The Last Eden

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Come sow a garden, a voice said 
in the morning; plant as if you were designing 
another Eden after the first one burned. The next
one shriveled in pestilence, and the ones after
that, too numerous to count, grew nothing
but moss and headstones. I am tired
of digging tunnels and hauling red-stained
stones— I want to lie down and sob 
for the last time among a profusion 
of white clover. I want there to be nothing 
for miles but a haze of yellow rockets, 
butterweed, canola; and from the hills,
regard a sea cleansed of dark cargo 
and spilled oil. I want for us to get up, 
covered in nothing more than the gold-
warm scent of the first true evening
after war. We'll feed each other 
simple things like water and bread 
and salt. No one will startle 
at the sound of pealing bells.

Essay on Time and Work

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This country, I think—
     like the plot we want to clear 
of weeds and overgrowth, the kinds
     that would choke the life 
out of anything good and green
     we tuck and fold into the soil. 
In the streets now, soldiers with
     bayonets. Riot of storefronts 
and blasted ATMs— the doing of those 
     with no respect for the industry 
of bodies bent down to the earth, 
     even as they've taken the haloed 
harvests; nor for the love which kept 
     us going despite lashes and chains 
and burns. Last night, hard up to summon 
     some stronger stirring of faith 
in my heart, my beloved turned to me 
     and said, I don’t have time 
anymore. Meaning, here I am, grown 
     old; how could we not hold
what we carry with nothing 
     but gentleness. 

Mother of Thousands

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Our friend Charles gave us this
Kalanchoe, which now has shot up
in its brown ceramic pot 
like a Christmas tree a-dangle with
plantlets along each leaf's margin.  
Round as drops of paint, smaller
by more than half the size of a pea,
they let down their roots
wherever they drop off 
into surrounding soil. Propagate 
is the word that's used to describe
such a process—every tiny life
needing to be spread like truth 
into the new wilderness of 
our burning cities. 

That Long Arc

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Have you ever had to stand up 

or kneel for what you believed in, or

weigh in a single instant the consequence

of staring down the barrel of a gun

Have you ever been the one

to knock on a door, bringing 

a message regretting to inform 

And have you ever been the one

who opened to the sudden clamor

at night or in the middle of the day

already knowing from glimpsing through

a window the pair of sombre

dark-clothed messengers

Could any of such moments

be recompensed

erased or forgotten in

the detritus of time

Could time go any slower

or any faster than

the way it does

Portrait of My Father From a Second Floor Window Four Months Before His Death

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
My father stood in front of the sink
in the bathroom he shared with my mother.
The color of the tiny floor tiles was green; 
and the color of the tiles on the walls, an old
mustard yellow. Looking down, unseen, from 
the second floor window of the house we built 
next door that my children and I lived in, 
I could swear it was almost the same color 
as his skin. He took his time, my father: 
he took off the watch on his wrist and folded 
the cuffs of the daytime shirt he wore 
under an old cardigan. He was going  
to brush his teeth, gargle with mouthwash,   
spit with effort: all movements slower now 
that the rest of him was testing the currents
of this new sea his doctors referred to as 
The Gradual Decline. Pills in the morning, 
at noon, and again at night for the faltering 
heart, the heart that skipped a beat like the old 
record he used to play. Begin, it sang; and
beguine—that little fancy, a passing infatuation
with the idea of time not yet knighted
by sadness. I held still, afraid if I blinked, 
the future would lose no time unseating us from 
the surface where we tried to hold our ground.  


The years pass; the feeling doesn’t.

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
I haven't learned yet 
to take for granted 
how I'm here instead of 
somewhere else.

Should a raised voice say
You! I've learned not to flinch 
too visibly though I always fear
I'm the one being addressed.

One weekend many years ago
after I'd just got here,
two coworkers knocked on the door
and asked if I'd like to go out.

I looked at them confused
and said I was working,
which I was. After they left
I wondered if I should have.

Sometimes it's easier 
to keep to ourselves
or out of the way if not
out of sight.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
When we moved to this part 
of the country, some of the first
kababayans we met sounded concerned
we'd found an apartment in Norfolk,
and not in Virginia Beach. Perhaps
they meant well, even when they said
things like You should move 
as soon as you can so you don't have 
to live in the ghetto, where there are 
a lot of blacks. Then there are those
who caution their daughters and sons 
when they begin to date: Anyone 
really of any race, except 
yellow or black. So it shouldn’t 
have been surprising to hear those
same daughters and sons say Our parents
are not like those Filipinos on the west 
coast or in Hawaii— they came here 
as professionals. Perhaps they don’t know 
what they’re saying; perhaps they can't 
hear what those words really mean, having 
been raised in a culture of skin bleaching 
products where white is held up as right, 
and the fair-skinned mestizo will always get 
the office or the acting job over the dark-
skinned ones who look like maids or peasants: 
hampas-lupa, those who crawl like worms
along the earth— mud-dwellers, clay
compared to the haughty figures
whose marble floors and shoes they buff
until they shine and won’t acknowledge
that the brown reflections they see
every day in the mirror are their own.   


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Oliver bends over the terra-cotta pot
to address a growing herb: Good morning,
Basil; what did you dream of last night?

He is at the age when it is nothing
but natural to talk to everything
in the world as if it is his best friend.
Shoelaces, pebbles picked up on walks,
a soccer ball, his no-pedal push
bike; twigs and moss his mother
lays out as a path in the fairy garden
they’re building. I’m certain
if a plant could talk it would tell him
stories rich with compost and soil;
it would tell him of that dream
we call photosynthesis, in which
the leaf makes energy out of light
and returns it to the world as breathing.

(For Oliver, of course)

Following the Arrows

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
At night or in the early hours
before morning, someone must have measured
and marked with neon colored tape, sections
on the grocery store floor or drugstore
or food takeout line. And arrows: for
pointing out in good faith the direction
of all movement, keeping a six
foot distance to make each citizen
a kind of compass point for the next
in queue and all who follow after.
Wouldn't it be if not easier then
at least more bearable, if our movements
were such as they are among planets
and stars? Though they look
closer to the naked eye, the nearest
ones are billions of light years away.
Clouds of particles coughed up
when two or more stars smash into each
other might vaporize as energy; but
no matter what other effect might
result, it's certain that all bodies
are changed forever after collision.



holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
At night, instead of a prayer, I recite
quietly and mostly to myself all the words
for tomorrow I still remember. 
                               I think about 
how I now dislike the word pivot, but still 
believe in the liquid space between one
moment and the next. 
                     What do you call 
the twin eyes the dressmaker sews atop
and above the zipper, where the wire 
hook waits to finish 
                     the garment's drape 
around and to the back, at the nape? One time,
as a child, I held up a hand
                             mirror in front
of my face to see its surface fog like a lake 
when mist has not yet risen. I liked that 
experiment, and the one 
                        where you lay a needle
gently on water then wait so it points north.