My father threw his language overboard,
a bag of kittens, waterlogged mewling:
small hard bodies.
My mother hung on to hers —
Wove the words like lace, an open web
over the window, light caught on the edges.
My daughter is starting to pick at language,
names at dawn – dog, star, mumma –...
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...
My dad taught me to never give out my real name, age,
address, or photos. This seemed obvious to me. My fake
birthday entry was always my crush's birthday plus a
random year from the early 1900s. I spent hours making
my avatars look like everything, anything but myself. It
didn’t matter how people (mis)pronounced my name, how
young I was...
C Wing 1
Your mother is missing,
the nurse hovers at the door .
Your mother is missing, a bit louder this time.
As if this was natural, a daily game of let's find the Italian,
the one who doesn't speak English anymore.
In the C wing,
there are 24 rooms, a narrow hallway,
a kitchen, a solarium and a locked entrance....
Departing from Kingston, Jamaica, the British ship Empire Windrush
brought one of the first large groups of postwar Caribbean immigrants to
London in 1948
Dem did sey she pregnance
Cum a sea full a mi
Weighing har down eena har shoe dem
Dresses, coco, mangoes an baggy an arl
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...
from Cross River . Pick Lotus
How to describe sea
To someone who’s never seen it?
He lives to ninety-nine, he wants it, to see it
To walk on its glass surface, to blow the seven trumpets.
At this joyous moment gigantic angel wings
Write prophecy all over the sky. How can I tell him
About sea storms, the chocking...
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...
Always that spectral fragment. Filament of line cast back there.
Where open-mouthed fish rise to gulp down shiny lures.
I sang once in an auditorium to almost empty rows.
I looked for my people in the seats, under the seats, behind
the seats, but they weren’t there. I called the three people
who were there to come up and introduce...
The Ringing Bell
I used to liken a poem to praying. Is that right?
Not the woo and gratitude praying served by queer witches.
Childhood praying. As a girl I genuflected to the tabernacle
and insisted on sitting next to the stained glass window.
On the right kind of Sunday sun would send a slice of pink
light through the glass and down to the porcelain tile...
I've Dreamt of You So Often
I've dreamt of you so often that you become unreal.
Is there still time to reach this living body and to kiss on its mouth the birth of
the voice so dear to me?
I've dreamt of you so often that my arms used to embracing your shadow and
only crossing on my own chest might no longer meet your body's...
At first there's no lake in the city, at first there are only
elevators, at first there are only constricting office desks;
there are small apartments and hamburger joints and
unpaid telephone bills. Then a few nightclubs appear and
eventually the lake disinters. At times there's a highway
and a car and friends in a snowstorm heading nowhere but...
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...
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
big ghosts contra
band my diction war
korea's north sees red as
america flags china's chopped limb
british crowns hong kong
cut for duplicity more capitalist than capitalist
trades commie goods
door slam hello hunger
remember japan's occupation
desperate flee inland...
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...
I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody's dalmatian. I meet
the man walking her on a leash
almost every week. He says good morning
and I stoop down to calm her. He said
once that she was...
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
January 1, Dawn
After the celebrations,
people, TV channels, telephones,
the year’s recently-corrected digit
finally falls asleep.
Between the final night and the first dawn
a jagged piece of sky
as if viewed from the open mouth of a whale.
Inside her belly and inside the belly of time,
there’s no point worrying.
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...
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...
On Seeing a Photograph of My Mother at St. Joseph Residential School for Girls
A black and white picture
The sun is shining through a window behind you
Your hair black short Your small brown hands folded neatly on a tiny wooden desk
Some of the girls in the picture are smiling You are not Your eyes staring into the camera Seem a million miles away
That stare I will see seldom and one day...
from “Road Shoulders”
power lines held by birds
of prey the hostile expanse above
ditches teeming floral invasive
late summer the shoulder sang
holds breeze by
the course of the drive
ravelling winds furl sparse treetops
semi-trailers startle traffic to attention
it's rank, it cranks you up
it’s rank it cranks you up
crash you’re fracked you suck
shucks you’re wack you be
all you cracked up to be
dead on arrival
overdosed on whatever
excess of hate and love
I sleep alone
if you were there
then please come in
tell me what’s good
think up something
But I’m No One
for M. Maylor
Dear Anne Carson:
My friend read me the poem where your mom
said that the dead walk backwards.
You thought this myth arose from poor translation.
I can attest to your misapprehension.
My social studies teacher in grade 8, Ms. Rogers,
believed it was customary for the Chinese
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...
The Emperor of Ice-Cream
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the...
anyone lived in a pretty how town
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed(but only a few...
Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my...
Sons of Orion
for Alton Sterling, Andrew Loku, Philando Castile, et al.
I wanna live, son. But which son are you?
There where the rivers are made
of moonshine and the lights still wait,
move by the music of the dealer’s bootleg CDs.
Have you left the street-side, the Rigel stage
for another watery home?
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...
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....
The limpness of a bird's legs in flight.
The place, the question, the question.
The place, the interest, the question.
There is the place.
There is what you do in the place.
There is your belief.
There is the faith in a knowing.
There is your instruction
by the gods.
There is your instruction as you are told.
There is your relief...
Say the Names
— say the names say the names
and listen to yourself
an echo in the mountains
say them like your soul
was listening and overhearing
and you dreamed you dreamed
you were a river
and you were a river
— not the flat borrowed imitations
of foreign names...
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
The Novel As Manuscript
An ars poetica
I remember the death, in Russia,
of postage stamps
like immense museum masterpieces
wrapped in linen, tea stained,
with hemp for strapping...
these colored stamps designed for foreign places
were even printed during famine—
so when they vanished...
St John’s Burns Down for the Umpteenth Time
Let’s say the fix was in. Let’s say history,
Being human and thus short on ideas,
Made change from an old bag of tricks. Say this
Was something reported as news
On a day when your life came to no good.
The new homeless drifting from row houses
Along streets tamped down by the heedless
And paved in afterthought. Out of hollows...
Hotel Centrale, Rotterdam
I am awake between stiff
sheets tonight in room thirty
four, listening to the heat
tick through the radiator,
seeing a television
pour out news of the war
the war in the air, the war
in the Gulf. The walls vibrate
with video light. This is
no room for sleep anymore.
There is no room for...
All About My Grandmother
Wheat daughter, prisoner of sneaky pigweed, mother
to the five corners of the world and your three hectares,
beak-nosed carpenter’s wife and the potter’s lover,
queen of the aroma of grey soap, head covered
with a gold-trimmed kerchief, the glory of birds at dawn,
tired liege of furrowed fields, midwife to our breads,
magic purveyor of...
Kay in Summer
Someone waiting in the lobby of a Hotel Imperial amid
the spaciousness tourists and peeling gold leaf
might see it all as too hesitant for truth
Might think for a moment about the art in scattering
too solidly carved tables crowding too many dreams
before dim Victorian...
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...
He totaled his blue truck —
slowly spun out on an icy bridge,
rammed it into a guard rail.
Climbed out unbruised.
Coal Creek. Middle of nowhere.
A passing couple brought him home.
Then three years
with letters from the Motor Vehicle Department
before he relinquished his license.
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,
Sometimes we are led through the doorway
by a child, sometimes
by a stranger, always a matter of grace changing
the past, for if there is anything we must change
it is the past. To look back
and see another map.
Love enough to fill
a shoe, a suitcase, a bit of ink,
a painting, a child’s eyes at a chalkboard,...
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
Sometimes I Find Myself Weeping at the Oddest Moment
sometimes I find myself
at the oddest moment
an unexpected voice
mon oncle André
calling Christmas Day
a Merry Christmas
and I am
that little girl
walking across the lake
with her grandfather
to check on the snares
and traps he...
I dreaded those future aeons when I would not be present —
an endless succession of days I would miss, with their own
news and songs and styles of machine.
— John Updike, “On Being a Self Forever”
No, nothing much has changed.
A year later, the world is still one you’d recognize...
When Winter Comes
Rain at Muchalat, rain at Sooke,
And rain, they say, from Yale to Skeena,
And the skid-roads blind, and never a look
Of the Coast Range blue over Malaspina,
And west winds keener
Than jack-knife blades,
And rocks grown greener
With the long drip-drip from the cedar shades
On the drenched deep soil where the footsteps...
400: Coming Home
You are still on the highway and the great light of
noon comes over the asphalt, the gravelled
shoulders. You are on the highway, there is a kind of
laughter, the cars pound
south. Over your shoulder the scrub-grass, the fences,
the fields wait patiently as though someone
believed in them. The light has laid it
upon them. One...
A Fixed Idea
What torture lurks within a single thought
When grown too constant, and however kind,
However welcome still, the weary mind
Aches with its presence. Dull remembrance taught
Remembers on unceasingly; unsought
The old delight is with us but to find
That all recurring joy is pain refined,
Become a habit, and we struggle, caught....
My bands of silk and miniver
Momently grew heavier;
The black gauze was beggarly thin;
The ermine muffled mouth and chin;
I could not suck the moonlight in.
Harlequin in lozenges
Of love and hate, I walked in these
Striped and ragged rigmaroles;
Along the pavement my footsoles
When You Are Old
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
The World Is Too Much With Us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; —
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for...
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were — I have not seen
As others saw — I could not bring
My passions from a common spring —
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow — I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone —
And all I lov’d — I lov’d alone —
Then — in my childhood —...
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,...
The train has stopped for no apparent reason
In the wilds;
A frozen lake is level and fretted over
With rippled wind lines;
The sun is burning in the South; the season
Is winter trembling at a touch of spring.
A little hill with birches and a ring
Of cedars — all so still, so pure with snow —
It seems a tiny landscape in...
Mr. Kessler, you know, was in the army,
And he drew six dollars a month as a pension,
And stood on the corner talking politics,
Or sat at home reading Grant’s Memoirs;
And I supported the family by washing,
Learning the secrets of all the people
From their curtains, counterpanes, shirts and skirts.
For things that are...
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;...
To an Athlete Dying Young
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
La Figlia che Piange
O quam te memorem virgo...
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair —
Lean on a garden urn —
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair —
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise —
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the...
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the...
Journey of the Magi
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,...
When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When I was Fair and Young
When I was fair and young, then favor graced me.
Of many was I sought their mistress for to be.
But I did scorn them all and answered them therefore:
Go, go, go, seek some other where; importune me no more.
How many weeping eyes I made to pine in woe,
How many sighing hearts I have not skill to show,
But I the prouder...
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,...
At Melville’s Tomb
Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.
And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,...
‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;...
So, we’ll go no more a roving
So, we’ll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
Shall earth no more inspire thee
Shall earth no more inspire thee,
Thou lonely dreamer now?
Since passion may not fire thee
Shall Nature cease to bow?
Thy mind is ever moving
In regions dark to thee;
Recall its useless roving —
Come back and dwell with me.
I know my mountain breezes
Enchant and soothe thee...
I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
That only men incredulous of despair,
Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,
In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute heavens. Deep-...