Last night's rain gleams dully in patches
on the tarmac, where planes come and go
like fleets of birds with cargo heavy in
their bellies; and motorized lorries wait
to unload all the luggage we carry
with us to varied destinations—
On the flight I took, hundreds of men,
some young, most in middle age, returning
from brief visits home to family; now,
again en route to Doha or Dubai where
they work all year to send remittances
back for their children's education,
house repair, a daughter's wedding,
a funeral, a sister's surgery. Let no one
say we didn't do whatever it took to lift
our own from life mired in the quicksands
of debt and penury, from the thousand
ways circumstance passes for fate
because you can't afford to buy
a ticket out of your history of
disasters. Waiting at yet another
terminal for the next connection,
observe how even light laminates
and crackles; how it oils surfaces
puddling in the pass of bodies
more sleekly fueled, rather than
passing cleanly through. Impediment—
from Latin, impedire: literally meaning
to shackle the feet. Who or what takes
such pleasure from cleaning a plate
of glass to sterile transparency, so small
creatures mistake the gleam for opening,
so the joy of its sighting is swiftly
cut by the ripples their bodies make?
Nobody has to love anybody.
Nobody has to be happy, if they even
know what that means. Since these
states are so mercurial, is it better
to talk about intention? What is
the distance between crave
and need? Listen, I'm told I
never really listen. My voice makes
the sound of a small, discarded
husk on a rainforest floor.
Once I read in a poem a recipe
for curing yourself of your pain
or your ghosts. The way it was
written, they seemed synonymous,
or interchangeable. I don't have
dirt or rum or herbs, so I must
improvise. Lifting the lid of
the rice pot, I hold my face
above the rush of steam.
When my eyes clear, at least
momentarily I can tell again
the difference between the water
grief makes, and water that lies
dispersed on formica and tile.
The neighborhood hilot pours
warmed coconut oil into her palms
then straddles my back, working her
way down the length of my spine.
There's a cold weight there, she says:
sleeping in the sacrum or pelvis.
I don't know how to tell her how
long I'd been curled into myself,
nautilus asleep in a larger shell.
So much has pressed down on you all
these years. How do you know what it
felt like before that? Close your eyes,
she says. I don't realize when she's
left or when I've fallen asleep.
I am trying to remember
the smudge of hills that seemed
to tower over our town when it
was small, the trails where pony boys
led the animals before they were saddled
for hire, the red fringe of bottlebrush
that swept your forehead as you passed.
How have I come to be so unpinned
from the canopy, jettisoned like a stone
that now finds burrow in a sandy plain?
In the morning, I palm a handful
of coffee beans before I grind them.
Sometimes it is almost noon
when the fog finally lifts.
A poem is a fruit
you grow from seed.
You give it everything
you think it needs,
but you don't know
how long it will take
to ripen, or if it will.
You are ashamed of all
the things you took,
or took for granted.
You want to know how
to make it up, to make
it better. The fruit
is patient. You are
no gardener after all. And
the leaves that fall off
exude such fragrance,
even when crushed.
that gouges her breast
to sustain her young.
In that story, everyone
revives and the wounds
don't prove fatal.
It isn't always so
in real life. Shouldn't
the dark quilt
of adversity be torn
apart from everyone
for the language of apology,
the kind that could address
the enormity of what I cannot
say but feel and hangs awkwardly
in the balance of all we do
or cannot do— Though in the end
I know my failings are my own,
including the accidents
and omissions, the missteps,
the touch that never fully
landed, the arrival several
years late. I never believed
that one could have it all.
Never thought myself specially
exempt from certain circumstances.
I've seen the swift descent
of change, the departure of
what we thought we'd fixed
on inviting soil. The only
constant is how we move
from station to station,
no longer logging impossible
miles; only hoping for small
kindnesses like the sight
of water or birds.
I can't participate in that game
where they want you to highlight
the best of what you did or
learned in the last ten years, when the past
year alone has seemed like at least
a decade. So much accounting
all the time. And when you don't say anything
because you're unsure of anything,
you risk being called a liar,
or worse, manipulative: a cherry-
picker. My dearest wish was only
enough time to read all these
books. Only enough heart to carry
what I can for the ones I said
I'd love until the end.
In this version of me all the ghosts of the past
have left, having tired of pulling at the corners
of my mouth and squeezing the area just below
my diaphragm. By that time, perhaps no one
will think to ask why I never seem to smile
in pictures. By that time, perhaps sleep
will be an ordinary bed with an ordinary pillow
instead of a narrow, unlit cell where I turn
in a frenzy all night. In this version of me,
rain is no longer the only mercurial element
and onions do not make wounds weep. What's left
is some light by which to see I am not the only
one who can't swim, who throws a slight shadow;
who plucks at the strings of broken mandolins.