we’ve been coring apples
with the conviction of inmates.
A train sings somewhere close,
steps off the tracks & lands
in my palm. The apples spill
like people out of taxis – red-faced
& round. My hand is too small
to hold you. Or the train.
We’re fragile as jellyfish,
as little boys who mock
the creatures in their glass tanks.
Today the apples are animal hearts
& we carve them.
Your hands are sticky.
Your hands touch my face.
Your hands threaten to destroy
an adequate day & make it
transcendent. The sky seeps with light.
I’ve been here before, but before
it was dark & here we are,
in the morning.
Every minute or so, a hallelujah
dies in someone’s mouth. Every minute or so, a gunshot.
A ceasefire. A tire shreds
on the highway, & pieces flit like sparrows
across the sky. Silly me. I thought
we were here to live.
The garden’s hallelujahs: tulips & rhododendrons, alive
in the ground. We expect so much
of life. Once, I was a child. Then, a child
was locked inside me. Now, a different
country claims us. Tie my hands
to the wind. Strip my mouth of any country
that doesn’t fit. Sorrow the sparrow’s
steel cord & textile torso. Its irrational wings.
The problem with flying is most people
settle for land, no matter how often
we are unloved by land.
Rewind the centuries:
before planes, the accidents of a gun,
or mouth, or gentle morning, how many people
believed they could fly? Breaking gravity,
what names did they cry when they took that first step
away? Listen to me. I’m telling you
what only the wind knows—
here, the sparrows were, all along. Nailed
to their species. Alive, or not
alive. Sometimes, not alive at all.
You can leave me and I will not kill you.
That this needs to be said is insane
but I am a man, and this is the world.
Probably it should have been in our vows:
in sickness and so forth,
I will wash your coffee cups
and do the laundry if you fold,
I will walk the dog when it’s my turn,
and I will not kill you,
nor will I ever fill your car
with wet cement, which is a thing
I read about today: a man hurt
when a woman declined
to wear his name.
When we married, you kept
your name; people told me
I should be bothered. People
told you that you were young
and did not understand
how the world worked. By people
it should be obvious I mean men.
I don’t want to make a joke
of all these wounded
walking around among us
dividing the world
into Fuck Marry Kill
which is supposed to be
a fun conversation starter
but the world reminds us
over and over there’s nothing
funny about it, these
are the dude-colored glasses
through which men see,
and although most every guy
I know is thinking
#notallmen, which misses
the point, which is that this
is not a calculation with any
margin for error. For every
man who loves you
there are eleven who love you
and will still come to your job
and shoot you in the head.
For every body you have,
there is a man willing to claim it,
one way or another.
The story goes that God
spent five days making
this amazing place, its cedar trees
and canyons and so many egrets
taking flight over so many
grassy marshes, and then
on the sixth day he created
men. If God is reading
this poem, he’s probably thinking
#notallmen, but if God
truly sees all and knows all,
he’s probably also thinking,
Well, shit, it’s still too many
of them, he’s thinking,
At least the shorebirds are lovely,
and I have to give him that
even though out there
right now some man
is thinking, Fuck the shorebirds,
marry the canyons, kill
everything else. This is the world,
in which, somehow, you
and I found ourselves together,
and in which we wake up
every morning and pledge
not to harm each other
any more than we have already.
BADGER BURIES ENTIRE COW CARCASS
The New York Times, April 3, 2017
I accidentally freaked out my students the other day
when one mentioned that, working on an essay about dead dads,
she’d had little luck Googling stats about death rates among dads.
That’s because the stat is 100 percent, I said,
and my students gasped in a was-he-joking-I-guess-
They don’t always seem young and I don’t always feel old,
but there we were. My father is still alive, a sentence
only temporarily true; I was taught that a sentence
represents a complete thought, which seems impossible,
as if one could pinpoint the beginning or end of thought,
but the stat is 100 percent. A semicolon
suggests a sort of equality between two independent clauses,
I used one in the previous sentence because I could not
bear to end the thought so soon. It’s a lot of work,
being alive and continuing to think in the face of certain death,
but that’s the job. I was reading about this badger
scientists recorded burying a calf carcass. It took four days.
Now that’s a complete sentence. Badger sees cow,
badger thinks, Bury cow, badger buries cow. Period.
I watched some of the video. This badger was serious.
How long can a badger live on a carcass’ measure
of rotting beef? I’m guessing a year, maybe eighteen months.
You know that badger figured it had won the meat lottery
when it found this cow, left by scientists studying
scavenger behavior. Eventually we are all scavengers;
the stat is 100 percent. I sent the video to my father.
He sent back a link to a New Yorker article
about nostalgia. How we sometimes miss
things that never existed or are not yet gone.
I miss more than I can say. What would you do
if you were walking through the desert of your allotted days
and came across everything you ever wanted?
Eat what you can. Bury the rest.
HUNDRED FLOWERS CAMPAIGN
A hundred flowers I lay here for you. A hundred
I have counted. A hundred white rabbits roaming
for a hundred years, a hundred years of moss I will grow
for you. A hundred acres of grassland, on which a hundred
of the wisest willows kneel in your honor. Radishes sprout
above ground, sweet and nutty, a hundred grown in your
name, your names, your hundreds of names. A hundred
executions I will bear for you, a hundred knots of rope,
a hundred buildings I will tie down and bar for you,
a hundred humiliations I will keep from you. For you
a hundred books I will save, a hundred more will read,
read to the hundred paintings hundred song hundred
beat hundred dance. Hundred. Hundred dictators
I will slay for you. Hundred mothers I will return to you.
Hundred exiles, hundred children, hundred fathers
and their fathers, a hundred schools of thought bleeding
from their hundred hands holding a hundred portraits
of Mao on their hundred little hundred red books.
LITTLE CHINESE PALINDROME EATS WATERMELON
Green sonnets of summer arrive in June on the farm,
hues of vine and leaf as far as the eye can see.
Palindrome, given ox and cart, is ordered to harvest the new melons.
Their roundness makes her stomach flutter and fall
and she imagines inside her a moth in darkness, papery wings
searching the empty cavern for husks of rice and tea.
Hours in—the smoothness of melon skin on her arms, the solid thunk
as she lowers it into the cart—the work is almost pleasurable.
Flapping his ears, even the ox seems appeased, lows his shiny coat
in a breeze. On the last row, she spots a melon misshapen,
a long crack down its side. Wings halt against her ribs, the fluttering
stills. It is the first time Little Chinese Palindrome has stolen anything.
That night beneath stars, she splits open the rind, juices running
in a city of pink rivers down her forearms. She feasts
on fruit in fistfuls like a rich peasant girl.
Her belly is a golden gourd.
The next day Palindrome is beaten in the field
with a rod as thick as her wrists.
Her tears grow a land where a drop of blood turns soil
into the straight spines of kings.
They’ve given me a window.
Now I don’t need the umbrellas
collapsed under the coat rack
to tell me about the rain,
and the jackets
I’ve come to know on hangers
leave on shoulders,
bunch out on lunch breaks,
file home at the end of the day.
The janitor makes his last pass,
and I avoid his gaze—watch deer
making do with the false-front forest
of the golf course.
They gave me a door as well,
which I’m afraid to close.
I need to hear their approach―
at the entrance, stone
makes dun-toned pumps clock in,
then carpet intercepts,
leaves just the hiss
of a suit’s slick fabric
as my frantic rumor:
They’re coming to send you home.
But it’s none of my business,
they do not stop,
and I cannot get up and follow.
The window does not open.
It is not a way out.
And I will never stand on the other side
except in a dream,
where I see myself knocked around
then locked in.
If I don’t keep quiet,
they will come back
They will pull my name off the door,
so no one will know
I am there.
Tonight, the building’s front doors
are a manhole cover.
and the real air
touches me all at once.
I find it is spring.
Contrails fill the low-lit sky
Below, every paper hole
I have ever punched has been let go
under the pear trees.
This blue-green robin’s egg
cracked, now, and left
in the porch nest—impossibly
light in my palm. Somehow
the chick knew to press its beak
against the egg’s surrounding walls.
In darkness, it must have followed
sound—the thunder clap,
its mother’s song, the dog—each
driving its first and final fissure
of the shell. But how did it trust
that leaving one world would,
in fact, reveal another? I listen
to the wind and hear
Whoever said black eyes don’t show up
on black guys, need a knuckle mountain
to the mouth. Everything with the exception
of a beatdown stays in Vegas. Who in our
crew of bachelors & back stabbers should’ve
been held over the banister of our Bellagio
suite? A groomsman doesn’t have to sleep
with the bride to deserve the skin caving in
around a pupil, which in itself is nothing
but a cave. Not because a woman can’t bat
what’s already bloated shut should she not
be hit in the face, but because she’s mother
to outrage, who could give birth to fury
at the drop of a velour top hat. My father,
whose best man was his sturdy older brother,
has always said go for the nose, but failed
to explain why. From context I figured if
a bridge is destroyed then all voyages cease,
meaning oxygen cannot commute as usual.
Not the suits we played, but the tuxedos
we wore to your wedding were so stark grey
we could’ve headed to a funeral following
the reception. Inside the stretch limousine
to the strip club we practiced our rapture,
nerve-sweating as if minutes away from
clasping a hand over a fist over a crotch,
as you quivered your vows with a tie chain’s
grin. Ritual unions have got me in trouble
again. If lovers divorce is the wedding party
expected to remain friends with the yolk
that’s been broken? Does the sunset begin
to spill all over the rest of the meal? Brother,
forgive me, for these may be questions
of immunity posed too soon. A widowed
blow withdrawn too late for a target’s pardon.
Or maybe it shouldn’t have been asked at all.
where she died—days after a photo
suggested she lived, proved it
as much as paper can prove
anything, as much as a figure
with her hair and approximate
body, sitting on the dock, facing away
from the camera, can look exactly
like a lost dead girl. And far off right,
a barge, floating almost out of frame,
with what may be a plane or just fallen
white wings loosened from flying
too close to the sun above it,
low-hung clouds blurring the matte print
into confession. It must have been
calm on Jaluit Atoll then, the boats refusing
to raise their sails and the past
—a storm, always a storm—
depends on a sharp receding hairline
and prominent nose of the navigator,
his distinct features prove,
“This must be her.” Her
slumped shoulders, her
far-off eyes grazing the steady water
where we can’t see them.
Maybe a woman who reaches
too high has to go
missing, has to be found
without a face, has to be
identified only by the bodies and wings
surrounding her, after all,
how many of us
have been found anyway?
It is my birthday ritual but every year I am surprised
to see my optometrist still alive, seeing me. He must be
past eighty, mustache and skin of a former smoker, stale breath.
I must have so much time left.
I’ve been returning to this chair since I was seven, but have yet
to memorize the chart. The majestic “E” that reassures
all doctors use the same measure
is all I can recall.
Today he begins too many sentences with
As our bodies age
and he is not referring to his own but to mine. The astigmatism
changes, its clever nomenclature once with-the-rule turns
against-the-rule. Fifteen years ago my corneas were footballs
lying on their sides. Now they stand on end.
Which do you prefer: one or two?
What should be a snap judgment
to me is anything but.
The lenses click in, click out
and although I can tell they are different, neither seems
better than the other.
Are you in a relationship?
Do you prefer to be alone?
The curvature gets trickier
to measure, requires confirmation
through multiple methods. We must
duplicate the results.
Or perhaps one of us is just
unreliable. He steers out of reach
the suspended mechanical arm
to retrieve a vintage contraption:
thick eight-pound glasses
I must hold up to my face,
like watching opera through a periscope.
He slides lenses in and out of the armory
as my arms tire.
Would you like to have children?
Which sounds worse to you:
being alone forever
or never being alone again?
RESOLUTION TO RECOVER LOST THINGS
Whereas the streets have glazed over in a quiet havoc
of black ice and the mail truck
glides sideways into a parked Chevrolet; and
Whereas the skulk of red foxes from the side yard
wood have barked their alarm one night
too many and the litter is one kit too few; and
Whereas the barred owl has flown from the willow oak
where we’d carved our initials and we no longer
know who cooks for whom; and
Whereas the dog stands atop the dining room table, nose thick
with mashed sweet potatoes, teeth wresting the pink
from the ham bone; and
Whereas the tea kettle’s whistle has grown
so weak we miss its whimper until the smoking
copper bottom pierces our nostrils; and
Whereas the child’s mitten hangs snagged
on the chain-link fence in a tangle of red
unthreading, unlooked-for; and
Whereas the bed holds the shape of the body, the cup
clings to the pulp of the orange, the door
swings, and the door swings; therefore
Be it resolved. Therefore the pavement, and therefore
the tires, the steering wheel, the hands upon the wheel;
therefore the fox, the wood beyond the clearing,
the red mitten, and therefore the child;
therefore the owl, the song of the owl, the tree
that held the owl, that holds the symbols
of our names;
therefore the tea and the leaves of the tea
and the kettle, the kettle,
and therefore the food, therefore the service,
the child, the dog, the child,
therefore the bed, and therefore the cup,
and therefore the door at rest.
The night I try to kill myself a boy
is shot in the shoulders at the gas
station next to my apartment.
I don’t flinch. I lie
on the rubber of my bed that keeps
the bugs away and stare at the black
poles holding the bunk bed together.
The mice play sought and found
in the shoe closet filled with all size 10’s.
What miracle can I conjure tonight?
I sleep till dawn and the spirit that wants me gone
slaps my eyes to rise: Through the kitchen window,
the dark clouds are yoked with life.
I know the sharp knives in my home
but draw the thin butter knife because
I don’t want a mess for my mother to clean,
I don’t want her to weep as she dips
a rag in Clorox and stains the floor to reverse
its memory. My burial must be neat.
I trace the peak of the blade across the linea
negra on my stomach; the one to appear
only when I am pregnant. I am yet to meet
a man: how do I leave this earth with ease?