as if at its center,
god would be there—
but at the center, only rose,
where rose came from,
where rose grows—
& us, inside of the lips & lips:
the likenesses, the eyes, & the hair,
we are born of,
fed by, & marry with,
only flesh itself, only its passage
—out of where? to where?
Then god the mother said to Jim, in a dream,
Never mind you, Jim,
come rest again on the country porch of my knees.
After Frank O’Hara / After Roger Reeves
Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red tripwire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty into.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
from The New Yorker | listen
they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?
i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
(via Riot Pieces)
That she was not pretty she knew.
The flowers delivered into her hands post-concert by the young girl, pretty, would be acknowledged only. To display was to invite comparison.
Skilled at withholding, she withheld; it was a kind of giving. As when meditation is a kind of action,
a way of leaning into music the way one leans into winter wind, the way a mule leans into a harness,
the way a lover leans into the point of deepest penetration.
After a ship’s prow cuts the water, the water rushes back twice as hard.
The girls turning double-dutch
bob & weave like boxers pulling
punches, shadowing each other,
sparring across the slack cord
casting parabolas in the air. They
whip quick as an infant’s pulse
and the jumper, before she
enters the winking, nods in time
as if she has a notion to share,
waiting her chance to speak. But she’s
anticipating the upbeat
like a bandleader counting off
the tune they are about to swing into.
The jumper stair-steps into mid-air
as if she’s jumping rope in low-gravity,
training for a lunar mission. Airborne a moment
long enough to fit a second thought in,
she looks caught in the mouth bones of a fish
as she flutter-floats into motion
like a figure in a stack of time-lapse photos
thumbed alive. Once inside,
the bells tied to her shoestrings rouse the gods
who’ve lain in the dust since the Dutch
acquired Manhattan. How she dances
patterns like a dust-heavy bee retracing
its travels in scale before the hive. How
the whole stunning contraption of girl and rope
slaps and scoops like a paddle boat.
Her misted skin arranges the light
with each adjustment and flex. Now heather-
hued, now sheen, light listing on the fulcrum
of a wrist and the bare jutted joints of elbow
and knee, and the faceted surfaces of muscle,
surfaces fracturing and reforming
like a sun-tickled sleeve of running water.
She makes jewelry of herself and garlands
the ground with shadows.
I only have a moment so let me tell you the shortest story,
about arriving at a long loved place, the house of friends in Maine,
their lawn of wildflowers, their grandfather clock and candid
portraits, their gabled attic rooms, and woodstove in the kitchen,
all accessories of the genuine summer years before, when I was
their son’s girlfriend and tied an apron behind my neck, beneath
my braids, and took from their garden the harvest for a dinner
I would make alone and serve at their big table with the gladness
of the found, and loved. The eggplant shone like polished wood,
the tomatoes smelled like their furred collars, the dozen zucchini
lined up on the counter like placid troops with the onions, their
minions, and I even remember the garlic, each clove from its airmail
envelope brought to the cutting board, ready for my instruction.
And in this very slight story, a decade later, I came by myself,
having been dropped by the airport cab, and waited for the family
to arrive home from work. I walked into the lawn, waist-high
in the swaying, purple lupines, the subject of June’s afternoon light
as I had never been addressed — a displaced young woman with
cropped hair, no place to which I wished to return, and no one
to gather me in his arms. That day the lupines received me,
and I was in love with them, because they were all I had left,
and in that same manner I have loved much of the world since then,
and who is to say there is more of a reason, or more to love?
Without the usual work of wands,
she dazzles solely with her hands.
The coin behind your ear is gone.
Her pocket watch has turned to stone.
She plucks the rose from her corsage,
your ring tucked in its petaled cage.
She knows your card. She levitates.
Her eyes flash like azure agates.
And though she makes a show of it—
the scripted struggle, the long wait—
no locks or chains are sound enough
to bind her to this stage. And though
you know the limits of the eye,
her sleight-of-hand, the hidden lie,
you choose to see as through a sieve.
You still applaud. You still believe.
One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago
as I waited for my eggs and toast,
I opened the Tribune only to discover
that I was the same age as Cheerios.
Indeed, I was a few months older than Cheerios
for today, the newspaper announced,
was the seventieth birthday of Cheerios
whereas mine had occurred earlier in the year.
Already I could hear them whispering
behind my stooped and threadbare back,
Why that dude’s older than Cheerios
the way they used to say
Why that’s as old as the hills,
only the hills are much older than Cheerios
or any American breakfast cereal,
and more noble and enduring are the hills,
I surmised as a bar of sunlight illuminated my orange juice.
Promising myself I would not do this again
Is what kept me going
A friend told me to
And I listened
Taking a thing to the end of its life
Is what I was made to do
I think I am not attuned
To the things that breathe
Well that’s not true
I am in tune to breath and life
And little falls of flowers
When the moon was high
I went out to the stream
And brought in the water
For my folks, my kin, my brethren
I brought in the greenish milk
To feed the ones who were already dying
Oh did they go
Oh I do not know
In a poem
but even more
they want something
easy to swallow—
not unlike a suddenly
in an otherwise
difficult and sometimes dissonant
even if it is only
for the moment
of hearing it.
No remembering now
when the apple sapling was blown
almost out of the ground.
No telling how,
with all the other trees around,
it alone was struck.
It must have been luck,
he thought for years, so close
to the house it grew.
It must have been night.
Change is a thing one sleeps through
when young, and he was young.
If there was a weakness in the earth,
a give he went down on his knees
to find and feel the limits of,
there is no longer.
If there was one random blow from above
the way he’s come to know
from years in this place,
the roots were stronger.
Whatever the case,
he has watched this tree survive
wind ripping at his roof for nights
on end, heats and blights
that left little else alive.
No remembering now…
A day’s changes mean all to him
and all days come down
to one clear pane
through which he sees
among all the other trees
this leaning, clenched, unyielding one
that seems cast
in the form of a blast
that would have killed it,
as if something at the heart of things,
and with the heart of things,
had willed it.
Some stories last many centuries,
others only a moment.
All alter over that lifetime like beach-glass,
grow distant and more beautiful with salt.
Yet even today, to look at a tree
and ask the story Who are you? is to be transformed.
There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.
Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,
ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.
Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket
the immeasurable’s continuous singing,
before it goes back into story and feeling.
In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.
Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.
I would like to join that stilted transmigration,
to feel my own skin vertical as theirs:
an ant-road, a highway for beetles.
I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.
To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,
and then keep walking, unimaginably further.
If endear is earned
and is meant to identify
then it composes
a noting in the head
of how it feels
to have your heart
be the dear one
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful,
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
But I love the I, steel I-beam
that my father sold. They poured the pig iron
into the mold, and it fed out slowly,
a bending jelly in the bath, and it hardened,
Bessemer, blister, crucible, alloy, and he
marketed it, and bought bourbon, and Cream
of Wheat, its curl of butter right
in the middle of its forehead, he paid for our dresses
with his metal sweat, sweet in the morning
and sour in the evening. I love the I,
frail between its flitches, its hard ground
and hard sky, it soars between them
like the soul that rushes, back and forth,
between the mother and father. What if they had loved each other,
how would it have felt to be the strut
joining the floor and roof of the truss?
I have seen, on his shirt-cardboard, years
in her desk, the night they made me, the penciled
slope of her temperature rising, and on
the peak of the hill, first soldier to reach
the crest, the Roman numeral I–
I, I, I, I,
girders of identity, head on,
embedded in the poem. I love the I
for its premise of existence–our I–when I was
born, part gelid, I lay with you
on the cooling table, we were all there, a
forest of felled iron. The I is a pine,
resinous, flammable root to crown,
which throws its cones as far as it can in a fire.
For Alexandra, born May 17, 1999
Armored in red, her voice commands
every corner. Bells gong on squares,
in steeples, answering the prayers.
Bright tulips crown the boulevards.
Pulled from the womb she imitates
that mythic kick from some god’s head.
She roars, and we are conquered.
Her legs, set free, combat the air.
Naked warrior: she is our own.
Entire empires are overthrown.
Moisturizer is important to me like a car is important.
I’ll never own a car and skin is incidentally mine.
Truth is, skin seems to manage pretty well on its own.
I only travel in cars to sing to the radio.
My skin is such a brute! It needs a regime!
I need a drink. My car and my skin need a drink. I want to say
ain’t you a cool glass of water. My skin is so dull
and I have no car. My eyes, however, are ritzy.
I favor the non-abrasive. My cult product
is an anti-aging self-emollient. More often
this is new pajamas. But pajamas need multi-talents!
I’m not yet old-old. Thinking of crystal decanters
makes me feel young, they are inscrutable adulthood.
My skin can’t be so bad — sleep is like a drink
and my controls are set to bed. This is my mitigation
against stress, stern weather, assorted irritations.
Being ravaged is my own fault! Proper living
requires routine, tiny adjustments that make life better.
I’m making plans with no muscle to them.
Sleep is no artificial skin, despite its gauzy potential.
Rose water — by the by I’d rather drink it
as the hokey pendulum swings.
I’m looking for something foolproof, aplomb
that withstands the interrogating nude.
Just for the tarry smudge and hiss of sap
I struck a match in a mesh of twigs
the brook had thrust among the rocks.
Up in the big birches the smoke
thinned to a rippling intake of light
that was private, somehow, exclusive—
a fish visible a second in rough water,
jewels behind a limo’s tinted glass.
Something was making a meaning up there,
some kindling intelligence
that made me feel excluded from the future,
that my mind would stop and its continue,
so that I wanted to be made of its gist
instead of my own, which was gravid and dim.
It seemed to me that each leaf shook
and each spark flew toward some
immaculate abstraction and away from
the smoky prison of the human world.
I wanted to track that black compression
to the end of consciousness, to curve my spine
back into the somersault begun so long ago,
the C-shape that slipped from sexual water
onto the warm lawns of childhood,
a childish grace now poised in the mind
like a jackknife, a grace that ends
in the sparks all around us,
rising and vanishing, changed to ash flecks.
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper-weight,
All the misery of manila folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate gray standard faces.
Willie “Slick” Williams reads William Carlos Williams, then writes a letter to the producers of the TV makeover show Pimp My Ride, explaining why his car should be featured on the program.
so much depends
a red cadillac
beside the white
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
One thing you know when you say it:
all over the earth people are saying it with you;
a child blurting it out as the seizures take her,
a woman reciting it on a cot in a hospital.
What if you take a cab through the Tenderloin:
at a street light, a man in a wool cap,
yarn unraveling across his face, knocks at the window;
he says, Please.
By the time you hear what he’s saying,
the light changes, the cab pulls away,
and you don’t go back, though you know
someone just prayed to you the way you pray.
Please: a word so short
it could get lost in the air
as it floats up to God like the feather it is,
knocking and knocking, and finally
falling back to earth as rain,
as pellets of ice, soaking a black branch,
collecting in drains, leaching into the ground,
and you walk in that weather every day.
There are so many roots to the tree of anger
that sometimes the branches shatter
before they bear.
Sitting in Nedicks
the women rally before they march
discussing the problematic girls
they hire to make them free.
An almost white counterman passes
a waiting brother to serve them first
and the ladies neither notice nor reject
the slighter pleasures of their slavery.
But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in colour
as well as sex
and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.
I will love who loves me
I will love as much as I am loved
I will hate who hates me
I will feel nothing for everyone oblivious to me
I will stay indifferent to indifference
I will live hostile to hostility
I will make myself a passionate and eager lover
in response to passionate and eager love
I will be nobody’s fool
from Haruko/Love Poems
What’s the bird ratio overhead?
Zero: zero. Maybe it’s El Niño?
The storm, was it bad?
Here the worst ever. Every tree hurt.
Do you love trees?
Only the gingko, the fir, the birch.
Yours? Do you name your trees?
Who owns the trees? Who’s talking
You presume a dialogue. Me and You.
Yes. Your fingers tap. I’m listening.
Will you answer? Why mention trees?
When the weather turned rain into ice, the leaves failed.
So what? Every year leaves fail. The cycle. Birth to death.
In the night the sound of cannon, and death everywhere.
What did you see?
Next morning, roots against the glass.
Who’s talking now and in familiar language? Get real.
What’s real is the broken crown. The trunk shattered.
Was that storm worse than others?
Yes and no. The wind’s torque twisted open the tree’s tibia.
Fool. You’re talking about vegetables. Do you love the patio
tomato? The Christmas cactus?
Yes. And the magnolia on the roof, the felled crabapple, the topless
The debt is paid,
The verdict said,
The Furies laid,
The plague is stayed,
All fortunes made;
Turn the key and bolt the door,
Sweet is death forevermore.
Nor haughty hope, nor swart chagrin,
Nor murdering hate, can enter in.
All is now secure and fast;
Not the gods can shake the Past;
Flies-to the adamantine door
Bolted down forevermore.
None can re-enter there,—
No thief so politic,
No Satan with a royal trick
Steal in by window, chink, or hole,
To bind or unbind, add what lacked,
Insert a leaf, or forge a name,
New-face or finish what is packed,
Alter or mend eternal Fact.
le rayon vert
And the sea’s skin heaves, saurian,
and the spikes of the agave bristle
like a tusked beast bowing to charge
tonight the full moon will soar floating
without any moral or simile
the wind will bend the longbows of the arching casuarinas
the lizard will still scuttle
and the sun will sink silently with a stake in its eye
bleeding behind the shrouding sail
of a skeletal schooner.
You can feel the earth cooling,
you can feel its myth cooling
and watch your own heart go out like the red throbbing dot
of a hospital machine, with a green flash
next to Pigeon Island.
The songs we join in
are beeswax candles
burning with no smoke
a clean fire licking at the evening
our voices small flames quivering.
The songs string us like beads
on the hour. The ritual is
its own melody that leads us
where we have gone before
and hope to go again, the comfort
of year after year. Order:
we must touch each base
of the haggadah as we pass,
dipping this and that. Voices
half harmonize on the brukhahs.
Dear faces like a multitude
of moons hang over the table
and the truest brief blessing:
affection and peace that we make.
Fallen, the large tree
that owned this domain.
Its root ball — flesh-colored
that had dug in for its
Saplings that had stunted
in its shadow sing hallelujahs,
compete for new light.
All he remembers is a whisper
high in the trees,
a breeze out of nowhere
he walks with, for there was no one
where he was.
There are lulls
and shiftings, eddies
in the air, inflections
so slight he thinks,
as he sways and changes,
he chooses them. Home
is momentary, a way
of seeing, a sweet lingering
in a cloud before it drifts
beyond the form he’s found
for it, a brief
impalpable life breathed
into clothes on a line.
to wayward fluencies,
he craves the space
of fields, learns to lose
himself amid the haphazard
songs of abandoned
houses, empty wells
and the hollows of bones,
to the distances
into which he is
borne. The world blurs
around him. Landscapes alter
as he enters them: revisions,
flowing like smoke over.