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
who makes one kind
of dove a mourning dove
who makes one quantity
fair and the other dark
how does a dog
become a stray
who makes the pronoun
come to designate
In response to Via Negativa: Fine line.
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.
To the north, an outlook tower with a bruised gong
above the cypress line. Bald shear of stone, openings
in the base of hills where survivors could have burrowed.
On clear days you can see the coast, green-again chain
of mountains where roads once snaked, continuous
relay like your best intentions. Often it is absurd
to recall how much we worried about imperfections. Now
it is exquisite to be able to remember even the smallest
kinds of texture: slubbed crinkle of a dress, specific
weight of a spoon; pooled honey in a wooden floorboard,
splinter breaking through skin’s calloused barrier.
There was a school here once, a flagpole
before which you might imagine lines
of schoolchildren, hands hovering above
their breasts. Stories from the last
world war inform us of favorite venues
for barracks: schools, hospitals, churches.
Footfalls echo down long hallways: of course
there are many dead buried in this soil.
Observe roots of trees burnished with age,
dressed in moss. The moon’s metallic disc
a bruised gong, rung too many times.