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Present Tense: Seattle

A bell ringer hipsways by market stalls,
bellows hello to the man who brings the chanterelles,

the immigrant families building bouquets of tulips
to launch like ships, the cheese makers and fishmongers,

knife sharpeners and kombucha concocters.

She rings her instrument along each row signaling time
for the buying and selling to begin.

Are you feeling lost? Did you think I shifted
scenes to a mercado in San Salvador or an Irish city street?

Please! There’s no need for a Starbucks here!

At the Farmers Market, the tangerines reign supreme
along with local lettuce and trendy Tuscan melons.

When the bell ringer passes the blueberry farmer with eyes
of indigo spangled in gold, she tells him if a fork falls,

a stranger is coming to dinner and then walks on quickly

looking into the light snow of the cherry blossoms.
Her grandmother would have washed her mouth with soap

for even looking at a man — a light bulb turning on
in the old woman’s head: gangster, predator, no-goodnik.

Don’t sweep after midnight she’d say — or you’ll miss

your good luck. She of the Lithuanian shtetl,
she who knew what it was like to have to obliterate

the scent of winter Daphne, the acres of daffodils.


The rain pinched the glass
of the windowpane.

The rain’s tiny pelts nagged at the glass
like the conversation
she was avoiding having.

The avoidance made her feel
removed from herself
while at the same time even more

The room in which she sat
was well lit, so outside
looked like asphalt
on a playground’s court.

She could see the orange ball,
bouncing lower, lower, lower —
until it stopped.

The ball, its visibility, then disappearance,
reminded her
that her words, too, dissolved like this.

Or were her words, against the dark,
a bright, bright blue?

At Night, Asleep

She comes into our room again,
her first time in weeks.
I hear a small stir on the floor,
the rustle of crumpled paper or a bag.
Last month I would have covered my head
at this noise, groaned in irritation,
but not so today. I lie quiet in hopes
that she complete her first return.

On the phone last night, a surprise,
my mom said, Your dad
and I divorced when you were ten.
For two or three years, you didn’t have stable
parents. I was caught up in my head
and couldn’t really be there for you.
Her years-old absence, precise, pristine, still stings me,
though I feel some shame that it does —

it’s like being a child again,
though I am all grown.
An aching need for my mother
originated decades ago, landed,
dug a hole, and took root. She was gone.
Sadness grew then, sprouted up and bloomed,
blue and dark, with petals that peeled easily
from the slight stems when I touched them.

This was all I knew of growing,
so I tended it
and cultivated a garden
of these flowers, navy-dark, gray-rimmed, the kind
of night in which no stars can be seen
by the eye that searches up for them.
I mistook the sadness for beauty. It was.
I mourned each blue petal that fell.

That was a thing, my mother said.
It’s not surprising
that loving causes you worry.
Sometimes sadness seemed the heart of love. Tonight,
though, I lie in wait for her, the cat.
I’m hopeful she’ll come back. With her here,
I’ve learned some joy, how to honor another’s
right to be. So too with my Boo,

sound asleep, snoring, not worried
when, or if, she will
return. He settles in his sleep
against my body, his warm skin on my skin,
solid and soft, a quiet promise
that some loves are here to stay. They will.
A small rustle, just a thread, and she jumps
from the wooden floor to the bed.

First Confession

The color in the room was yellow.
I don’t know if I knew then why,
or that yellow is as much the color of nerves
as it is of cowardice, as I stood stiff-straight
in front of Father Panda and examined his face.
It was wide, porous, ruddy, full as a moon beneath
a wave of curly hair the color of the pews.
We both wore white, he in his vestments,
me in my dress, all decked out
with the things I knew I must have done wrong.
From the vestibule, the smell of incense wafted in.
Outside the room I could hear the sound of children
trying hard to be quiet. A bit of holy water
splashed from someone’s finger to his forehead.
I was bad. I was definitely bad. I thought. The bell
tolled. Father Panda’s wide face split into a smile.
I amused him with my silence. I was not a sinner,
after all — was it possible? No. I gulped, stammered,
dug in: “I can’t think of anything.” That was the sin.

As soon as the man says to the little girl, “I want to touch you,”

            a saw stirs up its loud whine
            to separate the limbs of the tree
            from its trunk.

A car stereo begins playing
                        the entire soundtrack of Good Morning, Vietnam

      and she hears “hot and wet” “hot and wet” —
                                    “it’s nice if you’re with a lady”

                  and she feels the last, labored breath of Robin Williams
                        like a dull machete attempting to slice through the swamp grass
                                    as he suffocates himself
                                                outside his closet door

and all of the suicides inside of her
                                    lift their heads and eyes,
                        like turtles lined up alongside
a creek in which
                                    the bruised, naked torso
                                                of a woman floats by,
her breasts full of gravity, nipples staring off dully to either side
            as if she never in her entire life
                                                            saw anything that surprised her

            The man does not reach out to touch
                        the girl, though his intention
               is like the sheet pulled back
                           from the skin of that dead body —

there’s no stopping it now,
            not the unfeeling hands that lift the cover

            nor the grief that will live
                forever in the blood        of the mother
                        who stands over her daughter’s torso, the roots of her severed limbs

not even able to speak the words

            Yes, that’s her                                         that’s her


late morning (after a long restless
night) blurry eyes focus on the ceiling,
sky in shadows, the clock projects
11:11 neon against the wall

an accusation somewhere vague
in my brain, tainted modern
criminal, off-balance, sleeping-in
11:12 is the turn-key

out of bed into the cool room
exit the womb between
blanket and sheet, blasted
with air, light and dust
one must cross through
each day with an agenda
(formed, or not) this critical
movement, one world to the next

we traverse our time
fractured, come to terms
but the point is to awaken
alive, to drag our self from
the dead of sleep

Rusty Chain Heritage

The antique cards from my great grandmother,
the photographs of ancestors I did not know,
so much regal furniture, I sat in a closed off
parlor, quiet in a King George chair, looked

across the room at the matching couch,
the grand organ, the gold trimmed tall mirror
with marble at its base, hung full length
between tall windows formally draped.

I loved the quiet in this room, the history I
never understood. The organ no one played,
out of tune, a museum for far away relatives
in England or Holland, mother’s side

of the family, who tried to stay wealthy
but exposed to the elements oxidized
in a slow decline, till it wore thin this family
chain, clear to inevitable death.

So much no one remembers, only two chairs
left, reupholstered, and the mirror, yes, the
mirror, now on sister’s wall in Philadelphia,
no longer with its marble stand, but it hangs

a view to see ourselves, how we have walked
through to this other side — some of us — who
would be us, long disappeared, those still here
with traces in our blood, on our walls, in the

pictures we grow older and more distant
every decade — this rusty chain still present —
binding like a cross, there is no escape, no matter
the life we live now.

How I Came to this World

- after Gregory Pardlo

It was leap year, on a Thursday, I was born
                upstate New York, Borsch Belt small town.
To a family of farmers, where covered bridges crossed
                creeks. Twenty miles to the racetrack in
Monticello, our nearest city, where father worked
                for an air conditioning installation firm.
The Evergreens of the Catskills.
                A mother off seeking four-leaf clovers.
Born to arrowheads and quartz, to blueberry
                bushes in back fields. I ran to frogs
and salamanders across stone fences
                through wild woods, no eyes followed me.
It was during the cold war red scare, but I,
                a wild barn child was unaware. Daddy’s little girl
I wore patent leather shoes at Easter and
                blue velvet at Christmas. The cameo necklace,
Mother gave me, fell into a stream. I was a wild thing
                from go, feeling the velocity of wind. The night
I came a fierce push. I was born clear white,
                pastel perfect skin, with spit-on Irish blood
and German ancestry I was told to never
                acknowledge by a direct line uncle. The year
I came, there was a storm brewing in the guts
                of women to have climaxes they’d never reached.
There was a surge to land on the moon. The
                Atom bomb was introduced from Britain. Born
in the year of the Dragon, I knew it would be rocky
                not a song in the rain, nor the cotton candy
fun world where mother resided.

Ordinary Essentials

We may have been young and stupid
We tried things this life
We survived to tell or hold our tongue

I only wanted good teeth

It was the kind of day that kissed
my adrenals, I was in love but didn’t
know, I forget his essential nature

Looking at altars I swim the undersea

Our art, how we breathe it
becomes our moment of forgiveness

Everything essential dies or disappears
Fear takes us out of our body

I waited forever to sing

They wrote a song with ordinary
words about an ordinary man
I could not stand to listen

The whole world cries each day
Let the bells ring

How to Use Safety Pin to Punch Richard Spencer in Four Steps

Step 1. Show up on Inauguration Night
Leave your pretensions at home this time,
you will not be saving anyone here.
There is a surge of black-clad bodies that will quickly take your stubborn
Berniecrat and I’m With Her shirts out of fashion.
You have a bleeding heart
pinned to your sleeve by a safety pin

Huffington Post told you to wear it
Your well-meaning aunt told you,
with the force of a whole rich neighborhood association’s facebook group behind her, that this
tiny piece of metal
will save the poor and wretched
welcome them to your teeming shore —

Don’t get caught up in pretensions.

Step 2. When you see notorious white supremacist Richard Spencer being interviewed by the news,
make sure your safety pin is visible.
Wait for a poor, victimized Person of Color to approach you for help.
You’ll grow so tired
of waiting for an opportunity to show off your allyship you might learn something.

Step 3. Here is the hard part
While Richard Spencer is talking about the Pepe the Frog pin on his lapel
his face
will be interviewed by a fist instead.
He, all bigotry, hair gel, and bloated pride
stumbles from the well-placed blow, lands on the concrete a couple yards away

Suddenly, the assailant’s fist is Lady Liberty’s torch, blazing a trail for us to march on.

we are all the fist
humiliating white supremacy at its own inauguration.

In the universe of this small victory,
no one is president.
No cop tear gasses a restaurant without resistance
and bigotry
bleeds from biting its own eager tongue again.
Someone punches Richard Spencer and hope blooms a tangible thing in me.
Hundreds of miles away
I breathe just a little easier>

so before you yell,
“just sign a petition!”

Think of how long we have been waiting.
How you say,
“we’ll survive these four years”
as if we
have not been trying to survive for centuries.

Think of you love watching us swallow when we want to spit.
Pressure hosing a panther and reprimanding her when she bites.

Think of how you pulled the nine inch knife out six inches, stared at the wound, and called the bleeding progress.
Think of where you were
when an islamophobe tore off her hijab on the bus,
and you did not do anything.
Think of the community centers that shook with death threats
and you
did not do anything
Think of the cops that gunned a black kid
into memory and you
did not

Step 4.
I will not come to you for help.
Take off the safety pin.
Know that fascism does not arrive with a name tag,it arrives as your friend.
It arrives as Richard Spencer, well-manicured and well-behaved, speaking poison into cameras spinning it acceptable.

Do not allow this by any means necessary
Leave your pretensions at home.
a fist.


Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole says,
“My hope is this will be the community’s police station”

and every inch of black girl resistance in me becomes a tremor becomes palpitation of heart and earth,
a bullet in barrel,
Earth’s crust eager to rift itself into a beast that breathes fire.

Experts say,
a .9 earthquake will hit Seattle within the century.
Police union says it needs a new facility able to endure eventual catastrophe and I think

if cops need building material,
there’s nothing more able to endure fission than a black or brown body.

There’s nothing that holds up guilt, greed, and excess more than a back that is used to being broken,
but I’m glad
I get a seat at a table I’ve set
A community space a floor above a shooting range:
a court to practice the de-escalation technique of killing people who look like my family Thank you, officer, for this concession.

Capital will never become full enough to not steal the fruits of our labor. Will never sacrifice beyond what it can get away with spitting up. Capital
harvests stolen crop
until mouth twists into gallant smile, blood on leaves and blood at root Strange

O’Toole wants the new precinct host a farmers market.
What can grow in a fortress besides a pedestal to hang a noose? What good is a community that bonds over lynching?
Is this what a safe city looks like?
Is this
Emerald City progressive showing us the man behind the curtain and expecting us to pay no mind?

Government ain't the wizard we hoped
but a coward pretending to be better than he is
Is this the fraud I'm expected to call progressive?
Is this the shooting range I am expected to call my community?
Tell me,
What's a new precinct to Oscar Perez’s grieving family?
What's a new bunker to the 10,000 homeless people in Seattle besides another place they can't live in?
This is excessive force
of the most insidious kind

I don't know which will hurt me first:
a building collapse or a cop mistaking my mother’s body for a weapon Either way
I know whose lives matter in this city
and it's not black lives.
Seattle is prepared for us to die
Seattle making a refuge for people who already get away with killing us, too.

Insurrection will be the next major disaster this city faces
Will resurface all the lies and empty promises it was told
Pulse from the streets up, radiate the heat of magma Molotov and bitter history, no longer latent and cowering,
but surging, dangerous, and revolutionary.

We will be hammer to the coffin of every cruel and fragile thing that has wronged us and tool to every dream we want to build in its place
A table where capitalism is not welcome
A city my mother can feel safe in
A city where all lives actually matter
Where hands reach out to hold mine instead of to the gun in its holster

I know
it's hard to stay hopeful
in times where death seems to lurk around every corner But we are unstoppable
and another world is growing within us
I am prepared to fight
for a community
That is real

Healing in Golden Repair

forget your perfect offering
just ring the bells that still can ring
there is a crack in everything
that’s how the light gets in

- Leonard Cohen

there is a crack in everything

my professor shows us kintsukuroi tea cups on the projector the Japanese to English translation means
“golden repair”
she says
traditionally, the same tea cups are used in ceremonies for generations, their cracks filled in with gold.
it’s the damage that makes them beautiful

that’s how the light gets in

i am glass half empty
my heart is the size of my fist too often i give myself beatings
leaking through cracks i make

i say, “my idealized self would have fixed these by now” wouldn’t have made cracks in the first place
her, some kind of invincible spiritual plumber
heals as a pastime & is never late
her confidence doesn’t have an asterix at the end all her cracks
are endearing
and forgivable

she gets a red ribbon cutting when they’re fixed within a
two day weekend.
meanwhile, no one throws a ceremony when i manage to get out of bed

do cracks even deserve gold when they take this long to fix?
i imagine liquid motivation spilling on bedroom floor, bus seat, hallways
all the countless hours wasted trying to find the newest, quickest method of being alone

when my wounds heal and shut into thicker skin i dig into my heart’s topsoil
— cracked & barren —
for feeling
try to rip this numbness out like a bad root
try to hold onto
like scarce nuggets of gold never seem to be worth enough

so i let my wounds be tender, golden & feeling instead
it’s own type of healing instead

my mother writes
“if light could speak,
It would say your name”

forget your perfect offering

the Latin to English translation of the word
means “quality of suffering”

there will never be a time when i’m untouched by hardship
this world don’t have much patience for self care that interrupts the work week yet here i am
reclaiming my time
forgiving myself for all i’ve let slip
I stop missing my idealized self because i will never meet her
i call recovery
“healing” instead
because i know how it feels in my hands

because i don’t look for it in a mirror
just trust how it beats in my chest,
never as fast as i want,
but patiently doing the work nonetheless

just ring the bells that still can ring

i throw a small ceremony when i get out of bed
I decide, that’s its own kind of beautiful ritual of patience
the kind able to be used for centuries

Missing Persons Report Filed for the Knife of Charleena Lyles: June 18, 2017

glanced her tongue & saw blade
conjured gun
from the cockiness
of her throat dare breathe
saw vertebrae of her quaking spine
/ grenade keys
mistook her words
as / gunpowder
/ trigger
pregnant ticking
/ bomb.

seattle police call this nightmare-making
“Training Policy”

(using a taser “wasn’t protocol”.
“hands on approach” would have
“put them at risk”
pepper spray was “tactically counterproductive”
could have endangered
the officer’s ability

“There was no viable alternative,”
department says,
besides twisting her body — black & alive —
into a banshee

a black woman’s body
is always gleaned more weapon
than mother
as if nothing
can harvest here but
husks of babies
& bullets.

Charleena Lyle’s knife last seen:
cutting the ribbon on Inauguration Day of Seattle’s new mayor
whose glass-ceiling womanhood
— like her title “trailblazer” —
is also steeped in whiteness.

Charleena’s knife last seen:
cutting the limestone of this
Glittering Republic
headstones in a city she might
have once called hers
but would never hug
her back

Charleena’s knife last seen:
haunting the guilt of officers & a city too infatuated
with its own reflection
to see her
gleaming in the corners of
their Trumped-up nightmares.

after all,
only has so much patience
for those who are black and angry
trauma longer than a soundbite
and a week of headlines

“how awful they must feel,” someone pale & alive tells me,
“to have killed someone by mistake. To have to live with that.”

police brutality ain’t supposed to happen here, right?
not in this safe space city
its liberals are so heartbroken.
too bad their bleeding hearts don’t feed justice, just-stain hands.
too bad their guilt never makes it to the courthouses, somehow.
“too bad” “too bad” too bad”

Charleena’s knife last seen:
cutting umbilical cord of
uniformed men
babied by a society that will always
call their fist an open palm
who will never teach them how to pronounce
a c c o u n t a b i l i t y
in front of a mirror

“maybe they feel guilty,
but she’s still dead,” I say.

Missing Persons Report for the Words I Did Not Say:


Last seen:
shattering every,
heart of glass
& blood too dark
to bring up at dinner.

Charleena Lyles is still dead.
Seattle thrives & she is still dead.
Mayor sharpens her reputation on her headstone at the MLK rally & she is still dead
Police try holding her knife
up to a mirror
it shrivels into ash
yet she is still dead.

she is still dead.
she is still dead.

Hibernation, Warming

Wind kicks a few cups down the alley.
Pocketful of stones, a greasy lot.
Morning chill in fleeting sunlight.

You’d rather stay under this blanket agreement.
Not any storm can house you off the cuff.
The troposphere brushes your cold turned cheek.

Wake up. Get the child to school.
Now you are alone in this story
of cornflakes and Tuesday frost.

If you smell gas leak, all the more reason.
If you can walk back your talking point
happier still. Confusion in the hypodermis.

Poverty of whiteness
or hostile witness —
you’ll need a hole to crawl into

soon enough. Who lingers
finds the daylight wary. Who wavers
stands for nothing still. Hyper

nation state of being always out of
reach for the sky. Though you thought
your silence golden.

Though you felt like running
until your feet grew wings. This very morning
a crooked heartbeat stalked you out the door.

Untitled (No Reply)

Oh Wednesday
Full of rain
An argument
With no one

Junk mail
In the mailbox
In the fall smoke tree

Waiting it out
Coffee going
Cold again
In the untouched

My father
Not my father
Gone since June

His voice a message
On my phone
Sounds like rain

In the living room
Of his greeting
When I rewind
Or fast forward

Or gather in stillness
Like smoke
In a hummingbird’s
Tinfoil throat

Who would listen
Like the rain listens
Tap tap
Like late season

Apples fallen into
The middle of
This week polishing
Their green disbelief

Banana Res Publica

So the candidate
Is less than candid
And the office holder
Heavy handed,

While the Senate
Dabbles in senility
And the city feeds
On incivility.

When fact is fiction,
Faction fact,
What tribute
Should the tribe exact?

Few words follow
Veni vidi vici veto.
Stuffs its face with Cheetos

Like rodents
Gnawing at a rostrum.
The Social Wars —
Now there’s a custom

Any pleb can get behind.
Time again to face the nation.
One in ten
Is decimation.

Lesson Plan

Let’s practice getting under the desk.
Let’s practice barricading the door, turning the blinds
in our eyes. Shhh now. Let’s demonstrate
in utter silence. Every desk is a bunker in disguise.

I must have walked a hundred miles
in a single afternoon. No one followed,
pacing myself. Sunlight stained the leaves like glass.
Vine maples tangled in an avalanche of shine.

The protocol is not what you think.
The protocol is run hide fight. Step by step
the trail cut from granite
bleached and gleaming, strewn like the bones

of old calamity. Varied thrush
or rush hour radio, call note drowsy like a long fuse,
like pure denotation. Sometimes I hear guns
in the valley — pick-up trucks, tin cans, shattered bottles,

trigger trash. Sometimes I hear bullets
marching down the hall. Today there is no question
and answer. Today is only multiple choice —
the field trip wire lying in wait, mare’s tails combing the ridge

like movie weather. Crescendo of mountain.
Is this a classroom or a mortuary? Who can catch
a bullet in the mouth? Bullet points for extra credit.
Bullets for teeth, for the all above.

A Few Preexisting Conditions

We drank too much.
Stayed up too late
watching elephants disappear.
The beer was flat. The ice
receded. The moon
tracked its footprints into the house.
Bases loaded, the batter struck out looking.
The kicker shanked the field goal wide
to the right. The wide receiver took a knee.
The drone strike found its target.
The drone strike missed its target.
The drone strike turned the village to dust.
We stood in line for hours
waiting to vote.
We stood in line for hours
to procure a gallon of gas.
The hurricane struck out looking.
The hurricane stripped our limbless roofs.
The car swerved into oncoming traffic.
Traffic thickened in our veins.
The DNA test came back negative.
The DNA test came back positive.
The father never came back.
The father started smoking again
after the heart attack.
We ate too much red meat.
We ate too much corn syrup.
Our vote wasn’t counted after all.
Our vote was packed into safe districts.
We lost track of the days
we didn’t have to work overtime
to make rent. The rent woke up.
The rent went up in smoke.
We ignored the lump in the lymph node.
Doctors hit the lymph node hard.
Not our doctors. Too expensive.
Someone brought us a pot pie instead.
The dog ate it. The printer jammed.
Dandelions took over the yard.
Smoke took over the sky.
We drank too much. The world was flat.
Poachers took out the last rhino.
Few understood the news.

When I finally get that claw-footed tub

and sink into her smooth white hollow
run the pads of my hands along
her cool slopes admire the curves
that cradle my naked skin
as the water runs I’ll stick my toe
into that brass faucet and accept
a spray of water sifting
over my thighs and shins like sugar
the heat                      a rising redemption
misty and heaven-bound as water
folds over my hips my belly
the rising and falling of my chest
buoyant with each exhalation this rest
quiet above a porcelain body


I tell my therapist that I do not want to cry
because it’s two in the afternoon

and there’s a turtle
sunbathing on a felled tree

in the marsh outside of her office window.
A Great Blue Heron hobbles close,

and it’s probable that the two are holding
a silent confessional barred in by a community

of water lilies that are tethered to mire.
She asks, how I feel when I talk

about home — I hold my rib cage close
to her ear so she can hear the wind howl.