Me, I’m Messiah
I wanted to save them all.
The angry boy with the shaved head
who lashed out and sliced raw wounds so red
a demon the moment he wakes up, but oh!
an angel baby when passed out on my bed.
I wanted to save him, I did.
The dream zombie, plagued with editing images in
his mind’s eye — the limpid gaze airbrushing the sky
to that specific shade of blue. The table at home left empty
the borrowed books, abandoned, long overdue.
I really wanted to save that one, too.
The boy without words who can’t ever explain
himself but was surprisingly fluent with his fist,
yes, the one that hands out black ‘n blue bruises
and fingerprint marks instead of a kiss.
I was always so soft around him, I know this.
The sweet sad boy whose tears were a weapon,
the one who’d cling so tightly to me and would never let go.
You hear the rattling in the cages, but you think,
Oh, but that one — he needs me so.
I really shouldn’t have left him, you know.
Then there’s that smooth-talking, whiskey-scented boy,
fresh-faced, shiny as a penny, and twice as destitute.
He’ll take you for a ride, to anywhere and everywhere except
of course, home. Going full-speed, hurtling towards alone.
God help me, I took him home.
What Matters Probably
what does it matter who we sleep with
the tangle of limbs do not discriminate
arms elbows thighs neck back spine
skin on skin is always so sublime
what does it matter
the membrane doesn’t even remember
the blood that escapes the cut
memory is at best, temporary
at worst, untrustworthy
the fragment i choose is the imprint
of your hand on my skin
the bits of hair freckles nails scars
more real than anything by far
that day you drove five hours
so that I could see the Atlantic
grit of sand in every pore
the water cold the sun low the ocean’s roar
what does it matter if we slept together
what matters probably is that we do not do that
I haven’t forgotten
how it feels to be desired.
Though I can’t quite decide
if that is blessing or curse,
and I’m not one for remorse
or small mercies
or false memories anyway.
Anyway, it’s cruel
to just look away.
Desire wants the rapt attention
the blind affirmation
of the widening iris —
the rush of blood to cheek —
it wants its own hubris.
Any which way
but dead, or so they say.
As though the furtive glance
the promise of some romance
that dark little gleam in the eye
is everything, is anything
but a lie.
this is the price you pay for time traveling
(I told you so)
stop flitting about like a stupid moth
blind despite the etched eye open and
unblinking on its downy wing
(What did I say)
choose a year or two — even ten —
to inhabit, unravel the silk of it, weave
sense into story as you sit.
(What did you do)
you flew. you flew! you cut through countries,
histories, whole decades like it was legal
to navigate between worlds.
(I warned you)
And now everywhere the air is foul
replete with turmoil. you turn hostile
a ghost trapped in the portal
(What did I say)
your dark velvet mouth spewing out
curdled black bile meant to hurt,
but inutile as strange fruit
(I warned you)
you’ve become a thing whose only threat is
the flesh that promises sourness
the pit filled with the intent to choke.
(I told you so)
The Secret To Invisibility
over tracks. Reverse step into each footprint,
match heel and toe exactly so you become
invisible, erased as cleanly as
that puff of breath exhaled into fog.
Another way, much more subtle
but just as easy, is to insert oneself into crowds.
Follow the pace of the horde, shuffle quietly
shoulder to shoulder, sidle in sideways
and become absolutely hidden.
This is the true double-cross.
We are so alike we render ourselves translucent,
float like tiny fish under the current,
become white noise, indistinguishable
from the rest of the confusion.
The real secret to disappearing though,
is to live out in the open, back to the sun –
faceless, and acquiescing. The camouflage
of so many single weeds blanketing an empty lot,
verdant, sweeping, and ultimately, unseen.
The Sudden Death of Stars
the sudden death of stars
light breaks up, dissipates
and darkness moves in
to become what is missing.
I realise that the sky,
with this one void is not left empty,
other stars blink their brightness
tawdry as whores in sequins
all hours of the day.
death is as cheap, my love.
we shuffle bodies as we utter promises,
and each night we look to the skies
to whisper wishes to the stars
but only the darkness hears.
You feel for it, two fingers
under the jaw, right where the ear
begins its curvature, unfurling
the rumor that the blood still runs,
coursing red and loud.
you are proud
that your years hardly
betray you, the well-tended body
eclipsing that that of a much younger,
more agile man
i am one
who does not heed
these distinctions and yet
when your fingers touch my neck
to feel for the pulse
my blood becomes a surge
rushing through the veins
of a woman much changed
a woman much younger
than my true years
we all belie our end,
doing all we can to keep decay
at bay so that when
your touch jumpstarts my pulse,
we think this is it,
this is the surge that lengthens
our years, quiets our fears
Here, even when I lie
very still the walls insist on shaking –
a deep rumbling that jumps
from the plaster to enter my toes,
travel through my spine,
and slowly unhinge my mind.
On and on it goes,
in the unquiet dark. I no longer listen.
My sleep is a dreamless landscape,
plain and unadorned, like
the dust planet that spills out
from under my door.
With care, I am able to stop
the carnage that filters through the walls:
the static of rotor blades,
muffled bomb blasts, and that
crackling burst of electricity on the radio
before human speech goes out.
I find comfort in the sureness
that you can sleep through anything
when your mind is quiet.
I turn off all my switches as I lay down
believing that if you lie still enough
in the dark you cannot be found.
At the end of days,
when even that violent sun
goes into hiding, a tepid silence falls
and the dust settles down
finally, to wrap you – hair, skin, bones –
safe in the silent night,
and deliver you entirely, into dawn.
– 12 May 2011 in Kandahar, Afghanistan
Letters To Grandmother
My grandmother is dead,
and yet letters addressed to her continue to be delivered, unhindered.
They are from banks still greedily friendly, from contemporaries who
never knew the worst has come, and then some from insurance salesmen
offering lifetime guarantees to the dead, misled by inefficient files.
We the living open them of course, with force reserved for unwanted mail
and deceitfully neat telegrams.
I have this fear though, as the letters keep on sliding under our door,
that grandmother still answers every single one,
East of Eden, the end of an afternoon’s nap
finds us sprawled cheek to toe, deep in a game
of chance. Never mind romance, at four,
this was what I knew: days shape themselves
after your whim, I look to you.
Sixes and sevens, you’d say as you palm
for the win. Odds and evens, I’d count off
each spin as the squares fall away. I always
stay, even as the numbers begin adding up
not to my salvation, but my ruin.
Freed from hiding at last, the snakes
twist wetly and flick their tongues
in an intimation of garden-variety lust.
I pull out cracker after cracker from a box
and ponder: in this game, what truth do we trust?
Our years’ careful reckoning ups the ante:
Is it a draw, or is it over? You will turn nine
in September and shortly thereafter
will no longer speak to me, or
to anyone else, for all that it should matter.
I have learned to hedge my bets, to err on
the side of caution. Afternoons now, the sun
through that one window: a cold eye that ogles
the whorl on my thumb, skims the blue of my
bent head, and brings to light much, much less.
Like lemmings, I say let us hurl ourselves
topsy-turvy, head over heels off that cliff.
Aim seaward of course, and push off
just as lightning cracks, a white whip to spur us.
Mother, your furtive whisper frightens me.
It frightens me more than the soft whir
of the storm that blows outside, muted by glass.
It is as hairy as the blackberry
you slip into my mouth, cold and sweet.
Alas, I know too well the silver
of your needles will never be able
to stitch us up. Come Mother, let us.
A Heart Is A Fist
A heart is a fist,
the lump of a knuckle
folded into itself,
its curve a curl
containing spools of days
it alone chooses.
One chamber might
intimate visuals of days,
another, purely sensation.
A girl with skinned knees
hating her time
with the silver hairbrush.
A bite from a black dog,
tucking three stitches
neatly into place.
The fall from
a red roof onto
Yes, the heart is a fist
Our slow dance
into tears and years
of careful forgetting.
The phone call left
unanswered, the ringing
that echoes on, forever.
And a keening so loud
it arced a dome
into the sky—
a membrane that
kept out everything
but could not keep us.
No one knows anymore
the warm tan of my thighs.
How at night, under cover
of muslin they shimmer secretly,
writhing like the forked tongue
of some great serpent still as stone,
lying in wait, sniffing out
prey for the loving.
the damp musk of their embrace?
Who shivers at the scissors
of loins in that first flush of touch
before the quicksilver flash,
the descent into darkness?
No, no one knows anymore.
Woman Seated, With Hood
The breath that fogs the glass
carries rumors that I maintain to be untrue.
They say the apple was poison,
that the heart of a pig pulsed in my hand,
and the girl of course, beautiful.
For all that I have done in service
they tell me I am to perish in fire.
Actually, this is the one truth:
Each time they look in on me
I see lust glistening in that one eye.
The Weight Of The World Is Lighter Than
The weight of the world is lighter than the hair on the backs of your hands.
You forget that thought, change the channel, fumble briefly with the remote
when really, what else could you watch without looking.
Your dinner, three turns on the microwave is strike three on a zero streak.
Some days a new shirt and a sharp wit just don’t cut it.
Bartenders give back your tips: “Cab fare, buddy,” they say and you
would like for them to mean it but your secret sober heart knows,
it knows that really, they’re just scared your luck
would slide off the greasy bill and take on life as an infection,
the bastards are quick to wipe down the counters in your wake.
Before the world wobbled on its axis, defeat was not apparent to you;
why, just yesterday she said you could walk on water.
Entrance fee: tequila in a shiny shot glass, salt on her pink girl’s tongue.
All the pretty ones, they like to tell you the unvarnished truth.
“He’s younger than you.” Well who would have guessed?
She too seemed wise beyond her years, beyond the shimmy of her thighs,
beyond the scuff marks her boots left on your white-on-white wall.
If they ever told you anything at all, the books never did tell you this:
the gradual scraping away of layers will reveal the wood that is underneath.
From the fresh-scrubbed deck it was a dark drop to the water and along the way
you shed clothing, the name they called you as a child, the town you grew up in.
On shore you hardly recognized yourself, if not for the scar in your smile
when you do that wicked sailor’s grin, “Watch it kid, I’m coming in.”
Maybe you were forgotten, maybe given up for dead; what‘s certain is that no one
was unduly surprised when you ambled back, cheery as usual, beers all around.
Only later, years later when you ran down that girl, or was it two girls—
you know how the papers exaggerate—did you let on that you learned:
the weight of the world is actually lighter than anything.
It needs to be, light enough yes, to sit so long in your bones.
Confession: Front Pew, Aisle 2
It is a rare god
who does not demand devout adoration.
On my knees, I traverse the distance
between disbelief and deliverance,
make that leap of faith all prophets
spin into a tale to mesmerize the horde
into divine submission.
I cannot help it; I am an easy convert.
Yes, I’m a sucker for the beautiful singing in pig Latin,
quick to join those queuing up for a miracle,
the brassy abracadabra of old ladies weeping
each into her candle, for my soul.
I am always ready to be enraptured
by stories of waking suddenly,
into full-blown religion
where, overnight, the brain
unfolds into a clean horizon.
Where everything is white-hot bright,
even that corner of the room where, each night,
the faithful grapple with interminable lust.
Ten, twenty, a thousand years go by
and still the sinners do not die.
My one epiphany: it does not matter
how often you inhale deep into forgiveness
fling yourself at the foot of steel crosses,
petition each of the sleeping gods,
ferry arguments altar to altar.
No, it does not at all matter
how devotedly you kiss the bitter,
fervently loving the fear,
secretly taking to tongue
the exotic flavour of prayers.
All the same, you wake up each day
and the first prayer you utter is for memory
you carelessly squander.
After You, Love
there’s only dust.
Out To Sea
It was, perhaps, the heat of the season,
a haze so casually obscuring
the oily vapors of a mirage rising
from that razor’s edge of the horizon,
eager to lure you into believing
well, almost anything.
As though faith is an apparition
best induced by miracles that happen at noon.
Grit of sand filling every pore
details how the surreptitious sea
erodes away reservations,
tracks how salt, licked clean
from skin goldened by wanton blush
tastes of the ocean of senses, the rush
of sea to shore, the ease of drowning
into pull of tide, the primal roar.
That night, washed up on your stretch
of beach I gave up a smile,
remembered how futile
the act of treading water was
in the powerful wake of waves.
Dashed against the rusting shipwreck
I was no less a ruin, thankfully wounded,
Bleeding brightest red.
They Say Today
They say today
That there is a universe
Where all poems go.
Now I want to
Write myself up in verse
And hurl me there.
Today I Knew
So today I knew,
when I held you at knifepoint
I was not defending myself
against the sting of your hand,
I was marking territory–
trying to make safe what I can.
Today I knew
not for my sake if ever
will I plunge the blade
but I would do it to buy passage
for our children to escape
your kind of love.
Today I knew
my swollen belly
was all that saved me
while upstairs, a wailing ensued
not because our son understood
but because he could see.
Today I knew
a knife is not alien to me.
My hand could close with deft
on the curve of its handle,
could balance its heft
not just with ease but also with rage.
So today I knew.
I knew with the speed that you belie
of my thinking, that you say I am unable
to hide from view. I knew, I knew.
Today I knew I have the courage
to one day see the blade through.
Virtually penniless and free
I am not yet fully,
Perhaps in a week or two
I shall breathe more deeply
My desolation is like a nosebleed,
I have not known given pain
or offered pleasure,
I haven’t known you.
And so I am shallowly-breathing
nursing a nosebleed,
the sureness of women
plunging headlong into affairs.
How readily they
transform the sideways glance
into an act of intimacy,
how they brand themselves
lover by just one casual touch,
how their senses are tuned
fever pitch to yearning
by way of desire
there is nothing much.
Bringing You Home
Marveling at my bravery, I bring you home
peripatetic stranger whose very bones
move me to an exquisite inadequacy.
Helpless to stem the rush of sense
I venture, daring to smell your hand,
sniffing, cataloguing, storing—indiscriminate.
Preparing ammunition with which to shoot down
bleak days, to stuff gaping holes running to ragged edges
that invade me when you leave.
Too soon, I imagine you happy,
rehearse logic that will confound and
push you into the nearest corner space.
Recklessly, I move to touch your face
hoping to leave behind the searing imprint of cells
that will brand you lover, ruined, and mine.
Late to realize, as always
it dawns on me only today
that you chose me.
Yes, scarred, bedraggled, and loose
in places, someone you barely knew—
you come to me.
This is, I think a reprieve.
My pretty pardon for wanton
self-destruction, a vicious sin.
Your eyes, clear glass
reflect tiny pieces of me,
wringing hands, lank hair.
It takes all me strength to even
begin hoping. Beautiful boy,
shiny and new—
I murmur prayers to keep you.
In the sober wake
of your inconsiderate leaving
life’s inane details intrude.
How, how rude
to rip aside the veils
of sickly-sweet solitude.
Though the sharp little nicks
have ceased bleeding
O whiplash darling—
my wounds are slow to heal
or conversely, to kill.
Pull back the edges,
the cuts are festering still.
Lately the darkest of sins
is settling for much, much less.
The short spells of emptiness
are passably filled.
Sincerity can be an act of will.
How, how divine
to gaily blunt the stab
and blindly toe the line.
In dim light
memory is most kind,
All I’ve kept of my wits
are glued willy-nilly, in bits.
How, how singularly vile
to be reduced to mere commodity
with hardly any thought to style.
She takes my hand freely
yet no doubt carelessly,
with no specific intention,
no appended condition.
Only that I give in willingly.
The simple gesture overwhelms,
I feel that it’s too soon for trust, child.
And yet calmly I cup
the tiny fingers that have clutched
at the womb of another.
My reserve unfelt,
she allows me this one chance
to cautiously rehearse for a future,
leading me politely to play,
“Excuse me, excuse me.”
Baldly, I feel my barrenness.
Fresh from the spate of many
witnessed births and irrationalities.
By hesitation I erode my ovaries
into nothing but helpless storage.
Little one, you pain me with promise.
She is with child again,
This china doll who is my travel companion
Our limbs as thick, as strong,
Our lives equidistant, almost as long.
This fruition has happened before,
The presence of another life between us
A heartbeat out of synch, a new stirring
Another pulse at a run, throbbing.
I envy her burden, the thickened ankles
The sickness, the fertile bile
Her stretch of stomach, the loss of luster
The roots reaching downward, deeper.
One child, another coming
A repeat performance of the same play
She has gone through her encores, amid clapping
While I sit lost, waiting my turn in the wings.
I hold her hand, warm porcelain,
I see her blood, redder than mine, a waste
The arc of womb, the cradle of strangers
The coven of motherhood I cannot enter.
We dine at one table, one diet
For both the barren and the fertile
If I eat from her plate, famished,
Will my womb be likewise nourished?
I feed from her, if truth be spoken
She whose stumbling outline my path
China doll whose clay feet, gouging earth
Lead me to the circus of death and birth.
So I skipping forlorn by her side
Will, by watching, perhaps know better
What to do, where to go, how to be,
When that day comes, the fairies turn to me.
i hear from the very air
that you are here,
although the pull of my cells
knew it sooner.
viking of the lightest of
hands, the purely
like you i am well traveled now,
astride these hungry limbs
i have sped through depths
you may not desire to fathom.
anger bubbles from the recesses
encrusted by our shared memories
beware lover, the grasp of gypsies,
the tread of thieves.
in that place no longer
visited by our manic moon
you sleep wrapped in the
treacherous warmth of another.
no curse, no strange wind
to unhinge your sense,
not even the pitiful sigh
of one unspoken oath.
only, lover do you feel
the scrabbing, icy fingers
clasping, rasping ‘round
your lying, scented throat?
Your tendency to shout
won’t keep me about,
your love for VOLUME
and constant state of panDEMONium
volley echoes into me
and bid me: flee!
When we are
As measures of moderation
would do wonders for conversation,
and as a light little tune
goes well with that slice of moon,
A hint of sobriety
would bode well with me.
Being with you would be pure bliss.
Wholeheartedly my love, I pledge you this:
Through all the skies halfway we shall meet—
But first you have got to untie my feet.
On Your Kindness
Mock me, snob me,
Betray, ignore, assail me—
I shall get used to that
But don’t touch me, kiss me,
Caress, amuse, adore me—
I cannot bear you being kind
And not know what’s on your mind.
She is here.
Though our hands be clasped together
though our bellies be pockets
She is harm, she is harm.
She is here.
Though the lamp may show all corners
though we be only two
There are signs, there are signs.
Afraid of space, I rush, covering
with all my excess skin
with all my witty words
with all my hopeful tears
the crevices through which she
easily may snake, slithering
with all her nimble tales
with all her sinuous stares
with all her womanly wiles
Walling me aside.
She is here.
Though we be ignoring fear
though we be talking freely
We speak still:
You and her, you and her.
She is here.
Though we may lie as two together
though we be all alone
and as safe,
There she waits, there she waits.
Traveling By Fragile Memories
When we chose to travel jointly
I should have set down rules:
“No stop-gap verses or farewells at night,
Counter-clockwise strides are permitted,
All our suitcases stay light.”
But instead we went as gypsies;
I thought there was no harm in us
Traipsing through with everything in load
‘Till we were torn seaward
And you took the carousel road.
I am left traveling by fragile memories,
Regretting your child-like charm
And my hasty wit;
Still I must go on stumbling bleakly,
Following footprints my feet cannot fit.
On Your Arrival
Accustomed to the stillness
of waiting, I stand cautiously,
all I hope again to find
within the most secret attics of my mind.
I carefully prepare my arms
for the sorely missed, near-dawn warmth.
No further words except, “welcome.”
Hurry and become
once more my own, mine alone.
necessary except, “I’m here.”
The gods might be near.
the only hindrance
staying my eager feet
Almost, I cannot quite believe
That my days cling so close,
Hinge so fast, on your arrival.
I am wrapped again
in your cigarette smoke.
the O-shape of your lips
floating, racing leisurely
to some unsure spot
of the stained-glass ceiling.
Some of them
wander down towards me
in ever-widening circles
that form haloes,
in cautious carelessness.
I am wrapped again
in your cigarette smoke.
I would be 35 when I wake up,
The alarm loud and tolling too late.
Vacancy is a path that stems three ways:
where where where
And nothing follows.
Brimming with wisdom and theoretical skills,
Armed to the teeth against intent.
Sorrow produces a door that stays
shut shut shut
And nothing follows.
Laden with other people’s baggage,
I pick my way through, steadfast and grim.
Parting leaves a void that says
drip drip drip
And nothing follows.
I am done serving at this table
The light is fading, I must go—
Grief sets the tone of our erring days:
lost lost lost
And nothing follows.
Lately they seem to fascinate
You who are used to the irregularity
Of our comings and goings.
We whose lives’ warp and woof
Would tangle, unloop, tangle, unloop,
In uneven plateaus
Are being set straight.
Lately they seem to
Have fallen into place, a shroud
Covering and containing our errant ways.
We whose limbs nimbly knot
Into satisfying disarray, satisfying disarray,
Are being framed within corners
Lately it seems
We’ve ceased to amaze,
Correct, continuous, caged.
The Crab Gatherers
Naturally, you would think
there is a point to all this jousting,
how sea and sky rush to fuse at dusk.
The crab gatherers are quick to mark
that instance of oneness when salt and vapor
condense into night, for this is when
the nocturnal harvest begins.
A silent battle ensues as crabs try
to scurry away from fingers of light
clutching at them, breaking barrier of water,
concealment of sand.
There is method to this mayhem,
how the tangle of shells and seaweed
part to reveal an army intent on escape.
The grab gatherers are not invincible either.
In the blackness the tide eases furtively in,
reclaiming lost territory like a spurned lover,
lapping furiously at the ankles and hands.
Unwearied and deaf to reason, she lulls
the unwary to linger, a few steps more,
an hour, maybe two, and soon enough
her waves obscure the path to shore.
But the crab gatherers are wise folk,
They know there is rhythm to the rite—
tomorrow there is always another ebb of tide.
When the waters reach the knees all bets
are off, the crabs float away to obscurity,
and the gas-light fingers simply let go.
The memory of rain falling,
drenching the thatched roof of a solitary hut
on an island somewhere tugs at my heart.
How I miss the cold damp wet feel
of rain on my skin,
few pleasures are as keen
as remembering how sinning
was best done under rain
susurrant, a consenting throb
that drowns out pain, protest, or both.
Torrent of tide and sky meeting
allows us mortals to sink into smallness
lost in the consistency of sand,
the yawning anonymity of the sea
on an island where fear
no longer rises with the stain
of sunrise on the horizon.
Blind to beauty, my yearning
is to hold skin swept of scent by rain
reduced to remembering only sensation,
tang of salt and creep of cold into bone.
Surfeit of tears, I bury
my changed face shivering
in shallow water, plunging
deep into froth of foam,
dreaming of seaweed, damp hands
waving you home.
The Sway of My Belly
How strange to be back
in any room with you, stranger
of many years counting. Drifters
in a crowded country,
we hold each other as we will
layers of fiction to fall away.
We rely on truth in our attempt
to keep decay at bay.
I do not know anymore what draws
you to me. Youth? Not likely.
I gave up on that theory
long ago, when alone I woke up
to crabbiness and ill humor.
Quite simply, it must be stupor,
those last few licks of alcohol,
the languid, careless flicks of ash
onto the linoleum floor.
Must we be forever defined
by what we lack? When I turn away
from you I do not miss the hollow
that clefts your back.
Distance, in bed or out of it,
does not daunt me,
and anyway dawn always comes
for us too swiftly, too swiftly.
I know the pull of the temporary,
so I wanted for you to own this time,
to steal it wholly, without regard for me.
I wave the sway of my belly,
hoping to help you decide
But being man, you merely turned,
nestled at my shoulder,
and cried, cried, cried.
Women I Know
I know women that seem
meant to be broken.
You see it in
that brittle bend to the spine
and in the fine
network of translucent veins
I know women whose delicately-angled faces
demand a stark purpling,
to the enhancement wrought
by the blush of blood,
the pale-blue bruise tint,
the tattoo of an angry fingerprint.
I know women whose days
unravel most gracefully
to the sway
of exact slaps and solid wall contact
the crisp thwack
of skin on skin
that delirious giving in to sin.
I know women that seem
mean to be broken.
I know women.
And I know men.
Ah, that foolhardy cat in that instant frozen
pinned by a pair of headlights bright,
perhaps the thoughts flit
in that waft of rubber before it,
“Shoot, there goes the ninth one!”
the game over and nobody’s won.
No more playing Dare That Driver.
No more last fast sprint to safety on the other side.
The breath coming fast, painfully caught,
the furry throat thin and taut
and in the humid, gas-vapor night,
resounds a terrible meowing, the sight
of felines as they mock and mourn
one sibling dead, and now it’s someone else’s turn.
Ants mark time grain by grain,
keepers of a household
immune to instances of assault,
where harvests do not
celebrate the plentiful,
but mark collective survival.
All contribution crucial.
Along the honeyed trail
everything amounts to gain.
Processions of grain, grain, grain
mark the sloping climb to storage
paths curved around stone
passage of secrets drone to drone,
forever leading home.
For this marriage to live
let us be like these ants, stop
making mountains from molehills:
no broken plates in the kitchen
no melodrama in the pantry
no screams that dig up history
but refuse resolution.
We must ferry the dead and the living
with a seasoned laborer’s tact
and the coiled strength of our backs,
keep careful score of sour harvests,
trudge up, up, up the hill of dissolution
work furiously under a darkening moon.
Ants defy replication.
Toy Store Shooting
At Toys ‘R Us I run my fingers
through displays of shiny model cars, cement mixers,
wooden trains, action-figures, laser swords—
wishing I could buy up everything in sight
to delight a sun-browned little boy
back home whom I hope would
want his mama more than any western toy.
From the corner of the next aisle the barrel
of a plastic gun pokes out and points with
unwavering precision at me. Sights homing in,
adjusting only a few degrees left, so sure
was the young soldier of its target.
Bam. Gung-ho blond boy comes out and says,
“You’re dead, chink.”
Shaken to the core but in full command
of my faculties, not bleeding, not enveloped
by gunpowder I blink slowly to look at him.
Smiling, he lowers the gun to shorts level
as a cart comes in from the corner.
His dad chuckling, “Hey you didn’t get the lady,
look she’s still standing.”
Indeed I am, dwarfed by shelves crammed
with serene Yodas, green fistfuls of The Hulk
and re-issues of E.T., middle finger extended.
All is not right in toy land today. Was I a tempting target
because here in this country of big bones
I’m considered petite or is it because I’m Asian
and we have been sitting ducks for years?
No matter. Guns and carts and bald, big-bellied daddies
who tell their sons, “Shoot shoot shoot,
we are not afraid, we will triumph!” cannot stop me.
In the combat zone of the aisle I face them,
the little blond fascist and his Gap-shirted daddy
who just took a pay cut because his company now
out sources talent from the Philippines, India, Japan,
or wherever else people are smaller,
darker, faster, smarter, poorer,
but have a full head of shiny ebony hair.
A soft voice and a wisp of a smile help
to home in the blow, “You know, in my country
just for fun, I would have pointed that barrel at you too.”
Only it would have been a real gun.
Your careless words,
trapped like busy red ants in amber
can no longer inflame me.
At best, they catch the light
and break it into random patterns
frozen pretty to the eye.
Caught in the midst of flight
they scurry across a width of table,
weighing down a stack of old papers.
This gauze of sky over the bluegrass
thins to cigarette foil
and suddenly I am one of four
at a table in a German bar
that stocks an excess of 400 beers
culled from all over the world.
Buzzed to the gills
I gaze in dismay at the split sausages
curried with carbon from the grill.
The yeast will rise inside me,
if nothing else will.
I long to smash all those fingerprinted
bottles over my head
to see if I would miss you less.
Buoyed by transatlantic
courage and the distant static
my sister drops off a birthday gift
for our mother, recently retired
and happy to have gone on tending pale orchids,
that she has fled to the lower depths
of cold, cold Canada with a lover
kind like father but five years younger than she.
Half-awake ad not yet in full command
of my own wits, I am called in to minister.
Older than me, this sister who skinned knees
and terrified neighborhood bullies
with her fierce, manic owl’s glare.
“You should know better,” I say across the hum.
She clutches the phone tighter
then rewards me with a rebuke.
Our grandmother cries a bit
and then attempts a smile to put us all at ease.
“We cannot be responsible for other people’s lives
all the time, sometimes we have to sever ties
and leave our fate to the kindness of strangers.”
I bow my head and sit quietly,
relieved that someone else is kind enough
to do my crying for me.
<!– document.write(‘‘); // –>