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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.”


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.


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.

Amen / Amen

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

The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus

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

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

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
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
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

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

                        Think About It
                        Think About It


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)


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

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

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


fresh off the
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

they whip you
make you belly
lie down

they put on you
you neck
the ring of

they say no
to no eat the
sugar cane

they put on you
you mouth
the mask of

they tie you
man to
four green tree

they make you
man fly to
all four wind

they say you
you sing

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

all ways
they break you
in barbados

all ways

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

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

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


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
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.

Ways of Devouring a Man

Selene and Endymion
Snooze-button darling,
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.

The Body Mutinies

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.