House Call

"...a fur of experience
rose over us like amber."  ~ D. Bonta

How did you know what to do, which number to fumble for in sequence on the rotary phone, your small hand cradling the receiver and your small voice asking for the doctor, you only knew him by his first name, this doctor Fernando, in those days when house calls were still made and you, feverish on the couch, with wet cloths and hot delirious dreams that came out through your chattering teeth and then you felt somewhere the burn of a needle entering the flesh of your arm and the heavy quiet under your lids after– But this time it  wasn’t you, it was your mother passed out on the kitchen’s cold granite tile after she and the cruel grandmother had another of their terrible rows and you didn’t know if she was alive, if she was still breathing, after she screamed and  heaved the stalk of green bananas leaning against the shelf across the room… You don’t know why that comes back to you, or the smell of antiseptic and lime, the sight of her body on the floor, pale limbs, bony elbows, and the kindness of the doctor when he comes through the door, how he pats your hand, how the curtains look with the sun sieving yellow through their fringes, and the sound of water dripping from a faucet–        



In response to Via Negativa: Maquiladoras.


~ after Remedios Varo, "Alegoría del invierno (Allegory of Winter)," 1948;
Yucca brevifolia

Pheasant and nuthatch, five-petaled flower, 
       emerald feather suspended in veils--- 
we don't know how long the world can hold
       such specimens of tenderness, how far
the glacial drifts can ferry such tombs,
       immaculate, before they themselves turn
into ghosts--- Everything writhes before the dream
        discards what it calculates for reduction:
and yet the yucca moth delivers its eggs 
        inside the flower, even as leaves sharpen
their bayonet-points. At dusk, we scan the horizon
        for anchors and tents; we lean into the wind
hungry for the brass tinkle of hawk bells 
        and the trance-like drone of hegelong. 
If we split these reeds down their length, 
        how many of us can ride out the coming flood
before sunlight returns or we've softened into moss? 


Question Form

Did you know hunger in your past?
       When we had nothing else
just after the war, we could find rice grains
or potatoes in a field after the farmers were done
with harvest. At night, the furrows filled
with frogs' voices. They called and we answered;  
we went toward them in moonlight
with our shirt hems stretched open.

Did you go to school?
       Grandfather hired a man to work for him
on his garden. He was asked to carry me on his back
and wade across the river to the schoolhouse.
I wrapped my arms around his neck; his arms
held the backs of my calves. Once, not wanting
to leave, I threw myself on the floor
and wailed. He picked me up and started to walk.
Oily water thrashed around his ankles. I bit
the top of his ear. He never let go.

When did your fortune change? 
       The neighbor's daughter used to be
a teller at the bank. Now she is a general's wife
and is learning ballroom dancing. The man
who owned a dry goods store sold his business
after his only son drowned on a holiday
by the sea. It seems just yesterday I sat
on a platform, fists balled, feet
barely touching the floor,
as the auctioneer took bids.



After many years, the river ran into the river,
     and the wilderness thickened beside it.

Body overgrown with moss, love made
     a hunted sound calling from the nether layers.

Clouds of birds rose to pin themselves 
     to branches. They looked so much like leaves.

Dirt rained down when I shook them loose
     and they pooled like dark pods in my hands. 

Every time we looked for the moon,
     a different planet floated into view.

Follow those flashes of light and see 
     where islands disappeared. It's said

every lighthouse is visible underwater,
     a cake topper ringed with flickering candles.

Grown now out of their first abandonment, 
     the children know only this shore:

haze of vanished honeysuckle stenciled
     on a trellis, burns and coppered bullet shells.   

Imagine a dream like air that used to live
     inside a gold balloon, and the string 

just out of reach of our hands. Imagine
     each day a new season, change after change 

knocking to be let in, and quickly--- are those 
     the same curtains that billowed over Hiroshima,  

Leyte, Manila Bay? They still make the sunsets
     unbearably beautiful--- gold-streaked indigo,

mutinies of tamped-out fire where
     warships, rigs, and galleons once docked in

navy shipyards and blue coves. Once, 
     we smoothed the sands and painted stones.
Once, hundreds fell out of the sky and into
     the waters they hoped would save them.

Place a hand on a headstone and the other
     over your heart. When you feel a tremor,

quietly pick up a stick and write in the loam
     the first name that comes into your mind. 

Remember the taste of a fruit you know now
     only as a color: red perhaps, seed and heart, 

spikes encasing the smallest knob of tender-
     ness. At night, someone calls for stories:

tales that begin in dread and finish
     with three or more tests that must be 

undertaken--- Except we need to be careful:
     it also means the business of undertakers.  

Ventriloquists for the dead, somehow
     they know how to interpret last wishes.

We should be so lucky to have, in our own
     time, a representative of the most internal.

Xanthates, acids, alkali in the soil; bleached
     particles of all that's disappeared before us.

Yeast bubbling in the wood, soft, spongy
     pockets that open wherever we walk. Endless

zooplankton: another name for wanderer; eternal
     jellyfish wrested from home, adrift in the universe.


In response to Via Negativa: Flow.

Self Portrait at the Fish Market, with Scales

They’re clean, said the man
          behind the counter; they’re gutted.
                    Meaning the gills had been taken out,
meaning he’d drawn with the tip
          of his knife one swift incision and slit
                    from the anus all the way till the head
of the fish. You wonder what they did
         with all the slick guts that spilled
                    out of their bellies, on whose grill
the long floppy sac of roe will char
         and sear. At your sink, you unwrap
                   the bodies from newsprint and see
they still wear their armor: there are some things
         that don’t get taken away.  They shimmer

                  like crushed gems you’d touch to your lips. 



We Are Trying to Make a Country (A Cento)

When it is a tent, we slit its skin to let in the rain.

                        The bronze star points
north but never resolves.

In my country our shamans were women
and our gods multiple.

When I reached down to touch the earth it shied and fled.

I walk to see the quiet that has colonized

My name a two-hundred-year-old word for Please
My soul keeps trying, trying 

I escape to the same places and same words.
Bodies were dropping from the trees.

Like telegrams, the gathering of crowds—

To have a country, so important,
to run into walls, into streetlights, into loved ones, as one should.

Each an ambition bird.


Source texts/lines:

Claire Wahmanholm
Mia Ayumi Malhotra
Claire Wahmanholm
Rick Barot
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
Rainer Maria Rilke
Tomas Tranströmer
Claire Wahmanholm

Ilya Kaminsky
Anne Sexton


It is a kind of comfort to put on 
earphones and listen to a woman

named Claudia give a free, live 
webinar on cultivating abundance

in one's life, rather than to the rabid
pronouncements of the self-proclaimed 

savior of America as he continues to justify 
the building of a border wall. While he's   

once again painting a picture of the violence  
allegedly sown by immigrants and illegals, 

Claudia is telling me and thousands of other 
listeners to close our eyes and remember 

the first moment we ever felt cut off, left 
behind, unworthy of any of the world's riches 

or radiance. She is telling us it's possible 
to change those beliefs; to picture, instead of 

a fence, a gentle light radiating from the universe 
all around to envelope us in benevolence and natural 

abundance. We don't have to be that hurt,
lonely child anymore: don't have to believe

our place is always in the dark, don't have
to accept that only debt or poverty or struggle  

is our destiny. Thoughts are things: which means  
the greedy, power-tripping haters, the ones who never  

give a fuck about others, will live in a narrow, joyless
world. She has us envision the life we want: reminds us 

to never abandon the idea of goodness that not only 
remains in the world but still overflows in it.  

Want, Need

     after the low-pitched whine and rumbling    the sound
of a snapped belt              the machine winds down 
      from spinning to     a long pause 

the clerk at the store       files her nails idly
she doesn't seem to want           to be there
               but there's nobody else on the floor

and we want a replacement       for what just broke
we say we need         before they turn the sign
over from open            to closed

she clicks on her computer     and scrolls
the catalog of many possible       desires or needs
       i may be old-              fashioned but i can't

or won't be brought       to saying want without
its immediate object    can't say for instance
            the want in my heart or in        my hollow  

bones                 come on, say the neon lights
they blink to fire up           that old knowing
        engine called desire      why can't we just

call it that, desire          for i can't bring
myself to say my want       for this condition
or for what brings     me to the crest     frothing

like laundry before the spin     cycle then spent, limp
i want is different       from my wants     the latter
        seems both coy and brazen      ungrammarly     i'll  

cringe if you tell me my wants      are selfish they seem
like someone else being described        wouldn't you
rather claim and proclaim    what it is exactly you desire              


In the Year of the Earth Pig

          I vow to give thanks 
every morning I wake to find my eyes
          open and my arms and legs 
still function; to find I haven't 
          died and gone to heaven the night 
before— which, mind, I'm only using 
          in a sort of idiomatic sense. 
I mean, I'm not presuming to know 
          whether it's damnation or reward 
that awaits me in the afterlife, 
          or wherever that mud path leads 
after any of us exits the very last 
          door in this house of dusty labyrinths 
and grimy mirrors. I'll stop regretting 
          that I've bought more books than I'll 
probably have time to read in this life. 
          And, since everyone from Oprah to the LA 
Times to Bustle is listing their Most 
          Anticipated Books of the Year, accept 
the fact I'll probably order more 
          before the month is over. Every time
the midges of unhappiness and the ticks
          of despair bite on my hindquarters, 
I'll try not to blame the extra helpings of shrimp
          fried rice turning into hidden sugars in 
the blood. Moreover, I should try not to jump up 
          and be the first to answer every  
little call for help. Reading in Wikipedia 
          that occasionally, captive mother pigs 
may savage their own piglets if they become 
          severely stressed, I'll remember what my girl-
friend said when I waffled in front of a store 
          display for a whole hour: Just buy the damn 
shoes! Eat the shiny apple while it's crisp, sit on 
          the porch to drink a beer and read in the sunlight
instead of straightaway going to fetch the trowel,
          the vacuum, the cleaning rag, the mop.