The yard guys who it seemed
went into hibernation all winter
show up promptly on the first
day of spring with their noisy
leaf blowers, their headphones,
their hedge trimmers. They nuke
the weeds in the backyard, cart
away all the dead limbs and
a season’s worth of brittle
gumballs on the ground. As if
influenced by all this activity,
our youngest daughter attacks
all the drawers and closets
in her room, piling outgrown
knick-knacks and clothing
in brown grocery bags: itchy
plaid shirts that no longer
button easily across the chest,
graphic tees and sweatshirts
she describes as being from
those “emo 7th grade days.”
And I, inspired now too
by the desire to make things
clean and airy, drag the grey
area rug to the deck and hose
it down with soap and water.
While I pick bits of hair
(all our shedding) off the pile,
I notice the falling-down shed
and its worn wood surface,
the dull greenish hue creeping
across the fence… Touch one thing
and it leads to another: soon the seeds
flower and the bud swirls to leaf;
blackbirds come to raid
the reddening fruit, and you
stand blinking in the sunshine,
trying to recall everything you told
yourself you were going to do next.
For years, a train made the twice-daily journey
to and from remote Kami-Shirataki station in Hokkaido
until its only passenger finally graduated from high school.
Imagine miles and miles of white in winter, the cloudy
yellow beam approaching, muffled soughing and sighing
of wheels on the tracks. Imagine ochre and stippled
countryside, sheets unrolling with the thaw of spring.
Where is she now, the last ticket tendered?
In response to Via Negativa: Foggy.
Have you ever had to prove
who you are before you
can buy a ticket, a cup
of coffee, a hard roll?
Weren’t we just saying:
why is it so hard to understand
the need to object to the depiction
of our pain by others?
This is not about abstraction:
history as a thing we can talk
about, freedom and the the so-
called purity of rights.
No one should get to decide
but the ones who’ve bled
in the trenches that this wasn’t
a skirmish but a war.
No one gets to decide
but the one who’s suffered
what color is its closest
Yes I’m mother too—
though I don’t think I could even begin
to process that pain: the illogic
of a child’s passing before the parent,
the violation of a certain idea of the order
of things. I will argue such sorrow
could be but isn’t truly universal
in all those ways we try to find language
for alliance but always come short; for how
could anyone know? More than this—
whatever one might be expected to say
in solidarity, cannot take the place of.
When my friend says At the moment I saw
the cops at the door, even before they rang
the bell I knew. When the dumbstruck
father of the woman they shot as she ate her meal
on a makeshift table in the street cannot form
any words for a statement. In other words
I may know the pain of a child in pain but not
the terror of losing him in such ways, not
the helplessness of seeing the aftermath of violence,
its blunt disfigurements, its contortions and cigarette
burns, its traumas. Banal obscenity
of final objects they touched, next to
their bodies: the meal not yet cooled, the change
on the counter, the candy that spilled from a bag.
In response to Via Negativa: A certain slant of light.
If you dream your mouth rattling
with loose teeth, take a cold shower.
If you dream swimming naked in a pool
as it begins to fill and fill with flotsam,
wake up and scrub the grime from your skin.
In other words: do whatever will keep Death
away for one more day. If it means drinking
a foul-tasting mix of apple cider vinegar
laced with ginger and turmeric, so be it.
If it means forgiving the difference
between someone else’s adventurous, back-
packing life and your circumscribed one
on shore, so be it. Rejoice when the lawn
maintenance guys finally come around
to prune the ragged tree and take away
its overgrowth of limbs. Rejoice
that the moon is visible over the fence,
that a startled rabbit bounds across the path;
that the asphalt you stand on hasn’t melted,
and the air isn’t completely toxic with lies.
In response to Via Negativa: All heart.
(after Miguel M. Morales)
This poem arrived alone
close to midnight, with no
traveling companions, with two
pieces of luggage that rolled
across the cobblestones, looking
for the address it was given.
This poem sat uneasy in the back
seat of the yellow cab, looking
out at unfamiliar landmarks wrapped
in fog as the driver remarked, off-
hand, You’re a brave one to be
by yourself at this hour.
This poem slept on a couch
in someone’s living room for three
weeks, until they found others like her
to room with, until the first check
from the hiring agency came, less
agency deductibles and expenses.
This poem shyly accepted
the invitation to a church function;
wives and sisters piled her plate
with food. Taking her home after,
one of the husbands touched
her breasts and laughed.
This poem stole an hour
before her workday began at dawn
to write letters to her children
back home: but never did she let on
how many hours she worked, how meagre
the meals compared to the blows.
Back in the day, we knew the names
of everyone who lived on our street.
Now we locate ourselves in the south
on a different meridian, where black-
eyed peas are eaten on the first day
of the year. Are we exotic enough
for you if we have indeed migrated
but did not wind up in some borough
of Manhattan? I don’t mean to sound
bitter or spiteful. It’s just sad no one
really knows what to do with the sapodilla,
with the cherimoya, the dragon fruit,
and then they sit in the grocery bin
like deportees awaiting uncertain fates.
In response to Via Negativa: Undertaking.
These days we ache for a music whose bones
we can see, the lump in the throat a small
moon of grief rising over the billows
before they break. But the dial on the radio
is jumpy, is broken, begins to fill
with grey noise, attempts at erasure.
Hello, hello, can you hear the sounds we make
in our hamlets by the river? The temperature
is always edging toward zero. The earnest buds
that managed to line the trees last week show
wounded, translucent faces. On the sidewalks
where they’ve fallen, collapsed tracery of veins.
And yet they are so beautiful. We want to smear
their names on our bodies. We will never look away.
In response to Via Negativa: All heart.
A suitcase of sounds unzippered in the street. Beneath a balcony window, the yowling karaoke of cats. Cacophony of human voices mingled with rooster crow. Don’t go, implores the neighbor’s mistress. Eggplant sheen, taut skins, the buzzing of mosquitoes. Fried food skewered on sticks dripping with sauce and grease. Gold tooth smiling from a hag’s otherwise toothless mouth. Hibiscus heads float down dark sewer streams. Index fingers dyed blue at the fingernail base, after voting. Jalousie an old fashioned word for blinds; imagine the jealous wife behind them, spying. Keep your scandals to yourselves. Loiter in the alleyway when no one’s looking. Make poultices from mashes of oil and fruit. Nobody’s business is everyone’s business. Only a fool sweeps out his stoop at sundown. Pleasure is a mouthful of pop rocks; that’s why new restaurants have sprung up around call centers. Quail eggs in broth, wood-ear mushroom; foamed essences; dumplings the size of your head. Ride a motorbike around the periphery of peeling billboards— Short course in uneven development. Text me when you’re back. U have my number, my Snapchat, my Signal, my Viber, my Vibe. Venmo me my allotment. When my shift’s over let’s head for the sea. XXX. Yours for now, Z.
with the picture of the girl made to face
a charging bull—
She’s meant to alter the landscape, subdue
what snorts and paws at the ground, what gathers
its girth for the charge
provoked by the sting of debts the faceless gods
accuse us of having accrued.
And yet we do what we’ve always done: send
a child to wrangle the animal,
to stare it down, to stand there in the open
as she’s done before,
vulnerable in her flesh before the flanks
of the beast descend from behind.