You’re just so darn cute
She tugged up the cheeks of my swimsuit
shown two small pears, fleshy & bright
bookending the neon green fabric—this was the 90s
my first two-piece & I thought I was a big girl
despite every comment about my size: petite, skinny,
thread-and-thimble thin, string bean. Strangers
would say so & that I was pleasingly blond
curly, a little Shirley with a temple, a future
temptation. She wanted me to claim what had been taken
from her body too young—she wanted me to claim it
by showing it off, flaunt it if you got it even if you’re six.
I loved her then, abandoning myself. I loved her
the way a dog pulls meat from a bone
the eyes like twin flames. Just another
animal. She said I love you
to anyone, my mother.
I hold on, I hold everything I can, to capacity
hold like the handle I wore paint from
bought for 50 on sale at Home
Depot & I liked it, slipping hands around it
liked it best in the moonlight throwing
silver on the snow, all the quiet hibernations
across from me a dark field of sage specked
by track lines. Not elk, surely too late
in the season for this altitude. The goats then
who else could wander silently as a group of houses
billowed chimneys behind them. Beyond the field
a team of mountains sleeping in a heap.
All that silent night, if I screamed into it, nothing
but echoes. I want to scream into it
because a room has never been big enough for me.
& I want the echo—I want the curse
the flame. When I wrap my fingers around
that solid handle which come to think of it I bought
at Farm & Fleet for 43 because same thing better deal
(the guy at the counter told me I’d have to swing it hard
if I didn’t keep it sharp) I start by measuring the log
in two with the edge of the blade, then wind up
I can’t claim to understand the violence but the tree
was dead before I found it—bringing down the head
the splinter & crack. I loved when it worked in one swoop
when it took 20 whacks to work around the knots
& branches which came out like arms, her pulling
my hair as she whispered rat’s nest,
bring it down into the big stump, to stoop
& gather shreds, pulling her from it as I leave
leaning her against the wall just inside the door
dropping the load xylophonic to the floor.
Diaspora Sonnet 40
So much improvisation—the improvised way
I enter a room. The way I walk market aisles:
with purpose borne of worry. The tumult of cereal
packages, an array of landscapes crossed over
in a plane. I am flying above the patchwork of
mornings and feeling dizzy. Truly I am
making this up as I stay here. Morning into morning
into the next. Consecutive tiles worrying themselves
into the shape of purpose. I can’t tell you why
we boarded a plane many years past except
to say the plane was there and we needed another
“there.” I can’t tell you much about flying then except
that I was nauseous. Disorientation is its own
improvisation. A mind spins until it finds its foci.
Diaspora Sonnet 41
The word “home,” ensnared with thorns.
Gored by. A resident ache in the back
of my mouth. At any moment a shock
from teeth to the skull to say it. I’ll not
dwell too long in the angular and persistent
knife. What strikes me is how long I’ve held
my tongue back with incisors. Far too many
unsayable residences. Too much factual
want. In speaking, the balletic turn of
phrase to kindred who’ve not the common
language. Our regard for each other, stuck
in long pauses. Milliseconds into multitudinous
gazes. The sticky-notes pasted over this and that,
like “refrigerator,” “bed,” “brush,” and “door.”
You were a room filled with paintings
of storms in the style of Turner
and each was gold—
end-of-day gold; gold
as you want me to be. Gold
as a sweet horse in a picture book.
Gold in that way, your way;
Gold when it’s lost,
how it seems more gold.
A girl’s tooth. That one you
saw in an elevator, took home
after. Fool’s gold.
Fool-me-once gold, come
twice gold. Your gold
chain as you hold yourself
over me, that rests in my mouth
like a horse’s bit.
Looking down from my second story porch
I see the flowering quince they say will thrive
in almost any soil. This one is no doubt
dead, though its faithful branches reach up
and outward, insulting the brittle dry
sticks that pin the massive bush to fertile
ground. Watery red flowers the color
of diluted blood once bloomed in winter
on its bare and twisted branches, and in
springtime, the dark leaves bore small sharp teeth
so that I thought nothing in the natural world
could kill it. But who am I to make such
bold assumptions? Who knows for certain which
ones need to be nurtured, how fragile love?
Stocking the Pond
500 bluegill in a tank
on the back of a truck,
parked on the bank,
pouring them out. Fifth grade,
early spring. The year
I was taught there were right
and wrong ways to be
a man. I watched
the waterfalling bodies
of the fish, our pond
like a holding cell.
When the valve closed,
one got caught and cut
in half, the top fin and tail
just sat there in the grass,
separated from the head
still floating in the tank.
We caught them
all summer, kept them
on a line strung through
the gills. I hooked one
through the eye, snagged it
through that soft
and lidless spot, and the barb
came out through the front
of its face. I cried while
my father removed it.
I watched while he filleted
our catch, when he nailed
a catfish to a board
and skinned it with pliers.
What else can I say
about my cicada-sung
childhood, when I learned to do
things I didn’t want to—
years later when I danced
with a girl at prom,
when I did not kiss
the boy I drove home
from school, when he
offered. But when
I was nine my trembling
hands were asked to hold
the handle of a thin blade
and cut. So I did—
and for what? A quarter-inch
thick fillet, small victory.
We ate the fish
with our hands, battered
and fried on a camp stove.
When we stocked the pond,
a mist came off
the cascade of water
and fish, the surface
of the pond was iridescent
with some runoff
or exhaust—all so I could sit
in a camp chair,
months later, picking
little bones from my teeth.
And suddenly the ground opened
so I could fall in. The hard clay
opening its arms to feel like safety,
holding my body like a bulb,
mother’s irises in the garden. The air thick
with cicada calls, the air hanging
on skin. She’s at the window calling out
the varieties of corn in the field like
calling in children for dinner.
But I am her only, her runaway.
At the table she reminds me
my blood runs red because it’s full
of iron, red like the banks of the creekbed
I fell down as a child, flat on my back,
eyes and palms to the sky, gasping.
My body remembers
that labored breath, these old pollens.
In the cabinet I find a cream
to prevent scars from new wounds,
another to reduce scars already set in.
But as a child I had no scars,
only musical names in my head before sleep,
saying them aloud under the spinning fan,
Ambrosia, True Platinum, Silver Queen.
After I gave him my dented hands which in any case were still valuable
in the way that ruins can be,
I leave him for myself.
I spin-drunk en la sala, a spiraling summer,
I talk to my homegirls in the language of tomorrow –
girl, finally. I invite them to die with me
at the club.
I pick a man to wine into, until the dance is an interrogation. The last man was loving me wrong. My
hands crawl close enough to his face to feel his breath the moment right before he regrets me. You know
how ya’ll do, love a girl only when she is the brightest version of her pain. The way a shadow loves the
pavement only when the sun shines. Have you ever been the shadow? I mean have you splayed your body
so flat against a woman that you didn’t notice she was concrete? I dance for him the way worms dance in
honor of devouring a body.
My homegirls laugh until they are ghosts.
Sometimes what kills me is serene
as snowfall. Proliferating frozen,
soft inundation, the ceaseless
and so many ways of wanting
to die. I can’t sleep
for the 2 a.m. murmur
of the plows, making their rounds
for hours now, unseeing
metal sweeping and salting.
Rusted chrome in near collision,
compelled by the Sisyphean
labor of cold. To roam
the black in the absolute
zero before dawn;
gathering and gathering and gathering the ice.
I’m a Kick-Ass Woman
Ask anybody. This ass has never been kicked
to the curb. I do the kicking. I’m a nasty-ass woman
drinking chamomile tea at dusk. I know what I’ve got
& it’s a throne for an ass. Grab it. Kiss it. Pop
the pimple on that ass. See what happens when you
disagree with my ass. I’ve got a bad-ass ass. A kick-ass ass.
A good-pair-of-jeans-is-hard-to-find-type ass. Cue Flannery’s
ass, as broad & innocent as a cabbage. I’m getting literary
on your ass. Listen: you can’t have passion
without ass. Or Parnassus. Make way for my poetic ass,
as essential & enduring as your thesaurus
but sexier. I’d tattoo the Cantos on my ass
if it would make it less boring. This Is Just to Say: A Carafe Is a Blind
Ass, or: I’m no Modernist. I’m the future
of The Poetics of Kick-Ass—the voice of a nation
from the mouth of a woman with the keys
to the van that fits all of your sweet asses. Climb in.
We’re bound for the coast. Bet your ass
we’ll be there before dawn. Sit back & watch
my Walt-Whitman-dashboard-hula-girl shake his ass
all the way across the American desert
we’ll make an oasis of by the time we’re through.
Poem From the Mouth of God
There is a reason
I have yet to let anyone
see my face. I am a lonely man
& socially inept. I send angels
into women’s rooms
because I never mastered the art
of non-offensive pick up lines
& even with a wingman
only one woman’s ever said yes.
She is tired of me.
Who can blame her
when I spend my days
at every window in the house
shuttering & unshuttering myself
from the view I created
& grew afraid of. My son
doesn’t visit anymore
& you’re not surprised.
Me neither. After centuries,
the first miracle I performed
was this morning
when I raised myself
out of bed & lifted a razor
to my horrible face.
What advice do I have left
except that you should make things
& keep them closer to you than ethers away.
Do not be like me.
This light is the only good
I’ve offered you,
but even light, too often, dies
in a furious burst.
How each one is taken
with care from car
to school doorstep, each one
hand-in-hand with an adult.
How the mothers
and fathers kiss
their foreheads, first
pushing aside their bangs
a stray wisp. One
her daughter’s velvet
headband; another wipes
from his son’s pink lips.
each child is guided
around the bumpers
of cars. How some turn
to wave goodbye
one last time while others,
drawn to friends
by an invisible cord,
move together, first left
then right, with
of fish. How even the child
with tears in his lashes
who cowers near a teacher
knows that in a matter of hours,
a loved one will return
to him, to return him
to the facts of home:
for trapping monarchs.
from a space museum.
charms on a chain.
ANOTHER FORM OF SKIN
Hiding us all the times we prefer to stay hidden.
Piled by the door
in offering: burnt mittens,
torn shoes, bloodied handkerchief.
I have hung on a clothesline
shirts so white that I
felt surrounded by clouds
or by the impossible words
of God. Sometimes the wind
blows through me
as though I do not exist,
as though all form
could go formless without notice.
Think, for example, of the way
no one stands at the door
offering a cabled sweater, saying
here you might need this
it’s cold out today no one
except me, for example.
there is no one, now,
inside the sweater
here I am securing each button
all the way to the top,
imagined lint from a sleeve.
IN THE HOURS JUST AFTER, IN THE HOURS BETWEEN
Caught between one world
and the next, between the buzzing actual
of air breathed, streets crossed,
food chosen, prepared,
consumed. Of sleep slept
again and again into waking—
caught between the easy language
of regret and viscous words of loss,
words that, like timid creatures,
have tunneled deep into caves
for the long winter, and may never
emerge again, such is the lure
of the darkness
and the mind & the mouth hollowed out.
Caught between laughing
about what he would’ve said
about attending to his own death
Easy now, easy, take it easy now now now
and absorbing the infinite chill
of seeing he could
no longer say it—
we speak of him, still, in the present
tense. Caught between calling, first,
the one who’d prepare his body
for the grave or the one who’d
tend to his soul as he’d wished.
Morgue or mosque, we ask
him, mosque or morgue we ask
ourselves. Again and again,
the sound of no voice,
just the specter of one nurse
and then another
shuffling down the hall in scrubs,
doctors in angel-white gowns
and shoes, their hairnets
like deflated haloes
clinging to their heads.
Oh the g-d in you. Thank you for what g-d you did today
g-d as gold g-d as gone You believe there’s g-d out there somewhere
among trash heaps that smell less these days because the plastics in them
no g-d old organics
you know it’s g-d because it smells as it rots most g-d things don’t last long
What kind of g-d don’t you believe in
My word is g-d He’s a g-d egg No news is g-d news
You don’t want to hear how g-d you are It’s not that anyone actually knows
but you look g-d, Girl, really g-d
Take a look in the mirror
you see nothing at all
That’s gotta be g-d
or at least the image of g-dliness
At least you’re in g-d hands
You don’t want to be g-d
because if you’re g-d that means g-d can have cracked nails
with sky blue polish in the cuticles
g-d can have mistweezed eyebrows
g-d might be wearing dirty underwear never as g-d as you hoped for
under a sundress that’s a bit too short no g-d at all
A g-d way to go A chapped kiss g-dbye