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A Story Problem #3

A cart carrying a metric ton of apples leaves the city at four meters per second. Another cart leaves the city carrying a boy, in love with an idea. Consider the swirl of laughter and personal tragedy at 6 meters per second. Say the idea does not love him back. Say he will lose his life in a maze of regrets. What can be said about the dust caked on the wheel spokes and the precarious sway of the chasse crossing over ruts and the staggered pavers knuckled together side by side. At four meters per second is there enough time to sample what is carried? Say the apples find their way into the basket of a family a dozen miles away before the boy gets there. Where did he stop? Did he consider the essence of the problem? If the distance of love is coupled by the weight of an apple cart bound for the markets or bazaars of a city as far away as autumn, then what can be said about the horses who will never taste their burden? Where will his cart pass the adenoidal fruits along the road? Where will he know the plurality of his blood?

A Story Problem #2

There is 100 yards of string laid out in a straight line and every ten yards a flower sprouts from stone. The flowers are A. Red. B. Fuschia. C. Yellow. D. White. E. None of the Above. If a boy walks down this path and it is summer and he hums a song from childhood will he pick A, B, C, D or choose E? Will he smell D's metallic hook and think of how gardenias are loudest in the heat? If the string were to tie back the scent could it? Could the string hold back whatever fire rises from A? The split hearts of B? Would there be enough string left to get the boy from X to Y to Z which are not flowers but points like pinpricks on a map. And would someone be waiting for him at Z with a bouquet of gardenias and marigolds? Is there a field at the end of the street, wild with flowers and vines? And what of the map with names like forgotten flowers? What about E and how these are all bad choices? How the names in front of us are never right?

Prince Credo

I believe in the dearly beloveds,
        in the temple of the power chord, and
        for years in the early 80's,
        that Prince was Filipino.
I believe in acting my age and not
        my shoe size. In never being
        a weekend lover, and in the hard work
        of a voice stretched into a silk bag
        filling fast with silt.
I believe in paisley and purple.
        That a kerchief is manly.
        That sexy is in the word and
        in the way that every guitar
        has its own ghosts to love.
Believe that the interval between
        the chorus and the solo is holy
        and that darling Nikki would happen
        one day in the ethereal dance of adolescence.
Forgive me if I go astray.
        Forgive me, but I believe
        in Apollonia, Apollonia,
        and Apollonia.

That the fastest way to heaven
        was across a Graffiti covered Bridge
        into the neck of a Stratocaster.
Believe in the litany of amplifier.
        In the hiss of feedback.
        In the bite of the lower lip. Beloveds,
        I believe in eyeliner.
        In androgyny and in the sylph-like tease
        of an upturned collar.
I believe in frills and crop tops.
        In the hard jab of a note
        between shoulder blades. I believe
        in smoke and the cherry red
        of the moon and trying
        to be quiet when the parents are home.
I believe in the gospel of summer
        and in the car parked sideways.
        And goddamn, I believe in the party,
        and that it was meant to last.

Diaspora Sonnet I

I walk the narrow pedestrian passage
illumined so its girdered ribs show
like names on a ledger. Every step
sudden and trochaic — the beginning
of facts. Of being here.

I look up and see the moon
is brandishing its ghosts. What is
here and not here. What is
a face in the sky. What breaks
the shape of the known and obvious.

If I could say it, I would say
"I was broken and I took him in."
I would ask, "Do you trust me?"
I would point to the landscape.

For Theodore Roethke

The poet who was my teacher said we must rewrite.
It was a warm afternoon. Sun dabbled in the greenhouse.
So now I revise and revise until I think the real writing
is rewriting. First drafts are small forays into the hills
from which I bring back a pail half full of unripe
blueberries that may, on closer look, be
some other kind of fruit entirely. I remember
he leaned back in the chair and waved his hand
and said my poem describing salmon was really about sex.

We stood facing the faded paint of Parrington’s walls
each Friday, memorizing lines of a poem we chose to recite —
to learn the sound of the words together and the little spaces
between the sounds. Each of us quaked.
Inside the classroom he turned to the ravishing co-ed on his right,
the one with the throaty voice and said,
Play that for us on your bazooka, will you, honey?
She nearly fainted but she spoke the lines.
No one has ever made Louise Bogan sound like that.

He brought a straw hand basket belonging to his wife.
It was stuffed with books. “She’ll kill me,“ he said,
heaving it down on the table, the one who taught him
Turn and Counter-Turn and Stand, who taught him Touch,
that undulant white skin. We leaned to see what rivers
might pour forth, what three-beat lines, what metaphysical
poets hidden between the spines, what rose, what sorrow.
Later, in my car beneath the flagpole, he said to kiss him on his cheek just once. In the rearview mirror, there she was.

Who, sitting in the tea house, doesn’t know he died too soon?
Beyond the posts and beams, a roof of glass.
the swimming pool is sculptured sand. Five rocks
(the five-beat line?) mark where his breath last sighed
to any bird: the anniversary of his death day.
The last thing he said to me was,
There’s going to be a special graduate class next fall
and you’re in it. Years passed and one by one
we learned he said that to all of us.

Technology

All the cell phone towers are pagodas
from the top floor through my near-sighted eyes—
blue, white, red shimmering houses
for ancient gods among the fir trees and dogwood.
They climb the hills to the cemetery, carrying
the voices of the living far above the lost
chatter of those already gone before us.

The words are like raindrops in a summer storm
here then gone, sadness borne away
over the continents. And love
or the failure of love, wounds and caresses.
The seas wander underneath.
Somewhere in this forest of voices
a pen is writing in blue ink.

Shin-Ichi’s Tricycle

I stepped down from the trolley that day in Hiroshima
and walked by the river where the children had floated in flames,
but I could not hear their cries of misu, misu. Lost.

I saw the rowboats tied to the shore waiting for the living,
and the Prefecture building as the autumn wind
blew through the skeletal dome and every leaf lay scattered.

I passed by heaps of flowers and burning candles
to the doors that let me in to where the lights were dim,
so many shadows, each display lit only by a row of flashlights.

Power outage, someone said and so I need not pay my yen
but paid another way past fingers dripping skin,
a lunch box full of barley ash, the twisted tricycle

Shin-Ichi’s mother dug from severed earth. She gave it
so the boy would live in memory:
sculptured handlebars and pedals burned to black

all buried by the father who found him lying dead.
I thought of myself at five,
pedaling my tricycle down the middle

of Wilsonia Road, the rainbow shine of oil,
the sun, my father’s call
as he came swooping down to pull me back,

shouting, Don’t ever do that again.
Although of course I would.
And of course we did.

Listening to My Bones

When the doctor holds my upper arm in his two hands,
he bows his head and listens as if he were waiting to hear
the song of a rare endemic bird no one has seen for centuries.
I start to speak, but he shakes his head, does not loosen his grip
on my arm, turns his fingers around the curve
of my skin and listens again.
I am afraid to clear my throat. My toes stay still.
He must hear my heart where it beats
but he is listening to the sound of bones
the way NASA turns its telescopes far over our heads on Mauna Kea
and hears the universe move.

Rain falls so hard on the roof, I think it might break through.
Imagine all those luminous drops that had been the backbone
of a cloud shattered and lying above the orthopedic surgeon’s head and mine. Soon a puddle, then a trickle into the Wailuku River.
This will mend well, he says, shows me two x-rays.
In the waiting room is a large salt water tank. A zebra moray eel
folds in one corner its brown and white stripes.
I think how it must have no bones at all
or bones so light this eel can wind
around its heaven all night when everyone has left
and dream the dream of breaking into the world.

Land Mine

I like a little violence
in my poetry
because I don’t trust
the sweetness
of too-ripe words, like
I don’t trust a man
who says, “you’re wonderful”
too quickly.
What would he say
if I told him the sugar
on his tongue
is only what I allow him
to taste?

I used to preen
when a lover called me
easygoing, as if
being no trouble at all
was some kind of glory,
as if un-troubling
his waters would keep
the current from pulling
me under, kicking
the wind out,
from filling my lungs
with salt water
and sorrow.

This is how a woman
protects herself,
with yes and sure
and I don’t care,
how she paves every pothole
so others wont need
to remember how much
earth is still root, crack
and resistance,
so others wont feel
the quaking and know
that earth never intended
to be tamed.

But I can’t take all
the blame. You see,
they never looked up.
Not once.
Never saw the sentry
in the tree
three clicks up the road
or the sniper on the rooftop
trained to kill
any me that didn’t heel
quick enough. Now,
when a man calls
me easygoing
I land mine,

explode his body
into pieces I salvage
for my tricked-out ride,
cruise down main street.
Hydraulics at my fingertips.
My fingers itch
when I hear the engine growl,
“I would have loved you
anyway. I would have
loved you more.”

Discarded

Just because I can now trap a spider
between cup and paper and set it free
doesn’t mean I’m no longer afraid.

Just because I sometimes believe
in the divine doesn’t mean I don’t see
emptiness every time I close my eyes.

The man down the street
has made a home out of things
I’ve thrown out:

used retail bags, duck-taped and stretched,
keep the rain at bay, old clothes
insulate his walls and my empty wine bottles
make wind chimes that echo through the night.

I call him homeless
but the only difference between us
is his walls aren’t built to code.

Just because I can spin a seductive line
or two doesn’t mean I know
how to talk to love.

I can chatter all day,
but what do I say when love
stands naked in front of me

all hardness and need?
What combination of letters
could say anything other than

Thank You?

The man I call homeless,
he talks to love. I hear him
when I walk to the bus stop in the mornings.

Sometimes they argue,
but mostly I hear him cooing to love,
wrapping love in my discarded wool sweater.

Vigilant

It’s hard to remain human
on a day when mercy is a frozen river,
when the news informs me tomorrow’s
as bleak as it was yesterday, tells me
yesterday couldn't have left love
lingering listlessly on my bed all eager
hands and doe-eyed, says
there’s no room for beauty in this fight.
Liberals tell me, we must remain
vigilant. We can’t rest, relax,
let down our guard, but
don’t they know I’ve been vigilant
all my life? Yielding to white spaces
like ocean to keel.

I was vigilant when,
in high school, white friends
proclaimed, I don’t see
color, then painted their bodies
with sun, as if skin were a lipstick
they could apply to the perfect shade of
not too dark. These days
it’s disguised in praise, like
“what a beautiful mix you are, as if to say,
be grateful you’re not as black
as you could have been.

I’ve vigilantly guarded my mind
around men who only valued my body.
Guarded my body from men
who think permission is for “pussies,”
who think a fistful is a proper unit
of measurement. When the cab driver
told me I must have a white parent
because I don’t “sound” black,
I vigilantly wrapped myself in my arms,
tried to imagine the sounds he’d make
without vocal cord or tongue
or his privilege.

Each time someone cracks a joke.
about a black man’s disproportionate
prowess, about a black man’s "laziness",
about a black boy’s "good for nothing father"
I want to vigilantly cradle my grown
brother in my arms and sing him
something soft and sweet to keep
his fists steady and his mind right, but
what right do I have keeping him in check
when they don’t take the time
to check their ignorance?

We try our best not to
but sometimes a woman must walk
down a dark street alone, must count
the number of parked vans, must keep
to the middle of the road, must stay out
of reach, must keep her eyes peeled, must
walk with wide steps, grab her crotch
like a man, spit like a man
(things they teach teen girls in self-defense),
must turn herself into something
a man would never desire, must be
masculine, be careful, be vigilant.

So when liberals say,
this is how we fight back, this is how
we’ll win, I want to tear my clothes off,
walk naked into rush hour traffic,
cut my feet on broken glass and car fragments,
breathe in exhaust fumes, let the poison
sink into my skin, grow an extra limb,
heart, head, become something
un-neutered, volatile, dangerous,
become something able to withstand
the next four years.

Father/less

My father was de-boned as a child.
The trick was to use a sharp knife,
steady hands and always begin at the neck.
With luck, my grandparents
were able to remove his spine intact.

But all-muscle can’t hold love upright.
You see strength needs something
to settle itself around. Boneless men
can only stay where they are bent to.
My father was made to cut

his own beatings off a tree,
like pentimenti I sometimes see through
his scars, a perfect whole. But you can’t
dream the broken out of a person
no matter how hard you try.

Amen / Amen

"Emancipate us from mental slavery..."
— Bob Marley (Redemtion Song)

The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus

You
Salvador Dali
see our history's golden man
Christopher Columbus
in your Andalusia way
as robust young boy
perhaps teenaged
as one who pulls his big bellied ship
toward us from ocean's edge
masts      banners      swords      clouds
crucifixes      shadows      sails
monks      trapeze artists

Your
huge canvas wall-sized
brings home to Florida
in this museum created
in your name for you
the wishes of those monarchs
the youngish Ferdinand
his lovely Isabella
your own country
the infant Spain

He
Columbus not old
enough to shave
barefoot and shirtless
not yet Great Admiral
of the Ocean
now drags ashore
the Old World's wettest dreams
of church
of colony
of empire
that bid us marvel
at our own demise

Blue Note Belly Blues — A Call and Response Poem

You came
halfway
round
the world
in the belly
of a ship
in the belly
of a slave
in the belly
of the ocean

                        Think About It

in the belly
of a drum
in the belly
of a calabash
in the belly
of a dance
in the belly
of a shout
bathed in
palm oil

                        Think About It

in the belly
of a shuffle
in the belly
of a moan
in the belly
of a grin
in the belly
of a storm

                        Think About It

in the belly
of a savanna
in the belly
of the wind
in the belly
of the tides

                        Think About It

Say Baby
let's you & me
bust free
ride
this blue blue note
into Freedom's belly

                        Think About It

This blue note
North Star
gotta get outah here blue note
this Black Bottom blue note
this moaning low speaking low
blue note
this jazz back juke joint
saxophone blue note

                        Think About It

This high stepping 2nd line
blue      blue      blue note
this high flying Take me
to the Moon
blue note

                        Think About It

This Baby Baby Baby
what have I done
to be so black & blue
blue blue note
let's kick back
three ways to Sunday
blue note
blue note
blue note

                        Think About It

Baby
let's turn ourselves inside out
ride Freedom's blue
blue note
and fly away
fly away Baby

                        Think About It
                        Think About It

Ancestors

She drew her first basket
on its side she made a mask
w/ eyes and nose
on its top she made a mouth
slightly open
she thought

She invited some friends
to see the basket

Inside its curved belly
they saw
a flag w/ zebra marks
the curved teeth of a lion
gold      elegant      huge
rows of elephant tusks
a crocodile napping

They heard a spirit voice
calling all their names

They struggled to breathe
they tried to speak
they wanted to dance

(for Nisi)

SISTAHS - How We Got Ovah

"If Black English isn't a language,
then tell me what it is.
"
— James Baldwin (1934 - 1989)

Sunday Morning

Sun's up
they say it's Sunday
come to us again

Bacon and egg smells
float over from Master's House
somebody's smoking cigars
maybe two somebodies

Cigars they come here
by big riverboats
breakfast china dishes
they come too
and ice for fancy get-togethers

Cost lots of money

Last Sunday
they traded Jubilee
my grownup cousin
and Vashti my little sister
to pay for all the cigars
and all the breakfast china
but not for all the ice

They said too much
had melted on the way

(for Octavia Butler)

Fingers

I want to see fingers/ fingers flying across piano
keys/ fingers strolling over black notes & blue
notes & sharp notes & flat notes & get up in
the morning notes/ fingers/ I want to see
BB King fingers hitting Lucille's guitar strings

UM ain't that some stuff/ Nina Simone Queen
of Soul fingers backing up The King of Love/
Martin Luther King fingers & hands pounding
on America's pulpit/ yesterday & now I Have
A Dream fingers/ fingers/ my great grandfather's
CC Rider fingers taking the Bible to Black folks
using their fingers to read/ my grandfather's
chef fingers shaping fancy pastry & roasting
duck & making people lick their fingers

UM ain't that some stuff/ fingers/ my mother's
fingers/ my father's fingers/ all theses fingers
pushing me into circles of light/ my fingers/
this poem

Mirror Woman

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
who is the fairest of them all?

— Brothers Grimm, "Snow White"

Let me tell you something.
I'm a woman of African descent
and that isn't just something.
You hear me.
It is some thing.
Yes! I am a woman of African descent.

In a public library restroom
caught a sistah standing behind me
staring in the mirror at me.
"Are you mixed?" she says
at the back of my head.

I say to the mirror "What!"
as in — What's wrong with you, Sistah!
"Are you mixed?" she says
one more time
giving me the once-over
as though she'd paid admission
and was entitled.

Now I shake my hands dry.
I say to the sistah in the mirror,
"What!" as in
What manners did yo Mama
not teach you.

She blinks hard like I'm some
kind of puzzle. "Mixed," she says,
"You know, as in mixed!"
"No No No!" I say.

"I am not mixed. I am nobody's
mixed anything!" I hear my voice
rising . "I am a woman of African
descent. Just like you!"

"Passing," she says interrupting.
"Do you ever think of passing?"
"Why?" I say without thinking. "Why would
a woman of African descent want to pass?"

"Easier," she says. "Life would be easier,"
she says. "Easier for what?" I almost say.
"The Price of the ticket," I say. "That's
what James Baldwin would say."

"Who's he?" she says.
"Pass. You could do it."

I want to hug her. Yes. Maybe I
even want to give her my skin.

I move away
leaving her free to talk with that
other woman in the mirror.

Say My Name

Say my name please.
Please say my name. Look at me when you say
my name. My name. You put it in a bag and
tied it with wires at the top where the paper, the
parchment was peeling in little threads. Threads
like my mother used when she hemmed my
dress. Gauze. Gauze. Strips of gauze covered
with mericrome and witchhazel and in the
medicine cabinet with all those little bottles —
amber, blue-cobalt blue — where she put my
name before she closed the door, the mirror.

Wiped it clean.
I wrote my name in the steam on the mirror. She
wiped it clean, took my name away, this mirror
woman who polished what was left of the
light, the long could-be-singing nights with my
name. Here in the twilight of the sighs and long
meter hymns and someone breathing long and
low and heavy in the dark of my name. I hear it
low and sweet so sweet and hear, yes, the carry-
me-back-words of my name riding in a boat
with the gold leaf of its name Muerte — Muerte.

And on its sides,
this ship with its polished wooden sides, this
wooden carved maiden leading it in its name,
this wooden carving with its long green hair,
green sea waves... carry-me-back-waves/ carry
me back... Its rough lips wooden and pouting
and half open, taking in the blue-green ocean
waves and the foam, lips parted/ bared to the
blue wind as if to say my name, to sing it into
the blue-black wind.

Amazing Grace.
And who was that woman! Say it. Spit it Out.
Weave if from long colored banners from soft —
as spring wool, from cotton, yes cotton. Cotton
mouth. Poison. sssssssssssss. Please. Please say
my name. Please.

Look at me.

FOLKS: "Many Rivers to Cross"

Somewhere the sky
touches the earth — and
the name of that place is
the end — in between
is the journey.

— African Saying

History Lesson: Diaspora

They love Africans in museum cases,
so they left African cultures intact.

— Ezekiel Mphahlele
"Remarks on Negritude"

First they stacked us
in the holds of their dark ships

Then they feasted on our mothers
our names      our blood      our shadows

They routed and captured our masks
our thrones      our bronze carved doors

Now in museums we discover our masks
their ancient eyes track us

We shiver

Discrete signs announce our origins
other signs caution us      Do not touch

Do not touch      Alarms will sound

Something shakes our memory
we encounter our shadows

Something crosses and recrosses
the danger water

We recall Praise Songs
Our ancestors touch us

Our names come home

for Pam McClusky (Seattle Art Museum)

Horn Men

hey
you ever wonder
how they survive
these quote unquote black
men jazz jiving they tenor
saxes
in the up-to-date badlands
of South Africa
Johannesburg to be
precise

some
say they be bad
they be up from the bush
long time out of the
bush these brothers be
watch they
pull music from spots
of leopards
from deep river beds
some say they music be
ancestor masks carved
from water trees

these bad brothers
what they know
be awesome
our essence
uh huh

what they make
be true as rain
see how they sweeten
this parched earth
welcome these brothers
hear them
move us into freedom

and beyond

Song

1.
fresh off the
boat
they break you
in barbados

they split for you
you tounge
they slice for you
you ear

they dig for you
a hole of dirt
for you big child
belly

they whip you
make you belly
lie down

they put on you
you neck
the ring of
iron

they say no
to no eat the
sugar cane

they put on you
you mouth
the mask of
tin

they tie you
man to
four green tree

they make you
man fly to
all four wind

they say you
you sing

2.
sing calypso sky
sing soka wind
they ship you
to they home

all ways
they break you
in barbados

3.
salt
all ways
salt

4.
our bones be
ocean floors

our bones be
masts of ships

our bones be
coral reefs

our bones sing
of salt

Alien Dance Hall

Here a glittered stocking shimmers
here a severed pair of eyes
jams the blues

Everywhere
desire flaps its tentlike arms

Legs slow drag in the pockmarked dust
embrace suns blackened by ancient storms
clawed birds scream
perform a rag      a cakewalk      a stomp
a tango

Observe
this needle wind delivers
imported fragrances of old blood
and fetal bones

Stay here if you wish
Settle here if you wish

Remember while you can
somebody called
my ancestors cannibals

Dance with me
Dance with me

Invocation

And God said "… I'm lonely
I'll make me a world."
— James Weldon Johnson
"The Creation"

Tell us your stories
August Wilson

Remind us
of the voices you hear
Boy Willie
Ma Rainey
Aunt Esther's children

Bring forth for us
the visions you hear
King Hedley
Fences
Two Trains Running

Conjure up for us
Langston's words
"Life for me ain't been
no crystal stair, but
I's climbin"

August Wilson
keep dippin' your fingers
in the waters
Tell Freedom
We'z ready
Take our love
with you
Take our love

for Constanza
& all of us

Am I not an immigrant?

(After Soujourner Truth’s speech, Ain’t I a woman?)

There is so much turmoil in our country of late, something must be terribly wrong.

There is a man over there, who occupies the highest office in the land, who says immigrants are rapists, criminals, the worst kind of people.

I have never committed a crime, have paid taxes every year of my adult life, and have worked to earn an honest wage! And, am I not an immigrant?

He says, immigrants take away from everyone and for this they should be rounded up by the millions and deported; they should be banned and blacklisted for worshiping in a way that differs from his. I studied hard to obtain an education and worked to educate children in public schools and everyday commit to lead a life worthy of my parent’s sacrifice, who knew this country was by no means perfect, but it offered us refuge and hope! And, am I not an immigrant?

That man over there may well say, “you are an exception,” but let me tell you, all of us in my immigrant family, my immigrant friends, and many immigrant brothers and sisters, none of us lead our lives to cheat, deceit, take advantage of anyone or any system. We love our kin like everyone else and aspire to a fulfilled life.

The immigrants I know are nurses, teachers, doctors, day laborers, professors. They own businesses, clean school buildings, compose music, make sculptures, write poems. And all are dreamers.

From its dawning where did the majority of this country’s population come from? Where did it come from?

From other places, other countries! The exceptionalism of this country resides in that very fact! In the respect and wonderment of difference.

Let her, let her who can produce a birth certificate immune to the waves of immigration to this county, speak to the grandeur of this land before it was bound to western laws.

Otherwise the road has been/is made by walking — together. Juntos. Together. Todos Juntos. All together.

Deep in the Heart

Let me tell you about the place I come from, the ragged-road Texas
where every gas station means hot breakfast tacos wrapped in foil,
and every summer means brisket cooked so slow it falls apart,
because everything worth doing is worth doing slow
unless it’s driving, or sex,
both of which we do young and fast until someone stops us,
except for me, who starts driving late and starts dating never
because the only boys who talk to me do it to get good
at talking to girls. This is how I learn to fall in love
with people who will never want me back.

Where I come from there is Spanglish at every table.
We talk about my grandma’s diabetes and my grandpa’s
Little Debbies, the Evil Eye and the ways you can get it,
my uncle’s ex-wife lighting candles in their closet
to make him love her back. It is not a place for being right;
it’s for walking together over parking lots rainbowed with oilslick,
for the good music, and palm trees, and air that is so heavy.
We grow up playing war in woods trying to strangle us,
no diplomacy allowed. The peaches on the peach trees
can’t be eaten and the open grass is littered with cutting burrs,
which is how we learn nature is a trap and crank the AC.
You are amazed that anything can bloom here.

We grow up drought-season baths in two inches of water,
battered by the metronome of parch and storm.
We grow up penance for our bodies and the things they need;
there is never moisture when we want it but always poison ivy,
a sky looming with tragedy. This is how we learn to fall in love
with things that will never love us back.

In the Texas I come from, my Nandi is smiling at me for the last time.
Mijita, you’re getting so pretty, the boys will never leave you alone.”
Her compliments are hand-me-downs you’re embarrassed to be seen in;
you are astounded that I managed to grow here. But I am a rosebush
from drought country, breathing chicken feather and snake guts,
letting thorns teach me to love my own blood. I’ve been nourished
by the crooked prayers that came before me, lifted by the lunatic cries
of white doves and the fan-blade wings of cockroaches.
There is one place in town to get a milkshake, and the exit signs
are the only green for miles. This is how we learn to let love find us
when it’s looking, how we soak it in like bread.

That Awkward Moment When He Says, “You’re So Sweet,” And All I Can Think Is: “Nah, Man. I’m a Velociraptor.”

Velociraptors and I have faces for the movies.
We have learned how to open doors: We scrape talons
across the knob, sneak out middle of the night
leave fading indent in the bed. He calls asking where I am.
I’m in your blind spot.
I’m watching heat radiate off you
as you stumble through the woods. I am attracted
to movement, meaning I only chase something when it runs.
Like a velociraptor, I will not text you back.

He kisses me like he doesn’t even know I have teeth,
like I don’t mouth his neck carotid and catastrophe.
He still thinks the parts of him I’ve swallowed are pieces
he’ll get to keep. When he looks into my eyes, I try to seem
like a warm-blooded girl, but I am a fucking velociraptor;
I trace my lineage back to birds.
He doesn’t understand how I can be so lizard-distant,
why I don’t want to kiss him outside the restaurant;
chalk it up to Cretaceous differences.

Squishy mammal boy, I don’t hunt in packs;
I have hooks for hands and very limited patience for bouquets.
If you wander into my woods, don’t be shocked when you call
and I don’t answer. Check your periph; don’t ignore that rustling.
You might have time for one last “clever girl” before you die.

Tips for Surviving the Saw Franchise

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.