The Smallest Library in the World

"From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, 
before the earth began." ~ Proverbs 8: 23 

Of the one
mountain where 
I buried the left 
muscle of my heart

and the valley
where I laid 
my cheek next to 
the sunflowers

Of time 
that trickled without comment
as we waited for the tides
to rise

Of the late
referendums in spring
when there was nothing to do
but drink the sorrow of periwinkles

Of belief
and its complicity with doubt
and the stillness in which silence 
delivers either a letter or a sentence

There is No Such Thing as a Blank

We are such a people of inexhaustible silences. We can mistake
the absence of speech for tenderness because we have to give

someone the benefit of the doubt. What is second nature
but to put pieces of any wreckage into brown envelopes, 

file them away with others in a drawer, then blink afterward
at the brilliance of sunset over the water? After the storm 

passes, the colors are even more vibrant and unreal. 
They don't want to be contained. Some stones are just 

stones; others are fawn or speckled green, banded 
yellow, gashed with tourmaline. Some are crystals 

that tremor  to the frequency of every beggared 
expectation. For instance, I wanted one

 roof over all our heads; I wanted to not turn into my histories 
of being forgotten or left behind. We don't speak of love

or its other aliases. This is real, though— this space
vibrating with the knowledge that it could be filled.

It Isn’t A Riddle Unless You Don’t Know the Answer

                  Crossing the lawn in heels I wobble, 
but laugh and say I'm just here to aerate the soil.

                  I too love layer cake with buttercream 
and like you, I don't quite know what to do after it's gone.

                  Do you sometimes feel you skipped childhood because 
all your clothes were in somber colors like olive and grey?

                  After a storm, tree limbs litter every street 
like the products of very long division.

                 Perhaps the truest sentence I heard today was about putting 
two unlike things next to each other with no explanation whatsoever.

What I learned from The Terminator

             is that not all melted states of matter 
are familiar or benign. Though water
              takes on the shape of its container,
there is no mistaking an ice 
             cube in the shape of a penguin 
or a fish, from one like the Death 
             Star. You can snap plastic molds
around watermelons and apples, 
             pears and peaches—the fruits grow
and take on the shape of squares or
            hearts or baby buddhas, whose soft,
sweet bellies you can bite into 
            for anywhere from $9 to $200.
The human body is 60 per cent water:
            plasma in the blood is mostly 
water; the brain, lungs, and heart are
            in part composed of water. The gel-
like cushion between joints, even 
            the bones, are infused with water.
But the shapeshifting T-1000 android
            manipulates its mimetic polyalloys,
oozing through the smallest openings
            to take on human and other likenesses.
It's a shame, really, that it isn't interested in 
            your hydration or regulating your body 
temperature or flushing out toxins accumulated
           from long years of overindulgence: caffeine 
and carbohydrates, cheese, red meat, wine,
           deep-fried pork belly. It's a pity you can't
pull all the body's hidden suffering, shape it
           into a ball of metal and lob it into a cauldron,
where at last it's subsumed by unbearable heat.


        "Water is simple enough, but not too simple. This means 
that one possibility for explaining the apparent extra phase 
of water is that it behaves a little bit like a liquid crystal."
                                                         ~ Smithsonian Magazine, 2016

In dreams you walk through wetmarket aisles with me again,

the floor slick with fish guts and scales.
               I love the necklaces of pork
sausage and the alleluias of grain
                pouring from burlap sacks 

into tin measures, trays in which 
               glistening grey bodies of shrimp

feebly wave their feelers in the air.
               I learned my first prayers there,

waiting for the butcher's hand to emerge
               from out of the pocket slit in the throat

of a thrashing animal. You said if I closed 
               my eyes, sound would be more 

terrible than sight. My reward: small 
               specks of a sweet inside red-taped 

pitogo shells, unburied with a bamboo sliver. 
              I wake sometimes with the sense of a footprint 

small as a snail's, pilgrim feeling for a path
              to everything we've always wanted to say.


When they Try to Move her into a Single Room, My Mother Refuses Adamantly

In the picture, she is propped   
against pink pillows on a pink
bed cover, a pink sheet 
draped over 

spindle knees—
The doctor says, though she's 
no longer in the pink of health, 
her grip is strong and she can still 

cuss in Ilocano— grating 
words that would make 
you flush. Even in rosier 
days she knew 

how to wield that voice:
like sharpened shears, like 
bristling points buried in 
an innocent pincushion. 

No matter that her bones 
have slipped from their rigid 
alignments; or that her shoulders 
curve forward with no memory of ever 

bearing wings—So long as that wick 
still burns with its own particular 
fury, she'll refuse to inhabit
a single, colorless room. 

Lone Monarch

You ply your twin 
           blades of yellow-orange
on the crepe myrtle,

then on the Japanese
           maple. All by yourself,
have you found the sun

compass to take you 
           back to pelted forests
of oyamel fir? Without any

cloud cover, the earth 
          cools; you are looking 
now for other land-

marks, the angles 
           made by mountains 
and magnetic fields.

12 Answers

(after Bhanu Kapil)

I haven't stopped trying to love the one who feels that now 
they cannot love me back

A long night is made of dozens of years, all the earth's 
clocks tolling

Every day I pour water into a glass, take a fork out of a drawer, 
comb through a forest of thought

When there was nothing preordained it was possible to hope

Sometimes I look at a milk carton and think of limbs 
stuffed under a bed

I hated children's taunts, perhaps the worst one 
about being picked out of a dustbin

How can one believe not all mothers are the patron 
saints of suffering

My body, like a roll of dough folded over and over, 
wanting to rise and be sweet

There is a roof of stars, a citadel of roses trying to soften 
their sting

I was used to small vials with stoppers, but I've learned 
where the torrents live in my voice

No black, no grey, no white, only jasmine and saffron; I try 
to gather a usefulness of facts, but only manage to amass 
pigments in small boxes, a book for every possible train ride

They'll say everything has happened before, as if we are 
merely repeatable; as if there are no hidden marks on our bodies


If I met you again
would I know you
                like in the time of blue
shadows on snow
the ceiling of the universe
pulled open by the furnace
of a volcano

If I didn't meet you then
how would I know 
                  that it wasn't you 
walking through the spray
of fountains untouched
by their constant

The world is filled 
with silvered threads 
                 of snail tracks 
and other quiet 
pilgrimages—if we 
saw them all we might
never stop weeping

Work and Days

"... only when everything is in place does the door open."
                                                                               ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein

Sometimes I envy 
those who can eat their soup 
straight down to the bottom
of the bowl then sit, eyes closed,
in an armchair to listen to music
with absolutely no interruption.

I look around the home
we've made— though the grout
constantly needs refreshing and one
little appliance or another always trips
the circuit, I can acknowledge it doesn't 
resemble the inside of a wrecked

ocean liner. Often, I wish
I could gather the surplus which we 
have also accumulated: dozens of socks
and rain jackets, an assortment of small 
kitchen implements; clothes and tools 
and shoes that at one time

must have been such a splendid 
idea, we had to have more than one
of each. I think of this place before 
we opened the door and crossed 
the threshold—every gleaming 
floorboard and clear 

piece of tile, cornices like violin 
scrolls; the air in the rooms 
already singing of work and days.
If you stood in the center, the years
would tumble into your hands. And 
the only thing to do is open them.