To forgive one’s life love for dying, pick the long, feather-like, crimson flowers in early spring, when the desert is in bloom. Boil in river water only. Let cool. Drink at once. Drink when waking, at noon, and at bedtime each day for three full weeks thereafter. If resentment persists, go to your beloved’s grave daily and pray for forgiveness until sound sleep and appetite return.
My last days
May they pass
slow as black smoke
No I’m certain
that he stole it
from Adam I’m sure
the first night he
My Father’s Frontal Lobe—died
unpeacefully of a stroke on June 24,
2009 at Scripps Memorial Hospital in
San Diego, California. Born January 20,
1940, the frontal lobe enjoyed a good
life. The frontal lobe loved being the
boss. It tried to talk again but someone
put a bag over it. When the frontal
lobe died, it sucked in its lips like a
window pulled shut. At the funeral for
his words, my father wouldn’t stop
talking and his love passed through me,
fell onto the ground that wasn’t there.
I could hear someone stomping their
feet. The body is as confusing as
language—was his frontal lobe having a
tantrum or dancing? When I took my
father’s phone away, his words died in
the plastic coffin. At the funeral for his
words, we argued about my
miscarriage. It’s not really a baby, he
said. I ran out of words, stomped out
to shake the dead baby awake. I
thought of the tech who put the wand
down, quietly left the room when she
couldn’t find the heartbeat. I
understood then that darkness is falling
without an end. That darkness is not
the absorption of color but the
absorption of language.
My throat is dry [ ] a drowsy numbness pains [ ] my sense as though [ ] obscured by smoke [ ] I drive on roads dividing patchwork farmland, fences [ ] wide-eyed lamas [ ] perpetual surprise [ ] after a dream, I sip water in the dark [ ] I don’t want to sleep [ ] my husband breathing deeply [ ] my children twisting in their beds [ ] smoke rising from the fields [ ] end of harvest razing [ ] I lift the rock, find a family of woodlice [ ] curled away from me [ ] sleeping or pretending to sleep [ ] hemlock lacing the road’s shoulders [ ] my too-dry eyes [ ] the tender babies are paler [ ] than their parents, little ghosts [ ] rolled in on themselves, my children are sleeping [ ] when I lift the blanket [ ] when, after a dream, I smoke in the dark [ ] no bird singing [ ] nothing to ode [ ] the sharp scent of pine, wet soil, beast musk, rain [ ] the dull opiate of things [ ] what will outlive us [ ] I turn on the screen [ ] a panel of men in a void, screaming [ ] cornflowers curling into rust [ ] I breathe in smoke [ ] fists curled shut [ ] the green of marijuana fields [ ] the pungent scent of [ ] bodies curled in sleep [ ] as if sleep were a cure [ ] one minute past, and Lethe-wards [ ] hear that crackling? [ ] pine cones dropping like heavy flames [ ] glaciers splitting [ ] howling ghosts [ ] what earth will be left for [ ] my children cry out in their sleep [ ] dark room filling with the smoke I exhale [ ] hills roiling [ ] the screaming stays while the screen goes dark [ ] I can’t see it disappearing [ ] to thy high requiem [ ] my throat is dry [ ] do I wake or sleep? [ ] I don’t want to wake
For years had anyone needed me
to spell the word commiserate
I’d have disappointed them. I envy
people who are more excited
by etymology than I am, but not
the ones who can explain how
music works—I wonder whether
the critic who wrote
that the Cocteau Twins were the voice
of god still believes it. Why not,
what else would god sound like.
Even though I know better, when I see
the word misericordia I still think
suffering, not forgiveness;
when we commiserate we are united
not in mercy but in misery,
so let’s go ahead and call this abscess
of history the Great Commiseration.
between affliction and affection
is a flick, a lick—but check
again, what lurks in the letters
is “lie,” and what kind of luck
is that. As the years pile up
our friends become more vocal
about their various damages:
Won’t you let me monetize
your affliction, says my friend
the corporation. When I try to enter
the name of any city
it autocorrects to Forever:
I’m spending a week in Forever,
Forever was hotter than ever
this year, Forever’s expensive
but oh the museums,
and all of its misery’s ours.
beneath a blue jade
vine’s beaded bangs,
my sonar function
asleep, the I unstressed,
a syllable glided over.
in the line it’s placed,
the I is stressed.)
Behind me, a lipstick palm.
In front of me, the early
stages of sunrise,
the world before
I thought I could stop
time by taking apart
the clock. Minute hand. Hour hand.
Nothing can keep. Nothing
is kept. Only kept track of. I felt
accumulate like dead calves
in a thunderstorm
of the mind no longer a mind
but a page torn
from the dictionary with the definition of self
effaced. I couldn’t face it: the world moving
on as if nothing happened.
Everyone I knew got up. Got dressed.
Went to work. Went home.
There were parties. Ecstasy.
around each other. Bluntness. Blunts
rolled to keep
thought after thought
like wind across water—
coercing shapelessness into shape.
I put on my best face.
I was glamour. I was grammar.
Yet my best couldn’t best my beast.
I, too, had been taken apart.
I didn’t want to be
fixed. I wanted everything dismantled and useless
like me. Case. Wheel. Hands. Dial. Face.
for Jericho, with thanks to Carl Phillips
I like men who are cruel to me;
men who know how I will end;
men who, when they touch me,
fasten their shadows to my neck
then get out my face when certain
they haven’t much use for being seen.
I like men to be cruel to me.
Any men who build their bodies into
widths of doors I only walk through
once will do. There’s a difference
between entrances and exits I don’t
have much use for now. I’ve seen
what’s left behind after a hawk
has seized a smaller bird midair.
The feathers lay circled in prattle
with rotting crab apples, grasses passing
between the entrances and exits
of clover. The raptor, somewhere
over it, over it. Cruelty where?
The hell would grief go in a goshawk?
It’s enough to risk the open field,
its rotten crab apples, grasses passing
out like lock-kneed mourners in sun.
There I was, scoping, scavenging
the damage to drag mystery out of
a simple read: two animals wanted
life enough to risk the open field
and one of them took what it hunted.
Each one tells me he wants me
vulnerable. I already wrote that book.
The body text cleaved to the spine,
simple to read as two animals wanting
to see inside each other and one
pulling back a wing to offer—See?
Here—the fastest way in or out
and you knew how it would end.
You cleaved the body text to the spine
cause you read closely. You clock damage.
It was a door you walked through once
before pivoting toward a newer image of risk.
The way that the sea fails
to drown itself everyday. And entendre alludes all those not listening.
The way unfertilized chicken eggs fail to have imagination,
dozened out in their cardboard trays,
by which I mean they will never break
from the inside. The way my imagination (née anxiety) has
bad brakes and a need
to stop sometimes. The way I didn’t believe
it when he told me we were going to crash into the car idling
at a red light
ahead of us. To know our future like that seemed unlikely.
But to have time to tell me?
—Nearly impossible. I may have broken
several ribs that day
but I will never know for sure. I’m okay,
I guessed aloud to the paramedic. It doesn’t matter
if you’re broken if you’re broke,
I moaned in bed that night, after several glasses
of cheap red. I thought it would make a good blues
refrain. I made myself
laugh and so I made myself hurt—
MEMOIRS BY EMILIA PHILLIPS, goes the joke.
A friend of mine competes in beard and mustache tournaments,
even though she can’t grow one herself—
Once, she donned a Santa Claus made entirely out of hot-glued tampons.
It was as white as the spots in memories I doubt.
The first woman
I kissed who had never kissed a woman before
couldn’t get over how soft my face is,
even the scar. Once,
a famous poet said what’s this and touched my face
his thumb like a cat’s tongue on the old wound.
He must have thought he was giving
me a blessing.
They had their lightning thrones they had
their cages. They had their lamb pens and lamb
ties not just for lambs but for their own. As soon
as I understood the name of my skin sack
I was handed the chain. Was told by virtue
of my snow-lit skin I was Courtier
of the Chain. And could be Lord Chancellor
if I played my cards right. Dominion. We worked
the word over and over. We practiced with butterscotch
and Jolly Ranchers in the gold Honda. In the mile-long
yellow chariot that ferried us to the Coliseum.
So sweet. No need to bite down for the whole world
to hear you. No need to work your jaws
like an animal. To make yourself into an animal.
But also. Useful to think like an animal. To know
what that smelled like. That fear. My little skin
sack and really such a weakling who wept
over the stupidest things. Particularly
when waiting for the long yellow chariot.
I want to go home. To where? That was the rub.
No more home for me. If there ever was one.
I pitied myself. Little skin sack with the young wolves
circling in their gladiator suits. Heart refusing
to harden. But. The taste of hatred::
the sweet promise of that possible release.
In the annals of my light scroll when and if the
Light takes me back, it will be impossible to deny.
After the kicks and taunts. After hours eating
Salisbury steak over the toilet in the girls’
restroom. After the turnaway the plague
game, bottles of piss and spit thrown from passing
chariots as I made my way to the fairgrounds
on foot? They made a wager and let a lamb sack out
before me. And battered it. And battered it.
But all the while looking at me. Who laughed
along with them. My relief inexhaustible
as my desolation the next day when, having
shown myself to lamb and wolf entirely,
I was given my true calling. Which was exile
from every realm.
Satan turns on his wheel of light,
hovering inside the Senate.
A beauty confesses to the power of air,
a roaring socket of need.
The humans bear forth from their jelly,
six rose-lipped mannequins.
—Who among these is most loved?
We will be forthright in our character analysis.
We will stenograph on bright, bright branches.
Even as someone might bribe us:
with a basket of fruit to our hearth;
with a length of black thread to our dead;
with a boy with that thread in his heart;
with a boy with a snail in his heart;
with a boy with toys in his heart, who are bowing.
In my numb mind, a little leather jacket,
the sleeve no bigger than a thumb drive.
In that diminished instance,
I light a cigarette. I put on lipstick.
I’m a version of a self. I speak the truth.
As if speaking French. Haltingly.
Fast forward and it’s me asking air
to save me from the synaptic patterns
that dictate who I am alongside what I do
when under duress. I wear a red dress.
A coral neck scarf. A hand (not mine)
covers my mouth. Nature is never fair.
Someone sucks the air out of the room.
I am saying no more except to say
that the scale is tilted toward
accident. The accidental. The absolute is.
Cut from a mail bag
without a return address,
this land whispers its name
from a waterfall’s hairline,
pressed flat under bent knee.
Lifting your head
to look past coming night—
You scribble an address
to a place where weeds
door the passage back.
Stone in throat,
your hand reaches
to clutch a leaf,
as you turn
toward the rising moon—
The sun rises in shades of tuna
I can only hear
See the trucks moving
Like ribbon around me
It's me and this machine
Somewhere are the bodies
I've put my mouth on
When I am old
And held in
I hope words
Will be lusterless
I want to be
Buffed so hard that even
When I get to school
One kid reads a piece
About how he wants to give
For a living
He says that a cheater
Will always cheat, and of course,
He wants to find a way
To make us learn this
The other day when locking
My house I had
A vision of a field
Behind it were three
I can leave many times
And still not be
Crows assemble in the bare elm above our house.
Restless, staring: like souls
who want back in life.
—And who wouldn’t want again
the hot bath after hard work,
with soft canyons of splitting foam;
or the glass of spring water
cold at the mouth?
To be startled by beauty—drops of bright
blood on the snow.
To be radiant.
All morning the crows watch me in the garden
putting in the early onions.
Their bodies look oiled.
Back in, back in,
they shake the wooden rattles.
David Teng Olsen, Mural, 2017
At sunset, this October,
I picked some Nippon daisies,
the last flower to flower,
a verb named for its noun.
The weather was all indoors.
A Page solo plus Michelangelo
enameled in cerulean, tangles
of what looked like instant ramen,
a heavy barge in the surf offshore,
a spindly zeppelin down, the scene
split by an architectural birch
crisscrossed by laser blasts.
Dave added the sky one day,
then blew our heads apart
by denying it had ever been a sky.
A spider creature was our sons.
Their hair entangled meant
they would now never be apart,
not their whole lives wandering
in a world itself worryingly
wandering who knows where.
Look, there’s a friendly bloom;
Look, a vivisectionist, a severed wrist.
These thoughts our house had had about us.
This morning—jeweled mannequins
In glass in a frame. Shadows. Bergdorf’s, Saks
5th Avenue. A dress of Coco Chanel an opera
A ballet A world away—
Lower East Side. I hear louder & louder
Faster, faster Delancey, Mott Street, rising
Above the hum the spinning the throbbing of
The bobbin-winder. Sweatshop din. Women
From Hong Kong, Mong Kok, choked in demonic
Heat. The fiber-dust-heat. 12 hours seated:
In shirt-waist-dust. No break no ventilation
& Stooped over her Singer, Mother
—I never saw her
—There. Her satin-scented hands
The faint scent of ginger & almond—
Cutting up garments, fragments How
Could it have been each piece, pennies
To the tick of the clock?
I am 9—
Before there are words to know
What it means to be 9. Happy & did not know
What being happy meant. Or innocence—
Standing there, Midtown, outside
Harold’s Broadway & 14th—where she
Did take me. Couture wool scraps. Ribbons.
Bullion fringes. Faux suede
Appliqués. Mother’s eyes in the window
Flashing: looking in. Always constructing—
The same French coat, draping it over Jackie O’s
Shoulder; would it look runway-stunning
On me? On her shoulder too why not
—On hers? Denim In 12 metallic versions
I clutched My mother’s arm clutched them all the
Followed her inside where eyes
Yards & yards piled high: bolts of
Dupioni, silk-shantung. Charmeuse.
I caressed them with my fingers.
After my mother, fumbled into their folds
Dresses: of vermilion,
Gold. The palpable—
Hem—of the city Gum San Gold
Mountain America I was a child &
Everything! was there—
Mother’s taffeta dresses: hand-sewn
& Sewn—for me. Had I known, consigned
To the stars. And then even not
That, nothing better than those dresses that dressed
—Her wounds. What did I know? Only that her signature
Begins in the looping style: tiny embroidered ladybugs or
Butterflies swooping down
I think I saw heaven—where she
Was, & for awhile & in her dreams: There-then
—As in : moments: silences
Sewn. Threaded: each seam, each
Crease. The recesses. Over & over the way
—A breath—is held; is
—A sharp pain—stitched
for my ancestor
in the Pennsylvania 25th Colored Infantry
aboard the Suwanee
First a penny-sized hole in the hull
then eager saltwater rushing over
us and clouds swirling and clotting
the moonlight—no time to stop and look upon it
as the hole becomes an iron mouth,
makes strange sounds, peels and tears
open iron as iron should not open—
muffled and heavy us becoming underwater
we confused the metal echo and thunder
as the same death knell from God’s mouth—
we been done floated all this way down
in dark blue used
uniforms, how far from slavers’ dried-out fields
in Virginia, Pennsylvania—wherever
we came from now we
barely and only
see and hear an ocean
whipped into storm
not horror, not glory, but storm
not fear, not power, but focus
on the work of breathing, living as the storm
rocks us and our insides upside down turns
hard tack into empty nausea—
so close to death I thought I saw the blaze-
sick fields of Berryville again, the curling fingers
of tobacco, hurt fruit and flower—
but no, but no.
I say no to death now. I’m nobody’s slave
now. I’m alive and not alone,
one of those who escaped and made myself
a soldier a weapon a stone in David’s sling
riding the air above the deep. I grow more dangerous
to those who want me. I ain’t going back
to anywhere I been before.
I grab a bucket. You grab a bucket. We the 25th
Pennsylvania Colored Infantry, newly formed
and too alive and close to free
to sink below this midnight water. 36 hours—chaos
shoveling-lifting-throwing ocean back into ocean
to reach land and war in the Carolinas.
I stole my body back from death and going down
more than once. I steal my breath
tonight and every night I will not drown.
The dive starts
on the board….
or Rub some dirt
in it, Princess,
when in his lesser
Steve of the hair gel,
and whistle, a man
who was her
who never seemed
to like her much.
Which was odd,
her admirable discipline,
and natural gifts,
the years and years
of practice, and the long
row of golden
trophies she won
for his team. The girl
she was then,
feral, like the outdoor
cat you feed,
when you remember
to, but won’t allow
to come inside….
She’s thinking of Steve
now, many years
later, while swimming
naked in her wealthy
landlord’s pool. Or
“grotto,” to call it
properly, an ugly,
Italian word for
ringed, as it is,
with red hibiscus;
in the mimosa trees
draping their blurry
the water’s skin.
It’s 3 am,
the safest time for
in which she’s turned
her strange and aging
body loose. Once,
a man she loved
the kind of woman
who feels embarrassed
just standing in
a room alone,
a comment, like him,
two parts ill spirited,
and one perceptive.
But this night she’s
dropped her robe,
come here to be
the kind of woman
who swims naked
for permission, risking
a stray neighbor
getting the full gander,
buoyed by saltwater;
all the tough and sag
of her softened by
this moonlight’s near-
Look at her: how
the woman is floating,
while trying to recall
the exact last
moment of her girlhood—
where she was,
what she was doing—
when she finally
learned what she’d
been taught: to hate
this fleshy sack
of boring anecdotes
and moles she’s lived
inside so long,
a zipper for escape.
A pearl is the oyster’s
Fellini said. How
clean and weightless
the dive returns
to the woman now;
climbing the high
metal ladder, then
no fear, no notion
the arc of her
as any arrow’s
in St. Sebastian’s
side. How keen
that girl, and sleek,
gorgeous than two
in a dead drop.
Floating, the woman
remembers this again,
how pristine she was
in pike, or tucked
tighter than a socialite, or
twisting in reverse
like a barber’s pole,
her body flying
toward its pivot,
which is, in those seconds,
tears itself away
(the woman climbing
from the water now)
like the silvery tissue
swaddling a costly
for Tarfia and Fita
The rabbit has a funny set of tools. He jumps.
or kicks. muffled and punching up. In pose
the rabbit knows, each side of his face to whom.
he should belong. He hobbles and eyes. This
is the dumb bun allegiance. This bunny, even dry and fluff
is aware, be vicious. will bite down your finger stalk.
will nick you good in the cheery web of your palm.
Those claws are good for traction. and defense.
This bunny, forgive him. There is no ease. His lack
of neck is all the senses about a stillness.
stuck in a calm. until household numbers upend
his floor. until the family upsets the nest
and traipses off. Then stuck in a bunny panic.
We each stab at gratitude. In our nubbing, none
of us do well. We jump. We kangaroo. We soft seeming,
scatter and gnaw. Maybe the only way forward
is to sleep all day. one eye open. under the sink.
Like the rabbit, we could sit in our shit.
Chew at the leaf of others’ dinner. Make
of each tile on the floor a good spot to piss. No,
it doesn’t get much better. And like the rabbit
we do not jump well from heights. We linger the dark
until it is safe to come out. To offer a nose.
a cheek for touch. the top of a crown. Nothing
makes us happier than another rabbit.
the other gold.
Now that’s the stuff,
shredded or melted
the pinnacle of man
in a cheeto puff!
Now that’s the stuff
you’ve been primed for:
fatty & salty & crunchy
and poof—gone. There’s the proof.
Though your grandmother
never even had one. You can’t
have just one. You
inhale them puff—
You’re a chain smoker. Tongue
coated & coaxed
but not saturated or satiated.
It’s like pure flavor,
but sadder. Each pink ping
in your pinball-mouth
by the makers who have studied you,
the human animal, and culled
from the rind
your Eve in the shape
of a cheese curl.
come curl in the dim light of the TV.
Veg out on the verge of no urge
Long ago we beached ourselves,
climbed up the trees then
down the trees,
knuckled across the dirt
& grasses & thorns & Berber carpet.
Now is the age of sitting,
And I must say,
crouched on the couch like that,
you resemble no animal.
Smug in your Snuggie and snug
in your sloth, you look
nothing like a sloth.
And you are not an anteater,
an anteater eats ants
of diabetes. Though breathing,
one could say, resembles a chronic disease.
cheese and what is cheese product?
It’s difficult to say
but being alive today
like a book you can’t put down, a stone
that plummets from a great height. Life’s
a “page-turner” alright.
But don’t worry
if you miss the finale
of your favorite show, you can
catch in on queue. Make room
for me and I’ll binge on this,
the final season with you.
I dreamt the spirit of the codfish:
in rafters of the mind;
fly out into the winter’s
mirth off alder tendrils sashay;
while I set up
my winter tent;
four panels long—beams suspend
I sit & pull blubber strips aged in a poke bag;
I’m shadowing the sun as a new moon icicle
time melts when white hawks come.
This morning I love everyone,
even Jerome, the neighbor I hate,
and the sun. And the sun
has pre-warmed my bucket seat
for the drive up Arsenal Street
with the hot car effect,
a phenomenon climatologists
use to explain global warming
to senators and kids.
I love the limited edition
Swingline gold stapler
in the oil change lounge
which can, like a poem,
affix anything to anything
on paper. One sheet of paper,
for instance, for that cloud of gnats,
one for this lady’s pit mix
wagging his tail so violently
I fear he’ll hurt his hips.
One sheet for glittered lip balm,
for eye contact, Bitcoin extortion
and the imperfect tense.
Sheets for each unfulfilled wish
I left in a penny in a mall fountain.
Sun spills into the lounge
through the window decal
in geometric Tetris wedges.
I have a sheet for Tetris,
its random sequence of pieces
falling toward me in this well
like color coded aspects of the life
I neglected to live, for the pleasure
of making line after line
disappear. The gold stapler
has twenty-sheet capacity
so I straighten my stack
on the reception counter
and staple the day together
with an echoing chunk.