after Jacqueline Rose / after Chen Chen
she fed me
in spite of
so much to
eat I needed
to ward off
how not to
utter the un-
that I am
saved my life:
I kept trying
to make her
proud of my
again & now
there is relief
guilt or blame
but they are
you are born
into the slip-
had told her
that the last
thing a young
is false decency
courage & cheer
she might not
have hurt us
both but what
to do with
love that comes
unbidden like a
how to accept
her care after
the storm is there
a point at which
the mother is
can the origin
story be re-told
the version where
the garden is always
paradise & no one
need ever fall
out of grace
After Jen Bervin / After Quan Barry
River spidering across the wall, sailing
through the air. River flashing with silver
sequins fastened to sunbeams. River always
in pieces, a torn ribbon streaming everywhere.
River carving out a canyon through the years,
seen from a sudden grassy overlook,
an old bridge, a new shoreline, endlessly
crossing and recrossing our lives. River
this winter with sixteen eagles alert
and searching. River unfrozen and pooling
around the ankles of trees in springtime,
daring us closer. River asleep inside
the black night like a spent lover,
dreaming of being a chandelier of rain,
first velvet wet drops on bare skin. Go,
go on. Conveyor belt of clouds, destroyer
and preserver of towns, longest breath
of the earth, tell us what floating means
to you. Some trees are weeping, river.
Speak of all you carry and carry off
in river song and river silence. Be horse,
be ferry, carry us from now to next to.
River, I’m done with fading shadows.
Give me daylight broken and scattered
across your fluid transparent face,
come meet me with the moon and the stars
running and tumbling along your sides.
River swinging open like a gate to the sea,
time’s no calendar of months, you say,
but water in the aftermath of light.
Your drifting cargo tells us everything
arrives from far away and long ago
and ends in the body, boat of heartache
and ecstasy we pilot, in quest of passage also.
River we call Mississippi or Mekong,
sing us forth to nowhere but here,
with your perfect memory be our flood.
I ask the new migrant if he regrets leaving Russia.
We have dispensed already with my ancestry.
He says no. For a time, he was depressed. He found
with every return he missed what he left behind.
A constant state of this. Better to love by far
where you are. He taps the steering wheel of his car,
the hum of the engine an imperceptible tremble
in us. When he isn’t driving, he works tending
to new trees. I’ve seen these saplings popping
up all over the suburbs, tickling the bellies
of bridges, the new rooted darlings of the State.
The council spent a quarter mil on them &
someone, he—Lilian—must ensure the dirt
holds. Gentrification is climate-friendly now.
I laugh and he laughs, and we eat the distance
between histories. He checks on his buds daily.
Are they okay? They are okay. They do not need
him, but he speaks, and they listen or at least
shake a leaf. What a world where you can live off
land by loving it. If only we cared for each other
this way. The council cares for their investment.
The late greenery, that is, not Lilian, who shares
his ride on the side. I wonder what it would cost
to have men be tender to me regularly,
to be folded into his burly, to be left on the side
of the road as he drove away, exhausted. Even
my dreams of tenderness involve being used
& I’m not sure who to blame: colonialism,
capitalism, patriarchy, queerness or poetry?
Sorry, this is a commercial for the Kia Sportage
now. This is a commercial for Lilian’s thighs.
He didn’t ask for this and neither did I—how
language drapes us together, how stories tongue
each other in the back seat and the sky blurs
out of frame. There are too many agonies
to discuss here, and I am nearly returned.
He has taken me all the way back, around
the future flowering, back to where I am not,
to the homes I keep investing in as harms.
I should fill them with trees. Let the boughs
cover the remembered boy, cowering
under a mother, her raised weapon
not the cane but the shattering within,
let the green tear through the wall
paper, let life replace memory. Lilian, I left
you that day, and in the leaving, a love
followed. Isn’t that a wonder and a wound?
Tell me which it is, I confess I mistake the two.
I walk up the stairs to my old brick apartment
where the peach tree reaches for the railing,
a few blushing fruits poking through the bars,
eager to brush my leg, to say linger, halt.
I want to stop, to hold it for real, just once
but I must wait until I am safe.
The wound on her lip goes white
before returning red.
The virus erupts the lines between chin and
lip, between lip and philtrum.
A sore across two continents of skin, a
bridge of lava.
She will feel healed when the flesh
color returns. The variation
is the aberration. Blood courses to
deliver a clot. Vessels
bouquet under the scalp or in the
womb, in places where we
heal fastest. Cells scramble
a lean-to scab, a mortar of new skin.
The body wants to draw its
But Jesus hangs before the
wounded, eternally weeping
from his gashes.
How to open hers without nails or
thorns? How to measure
heartbeats without seeing blood
heave out its rhythms?
A gush slows under pressure
even as the pulse
goes on. Our lesions take air, our
infections seek sunlight. How to
resist our unwilled mechanisms to
We push through the same tear in the
world and leave it sore.
When we come, we come open.
Pick a wound slow to bleed and
slower to seal. We cream
the scar to fade our atlas of living—what
itched its way to a silver road,
what shadow constellation of pox. The
convert counts Jesus’ wounds.
If you count both hands and both feet, all
lashes and piercings
and the forsaken cry, the number is
higher and lower than anyone’s.
My grandmother is only one day
into her infirmity and doped up
on Morphine. Her shoulder is immobile
beneath layers of plaster.
Her eighty-five-year-old frame droops
from the weight of it.
My mother confesses:
she cannot take care of her mother.
I am not she says a nursemaid.
My mother is angry. Angry
at my sister who didn’t give enough
support, angry at my grandmother
for shuffling her feet, angry even
at the dog that was tucked beneath
my grandmother’s arm
as they all three tried to squeeze
into the door of the vet’s office.
She calls me from the emergency room
to say that grandmother fractured her shoulder
in three places. She’s become an invalid
overnight, she says. My sister calls her cruel
for refusing to run the bathwater, refusing
to wash my grandmother’s naked body, for
not even considering renting
a wheelchair for her to move from place
to place. When grandmother whispers
that she is afraid to walk, my mother
tells her that there’s nothing wrong with
her legs, tells her she’ll have to go to a
nursing home if she won’t walk
to the bathroom: one piss in the bed is
understandable, two is teetering too
close to in-home care.
My sister does not understand that there
is too much to overcome between them—
always the memory of the black dress
grandmother refused to wear
on the day of her husband’s funeral—
the way she turned to my mother and said,
I am not in mourning.
three girls ago
bloodroot: it was Eid
Al-Adha: a man
I loved shoved
my face into
I can still feel his sweat
when I unsleep: the cleave
of his breath-lice
of my necklace
I was without people
oh so summerful
I invented my girlhood
I languaged myself
yet all uncles said
I’m badly woven: bad
muslin: say forgiveness
comes easy say freckledirt
buried the faces
of my sisters: lakewarm
we kiss we touch
we Magdalene each
other it’s true
during the adhan I pulled
down my tights
nylon black like the chador
of my mother
I licked from my yesterlove
the salt licked
real good—to pluck it again
I must whorl ad nauseam
for the addendum
of flesh the soft
sumac, cottonwood hard
as the nipples
we are singing
it’s spring and God to my song
is unlistening, unlistening
o Maryam o Miriam
o Mary we are undying
we are not gone
are not slayed we are
wields this life
and I ply myself
out come here
between my legs
come in all are welcome who believe
Shame forces what we denied into luminosity.
In dream my father tells me my mother’s grieving
He’s projecting thoughts to a screen for me to read.
I’m at his private film of captivity.
He’s watching us. We’re hunched over heaving the sorrow vomit.
Father stands before me
time without fear suspended and apart
unafraid of anything one way or another.
“When did they cut it?” he wants to know
pushing the thought into space between my eyes.
Raising his pant leg where the mortician
smoothed and stretched the salvage skin Father used for padding
his below-knee amputation
hovering inches above the ground glints in his eyes.
He doesn’t remember the amputation
in the bending.
Father shows me his whole leg. Scars
mended and smooth.
He is an uncut body again. Like before the bending place.
Only the graft scars on his thighs remain.
He projects: “I feel my leg here Margo my foot still itches here” Father
points: “in this empty space” he twirls his fingers a slow spiral.
I nod to him: “I see. I’ll remember this for you.”
for Daniel; after Pablo
It was five o’clock when paper handkerchiefs descended
over the ocean’s surge—
one ocean varnished by oil in the morning, fish under the surge’s blades.
My country, you whimpered under fog. I awoke to the tender
sound of seashells on the radio.
I knelt by myself and listened. Your flat skeleton, large skeleton,
would group at your back.
Come, you murmured over canned goods. Come. I will tell you
clay seeps onto roots, roots drawn by salt, roots crowned
by trees. The cords unravel from the flesh of trees, unravel
by the storm shutters. Come.
See the roads brim with red poppy, roads tracked
by green serpents
((a la víbora, víbora / de la mar, de la mar))
I tendered nine eggs before the ignorant lion
of exile, who nodded.
At five in the morning, everything seemed to be made of lime—
one torso shrouded by magnolia, one torso under vulgar peal
of grey morgues, and the fish.
Barely-morning pink curtains
drape an open window. Roaches scatter,
the letter t vibrating in cottonwoods.
His hair horsetail and snakeweed.
I siphon doubt from his throat
for the buffalograss.
Seep willow antler press against
the memory of the first man I saw naked.
His tongue a mosquito whispering
its name a hymn on mesquite,
my cheek. The things we see the other do
collapse words into yucca bone.
The Navajo word for eye
hardens into the word for war.
light that day | bright | & the air hot | & meeting bones
of those I would never know en the panteón
speaking Sinaloan Spanish | which has always
been the accent I’ve understood most
despite hearing it least in my life
sígueme he sd | follow me
we must walk | roads unpaved lined
with stones & dust | so much dust
| polvo | of airborne bones &
saguaro ancestors watching us
their shadows trailing us |
as sr Nalo led us past a dried
creek & just over a small hill
& there | a house with no doors
& there attached to this home
the walls of another | walls covered
in hot black plastic | secured with rope
there | the walls of Francisco’s home
what was left of Francisco’s home
now a storage space for another family’s home
aquí el vivió | sr Nalo sd | he lived here |
Rosario after decades of waiting | left this home
& lived with her children | Francisco’s children
from his first family | closer to the center
of el rancho Tetaroba | how los Alvarez
of Arizona dwindled to less people
over one hundred years &
how los Alvarez of Tetaroba
increased & lived in all parts of Mexico
touch these walls | de color colorado
they were the same yr grandfather felt
you feel the heat | they breathe hot
touch these walls | paredes en la frente y la mente
they were the same yr grandfather felt
you feel the heat | they breathe hot
I pocketed a piece of this wall
& later when drunk | way drunk after
getting to know mis primos better
over chelas | I stumbled into the hotel
hot tears in my eyes | dad I sd |
I kept this for you | for all of us
but always for you to keep him
& to remember | always remember
what he did |
| climbing down the drainage of red
rock | sweet minted plants |
Robert | my father | father of five
all born in Arizona | Robert
stops to catch his breath then rips
bamboo from root | clouded
red dust clumps dropping |
this is where he was born
& now we know why | now
we know why & now we can see why
small victories small wars
a famous person
played chess in the woods
whatever repeats whatever
input we have a disappearing
that knows how to proceed
local realities made up
exclusively of their own grammar
but only if their grammar
victorious feelings without victory
sam calls our teams are playing
we are getting older can only hope
for a beautiful result
is a truth that conveys
no information a local
threat a distant
tabs on tabs on tabs
I buy the hat that my bitmoji had
in a threat of forests a savant
of anger a savant of nothing
to be angry about
a hierarchy of satisfactions
the next activity
the best distraction
it’s never too late to stay the same
very few things
the body reacts
to what reacts
a sort of
Every turn I took in the city
pressed me deeper into the warren
of what I hadn’t said, the words
thickening, constricting like a throat
as I moved through the streets,
oblivious to traffic and high walls,
the rain gutters’ crooked mouths
staining the pavement, human faces
mooning past me, indifferent,
eclipsing my silence
with their phones, their apparitions
everyone talking to the air.
Until around a new corner
on a narrow street I’d never seen
a piano began to play from above
a window-muffled music
at odds with itself, the rush of notes
splintering like glass across a floor
then picked back up, piece
by piece—first one hand sorting
along the keys, then the other
joining, out of step, irreconcilable,
unpunctuated by frustration,
or shame, but stung with the urgency
to make what couldn’t yet
be made. How could anyone learn
their way out of such blunder,
how could any song be gathered
from those shards grating
like something lodged in a shoe.
My ear cocked into the air,
I thought of floating up, balloon-like,
to look. I felt cartoonish,
a marvel of the last century’s
animation already out of date.
I could have gone on like that,
listening, loosening into the song,
but then the piano stopped.
My ears filled with waiting—
car horns and chatter, the wheeze
of a stopping bus, the city going
about its filthy exclamations,
its abandon. The window
darkened as the player shut
the light over the sheet music,
and it reflected another window
across the street that in turn
reflected a bit of sky, a plane’s
bright sideways thought
trolling across the pane
music once broke through—
delirious and awful and unabashed,
and so unlike what I’d wanted to say
swollen now, a contrail
coming extravagantly undone,
or a balloon full of glass.
I have that precious and irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender
If something happens to me, then you’ll be free!
And I want you to be free: how does that Presley
Song go? I want to be free, free, free, yeah
Free—I want to be free… like a bird in a tree.
And here by the river alone, by the Mississippi,
There’s one last song I’m gonna wade into. See,
I was raised to sing wherever I was in a house
And now, it seems, I have no house. How does
That Tom Waits song go? Wherever I lay my
Head, that’s where I call home. I say
I have no house, but that’s really a big lie.
I’m renting down here. I can sing in this place,
So maybe I’ll buy. That is, if I don’t die
First. Why so grim, you ask? There’s joy,
I suppose, in my voice somewhere. So they say.
I don’t hear it, myself. And that’s because
I get myself all hung up in the blue, or weigh
Myself down in the freighted churn, heavy currents
That I hope to God will carry me to our unchained redeemer,
My last thought is... that I had no last thought.
I’m just singing along. Whole lotta love! But… But…
The Hallelujah is what you can’t put into a poem.
Now I have no house but the waves (the river has waves).
I’ve left no notes: only some sketches for an album
Of tunes that was, I guess, intended to save
Me from going down, or out, or into the hurling rain—
From the pain that I worked so hard to earn.
Where it came from, where I come from, doesn’t concern
You, but please listen to these wild thoughts I’ve hung
On staves, that are fit to garland the graves
Nobody thinks to visit, in places I confess I never
Went to except in a nightmare, and in the posthumous release
Of this song.
with gratitude to Wanda Coleman & Terrance Hayes
We have the same ankles, hips, nipples, knees—
our bodies bore the forks/tenedors
we use to eat. What do we eat? Darkness
from cathedral floors,
the heart’s woe in abundance. Please let us
go through the world touching what we want,
knock things over. Slap & kick & punch
until we get something right. ¿Verdad?
Isn’t it true, my father always asks.
Your father is the ghost of mine & vice
versa. & when did our pasts
stop recognizing themselves? It was always like
us to first person: yo. To disrupt a hurricane’s
path with our own inwardness.
C’mon huracán, you watery migraine,
prove us wrong for once. This sadness
lasts/esta tristeza perdura. Say it both ways
so language doesn’t bite back, but stays.
Breakfast rained on again,
and I’m lifted up the stairs
on the breath of what
the dark of the day
might promise in its
perfect silence. The light
in my daughter’s room
has been on all night
like every night,
but the sun shifting
changes the shape
of the space from
a square into an unfolding
universe. I had always
imagined a different type
of fatherhood before
fatherhood found me, but if you
asked me to describe it now,
I don’t think I could
find the words. Try to find
a way to describe living
a few different ways at once.
For a while I imagined
there would be more attempts
at trying out what I’m still
trying to see in the room
that’s gone power out,
but the weeds in the yard
grow too quickly to be left
alone for long. I had forgotten
the strangeness of a humid
February. I had forgotten
all that makes up the memories
that need me to exist. It was
easier to carve out a place
before I had words to describe
it. Now looking back feels
like looking forward. I am
drawing a self-portrait
and trying to remove the self.
The day feels as thin
as the letters fading from
half a can of spray paint
a decade ago on the brick wall
of the closed down
Suder Feed Supply where we used
to skateboard and think
of all the crimes the police
could punish us with
for being poor, and teenagers,
for wearing skin-tight jeans
and growing our hair
like a girl’s, for almost anything—
at least it felt like it then.
I can’t imagine home
without thinking of the past
and the faintest stir
of indignation. It’s beside the point.
Today, I’m revisiting Miłosz
with a pen pressed to the pages
making notes in the margins.
In 1987, in Berkeley,
he is doing the same, and thinking
back on the end of his countries, their
“posthumous existence.” Like him
I know a place
I can’t return to, and without
much imagination can picture
everything coming apart, one way
or another. When I imagine
how it might go, it is
just like this: I am memorizing
bird calls and wild
plants which become a blur
at the far edge of my yard,
their Latin names tangled
in my mouth. Didn’t I
already show you this?
The country at twilight
and a far-off darkness
of pines, a deep red sky
imagined for this page. What I left out
wasn’t meant to be remarkable—
a bruise faded from the surface,
the wounds buried
like overwintered wasps
beneath the snow. So let’s see
if I can draw it into focus,
like the truant daydreaming in class
suddenly with something to say—
the one end I know complete.
Once, I thanked my father
for the gift of this life,
something he didn’t hear.
It was two years before he died
and he was high
on the translucent painkillers
the hospital ordered to keep him
comfortable after surgery.
It was as real as anything
I ever told him. I stood
over him in the hospital bed
and traced the outline of his body
under the gown, the collar and hip bones,
his stomach, his penis, and balls,
numbered the black stars
printed on the cotton and listened
to him breathe, mouth
open, just so, a way
into the hive growing in his chest.
He didn’t hear, and then, he couldn’t.
In those years, I barely spoke to him
and now not an hour can pass
I don’t hear him, now that
what he has to say is always
final, always a last word. And
Miłosz is buried in Kraków
and my father has entered
eternity as ash, and I am
certain what doesn’t last
Wouldbelove, do not think of me as a whetstone
until you hear the whole story:
In it, I’m not the hero, but I’m not the villain either
so let’s say, in the story, I was human
and made of human-things: fear
and hands, underbelly and blade. Let me
say it plain: I loved someone
and I failed at it. Let me say it
another way: I like to call myself wound
but I will answer to knife. Sometimes
I think we have the same name, Notquitelove. I want
to be soft, to say here is my underbelly and I want you
to hold the knife, but I don’t know what I want you to do:
plunge or mercy. I deserve both. I want to hold and be held.
Let me say it again, Possiblelove: I’m not sure
you should. The truth is: If you don’t, I won’t
die of want or lonely, just time. And not now, not even
soon. But that’s how every story ends eventually.
Here is how one might start: Before. The truth?
I’m not a liar but I close my eyes a lot, Couldbelove.
Before, I let a blade slide itself sharp against me. Look
at where I once bloomed red and pulsing. A keloid
history. I have not forgotten the knife or that I loved
it or what it was like before: my unscarred body
visits me in dreams and photographs. Maybelove,
I barely recognize it without the armor of its scars.
I am trying to tell the truth: the dreams are how
I haunt myself. Maybe I’m not telling the whole story:
I loved someone and now I don’t. I can’t promise
to leave you unscarred. The truth: I am a map
of every blade I ever held. This is not a dream.
Look at us now: all grit and density. What, Wouldbelove
do you know of knives? Do you think you are a soft thing?
I don’t. Maybe the truth is: Both. Blade and guard.
My truth is: blade. My hands
on the blade; my hands, the blade; my hands
carving and re-carving every overzealous fibrous
memory. The truth is: I want to hold your hands
because they are like mine. Holding a knife
by the blade and sharpening it. In your dreams, how much invitation
to pierce are you? Perhapslove, the truth is: I am afraid
we are both knives, both stones, both scarred. Or we will be.
The truth is: I have made fire
before: stone against stone. Mightbelove, I have sharpened
this knife before: blade against blade. I have hurt and hungered
against flesh. I won’t make a dull promise.
One for tree, two for woods,
I-Goo wrote the characters
out for me. Dehiscent & reminiscent:
what wood made
Ng Ng’s hope-chest
that she immigrated with
—cargo from Guangzho
to Phoenix? In Spanish, Nana tells me
hope & waiting are one word.
In her own hand, she keeps
a list of dichos—for your poems, she says.
Estan mas cerca los dientes
que los parentes, she recites her mother
& mother’s mother. It rhymes, she says.
Dee-say—the verb with its sound turned
down looks like dice
to throw & dice, to cut. Shift after shift,
she inspected the die of integrated circuits
beneath an assembly line of microscopes—
the connections over time
getting smaller & smaller.
To enter words in order to see
In the classroom, we learn iambic words
that leaf on the board with diacritics—
about, aloft, aggrieved. What over years
accrues within one’s words? What immanent
sprung with what rhythm?
Agave—a lie in the lion, the maenad made mad
by Dionysus awoke to find her son
dead by her hand. The figure is gaslit
even if anachronistic. Data & river banks—
memory’s figure is often riparian. I hear Llorona’s agony
echo in the succulent. What’s the circuit in cerca to short
or rewire the far & close—to map
Ng Ng & I-Goo to Nana’s carpool?
I read a sprig of evergreen, a symbol
of everlasting, is sometimes packed
with a new bride’s trousseau. It was thirteen years
before Yeh Yeh could bring
Ng Ng & I-Goo over. Evergreen
& Empire were names of corner-stores
where they first worked—
stores on corners of Nana’s barrio.
Chinito, Chinito! Toca la malaca—
she might have sung in ’49
after hearing Don Tosti’s
recording—an l where the r would be
in the Spanish rattle filled with beans or seed or as
the song suggests
change in the laundryman’s till.
I have read diviners
use stems of yarrow when consulting
What happens to the woods in a maiden name?
Two hyphens make a dash—
the long signal in the binary code.
Attentive antennae: a monocot
—seed to single leaf—the agave store years
for the stalk. My two grandmothers:
one’s name keeps a pasture,
the other a forest. If they spoke to one another,
it was with short, forced words
like first strokes when sawing—
trying to set the teeth into the grain.
Diagonal paths quadrisect a square acre
white as the page in February.
From the soil of this basic geometry
ash, elm, and maple flourish like understandings
whose bare logics are visible,
understandings the theorem has allowed.
Between roam bodies of the sensible world:
people, dogs, all those lovers
of the material and immaterial
illumined, as under working hypotheses,
by sodium bulbs whose costly inefficiencies
Los Angeles and Philadelphia have apparently
moved on from.
The trees are grand hotels closed for the season.
But belowground, social life is taking place.
As when snow lay on the fields
and people descended to rec rooms, secret bars
like the Snake Pit in the basement of the curling rink
in Golden Prairie. Our big Ford nosing the siding,
we waited for our parents with the engine running,
under grave instruction
as radio sent our autonomy bounding toward us,
chilling scenarios inspired by the trucking forecast
and news items from Great Falls or Bismarck
freely imagined, songs that gave us bad ideas
and the seeds of a mythology. Ten minutes,
then one hour, two,
pop and chips and the gift of the periphery.
I've never understood what "starlit" means.
Even on a clear night in their millions
they cast no discernible light
into the dark expanse where a farmhouse gestured weakly
and grid roads and bullshit caragana disappeared,
where the animals' lives played out,
smells travelling slowly, low to the ground.
In Riverdale Park the diagonal walks like diagrams
may be said to describe themselves,
which is a relief.
Now snow is blowing through the theorem
that the understandings broadly accommodate
and sensible bodies adjust their collars to,
and even bare spots left by departed cars evidence
how the outlines of loss might gradually alter
as experience is filled in by its representation,
even if not made peace with.
You are never mentioned on Ararat
or elsewhere, but I know a woman’s hand
in salvation when I see it. Lately,
I’m torn between despair and ignorance.
I’m not a vegetarian, shop plastic,
use an air conditioner. Is this what happens
before it all goes fluvial? Do the selfish
grow self-conscious by the withering
begonias? Lately, I worry every black dress
will have to be worn to a funeral.
New York a bouillon, eroded filigree.
Anything but illness, I beg the plagues,
but shiny crows or nuclear rain.
Not a drop in London May through June.
I bask in the wilt by golden hour light.
Lately, only lately, it is late. Tucking
our families into the safeties of the past.
My children, will they exist by the time
it’s irreversible? Will they live
astonished at the thought of ice
not pulled from the mouth of a machine?
Which parent will be the one to break
the myth; the Arctic wasn’t Sisyphus’s
snowy hill. Noah’s wife, I am wringing
my hands not knowing how to know
and move forward. Was it you
who gathered flowers once the earth
had dried? How did you explain the light
to all the animals?