Hair’s Breadth

Do things get clearer 
as you close distance and approach?

An object in motion remains 
in constant motion.

The line it draws is straight
unless acted on by an unbalanced force.

When cause skews the light 
or the viewfinder 

or the usual schedule?
A boy struggles to disarm

the stranger bent on doing harm.
When you see the future 

it seems such an ordinary moment—
a man hesitates

at the loading platform,
a child's face presses against glass.

Doors whir close then
open, as though they chose 

who should get on,
who gets left behind.

The Loneliest Country in the World

This is not a country for the old or the young.
Opportunity and abundance: poorly made promises 

that break before they come clattering off conveyor 
belts, that rot before they can be loaded into baskets.

The young are names inside foil hearts tacked 
on a schoolroom wall, outlines on the floor 

where they crouched and bent their heads
to the linoleum heart of this country. 

Don't say apple or flag or Thanks-
giving. This country is becoming 

the loneliest country in the world. It is
the smell of floors bleached after a rain 

of blood, the blind heat of hatred
strung like lights in dance halls, 

incandescent as bullets boiled 
in a crucible of darkness. Just like 

in Stockton and Watsonville, the old 
washed the dirt of farms from their hands, 

put on their finest threads. If this was 
their only defiance, let it have been 

the moon they skated on, the pulse of a little joy 
that throbbed in their temples before the end.

Rooms Within Rooms Within Rooms

In a hutch with sliding
glass doors, shelves displayed

crystal we barely used— serving
plates, footed bowls, a faceted

soup tureen. But over the years,
it became a holdall: a portmanteau

of assorted souvenirs and kitsch,
their faded sentiments crammed

cheek-to-cheek with vials of 
prescription drugs; a wide-

mouthed jar stuffed with receipts.
Of other rooms in that house, 

I remember very little now— only
how crowded they were with plaster 

saints, furniture that had seen 
better days but that they couldn't 

bear to throw away. Sometimes, when I 
look up from these rooms in which I write, 

I think about light from thinly curtained 
windows, a view of hills; the horns 

of jeepneys flying past, their headlights 
crosshatching the bedroom walls. The yard

where we slept in the days and nights
following the earthquake, where we fed

a makeshift stove with old newspapers and
listened to rescue helicopters probing the dark. 

In which I wonder why

a curse is believed to pass from one 
generation to another:  a grandmother 

one never even knew but for a black 
and white photograph, where she is 

the unsmiling mouth clamped over 
yellowed teeth; a grandfather who had 

a first name but no surname because he 
disappeared while a crowd gathered in church, 

and a cake teetered under the weight of sugar 
paste flowers in the rectory. When does it 

become a gift, this thing that at first 
was the most unasked-for? Take a curse 

and say: the hole made by a moth 
in a sweater may be repaired, the dust 

collected from house corners 
and thrown out of doors is only dust.  


       ~ for Beth Vincelette

In a world heading toward predicted
ruin, remember how there are still 

things that begin— Green shoots
pushing through the paper tent 

of a garlic bulb; tubers that thrive 
after the final frosts of January,
eyes open in the sustaining dark.
And every day, an egg from the hen 

house: grey or speckled brown, white
haloed with blue, ivory streaked with

olive as it passes through the oviduct . 
Whether your life is the size of a humming-

bird egg or the Madagascan elephant bird
egg, its sphere cradles its own kind 

of depth. Don't we who have mothered
know what it feels to die a thousand 

deaths and return from the brink? Praise,
then, the roundness of every new beginning.

Praise what holds a tiny world in, a sky 
not yet cracked on the edge of a pan or fallen.


The days grow short again, and we turn 
from winter stores of broth and marrow.
I have a craving for pickled green 
papaya and mango, moringa leaves,
mung bean. In the neighborhood, 
someone has lit a fire in their yard: here 
is the smell of things turning into ash, 
mingled with the yeasty trace of uncollected
garbage. The wind peels back strips of old 
paint from the gutter's edge. Under the faded 
deck, paw prints in softened soil—animals 
that must have eased under the fence, 
hunting their own small hungers.


Since the '80s, the discovery of this  
            fifth basic taste has gained more

popularity. It comes from naturally occurring 
            glutamates in fish, kombu, mushrooms,

dashi, soybean paste. Scientists say it's no wonder 
           our taste buds snap awake: they're connected  

to our earliest memories of pleasure. It's in cheese, 
           fermented foods, and in breast milk which is high 

in amino acids. Think of babies, faces cupped against
           their mothers' breasts, heads tipped back after

they've had their fill. Then, there's texture: 
           the pleasing melange of sensations spreading 

through the roof and the back of the tongue,  
          a fuzzy warmth down the throat. Mostly, I prefer  

savory over sweet, salty over sour and bitter— 
         One perfect oyster globe, the reward of buttery 

yellow uni gonads lifted to the mouth with chopsticks 
        after tapping carefully around the spiny shell. 

Repetition Pantoum

Repetition lays grooves in the tracks of her speech—
each pass makes the same sounds, tells the same stories.
The common room is her kingdom, the bedroom her cell.
Trembling, she calls for rescue from unseen persecutors.

Each pass produces the same sounds, the same stories.
Sometimes she cries for her sister or her lover, both long dead.
Trembling, she calls for help—who's coming for her?
Like a leaf, she slides under the covers.

She cries out for her sister or her lover, both long dead.
She doesn't believe that they couldn't hear her.
She is thin as a leaf slipping under the covers.
Are the sheets cool as satin, is it her wedding night?

She doesn't believe that the dead can't hear her.
Don't they live in the air, in dappled shadow, in water?
Who lay with her on satin sheets, who wed her?
Fish in the shallows, moths in the net of a lamp.

Don't the dead live in the air, in dappled shadow, in water?
The common room is her kingdom, the bedroom a holding cell.
Fish in the shallows, moths that line the net of a lamp—
Tracks that repeat in the mind and the groves of her speech.


Easy to find the brightest
         star in the evening sky—
at the end of the Little

Dipper's handle, or pointing
        in a straight line from the two 
stars on one side of the Big Dipper. 

Early navigators knew this: at the ship's
       prow, their bodies straining forward  
and upward, trying to push the compass

needle north. There are various star-
       gazing apps in our time, and so much 
more light, we call it pollution: these

modern predicaments of excess
       which give us a sense of certainty
—sometimes. At his preschool, 

my grandson says the teacher led
        the class in a guided meditation
and he learned that light gives love.

He sat on the carpet by the window,
         the geometry of dust-speckled rays 
falling on his face and shoulders.

I wasn't there, but I know his mother's 
         heart sped quick as a line toward 
this brightness,  the way starry

bodies circle around the celestial pole.
         Particle or wave, diffracting or expanding
—could we patch a coat with it, unroll it like

a map or billowing sail; gather it in a crystal
         sphere? What we see of light depends
on what we ask of it, and in what ways.