ANOTHER WORLD GATHERS
I sleep in a bedroom once a horse
stable for a monastery.
The monks have all turned
& the cork trees stripped to red.
I am a weak thing. A body down,
an eaten up mosquito net.
A white candle drives out fear,
a red one drives out lust.
THIS IS WHY I NEED A GODDESS
winos, picking up empties,
their laughter of firework.
The city’s full and nuts
but I can’t hear
its usual neon,
thrum of its barges.
No, it’s quiet
and the devil blinks,
Tonight hurts. Fights.
Drops. Sleeps. It’s 3 am—
the Atlantic midnight
for a poet.
Come on, cruel finger
with your cruel
and refusing shake.
Come to me, finger
and not the bottle.
Go paint the bulge on this white
page. Write about hell
factories and cemeteries,
how they dance blurry
pieces of flames.
But instead you give me
the sea. My feet.
You throw love out
like an old sack.
A loaded mouth grinning,
a downer for dead
and night’s ripeness
inching toward wreckage
See, he’s got you too.
Finger, fix it and make it right.
Like a seeing-eye dog,
the lord will see you good.
grew legs and arms, sucked in air and named ourselves,
is who we are— bone and gut, God’s face before we invented it:
stone-like, wide mouth feeding on every element.
TEN YEARS AFTER MY MOM DIES I DANCE
The second time I learned
I could take the pain
my six-year-old niece
—with five cavities
humming in her teeth—
led me by the finger
to the foyer and told her dad
to turn up the Pretenders
—Tattooed Love Boys—
so she could shimmy with me
to the same jam
eleven times in a row
in her princess pajamas.
When she’s old enough,
I’ll tell her how
I bargained once with God
because all I knew of grief
was to lean deep
into the gas pedal
to speed down a side road
not a quarter-mile long
after scouring my gut
and fogging my retinas
with half a bottle of cheap scotch.
To those dumb enough
to take the odds against
time, the infinite always says
You lose. If you’re lucky,
time grants you a second chance,
as I was lucky
when I got to hold
the hand of my mother,
how I got to kiss that hand
before I sprawled out
on the tiles of the hallway
in the North Ward
so that the nurses
had to step over me
while I wept. Then again,
I have lived long enough
to turn on all the lights
in someone else’s kitchen
and move my hips in lovers’ time
to the same shameless
Amen sung throughout
the church our bodies
build in sway. And then
there were times all I could do
was point to the facts:
for one, we move
through the universe
at six hundred seventy
million miles per hour
even when we are lying
Oh magic, I’ve got a broken
guitar and I’m a sucker
for ruin and every night
there’s a barback
who wants to go home
early to bachata
with his favorite girl.
I can’t blame him or the children
who use spoons for drums.
And by the way, that was me
at the Metropolitan stop
on the G. I was the one
who let loose half my anguish
with an old school toprock
despite the fifty-some
strangers all around me
on the platform
waiting for the train
about to trudge again
through the city’s winter
muck. Sure, I set it off
in my zipped up three-quarter
coat when that big girl
opened the thunder in her lungs
and let out her badass
banjo version of the Jackson Five,
all of which is to say, thank you
for making me the saddest man
on a planet teeming with sadness.
The night, for example,
I twirled a mostly deaf woman
in a late-night lounge
on the Lower East Side
and listened to her whisper
a melody she was making up
to a rhythm she told me
she could feel through her chest,
how we held each other there
on a crowded floor
until the lights came up
as if we were never dancing
to the same sorrows
or even singing
a different song.
UPTOWN ODE THAT ENDS ON AN ODE TO THE MACHETE
What happens when me and Willie
run into each other on a Wednesday night
in Brooklyn? He asks, “Where we going?”
And that’s not really a question.
That’s an ancestral imperative: to hail
any yellow or gypsy that’ll stop on Franklin
and Lincoln to fly us over the bridge then
zip up the East Side where the walls
are knocking to Esther Williams or Lavoe.
And you know Willie daps up Orlando
and I say What’s good! and it don’t take
three minutes for me and Will to jump
on the dance floor or post up at the bar
sipping on Barrilito or to tap on my glass
a corny cáscara with a butterknife
like I’m Tito Puente but I have no clue
I really sound like a ’78 Gremlin
dragging its tailpipe the length of 119th,
which is to say, it don’t take long
for Willie and me to be all in. And that’s when
out of nowhere in the middle of the room’s boom-
braddah macumba candombe bámbula
this Puerto Rican leans over and says to me
real slow, “Everybody is trying to get
home.” And I’m like, “Aw fuck.” because
I’m on 1st Ave between 115th and 116th
not even invested in the full swerve yet.
It’s not even five past midnight and Will
is dropping science like that. Allow me
to translate: There are neighborhoods in America
where a man says one simple sentence
and out flow the first seventeen discrete meanings
of home. If you haven’t been broken by the ocean,
if your own weeping doesn’t split you down
into equal weathers: monsoon, say, and gossip,
if you can’t stand at the front door
of an ancestral house and see a black saint
staring down at you, no name, no judgment,
if you haven’t listened to the town drunks
laughing underneath a tree they planted
so they wouldn’t forget your pain, then your story
must have a whole other set of secrets.
You must know what it’s like to expect
an invitation. You might not know what it’s like
to wonder if someone is even waiting
for you to return. Your idea of home
might not contain ways to call blood cousins
from another time zone or just shout
from the middle of the road. There are those of us
descended from peasants who never had to travel
too far to visit the smiths who craft knives
from hilt to tip, who cook blades
that split the wood or carve the rind
from flesh. I once went to visit the men
who make the machetes of the Philippines.
There was a time, I didn’t care where
those knives came from, how the men and women
stoked the embers and dropped their mallets
with a millimeter’s precision. When I was young,
I thought hard was the mad-dog you could send
across a crowded bar. I thought hard
was how deep you roll or how nasty the steel
you bring. In some neighborhoods of America,
hard is turning down the fire just enough,
so you could kiss the knife and make it ring.
Then I remembered: Mama wasn’t gone but safe, in her bed, turning in sleep. It was I who went away—from Chopin in the bones, palms heavy with dates like dark purple fingers reaching toward sand, toward fruit sickly sweet outside Mama’s bedroom window turned mine, her girlhood unloosed in mine, on the ground, rotting yellow. But skyward: a salted moon, a brittle sound, a bed of headstone with its high- pitched calling like a night animal hunting, no, a night animal hunted, in distress and calling, but the mama’s turned deaf—no, the mama’s the one yowling in the night shrub, taken, only the predator’s not the barn-owl. The predator’s prickling gooseflesh of the chest turned to full-fledged breasts and shared with boys, too early to understand how it would haunt into her parent years… into a time her children would come searching for her in bed like the icehouse in town before it closed, the ice inside too cold and melted too quickly into a time she knows will be coming when her children search in other beds and find instead a field, where the road dead ends into the basin, nothing but high grass lit by a pale streetlight… Mama would turn on the music, sometimes she played her flute and I would dance. Growing up I heard stories of Mama’s life but it never occurred to me she was alive for anyone but me, her daughter. I understand now how she needed me—no, how she made music of me and I was rescuing her from dark rooms and nights darkly lit, the slapping hands and terrible hands and the history of genes that replicate themselves in the smallest versions of ourselves: we play a piece of music listening, not for time, though time is constant, but for something deep in the belly… for Mama, who couldn’t keep us from aching, no—who gave us song as gesture for pain.
September 13th, a bright diamond-shaped light appeared in the sky
above all of central New Mexico
I’ve found the warmth Mama left in her bed
when she rose to watch the sun making pink sheets
of clouds through her window.
The balloon is risen above earth’s atmosphere
collecting celestial gamma rays
where our imperfect sight cannot reach
and then the sun is too bright;
she closes her eyes, and I can tell
she’s imagining herself in that unmanned
balloon. I want to say the instrument is already
in you, cosmic & infinitesimal… but she moves
her face behind a curtain, the moment arrives
and is gone. That light, her light,
while it was rising, lent meaning to the sky.
So we continue—the birds with their funny
pointed beaks, their ancient flapping. A child
born to rescue us. In Sunday mass
I would fix my gaze on Mary in her blues,
Mary prone at his bloody feet as I sang we will soar
but God must have known what I meant.
It’s not as if the sky is empty for me now—
even on the coldest mornings
in New Mexico, they rise
as lanterns in our land of enchantment
they rise, in jewel-tones or flag
stripes, in the oldest human-carrying
flight, with their chambers of air, they rise, burning
air into their bright billows.
My favorite resembles a sparrow.
pressed between blue pages a few hours
on our old boat which is not ours my leg
over the bow you in the stern with the kids
in the stern I’m reading poems you’re not
the sky a depression of noon wilting
on our way back from the island we did not
reach the boys drag bits of pita through
some dip argue the last cola we are not
arguing now I said what I thought
you said what you thought and I won it’s not
nice what do you want I said and you don’t know
it’s been so long so long since I even
wondered you said pinned here in this book almost
no wind none the water glass like old glass
that much ripple that much distortion two
small sailboats go by portside one red-hulled
the other white it’s not our boat your
father’s gone days don’t get more beautiful
than this the white hazed blue a few big clouds
we could not stand it any bluer and
the land rolls up away the glass the glass
reflects the sky thank god thank god we
cannot see ourselves for home we’re headed
nothing violent nothing shattered
glass the surface just before us always
smooth always untouched and when we
mar it it repairs itself with no help from us
SLEDDING AT HARDING MEMORIAL It was how humans, the future will say, entertained themselves those last centuries winter existed. Cribs of dogwood racked in the side yard. Jarred fruit. Fat in our snowsuits, my sister & I climbed the huge steps & pressed our faces to the gate's wrought bars. Beyond them the President, we understood, slept beside his wife in the hard earth of Ohio. Here, in 1923, street after street of our hometown trimmed in black felt, his funeral train trundled at last to a stop. The body, blocked in ice since California, face sewn shut, sunk slowly in its chamber & later that evening the team of men whose job it was rose from their dinners & lifted into place the great slab, something paleolithic laid at the spot where history— its grand ambition in ruins— wandered away to die. On Delaware our father watched us from the base of the hill. I held my sister in my legs & allowed the inertia of the spinning earth to work. Wind lashed our faces. The formed plastic of the sled scored the ground behind us & after we had stopped our father, become suddenly a beast in harness, hauled us back. The last of the presidential tombs towered above us, its roughly classical columns obscured by the shifting snow. By extracting for their monuments only the finest of stone, Spengler argues, Egyptian architects expressed through craft their culture's solemn & meticulous care for the future. Therefore the past. Pyramids of limestone sliding into place behind men bent forward. Father tying our sled to his own. Low against the earth, he turned us to the edge & together, our train of blood & plastic lashed tight against what would come— the sudden thaw, our long- unlooked for ruin— we began again the descent. OREGON TRAIL Before I was a man I was a man made of pixels, a glittering column of dots drawn west across the earth by word of land limitless & given freely to he who worked it. First, on the line assigned, I typed the names of my children, fitted our wagon with axle grease & for each child a change of clothing. I followed the pathway day by day across Nebraska, my rations set to filling, my four head of oxen walking steady. Spirits were high. To hunt, the instructions said, enter 'BANG' as quickly as possible. I slaughtered, with my deft spelling, elk & buffalo, whole herds of antelope & my family sucked on the bones til Bridger. Beyond our school's computer lab that month, McVeigh's Ryder truck erupted in a parking lot somewhere we had never heard of, its twentyfoot fuse looping cartoon -like, I imagined, to the packed wagon. Back in 1855, miners with the Lupton party charged at midnight a tribe of Takelma camping near the trail. They tore women from their husbands, from the arms of their mothers cut the littles one & ran them through Bowie knife spine to hilt. To hunt, the instructions said, enter. We bent our faces to the screen, keyed the letters again & again & let the meat of the pronghorn rot in our wagons. We contracted typhoid, forded the river at the South Pass & were dragged in the mad flux under. Amy has drowned. Dad has measles. We marched with our diseases seaward & wrote, when at last we succumbed to snakebite, our tiny pixels flickering in the dusk somewhere at the edge of the West, wrote there our own epitaphs on the line provided. Behind us on the map our path wound like a fuse across the continent. Congratulations the game said. Press SPACE to continue. AT MY SISTER'S WEDDING, I DANCE THE DANCE OF SWINE In the country my kinfolk came from, shame— ancientest of passions— had still in the old years its uses. If you, as I am, were for instance eldest of your family's siblings & if on the day of your sister's marriage you remained spouseless still, given rather to the Black Forest's fruitless wastes & to brooding, you danced also the hog's tarantella. The trough is wheeled to the floor. My father's family, four centuries in Ohio, lines the stage waiting for the past's last lingering ritual. My sister smiles. Her white dress is everything that I, imagining it, had imagined it would be & she, inside it, is for the last time the small & wiggling thing I held in the county hospital. Slop, the trough means. That she is the fairytale daughter gone tonight to some dark country of love & dying & that I am thirty & single. Still my family's name awaits in me its future. In Luke, Legion— demon of many parts— plunges to the sea snared in a herd of pigs. My pants are rolled to my knees. My feet work nimbly the mix of mud & wine. Once we played, Amy & I, wife & husband in our mother's kitchen. I admit it's the closest I've been to living with a woman. Once, in the old days, angered by the pride of humans, the brute gods dropped among us one of those chthonic monsters myth is crowded with. This was a boar, the story explains, sated only by the blood of children & if, as I was once, you also were a man you mustered with your people each autumn to slaughter over & over the cloven- hoofed hog. The trough rocks beneath me. The mud, color of shit, is sweeter than you would believe. My people, who love me, are just. PACIFIC STANDARD Against which, I mean, we for the first time sounded ourselves & were found wanting. What else could we do then but spread to every recalcitrant corner we carved from sandstone & Sioux? Sic. It's craved I meant, as Magellan, who named the thing, sailing around the Cape craved home. The hushed waters he thought he saw, I see nowhere tonight in the rising white- capped combers off Pacifica. Pax facere. To make, Magellan believed, peaceful. To find oneself at the edge of the continent for the first time, as I did at thirty, & to forget this hour has happened almost everywhere. That men for centuries scattered their sicknesses before them like seed. That we who shadowed gold to the coast confronted only then a phenomenon beyond our capacity for destruction. Something like a violence utterly other— the tumbling scud. The seastack & crag crumbling like what do you know of power? How can you not look away? Where I am from, everyone I know is asleep.
The shade we named sidewinder
fang hung on a signpost
at the main-gate lookout tower—
another, tree die-off, we newsprinted
into leaflets about how far
until the next water supply.
None on spyglass lenses could filter
the color of a highway,
color of highrises over highway,
moonrise color over both.
But we tried, oh yes, we tried,
and what thanks did we get?
Trace of desolation we made
sandstorm around the shantytown
outskirts, light warning
light perimeter fence around
each rebel’s house. Though we did it
for their own good, the restless
chased westward color,
color of piston strokes, of coastline
close by. When dizziness and nausea
poured from the ears and pores
of runaways who planned
a breakout for the wasteland,
when sulfur or suffer bubbled up
hip-deep as wet cement,
it built character. At their age,
we too had believed in the color
with no border, with no shudder,
nonstop color. Because we said so
was why outsideresque and two types
of worry and wait wait wait
replaced those other crayons.
Who else would think of the children?
Our littlest ones, who left us
last, were the color that represented
open, mountaintop color,
color that meant
SEXTON TEXTS ON INDEPENDENCE DAY
Sat. July 3, 8:14 am (1/2) Because there was no other place I went home away from the scene of crazy-making senses came back before dawn in heavy July Sat. July 3, 8:15 am (2/2) my purse wide, thighs wet keys set down bedroom bound where one child also sleeps. Tiptoed as if a strange thief. Thought of my blotted out x’s— for this is the mind’s prison not a playground Sat. July 3, 10:31 am Sorry. Fell asleep reading Rimbaud. Same dress from the night before once I would have thought nothing of this. Today I feel like Gomer before Hosea chose her. Maybe I will conjure Jezebel or Tamar through the oracle. They were thrown into Hell, too Sat., July 3, 10:45 am I am rarely alone but the children, those little muses, have left to wander. Recall my dream now: dead deer mice in the garage, albino possums, ancient doors Sat., July 3, 11:15 am If I draw my blinds tightly enough sunlight loiters smoky dust begs to be let in like a Maine Coon in Brooklyn, outside double panes, in the throes of heat Mon., July 4, 7:23 am Morning. Ants run errands. My kitchen floor finds them second-line marching to crumbs tri-sected bodies shouldering scraps twice their size, such scattered strength! Mon., July 4, 7:52 am (2/2) Gather or Scatter: ants are Titans, Atlas, sky vaulters! I made that up, but do you get it? Mon., July 4, 7:51 am (1/2)Foragers are dumb muscles packing meal lumps fallen from some child’s grubby hands, not even for themselves. Long live the queen! Nobles eat well & often. Social orders exist in every world on every back Thurs, Aug. 1, 10:49 am (2/2) Her son rides up and down my cul-de-sac to drown out his mother’s yell. He waves to me. A package comes. I must sign. . . Thurs, Aug. 1, 11:01 am My fingers still smell like last night’s spent seed. I wonder if he has washed me off. Watercolor, Watercolor Thurs, Aug, 1, 10:47 am (1/2) a distant droning, it’s all grizzled buzz one neighbor lives in his shed sawing wood for a project he won’t finish. Outside, a Jamaican lady screams to her estranged lover, “I don’t know you! Ya’ come to m’door everyday beggin’.” Fri, Aug. 2, 12:01 am A lifetime of such small reminders A lifetime of blotted outs coming on or in. This fucking hunger! This fucking! Fri, Aug. 2, 12:07 am Should have gone to live in Amsterdam and had mixed-up, kinky-haired babies Fri, Aug. 2, 12:15 am Strangers would call you ‘mammy’ for taking your tiny joys public. This is the small life with long days in it & nothing to force clock hands closer Fri, Aug 2, 6:41 am (2/2) around the block. Faces not plumped or juvedermed or botoxed, yet all that holds back a soul? skeleton squeezed under wrinkling corsets Fri, Aug 2, 6:39 am (1/2) Every here same old crows, same ruined perches. Crones with young lovers and that man who drags his dull wife’s fat dog while he jogs
SEXTON TEXTS DURING POLAR VORTEX
Thurs., Jan. 19, 3:18 pm “Let us eat air, rock, coal, iron. Turn, my hungers.”-Rimbaud Thurs., Jan. 19, 4:01 pm Meanwhile, I’m trying. God knows. But mother unearthed each small bloodmain under her gauzed wrists. She fought a strange compulsion to press her mouth against her right pulse, taste the throbbing veiny eels her crooked lovers forsook drink from blind lakes of their leaving, undo their digging Thurs., Jan. 19, 4:32 pm (1/2)brick ledge, scarp fault no matter how much silt I packed into the hole, no matter... Thurs., Jan. 19, 4:33 pm (2/2) Trenches never fill never unslope else they cease being soldier’s shallow shelter Sat., Jan. 21, 7:17 am Ice storms, splintering crystals, of course. Today, everything wheels and bone touch, every slick black lies under rock salt Sat., Jan. 21, 8:01 am (1/5) Every day, my father fell six feet into a vat of tar. Burned his neck, ankles, veins. We saw his viscous shoeprints blanched blisters and salve. Hours after, when he touched any door- knob, steam rose from the brass. Sat., Jan. 21, 8:03 am (3/5) Recall he wanted to go home, meaning, maybe, Sat., Jan. 21, 8:02 am (2/5) He died for the last time on a Monday, or Tuesday or Wednesday or was it Thursday or Friday? Sat., Jan. 21, 8:06 am (5/5) point is: he died at some point during some week Sat., Jan. 21, 8:05 am (4/5) back to tar streets
VIEW POINT, SAN ANDREAS FAULT
From here, I see the up-thrust of collision,
how the Indio Hills have changed
through time. In a year, the sign says,
we will be standing two inches to the left
of where we are now. I have wasted
the winter on a man who will never
love me. Five hundred miles from here,
my apartment stands on top of this same
fault, just hidden. Nights I can’t sleep,
imagining the forces beneath me
creating a world I’ll never see. In the one
I can, the park closes at sunset.
The light is handsome, but I can’t give it
to anyone. The flowers start shutting down.
Where the valley rises, I can believe
in a future that does not hold us close.
Intersecting, the plates broke through
the earth’s crust until time was visible.
I want us to matter like ephemera:
old stock certificates, the postcards we buy
in the gift store. Driving home, we pass
the air force base, which of course
we can’t see. It’s the army. It’s a secret.
From the overlook I could see
into Mexico. Everyone else leaving
each other in their different languages.
A BAD DATE
The pleasure boats cut across the lake we can see from the hotel restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows. “I’m a sucker for a view,” I say, which, he tells me, dignifies imperialism. What with Rome, and all. We’re meeting to see if I will let him, tonight, tie me to not-his-bed, to, with the instruments he will deem necessary, knock against me while his wife watches. I’m trying to forget another man, so I repeat what I have heard on the radio: to assuage traffic jams, engineers are studying ants. Sans egos, they get where they need to go. No flash. No honking. No aggressive driving. Outside is only an inch of glass away. I sip my wine. The fog bank has been erasing the hills for a week, and in the mornings I climb the stairs to my apartment’s balcony, where what is visible is mine, and I would kill for it, the right-out-there.
my children knew I was the kind of fool who could drop a spark on my coat and wear it burning into the house, fold it over a chair and go on reading as smoke filled the apartment they knew then there was a reason I carried out recycling every afternoon they figured it was me who started the dumpster fire that time the trucks came though face it they must have smelled the smoke on my hands each night I tucked the sheets around their necks and now it was not just me who had burned but the building they slept in half the time half their drawings and laundry and the two chests their grandmother painted now they would live in only one house remember when that was all they wanted
dear salt dear water scribbling difference between where I can dryly stand+not dear sea dear shell dear Florida from your panhandle I'm staring past seagulls flit +scurrying across sand white as my unsunned torso at an oil rig miles offshore which must even now be barbing into deep durk+mank to extract the treasure I'll later pump a refined version of into minivan's rear flank so we can trade this sucrostic malleability for the cold bones of home dear edge dear border dear horizon which just lays there flat as a that's that voice when what's done's been done, when there is as the phrase has it no going back up the road a thousand miles snow drifts where I'm from on hurt+merciful alike as it must, like Christ or a bad mechanic true cold can make no distinction regarding whom it bestows its shivery gifts upon dear south dear December I'm standing here because I believe the ocean keeps saying stand there then like any of us changes its mind, the way the waves gurgle playing the game of life which is called get everything then retreat dear boundary dear almost dear exact location where self ends+beach begins I came here to witness quietly shifting things: the moment one year breathes out + the next in, to listen to an I do transform Ellen's uncle+his love into husband+wife but my daughter kept shouting so we went outdoors where she again attempted to put the universe into her mouth dear littered plastic cup dear cigarette butt dear fallen palm leaves I watched the you may now kiss the moment from beyond the church's window as Jo said da and da and da pointing first at sky then trees then the cars passing the small white chapel +finally da pointing at herself, and then me, all of it da and how can I not hope she's right hope she hope me hope we never forget how the thin distinguishments of living are temporary mercies setting us free within flesh to believe beyond flesh dear wet envelope of ocean from which the moon slides nightly like the lovest letter dear moment bread becomes body there must be room within each infinity for all of us seeking the phonebooth in which our true selves stand waiting to answer whatever call finally comes.
it is winter again as we feel our way through a bed of glass in the river we’ve been here before everything’s the same still the morning still the pieces of glass we pile in the image of a child and praise in truth we can’t make anything happen between us winter began inside you no one knew but I knew * I want to believe this will end with the child coiled around your finger with thousands watching and throwing roses at us with lights and glitter in our hair but we both know how it ends we practice until we don’t need to tell our bodies how to do it the child with her glass head— her lips curled in my palm trying to say her name for her will you hold her to the light will you breathe a little pink into her your hands on her throat looking for the song at the other end not everything is a bright flute made of bone * we tried shaking her out of us like a bee down our shirts but what if the bee had been a wasp what if it died not because it stung but because it grew tired of stinging milk eyed small lunged prophet in the mud you wash the sand out of your hair where the mushrooms outnumber the stars we sit on the bank in the sun and quietly roll clay between our legs and its hardening is a form of meditation winter begins with her hands detached from the branches you knew you always knew