(to my wife, nālani
and our 7-month old daughter, kai)
to breathe #...
Copyright © 2015 by Craig Santos Perez. Originally printed in Hawai'i Review. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Vicksburg, Mississippi Here, the Mississippi carved its mud-dark path, a graveyard for skeletons of sunken riverboats. Here, the river changed its course, turning away from the city as one turns, forgetting, from the past— the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up above the river's bend—where now the Yazoo fills the Mississippi's empty bed. Here, the dead stand up in stone, white marble, on Confederate Avenue. I stand on ground once hollowed by a web of caves; they must have seemed like catacombs, in 1863, to the woman sitting in her parlor, candlelit, underground. I can see her listening to shells explode, writing herself into history, asking what is to become of all the living things in this place? This whole city is a grave. Every spring— Pilgrimage—the living come to mingle with the dead, brush against their cold shoulders in the long hallways, listen all night to their silence and indifference, relive their dying on the green battlefield. At the museum, we marvel at their clothes— preserved under glass—so much smaller than our own, as if those who wore them were only children. We sleep in their beds, the old mansions hunkered on the bluffs, draped in flowers—funereal—a blur of petals against the river's gray. The brochure in my room calls this living history. The brass plate on the door reads Prissy's Room. A window frames the river's crawl toward the Gulf. In my dream, the ghost of history lies down beside me, rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.
From Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Sometimes the mythologies of a city are true—
like when I see a blond man bob for red apples
in the street selling records side by side with a black cat
wound in a cushion, deep in dream. Josh says
he does not want to go see Anne Frank, that this kind of tourism
depresses him, the one where the demonstration of grief
is like a voyeuristic tug at suffering
that is not yours to possess. How do you eat after that,
he seems sad today. How do you stay alive.
When he was young, he visited Auschwitz and told
me not to go because it had a gift shop and that
made him angry and nobody knows how to grieve
in public, how to make public space for loss
unless you can make money off of it but really
there is something else to his anger, the child
abandoned, the residue of a young girl’s life turned
into a petting zoo—this he cannot take.
I have become like my mother where I don’t
need sleep in a new city anymore, immune to
time shifts, I just wander and buy fruit
and almonds and a good loaf
of bread and today, some fresh juice, skipping museums
though I want to go back to see Anne Frank’s
house this time, because this time,
I am a woman and last time, I was a girl
and when you are a girl, all you see is another girl
and when you are a woman, all you see is history
careening towards a girl who you cannot protect.
In my Amsterdam apartment, I find a ceramic plate
with its rim edge folded in five places where a violet petal
has been painted at its compression. In it, I pour
some olive oil and a little bit of salt and sit
on the white couch overlooking the new
neon green blooms gathering on a branch
outside the large window directly facing an apartment
of a bookish couple, the kind who forget
they have bodies and think they are better
than those who are bodily which is most everyone else
in the world but the girl in the couple is lying
and misses the small animal inside her
crying for her breakfast.
What she needs is food, not Yeats.
What she needs is your fingers.
The apartment has tulips and pink depression glass
and cacti of all heights like reptilian skyscrapers.
I am thinking of Harlem in Amsterdam.
Sometimes I go there to hide.
I go there to eat at a bistro owned by a lady
named Fay. Fay is older with light eyes and her whole
family works this place and her grandson
is behind the bar and he’s just seventeen and a soccer
player and this week got into Dartmouth and I ask
her if she thinks he’ll be happy, being a black
kid at Dartmouth, but Fey is Queen Fey
and knows better than to answer questions
about race at dinner time especially in front
of all these nice people.
In Amsterdam, the cold sunlight of April
grows the dandelions in the gutter and when
you get to 263 to see Anne Frank’s house (only
from the outside) the building is not as tall
as you remember and you wonder what the ceilings
were like for a young girl and you imagine
her face, I imagine her face and think
maybe something bad happened to Josh
when he was a kid and you see her
face in the window, her face lit up in story,
her face in love and in fear, and you are in Amsterdam
when the American president bombs Syria.
You say American president as if you are not
an American and as if he is not your president.
You promised that he would not make his way
into any poem, but here he is bombing
Syria and here is he is in your poem
and here is her face spreading all over
Europe and here is your face, Anne,
spreading all over Europe and
here is your face, your face, your face.
Copyright © 2018 by Megan Fernandes. “Amsteradm” originally appeared in the Bennington Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.
During the last 50 miles back from haul & some
months past my 15th birthday, my father fishes
a stuffed polar bear from a Salvation Army
gift-bin, labeled Boys: 6-10. I can almost see him
approach the decision: cold, a little hungry, not enough
money in his pocket for coffee. He worries
he might fall asleep behind the wheel as his giant,
clumsy love for that small word—son—guides
his gaze to the crudely-sewn fabric of the miniature bear
down at the bottom of the barrel. Seasons have flared
& gone out with little change in his fear of stopping
for too long in any city, where he knows the addict
in him waits, patient as a desert bloom. Meanwhile, me:
his eldest child, the uneasy guardian of the house.
In his absence, I’ve not yet lost my virginity,
but I’ve had fist-fights with grown men & seen
my mother dragging her religious beliefs to the bitter
border of divorce. For years my father’s had trouble
saying no to crack-cocaine & women flowered in cheap
summer dresses. Watch his face as he arrives at last
& stretches the toy out, my mother fixed
on the porch behind me, the word son suddenly heavy
in my father’s mouth, his gray coat gathered
around his shoulders: he’s never looked so small.
We could crush him—we hug him instead.
"What I Mean When I Say Truck Driver" from Revising the Storm. Copyright © 2014 by Geffrey Davis, BOA Editions, Ltd. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Guam is considered the SPAM® capital of the world. On average, each Chamorro consumes 16 tins of SPAM® each year, which is more per capita than any country in the world. Headline: Guam Struggles to Find Its Roots From Beneath Growing Piles of SPAM®. Guam, Hawaii, and Saipan have the only McDonald's restaurants that feature SPAM® on the menu. I went to the "World's Largest K-Mart" in Guam and I was amazed at the SPAM® display…it was like a whole "Wall of SPAM®." SPAM® has a place not only in the stomachs of Guam's people, but in our hearts as well. Here SPAM® is considered a gourmet luxury and is often presented as a gift at birthdays, weddings, and funerals. Hormel even made a Hot and Spicy SPAM® especially formulated for Guam with Tabasco already added to it! A culinary legacy of American troops stationed in the Pacific during World War Two, the GIs noticed how much the people of Guam loved SPAM®, so they started to jokingly call it "Chamorro Steak." Not coincidentally, SPAM® is also popular in Hawaii, the Philippines, Okinawa, and Saipan, all places with a history of a U.S. military presence. In fact, SPAM® may have been responsible for Hitler's defeat. The Allies would not have won WWII without SPAM®. Plus, it's processed so I guess we can keep it forever right? Wow, I haven't seen this much SPAM® since I lived on Guam and the car dealership there started offering 50lb bags of rice and cases of SPAM® with every purchase. The end result can be found in the newspaper's obituary pages. In 2004, Public Health reported that heart disease was the leading cause of death on Guam, representing 33.7% of deaths. You can rub the entire block of SPAM®, along with the accompanying delicious gelatinous goo, onto wood furniture. The oils from the SPAM® moisturize the wood and give the furniture a nice luster. Plus, you'll have enough left over to polish some of your neighbors' furniture. You'll be like Santa Claus meets Mr. Clean. How did I miss hearing about the "In Honor of Guam's Liberation" SPAM®! I thought I had collected them all! But as I got older and tried to be "healthier" (whatever that means, haha), SPAM® faded from my consciousness. Then I met my future wife, who is Hawaiian, and SPAM® became part of my life again. Maybe the economic downturn will help people truly appreciate SPAM® instead of loathing it. SPAM® doesn't have to be unhealthy. I eat SPAM® on a regular basis and I'm not dead yet. Just switch to SPAM® Lite. In the devastating wake of Typhoon Omar, SPAM® arrived. Hormel Foods donated 40,000 cases of the belly-filling foodstuff to the Salvation Army's disaster relief effort. That's about six million SPAM®burgers! Despite rumors, SPAM® is NOT made of such odds and ends as hooves, ears, brains, native people, or whole baby pigs. SPAM® is for realz made of pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrate, if you can belief it. The name itself stands for Specially Processed Army Meat, Salted Pork And More, Super Pink Artificial Meat, Squirrel Possum And Mouse, or Some People Are Missing. My uncle is the reigning Guam SPAM® king. He won the last SPAM® cook-off with his Spicy SPAM® meatballs. I will never forget the two-pound SPAM® bust of George Washington he made for Liberation Day, toasted crispy on the outside with raw egg yolk in the hollow center. The kids loved it! Only a fool would start a company in Guam that provides SPAM® protection. We don't want to be protected from SPAM® bots. For Xmas, I bought a SPAM® snow-globe featuring a can of SPAM® sitting on an island; turn it over and a typhoon swirls madly, unable to unseat SPAM® from its place of honor. I have a souvenir can I bought after seeing Monty Python's SPAM®ALOT on Broadway. It cost me $10 and is the most expensive SPAM® I've ever bought. I will never eat it.
Copyright © 2010 by Craig Santos Perez. Used with permission of the author.
Three days into the journey I lost the Inca Trail and scrambled around the Andes in a growing panic when on a hillside below snowline I met a farmer who pointed the way— Machu Picchu allá, he said. He knew where I wanted to go. From my pack I pulled out an orange. It seemed to catch fire in that high blue Andean sky. I gave it to him. He had been digging in a garden, turning up clumps of earth, some odd, misshapen nuggets, some potatoes. He handed me one, a potato the size of the orange looking as if it had been in the ground a hundred years, a potato I carried with me until at last I stood gazing down on the Urubamba valley, peaks rising out of the jungle into clouds, and there among the mists was the Temple of the Sun and the Lost City of the Incas. Looking back now, all these years later, what I remember most, what matters to me most, was that farmer, alone on his hillside, who gave me a potato, a potato with its peasant face, its lumps and lunar craters, a potato that fit perfectly in my hand, a potato that consoled me as I walked, told me not to fear, held me close to the earth, the potato I put in a pot that night, the potato I boiled above Machu Picchu, the patient, gnarled potato I ate.
From Country of Light by Joseph Stroud. Copyright © 2004 Joseph Stroud. Used with permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.
In the steamer is the trout seasoned with slivers of ginger, two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil. We shall eat it with rice for lunch, brothers, sister, my mother who will taste the sweetest meat of the head, holding it between her fingers deftly, the way my father did weeks ago. Then he lay down to sleep like a snow-covered road winding through pines older than him, without any travelers, and lonely for no one.
Li-Young Lee, "Eating Together" from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
In the invitation, I tell them for the seventeenth time
(the fourth in writing), that I am gay.
In the invitation, I include a picture of my boyfriend
& write, You’ve met him two times. But this time,
you will ask him things other than can you pass the
whatever. You will ask him
about him. You will enjoy dinner. You will be
enjoyable. Please RSVP.
They RSVP. They come.
They sit at the table & ask my boyfriend
the first of the conversation starters I slip them
upon arrival: How is work going?
I’m like the kid in Home Alone, orchestrating
every movement of a proper family, as if a pair
of scary yet deeply incompetent burglars
is watching from the outside.
My boyfriend responds in his chipper way.
I pass my father a bowl of fish ball soup—So comforting,
isn’t it? My mother smiles her best
Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend
Who Is a Boy Smile. I smile my Hurray for Doing
a Little Better Smile.
Everyone eats soup.
Then, my mother turns
to me, whispers in Mandarin, Is he coming with you
for Thanksgiving? My good friend is & she wouldn’t like
this. I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling
on the string that makes my cardboard mother
more motherly, except she is
not cardboard, she is
already, exceedingly my mother. Waiting
for my answer.
While my father opens up
a Boston Globe, when the invitation
clearly stated: No security
blankets. I’m like the kid
in Home Alone, except the home
is my apartment, & I’m much older, & not alone,
& not the one who needs
to learn, has to—Remind me
what’s in that recipe again, my boyfriend says
to my mother, as though they have always, easily
talked. As though no one has told him
many times, what a nonlinear slapstick meets
slasher flick meets psychological
pit he is now co-starring in.
Remind me, he says
to our family.
Copyright © 2018 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.