And I understand well now, it is beautiful
to be dumb: my tyrannical inclinations, my love
for the prodigal jocks aging from primetime
to pastime, the pixilated plain people and colored folk
with homemade signs. Cutouts, cutups, ambushes,
bushwackers. The clouds are overwhelmed
and vainglorious. MC Mnemosyne showed up
around midnight like the undetectable dew
weighing the leaves, and I was like Awww shit.
Why ain't I dead yet
like the man who wanted to be buried
with the multi-million dollar Van Gogh he bought?
(Members of The Arts League said No
because there was culture to be made into money.)
The volant statues of the aviary, the jabber-jawed
cable channels and the book in which nothing is written
but the words everyone uses to identify things
that can’t be identified. Not that I ain’t spent
the last ten years of my life refining my inner cyborg.
Interview questions included how did the DJ break his hands,
who’s gone bury the morticians who bury the dead,
And what to do about the sublime and awful music
of grade school marching bands?
Not that Neanderthals have a sense of the existential.
Me and my forty-leventh cousins lolling, and LOL-ing
like chthonic chronic smoke, like high-water suit pants
and extreme quiet. Everybody clap ya hands.
Like fit girls in fitted outfits, misfits who don’t cry enough,
who definitely don’t sob, but keep showing up sighing.
Everyone loves to identify things that have not been identified.
The rabbit hole, where ever I find it, symbolizes solitude.
So that’s exciting. And an argument can be made
on behalf of athletes, rap stars, and various other brothers
who refuse (click here for the entire video)
to wear shirts in public when one considers the beauty
of a black torso. If and when the dashiki is fashionable
again I will sport it with the aplomb of a peacock plume.
For now, I have a row of coin-sized buttons tattooed
down my chest so it looks like I mean business
when I'm naked. I know that means a lot to you.
Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I’d better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no bra
in winter. I believe everything is a metaphor for sex.
Lovemaking mimics the act of departure, moonlight
drips from the leaves. You can spend your whole life
doing no more than preparing for life and thinking.
"Is this all there is?" Thus, I am here where poets come
to drink a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice,
something to loosen my primate tongue and its syllables
of debris. I know all words come from preexisting words
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves.
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say
about the way we live. I’d rather have what my daddy calls
“skrimp.” He says “discrete” and means the street
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman.
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom’s soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife,
sometimes I taste her caution. But let’s not talk about that.
Maybe Art’s only purpose is to preserve the Self.
Sometimes I play a game in which my primitive craft fires
upon an alien ship whose intention is the destruction
of the earth. Other times I fall in love with a word
like somberness. Or moonlight juicing naked branches.
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don’t quit opening. I am carrying the whimper
you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom
of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights
out on a limb, there’s a chance you’ll fall in your sleep.
From Lighthead by Terrance Hayes. Copyright © 2010 by Terrance Hayes. Used by permission of Penguin. All rights reserved.
California drought withering the basins,
the hills ready to ignite. Oh, stupid ways
I’ve loved and unraveled myself.
I, a parched field, and not a spit of rain.
I announced to a room of strangers,
I’ve never loved anyone more.
Now he and I no longer speak.
Outside: Manila, 40 years
after my parents’ first arrival.
I deplane where they debarked.
At customs, I am given a sheet warning of MERS—
in ’75, my parents received fishermen’s lunches,
a bottle of fish sauce. They couldn’t enter
until they were vaccinated. My mother, 22,
newly emptied of a stillborn daughter.
In Đà Nẵng, my cousin has become unrecognizable
after my four year absence. His teeth, at 21,
have begun to rot. His face swollen over.
I want to shield him from his terrible life.
Tazed at 15 by the cops until he pissed himself.
So beaten in the mental institution, that family had to
bring him home. His mother always near tears
when I ask, How are you doing?
You want to know what survivorhood looks like?
It’s not romantic. The corn drying huskless
in the front yard. The ducks chasing each other in the back.
The thick arms of a woman who will carry bricks
for the rest of her life. The plainness with which
she speaks of hardship. The bricks aren’t a metaphor
for the weight she carries. Ánh, which means light,
is sick, and cannot work,
but instead goes wandering the neighborhood,
eating other people’s food, bloating
his mother’s unpayable debts.
What pleasure can be found here,
even if the love is palpable?
My mother stopped crying years ago.
What’s the use, she says, of all this leaking.
Enough to fill a drainage ditch, a reservoir?
No, just enough to wet a pillow.
What a waste of time, me pining after
a man who no longer feels for me.
Today, I would give it up. Trade mine
for theirs. They tell me that they are not hungry.
Happy is their toil. My uncles and their
browned skins, not a pinch of fat anywhere.
They work the fields and swallow
beer after beer, getting sentimental.
Whose birds have come to roost, whose pigs in the muck?
Their dog has just birthed four new pups.
Despite ourselves, time moves on.
I walked lover’s lane with my cousin.
The heart-lights reflected on the river’s black.
The locks clustered and dangling.
I should have left our names on that bridge.
My name, the names of my family, written there.
Copyright © 2016 by Cathy Linh Che. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.