The Birds Outside My Window Sing During a Pandemic

What we need has always been inside of us.
For some—a few poets or farmers, perhaps—
it’s always near the surface. Others, it’s buried.
It was in our original design, though—pre-machine,
pre-border, pre-pandemic. I imagine it like the light
one might feel through the body before dying,
a warm calm, a slow breath, a sweet rush.
There is, by every measure, reason for fear,
concern, a concert in the balcony of anxiety
made of what has also always been inside of us:
a kind of knowing that everything could break.
But it hasn’t quite yet and probably won’t.
What I mean to say is, I had a daydream
and got lost inside of it. There were dozens
of birds for some reason, who sounded like
they were singing in different accents:
shelter in place, shelter in place.
You’re made of stars and grace.
Stars and grace. Stars—and grace.

My California

Here, an olive votive keeps the sunset lit,
the Korean twenty-somethings talk about hyphens,

graduate school and good pot. A group of four at a window
table in Carpinteria discuss the quality of wines in Napa Valley versus Lodi.

Here, in my California, the streets remember the Chicano
poet whose songs still bank off Fresno's beer-soaked gutters

and almond trees in partial blossom. Here, in my California
we fish out long noodles from the pho with such accuracy

you'd know we'd done this before. In Fresno, the bullets
tire of themselves and begin to pray five times a day.

In Fresno, we hope for less of the police state and more of a state of grace.
In my California, you can watch the sun go down

like in your California, on the ledge of the pregnant
twenty-second century, the one with a bounty of peaches and grapes,

red onions and the good salsa, wine and chapchae.
Here, in my California, paperbacks are free,

farmer's markets are twenty-four hours a day and
always packed, the trees and water have no nails in them,

the priests eat well, the homeless eat well.
Here, in my California, everywhere is Chinatown,

everywhere is K-Town, everywhere is Armeniatown,
everywhere a Little Italy. Less confederacy.

No internment in the Valley.
Better history texts for the juniors.

In my California, free sounds and free touch.
Free questions, free answers.

Free songs from parents and poets,
those hopeful bodies of light.

How Music Stays in the Body

Your body is a song called birth
or first mother, a miracle that gave birth
to another exquisite song. One song raises
three boys with a white husband. One song
fought an American war overseas. One song leapt
from fourteen stories high, and like a dead bird,
shattered into the clouds. Most forgot the lyrics
to their own bodies or decided to paint abstracts
of mountains or moons in the shape of your face.
I’ve been told Mothers don’t forget the body.
I can’t remember your face, the shape or story,
or how you held me the day I was born, so
I wrote one thousand poems to survive.
I want to sing with you in an open field,
a simple room, or a quiet bar. I want to hear
your opinions about angels. Truth is, angels drink,
too— soju spilled on the halo, white wings sticky
with gin, as if any mother could forget the music
that left her. You should hear how loudly I sing
now. I’ve become a ballad of wild dreams and coping
mechanisms. I can breathe now through any fire.
I imagine I got this from him or you, my earthly
inheritance: your arms, your sigh, your heavy song.
I know all the lyrics. I know all the blood.
I know why angels howl in the moonlight.

Flight

The in-flight magazine crossword partially done,
a corner begun here, scratched out answers there,
one set of answers in pencil, another in the green.
The woman with the green ball point knew
the all-time hit king is Rose and the Siem Reap
treasure is Angkor Wat. The woman, perhaps en route
to hold her dying mother’s hand in Seattle, forgot
about death for ten minutes while remembering her
husband’s Cincinnati Reds hat while gardening after
the diagnosis. Her handwriting was so clean. Maybe
she was a surgeon. Maybe a painter. No. What painter
wouldn’t know 17 down, Diego’s love, five letters?
In a rush, her dying mother’s voice came back
to her, or maybe she was Chinese and her mother’s
imagined voice said, wo ai ni. At 30,000 feet,
you focus on 33 across, Asian American classic,
The Woman ________, when a stranger in the window
seat sees the clue, watches me write in W, and she says
Warrior, and for a moment you forget it is your favorite
memoir, and she reminds you of lilies or roses, Van Gogh
or stems with thorns, art galleries in romantic cities
where she is headed but you should not go. The flight
attendant grazes my shoulder. The crossword squares,
the letters, the chairs and aisles seem so tight in flight,
but there is nothing here but room, really.
Maybe the next passenger will know
what I do not: 64 down, five letters, Purpose.
And why do we remember what we do? We know
the buzz of Dickinson’s fly and the number of years
in Marquez’s solitude, but some things we will never
know, as it should be: why the body sometimes rumbles
like a plane hurtling over southern Oregon, how exactly
we fall in love, or if Frida and Maxine Hong
Kingston would have loved the same kind of tea.