There are certain flowers and leaves
that turn slippery as soap when bruised—
swished into a plastic flask of water
with a few granules of detergent,
they made the largest, most glorious
bubbles which we blew with makeshift
spools of bent clothes hangers—
The same type of wire that girls
who’d been foolish would use to try
and empty themselves, scour that room
before a cell, another body, could grow
into a larger shape to take up residence
in their own. This is how I took one
of my cousin’s friends to the ER:
doubled over in pain, until the orderlies
drew the privacy curtains then whisked
her off to the operating room. That
was the last time I saw her, until
she popped up recently on Facebook:
with a lover, a grown daughter; smiling,
slipped away from who knows what cowl
might have dropped around her shoulders.
How many words can you speak
into a phone? A pair of goats,
bleating from thin cords
that tether them to the base
of a guava tree. Where they traced
circles in the dust, they shat small
hard pellets. Who owns this land?
Is there a deed, a title, a lien
holder? The plumbing is old and rusty.
Water from the tank leaks in rivulets
before it can climb into the house.
So many questions and too many holes
in the walls. Who stole the light
bulbs out of their sockets, dis-
connected the refrigerator?
The mailman bangs on the gate
with a rock. No one hears
or no one answers.
In the corners, under and through
the floorboards. In the kitchen
cupboards. Under the sink, wherever
traces of human debris have piled up
with empty bottles, plastic food
wrappers, dirty silverware. One
drowned in the bathroom, grey
and slowly spinning under yellow
light. Where is the Piper
to lead them to wider water:
over the falls, away from the town,
away from the widows curled under
thin sheets in the cold? Lead them
into the homes of the merciless.
There, let them feast unrestrained.
“Traté de ahogar mis penas… pero las condenadas aprendieron a nadar.”
[“I tried to drown my sorrows… but those I’d condemned learned to swim.”] ~ Frida Kahlo
At night do you hear a fiddle sleep,
a wheelchair creak? The body works
until it doesn’t. The body limps
to the end of the road until it can’t
wait for the bus anymore. And closure
is hard to come by, even when it might
signify an end: perhaps to suffering,
to pain, uncertainty, ordinary tedium.
And what happens to pleasure, to ease,
the consonance of one limb working
as well as the other; the wondrous
machine giving off such poignant sounds
only when surfaces are scratched
by a needle? What now, in the pause
between one impasse and another, except
the admission of what can’t be known?
In response to Via Negativa: Nearer my god.
I am sitting on the deck in the heat
that hasn’t dissolved yet though it is evening,
because I want to be in the open, away
from the smells of oil & frying in the kitchen
though this makes me fair game for Asian tiger
mosquitoes circling my ankles & arms
& the sides of my neck. I feel the grief
that comes not only from histories I could recite
even in my sleep, but also from the wreckage
of the future, whose foghorn sounds closer
& closer each night. I am reading a poem
by Alice Notley, which she ends by saying
I have nothing to show for my time but poems/
what do you have… The pot of mint that survived
this brutal weather sends up its faint
sweet-pungent trail of breath & I don’t know
if it’s this which undoes me or if it’s those words.
& I don’t care anymore if this is cliché but my heart
is breaking & I wish the curtain of cicada trills
were thick enough for me to drown in. How sure
they seem of their purpose & how to accomplish it—
Wait years & years, spend it all on one thing,
then quit this earth— If I had their certainty
would I give up all I had too without
questioning? Now it gets close to the end
but my inventory is small; & it isn’t the kind
that could provide what others desperately
need or want. I am only one piece in a story
I don’t know the end or beginning of; I’m in a state
of perpetual second-guessing & if there’s anyone
who might know the answers, they’re long gone
from this world or maybe they were never here,
yet they’re always the first to pass judgment.
In the brick-lined interior
of a coffee shop, an Asian man
seated at the communal table
has closed his eyes: in his ears,
a pair of earphones plugged into
his cell. All around, people
coming in from the street
fan themselves with magazines
or folded papers. It’s so hot
there’s more than a high
demand for iced coffees
and teas, water and ice;
and parents with little
children fall in line outside
the gender-neutral bathrooms.
How long has he sat like that?
How long will he stay?
One of my daughters says
she went on a date recently
to a nearby botanical garden,
but the corpse flower
they’d wanted to see
had already opened.
Not even its decline
was left to observe—
the pleated spathe
lined with burgundy,
now just a wilted sac
around the spadix.
Wasn’t it St. Theresa
who said Let nothing
disturb you, Let nothing
frighten you, All things
are passing away? O
my heart, still so slow
at learning how to walk
the perimeter of dying:
the motionless man,
the Saturday crowd,
the inflorescence marked
with the stench of rotten
meat and putrid cheese,
sweaty socks and sweet-
heavy ammonia; a sudden
downpour that brings
a haze of petrichor
up from dry soil.
Who uses those thin
aérogrammes anymore, onion-
skin paper edged with bars
of red and blue? I dream,
fitfully, of that alley bent
like an elbow at the bottom;
the cats that roamed, roaches
flying like miniature bats
through rooms swathed with
mosquito netting. In each one,
all the people left behind:
their whispers, the drone
of prayers repeated bead
by bead. Don’t write
about dreams, I’ve been told.
But what if they’re the only
kinds of letters I can send
and receive these days? The wind
opens its mouth. Its breath,
unsweetened, kills any nostalgia.
Time clicks itself into place,
one scalloped shell at a time.
Insects clustered around
the porch light— the usual soft
brown bodies; those sharply
checkered Mondrians, ailanthus
wormwood moths. Yellow and red
Yayoi Kusama beetles.
Parachutes of heat billow over
the entire house, the stunned
and always thirsty garden.
Yes, I’ve begun to give
away little trinkets— a lizard
pin, a beaded necklace bought 20
years ago from a man in a tie-dyed
shirt in Berkeley. Soft printed cotton
scarves from India, embroidery
as jewelry. I loved them like one
can love a beautiful thing supposedly
without any real value. That is,
on sight, immediately. The way
the self can feel obliterated in two
seconds by a perfect stitch. Imagine that.
How did we come to learn desire
should mean first, endure? To want
so much that the hunger to appease
must yet be strung as far and taut
as it can go: the way
a mother will demur, pretend
she’s eaten, so the child should have
no need to feel remorse for her own
And for the father to carry
a child on his back, say
it’s okay, the soles of his shoes
are thicker and more used
to the hard cobble of roads?
They sleep, then open
their eyes. Day after day
the thrift of open palms which
can mean grace given, or withheld.
“…Ask me where I’m from, &…/I may point at the dirt
as if it were the embodiment of all things.”
~ James A.H. White, “[Im]Migratory Patterns”
Are there little fish swimming in jars of brine
in the cupboard, are there pickled moons and stars,
curtains of smoke after a fireworks festival
when dancers ripple into the streets to show off
their ink? In that other world, we wait for tinny
bell-chime and scrape of foot pedal, the call
of the scissors-grinder widening through sleepy
towns. Oh pity you poor collectors of blunt
throwaway instruments. A procession of penitents
inches toward the river, the expert thwack of bamboo
whips calling forth the blood. There are questions
that should never be answered with further whys
or hows. Like a star, at the heart of every place
a central note is buried: say anise, say achuete oil,
say hair singed off the belly of a squealing pig.
Heat rising from the heads of schoolchildren
at three in the afternoon, yeasty like bread.
The stronger the scent, the better. Even the gods
and ancestors know they thrive better in certain
places. They don’t like filling out forms or
having to justify their ritual preferences. They
don’t understand the need for gendered pronouns.