live life as a stranger. Disappear
into frequent invention, depending
on the district, wherever you get off
the train. For a night, take the name
of the person who’d say yes to that
offer, that overture, the invitation to
kiss that mouth, sit on that lap. Assume
the name of whoever has the skill to
slip from the warm side of the sleeping
stranger, dress in the hallway of the
hotel. This is a city where people
know the price of everything, and
know that some of the best things
still come free. In one guise: shed
all that shame. In another: flaunt the
plumage you’ve never allowed
yourself to leverage. Danger will
always be outweighed by education,
even if conjured by a lie. Remember:
go home while it’s still dark. Don’t
invite anyone back. And, once inside,
take off the mask. These inventions
are the art of a kind of citizenship,
and they do not last. In the end, it
might mean nothing beyond further
fortifying the walls, crystallizing
the questioned, tested autonomy,
ratifying the fact that nothing will be
as secret, as satisfying, as the work
you do alone in your room.
music, even on the day my grandma died
there were mangos though i tasted nothing.
but slowly i came back to the world & carne asada.
better than i remembered, smoke off the meat. i could not
contain my happiness even though it felt offensive
to smile with my grandma buried & getting eaten
by the flowers. & sometimes, i look at my love &
think i would like to stay, to put a welcome mat
on our doorstep with our names hyphenated.
when i was young i believed in forever. then
my uncle died & i knew forever included none
of my family, included no friends, their stories
rotting in my head until i lose them again, so
i know i will divorce the world & let it keep
my most treasured possessions: a six piece
with lemon pepper & mild sauce on, all the honey
of a slow kiss, my Apple Music playlists,
the way mi abuelita smiled & called me Lupito.
i hated that name except when she said it.
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
The bee-boy, merops apiaster, on sultry thundery days
filled his bosom between his coarse shirt and his skin
with bees—his every meal wild honey.
He had no apprehension of their stings or didn’t mind
and gave himself—his palate, the soft tissues of his throat—
what Rubens gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing his fingers across a woman’s thigh
and Van Gogh’s brushwork heightened.
Whatever it means, why not say it hurts—
the mind’s raw, gold coiling whirled against
air currents, want, beauty? I will say beauty.
I was profligate like a floodlight to the sun.
Hoarded saccharine and toothmarks,
wanted only the thickest rhymes, two of each.
Full I was of promises I never intended to keep:
puckered laughter, lines to feast.
I let everyone who entered my life enter through me.
Demanded nonsense love and bodies that would ring.
Not to mention higher kilowatts
of creeping joy, more red in everything—
So we’re dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into alignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I’m lucky,
she’ll remember a recent dream and tell me.
One day we’ll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.
Until then, we’ll go on learning to recognize
what we love, and what it takes
to tend what isn’t for our having.
So often, fear has led me
to abandon what I know I must relinquish
in time. But for the moment,
I’ll listen to her dream,
and she to mine, our mutual hearing calling
more and more detail into the light
of a joint and fragile keeping.
Did you ever see stars? asked my father with a cackle. He was not
speaking of the heavens, but the white flash in his head when a fist burst
between his eyes. In Brooklyn, this would cause men and boys to slap
the table with glee; this might be the only heavenly light we’d ever see.
I never saw stars. The sky in Brooklyn was a tide of smoke rolling over us
from the factory across the avenue, the mattresses burning in the junkyard,
the ruins where squatters would sleep, the riots of 1966 that kept me
locked in my room like a suspect. My father talked truce on the streets.
My son can see the stars through the tall barrel of a telescope.
He names the galaxies with the numbers and letters of astronomy.
I cannot see what he sees in the telescope, no matter how many eyes I shut.
I understand a smoking mattress better than the language of galaxies.
My father saw stars. My son sees stars. The earth rolls beneath
our feet. We lurch ahead, and one day we have walked this far.