I am lazy, the laziest girl in the world. I sleep during the day when I want to, 'til my face is creased and swollen, 'til my lips are dry and hot. I eat as I please: cookies and milk after lunch, butter and sour cream on my baked potato, foods that slothful people eat, that turn yellow and opaque beneath the skin. Sometimes come dinnertime Sunday I am still in my nightgown, the one with the lace trim listing because I have not mended it. Many days I do not exercise, only consider it, then rub my curdy belly and lie down. Even my poems are lazy. I use syllabics instead of iambs, prefer slant to the gong of full rhyme, write briefly while others go for pages. And yesterday, for example, I did not work at all! I got in my car and I drove to factory outlet stores, purchased stockings and panties and socks with my father's money. To think, in childhood I missed only one day of school per year. I went to ballet class four days a week at four-forty-five and on Saturdays, beginning always with plie, ending with curtsy. To think, I knew only industry, the industry of my race and of immigrants, the radio tuned always to the station that said, Line up your summer job months in advance. Work hard and do not shame your family, who worked hard to give you what you have. There is no sin but sloth. Burn to a wick and keep moving. I avoided sleep for years, up at night replaying evening news stories about nearby jailbreaks, fat people who ate fried chicken and woke up dead. In sleep I am looking for poems in the shape of open V's of birds flying in formation, or open arms saying, I forgive you, all.
The African Picnic
World Cup finals, France v. Brasil.
We gather in Gideon’s yard and grill.
The TV sits in the bright sunshine.
We want Brasil but Brasil won’t win.
Aden waves a desultory green and yellow flag.
From the East to the West to the West to the East
we scatter and settle and scatter some more.
Through the window, Mamma watches from the cool indoors.
Jonah scarfs meat off of everybody’s plate,
kicks a basketball long and hollers, “goal,”
then roars like the mighty lion he is.
Baby is a pasha surrounded by pillows
and a bevy of Horn of Africa girls
who coo like lovers, pronounce his wonders,
oil and massage him, brush his hair.
My African family is having a picnic, here in the USA.
Who is here and who is not?
When will the phone ring from far away?
Who in a few days will say good-bye?
Who will arrive with a package from home?
Who will send presents in other people’s luggage
and envelopes of money in other people’s pockets?
Other people’s children have become our children
here at the African picnic.
In a parking lot, in a taxi-cab,
in a winter coat, in an airport queue,
at the INS, on the telephone,
on the cross-town bus, on a South Side street,
in a brand-new car, in a djellaba,
with a cardboard box, with a Samsonite,
with an airmail post, with a bag of spice,
at the African picnic people come and go.
The mailman sees us say good-bye and waves
with us, good-bye, good-bye, as we throw popcorn,
ululate, ten or twelve suitcases stuffed in the car.
Good-bye, Mamma, good-bye—
The front door shut. The driveway bare.
Good-bye, Mamma, good-bye.
The jet alights into the night,
a huge, metal machine in flight,
Good-bye, Mamma, good-bye.
At the African picnic, people come and go
and say good-bye.