have missed the boat

Who shout about the right to vote,

And spend vain days and sleepless nights

In uproar over civil rights.

Just keep your mouths shut, do not grouse,

But work, and save, and buy a house.”


“I don’t agree,” said W.E.B.,

“For what can property avail

If dignity and justice fail.

Unless you help to make the laws,

They’ll steal your house with trumped-up clause.

A rope’s as tight, a fire as hot,

No matter how much cash you’ve got.

Speak soft, and try your little plan,

But as for me, I’ll be a man.”


“It seems to me,” said Booker T.—

“I don’t agree,”

Said W.E.B.

Excerpt from "Citizen”

Because white men can’t

police their imagination

black men are dying.

Ways to Disappear

In the dark

Down a stairwell

Through the doorway

Gone west

With a new wish

In daylight

Down the sidewalk

In a wool coat

In a white dress

Without a name

Without asking

On your knees

On your stomach

Gone silent

In the backseat

In the courtroom

In a cage

In the desert

In the park

Gone swimming

On the shortest night

At the bottom of the lake

In pieces

In pictures

Without meaning

Without a face

Seeking refuge

In a new land

Gone still

In the heart

With your head bowed

In deference

In sickness

In surrender 

With your hands up

On the sidewalk

In the daylight

In the dark


On a scrap of paper in the archive is written

I have forgotten my umbrella. Turns out

in a pandemic everyone, not just the philosopher,

is without. We scramble in the drought of information

held back by inside traders. Drop by drop. Face

covering? No, yes. Social distancing? Six feet

under for underlying conditions. Black.

Just us and the blues kneeling on a neck

with the full weight of a man in blue.

Eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

In extremis, I can’t breathe gives way

to asphyxiation, to giving up this world,

and then mama, called to, a call

to protest, fire, glass, say their names, say

their names, white silence equals violence,

the violence of again, a militarized police

force teargassing, bullets ricochet, and civil

unrest taking it, burning it down. Whatever

contracts keep us social compel us now

to disorder the disorder. Peace. We’re out

to repair the future. There’s an umbrella

by the door, not for yesterday but for the weather

that’s here. I say weather but I mean

a form of governing that deals out death

and names it living. I say weather but I mean

a November that won’t be held off. This time

nothing, no one forgotten. We are here for the storm

that’s storming because what’s taken matters.

Dear You,

Make no apologies for yourself

Because you are covered by a listening skin

Because every ache you feel is not your own

Because of your mother’s loss

and your father’s rage

Because of how many rivers they’ve crossed

Because you plummet even if you cannot swim

Because of the lynching tree

Because when you enter bookstores

books fall off shelves into your open palms

Because you ask questions of the universe

so the world opens before you like a page of text

Because of those clouds and that murder of crows

Because poets are your wounded idols

Because the truth, even if it hurts is to be cherished and held

Because when people die you believe that they walk with you daily

Because the river has a mouth that speaks their names

Because the river flows with stories

Because you sit on the shore and listen

Because alone is more comforting than together

Because your pen is oceanic

Because you are big-eyed and eyes wide

Because you suffer from what you see and hear

Because you have sinus arrhythmia

your heart is linked to your breath

and your breath is short,

Because asthma is only one of the monkeys on your back

Because your heart is the vehicle you choose to ride this go ’round

Because it can go forward and backwards in time

Because bookstores have always been oracles

Because poetry is your archeological tool

Because you dig and dive

and you trust the ride of journal and journey

even if you don’t always float

Because your heart beats to your breath

Because of this music, you dance raw and wild

Someday I'll Love Roger Reeves

After Frank O'Hara 


Until then, let us have our gods and short prayers. Our obligations.

Our thighbone connected to our knee bone.


Our dissections and our swans. Our legs gashed

upon a barbwire fence and our heels tucked behind a lover’s knees.

Let us have a stalk of sugarcane to suck


and another to tear our backs with what it knows of disaster

and a tadpole’s folly. Let us have mistakes


and fish willing to come to a bell rung across a body of water.

Let us have our drawbridges and our moats. Our heavens

no higher than a pile of dried leaves. Let us have irrelevance


and a scalpel. A dislocated ankle and three more miles to run.

A plastic bottle to hold nothing but last names and a chill.


If none of this will be remembered, then let us keep speaking

with tongues light as screen doors clapping shut

on a child’s fingers. For this is love. To press


one frame against another

and when something like a finger is found between this pressing,


to press nevertheless. For this is our obligation.

Let us forget our obligations. For this is love.

Let us forget our love. Our eyelids’ need for beginnings


and ends and blood. Our coils of hunger

that turn another into dried honey on our hands.


And what if this goes on forever—our ours?

Our drafts and fragments? Our blizzards and our cancers?

Then let us. Then, let us hold each other toward heaven


and forget that we were once made of flesh,

that this is the fall our gods refuse to clean with fire or water.

Don't Nobody

believe nothing

these days


which is why I haven’t

told nobody the story

I’m about to tell you.


And truth is

you probably ain’t

gon’ believe it either

gon’ think I’m lying

or I’m losing it,

but I’m telling you,


this story is true.


It happened to me.



It did.

              It so did.


You’re wondering if I’m lonely:

OK then, yes, I’m lonely

as a plane rides lonely and level

on its radio beam, aiming

across the Rockies

for the blue-strung aisles

of an airfield on the ocean


You want to ask, am I lonely?

Well, of course, lonely

as a woman driving across country

day after day, leaving behind

mile after mile

little towns she might have stopped

and lived and died in, lonely


If I’m lonely

it must be the loneliness

of waking first, of breathing

dawns’ first cold breath on the city

of being the one awake

in a house wrapped in sleep


If I’m lonely

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

in the last red light of the year

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

ice nor mud nor winter light

but wood, with a gift for burning

Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]

 Do you still remember: falling stars,

how they leapt slantwise through the sky

like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles

of our wishes—did we have so many?—

for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;

almost every gaze upward became

wedded to the swift hazard of their play,

and our heart felt like a single thing

beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance—

and was whole, as if it would survive them!

Mexican American Sonnet

with gratitude to Wanda Coleman & Terrance Hayes


for Kristen


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

our bodies bore the forks/tenedors

we use to eat. What do we eat? Darkness

from cathedral floors,


the heart’s woe in abundance. Please let us

go through the world touching what we want,

knock things over. Slap & kick & punch

until we get something right. ¿Verdad?


Isn’t it true, my father always asks.

Your father is the ghost of mine & vice

versa. & when did our pasts

stop recognizing themselves? It was always like


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

path with our own inwardness.

C’mon huracán, you watery migraine,

prove us wrong for once. This sadness


lasts/esta tristeza perdura. Say it both ways

so language doesn't bite back, but stays.

Public Domain

You catalog by hand, playing librarian in your dead

mother’s house. Try to justify archiving each item:


A balanced checkbook. Mothballs. Life Savers

mints. Back copies of the New York Times.


Frozen chicken pot pies. The Yellow Pages.

Expired Lorna Doone cookies long expired. Panty hose.


A pair of Daniel Green slippers from

Lord & Taylor. Flat Canada Dry ginger ale. 

You find a little girl hiding in Mr. Rogers’ mustard

sweater, sew on and sew forth, threading needles


with pubic hairs discovered in the carpet. Surreal

smells. The Pine-Sol dying down in the bathroom.


Which was your father’s bad ear? The one that lost

most of its hearing in the war. There is life in the eyes


unspoken. Your very pulse a secret algorithm, a soft-

ware designed to track your browsing history. 

An open casket on view for the whole church to see.

Her genetic code made available for live streaming.


You copyright the notes in the margins of her Bible.

The intellectual property preserved. Shaky cursive


her signature trademark. Upon the fall of a domestic

sphere, a pocketbook is emptied of all its valuables.


To become takes a long time. Blue spells are periods of

red where you pause, the body calculating the losses.