There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.

History, with its hard spine & dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,

Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.

Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,

Having outlived every threat, will gratify
Only the mind, which is where it will exist.

For kicks, we'll dance for ourselves
Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.

The oldest among us will recognize that glow—
But the word sun will have been re-assigned

To a Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device
Found in households and nursing homes.

And yes, we'll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,

Eons from even our own moon, we'll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once

And for all, scrutable and safe.

Copyright © 2011 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted from Life on Mars with the permission of Graywolf Press.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

From Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well By Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1975 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted with permission of Random House, Inc. For online information about other Random House, Inc. books and authors, visit the website at www.randomhouse.com.

At the Smith and Jones
Factory I get my
Gear, don't smoke
Don't vote, dry off
With Madonna towel
It's a field night
For the roachies
Smoked too many
Crumbs, too much
Genre manipulation

looks like nothing
ever happened
except everything's
wet, singed cork
rubbeth face, pay
concierge/owner
in red-checked pjs
for Ross' 8 nights decapitate
writer head and sacrifice
to gods of buried vocals
  
DugRoth says id Keats
Was here in our burgers
He'd slug him every time
If he played the Welt-
Meister? Double
Slug. West Nile Virus
Strikes Bill Five Times
Tho' he's scared to enter
Queens, despite status
As honorary Met
Metro musician speaks:
"If the global workforce
continues to be decimated
by disease & natural catas-
trophe it will be necessary
to clone a workforce.
please give in advance
to help create this force
in exchange for these
accordion songs. Merci."
  

It takes a dick
To raise a pyramid
Motorcycle crash
On the tongue, small
Business buried, this short
But expansive demonological
Expose is, in all probability
My own diabolized & garbled
Version of raising "the listener"
To the rank of dualist "believer"

three nines, plus fifteen
two fours king high, lose five
two fives ace high, lose five
nothing ace high, lose finger
right index. Zilch, ace
high, lose left thumb
ten and seven pairs, get thumb
back, doesn't fit. Two fives
hand back thumb. Six high
lose hand, split.
  
The moral right of the author
Has been deserted
And tearful words that rhyme
You are not crumbling and
You are tired of crumbling
The moral continuum
Of the gobot's heresy
Has been dejected
With feelings of paranoia
Thank Augustine, for
like Leonard Nimoy
you and I are made
mostly of water. But
when the assholes play
ukeleles and gloat
about cheap rent
the sight of the world
quarters me. Thus I regress
shame and embarrassment
fucking up the life
  
Many otters are also
Making current loans
Whilst unable
To find the function
Button next to the
Pause button.
While you were invisible
I was privvy
To the seamscape
Brutish preconfiguring was there
end poem with gambling
write out dreams
another personal rule
broken to quote face
death unquote, with
apologies to the just now
stomped roachie.
"they were all my friends
and they died," an old
thread and a new one
  
Coptic are, blue lady
Bahrain coin, midnight
Medoc, Eddie snickers
Insects attack, denim guy
Who robs drug stores
Yearning to speak:
Cocktail fugitive angst
Ball refuses to be thrown
Be not frozen in cigar
Store scared to emote
basically we need
a cultural tilting of the bowl
or diseased markets. Interrogation
chairs pile up outside
guides. Primitives drool
intelligence. I can't find
the light. Two degrees
outside. The city at odds.
poetry is my strength
clothes are my weakness
  
Nobody comes over
And never leaves anymore
Incidental back to a sill
Calm, poignant and terrified
Volunteer me a busride
Chase middle fingers with bats
Blooming by the pond
I did not hug the tranquil
Endowment after a wedding
Drank everything I could
pigeon now weird big
books everywhere jogging
in hollywood t-shirts
we raised this park
and built a pond by
which to shoot movies
they shot us on the pond
and it was the best I hate
that dog I ever had
feeding with a bottle
  
Now Eddie's bored
People invented God
To excuse their bad
Habits this roach
Says to me. There
Isn't anyone it
Even wants to imitate
Eddie and I play anti-
Chess, both begin
In check
now Ross is gone
bearer of sock herb
impresser of exiled
temps. Um is my
comment, leaking
uranium on the sea
bed. Others tilt
ever so slightly
swoopward, blame
the spiritual outsider
  
At the reading reaching
For the bar food "Well
We've got to put those
Subs somewhere or else
Sell them as staples
Of a fast food fat
Reducing diet. Find
And replace he said
I see a crabby
Peering through a crag
passenger next to antagonist
all my darkness is product
I sell it your way as wisdom
you lose blue, use red
I see my feet sometimes
artificial's the right word
clinical joy unreported
poke a hole in a blanket
and with your head
go through it
  
I've never met any
Mysterious musicians
Sorry. I wish
They stopped saying
Lord, and ended
This Pope business
My relative Clapp
Died at the Alamo
Let's give Texas
Back to Mexico
the original of this
poem is available
for $5,000. When
I sell it I plan
to buy a debris
slide. I'm broke
but I make more
money than my
parents did when
they were my age
  
Solid boundless freefall
My connective tissue
My fine citizen centering
Circles this frame
Upside down flying
Back first into
Woods, flipped
Over handlebars
Brake cord detached
Leaf imprint on back
what is interesting
about him is also what
is wrong with him
rendering him electable
he's the guy who poses
for trophies, biologically
but he is turning into
bio-seitan, to be eaten
by a despicably healthy
human extending a lifespan
  
I can get a sparrow
With a bow and arrow
I can buy anything
Cheaper than you
Who wasted the miracle
On the dove?
The subject is SAME
NAME. There's nothing
To cross out. $5,000!
Have a happy warning
if you don't understand
don't be ashamed
to ask three times
the answer is TIGHT-LIPPED
you have won $30,300
can I have a glass of water?
the Americans had Judy
Garland & we had Edie Piaf
he was set to do another season
of Superman, then he was shot

Copyright © 2002 by Anselm Berrigan. Reprinted from Zero Star Hotel, published by Edge Books. Used by permission of the author.

In one or two lives 
I opened the door with the prize
only to find the prize was not worth the life.
 
I wanted the door.
 
Brave mahogany door, you be my fortune.
Teach me to understand the jungle cry 
in your grain, the suffering circles 
 
by which your tree wisdom is known.
 
I was superior with handles,
gentle with thresholds. Then, this.
 
Choices at morning hours I usually skip
but there is a little cash flow of beauty
where there is almost no more water.
 
And there is not room and light enough
to stand behind the second 
and listen anymore—
 
I am going through the language of me now.
 
I am flipping open the dictionary of myself
with my tongue, as if that were possible,
to find your first word. 
 
In the torture of a foyer 
doorless for entering, I am entering none.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Elizabeth Metzger. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 24, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

The moon will shine for God
knows how long.
As if it still matters. As if someone

is trying to recall a dream.
Believe the brain is a cage of light
& rage. When it shuts off,

something else switches on.
There’s no better reason than now
to lock the doors, the windows.

Turn off the sprinklers
& porch light. Save the books
for fire. In darkness,

we learn to read
what moves along the horizon,
across the periphery of a gun scope—

the flicker of shadows,
the rustling of trash in the body
of cities long emptied.

Not a soul lives
in this house &
this house & this

house. Go on, stiffen
the heart, quicken
the blood. To live

in a world of flesh
& teeth, you must
learn to kill

what you love,
& love what can die.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Burlee Vang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
               Only this and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
               Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
               This it is and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door;—
               Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"—
               Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
               'Tis the wind and nothing more!"

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
               Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
               With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
               Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
               Of 'Never—nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
               Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
               She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting—
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
               Shall be lifted—nevermore!

This version appeared in the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, September 25, 1849. For other versions, please visit the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore's site: http://www.eapoe.org/works/poems/index.htm#R.

I.

my lover is a woman
& when i hold her
feel her warmth
     i feel good
     feel safe

then—i never think of
my family’s voices
never hear my sisters say
bulldaggers, queers, funny
     come see us, but don’t
     bring your friends
          it’s ok with us,
          but don’t tell mama
          it’d break her heart
never feel my father
turn in his grave
never hear my mother cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

II.

my lover’s hair is blonde
& when it rubs across my face
it feels soft
     feels like a thousand fingers
     touch my skin & hold me
          and i feel good

then—i never think of the little boy
who spat & called me nigger
never think of the policemen
who kicked my body & said crawl
never think of Black bodies
hanging in trees or filled
with bullet holes
never hear my sisters say
white folks hair stinks
don’t trust any of them
never feel my father
turn in his grave
never hear my mother talk
of her backache after scrubbing floors
never hear her cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

III. 

my lover's eyes are blue
& when she looks at me
i float in a warm lake
     feel my muscles go weak with want
          feel good
          feel safe

then—i never think of the blue
eyes that have glared at me
moved three stools away from me
in a bar
never hear my sisters rage
of syphilitic Black men as
guinea pigs
     rage of sterilized children
          watch them just stop in an
          intersection to scare the old
          white bitch
never feel my father turn
in his grave
never remember my mother
teaching me the yes sirs & ma'ams
to keep me alive
never hear my mother cry
Lord, what kind of child is this?

 

IV.

& when we go to a gay bar
& my people shun me because i crossed
the line
& her people look to see what's
wrong with her
     what defect
     drove her to me

& when we walk the streets
of this city
     forget and touch
     or hold hands
          & the people
          stare, glare, frown, & taunt
               at those queers

i remember
     every word taught me
     every word said to me
     every deed done to me
          & then i hate
i look at my lover
& for an instant
     doubt

then—i hold her hand tighter
     & i can hear my mother cry.
     Lord, what kind of child is this?

"My Lover Is a Woman" by Pat Parker © Anastasia Dunham-Parker-Brady, used with permission.

Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine—tender, delicate
your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come—
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there—
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth—
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave—whatever happens, this is.

“Floating Poem, Unnumbered” from “Twenty-One Love Poems,” from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

One
Testimony in trials that never got heard

my lovers teeth are white geese flying above me
my lovers muscles are rope ladders under my hands

we were driving home slow
my lover and I, across the long Bay Bridge,
one February midnight, when midway
over in the far left lane, I saw a strange scene:

one small young man standing by the rail,
and in the lane itself, parked straight across
as if it could stop anything, a large young
man upon a stalled motorcycle, perfectly
relaxed as if he’d stopped at a hamburger stand;
he was wearing a peacoat and levis, and
he had his head back, roaring, you
could almost hear the laugh, it
was so real.

“Look at that fool,” I said, “in the
middle of the bridge like that,” a very
womanly remark.

Then we heard the meaning of the noise
of metal on a concrete bridge at 50
miles an hour, and the far left lane
filled up with a big car that had a
motorcycle jammed on its front bumper, like
the whole thing would explode, the friction
sparks shot up bright orange for many feet
into the air, and the racket still sets
my teeth on edge.

When the car stopped we stopped parallel
and Wendy headed for the callbox while I
ducked across those 6 lanes like a mouse
in the bowling alley. “Are you hurt?” I said,
the middle-aged driver had the greyest black face,
“I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t stop, what happened?”

Then I remembered. “Somebody,” I said, “was on
the motorcycle.” I ran back,
one block? two blocks? the space for walking
on the bridge is maybe 18 inches, whoever
engineered this arrogance. in the dark
stiff wind it seemed I would
be pushed over the rail, would fall down
screaming onto the hard surface of
the bay, but I did not. I found the tall young man
who thought he owned the bridge, now lying on
his stomach, head cradled in his broken arm.

He had glasses on, but somewhere he had lost
most of his levis, where were they?
and his shoes. Two short cuts on his buttocks,
and that was the only mark except his thin white
seminal tubes were all strung out behind; no
child left in him; and he looked asleep.

I plucked wildly at his wrist, then put it
down; there were two long haired women
holding back the traffic just behind me
with their bare hands, the machines came
down like mad bulls, I was scared, much
more than usual, I felt easily squished
like the earthworms crawling on a busy
sidewalk after the rain; I wanted to
leave.
 And met the driver, walking back.

“The guy is dead.” I gripped his hand,
the wind was going to blow us off the bridge.

“Oh my God,” he said, “haven’t I had enough
trouble in my life?” He raised his head,
and for a second was enraged and yelling,
at the top of the bridge—“I was just driving
home!” His head fell down. “My God, and
now I’ve killed somebody.”

I looked down at my own peacoat and levis,
then over at the dead man’s friend, who
was bawling and blubbering, what they would
call hysteria in a woman. “It isn’t possible”
he wailed, but it was possible, it was
indeed, accomplished and unfeeling, snoring
in its peacoat, and without its levis on.

He died laughing: that’s a fact.

I had a woman waiting for me,
in her car and in the middle of the bridge,
I’m frightened, I said.
I’m afraid, he said, stay with me,
please don’t go, stay with me, be
my witness—“No,” I said, “I’ll be your
witness—later,” and I took his name
and number, “but I can’t stay with you,
I’m too frightened of the bridge, besides
I have a woman waiting
and no license—
and no tail lights—“
So I left—
as I have left so many of my lovers.

we drove home
shaking, Wendy’s face greyer
than any white person’s I have ever seen.
maybe he beat his wife, maybe he once
drove taxi, and raped a lover
of mine—how to know these things?
we do each other in, that’s a fact.

who will be my witness?
death wastes our time with drunkenness
and depression
death, who keeps us from our
lovers.
he had a woman waiting for him,
I found out when I called the number
days later

“Where is he” she said, “he’s disappeared.”
“He’ll be all right” I said, “we could
have hit the guy as easy as anybody, it
wasn’t anybody’s fault, they’ll know that,”
women so often say dumb things like that,
they teach us to be sweet and reassuring,
and say ignorant things, because we dont invent
the crime, the punishment, the bridges

that same week I looked into the mirror
and nobody was there to testify;
how clear, an unemployed queer woman
makes no witness at all,
nobody at all was there for
those two questions: what does
she do, and who is she married to?

I am the woman who stopped on the bridge
and this is the man who was there
our lovers teeth are white geese flying
above us, but we ourselves are
easily squished.

keep the women small and weak
and off the street, and off the
bridges, that’s the way, brother
one day I will leave you there,
as I have left you there before,
working for death.

we found out later
what we left him to.
Six big policemen answered the call,
all white, and no child in them.
they put the driver up against his car
and beat the hell out of him.
What did you kill that poor kid for?
you mutherfucking nigger.
that’s a fact.

Death only uses violence
when there is ant kind of resistance,
the rest of the time a slow
weardown will do.

They took him to 4 different hospitals
til they got a drunk test report to fit their
case, and held him five days in jail
without a phone call.
how many lovers have we left.

there are as many contradictions to the game,
as there are players.
a woman is talking to death,
though talk is cheap, and life takes a long time
to make
right. He got a cheesy lawyer
who had him cop a plea, 15 to 20
instead of life
Did I say life?

the arrogant young man who thought he
owned the bridge, and fell asleep on it
died laughing: that’s a fact.
the driver sits out his time
off the street somewhere,
does he have the most vacant of
eyes, will he die laughing?

 

Two
They don’t have to lynch the women anymore

death sits on my doorstep
cleaning his revolver

death cripples my feet and sends me out
to wait for the bus alone,
then comes by driving a taxi.

the woman on our block with 6 young children
has the most vacant of eyes
death sits in her bedroom, loading
his revolver

they don’t have to lynch the women
very often anymore, although
they used to—the lord and his men
went through the villages at night, beating &
killing every woman caught
outdoors.
the European witch trials took away
an independent people; two different villages
—after the trials were through that year—
had left in them, each—
one living woman:
one

What were those other women up to? had they
run over someone? stopped on the wrong bridge?
did they have teeth like
any kind of geese, or children
in them?

 

Three
This woman is a lesbian be careful

In the military hospital where I worked
as a nurse’s aide, the walls of the halls
were lined with howling women
waiting to deliver
or to have some parts removed.
One of the big private rooms contained
the general’s wife, who needed
a wart taken off her nose.
we were instructed to give her special attention
not because of her wart or her nose
but because of her husband, the general.

as many women as men die, and that’s a fact.

At work there was one friendly patient, already
claimed, a young woman burnt apart with X-ray,
she had long white tubes instead of openings;
rectum, bladder, vagina—I combed her hair, it
was my job, but she took care of me as if
nobody’s touch could spoil her.
ho ho death, ho death
have you seen the twinkle in the dead woman’s eye?

when you are a nurse’s aide
someone suddenly notices you
and yells about the patient’s bed,
and tears the sheets apart so you
can do it over, and over
while the patient waits
doubled over in her pain
for you to make the bed again
and no one ever looks at you,
only at what you do not do

Here, general, hold this soldier’s bed pan
for a moment, hold it for a year—
then we’ll promote you to making his bed.
we believe you wouldn’t make such messes

if you had to clean up after them.

that’s a fantasy.
this woman is a lesbian, be careful.

When I was arrested and being thrown out
of the military, the order went out: dont anybody
speak to this woman, and for those three
long months, almost nobody did: the dayroom, when
I entered it, fell silent til I had gone; they
were afraid, they knew the wind would blow
them over the rail, the cops would come,
the water would run into their lungs.
Everything I touched
was spoiled. They were my lovers, those
women, but nobody had taught us how to swim.
I drowned, I took 3 or 4 others down
when I signed the confession of what we
had done                together.

No one will ever speak to me again.

I read this somewhere; I wasn’t there:
in WWII the US army had invented some floating
amphibian tanks, and took them over to
the coast of Europe to unload them,
the landing ships all drawn up in a fleet,
and everybody watching. Each tank had a
crew of 6 and there were 25 tanks.
The first went down the landing planks
and sank, the second, the third, the
fourth, the fifth, the sixth went down
and sank. They weren’t supposed
to sink, the engineers had
made a mistake. The crews looked around
wildly for the order to quit,
but none came, and in the sight of
thousands of men, each 6 crewmen
saluted his officers, battened down
his hatch in turn and drove into the
sea, and drowned, until all 25 tanks
were gone. did they have vacant
eyes, die laughing, or what? what
did they talk about, those men,
as the water came in?

was the general their lover?

 

Four
A Mock Interrogation

Have you ever held hands with a woman?

Yes, many times—women about to deliver, women about to have breasts removed, wombs removed, miscarriages, women having epileptic fits, having asthma, cancer, women having breast bone marrow sucked out of them by nervous or indifferent interns, women with heart condition, who were vomiting, overdosed, depressed, drunk, lonely to the point of extinction: women who had been run over, beaten up. deserted. starved. women who had been bitten by rats; and women who were happy, who were celebrating, who were dancing with me in large circles or alone, women who were climbing mountains or up and down walls, or trucks and roofs and needed a boost up, or I did; women who simply wanted to hold my hand because they liked me, some women who wanted to hold my hand because they liked me better than anyone.

These were many women?

Yes. many.

What about kissing? Have you kissed any women?

I have kissed many women.

When was the first woman you kissed with serious feeling?

The first woman ever I kissed was Josie, who I had loved at such a distance for months. Josie was not only beautiful, she was tough and handsome too. Josie had black hair and white teeth and strong brown muscles. Then she dropped out of school unexplained. When she came back she came back for one day only, to finish the term, and there was a child in her. She was all shame, pain, and defiance. Her eyes were dark as the water under a bridge and no one would talk to her, they laughed and threw things at her. In the afternoon I walked across the front of the class and looked deep into Josie’s eyes and I picked up her chin with my hand, because I loved her, because nothing like her trouble would ever happen to me, because I hated it that she was pregnant and unhappy, and an outcast. We were thirteen.

You didn’t kiss her?

How does it feel to be thirteen and having a baby?

You didn’t actually kiss her?

Not in fact.

You have kissed other women?

Yes, many, some of the finest women I know, I have kissed. women who were lonely, women I didn’t know and didn’t want to, but kissed because that was a way to say yes we are still alive and loveable, though separate, women who recognized a loneliness in me, women who were hurt, I confess to kissing the top of a 55 year old woman’s head in the snow in boston, who was hurt more deeply than I have ever been hurt, and I wanted her as a very few people have wanted me—I wanted her and me to own and control and run the city we lived in, to staff the hospital I knew would mistreat her, to drive the transportation system that had betrayed her, to patrol the streets controlling the men who would murder or disfigure or disrupt us, not accidently with machines, but on purpose, because we are not allowed on the street alone—

Have you ever committed any indecent acts with women?

Yes, many. I am guilty of allowing suicidal women to die before my eyes or in my ears or under my hands because I thought I could do nothing, I am guilty of leaving a prostitute who held a knife to my friend’s throat because we would not sleep with her, we thought she was old and fat and ugly; I am guilty of not loving her who needed me; I regret all the women I have not slept with or comforted, who pulled themselves away from me for lack of something I had not the courage to fight for, for us, our life, our planet, our city, our meat and potatoes, our love. These are indecent acts, lacking courage, lacking a certain fire behind the eyes, which is the symbol, the raised fist, the sharing of resources, the resistance that tells death he will starve for lack of the fat of us, our extra. Yes I have committed acts of indecency with women and most of them were acts of omission. I regret them bitterly.

 

Five
Bless this day oh cat our house

“I was allowed to go
3 places, growing up,” she said—
“3 places, no more.
there was a straight line from my house
to school, a straight line from my house
to church, a straight line from my house
to the corner store.”
her parents thought something might happen to her.
but nothing ever did.

my lovers teeth are white geese flying above me
my lovers muscles are rope ladders under my hands
we are the river of life and the fat of the land
death, do you tell me I cannot touch this woman?
if we use each other up
on each other
that’s a little bit less for you
a little bit less for you, ho
death, ho ho death.

Bless this day oh cat our house
help me be not such a mouse
death tells the woman to stay home
and then breaks in the window.

I read this somewhere, I wasnt there:
In feudal Europe, if a woman committed adultery
her husband would sometimes tie her
down, catch a mouse and trap it
under a cup on her bare belly, until
it gnawed itself out, now are you
afraid of mice?

 

Six
Dressed as I am, a young man once called
me names in Spanish

a woman who talks to death
is a dirty traitor

inside a hamburger joint and
dressed  as I am, a young man once called me
names in Spanish
then he called me queer and slugged me.
first I thought the ceiling had fallen down
but there was the counterman making a ham
sandwich, and there was I spread out on his
counter.

For God’s sake I said when
I could talk, this guy is beating me up
can’t you call the police or something,
can’t you stop him? he looked up from
working on his sandwich, which was my
sandwich, I had ordered it. He liked
the way I looked. “There’s a pay phone
right across the street” he said.

I couldn’t listen to the Spanish language
for weeks afterward, without feeling the
most murderous of urges, the simple
association of one thing to another,
so damned simple.

The next day I went to the police station
to become an outraged citizen
Six big policemen stood in the hall,
all white and dressed as they do
they were well pleased with my story, pleased
at what had gotten beat out of me, so
I left them laughing, went home fast
and locked my door.
For several nights I fantasized the scene
again, this time grabbing a chair
and smashing it over the bastard’s head,
killing him. I called him a spic, and
killed him. my face healed. his didnt.
no child in me.

now when I remember I think:
maybe he was Josie’s baby.
all the chickens come home to roost,
all of them.

 

Seven
Death and disfiguration

One Christmas eve my lovers and I
we left the bar, driving home slow
there was a woman lying in the snow
by the side of the road. She was wearing
a bathrobe and no shoes, where were
her shoes? she had turned the snow
pink, under her feet. she was an Asian
woman, didn’t speak much English, but
she said a taxi driver beat her up
and raped her, throwing her out of his
care.
what on earth was she doing there
on a street she helped to pay for
but doesn’t own?
doesn’t she know to stay home?

I am a pervert, therefore I’ve learned
to keep my hands to myself in public
but I was so drunk that night,
I actually did something loving
I took her in my arms, this woman,
until she could breathe right, and
my friends are perverts too
they touched her too
we all touched her.
“You’re going to be all right”
we lied. She started to cry
“I’m 55 years old” she said
and that said everything.

Six big policemen answered the call
no child in them.
they seemed afraid to touch her,
then grabbed her like a corpse and heaved her
on their metal stretcher into the van,
crashing and clumsy.
She was more frightened than before.
they were cold and bored.
‘don’t leave me’ she said.
‘she’ll be all right’ they said.
we left, as we have left all of our lovers
as all lovers leave all lovers
much too soon to get the real loving done.

 

Eight
a mock interrogation

Why did you get into the cab with him, dressed as you are?

I wanted to go somewhere.

Did you know what the cab driver might do
if you got into the cab with him?

I just wanted to go somewhere.

How many times did you
get into the cab with him?

I dont remember.

If you dont remember, how do you know it happened to you?

 

Nine
Hey you death

ho and ho poor death
our lovers teeth are white geese flying above us
our lovers muscles are rope ladders under our hands
even though no women yet go down to the sea in ships
except in their dreams.

only the arrogant invent a quick and meaningful end
for themselves, of their own choosing.
everyone else knows how very slow it happens
how the woman’s existence bleeds out her years,
how the child shoots up at ten and is arrested and old
how the man carries a murderous shell within him
and passes it on.

we are the fat of the land, and
we all have our list of casualties

to my lovers I bequeath
the rest of my life

I want nothing left of me for you, ho death
except some fertilizer
for the next batch of us
who do not hold hands with you
who do not embrace you
who try not to work for you
or sacrifice themselves or trust
or believe you, ho ignorant
death, how do you know
we happened to you?

wherever our meat hangs on our own bones
for our own use
your pot is so empty
death, ho death
you shall be poor

"A Woman Is Talking to Death" from Judy Grahn's The Judy Grahn Reader (Aunt Lute Press, 2009). wwwauntlute.com