Dad’s house stands again, four years
after being demolished. I walk in.
He lies in bed, licks his rolling paper,
and when I ask Where have you been?
We buried you, he says I know,
I know. I lean into his smoke, tell him
I went back to Jamaica. I met your brothers,
losing you made me need them. He says
something I don’t hear. What? Moving lips,
no sound. I shake my head. He frowns.
Disappears. I wake in the hotel room,
heart drumming. I get up slowly, the floor
is wet. I wade into the bathroom,
my father stands by the sink, all the taps
running. He laughs and takes
my hand, squeezes.
His ring digs into my flesh. I open my eyes.
I’m by a river, a shimmering sheet
of green marble. Red ants crawl up
an oak tree’s flaking bark. My hands
are cold mud. I follow the tall grass
by the riverbank, the song. My Orisha,
Oshun in gold bracelets and earrings, scrubs
her yellow dress in the river. I wave, Hey!
She keeps singing. The dress turns the river
gold and there’s my father surfacing.
He holds a white and green drum. I watch him
climb out of the water, drip toward Oshun.
They embrace. My father beats his drum.
With shining hands, she signs: Welcome.
My father beats his drum.
I think my lover’s cane is sexy. The way they walk
like a rainstorm stumbles slow across the landscape.
How, with fingers laced together, our boots & canes
click in time—unsteady rhythm of a metronome’s limp
wrist. All sway & swish, first person I ever saw walk with
a lisp. Call this our love language of unspokens:
We share so many symptoms, the first time we thought
to hyphenate our names was, playfully, to christen
ourselves a new disorder. We trade tips on medication,
on how to weather what prescriptions make you sick
to [maybe] make you well. We make toasts with
acetaminophen bought in bulk. Kiss in the airport
terminal through surgical masks. Rub the knots from
each others’ backs. We dangle FALL RISK bracelets
from our walls & call it decoration. We visit another
ER & call it a date. When we are sick, again, for months
—with a common illness that will not leave—it is not
the doctors who care for us. We make do ourselves.
At night, long after the sky has darkened-in—something
like a three-day-bruise, littered with satellites I keep
mistaking for stars—our bodies are fever-sweat stitched.
A chimera. Shadow-puppet of our lust. Bones bowed into
a new beast [with two backs, six legs of metal & flesh &
carbon fiber]. Beside my love, I find I can’t remember
any prayers so I whisper the names of our medications
like the names of saints. Orange bottles scattered around
the mattress like unlit candles in the dark.
a flamingo knows,
even without pink lipstick,
fem is a feeling.
black boots. Raritan
tap water memories flow.
murderous brown geese.
fly from Johnson Park,
arrive, then turn up their beaks
'fuck dis sposta be?'
they inquire. I
find cover in the leopard
print fem next to me
because here, always
someone's looking, someone's stares
caught in plexiglass
refracting the light
in your life. no. it's not you.
they look to consume.
and when the ice cream melts
before it's lapped up.
is lilac and lightning strike
before a great storm.
cuff biceps unexpected
back draws straight—horror.
they look to consume.
they desire to control.
eagles, owls, all.
swooping down with catching claws,
no glass to hide you.
I want my armor
an exoskeleton, tough
hewn of crushed velvet
bristling with defense
a kevlar of tenderness
this is what happens
when the tree blooms: the axeman
runs to chop it down.
this is what happens
when creatures meant for the deep
somehow crawl ashore:
they will be lapped up
by the hot eyes of the sea
pulled tight by strange hands
knives licking their necks
the scent of wisteria
flash fire, roll flame
clip wings from those who maim us
declaw them all, bare.
maybe the will burn
corralled, while lights dance in the sky.
steaming macho ash.
and if they must live
then make me invisible.
hide me. erase me.
absentee lungs : old abuses surfacing in new aches : alcohol wipes, 70% : besieged by her lover’s worry, she consults a bot about her symptoms : cardboard boxes accumulating in her blue bin : construction continues outside her bedroom window twelve hours a day : contact-hungry, she rambles to her lover’s apartment, mashing crosswalk buttons with her elbow : doctors, she reads, have begun to ration care : empty hotel rooms wild across the downtown corridor : encampments erupt beneath expressways : friendly conversation yelled over a rift of cars : the future, suddenly detonated : golden retrievers glimpse each other from afar, forlornly : she hews to idle streets : jangles the keys at her lover’s back door : life & life & life & : a list of events, postponed indefinitely : live music, family reunions, surgeries : elective, supposedly : she lathers glacially between every finger : masks pile up in waste disposal : her clothes pile up on the floor : no going back, not anymore : nurses divert patients to tents in the parking lot : one knuckle at a time, laboring in soap and hot water : parents touch hands with children through Plexiglass screens : plaintive letters dropped in mailboxes, reaching past quarantine : her pre-existing conditions include swollen lungs, race, a lack of self-preservation : quote : Reno said some people are too expensive to save : she hears her own name : she hears the harness tighten : skin on leather on metal on skin : the bottom line is, Jeff Bezos makes the cost of 3,140,000 ventilators in a year : six ventilators in a minute : her lover buys her tulips from the corner store, their stems sterilized in bleach : a voicemail from public health tells her to stay home : warehouse workers without paid sick leave fill her sanitizer order : she disinfects the light switches for two minutes straight : if it takes x hours to unzip her hands from her lover’s hair, what is the likelihood they will both fall sick : yesterday, she licked every doorknob in the hallway : she knows her old stories : the sacrifices they urge : down to the last word : the last letter
Generations of strain and exhaustion
collide into my body. Residue of small pox
scratches my throat. The story too painful to
tell your daughter
surfaces now in my shoulder blades.
What were you forced to carry when all you wanted was one moment of rest?
Memories you promised not to pass on
knot themselves, a nest of copperheads in my neck.
Every step you took sparks my nerves.
Muscles ache from the work of survival.
Pain—The shadow left.
Settling dust of forced marches.
The handmark of history.
Is my body the bruise left
after the impact of your life?
The day after we make love each movement amplifies, ricochets through me.
My right femur might break free from hip. My left shoulder muscle catches scapula.
Pectorals smolder red-orange from the fire in my abdomen. My ankle grinds itself to fine white dust
But the kink in my
wrist reminds me of
fumbling at your belt.
The cramp in my jaw
of our frantic kisses.
in my neck, your dark
and delicious. The burning
in my hip sockets your
journey. My throat
sore from inhaling our
heat. The pang in my
ear where you
I love you.
And I am grateful for the glyphs sickness carves
on my spine, for the story pain paints
on my body’s cavern walls, for this body
holding you the day after.
Why do they call us "the patient"
We are not patient. We endure.
The anxious tedium of public hospital
waiting rooms, because waiting
is the punishment of the poor;
interminable buses to inconvenient places
where we count up our cash, calculating
whether we can take a cab home
instead of riding our exhaustion;
the angry contempt of specialists, taught to believe
any pain they cannot explain is insubordinate,
We are not patient. We are denied.
Not medically necessary, they say, not proven.
Feel free to appeal. We are experts at appealing,
so we begin again, gathering documents, faxing releases,
collecting letters and signatures,
giving our numbers, all our numbers,
to dozens of indifferent, underpaid clerks,
stacking up evidence for the hearing, where we will declare
as civilly as we can to the affronted panels
that it is necessary that we breathe,
sleep, digest, be eased of pain, have medicines
and therapies and machines,
and that we not be required to beg.
While I am waiting, I am using my pen,
steadily altering words.
Where the card says "medically indigent"
I cross it out and write indignant.
Where my records say "chemically sensitive"
I write chemically assaulted, chemically wounded,
chemically outraged. On the form listing risk factors
for cancer, I write in my candidates: agribusiness,
air fresheners, dry cleaning, river water, farm life,
bathing, drinking, eating, vinyl, cosmetics, plastic, greed.
I am making an intricate graffiti poem
out of mountains of unnecessary paperwork.
Where the doctor has written "disheveled" I write untamed.
Where it says "refused treatment," I write refused to be lied to.
Where it says safe, side effects minimal
I say prove it. What do you mean minimal?
What do you mean side? I write
unmarketed effects unmentionable.
Where it asks, authorization? I write inherent,
authorized from birth.
Are you the patient? she asks, ready to transfer my call.
I say only with my own sweet, brave body.
I say, Not today, no. I have no patience left.
I am the person who is healing, I say,
in spite of everything. I will have to put you on hold she says. Yes,
hold me I say. That would be good.
Nobody wants to die on the way
caught between ghosts of whiteness
and the real water
none of us wanted to leave
on the way to salvation
three planets to the left
a century of light years ago
our spices are separate and particular
but our skins sing in complimentary keys
at a quarter to eight mean time
we were telling the same stories
over and over and over.
Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
and there will be no body left
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence
Our labor has become
than our silence.
the train leaves the station without me / so does the bus / the sidewalks stay empty of my steps—the rushed ones, the ones pierced with pain, the its-too-late-at-night to still be walking ones / i keep my cash / it doesn’t load my metro card and then another card when the first one’s lost / i don’t panic in the car about leaving late—least not as much / when winter comes, i don’t sit on the cold, cold bench waiting and waiting, clutching a pair of my stockpiled hand warmers / i don’t bundle myself up in oppressive layers / or unravel in the late night, releasing the day’s pressure like a punctured balloon / instead i sit / and continue to sit / in this chair then that one / look out the window to escape the screen’s demands / wonder how i ever had fuel for those past travels / i rest / and i rise / and listen to the body that’s carried me here as it whispers the way forward
I knew I was a god
when you could not
agree on my name
& still, none you spoke
could force me to listen
closer. Is this the nothing
the antelope felt when
Adam, lit on his own
entitling, dubbed family,
genus, species? So many
babies, bestowed bodies
names as if to say it is to make it
so. Can it be a comfort between
us, the fact of my creation?
I was made in the image
of a thing without
an image & silence, too,
is your invention. Who prays
for a god except to appear
with answers, but never
a body? A voice? If I told you
you wouldn’t believe me
because I was the one
to say it. On the first day
there was no sound
worth mentioning. If I, too,
am a conductor of air, the only
praise I know is in stereo
(one pair—an open hand & closed
fist—will have to do). I made
a photograph of my name:
there was a shadow in a field
& I put my shadow in it. You
can’t hear me, but I’m there.