So far, pockets are good
for carrying bits of money
and dead spiders in tissue
to look up who they are. I wish
I could take puddles with me
to the diner and have my eggs
sunny side up with old rain. The best
I can do is anoint my forehead
with yesterday’s blessing and try
to hear wind sleeping in the cedars
before I go. Instead I hear the river
sleep-walking to the sea. What else
can’t I carry? Lightning, in or out
of a bottle is two different beasts,
and both horses and hours
sleep in the nude and are too wild
to be possessed. I’ll do the crossword
and if I’m lucky, seven down
will be an infinitely lettered word
for “the green that is the color
of desire.” I would never come
to anyone’s dream
or wake empty handed, even if all
my hands carried were my hands.
When my body had forgotten its purpose,
when it just hung off my brainstem like a whipped mule.
When my hands only wrote. When my teeth only ate.
When my ass sat, my eyes read, when my reflexes
were answers to questions we all already knew.
Remember how it was then that you slid your hand
into me, a fork in the electric toaster of my body. Jesus,
where did all these sparks come from? Where was all
this heat? Remember what this mouth did last night?
And still, this morning I answer the phone like normal,
still I drink an hour’s worth of strong coffee. And now
I file. And now I send an email. And remember how
my lungs filled with all that everything? Remember
how my heart was an animal you released from its cage?
Remember how we unhinged? Remember all the names
our bodies called each other? Remember how afterwards,
the steam rose from us like a pair of ghosts?
"Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out" —Luke 8:2.
The first was that I was very busy.
The second — I was different from you: whatever happened to you could not happen to me, not like that.
The third — I worried.
The fourth — envy, disguised as compassion.
The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too — its face. And the ant — its bifurcated body.
Ok the first was that I was so busy.
The second that I might make the wrong choice,
because I had decided to take that plane that day,
that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early
and, I shouldn’t have wanted that.
The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street
the house would blow up.
The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer
of skin lightly thrown over the whole thing.
The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living
The sixth — if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I
touched the left arm a little harder than I’d first touched the right then I
to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.
The seventh — I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that
was alive and I couldn’t stand it,
I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word — cheesecloth —
to breath through that would trap it — whatever was inside everyone else that
entered me when I breathed in
No. That was the first one.
The second was that I was so busy. I had no time. How had this happened?
How had our lives gotten like this?
The third was that I couldn’t eat food if I really saw it — distinct, separate
from me in a bowl or on a plate.
Ok. The first was that I could never get to the end of the list.
The second was that the laundry was never finally done.
The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.
And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was
The fourth was I didn’t belong to anyone. I wouldn’t allow myself to belong
The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn’t know.
The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.
The seventh was the way my mother looked when she was dying—her mouth wrenched into an O so as to take in as much air… The sound she made — the gurgling sound — so loud we had to speak louder to hear each other over it.
And that I couldn’t stop hearing it—years later—
grocery shopping, crossing the street —
No, not the sound — it was her body’s hunger
—what our mother had hidden all her life.
For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.
The underneath —that was the first devil.
It was always with me.
And that I didn’t think you — if I told you — would understand any of this —
Translated from the Dutch by Marijn Rombouts
I want you to see through my intentions
I want you to know the price of desire
the scale of things, I want you to understand
why they overestimate the kindness
I want to hear you say:
"everything just serves to win
everything is tactic; we all
I want them to keep our secret
how we chase each other silently like hunters
I want us to be willing to put our souls at stake
like we insert a coin in a slot machine
I want to go back in time to when I still learned from my dreams
I want to have the marks I left on your skin back
I want to able to feel you with my eyes in the dark
trace with my nails were you have been
I want your hands to wrap me in cool sheets
I want to see if your side differs from mine
I want you to be stronger towards the end
I want to give you the idea that you are winning
I want you to feel a foundling without me
an eccentric in the void, I want to see you tremble
in the cold, I want you sweating, rubbed warm
I want you rabid, praying for repentance
I want you to be able to read my mind
I want you to be able to touch my heart
or the fatal spot, I do not care
who causes the wounds, I do not care
how many there are, I just want to take an interest
in what dominates me. I want to be in a beautiful place
when I die. I want to be able to drown in the Red Sea
injure myself on a poisonous coral, wash up
on a snow white beach, with your taste still
on my lips. I don’t want to destroy you
I wouldn’t know how. If only I could say:
I will forget you, if only I could say:
I’ll leave you alone
but I can not lie
I always think of you, truly
I will forever think of you
Could I even tell how it was,
his hip on mine against the wall, my hands
shaking, had I ever touched him that
way in some other life, was his skin
always so hot to the touch, the shirt
I shoved my hands under;
Could I even touch him how he was,
shaking, my hand against the hot wall
of his hip, had I been
his shirt in some other life, was I always
so hot to the touch like something
he would shove against;
Could I tell him to make it even,
my hip shoved against the wall
of his hands, shaking, had I always
been so hot in another life to tell
how it was, to be the skin
under his touch;
Could I even tell his hip from my hand,
shaking, had he ever
touched me in some
other life, was his shirt always a wall
against my hand, could he
shove my under
I used to buy graph paper, and color in the squares, one by one.
I knew a man who suicided his vision by staring into the sun.
There are twenty-seven oranges and thirteen honeybees
Pollinating beneath that tree.
Dear wife, don’t fall asleep. There are only seven traffic lights
And four stop signs between you and me.
for Trayvon Martin
”Slaves were branded according to the mark of the purchaser at the Tree of Forgetting. The name of the place, however, stems from the ritual of turning slaves around the tree to reinforce forgetfulness of their homes. Men were walked around the tree nine times, and women seven times.” — “Visiting Ouidah,” The Ouidah Museum of History
Meet me on the plantation steps. It’s okay. Baggy jeans. A hoodie. Wear whatever you want. I’ll open the door. I will let you in.
Welcome to Smithfield.
You can request the slave tour.
This is not the slave tour.
This is not the regular tour.
I don’t know what this is.
The foyer, just a fancy word for entry hall—you know how people do. These floors and walls, tenant farmers let the chickens in.
She is the great, great, gran-something of someone who matters, a niece, I think.
She willed us this house. She’s very important. She saved us from chickens.
And him. This wood-framed mirror from Ireland or Scotland, or somewhere else, is a surviving piece. See the carved heart and arrow at top. The mirror is part of a pair, the other lost, maybe to tenant farmers, maybe to chickens. But him, his name, the one who brought the mirror from Ireland, or Scotland, or somewhere else, he is very important, like the heart and arrow whose story I also can’t remember. I’m sorry.
You should know from the jump: I’m not a very good tour guide. I mean, Interpreter. That’s what they call us.
This is the sitting room. Important people sat here, drank tea, read books. These are surviving books. None of these chairs are surviving. In the next room, the bedroom, we’ll see a surviving chair, a rocking chair made by a slave, a surviving bed, a surviving fireplace, and upstairs a surviving doll bed made by a slave of this man for this man’s child. The doll in the doll bed might be surviving, but probably not. These glass windows—all surviving. The doll baby is White. The fruit is fake.
Each time/the bowl of strawberries/red and wet/to put one on my tongue.
I admire the strawberries. I appreciate their role on this tour. Let’s be honest, I’m someone who lusts after fake fruit, as long as it looks real.
This painting. We believe he resembles the father, or maybe it’s the one in the dining room. It doesn’t matter. They’re all hanging miscreants, just another word for asshole. Let’s switch the paintings. Let’s get at them with black Sharpies. Let’s make maps of their faces, faces of their maps. The maps are downstairs in the museum store.
Here is the wife. Her slob of a husband died first. She never remarried. At least
thirty years without sex. This may explain the look of disappointment, but we can’t forget the twelve or thirteen children, the two or three children dead, the dead husband, a plantation to run, all those slaves, living inside the gnawing of knowing none of this is hers. It’s not in the diaries, or any papers, but we can make guesses. We can interpret.
The rocking chair made by the slave I already mentioned—we’ll take it with us. I’m sure it will fit through the surviving front doors. Notice the surviving bed and the surviving fireplace. The paint is a special blue, maybe Prussian, maybe something else. I can’t remember. The truth: I don’t care about paint. The architecture makes me nauseous, the balustrade gives me panic attacks, and the window casings give me hives. I threw up in the kitchen room downstairs, in the surviving fireplace, in the cast iron pot, which is not surviving.
Let me tell you a story:
Othello and Thomas Fraction are two whole men, brothers and slaves. They join the Union army, the 40th U.S. Colored Troops.
You can leave, but don’t you ever return, says their owner.
Their mother remains in Virginia. Their mother remains three fifths of a person. The Fractions are good whole sons. The war is over. They return to their mother, in uniform. They laugh and tell jokes. They hug and kiss their sister, Virginia.
Someone runs and tells the owner who is praying in church: your ex-slaves, come quick. The owner stops praying. A gunfight ensues. I’m sorry. I should’ve warned you: in this story, no one is shot.
A Fraction breaks his ankle, Othello or Thomas. Someone calls for police. You know this story. They throw the Fractions in jail. Wait, there’s more.
A White man who is also a Quaker helps the Fractions sue. They win what they can—lost wages, defamation of character. No, I don’t know how long they were in jail. One of them leaves Virginia, the state. They both leave their mother and sister. Trust me, this is a happy story.
I don’t know what happened to Virginia, their sister, not the state. One is a body of a land, the other a body. The distinction matters.
This is the dining room. I don’t care about the china either, although it is pretty. It might be surviving. It might not. The china cabinet was probably made by a slave. It’s more than likely. It will be more difficult to carry, but we’ll do what we can to get it through the surviving front doors. Remind me not to forget the surviving doll bed, the one upstairs, the one made by a slave.
And this is a painting of William, one of the hanging miscreants. I don’t want to tell you this story, but here it is:
The slave trade has been outlawed since 1811. This rule doesn’t apply to William, a man who breaks arms and legs if you don’t vote for his uncle.
It’s after the war. William, who prefers strong drink, is done with soldiering. He buys a ship, imports slaves, makes lots of money.
William has been dirtying his hands in the islands. He sails home to Virginia. On his ship, 300 seasoned slaves. William is feeling lucky, but there’s a blockade—nowhere to dock his illegal ship. The ship sits for a month off the coast of Norfolk. No harbor. No rest. Nowhere to go.
Some jumped overboard. Some ate their tongues. Some hung onto lovers, their desire, broken. We don’t know this for sure. We can imagine. We can interpret. In the end, only thirty. Out of 300, only thirty.
If we subtract thirty from 300, divide that by three fifths, and/or divide 300 by three fifths, and/or divide 30 by three fifths what remains?
Sometime before, or after, or during, or between the ship with the 300 now thirty slaves, William decides no more. William, the miscreant, the reluctant soldier, the boozer, the breaker of arms and legs, the slaver has seen enough swallowed tongues. He moves to Louisville. He sells thoroughbreds instead. One is a horse, the other is not. Still, you can bridle both.
This is the kitchen: baskets, dried herbs, cast iron pots, pans, and Sucky. Sucky is a mannequin, her stocking-ed face, faceless. This is the metal rod used to beat bread. It was not used to beat Sucky. We get this question a lot, mostly from boys, but also from girls. We have no idea where Sucky came from. We imagine someone picked her up at Sears, or perhaps she was donated. See her name on the slave registry. The registry lives in the office upstairs. We’re not allowed to hang it next to the miscreants. It’ll be easy to carry through the surviving front doors.
Wait. Here it is:
Because New Smyrna Beach is 91 percent White.
Because I’m only forty minutes from where he shot you.
Because on your day I ate fried scallops, drank wine, tucked your name under my greasy napkin, explained to my job how productive I was this year. This year, every day you were dead.
Because I didn’t want to know how close you were until after February 26th.
Because New Orleans, New York, Blacksburg, L.A., Detroit, Oakland.
Because Sanford is just another city, and Florida, just another state sitting on a giant sinkhole.
Because I’ll drive two hours to Fort Pierce just to kneel on Zora’s grave.
Because old death is easier than new death.
Because your year old death hangs fresh with other deaths I know, old and new: my father, Oscar Grant, Troy Davis. Two died violent, one didn’t. All died Black. I could go on, and on.
Because I want to walk into the Atlantic in a white dress, my face painted funereal white, drag your body back to sea.
Because your death won’t let me sleep.
So I’ve brought you here, to this plantation. Crazy, right?
What kind of person walks over the bones of slaves?
What kind of person is a slave to bones?
I know a poet, who calls it weird, this slaving of bones. This woman opens the legs of the dead, eats bread with severed ears, sometimes lives in the kitchen rooms at Monticello. We’ll visit her later.
If you could follow me out the front door, down the steps, to the tree-framed path. The trees, I don’t know, maybe willow. Their beauty sickens me. Past the sign to Smithfield Cemetery. I’m sorry. We have to do this.
This is the barren field. We believe slave cabins once stood here. As you can see, nothing now. Notice the alternate view of the plantation house on the rise above us. We can imagine. We can interpret.
The oak tree, over 500 years old. We know this almost for sure. We screwed in the borer, pulled out the core, sanded it down, and counted the rings. The tree is a window, a broken aria of fire. The tree is a ship of smoke, a river, a wedding. Its winter branches twist inside the sky.
This snow is not part of the tour.
If I open my arms and wrap them around the trunk, let’s pretend I can reach your cold hands. Let’s pretend this sudden snow doesn’t feel like sudden death. Let’s make snow slaves and call them angels. Look: if you stand here, behind the oak, the house disappears. I haven’t told this to anyone. We’re hidden, safe. Let’s stay here, hold hands, say thank you to the barren field. Let’s say nothing. I’m sorry.
Where do you want to go? I’ll take you anywhere. To your mother? Your father? Their bent faces at your memorial in New York. To the sweet, new candy you bought on your way home. To the girl on the phone right before he shot you. Let’s go there, to a moment of your breath. Let’s stay here. If we could, just tell me, please. Let’s never move again.
more people click like or fav or heart on my selfies than they do on my poems maybe Jezebel can write some bullshit about that
The moon’s a doubloon over the bay where we live in our houseboat. Bunny razzes
I’m a busboy on account of my black moustache, because of my cowlick and skin coat,
because my name, she knows, is Sergio Al-Ekaterinoslav, but I say,
I’m no busboy, Bunny, I’m a yachtsman. She says, Somos mismos, sailor, when we’re
necking in the blue shade of the blue tarp bluing the deck, seeming inveterate
as market forces, unassailable there as the Federal Reserve. Still, I
tell her I bathed as a tyke in floodplains outside Jalandhar and stewed later in
tenement flats and thought once of drinking from a rifle. Life frightened me, Bunny,
but now my day labors are ended, all my water buffalo are in escrow,
my laundries automated and taxi cabs dispatched, I’m the crack proprietor
of seventy-six motels between here and Virginia. Now I get paid, I get
paid, and get laid, which isn’t alien to the arc welder, the cocktail server,
or stone mason, to the lavaplatos, dhobi whalla, or gunnery sergeant
second class, but what they call a mountain in the valley, Bunny, we call a hill
on the mountain. What they call a prayer in their temple is an algorithm
in our commodities exchange. Better a loose tycoon, I say, than the wick in
a worker’s lantern. Better a natty cummerbund for a tool belt, our wine flutes
sweating in a tuxedo heat. Better not bother conserving our resources
for the next life. This is the next life! she says. No reckoning is coming. No,
only New Year’s is coming and Oscar night and Derby Day and the balloon-drop
ballyhoo of the delegate conventions I’ll do up dashing in linen suits
and pocket squares, in blazers and chinos. I’ll pass dapper as a Dixie lawyer.
If anybody asks, Where is he from? Bunny, tell her Baton Rouge, or say South
Carolina. If anybody asks, Where’s he really from? meaning the Rangoon
Nebula, meaning the seventh moon of Guadalajara or the ice planet
Karachi, tell him I come in peace or I pledge allegiance. Tell him, those tyrants
beat their keep tonight, and widows wail in wilds where the nascent widows wail, but I
let Allah triage the bodies in his Red Crescent stations, let Abraham play
arbiter, Jesus raise the dead, I’m not a tyrant, Bunny, I’m a citizen,
that land is their land, I lie with you now on the bay in our houseboat I dream in
English, algorithm, algorithm, let no cussing widow wail at me.
It is almost insulting to get stuck with something inside you that resides there purposeless. Our small walking oceans
strive to make room for a pile of tissue that simply wants raw meat until it bursts
and kills you unless you live next door to a surgeon with bouts of downtime. At least there
is a cure for rabies now, but no way to not be born with organs we don’t need. Dr. Phil
says to avoid toxic relationships as they achieve the psyche similar to the appendix.
No good til you cut it out. Rip it, loose string, a tough orange peel, the wrong end
of a cigarette in your mouth when the match touches. To sputter and sputter and sputter,
wait for the backfire to spark out and roar. It’s almost insulting but it isn’t like our genes
are aware of the invention of microwaves. Our DNA sequences have no clue of our
habitual barbeques. That half this country would sniff a line of bacon if the flavor
could be absorbed better via insufflation. Us, the fat fucks, useless as raw meat, useless as the sack behind our small
intestine. An insult til appendectomy.
This is not a metaphor for a girl I wish I could get rid of, but it could be. Not rid in the
bag of kittens in the river kind of way, but rid as in the shards of glass entering the tiny
gap between my big toe and the next, stepped on where the wet sand turns soft
at a beach where the tourists don’t bother going because the truant kids and their
spliffs seem problematic for their children’s upbringing. The good thing about this life:
you can always decide where you are going. Where you’ve come from, what you come into
this world with is unalterable. But there can be a fork in your path whenever you decide
to slam its prongs into the dirt. A knife up in the tablecloth. Bring a horse to water and all that.
A roadflare to announce something is happening. Wish it were fireworks. Maybe someone’s appendix burst
and the clock is now counting. It is always good to be aware of the symptoms of stroke.
It is really hard to say to myself that death is unavoidable.
What if I just want to swerve into it, like I’m hydroplaning. Bud nipping. This isn’t a metaphor, really.
I don’t even miss her tonight. I am out of scotch. This is a lie: my glass was never even full
of scotch. Blueberry pomegranate gatorade. You cannot help what you have to start, but can make
damn sure you know what you are finishing with. Either you die with an extra organ or you die with a lovely scar.
Black market organ prices are dropping as our government looms closer to defaulting. The last Jenga piece.
I am googling "prices of tonsils", could do with an ice cream diet, I figure I
have been sitting with this jiggle long enough and I might as well compound my interest.
I do not even miss her but I know she would eat most the ice cream at my beckoning.
If it was that easy to cut out your own organs. To stitch yourself with thread, a bobbin, a mirror.
A swivel chair just because its so fun to spin and not know what direction you’ll end up facing.
Can always know where you are starting, but to end up North or West is simply
a matter of air pressure and geography. Did you know that an earthquake last week
caused two new islands to spring up out of the ocean? We are due some wings by now, then.
X-ray vision or the ability to will your dick to grow just a little longer. Isn’t it awful
that I chalk up my loneliness to a matter of inches and how loud I can make a girl howl for me?
I suppose a lack thereof is due somewhere in the last sentence. Dr. Phil says something
about validation but I just want to punch him in the mandible. An insult to empathy.
Would rather get my appendix out wide awake than…..(pick any activity with Dr. Phil)
This is not a poem so much as a metaphor for how little this poem is a metaphor. I do not
even miss her today. They say you do not miss anything until it is gone.
I remember now how many days I missed her when I still had her, still could
go up on a rooftop at the corner of Waverly and bullhorn on about love or such and such,
and still miss her. If they are right, that must mean I never had her at all. A horse unbreakable.
A finch whose wings you just can’t clip because it would ruin their nature. I wonder,
if you get that useless meat processor out of your gullet before it pops, do you miss it?
I want to believe that somehow there are phantom pains. The way paraplegics ball their ghost fists
when angry, curl their toes when they orgasm. The way a eunoch can feel the blood rush south when
a girl with an eggplant waist brushes up beside him. I wonder, if something you never needed
in the first place decides it is time to leave you; will it hurt as bad in the wake of it’s departure
as when something you thought you needed does the same thing?
Is a loss of function equitable or am I just drawing patterns to things because
that is what the human brain is wired to do when grieving. I can answer my own questions.
There has been a pain in my side for three months now. I just wanted to say, I can feel it.
I still have my appendix so the phantom pain must be from another vacancy.
Mostly, I have just been keeping my legs above my heart, drawing comparisons
after hastening conclusions. I’m looking through dictionaries to find out
if there is a word for this. Wish it were fireworks. Wish it were survivability
translated from the Vietnamese by Linh Dinh
I’ll give you a roll of barbwire
A vine for this modern epoch
Climbing all over our souls
That’s our love, take it, don’t ask
I’ll give you a car bomb
A car bomb exploding on a crowded street
On a crowded street exploding flesh and bones
That’s our festival, don’t you understand
I’ll give you a savage war
In the land of so many mothers
Where our people eat bullets and bombs instead of rice
Where there aren’t enough banana leaves to string together
To replace mourning cloths for the heads of children
I’ll give you twenty endless years
Twenty years seven thousand nights of artillery
Seven thousand nights of artillery lulling you to sleep
Are you sleeping yet or are you still awake
On a hammock swinging between two smashed poles
White hair and whiskers covering up fifteen years
A river stinking of blood drowning the full moon
Where no sun could ever hope to rise
I’m still here, sweetie, so many love tokens
Metal handcuffs to wear, sacks of sand for pillows
Punji sticks to scratch your back, fire hoses to wash your face
How do we know which gift to send each other
And for how long until we get sated
Lastly, I’ll give you a tear gas grenade
A tear gland for this modern epoch
A type of tear neither sad nor happy
Drenching my face as I wait.
What numbness strung
a taproot sky,
where we assemble the lone
and are among them.
Sovereign of the dead, who
would rise to greet you
with these tall axils
needles like sea grass,
low now in slow rot
brown with the early
spice of itself?
my human eyes
blue-violet and strung
As what is
myself, forgive me—I am