The Birthday Interviews

Mom said, I want to name him Patrick. Dad said,
He looks like a frog. The moon said, waning
crescent. The thermostat said, It’s South Florida.

Cumulonimbus clouds were not in attendance.
Mosquitos said, sugar of life. The night said, Welcome
young blood. Magazines in the waiting room said,

Jackie O and Charles & Di and Axl Rose and Cher
and Madonna and Oprah, skinny in a sparkling purple
gown, is the richest woman on TV. Ebony said,

25 Years After The Civil Rights Act of 1964
What Has and Hasn’t Changed? “Batdance” played on
the radio. The TV said, War on Drugs. The TV

said, Drought. The TV sang, Thank you for being a friend,
travel down the road and back again. Dade County said,
snakes and amphibians mangled by lawn mowers.

The United States said, The life expectancy of black men
is 64.8 years. 1989 said the following for the first time:
latte, caffeinate, cyber porn, viral marketing, Generation X.

Karen was the last thing the Atlantic Ocean said
that hurricane season. Voyager 2 said of Neptune,
What is this ring? What is this Great Dark Spot?

Saturn in Capricorn squaring Venus in Libra said,
Hello small bachelor, here’s your near fetishistic desire
for classical beauty; said it’ll take your Saturn Return,

a whole revolution, to begin loving yourself. Jesus
didn’t say anything but a senator said He did.
On a break, the attendant nurse bought a Dr. Pepper

from the vending machine. Then she went outside
with her menthols and Walkman to listen to self-help tapes.
The cassette skipped and skipped and skipped.

Taking My Father and Brother to The Frick

Disembark the Turners seem to say,
those starburst barges glowing in the dusk,
but I can’t read old Rembrandt,
his guarded eyes are jewels, like black men.
Even the loaned, marble busts
of kings and soldiers fail to arrest you.
It’s nearly closing time. The elderly linger,
rapt. Who has looked at either of you lately
with such tenderness?
                                      Entering the narrow hall,
I ignore my favorite portraits, their ruffles
and bodices, carnations and powder puffs,
afraid to share my joy with you,
yet your bearing in this space—the procession
of your shoulders, the crowns of your heads—
makes them sing anew.
                                      You are both good men. 
Walk into the Fragonard Room. You both seem bored still.
It’s fine. Perhaps we can progress like these panels,
slowly and without words, here—the city
where I first knew men in the dark—
in this gold and feminine room.

The Lost Woods as Elegy for Black Childhood

There used to be no one here,
where cypresses and oaks play
shadow puppets on sawgrass.

You heard the music before
I did: tambourines, pan pipes.
Remember how I woke clean

to meet you each morning?
The dew and the dust?
Remember how you’d catch me

as I fell from trees? Someone
heard and hurt us. I’m Black-Eyed
Pea. You’re just Skull Kid.

We wanted our genius to last.
We never wanted chalkboards
or snow. We never came home

before the streetlights buzzed.
All we do is dance in leaves.
Cackle and Dreaming, we call it.

Our mothers call it grief.

Related Poems

You Can't Build a Child

with the medicinal poppies of June
nor with Celan's bloom-fest of dredged stone,
      not with history's choo-choo train of corpses,
    not with Nottingham's Robin Hood
            nor Antwerp's Diamondland.

Not walking on the Strand in Manhattan Beach with her
       silicone breast implants, refinery, waves of trash,
        not out of the Library of Alexandria
            with her burnt gardens that prefigure gnarly,
        barnacle-laden surfboards broken in half.

You can't build the child with the stone paths
        that we have walked on through the atmosphere,
            the pirate's plank, the diving board, the plunge,
          nor with the moon whether
                she be zombie or vampire.
        Not with Delphi, not with fangs, or cardamom bought
                in Fez, red with spring, red with
                    marathon running cheeks.

            Not with monk chant, bomb chant,
        war paint, not with the gigantic Zen pleasure zones,
                nor with this harnessed pig
        on the carousel that I am sitting on with my son
                in Nice, France. How it burns on its axis
            as if it were turning into pineapple-colored kerosene
        the way the Hawaiian pig, apple in snout, roasts
           in its own tropical meat under the countdown sun.

Revolutionary Kiss

I had never created man before so I invented my son first as a dream body. In order to create the dream body I must first believe in the force of opposites, a terrible tension of what has existed and the struggle yet to come. And it is true, that I had a notion of him for many years; for generations my imagination traveled in search of him.  

It seems unlikely that a kiss would have roots in the Haitian Revolution, but it does. Over a century ago, an uprising of hundreds of thousands of slaves freed themselves from chain and rope, from whip and guillotine, from bondage through the struggle of blood. They fought for thirteen years in a revolution to stand on the shores of their own land, newly named Haiti, as free people and they kissed the ground however damp with the blood of their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sons. Slaves, newly liberated whispered my son’s name, his dream body envisioned there, beneath the rust of shackles, beside shards of slaveowners’ homes, rising with smoke from burned plantations. Past the pinnacle of scoured light, past the canopy of trees dripping with the uprising of future leaves, my son begins his journey to me.  

Once there was a chain of kisses as my mother said goodbye to her brothers and sisters lined in a row, as she left Taiwan for America, a shock of leis around her neck as she waved to a country of ghosts. My mother’s history was equally complex. She left China in 1949, when communists led by Chairman Mao took over mainland China. My mother crowded into a boat that would take her to the coast of Taiwan known as the beautiful island, which she would one day yearn to leave.

By foot, by boat, by train, by bus, by plane. It seems impossible these two histories intertwine so that one day I may find a dream body housed inside mine. All along, I wring my hands and worry, will I know how to mother him? What language will I speak? What will my mother utter once she discovers the detour of my ancestry? Will she abandon me, turn the portraits of my ancestors toward the wall, backs directed away from my longing? 

.

When I woke, the doctor’s voice was muffled and thick. My mind moved in syncopated pulses and I pushed until all energy drained and my body cracked open. Liquid gold rushed away. Finally and now. He arrived, a purpled creature, violet and squirming, face crushed into an emperor’s expression. 

Born from the urgency of immigrants, how futile all of my years of worrying. I should have known my boy would row his small boat to me, regardless of the sky above that shook down its lightning, and even if the ground was bruised and famished of fruit and even freedom, he would continue on as if a force were lulling him to bedrock. Right here between his eyebrows, there is swell of light, a country where I belong, no longer a stranger to my own skin. My mouth to his temple, an alarm cries. Tanks roll through the tale squeaking, turning their heavy wheels. When I kiss him, history’s weapons fall from my pockets, shields cast beneath attalea trees. I will now end my days of resistance, my lips searching the entirety of his dream face made mortal, my lost shadows now migrating in unison. 

It Is Maybe Time to Admit That Michael Jordan Definitely Pushed Off

that one time in the ’98 NBA finals & in praise of one man’s hand on the waist of another’s & in praise of the ways we guide our ships to the shore of some brief & gilded mercy I touch my fingers to the hips of this vast & immovable grief & push once more & who is to say really how much weight was behind Jordan’s palm on that night in Utah & on that same night one year earlier the paramedics pulled my drowning mother from the sheets where she slept & they said it must have felt like a whole hand was pushing down on her lungs & I spent the whole summer holding my breath in bed until the small black spots danced on the ceiling & I am sorry that there is no way to describe this that is not about agony or that is not about someone being torn from the perch of their comfort & on the same night a year before my mother died Jordan wept on the floor of the United Center locker room after winning another title because it was father’s day & his father went to sleep on the side of a road in ’93 & woke up a ghost & there is no moment worth falling to our knees & galloping towards like the one that sings our dead into the architecture & so yes for a moment in 1998 Michael Jordan made what space he could on the path between him & his father’s small & breathing grace

& so yes,

there is an ocean between us the length of my arm & I have built nothing for you that can survive it

& from here I am close enough to be seen but not close enough to be cherished

& from here, I can see every possible ending before we even touch.