The only way out is not through (bone).
When in doubt, don’t just meat or martyr.
Before cutting off your hand to spite your captor, see if you can tip the jar.
Sometimes, shoot it; when you do, aim for the gears.
If there aren’t any scissors, start a fire. If there’s room in the well, sardine.
Not every number is an incision, and not every rule is a law.
The people who call you imprisoned are begging dilemma, so recognize
when dismantling traps requires you to think like a needle
and when you’d be better off thread.
Think outside the bear trap: Cinderella would smash her glass slipper
and birdsong a key from the shards; James Bond martini a fast car
from razor wire and the last olive. Joan of Arc would put on the wrong clothes,
take her own advice, call it God; there’s an exit for you. I promise.
Selene and Endymion
I’ve been up all night:
scrubbing the pans till they star-shine,
making the mirror a gleaming lake.
When I come to you
you don’t wake.
Atalanta and Hippomenes
I have a meat-eater’s heart,
and baby, you’re the whole buffet.
You’re ribs slick with smearing sauce,
midnight ice cream
too tempting not to eat —
you sugared cheat.
You thump between my teeth.
Eos and Tithonus
What hurts most is your thick
summer song, buzzing dew into dust,
lifting its fingerprints from the leaf-blades.
No. What hurts the most is
that the song isn’t for me.
No — what hurts most
is the wasted wish of you,
how I can’t remember you supple,
fresh, under my tongue.
Since you mention it, I think I will start that race war.
I could’ve swung either way? But now I’m definitely spending
the next 4 years converting your daughters to lesbianism;
I’m gonna eat all your guns. Swallow them lock stock and barrel
and spit bullet casings onto the dinner table;
I’ll give birth to an army of mixed-race babies.
With fathers from every continent and genders to outnumber the stars,
my legion of multiracial babies will be intersectional as fuck
and your swastikas will not be enough to save you,
because real talk, you didn’t stop the future from coming.
You just delayed our coronation.
We have the same deviant haircuts we had yesterday;
we are still getting gay-married like nobody’s business
because it’s still nobody’s business;
there’s a Muslim kid in Kansas who has already written the schematic
for the robot that will steal your job in manufacturing,
and that robot? Will also be gay, so get used to it:
we didn’t manifest the mountain by speaking its name,
the buildings here are not on your side just because
you make them spray-painted accomplices.
These walls do not have genders and they all think you suck.
Even the earth found common cause with us
the way you trample us both,
oh yeah: there will be signs, and rainbow-colored drum circles,
and folks arguing ideology until even I want to punch them
but I won’t, because they’re my family,
in that blood-of-the-covenant sense.
If you’ve never loved someone like that
you cannot outwaltz us, we have all the good dancers anyway.
I’ll confess I don’t know if I’m alive right now;
I haven’t heard my heart beat in days,
I keep holding my breath for the moment the plane goes down
and I have to save enough oxygen to get my friends through.
But I finally found the argument against suicide and it’s us.
We’re the effigies that haunt America’s nights harder
the longer they spend burning us,
we are scaring the shit out of people by spreading,
by refusing to die: what are we but a fire?
We know everything we do is so the kids after us
will be able to follow something towards safety;
what can I call us but lighthouse,
of course I’m terrified. Of course I’m a shroud.
And of course it’s not fair but rest assured,
anxious America, you brought your fists to a glitter fight.
This is a taco truck rally and all you have is cole slaw.
You cannot deport our minds; we won’t
hold funerals for our potential. We have always been
what makes America great.
When the doctor runs out of words and still
I won't leave, he latches my shoulder and
steers me out doors. Where I see his blurred hand,
through the milk glass, flapping goodbye like a sail
(& me not griefstruck yet but still amazed: how
words and names — medicine's blunt instruments —
undid me. And the seconds, the half seconds
it took for him to say those words). For now,
I'll just stand in the courtyard, watching bodies
struggle in then out of one lean shadow
a tall fir lays across the wet flagstones.
Before the sun clears the valance of gray trees
and finds the surgical-supply shop's window
and makes the dusty bedpans glint like coins.
In the saltwater aquarium at the pain clinic
lives a yellow tang
who chews the minutes in its cheeks
while we await our unguents and anesthesias.
The big gods offer us this little god
before the turning of the locks
in their Formica cabinets
in the rooms of our interrogation.
We have otherwise been offered magazines
with movie stars whose shininess
diminishes as the pages lose
their crispness as they turn.
But the fish is undiminishing, its face
like the death mask of a pharaoh,
which remains while the mortal face
gets disassembled by the microbes of the tomb.
And because our pain is ancient,
we too will formalize our rituals with blood
leaking out around the needle
when the big gods try but fail
to find the bandit vein. It shrivels when pricked,
and they'll say I've lost it
and prick and prick until the trouble's brought
to the pale side of the other elbow
from which I turn my head away —
but Pharaoh you do not turn away.
You watch us hump past with our walkers
with the tennis balls on their hind legs,
your sideways black eye on our going
down the corridor to be caressed
by the hand with the knife and the hand with the balm
when we are called out by our names.
Many of the Girl Scout songs
extorted a smile, our servile mugging —
but this one we loved best.
Starring a calf being hauled in a minor key,
its refrain two mournful syllables: dona.
First came the long o — in induction/seduction
to join the animal's cargo cult, then came
the short a, when the calf turned to beef
with no last meal and no reprieve.
The gist of the lyric: that we could choose
to be the calf in the cart or the bird in the sky;
the idea was simple, but also a lie: dona.
Bird is small and can fly where it wants
but it'll never be Miss Teen USA,
whereas the word abattoir was a chic French Kiss
our tongues would enter willingly.
Let that bird flitter off
like a dry dead leaf: this was a hymn
that we sang on our knees
on the dais by the flag, dressed in our sashes
and green berets like irregulars planning
a suicide mission: there was glory ahead
when we signed on, clambered into the wagon,
and let the future hitch up its horse.
Seattle, at the old World's Fair
He stands by the helm, his face full of blue
from the buildings at twilight, his hand
knuckled around a metal pole that keeps him
from falling, as he flies past the vaults
of startled mannequins, the red ohs of their lips.
Christmas lights are also falling
through the windshield, onto his chest:
right side green, left side red —
dark then back again.
Wait…my father is not moving yet:
no one has claimed the worn leather throne.
But his thoughts are moving, wondering
whether movement is the same as growing old
in the province of space, not time. Inside his shoes,
his toes are as blue as the city streets,
and the drum in his chest, his red-lit chest,
is growing dim. He knows the train he's about to ride
has one rail: no steering, no turns.
And the only skill is in the brake.
The brake. His lips roll over the words:
the dead man's brake. And a small boy
— come to ride up front — hears him,
tugs my father's coat and asks:
Hey mister, are you the driver of this train?
— after Alison Prine
I was here before the house came down.
I ran up its carpeted stairs,
my feet bare; I stood dripping
in a towel just outside the bedroom door;
I daydreamt of making a mural
of the hallway wall,
my hands full of tacks and yarn.
I came along the backcountry road,
its tar hot and melting in the August sun.
I passed a boy playing crow
in a cornfield, daring a rifle to shoot.
I was here before the house came down.
My feet wore holes in the carpeted stairs.
I wanted this place to remember me,
though I didn’t know I’d leave it — or rather, it left me.
I was the one calling out its name.
If a tree falls in the woods
And no one is there to hear it
Does it even make a sound?
If a police officer shoots a black kid
and no one saw the bullet
Is the black kid really dead?
If a white man goes on a killing spree is he a terrorist?
Or mentally ill?
Or a wolf in white skin?
If the black kid does not get a hashtag
were they really killed?
Are they worthy of mourning?
If no one knew the black kids name
were they even a person
or just a target?
If no one comes to the black kids funeral
Is their mother still crying?
If the black kid does not make the evening news
did they even
A Filipino restaurant is bone marrow
and vinegar boiling
perfectly over the sound
of the most dramatic Tagalog
soap opera you’ve ever been forced to watch.
I come here, when I can afford it,
when my homesick can only be cured
by my mother’s hands
The server is a young woman,
possibly in her 20’s with a posture
that’s been carrying the weight of her father’s expectations.
She calls me, “Ate” every time I come in.
It means older sister in Tagalog.
I can tell by the way she responds
to her mother that she still lives at home,
because Filipino women without husbands
have no business being out on their own,
she wears a crucifix on her necklace
to remind her a man died for her once,
her priest, her mother,
her father, and her aunties
won’t ever let her forget it.
And she doesn’t know.
But I’ve been there.
Wanted to believe that
I could behave and sit still.
Find a nice boy to marry
to shut my mom up and wear tradition
and religion on my wedding day,
but I needed to be free.
And I wonder what young women
like this know about freedom.
What it’s like to not have a predetermined destiny.
To not always have to say the right thing,
and dress the right way
and be the dream
that someone else dreamed for you.
But this glass house
contains a boy
with too many stones
and not enough heart to tell his mother he’s trans.
Because I swore I would never tell my mother.
Because she wouldn’t understand.
Because this is will make the pot boil over.
And this young woman could’ve been my mother in past life
The woman behind the counter says,
“Hi Ate. how are you today?”
Hold back my painful desire
to tell her I’m different now.
I went and got free.
I am not your sister,
but I’m still part of the family.
But the smell of this adobo
is whispering my mother’s name
and I can’t unclench.
My mother grips tradition
and Catholicism so tightly
she has no more knuckles for this.
I do not correct her.
Continue this transaction like we normally would.
Do not try to axe at the root
of this family tree we swing under
I decide to never tell my mother
I can’t be her daughter
Do not throw these stones from your glass house, boy
the only chain you have left
Don’t anger your ancestors
Don’t shame this family anymore
Do not come out again
Don’t do this to us
So, I do not correct her.
Instead I settle into this excuse
rather not uproot this tree from the ground
Rather not show her that she might be the one who is free
We complete our business and she says, “Thanks Ate”
But I’ve been used to being free for too long.
My jaw shakes loose of the weight it’s been holding
dislocates from my mouth
and drops into the young woman’s hands
“Kuya” I say.
which is a respectful title for
I do not expect her to catch me.
My muscle memory braces itself for the shatter
for the shards of stained glass
church windows I’ve just smashed.
She says, “Have I been saying it wrong this whole time?”
And this is where I have to come out again.
A decision to make to erase the history we’ve created together in our connection
to erase my own history
or to be loyal to who I’ve been
I choose to be loyal.
I say, “no.”
Wait for the confusion, the hate, the back turned that I know so well
She says, “Oh, Sige—Kuya”
And wonder how I will tell my mother that I am still her child.
She was perfect pitcher,
Cooled glass and ice center,
Crystal all her own bounty:
Solid hammer, extended bat broken
Cam, when is delicate fist
Worth more than peacock tailed
Beauty fanned against face?
She is not safe.
No one is safe
From the break.
Her grandmother was a witchdoctor
seafoam green eyes and muddy skin
the earth shook when she spoke
islands out of the sea, a place called home.
She is not safe.
No one is safe
From the break.
The sun perched between her thighs
A gown of silk and spit sways against
The winds exhale, she asks the sky
To return her purple labia in exchange
For the low hum she remembers rattled
At moon once the sun burned out, but now
All she can hear is the whir and click of
Her unhinged ribs stringing themselves back
Together in the shape of an open mouth:
she will devour each star until rendered black.
She is not safe.
No one is safe
From the break.
Her daughter wears a crown around her neck
one lone dove in the palm of her hand
she names it after her father's fallen eyelash.
A bundle of sage burns at her feet
smoke twists towards her gathered ten,
she stops listening to her mother chewing heat
long enough to catch the birds last breath.
A copper leash patterned after still
heart of her grandmother’s dust swings
in mimic of smoke, proven ancestry.
She is still not safe.
We are still not safe
From the ache.
We form ourselves indigo diamonds
On Mars, water once flowed. Where
did it go? Some froze, but scientists
suspect a cosmic cue ball — a comet
etc. — knocked Mars so hard
the planet escaped
its own atmosphere, just
left it there, jumped its own skin
like an anime cat
leaving his pajamas spread-eagle
in space. And now, goddammit,
David Bowie is dead.
I worshipped him like a flower
twists its dewy face to the brightest,
prettiest star. He asked us,
decades down, “Is there life on Mars?”
Once, perhaps. There once was life
in Bowie too. Stars glitter,
planets don’t —
an atmospheric parlor trick,
but neither titan ceases
to exist just because
a little air escaped.
(for Abbey, Belle, Circa, Fiddleback, Fritz, Oscar, Sideway, Toast, and Zan)
The Vixen pinks his way through whiskers,
strikes a nice plié,
then knocks a shot of Jäger back,
and drops some Fourier.
The shaven Lion shyly strides
beside his own conceit:
a guileless wilding
twice defiled, but innocent and sweet.
Mama Panda and her Pup
(wily as Montaigne)
splay their limbs in slick abandon,
rolling through the rain.
She's a powder-hounded faun
with talcum in her eyes —
he's Dauphin of Malcontrites:
: the locus of surprise.
The Kangaroo who used to wear
a Fox's gold lapel
casts himself on infant seas
and rides each roll and swell
Rainbow Rat, the dayglo champ
wriggles in a bedsty tizzy,
nursing at his thumb.
The Folf-cum-Husky's snugly tucked
and tangled up in blue
and white and glows so bright
he turns the old moon new.
Even Wolves, who play at stern
and sober countenance,
lose themcells in padded selves
and capillary dance:
though shadows blaze through every day
and coruscate the night,
we learn to see beyond the darkness
by each other's light.
hood the fir cones from
rainfall. They respond
by closing tight
like the armadillo married the ent
and gave birth to
convex reflections of skylight
No slither for the deluge
the fir cones may now ripen
a living piece of architecture.
And when the branches shed,
the needles burn in captivity,
to bless and protect
Vancouver has an
But here the
only permitted explosions
are gas leaks.
always burning down)
with my sister, the arted-up
boarding for windows of still open
Block long fenced off gravel
pit where I once ate gyros
with my nephew. (this neighborhood
is always coming up) The
Cyclery, the reading center are Causes,
rally points, easily raised funds to move
ahead. The family
owned coffee shop
not so much, just another,
they live a few miles south and
their house is being destroyed
to make way for an oncoming train
I did not see her in flight or morning.
I did not stand her harps or trumpets.
or anything in my getting up day.
I traded the dreams we made on the ground
for my dream to be a god in the sky
(It was a guilded Gethsemane).
Hell is immortality without a net.
Immortality is a moon that never sets
after a million Sunday suns.
What was more important in the clouds
to my zest for joy unseen?
What unseen lord lineated my wings
and made them more important than our broom?
What made them more important than our leaps
Through earth bound walls and beams?
What — in the light — was far more desirable
than the beads of sweat in our dreams?
Once we salved our scars on the ground.
Fields bent around the space we tided
and stole away from lashes and bounders.
Once we stilled the weevil in stole away hours
and made nothing more important than our clay.
Once we spun and made a world
and then I flew away.
Why, boy, why should she have not kept moving?
My funeral band should have been dusted.
My procession was better off bare and emptied
in a taxonomy of heartbreak and loss;
a mourners’ row of upturned plots
for living graves of swords and shields.
Hope brought her no feathers in ruby red fields
and memory gave her no balms.
Why should she mourn me in the memory of flight
when my rails meant more than her arms?
For over a year now we've been publishing poems by local writers every Tuesday (you can see them all on the archive page). Each poet recommends the next in a chain that has led us through some of the most fascinating corners of the Northwest poetry scene.
We wanted to take one week out of our schedule to look back, in appreciation to the poets who have shared their work with us, and in hopes that you might discover a piece or two that speaks to you that you may have missed the first time.
Next week, we'll be back with the start of our Fall chain, but in the meantime, here's a retrospective.
EJ Koh was next — we're presenting her, Robert Lashley, and Sherman Alexie at the Elliott Bay Book Company on November 11th, so please save the date. Then: Claudia Castro Luna, Jourdan Imani Keith, Felicia Gonzalez, Emily Bedard, Erin Malone, and Christine Deavel.
We spent the month of December celebrating the life of Madeline DeFrees by running five of her poems: "Matinal", "Phobias Incorporated", "Grandmother Grant", "In the locker room", and "Going Back to the Convent".
So, that's a lot. In these works you'll find humor, beauty, playfulness, anger, sarcasm, frustration, desire, love, bravery, and exhilaration. We couldn't be happier about our Tuesday Poem series, and are so pleased to be able to offer it to you.
Please do spend today browsing them, and we'll see you next Tuesday with new poets and new work.
Art saves nothing
and this is not art
just words running
in lines, hoping to reach
time is running out
for bat and bee,
hippo and elephant.
Coral reefs are dying. Salmon,
once wild, breed in tubs.
Don't put your hope in poems
that plot the putrid doings
of bankers, that bank
on Franz Marc's red horses
gamboling and grazing,
as if we'd never learned
to fabricate glue from hooves.
There’s been a lot of talk about the balcony railing lately. Is it up to code? Does it have a soul? What secrets does it hold? Does it have reality? Does it have anyone to blame but itself? What are we to do with it? Why does it have to appear at all? Personally, I don’t really care. It’s not our balcony. But as an external feature of the building we are to share in its fate and responsibility. In philosophy, this is called the problem of identity over time, or the doctrine of preformation. You may remember the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. Well, this has nothing to do with that. This is an HOA situation. I feel the slow crackle of metamorphism. This is called hydrothermal alternation. I feel the clutch of the sublime when I say this. There is a balcony in all of us that develops by rumination. It becomes lost in its arabesques. Though perhaps it may be more accurate to say that it comes to itself in its arabesques. It honors the élan of its own extravagance. This is what gives the balcony railing its humor of increasing subtlety, of understatement and overstatement, of empirical dance and dynastic abstractness. Whenever I’m feeling parenthetical it helps to think of something prominent and wet. I think of the balcony railing. Its lucidity and inertia. The convivial curves of its filigree. There’s a certain implication involved in making an appeal to the vitality of carrots. It is, after all, a balcony railing under discussion here and not a catwalk. If this were a catwalk rather than a railing, I might mention decimals, or pylons. There are intermediates in protein metabolism that will serve as motivational tinfoil. Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities, said Aristotle. But did Aristotle have a balcony? Did Aristotle cook hamburger on an open grill? Did Aristotle own a single spatula? It is enough that the balcony railing strikes the eyes of the passerby with eloquence. Everything else is morality. No one knows what a belief is. No one knows what a truth is. We just go on pretending that the balcony railing has all the answers. And open our books and read.
Beth Garrison or more precisely Or Breathings, Bearing Short and Bartering Ohs. Sorting Rehab, Harbor Tinges, Brasher Ingot, Neighbor Rats, Herring Boast, Groin Breaths or Groin Bathers. Herb Organist, Barter Hosing, Gather Robins, Erasing Throb, Aborting Hers, Baring Others, Boring Hearts, Abhor Resting, Horniest Grab, and Bighorn Stare. Happy Birthday Bright Señora.