There are so many rooms inside her
& just as many locked doors, but sometimes
when the silence snaps shut, she hears the soft
thud. Another body falling onto the white
marble floor of her sleep. All night they fall.
She doesn’t remember when the bodies started
disappearing from their lives & arriving
inside her, gagged & hooded, but she wakes
a little heavier each morning, a night’s worth
of bullet casings tangled in her hair.
The King just now easing back
into bed beside her.
If I held out the candle, paraffin burning for him,
then swallowed all the light, if
in the dark, I was a cobra’s tongue,
how could it have been his fault?
Robber baron, unzipped vagabond, he mistook me
for the comfort of a small creek, water crawling along the backs
of rocks, emerald house beside it,
me at the door in nothing
Over wine, I warned him
soft—you can’t sleep here; you won’t
In the snuffed room, my touch serrated
bit of tooth
Even a peacock feather comes to a point.
I was kissing him.
In bed, your back curved
to answer the heat of my holding
& Harlem was barely awake below us
when a half-broken building
gave in. First, a few loose bricks,
then decades crashed to the street
just as a bus pulled up. Passengers,
choking on dust, rushed
to escape the wrecked weight
of someone else’s memory.
Two blocks beyond gravity,
I pressed into you, into you & away
from all the breaking. I didn’t know
your name, so I kissed one
into your mouth. Told myself
he is my body but you
were already on your way
out into the sirens.
Your soft cough becomes prognosis. Soon,
cigarette smoke is the inkblot test of the lung.
Tell me what you see
and I’ll sleepwalk home
to pick out your first and last charcoal suit,
a jade handkerchief for the pocket atop
your excavated chest.
I see two men, father & son
but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, goner.
A dirge parades past our empty house,
black silk parasols in hand.
I see butterflies of smoke and blood.
And in the aisles of a half-lit church, strangers
walk away from you, whispering “He looks
good, real sharp.” Handsome enough
I run the dark winter
coatless and a shirt of briar.
Season of black sycamore
thickets, then the startle
of open fields. Bare feet
cracking earth. Each mile
birthing three more.
There are sorrel horses
herding inside of me.
In a four-legged night,
clouds sink into the trees,
refuse me morning
and mourning, but I pass
what I thought was the end
of myself. To answer
your rifle’s last question:
if you ever find me,
I won’t be there.
for Terrance Hayes
I come from ashes and leftover scraps abandoned.
The first song sung in a book of broken hymns
after all the candles have melted and hardened.
Once, I threw a towel over my head and pretended I was Mary.
My aunt told me that pretending was blasphemy. A burnt cross
was lit in my chest that day, but they say my name
first appeared in reluctantly opened love letters
flown in from Japan smelling like cherry blossoms. Sweet
and sick and begging to be taken back. I come
from hastily signed divorce papers. I believe all the stories
of who I was: Custody battles are where I learned to dance.
Before the fire, there was the empire, before the empire,
Aeneas flirted with Dido: He saw her in the crowd at a concert,
asked for her number, and was rejected. He saw her again
at a 7-11 and was rewarded for his persistence.
I come from a woman who believes luck
had nothing to do with it. They say I almost drowned
in a book of Greek mythology. My father saved me.
We are not sure why he decided to be a hero that day.
My mother doesn’t remember his act of heroism. He won’t forgive her
for forgetting. But let’s not talk about them, it will set my home on fire.
I come from cracked eggs cooked on a July sidewalk, from drive-bys
through the ruins of Graceland, where the heads of ex-wives hang
in embarrassment. I come running from the fingers of my family,
who adore the likeness of me, that doll I poke with pins
on holiday visits. Two pins in its stuffed chest means I wish
I was a prodigal son. Three pins means something different.
In Arabic “Saeed” means happy and fortunate. I will not refute
this claim, though I have double-checked its veracity.
I get that from my grandmother. Skepticism
is the only thing we have in common. On Mother’s Day
the whole way to Memphis I read lines from Medea.
None of this is true and all of it is real in a different language.
I come from nuns who left the church and got married. I come from
a lame imitation of Egypt. I come from the sperm that wasn’t
supposed to make it. I come bearing arms full of empty books.
Once, I told my father that I wanted a new father. He constructed
wax wings and left that same day. I come from a woman
who knows the temperature at which wax begins to melt.
I’ve lined my throat
with the river bottom’s best
allowed my fingers to shrivel
and be taken for crawfish.
I’ve laced my eyelashes with algae.
I blink emerald.
I blink sea glass green.
I am whatever gleams
just under the surface.
Scoop at my sparkle. I’ll give you nothing
but disturbed reflection.
Bring your ear to the water
and I’ll sing you
down into my arms.
Let me show you how
to make your lungs
a home for minnows, how
to let them flicker
in and out of your mouth
like last words,
I will not be forgiven for what I’ve made
of myself. Soil recoils from my hooked kisses.
Pines turn their backs on me. My fingerprints
dot their sap; they know what I can do
with the wrap of my legs. Each summer,
when the air is crowded with want,
I set all my tongues upon you.
To quiet this body, you must answer
my tendrilled craving. All I’ve ever wanted
as to touch crevices, pry them open,
and flourish within dew-slick hollows.
How you mistake my affection.
And if I ever strangled nightengales,
it was only because I dreamed of better songs;
slender throats, overtaken and perfected.
I’ve decided to let you stay
under our bed, the floor —
not the space between
mattress and metal frame.
Take your hand out
from under my pillow, please.
And take your sheets too.
Drag them under. Make pretend ghosts.
I can’t have you rattling the bed springs
so keep still, keep quiet.
Mistake yourself for shadows.
Learn the lullabies of lint.
I will do right by you:
crumbs brushed off my sheets,
white chocolate chip, I think,
or the corners of crackers.
Count on the occasional dropped grape,
a peach pit with fine yellow hairs,
wet where my tongue has been,
a taste you might remember.
I’ve heard some men can survive
on dust mites alone for weeks at a time.
There’s a magnifying glass on the nightstand,
in case it comes to that.
The sky is full of blood-tipped beaks.
All hover dark-winged, ready
to peck these words to mumbles.
All roads are made of mud.
Each step comes at the expense of a lost shoe,
sucked down into the ground’s dirty mouth.
If I try hard enough, I can see you
standing patiently beside your mailbox
but where I live, every day is a Sunday.
is the smell of the last couple here,
the ghost of their stains
on the sheets,
and the bed aches
with the weight
of my waiting.
the door ajar, enough
for night to push
its tongue into the room.
(Are you on your way?
Where did you tell your wife
you were going?)
Another hour –
A couple argues
in the next room;
Now, moans. I want
to see their faces.
I want to be their bed.
Another hour –
(You said 9.
It’s almost 12.)
I try to keep my eyes
off the carpet. It looks
like back hair, but
if you walked in
and asked me,
I would etch your name
into the shag
with the scrape of my knees.
Boys behind to gather around the man like seagulls.
He ignores them entirely, but they follow him
from one end of the beach to the other, and back again.
Their footprints seem to burn holes in the sand.
It’s quite a sight, a strange parade:
A man with a pair of wings strapped to his arms
followed by a flock of rowdy boys.
Some squawk and flap their boney limbs.
Others try to leap now and then, stumbling
as the sand tugs at their feet. One boy pretends to fly
in a circle around the man, cawing in his face.
We don’t know his name, or why he walks
along our beach, talking to the wind.
To say nothing of those wings. A woman yells
to her son, Ask him if he’ll make me a pair.
Maybe I’ll finally leave your father.
He answers our cackles with a sudden stop,
turns, and runs towards the water.
The children jump into the waves after him.
Over the sounds of their thrashes and giggles,
we hear a boy say We don’t want wings.
We want to be fish now.
After the mourners clogged
his throat with marigolds
and pushed his headstone
into its permanent groove,
my lover returned to me
a cloud of butterflies,
blaze of monarchs
burning gold in my room,
every wall papered with beating
wings. The floor shuddered with color:
ochre and bronze strokes,
flecks of blackness like coal
in the lungs. Beating, always
beating. Breathing wings
curtained the window
and through their thin skin,
sunlight in its own death throws.
And then, the rush of wings against
my skin, a rain of gold between
my legs with him, with him, with him.
He blames me for his stomach pain,
the churned rattle of keys
I have forced him to swallow;
as if he didn’t ask for a walk-in closet
full of straightjackets and chains.
Anyway, nothing can keep him.
Handcuffs etc rings into the wrists
of our four post bed,
but each morning: a puff of cheap smoke.
He stands, hands on his hips.
Free again - he says.
I’m just a lock he picked.
I am breaking under the weight of torch songs
sung so low that dogs have to hold their breath just to hear
the flames whistling, the tune of desperation simmering,
a quiet heat that crawls into bed at inappropriate hours
like a cheating husband just before his sets his marriage on fire.
Some rhythms are played to distract us from others, he will say
as he scoops his wife’s breasts into his hands, holding them
like two piles of ashes as he tries to kiss away his lover’s scent.
I am in the business of collecting rare and used frequencies.
The beat of Saturday nights spent rocking back and forth
beside a nearly blown out speaker with my ears tuned
to the hum of bizarre stations, the few strings remaining
of former lifetimes, memories waiting for me to push
their buttons. Two clicks to the left and the moon is chewed up
and swallowed by your greedy eyes. We’re driving toward a field
where dogs are howling as I feed you a helping of fingers.
Your kisses land upon my free hand like seven veils,
then a plague of locusts. Your mouth wants too much of me.
I wince, returning my hand to the wheel as I pump the gas
propelling the car toward a field full of barking.
Two more clicks, a shadow stares at pictures of you before
crushing them in a fist of blackness. Your many mangled faces fall
to the carpet. Even here, the music keeps a steady moan
going just under the skin. There’s a genocide of you happening
on my bedroom floor and all I can think about is locusts, the incredible buzz
they must make when they descend upon a green field.
I can almost hear the roar as I reach for my matches.
Two more clicks, just static, the sound of snow falling on a burning city.
Now, we hear the peculiar hum of the present moment: when your wife
turns over in bed, and in spite of your furious kisses, smells me on you.