If you are anything like I am
and I have faith that you are
then you have already stepped
out of your body
and been irrevocably wounded
I was born in 1969
Chances are you were born
during a different year
It doesn’t matter if you were born
three thousand years ago
or if you are born
three thousand years from now
we share what it means to live
Maybe you have gone
back into your body
and found words
the only guide
into the known dark
We are both the living and the dead
the stuff beyond theory
Sometimes it is too much
and other times not enough
We wake to a morning fog
We wake to morning sun
We sit in a cold evening
thinking of the death of a parent
A different evening
has us thinking of our eyes
and how they crawled
out of our minds
at some point
in the evolution of the self
It is the evening of the first day
of a new year
I ask myself What have you done
The list is remarkable
True, like I scribe to you
Devonte was a foot soldier.
Hep to the old one two
brogan banged pavement.
Downbeat long past
“feets do yo stuff.”
He was the dis
son of the penny-ante,
off-beat “love will find a way” Blakean prodigy.
Glider of man
holes and jack-ball
bottles pushed to the curb.
He was the hoofer,
the wolf boy calling cadence
to Okmulgee back
dreams and dawning days
where he Eagle Rocked
in Cimarron sludge
and ragged tails at a high school dance
Devonte pushed a rickety shopping cart
through market lanes and stone soul picnic
surrey with the frontier fringe on top.
emblematic of the colonizer’s booze
grandiloquent booby prize filth
progeny of branch noose ripe tree
Legacy of a miraculous
bounty of hang nailed fingers
blood birds poaching pedigrees to
“Here I am. Now you see me, now you don’t.”
subject to the gaze of distant blue hated brothers
or rather a bother of continual apparition
the “me not me” rattling in the stove pipe
of his own voice rife with suffering.
on the campus of the University
of California at San Diego
among endearing neighbors:
Geisel Library, named for Dr.
Seuss, and cheek by jowl
with John Muir College,
named for the
pioneer naturalist and
ur-ecologist. Niki de
Saint Phalle fecit
Sun God manages
to look both matte
and shiny at the
same time. It is a toy.
A man. A bird.
A woman, a bat.
It evokes Calder in its
“plain speaking.” It
evokes poster paint.
Made of fiberglass,
mask a steel frame
in the public sculpture
garden, because what
is more public than light.
O, Sun God, shine
on us, we are
covered in gold leaf.
I feel her swaying
under the earth, deep
in a basket of tree roots,
their frayed silk
keeping her calm,
a carpet of grass singing
Nearer my god to thee,
oak branches groaning in wind
coming up from the sea.
We take on trust the dead
are buried and gone,
the light doused for eternity,
the nevermore of their particulars
ground up, dispersed.
As a child I didn’t know
where the light went
when she flipped the switch,
though I once touched
the dark bulb that burned
my fingertips, studied the coiled
element trapped inside
seething with afterglow.
It is natural to live in an era
when no one uttered—
and silence was glamour
so I could cast one glance westward
and you’d know what I was
going to kill. Murder in my gaze,
treachery in my movements:
if I bared the grooves
in my spine, made my lust known,
the reel would remind me
that someone with my face
could never be loved.
How did you expect my characters
to react? In so many shoots,
I was brandishing a dagger.
The narrative was enchanting
enough to make me believe
I, too, could live in a white
palace, smell the odorless gardens,
relieve myself on their white
petals. To be a star in Sun City—
to be first lady on the celluloid
screen—I had to marry
my own cinematic death.
I never wept audibly—I saw my
sisters in the sawmills,
reminded myself of my good luck.
Even the muzzle over my mouth
could not kill me, though I
never slept soundly through the silence.
When the milk is sour,
The next time you stop speaking,
ask yourself why you were born.
They say they are scared of us.
The nuclear bomb is scared of the cucumber.
When my mother asks me to slice cucumbers,
I feel like a normal person with fantastic dilemmas:
Do I make rounds or sticks? Shall I trim the seeds?
I ask my grandmother if there was ever a time
she felt like a normal person every day,
not in danger, and she thinks for as long
as it takes a sun to set and says, Yes.
I always feel like a normal person.
They just don’t see me as one.
We would like the babies not to find out about
the failures waiting for them. I would like
them to believe on the other side of the wall
is a circus that just hasn’t opened yet. Our friends,
learning how to juggle, to walk on tall poles.
Though neither you nor I saw flowering pistachio trees
in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, though neither
you nor I saw the Tigris River stained with ink,
though we never heard a pistachio shell dehisce,
we have taken turns holding a panda as it munched
on bamboo leaves, and I know that rustle now.
I have awakened beside you and inhaled August
sunlight in your hair. I’ve listened to the scroll
and unscroll of your breath—dolphins arc along
the surface between white-capped waves; here,
years after we sifted yarrow and read from the Book
of Changes, I mark the dissolving hues in the west
as the sky brightens above overhanging willows.
The panda fidgets as it pushes a stalk farther
into its mouth. We step into a clearing with budding
chanterelles; and, though this space shrinks and
is obscured in the traffic of a day, here is the anchor
I drop into the depths of teal water. I gaze deeply
at the panda’s black patches around its eyes;
how did it evolve from carnivore to eater of bamboo?
So many transfigurations I will never fathom.
The arc of our lives is a brightening then dimming,
brightening then dimming—a woman catches
fireflies in an orchard with the swish of a net.
I pick an openmouthed pistachio from a bowl
and crack it apart: a hint of Assyria spills
into the alluvial fan of sunlight. I read spring in
autumn in the scroll of your breath; though
neither you nor I saw the completion of the Great Wall,
I wake to the unrepeatable contour of this breath.