If you subtract the minor losses,
you can return to your childhood too:
the blackboard chalked with crosses,
the math teacher's toe ring. You
can be the black boy not even the buck-
toothed girls took a liking to:
the match box, these bones in their funk
machine, this thumb worn smooth
as the belly of a shovel. Thump. Thump.
Thump. Everything I hold takes root.
I remember what the world was like before
I heard the tide humping the shore smooth,
and the lyrics asking: How long has your door
been closed? I remember a garter belt wrung
like a snake around a thigh in the shadows
of a wedding gown before it was flung
out into the bluest part of the night.
Suppose you were nothing but a song
in a busted speaker? Suppose you had to wipe
sweat from the brow of a righteous woman,
but all you owned was a dirty rag? That's why
the blues will never go out of fashion:
their half rotten aroma, their bloodshot octaves of
consequence; that's why when they call, Boy, you're in
trouble. Especially if you love as I love
falling to the earth. Especially if you're a little bit
high strung and a little bit gutted balloon. I love
watching the sky regret nothing but its
self, though only my lover knows it to be so,
and only after watching me sit
and stare off past Heaven. I love the word No
for its prudence, but I love the romantic
who submits finally to sex in a burning row-
house more. That's why nothing's more romantic
than working your teeth through
the muscle. Nothing's more romantic
than the way good love can take leave of you.
That's why I'm so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I'm lonesome and I'm blue.
From Wind in a Box. Penguin Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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.
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.
No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.
Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission of the author.
When I am asked
how I began writing poems,
I talk about the indifference of nature.
It was soon after my mother died,
a brilliant June day,
I sat on a gray stone bench
in a lovingly planted garden,
but the day lilies were as deaf
as the ears of drunken sleepers
and the roses curved inward.
Nothing was black or broken
and not a leaf fell
and the sun blared endless commercials
for summer holidays.
I sat on a gray stone bench
ringed with the ingenue faces
of pink and white impatiens
and placed my grief
in the mouth of language,
the only thing that would grieve with me.
From Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.