There is a quick sharp pull that one might feel, with it a weighted turn to finding brightness where there is none. I have Seattle to thank for this, but the home of ours must be built anew. And yet I am not in my method and have no sense of worship for the work or to erupt into a broken sense, but I am appreciating the copious sunlight with a startled turf-forming consciousness. You must take the fear of normalcy and the aerodynamics of emotions that fuel the sense of the present and jerk it to a gluttonous love. The wood pulp, the paper, the feeling of how-to ache of these conditions and do not permit the imagination to fold into its chamber. How do I turn this summer around? Is there still an I and no You in this problemed space? Can I sort through our shared moments without your orange pants, your color-blinded syllogisms, and hull of near-end turbulence? I reckon with these days and the practice of finding the sun to its glory so that whatever score I have to settle with sorrow does not affect germination thus far.
In a movie I have never seen: a small-town drunk
stumbles into a beam of light & wakes up convinced
he was abducted by aliens, convinced a hole opened in the sky
& swallowed him — said they did something strange to his body
some kind of experiment, said a hole opened, said cold light
cauterized him shut, redefined that red theory, chrome instrument
turned him into a skinless puzzle, a scrambled egg
sealed back into its shell. Madness, too, can be accumulative.
When my blood seemed uncontrollable, ran messy with pulp
down their fingers, my cousins finally left the room, laughing
closing the basement door behind them.
He will surely take it out when you’re alone
And let it dangle between you like a locket on a chain.
Like any world, it will flicker with lights that mean dwellings,
Traffic, a constellation of need. Tiny clouds will drag shadows
Across the plane. He’ll grin watching you squint, deciphering
Rivers, borders, bridges arcing up from rock. He’ll recite
Its history. How one empire swallowed another. How one
Civilization lasted 3,000 years with no word for eternity.
He’ll guide your hand through the layers of atmosphere,
Teach you to tamper with the weather. Swinging it
Gently back and forth, he’ll swear he’s never shown it
To anyone else before.
—After Ana Mendieta
Did you carry around the matin star? Did you hold
forest-fire in one hand? Would you wake to radiate,
shimmer, gleam lucero-light? Through the morning
would you measure the wingspan of an idea taking off—
& by night would you read by the light of your own torso?
Did you hear through the curtains a voice, through folds &
folds of fabric a lowdown voice—How are you fallen
from—How are you cut down to the ground?
Would gunpowder flash up in the other hand?
Were you the most beautiful of them—the most beauty,
full bew, teful, bu wtie, full be out, i full, btfl?
Did the sky flutter & flower like bridal
shrouds? Did a dog rise in the East in it?
Did a wolf set in the West? Were they a thirsty pair?
And was there a meadow? How many flowers to pick?
And when no flowers, were you gathering bone chips
& feathers & mud? Was music a circle that spun?
Did you spin it in reverse? Was your singing a rushlight,
pyre light, a conflagration of dragonflies rushing out
from your fire-throat? Did you lie down in the snow?
Did it soften & thaw into a pool of your shape?
Did you whisper to the graven thing, whisper a many
lowdown phrase: How are you fallen my btfl?
Would they trek closer, the animals? A grand iridium
thirst, each arriving with their soft velour
mouths to drink your silhouette?
Four less one is three.
Three less two is one.
One less three
is what, is who,
The first cell that learned to divide
learned to subtract.
add salt to hunger.
add time to trees.
Zero plus anything
is a world.
and no other,
by each breath changed.
add death to life.
love without swerve what this will bring.
Sister, father, mother, husband, daughter.
Like a cello
forgiving one note as it goes,
translated by Ana Valverde Osan
There is always adolescence and nothing else at dusk.
When the soft bend in the evening
insinuates its desolate curve,
something within us also bends over.
We have very few things then,
no possession accompanies us,
no possession offends us either.
There is a slow disaster in these hours
that seem the only ones in the day,
those which leave us in the old limits,
those that cannot give us anything,
those of which we do not ask anything.
There is a tender and decomposing disaster
in the final hours of this day
that has gone by like the others,
and, just like them, it has reached
the burning beauty
of that which gazes upon nothingness.
Leaning over my windowsill
I see how a section of time slides by;
evening has softly embalmed
the street’s noisy happenings,
the sky is shrinking little by little
and a burst of patience
wraps the world in soft, ashy hugs.
While the night opens up on the corners,
the moon sets in strange flowers.
This is not how it begins
but how you understand it.
I walk many kilometers and
find myself to be the same—
the same moon hovering over
the same, bleached sky,
and when the officer calls me
it is a name I do not recognize,
a self I do not recognize.
We are asked to kneel, or
stand still, depending on which land
we embroider our feet with—
this one is copious with black blood
or so I am told.
Someone calls me by the skin
I did not know I had
and to this I think—language,
there must be a language
that contains us all
that contains all of this.
How to disassemble
the sorrow of beginnings,
how to let go, and not,
how to crouch beneath other bodies
how to stop breathing, how not to.
Our fathers are not elders here;
they are long-bearded men
shoving taxi cabs and sprawled
in small valet parking lots—
at their sight, my body dims its light
(a desiccated grape)
and murmur, Igziabher Yistilign—
our pride, raw-purple again.
We begin like this: all of us
walking in solitude
walking a desert earth and
unforgiving bodies. We cross lines
we dare not speak of; we learn and
unlearn things quickly, or intentionally slow
(because, that, we can control)
and give ourselves new names
because these selves must be new
to forget the old blue.
But, sometimes, we also begin like this:
on a cold, cold night
memorizing escape routes
kissing the foreheads of small children
hiding accat in our pockets,
a rosary for safekeeping.
Or, married off to men thirty years our elders
big house, big job, big, striking hands.
Or, thinking of the mouths to feed.
we begin in silence;
water making its way into our bodies—
rain, or tears, or black and red seas
until we are ripe with longing.
Somedays you may wake up sad
somedays you may wake up frustrated
somedays you may wake up tired
somedays you may wonder if its worth it
somedays you may questioned your own growth
somedays you may think on how immense the world is
to be caged in this country
to be subjugated to all this abuse
somedays you just want to breath
And baby I am here
to remind you to sit in those moments
to sit in that whirlpool
but just know that there are people like me
picking up the load when you can’t
there are people like me pushing
so the weight of this country does not crush you
that there are people like you
who will fight when I can’t
we will take turns
pushing against these walls
I got your back and you got mine
and in the scheme of things does anything else matter
even if our fight is unfruitful
we will depart
with our dignity intact
we will depart knowing
that this country is losing
a prized possession
this country is losing
the gift of our resilience
We will watch them as they tear in to each other’s skins
and thank the heavens
we never turned beasts
I gaze at the Pacific and don’t expect
to ever see the heads on Easter Island,
though I guess at sunlight rippling
the yellow grasses sloping to shore;
yesterday a doe ate grass in the orchard:
it lifted its ears and stopped eating
when it sensed us watching from
a glass hallway—in his sleep, a veteran
sweats, defusing a land mine.
On the globe, I mark the Battle of
the Coral Sea—no one frets at that now.
A poem can never be too dark,
I nod and, staring at the Kenai, hear
ice breaking up along an inlet;
yesterday a coyote trotted across
my headlights and turned his head
but didn’t break stride; that’s how
I want to live on this planet:
alive to a rabbit at a glass door—
and flower where there is no flower.
I very much dislike being at a buffet
The first time I saw
the little man in the radish swing
swinging out over the vegetable tray
was himself a radish,
I was happy
I would be happiest if there were
a whole village of radish people,
as many radish people
as there are buffet people
I hope for each radish person
a ‘sister person’ in the room
I am half radish myself
Some say the best thing you can do
is carry a pair of little scissors,
snip small pieces of the world
and take them home with you
These scissors have cut hair
The scissors have cut string
From these scissors come my fragments
You can cut a rose from a radish
or little people who are happy swinging
in a room of bigger people, the excited throng
cut from cloth
At the banquet I stood next to him
When I pushed the swing he smiled at me
Fast friend are the best
It is good to have a bunch of them
We each chose a piece of
preposterous melon and
for the sake of a little quiet
removed the seeds
From radishes come joy
Whether or not the water was freezing. The body
would break its sheathe. Without layer on layer
of feather and air to insulate the loving belly.
A cloudy film surrounding the point of entry. If blue
were not blue how could love be love. But if the body
were made of rings. A loose halo would emerge
in the telluric light. If anyone were entrusted to verify
this rare occurrence. As the petal starts to
dwindle and curl unto itself. And only then. Love,
blue. Hallucinogenic blue, love.
Of course I don’t know what
happens to us: if we survive in the
hands of love; if Cal, if Simone
and all the trembling answers
those questions entail; whether
by time or by disease or by
an atom bomb right in the eye. Is it
possible death could be thrilling
and fun? And after could there be
something somewhere and what
will we do if we see each other
there? Will the same songs stay stuck
in our heads? Will medicine
succeed in making life so long
we will beg for medicine to end it?
One cannot lock eyes with a bird,
its eyes vacant as ball bearings, but
mustn’t there be some recognition
in everything? Some fury, some
questioning? If one phrase could echo
throughout eternity, would the ear
on the other end return
a word? But what am I asking?
Will I ever see a whale
as I’ve hoped, and will his size
compared to mine be a true
form of knowledge? Loneliness
has depths writing fails to indicate.
I could be clearer, say more, but
it wouldn’t mean as much. Mother
will I ever find you again? Is fear
of spiders justified? Is a power
above minding the scales, be it
science or gods or the weather,
and can they be tipped toward
balance from here? Is beauty more
than another form of pleasure?
And what is better?
When, in the science museum, I arrive at the overview
of our galaxy, with its tiny arrow pointing to You are here
(which really ought to be We are here), and see
that the two to four hundred billion stars of our local cluster
are drifting or chasing or dreaming after each other
in circles within milky circles, I can’t help but think
of those ancient paintings and rock engravings,
discovered all over our celestial body,
of that one line which begins at whatever point
it can, then curls outward, or inward, toward nothing
anyone can define—the oldest shape revered
by Aborigine and Celt, by mathematician
and engineer and Burning Man reveler alike,
and even accorded a place of honor among the mess
of thoughts on my desk, as a nifty paper clip of copper.
But it’s already there in the florets of the sunflower
crisscrossing with the precision of a logarithm,
and in the pin-wheel shape of the Nautilus shell,
and in the coiling neurons of the cochlea
that let us tell Art Tatum from a three year old’s improvisation.
Call it what you will—“God’s fingerprint,” “the soul
unfolding through time,” “the passageway into the Self”—
I can’t help but admire, even fear, something as mundane
as a flush of the toilet, when its swirling is a variation
on our sidereal drift, our existential pain.
And then there’s that famous falcon, “turning and turning
in a widening gyre,” a portentous symbol of our own
circling into some dread, some pernicious chaos
we thought we had just escaped, one town burning
a decade behind us, a millennium before that,
and into next week, next year, next whenever.
And when the two of us took that winding road
an infinity of others had wound down before us
and would wind down again, our spirits hushed
by the crosses and bouquets at each dead man’s curve
and just burning in the dry heat to touch each other,
wasn’t that a wondrous and terrible turning?
The weather forecast that snow would fall from the sky.
(The architecture of snow was like the architecture
of the storm itself, and of the landscape.)
The weather forecast was that snow would fall.
We are like snow he said.
She understood her heart was cold.
And that if the walls could not be breached by rhetoric
or conjecture, still they leaned, comfortably
perhaps, one against the other,
an aggregate of disturbances, rust
that in the meantime corrodes, makes beautiful.
You are like snow. She thought,
but I told you that before.
The architecture of loss, the hand of a loved one.
You are not like other weather he said.
I mean I’m here
to eat up all the ocean you thought was yours.
I mean I brought my own quarter of a lemon,
tart and full of seeds. I mean I’m a tart.
I’m a bad seed. I’m a red-handled thing
and if you move your eyes from me
I’ll cut the tender place where your fingers meet.
I mean I never met a dish of horseradish I didn’t like.
I mean you’re a twisted and ugly root
and I’m the pungent, stinging firmness inside.
I mean I look so good in this hat
with a feather
and I’m a feather
and I’m the heaviest featherweight you know.
I mean you can’t spell anything I talk about
with that sorry alphabet you have left over from yesterday.
when I see something dull and uneven,
barnacled and ruined,
I know how to get to its iridescent everything.
I mean I eat them alive.
what I mean is I’ll eat you alive,
slipping the blade in sideways, cutting
nothing because the space was always there.
“No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” – Zola Neale Hurston
When everyone was granted their childhood
wish for invisibility, it turned out
to be less erotically useful than we all
had imagined. Since then the first
legitimately wild idea I had I tamed
and named Thom Yorke, after a pony
who’d clomped among the precincts
of my visible youth, refusing
to be rode, my use of the word first
also proving to have been based
on an unfounded sense of possibility
that ill-defines my generation still.
Hidden message: we cannot measure
the corruption of our age
but we can make the heat of it
ever hotter by leaping onto the pyre.
On hearing the kvetching of coyotes
in an August night, my doppelganger
climbs up out of the lake
and into a constellation—when light
and death both want you,
one of them might not get its way.
I’ve given names to a dozen other ideas
and deleted those names
because who could they ever have saved.
Impossibly sweet and recalcitrant
old Thom Yorke though,
best pony anybody knew.
Eppur si muove
The iris wavers as the fox trots by,
mornings in paradise, or what pretends
by any other name to smell of meat.
What were we then that we did not become?
The water touched the image of the beast;
old factories of iron muted the plain.
They were of no consequence, those sun-dark days
before the word fell hard upon the ear.
The Indian corn, I mean the poppy fields,
carpets of color sown and yet not sown,
ideas that rose to metal and to brick.
That too was passion. Naked, in need of need,
we had heard of passion. We knew ourselves
that first first morning when we woke, and died.
She’s rubbing his shoulder
and he’s reading about
Western birds. There’s a scoop
of light just above my knee
it resembles the world, the one I know
a layer of smoke spread thin, a shelf
my mind returns again &
again to the picture
you gave me. In pain.
I’m holding the receiver
in Denver some woman making
human eyes at me from her
blue seat, but I later
conclude she’s crazy
I’m helpless, rushing back to fix the
“h,” how can I help you
I think we tried this long enough
we would save us from everybody
else, we “got” it,
and now we’re another falling down car
you bleeding & expanding
the red night itself
is your endless disappointment
who promised so much
on that hill
O Glory to everybody & everything
that we will fish again & again
& get lucky
I used to do this, the self I was
used to do this
the selves I no longer am
Something bright, then holes
is how a girl, newly-sighted, once
described a hand. I reread
your letters, and remember
correctly: you wanted to eat
through me. Then fall asleep
with your tongue against
an organ, quiet enough
to hear it kick. Learn everything
there is to know
about loving someone
then walk away, coolly
I’m not ashamed
Love is large and monstrous
Never again will I be so blind, so ungenerous
O bright snatches of flesh, blue
and pink, then four dark furrows, four
funnels, leading into an infinite ditch
The heart, too, is porous;
I lost the water you poured into it
Orchids are sprouting from the floorboards.
Orchids are gushing out from the faucets.
The cat mews orchids from his mouth.
His whiskers are also orchids.
The grass is sprouting orchids.
It is becoming mostly orchids.
The trees are filled with orchids.
The tire swing is twirling with orchids.
The sunlight on the wet cement is a white orchid.
The car’s tires leave a trail of orchids.
A bouquet of orchids lifts from its tailpipe.
Teenagers are texting each other pictures
of orchids on their phones, which are also orchids.
Old men in orchid penny loafers
furiously trade orchids.
Mothers fill bottles with warm orchids
to feed their infants, who are orchids themselves.
Their coos are a kind of orchid.
The clouds are all orchids.
They are raining orchids.
The walls are all orchids,
the teapot is an orchid,
the blank easel is an orchid,
and this cold is an orchid. Oh,
Lydia, we miss you terribly.
Wheel me down to the shore
where the lighthouse was abandoned
and the moon tolls in the rafters.
Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.
I was never able to pray,
but let me inscribe my name
in the book of waves
and then stare into the dome
of a sky that never ends
and see my voice sail into the night.
in through the eye
device adapted from an ice pick
the space between the cornea & tear duct tears
little incisions along the frontal lobe
you open the grapefruit
you open the grape
in the ‘50s there were tens of thousands performed in the states
sour mess. sour mash. mashup. macerate.
cut a rug. jitterbug. wonder drug. gutter. tug. suture. lacerate.
erasure. erase. raced. deadened. dead end.
once a doctor removed the frontal lobe of an aggressive ape
what followed was a column of ants
your relative made new & easy to manage
Now, we take the moon
into the middle of our brains
so we look like roadside stray cats
with bright flashlight-white eyes
in our faces, but no real ideas
of when or where to run.
We linger on the field’s green edge
and say, Someday son, none of this
will be yours. Miracles are all around.
We’re not so much homeless
as we are home free, penny-poor,
but plenty lucky for love and leaves
that keep breaking the fall. Here it is:
the new way of living with the world
inside of us so we cannot lose it,
and we cannot be lost. You and me,
are us and them, and it and sky.
It’s hard to believe we didn’t
know that before; it’s hard to believe
we were so hollowed out, so drained,
only so we could shine a little harder
when the light finally came.
for Dante Micheaux
No bitterness comes out of thin slices
of lemon loaf you cut at the kitchen
window as I watch from the sofa, thinking:
‘the light catches and frames perfect
each object: bread, knife, and Dante.’
August bends on the stoop, paying another
visit to my years, my fourth summer in New York.
I haven’t learnt the metropolitan tongue,
too provincial, I watch the hurtling line
of crumbs increase under the blade.
At home, some sea is ruining the reef.
At peace with this caress; no one
quarrels but the net that heaves back nothing
this finical year, the lone shark tears through
the haze like a jagged-edge train and brings me
to this hiatus, desolate and vexed;
same with Naso before your namesake, cast
away to another land—this is America, though;
trust the billboard’s promise, the offer of bread
from the mount of a stool, your Sinai.
My fate is stainless as the knife that parted
a friend’s wrist years ago, indigoed the clear
sand tourists visit to watch the sun vanish
into the bay, a metallic reoccurring soap opera
children leap slow to into the sun-rusted water.
The spill of yellow on the granite counter
is the sand of home minimized to amnesia,
friends dwindling like accounts, accounted
for in fragments, mentioned and forgotten
to the continent’s widening grasp.
America’s promise does not extend to Harlem.
The Renaissance blows like garbage in the street,
acid-eyed addicts stare through me, puzzled
at how still I stand in the vomit of people
coming from underground, blinking out light.
I don’t know how they escape Charon
and why they go back in the dozens,
to be unloaded on the moving blocks,
avenues that advertise panaceas
for their dark blues, their anxiety and hunger.
An ant takes a crumb on its black back.
Once more Sisyphus strains across the sink
to my sea, all our seas, but the single sea
of my point of view before knowing this world,
or you, salt flitting my eyes, admiring
the smile in the blade, the last yellow
piece to leave your hand. A riddling absence
fills me and the turn of the faucet brings
the flood, crumbs brushed into the gurgling hole,
pulling down from the window the summer light.
‘Tell the angels not to touch me/ without permission’
— Overheard on the 1 train
Beauty is a constant state
of unrest. To love, to settle
down; you will not be as alluring
(Your face no longer
evidence of springtime, your eyes
no longer all there is.)
In a family so large there will be old men
who cannot speak, a few broken
marriages, a sad
Haris brought to me some yellow
thread, a balloon
without air. He watched
from his window as I left
It’s like a love affair,
to meet and part
with your grandchildren:
they do not need you.
They will realize this
before you can stop thinking
of where they will go, whom
they will marry.
Robes of black, flashes
of lightning. Someone, somewhere,
furious. Tell the angels to stay
away, tell them
I am not of them.
Still dark, my baby girl leaps out
the window to greet the rising sun.
I stand below ready to catch her,
but every time she takes off
without fail, her laughter calling
to the orioles, calling
to my shame that had I the choice,
I would have never taught her to fly.
Somewhere there is a man with a gun
who will take pleasure in seeing her
skin against the pure blue sky—
and shooting her down.
My own mother did not flinch
when I first raised my arms
and lifted my feet off the ground,
above her head.
She only said you better hope
bulletproof skin comes with that
gift. Years later I found out it did.
At the touch of you,
As if you were an archer with your swift hand at the bow,
The arrows of delight shot through my body.
You were spring,
And I the edge of a cliff,
And a shining waterfall rushed over me.
“After all,” that too might be possible . . .
It isn’t too late, but for what I’m not sure.
Though I live for possibility, I loathe unbridled
Speculation, let alone those vague attempts
At self-exploration that become days wasted
Trying out the various modes of being:
The ecstatic mode, which celebrates the world, a high
That fades into an old idea; the contemplative,
Which says, So what? and leaves it there;
The skeptical, a way of being in the world
Without accepting it (whatever that might mean).
They’re all poses, adequate to different ends
And certain ages, none of them conclusive
Or sufficient to the day. I find myself surprised
By my indifference to what happens next:
You’d think that after almost seventy years of waiting
For the figure in the carpet to emerge I’d feel a sense of
Urgency about the future, rather than dismissing it
As another pretext for more idle speculation.
I’m happy, but I have a pessimistic cast of mind.
I like to generalize, but realize it’s pointless,
Since everything is there to see. I love remembering
For its own sake and the feel of passing time
It generates, which lends it meaning and endows it
With a private sense of purpose—as though every life
Were a long effort to salvage something of its past,
An effort bound to fail in the long run, though it comes
With a self-defeating guarantee: the evaporating
Air of recognition that lingers around a name
Or rises from a page from time to time; or the nothing
Waiting at the end of age; whichever comes last.
Work out. Ten laps.
Chin ups. Look good.
Steam room. Dress warm.
Call home. Fresh air.
Eat right. Rest well.
Sweetheart. Safe sex.
Sore throat. Long flu.
Hard nodes. Beware.
Test blood. Count cells.
Reds thin. Whites low.
Dress warm. Eat well.
Short breath. Fatigue.
Night sweats. Dry cough.
Loose stools. Weight loss.
Get mad. Fight back.
Call home. Rest well.
Don’t cry. Take charge.
No sex. Eat right.
Call home. Talk slow.
Chin up. No air.
Arms wide. Nodes hard.
Cough dry. Hold on.
Mouth wide. Drink this.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
No air. Breathe in.
Breathe in. No air.
Black out. White rooms.
Head hot. Feet cold.
No work. Eat right.
CAT scan. Chin up.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
No air. No air.
Thin blood. Sore lungs.
Mouth dry. Mind gone.
Six months? Three weeks?
Can’t eat. No air.
It waits. For me.
Sweet heart. Don’t stop.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
I’d have to hear it spoken in mind somehow,
my father said, of the Frisian word for hunger,
but I’d settle for memory, or grief, under
the category things that undo me. It’s a funny
thing to think. Who would be the speaker
if not him? His mother, maybe,
holding hands in the hospital with his father
after 76 years. Married the day after the war,
when the stores had no windows—the Nazis
took the glass. The mourning doves
might have the right vowels, or the red belly
in the leafless dogwood, now winging
through the sunlight peplummed through
the pines, blue tarp peeled back
on the cotton bales in the field beyond,
Merry Christmas spraypainted in blue
upon the white. Snowless, starless,
a man goes on trial in France for helping
refugees. Could’ve been your grandparents,
my father says, your Pake hid in barns, woke
once to mouse feet scrambling across his face,
but in France it was a 2 year old in a ditch,
dying of dehydration, & when I look down
I’ve pulled the petals from the bouquet,
& as I’ve neither French nor Frisian nor
courage, all I can do is sweep the body
of petals into my palms, & pour them into
the cathedral of water in front of me.