El[ectr]ocution

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Haven't we seen their eyes 
follow our mouths forming 

around words; then wait to hear 
how or when we might trip or 

break? This is the way we learn 
that to speak is always 

revelation of our sacred 
silences; the tongue making

its way through mine-
fields and graves, its care

mistaken for deficiency
or meaningless delay.

Portrait of the Self as Exoskeleton

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Though there's no known antivenom for its bite,
of course the African bush viper won't hesitate to sink

its fangs into your flesh. Trouble the waters, 
and reap what its boiling flings upon the sand.

Near-naked bodies of hermit crabs scurry to find
the shell of some abandoned bunker, cell,  or

cathedral. It's how we are under the straitjacket—
all soft, exposed flesh; the need for prime 

real estate and mid-century modern. 
The deals we'll make in the night 

with ourselves; the way one side opens
a wary eye while the other sleeps.
 

All Look Alike

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
I was told my name means 
light stops me in my tracks.
I shield my eyes as if I'm tired

of trying to keep them open,
when in truth there's nothing
I want more than to be done

with the constant interrogation,
even while it seems so easy 
for others to forget I am there. 

I was told my name means 
that my roots have thickened; 
that my body grafts itself to place 

and now lives inside the undulating 
current. If it knows my name by now,
why can't you remember? 







Teaching English in a Foreign Country

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
"Our nation has found herself confronted by a great problem 
dealing with a people who neither know nor understand 
the underlying principles of our civilization, yet who, 
for our mutual happiness and liberty, must be brought 
into accord with us ...  through the common schools."
~ Adeline Knapp, one of 530 American teachers
who arrived in the Philippines in 1901 aboard the 
USS Thomas; quoted in Jonathan Zimmerman's Innocents
Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century



A name is a bright line
you can follow. The tiniest

flying creature leads out
of a wood, winking. You have  

no recollection of how you 
got there, but you trust it

completely.  Commit  its 
outline to memory; understand

that certain precious things
have to be hidden for centuries 

in order for their shine 
not to blind unopened eyes.

Under the trees, in a make-
shift schoolroom, a teacher 

writes letters on a slate; but what
is a bat that isn't a body with wings

opening like a fan? What is a ceiling
that isn't a sky ornamented 

with unchanging directions? 
Wind bells a different diction,

passing beneath the honeysuckle.
Smoke from a wood fire carries

the grammar of our prayers from this
world to the afterlife. There, even if

our names have been changed, 
the ancestors will know how to call us.
 


 

Enchantment

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
September: you make your way 
between your mother's thighs. 
That is to say, indigo profusion
of salvia on the periphery, bats
flying at dusk over the army

hospital close to the Pasig River
where someone typed in names
on a blank birth certificate form.
That is to say, somehow you 
are a parcel conveyed from one  

set of arms to another even before 
cords of the birth stump wither
on each end. This, after all,
is a country of a thousand secrets
carried carefully in women's throats.

Even the backs of moths have eyes 
that look like doors. Once vivid, blood 
dries to the color of wilted hydrangeas. 
The only way to avoid being pinned 
to the windmill or torn like a kite is to let 

someone else inhabit this story. Bend 
your head over the font of holy water; mouth
the shape of your new names, the sounds
of their splitting and reconstituting. Hold the hand 
that leads you away and into the rest of another life.

Poem with Letters to the Future

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
There are stories about people
who, at the edge of some extremity, 
somehow find the audacity to hail
the future— I don't mean that the hero 
turns around at precisely the moment 
the firing squad releases a volley of shots 
just to say Hey or There will be more 
books written about me than there will be 
of you.  I mean, is the future a straight 
line that intersects with the horizon or
does it know there are interesting 
little towns along the way, where
in a thrift shop one might find 
the kind of old-fashioned alcohol
stove where a folded note might be
hidden after the ashes of the fire
have cooled? I mean a poem, certainly,  
could be a kind of letter to the future. 
But I mean I don't always know 
what to say or if I should say anything
from inside what feels like a woefully 
banal moment. And should that even be
delivered into the time we hope will survive 
us, our bad habits of procrastination, our 
love for sugar, our petty materialisms? But 
I'm a sucker for fountain pens and inks 
with names like Armada or Piloncitos;
so when I read All the stars in the sky 
will be dissolved and the heavens rolled 
up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall 
like withered leaves from the vine, 
like shriveled figs from the tree, 
I can see the gleaming wash of water 
over paper: how streams of color 
find their way, how the tip of a brush 
fills in outlines of shapes that look 
as though they've always been there. 
How some moments are really envelopes,
holding the very message you need 
and that you find when it finds you.

Certain Ruin

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
List the places 
           mothers shouldn't aspire 
to be if they want to make sure 
           their children don't turn out

           failures, forgers
of checks, degenerates; 
           prone to violent 
outbursts followed by year 

after year of exponentially 
increasing unhappiness. 

One of these days;
           mark my words, said friends from work.
They didn't mean take a piece of chalk
and draw a circle around every
other one. 

They were talking about children:
mine. Which means they were 
also talking about me.
                                                      Certain ruin
was the curtain with which they wanted 
to darken the view from every window. 
Inside, trained birds lisped 

the impossibility of joy.
But I'm tired of feeding   
                                                    animals
dried kernels of sorrow, or tearing
hanks of bread  to throw into water
that should reflect 

lIke quicksilver— a surface
that doesn't break up the changing
light into points as much as it 
proliferates like spores.

Our Fathers

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
One of our fathers, as a boy, went to school 
without shoes.  One of our fathers did not 
like school at all. He bit the arm or ear 
of whoever was taking him to school 
then ran away to hide in the fields.
One of our fathers lived in that other
part of town. One of our fathers lived
in a house circled day and night by horse-
drawn carriages. During the war, one
of our fathers was sent to look for frogs
and snails in shallow ditches; and one
of our fathers walked for days with other
men to a garrison where they would be
kept as prisoners of war.  One of our
fathers had nothing much to lose 
but was unsure of what he might 
gain. One of our fathers gave up
driving when he almost ran over
a woman on the street. One
of our fathers had only a sweet
yellow fruit to offer as a gift 
to the woman he'd wind up marrying.
One of our fathers felt he was almost 
past his prime. One of our fathers nearly
drank himself into oblivion each night
if not for the thing that he said finally
saved him.  One of our fathers 
liked late night shows and barber-
shop shaves. One of our fathers
who liked to refinish his own furniture
and floors also liked telenovelas. One 
of our fathers lies in the ground 
on a hillside that used to be 
latticed with trees. One of our 
fathers has a plaque over the urn 
that held his ashes; surrounding that,
the clipped and carefully tended grass.

What doesn’t kill you makes you

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
obsessively check your grammar, 
makes you come back with updated lists
of why you shouldn't be demoted or fired,
nonrenewed, disinvited, sent back-
to-square-one-do-not-pass-go.
(When nothing more can be found 
wrong, proofread for mechanics.)
What doesn't kill you makes you cover 
one more hour or one more shift or
one more long weekend—shouldn't it
be compensation enough that it
didn't kill you?  And what doesn't 
kill you makes you harder
to break the next time around, 
unless the sugar binges and emotional
eating have made you dangerously
soft and bloated. What doesn't 
kill you sometimes makes you do 
rash or foolish things like shout
I quit! in the middle of traffic, or
run away from everything you think
your life has become without knowing
where the hell you're going in the middle 
of the night— just that your lungs
are about to burst but you feel 
alive in the cold, exhilarating air.

Poem for Making our Dead Visible

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
You come into the light 
drawn by copitas filled with water,
gold flame of candles, our mouthed 
prayers; banners painted for protest 
marches in the aftermath 

of your deaths— For years to come 
you'll eat the offerings we leave 
on makeshift altars: spaces 
cleared on top of the TV stand, 
the tiled counter next to the sink—

When a butterfly
When a bird of a different color
When a residue of ash forms the hand-
drawn shapes of your names 

When a pattern of lifted fish scales
makes a trellis on the body—

Memory makes a silk knot
in the vein. 

Memory rushes away, sure of its going; 
escort now to the migratory flock.

In the wood, the trees
only appear identical. The moon
when it rises scatters words
of mother-of-pearl.

Memory finds the rusted
padlock and the boarding pass.
Notice how a blade of grass, held
against skin, is both soft
and sharp enough.