from EXAQUA [Oh, that's what I was]

Jan-Henry Gray

 

 

 

Oh, that’s what I was originally thinking of with the notion of swimming or orbiting that you mentioned: a giant essay that interrupts (or cleaves?) into the book. To cleave is to separate and to bring together. To yoke. To it: I’m thinking of this essay I want to write as… Essay as Ocean. Not necessarily in a geographic, landscapey way but weirder, queer, dense, full of strange currents with different temperatures, something immersive, at times panicky, the feeling of losing oxygen but delighted by the sight of strange objects that litter the ocean floor. An oasis of sight. Geography textbooks and all of that richly descriptive language. How can anyone read about the unseen formation of volcanoes or the glacial creation of lakes and not feel connected to the Earth—capital E? Essay as a vast, limitless, edgeless, impossible-to-keep-in-one’s-head-all-at-once phenomenon. Essay as a way of breaking up the rest of the poems that surround it. I wanted to offer a break, a reprieve. Freedom from forms. 

More by Jan-Henry Gray

I'm a Good Person Because My Childhood Was

junk yard, Goodwill, crushed cans, buy-1-get-1-free, re-runs, dead leaves in the pool, no lifeguard, landlord no English, bounced check, smog check, two—no, need three jobs, back entrance, under the table, no ride after school, loud dogs, mean neighbors, no neighbors, someone died there, FOR RENT sign, up for months, rusted carts, bruised fruit, free bones, just ask, beef tongue, chicken broth, chicken hearts, clouded eye of fish on ice, fry it extra crispy, the house smells like patis and Windex and roses from the rosewater bath to heal the kidney, traffic, church is packed, late for church, not going to church, news of a shooting, news of a robbery, news of the boy raped at prom, pictures of the teens in court, animals!, those crying parents, his crying parents, Rodney King, Reginald Denny, everyone’s yelling on Ricki or Jerry or Maury or Montel and Oprah is on the cover of her own magazine, dentist office, insurance voucher, no social, permanent address, temporary address, magazines with the address torn off, it’s your first time, the handsome dentist says, he touches you and you feel special and rich and white and American and healthy and taken care of, T.C.C.I.C., keep in touch, have a nice summer, we’ll be friendz 4 forever, never change

Maid Poem #7: HR

At the Maid Museum we honor the many who have cooked meals in other people’s kitchens, washed floors, labored on holidays, nursed the frail, and tended the children. The Maid Museum houses art commemorating Maid Culture by the best artists of our time. On exhibit are wall-sized paintings, large-scale photography, sculpture and installation. Artifacts, letters, and other ephemera are preserved and on display in the temperature-controlled galleries. Our docents are robust, learned, but unrobotic. They have mastered the pronunciations of all of the Maids’ names. Doing so is required research and research is synonymous with interest which we value here. The Museum is free. We are open 24 hours to accommodate the many faiths and habits in our community. The coffee is good and strong and you will agree. Tea is served on every floor. Lunch too is good. There are complimentary house-made pickles and free refills. All of our employees have health insurance so that getting sick is not also shameful. Uniforms are provided. There is ride-share, snow days, sick days, paid vacation, direct deposit, and a generous R&D budget. On payday at The Maid, every employee receives a brown envelope with a handwritten letter by one of the poets-in-residence thanking them for their service. Each note describes “One Thing Done Well” during that pay cycle. The envelope may also include an image of you documenting that moment; images culled from the surveillance footage. The Maid Museum is currently hiring. All applicants are welcome. We are an EOE.

Hindi Ko Alam Ng Sasabihin Ko

your mother shops for a fish
               a plastic bag for a glove
you untangle the wires with the crew
               a boy among men
you choose the photograph for the wake
               a finger in your mouth
you tied the string too tight
               you were poor but happy
you didn't know what to say
               a balloon's string strung on your wrist
you watch your mother in the blue-black kitchen
               men sag to touch the dancing boys
in the hospital full of Filipina nurses
               dry palm trees rustle in the Santa Ana winds
she grips her ankle on the floor
               you ask what to say and how to say it
she takes her wig off and lights a candle
               to clear the spirits from the room