Suit of Lights

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
I know I was wrong
a good many times, even terribly
wrong more 
           than a good many times. 
But I was also sometimes good, 
sometimes malleable, though those 
are not 
        the same kinds of things. 
It is possible I was selfish,
that I didn't care, or did 
                                  not
care enough. But I was also self-
less, if by that we mean the acute
awareness 
          of how in the end we don't
even belong to ourselves. I was 
foolish to think I could make 
anything  
         bend to my will, 
though I offered my hand or
my cheek or the pulse that beat
below 
      my collarbone. I had
so much, even enough to give
and give away; but also 
impoverished by 
                the daily effort
to keep the brand of ordinary fortune 
neatly stitched under the collar 
of my coat. I know 
                   I felt 
too much but also often kept
that thing we call the heart 
bottled in its own liquids,
rocking 
        itself to sleep 
most nights in a country  
into which I allowed it to be 
smuggled. It's possible 
                    that I know
about beauty but more about pain,
that the body is constantly 
endangered when exposed
to the modal verb 
                  plus the past
participle: it could have been,
it may have been. This is how 
I know I've tried to fake 
the impossible— 
                twirl 
the cape over the bull's 
lowered head while trying
to keep my wrist steady.
    
 

Tongue

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

I have no actual memory
of its taste— rough bit of roast
meat from the beast’s mouth,
severed by my father with glee
and put into my own to suck
as I flailed in the white sack
of baptism clothes. What
possessed our kin to think
the gift of words, of brave
speech, might come out
of some magic rite of transfer
from this animal that once
rooted in the mud, grunting in-
decipherable syllables
all night? I still think of it
sometimes, and wonder when
and how, finally, I changed
from girl terrified of speaking
into a telephone receiver or
whispering to plead
forgiveness behind the dark
screen of a confessional,
to an ear attuned to my
own growing voice?

No grocer that I’ve seen
here in this land of styrofoam
trays and plastic liners
wants to put the gross parts
of the body on display: only
crowns of bone and pink flesh
tied with string, spiralled hams
dripping with cut sugar squares.
Far from the cool glare of lights
and freezer cases, somewhere
in the countryside: the feathered
babble of hens, the narrow
stalls where other beasts
are penned—whatever
it is they might be saying,
a register that goes as far
as the axe and the block—

Horoscope for Introverts

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
 
Listen to the foghorn open  
    the water's crinkly envelope:

such a deeply plaintive 
    voice that nothing wants 
  
to answer. The sky darkens
    but withholds the rain.

There are times when, inside  
    myself, I am lonely again

though I don't want to be.
    Years ago, late at night,

I looked out of my window
    to see you making your way

through powdery snow. 
    Has it been that many years?

In our home, we even have
    two or more of some things—

flashlights, coffee pots, 
    tape measures. Once a day,

the rice cooker whistles softly
    then pings when it's done.
 
We put tables and shelves 
    together; there are so many
 
books—it will take more than one
    lifetime to walk through all

the countries in them. But if I go
    alone, I will be lonely inside

myself again. Sometimes the quiet
    is bearable, but never for long.  

Portrait of the Heart as Rambutan

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
(Nephelium lappaceum)


A tremble in the walls of the house
as a train passes is really the heart

trying to speak of its impending 
eruption. The cat at the window 

raises its paw to the glass, 
barely leaving an imprint. No one 

really wants to beg for a gift, 
no matter how dire the need. So 

the heart departs for another country—
not a region roofed with ice and a winter 

that outlasts the sun, but one where 
the heart might take the form of a fruit— 

one of many in a cluster: deep red, sweet 
kernel inside; skin a grenade of blisters.  



What Isn’t Yours

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Such a child, they're told,
is always from another realm:
left alone at the edge of a wood
while the last bits of moonlight
disappear in the sky. Or in a box,

wrapped in a blanket with  
the familiar green and pink stripe  
hospital nurseries use. She has ten
fingers and toes, clear eyes, a lusty
yell which they find stirs in them

an emotion of such gratefulness; it
feels almost infinite. They go home
with their new treasure, to what follows
after: a life filled not only with pleasure
but also pain, which they vow to carry

with as much tenderness as they can
muster. The child moves farther away
from the shore where she was born,
of which she has no real memory
anyway; she learns to make deals,

drive, drink kombucha. She'd prefer
not to think of what the old-fashioned
still call suitors. This life after all,
foundling or not, is all about self-
invention. Meanwhile, thickets of silver

sprout on the parents' heads. One
likes to watch Korean drama on TV.
The other has taken up gardening,
though there are never any nuggets
of gold to be found in the weeds.





Arrangements

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
As a lawyer, my father helped 
more than a few clients draw up 

their wills; yet he himself didn't 
have one. He believed that writing 

a last will & testament was tantamount 
to courting one's death—A memo saying 

you can come get me, I'm ready now. 
I don't believe he had any debts 

when he died; the house we lived in, 
paid for; no loans taken out or extended. 

Cuentas claras, amistades largas—long 
friendships based on clear accounts.

I wish I could have a conscience 
as confident as his—Perhaps 

only wind carrying back old, 
resinous scents like eucalyptus 

and pine will pass through it: 
not asking for anything, not

stopping yet, not chiding.

Portrait, with Daughters & Constellation

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
There were years they disappeared

into the loamy caverns of rooms,

their beds piled with comforters

& unfolded clothes, gum wrappers

in the depths of backpacks,

hair bouquets in hairbrushes,

earrings with missing pairs.

Sometimes light was a lure,

other times an intrusion.

They went in, angular

& bristly; mercurial,

most spectacular when ill-

at-ease. When they emerged,

their legs were smooth

from foam & shavers;

their jaws, set in a line

sleek as the edges of smart-

phones. You couldn't pluck

a lyre to bribe them from

the depths, but you waited

for that time in the future

when they'd look at the night

sky & finally recognize how

Cassiopeia was both right

side up & upside down; when one

day, they might see you wandering

the frozen fields—alone & still

in search of ransom.

The Next World

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Though the river calls 
and the road still shows
its face, you're afraid 

you'll never
again see the crest 
of Mt. Cabuyao. 

The orange groves, 
the throats of belled 
trumpet flowers; the tongues 

of snapdragons that children's 
fingers forced apart in the park. 
What is this except 

an introduction to that longer
twilight? Fog drifting through trees, 
thick as the skin of heated milk; 

words you once wrote in pencil
on a windowsill overtaken by moss. 
Even before crossing, what 

moves you to believe 
in a language that might last longer
than our sense of importance?


  



 

Out-of-Body Experience

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Traveling in a foreign country, away
from your hometown, you remain

a stranger until you come to the first
door that opens and you are taken in. 

When they ask you to sit down
and have some food, a glass 

of water, that's when you think 
it might be possible to make a country 

out of your loneliness. As on a piece 
of indigo fabric: you can guide 

embroidery thread in cross- 
and running stitches over the spots 

time has mangled or torn. Did you talk 
to yourself, wandering in a new city 

where your name meant only the infinite 
anonymous? The story of how you arrived 

grows a few more pages. The signs 
point to the last place a bleating 

animal was flayed and quartered, its guts
festooned in trees to celebrate arrival 

or departure. Metallic blood-smell, 
a heap of discarded skin in the fire. 

Ossuary, with Open Window

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Dear black-crowned night
heron, dear studded tree, dear love 
dripping with rainwater whose names 
                   we address ambiguously— 

Dear lullaby which underwrites 
the language as well  
         as the dream—

A meteor might fall through the ether,
a vine might yet lose all its leaves 
upon the cold ground 
               but you've buried me

before my death, planted your hoard
of red seeds in my mouth;
                          and now

no one comes to barter 
with a god, no one combs
through wreckage  
                 for the silk

thread of pity— While on the other side,
the world goes on, admiring 
         its own fragments—