For You Shall Be Called to Account
The ancestors of everyone I’ve let into my body
are gathered in a small room with one window,
no lights. Yes, the room is crowded. Yes, there
are no chairs. Yes, they are talking. Why are we
here, says the Nazi resister. Where are the chairs,
says the Viking (no horns). Where is...
We Twitter, Tinder, Tumblr through eternity. Loquacious
text messages flit from fingertips, waves of data spill
through our skulls. Every cm2 of oxygen overflowing
with bank PINS, girls in yoga pants, the frequencies
of whale cries. Digital clouds brim with selfies and rain
videos on how to cook coconut shrimp. Sepia-filtered
Passing into Storm
Know him for a white man.
He walks sideways into wind
allowing the left of him
to forget what the right
knows as cold. His ears
turn into death what
his eyes can’t see. All day
he walks away from the sun
passing into storm. Do not
mistake him for the howl you hear
The Fatigue is just fatigue. It
sprays my body like
a numbing agent. Say the
way I sleep might not be
working, say the way I eat
might not be working.
Hope to god the meds
start working. The other day
she said you need firmer
this looks like an earlier
bedtime. Fuel your...
My sister cries the sea
My sister is crying and crying
her tears grow to salt stormy showers
to rain and to rapids and rivers
they run to the sea to the sea.
My sister sobs softly she knows
she listens at shells and the shoals
she hears from fish sleeping at nightfall
she gathers from mushrooms and moulds.
From One and Half of You
Price depends on how the cheongsam
was made, the fabric used.
Gasp. Lift breasts with one hand.
Stuff your body inside.
If you wear this print of peonies
people may call them cabbages.
Hand-sewn, it’s vulnerable to tears.
A machine can fix that.
Needles pinned will...
diaspora babies, we
are born of pregnant pauses/spilled
from unwanted wombs/squalling invisible-ink poems/written in the margins
of a map of a place
called No Homeland
old gong gong honoured uncle is the man i won't become/
BBQ pork-scented sorrow and red
bean paste buns he sold on street corners in Chinatown/...
April 30, 2014
Weeds are flattened beneath last year’s tire tracks
others lay burden by the winter’s heavy snow.
The crocuses labor through this thick blanket.
I am sun drained from the bleakness
of the weeks before. Now a tick
I've carried in my hair runs up my neck,
festers on my chin.
I show it no mercy.
The lake-ice is...
School for the Deaf
You gasp, awakened by
a bucket of cold water.
A gauzy autumn morning. A drained sunrise.
You shiver, strain to see the house
parent’s fingers whipping & flicking in
the fibrous grey light—wordless yet
You wipe your face with
your sheet, bite back a sob.
memories of my youth
we learned to stand on one leg
clasping bundles of hope between our teeth
not because we wanted
to resemble flocks of black flamingos
one foot in the smelly pile was better than two
the sky beckoned
its blue hues a promise
we carried in those little bundles
“The link with poverty is there is there in the man's hat, too, for money has got to be brought in, got to be brought in somehow,” M.D., The Lover.
Poverty is in the language, it is in her gaze back. It seeps and oozes into every poverty-stricken word.
Each word is used sparingly as if each word were currency.
It is everywhere. It...
Women Do This Every Day
At the park I look for Levita,
because our work is the same—
swaying wide-legged over foraging toddlers,
we avert bruises, discourage the consumption
of found objects, interpret primordial languages,
serve fruit from hastily filled containers,
and trade a few stories and questions, so I know
sam says you can’t name your book good boys without a dog
but sam doesn’t know that i am the dog
i am the ultimate mutt and i am telling him this story
at the bar called college hill tavern which looks like a front
for some operation where all the bar stools appear as if
they were staged in under ten minutes and
the girl with the...
I am fourteen
and my skin has betrayed me
the boy I cannot live without
still sucks his thumb
how come my knees are
always so ashy
what if I die
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.
I have to learn how to dance
in time for the next party...
Doña Josefina Counsels Doña Conceptión Before Entering Sears
Conchita debemos to speak totalmente in English
cuando we go into Sears okay Por qué
Porque didn’t you hear lo que pasó It say
on the eleven o’clock news anoche que two robbers
was caught in Sears and now this is the part
I’m not completely segura que I got everything
porque channel 2 tiene tú sabes that big fat guy
Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes
The puck skates in on parted-snow ice.
It's the season’s last game, an encore
to stomach winter’s sliver, to shrug off
the townsfolk stares.
The moonlit night is advanced in years
and highlights frontline winds. Streaming
sky trails squall skeleton trees.
Blades carve the pond.
Their cursive glide...
Men in the Gut
Scrape the inside of sleep the belly wall
tasting like yoghurt cooked broccoli
its emptiness leaving something
on the tongue. Escaping the body
that wants to quit from the inside.
It unlaces you all the tethers sliced
away. When I dream of this body ending
of opening the germ of the pain
I am on the side of the road. My...
America (I’m Putting My Queer Shoulder to the Wheel)
The night America took off her mask
we slept together poorly. I'd woken up early
that Tuesday, dragged myself to a gymnasium
in Jersey City to cast my vote into the void.
I came all the way out to Hampton Bays
to see her: her picking me up in that old
Mercury van, her bringing us back to her place.
As we watched the footage of...
We’re all aware that human hair is dead
Yet we spend thousands taking care of it.
It’s like an endless funeral.
The moment your hair hits air, it’s toast.
It only lives inside the follicle.
That we twist and burn and fry it,
Straighten it and dye it, does not surprise.
What’s it gonna do, spit out your cheap...
Lake Michigan, Scene 3
The bodies are on the beach
And the bodies keep breaking
And the fight is over
But the bodies aren't dead
And the mayor keeps saying I will bring back the bodies
I will bring back the bodies that were broken
The broken bodies speak slowly
They walk slowly onto a beach that hangs over a fire
Into a fire that hangs...
Two Guns in the Sky for Daniel Harris
When Daniel Harris stepped out of his car
the policeman was waiting. Gun raised.
I use the past tense though this is irrelevant
in Daniel's language, which is sign.
Sign has no future or past; it is a present language.
You are never more present than when a gun
is pointed at you. What language says this...
There was busy air there, air
seething through the leaves so,
from farther up, the tree-line shone
like a single scintillating polyhedron.
Still, though ravens and wrens flaked off the top,
the woods held, solid as a mall
or a rally or a lake — really anything
at all when seen from a ways. But
The sun gave our shoulder blades ulu-shaped burns, and the sun gives nothing to our sort
I sleep now, and furiously
Clouds excreted shadows on the shoreline, and there were no clouds
His body a train ride away, and nearby
There are organs I have never used before, and they are pale from overuse
The sand had turned to pearls in our folds, and that...
He wakes up naked and drunk as a bear
on sun-fermented garbage.
Hungover and queasy and riled up by
Nothing going well today, he moans,
life being short and the craft, ah, long.
Still, might as well take a stab at it,
lording it over misrule and tending the
that transforms a garden into...
Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong
Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
That feeling of my soul getting yanked
That feeling of my soul getting yanked
I wonder where my soul hides when I’m sick
My heart feels as if it’s getting beat up
Is it because the restless ocean is clumping up?
My heart beats regardless of the pain
It beats spewing out red thread like a red spider
A sinkful of red thread gets submerged in water
My heart beats like a...
We Lived Happily during the War
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house —
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month...
You knock on the door
You knock on the door but nobody answers. Cupping your hands around your face you peer through the side-panel of frosted glass. A kettle is whistling, a woman singing as she sets the table. This is a familiar house. You knock again. Inside, the sounds are festive. Glasses clink and a band starts up. Pressing your ear to the door, you hear the sound of your own laughter. This is the house you...
Bad Brown Girl
i can barely speak in my mother tongues stutter
my accent is bad
i hate jalebi
but i like aloo samosa
i'm a bad brown
girl i didn't join the
SAA or the ISA
i just didn't know
whether i was desi or irani
i said turmeric
before i said haldi
i go to white-people karaoke bars
Wow! You've Changed
You used to be so
and now you’re all
like, you’ve transformed
I don’t know how to describe
you don’t like canasta anymore
you text IN ALL CAPS
your selfies are so
like, are you out to prove something
you’re a lion
you’re a bear
Trust Fund Witches
Tape hiss, Value Village, vibraphones. On fixed-gears scrubbed with salt and lemon, like the secret at the centre of a Magic Eye the witches, genderless as light, breathe green and lavender, appear and disappear, chanting your passwords in a round. Voices like dimes dropped in a bowl, blush ultraviolet, glittering auras. Skin so soft they move through walls they press against your window,...
Should Lanterns Shine
Should lanterns shine, the holy face,
Caught in an octagon of unaccustomed light,
Would wither up, and any boy of love
Look twice before he fell from grace.
The features in their private dark
Are formed of flesh, but let the false day come
And from her lips the added pigments fall,
The mummy cloths expose an ancient breast....
you aren't going to like what i have to say
before i start i want to say you shouldn’t blame yourself
there’s no point in beating around the bush
there’s something we need to talk about
this is the most difficult thing i’ve ever had to tell anyone
the longer i wait the harder it’s going to be
it’s best if we face this right now
what i’m about to tell you won’t be easy to hear...
i twist and gasp
open and close my mouth
searching for air
whenever a sturgeon is caught in the rainy river
the feel of strange hands touching my body
to be free
to go where i want to go
the impact of stick or rock on bone
the splash of colour...
A History of Houses Built Out of Spite
none of us know Amy personally, but she’s here & she’s singing / rising above our sodden heads bowed in something like prayer / maybe // most of us are trying to move enough to pretend she doesn’t remind us of our mothers & Sunday morning spring cleans / the sharp bleached smell of it, the shrill peak of their voices demanding something far less beautiful // we’re trying not / to...
Now I set out across a minefield,
space having taken all I owned, I’m starting over
from a point where every pebble may explode
beneath my shoe and the flowers blaze up
behind my body as I gasp for air,
although in this world I’ve never known
either flames or dragons or the fury of war
in these lands where the sky was always calm...
I threw away your letters.
Years ago, just like that.
The tight black swirls,
circles and strokes
filling fine sheets —
I would not see them again.
The last items I had left.
The dates. The phrases.
The things you said. Forfeited.
Crushed. Melted. Dissolved....
Opus 75, Sestina in B-flat for the Glockenspiel
In the empty classroom, at sunrise, a girl
sits on the floor, staring at a glockenspiel.
She’s shredding the cuticles on her left hand
instead of starting to practise.
She doesn’t want to play —
not yet, if ever. The irritating sound
of her teeth clicking is the only sound
in the band room. The cranky girl
You Are Not Going to Come Trillium
But I do come to Trillium. To the Cardiac
Short Stay Unit where you’ve been sent for the second stent,
where free sanitizer prevents the spread of panic.
We laugh. Everyone is half-naked in I-See-U.
Behind a grey curtain, a thump and quiet invoke
Code Blue. We uncover your bottom line, the Left Main
of a black-and-white heart, hand-drawn...
Your best friend falls in love
and her brain turns to water.
You can watch her lips move,
making the customary sounds
but you can see they’re merely
words, flimsy as bubbles rising
from some golden sea where she
swims sleek and exotic as a mermaid.
It’s always like that.
You stop for lunch in a...
I've Tasted My Blood
If this brain’s over-tempered
consider that the fire was want
and the hammers were fists.
I’ve tasted my blood too much
to love what I was born to.
But my mother’s look
was a field of brown oats, soft-bearded;
her voice rain and air rich with lilacs:
and I loved her too much to like
how she dragged...
yesterday at the Oakland zoo
I was walking alone for a moment
past the enclosure holding the sun bear
also known as beruang madu
it looked at me without interest
it has powerful jaws and truly loves honey
it sleeps in a high hammock
its claws look made out of wood
and if it dreams at all it is of Malaysia...
We have each tried to read to him, with no success, except for James, who read him all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes
I was there, in the first of the long-term care centres, when he finished the story,
And we all shared the narrator’s sadness about giving up his donkey,
My Idea of the Circus Is My Idea of the Circus Otherwise Known As: My Mother Was a Celebrated Stunt Motorcyclist, Vietnam, 1958 to 1962
Very loud a mad frenzy The wooden
barrel she rode would have roared
(I first wrote “road”)
Left home to join the circus: 15 years old
You enter at the bottom and wind upwards
in spirals the bike climbing the sides
You enter the barrel on a Peugeot
with automatic tied down handles...
When I began to write, I didn’t know
each of my words would bit by bit remove
things from the world and in return leave blank
spaces. That poems would begin to take
the place of my own homeland, mother, father,
first love, and second youth, and what I write
would fade from this world, trade its solid being
Equinox Ritual with Ravens & Pines
— so we said to the somewhat: Be born —
& the shadow kept arriving in segments,
cold currents pushed minerals
up from the sea floor, up through
coral & labels of Diet Coke blame shame
bottles down there —
it is so much work to appear!
unreadable zeroes drop lamps...
The Swimmer’s Moment
The swimmer’s moment at the whirlpool comes,
But many at that moment will not say
‘This is the whirlpool, then.’
By their refusal they are saved
From the black pit, and also from contesting
The deadly rapids, and emerging in
The mysterious, and more ample, further waters.
And so their bland-blank faces turn...
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate...
How great unto the living seem the dead!
How sacred, solemn; how heroic grown;
How vast and vague, as they obscurely tread
The shadowy confines of the dim unknown! —
For they have met the monster that we dread,
Have learned the secret not to mortal shown.
E’en as gigantic shadows on the wall
The spirit of the daunted child amaze...
When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never...
A moment the wild swallows like a flight
Of withered gust-caught leaves, serenely high,
Toss in the windrack up the muttering sky.
The leaves hang still. Above the weird twilight,
The hurrying centres of the storm unite
And spreading with huge trunk and rolling fringe,
Each wheeled upon its own tremendous hinge,
The Author to Her Book
Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view,
Made thee in raggs, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
Life in a Love
While I am I, and you are you,
So long as the world contains us both,
Me the loving and you the loth,
While the one eludes, must the other pursue.
My life is a fault at last, I fear:
It seems too much like a fate, indeed!
Though I do my best I...