There is a part of me that doesn’t understand longing.
And yet, with my hands full of daisies, forget-me-nots,
I walk into a field of wildflowers and ask for more.
This is how I feel when you touch my shoulder.
There are nights of only so much moonshine
and I want to bathe in more than my share.
Saltwater, you’ve said. The oceans calms. Sometimes
I lose myself and want to go under. Part mermaid.
Part riptide. There was a time when every beach
was a room I would undress in. Now, I forget to live
that openly. Now, I hold back what I want to say.
There’s a belief we each have to live flawlessly.
I rip off the roots of flowers and place them in a vase.
Forget the fields where you could kiss me hard
and instead, call the florist, close the door.
Because we can’t say what we want, we write
a confessional poem where every sentence is true,
except one. Tell me again how often you think about me.
Tell me again how the drowning man finds himself
dreaming how one day walk he’ll walk on land.
My friend on the couch trembles.
She’s crying because someone in her family
has died/is dying/is dead. She has stopped
speaking in future tense and only says, Now.
The clock speaks in abstract sentences
and she says, We need more wine.
A corner of her life is being rebuilt
by a construction company she hasn’t approved.
A corner and her driveway is being paved.
With gravestones. When she cries, I pour her
a glass of minor relief, another glass
of lessen, and still one more of forgetting, a refill
of liquid assistance. There are too many days
to wait, she says. And there are days
when the world’s veil is so thin, she feels God
in the wind between the buildings.
She is almost mourning, but
knows how close we all are
to being remembered. She is haunted
by leaving, by the ones who already left,
all those doorways swinging open.
A breezeway to loss is where we are headed
no matter how hard we drag our feet.
She says she hates that she can’t stop wishing
for all of it to end, though sometimes in the blues
of the curtain, she still sees hope in hospice.
Because there’s a sparrow outside that appears to be dying.
Because I carry it with me, not the bird, but the emotion.
Because its feathers are wet, almost drenched.
Because not knowing what to do is my own purgatory.
Because nothing in the house is sugarcoated.
Because if you position yourself at the window you will see things
you don’t want to see.
Because there is a forest of coyotes and we keep finding the bones of fawns.
Because sorrow has embroidered itself beneath my ribs and I can’t unstitch it.
Because even when I’m wrapped in a blanket, I’m not warm.
Because we all keep dying.
Because it’s really not a bird, but our country.
Because the rain won’t stop, the rain won’t stop, the rain won’t stop.
When I was a girl
I wanted to live
inside of one.
A wooden, small
place to hold me.
I was in love
with its bird
face. I imagined us
married. The dream
of domesticity. Keeping
house à la bric-a-brac
or conversation piece.
But time has told
what makes them tick.
than magic. Dark
and a stiffness
crowns the eaves.
Clockmakers all carve
the same male game
in their overhang.
and alpha beasts —
They rule the ornate
roost. And it’s a heavy
pull on me. Those two
their gonadal hang.
Henri had ‘no other teacher
but nature.’ I recalled that factoid
from an art history class while peaking
thick with narcotics in the clinic bed
then they scotch-taped me to the ceiling
in his poster-sized jungle print.
The safe place for banished PYTs
ripe with uglifruit, there I learned
a woman leaves The Virgin Forest
much the same way she came in.
I laid across the forest’s plush green
canvas. My own foliage, shorn
the night before. Smooth palm leaves
split open in jungle book narrative
where the shadow doctor conflicted
beneath uterine sun —
part man part beast.
Then the thunder.
And it was broken asunder.
And then it was over.
Blood orange fruition
of the smallest, wild hope
crawled out of me for five days
in broken shells and poked yolk.
In the beginning, it was innocent. Just play. Let’s mess with Mrs. Flowers’ mailbox! Fisher and Price asked me to spy on an old witch they believed lived alone in the woods. Is her husband dead? Or does she just hate men? I wondered. I wondered if she would ever come out of her shack. They tried everything to catch a glimpse of her. Sometimes they fisted worms and mud inside the black hole of it, then pushed the hard red flag up in high salute. Special delivery. Sometimes they didn’t erect it at all. Instead I took long walks with those two leading me through the woods in the heavy heat of curiosities. We built camps. We arranged rocks. We smoked cigarette butts. We lit twigs on fire. We lit trash on fire. We broke brown beer bottles against old trees. We pretended to be married. In a navy blue cotton shirt with a loose ruffle along the bottom edge, I was the bride, marching toward them. In the warm August air, my veil lifted off so easily.
The tulle veil
was bone china
white and thin.
A breakable wisp.
It was fleeting.
shots of it
I sat in the family
in the unused room
with ankles crossed.
under the skirt
of my church dress.
It lived there.
A lace sash
the pure me.
as an eyelet.
The workers hum to wile away
the afternoon and tenants chide
their sons to sweep from room to room
last night's dust motes — stirred dreams
entangled in wide streaks of light
that, in the daytime, bloom,
unsparing, bright — like operatic
high notes. Pierced and round,
the clouds of sleep fill us with
sound. A loss. A tune so deep within
the brain we cannot help but weep
as sons push brushes past door after door
locked tight like eyes and tombs.
Our quiet. Our heavy score.
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?
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?
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I like a little violence
in my poetry
because I don’t trust
of too-ripe words, like
I don’t trust a man
who says, “you’re wonderful”
What would he say
if I told him the sugar
on his tongue
is only what I allow him
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
This is how a woman
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.