Pristine the ash                                   no one has touched yet
before wind sweeps it along                         across the altar
                         dusting chrysanthemum and bees
before it is swept off again                
                                                              the way the body burns
            part by part
particle by particulate
                                                              particularly diverging
                                                              its tiny cinders
                        of moth wings.
After sound                                        there is no sound
                                                              a wolf sanctuary
           void of howling
                        headlights on the winding road
picking up snow
                                     a tuft falling on the heron
                         as her wingtips dip into water.
Evolution:    
                         bat wing
                         whale fin
                         my hand shielding myself from light
as I adjust
                                                              frames along the wall
barefoot on the black bookcase
                                     the heat of my footprint
             disappearing though no hand wipes it.
In taking inventory of what’s left
                         what the dead have cleared in space
             a question
                                      like the body of a boy
curled inside his dog’s bed
                                      a boy filling his own rice bowl
                                      until he doesn’t want to
anymore.
                        I want to be beside him in the dark
to hear his voice again
                                      to stop seeing him on the street
                         in the back row         
                                      of a classroom where I teach.
            Is there no end to this need
mushrooms inching along
                         blades of grass after a field of rain
                                                             the heron fishing
wings spread to lure prey into her shade.
In war they say We’re not the top species because we’re nice
In life I say Let me come closer
                                      even if it kills me.

from “Đổi Mới”

Each of them described the brother's death in different terms, though the fact of his absence interrupted them indiscriminately. Do they know how he found his life, if from inside it looked like a cage shaped exactly like his body, except two sizes too big, growing as he grew, condensing when he made himself small, and no matter what he did, he couldn't dissolve its borders, not even while he slept. I don't think it let him sleep. At night, fighting sleep, I stay up as if hoping I'll catch wind of something. Tonight, or years ago, a wolf chased a deer past the cabin's front door and out onto lake ice where fate met each discriminately. Borders dissolved, but which one, between predator and prey, or stage and props? Anywhere there is a hole there are traces of arrival and departure. The wind becomes a palimpsest of the creature no longer here, and a song, or is it a cry, emerging from nowhere, on its way to nowhere, passes through until the textures of the earth absorb it entirely. Sound: a body's way of making itself known. Silence: a way of knowing.

Related Poems

Things We Carry on the Sea

We carry tears in our eyes: good-bye father, good-bye mother

We carry soil in small bags: may home never fade in our hearts

We carry names, stories, memories of our villages, fields, boats

We carry scars from proxy wars of greed

We carry carnage of mining, droughts, floods, genocides

We carry dust of our families and neighbors incinerated in mushroom clouds

We carry our islands sinking under the sea

We carry our hands, feet, bones, hearts and best minds for a new life

We carry diplomas: medicine, engineer, nurse, education, math, poetry, even if they mean nothing to the other shore

We carry railroads, plantations, laundromats, bodegas, taco trucks, farms, factories, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, temples…built on our ancestors’ backs

We carry old homes along the spine, new dreams in our chests

We carry yesterday, today and tomorrow

We’re orphans of the wars forced upon us

We’re refugees of the sea rising from industrial wastes

And we carry our mother tongues
(ai)حب  (hubb), ליבע (libe), amor, love
平安 (ping’an), سلام ( salaam), shalom, paz, peace
希望 (xi’wang), أمل (’amal), hofenung, esperanza, hope, hope, hope

As we drift…in our rubber boats…from shore…to shore…to shore…

Water in Love

How to love like water loves
when it’s impossible to even taste
all the ghostly sediments
each time you take a sip

Impossible to savor
the salt in your blood
the light and island shorelines
in each living cell

When even the plainest mouthful
tastes more of you than you of it

 

 

Sweetest of absences
that frees in wave after wave
debris of thought like the dead,
the drowned, the vanished, and yet
sails your lips
on a voyage toward another’s, plying
all luck and regret

Worship, splash, guzzle, or forget
It clears any difference
Stone washer and mountain dissolver
that will
outlive us, even the memory of
all any eyes touched

Wasp and cactus in a desert
Comet through outer space
Sleep among all the cloud-shepherds’ children

A love so perpetually current
it doesn’t care that you love
without even knowing you love
what you couldn’t survive
three days without

How to love like that: wild
dream-sparkler and meticulous architect
of every snowflake
Wise, ebullient, and generous
as the rain

Deepest of miracles
for a time
borrowing and replenishing
a self
overflowing with fate

Kingdom Animalia

When I get the call about my brother,
I'm on a stopped train leaving town
& the news packs into me—freight—
though it's him on the other end
now, saying finefine—

Forfeit my eyes, I want to turn away
from the hair on the floor of his house
& how it got there Monday,
but my one heart falls
like a sad, fat persimmon
dropped by the hand of the Turczyn's old tree.

I want to sleep. I do not want to sleep. See,

one day, not today, not now, we will be gone
from this earth where we know the gladiolas.
My brother, this noise,
some love [you] I loved
with all my brain, & breath,
will be gone; I've been told, today, to consider this
as I ride the long tracks out & dream so good

I see a plant in the window of the house
my brother shares with his love, their shoes. & there
he is, asleep in bed
with this same woman whose long skin
covers all of her bones, in a city called Oakland,
& their dreams hang above them
a little like a chandelier, & their teeth
flash in the night, oh, body.

Oh, body, be held now by whom you love.
Whole years will be spent, underneath these impossible stars,
when dirt's the only animal who will sleep with you
& touch you with
its mouth.