Once upon a time,

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
everyone had a different life. 
Almost every house had the same 
shade of green for paint; 
and shutters of brown. 
Stones packed themselves 
into the sides of hills 
to hold up what might wash 
away in the rain. Even then
we had some inkling of change, 
though not how it would come 
or what it would take. One 
morning, we woke to find
rowboats shored up 
in the front yard. Years 
later, someone said 
You move away, but 
the subject 
always remains.
 

In the Subjunctive

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
did you mean 
             to leave a comma there

was there a missing
                    article 

what is the difference
                       between the subjunctive

and the imperative
                   i know an order 

when i hear one even if clothed
                                in a lie or threat

as for the subjunctive
                       expressing something desired

or imagined— our condition
                           has always been subjunctive

when will you acknowledge
                          our presence with respect

not the wait staff not
                       the maid not the mail

order bride not
                a plagiarist drug dealer

we tell our stories in beautiful
                                  language your heart

would break if you knew
                        but you have ears

stopped up with rancid milk
                            your teeth are bullets

that gleam with their own 
                          kind of bad light

 

Late Summer

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Late summer, with its humid tunnels.
Dragonflies and bees in torpor.
Then a week of heavy cloud bands, 
hurricanes churning inland from the sea.
For Rent or For Sale signs going up
in neighborhoods; new coffeeshops opening
while some write cautious notices about
temporary closure. We're nowhere
extraordinary. In fact everything 
is quite commonplace. And yet  
each body, out, moving in the open 
while trying to skirt another,  
is unsettled. Others don't want
to believe anything has changed.
Others mourn hard in confinement.

Ode to my Mother at the Singer Sewing Machine

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This is where I learned the words
treadle and bobble, winder and spool;
that feed dog is the name of the teeth
below the needle plate. To this day,
I flinch a little at the menacing
sound of hook and eye, but remember 
how expertly she attached each pair 
to the two ends of a collar or  
a waistband's edge. The young 
and beautiful daughters of our town 
came to our gate with their glossy 
fashion magazines; they pointed out 
skirts and suits and wedding gowns 
that she could sew for half the price 
of a ready-to-wear. I never wore jeans 
until nearly in college; never wore 
an Oxford shirt that wasn't bespoke. 
Her hands no longer fly over a panel 
of fabric or sketch quick lines on pattern 
paper across the back of a French curve. 
Someone has spirited her Singer 
out of her house, maybe sold it 
at some quick price not equal to
its value. When my fingernail traces
a poorly made seam from a factory-made
piece of clothing, I think of her bent
over a zipper; or feeding rayon or silk
under the needle. Out of whole cloth,
a parsing of parts. Then their joining into
a shape meant to perfectly envelope your own.   
  

Poem in the Interval of Not Knowing

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Leaf by branch the trees bend toward the end
of summer; birds wing away from the sun.

When all of us are gone, the bees will still
spin in their honey-hives until orchards find

a different bride. Until then, pick each grief
with as much care as if it were fruit only needing

to ripen. When their skins soften and break like love
spilled open, then perhaps their hearts will speak.


Dispatch

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
My heart these days: 
noisy thunderstorm breaking
over the stones. 
And the morning after,
when spore-lined domes  
proliferate across the grass.

It sinks into itself a little more
like spongy bread. I slice
onions and chop greens 
and throw in a small hot pepper,
careful not to touch my eyes.
When they water, it isn't clear

if one could call this crying.
After all, there's salt everywhere.
Copper and blood in the streets.
Travelers waiting in queue
for the signal to board a boat.
Everyone else unfixed or in place.



 

My Mother is Not at Home

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
My mother is not at home, but 
in a care home where she gets
three hot meals a day and nurses
look after her needs. The home
she left before she was admitted
to the care home was a split-
level built on the side of a hill.
This was not the home of my child-
hood, but a home she bought 
when the upkeep of the former
became too much for her. When
she still lived in this house 
on the hill, others lived with her:
but they siphoned off her running
water and electricity. I'm told
that her marble coffee table and 
two end tables have gone missing, 
and her sewing machine. Now 
that she isn't there, lights 
are ablaze in every window.
So many people say this is 
a commonplace story. No one has
any solution and I don't know 
what to do. They want me to drop 
everything and just go. The nurses 
say sometimes she sits in the yard 
in her wheelchair and begins to sing.
  
  

America

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

America, it’s the day after
another hurricane hurtles
through towns, a fringe
of tornados leading the way.
The Baptist Church on the corner
of 38th and Bluestone has its face
sheared off completely by blades
of wind. Oak trees lie on their sides,
unpinned from lawns. Pine
branches intersect with power
lines. America, I used to believe
in your storied generosity: how
firefighters and volunteers alike
paddled through high water
to pluck shivering families off
their roofs; how police tapped
on the window to ask if every-
thing was alright instead of
ordering an entire family,
down to the youngest child,
to lie on the asphalt, arms
crossed behind their backs.
My only crime, said Carlos
Bulosan, is to be a Filipino in
America.
Did you know the nurse
who checks your vitals in the crowded
ICU first studied to be a teacher, and
her husband who drives a truck
has a degree in physics? All night,
the warning signals blare on
and off. One of the neighbors
worries about the man who sat
bundled in a blanket on the corner
across the drugstore. The rain
was still falling, but there was
no more room in the shelters.

Mapa Etnográfico

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Show me what swells
                 gathering momentum

without breaking
                 Defending from unjust

punishment
                 what requires only to be

unoccupied, open

                 as a field of wheat 
                 as a field of cotton

Unchartered

                 but not irregular
                 or without law

Before the survey and the postcard

                 islands knew how to breathe
                 even in the dark

You couldn't tell 

                 teeth 
                 from wet pearls of rice

Sweeping

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
In June, the rain earnest now 
in its involvement with our 
affairs: we wielded
                     brooms 
of gathered palm rib, dragged 
their stiff tips across landings, 
courtyard paths. 
                     But how
with such flimsy instruments   
could we return what the skies  
kept doling out? 
                      Chorus 
of movements intent upon 
the stones— loosened gravel, 
old leaves, dead 
                       insects caught  
in that paradox of gathering. 
All the water in the world: 
inexhaustible, 
                 falling over balconies.