Gaman: Topaz Concentration Camp, Utah

after Tina Takemoto

I will paint us together
in lemon and burnt shoyu.

I will squeeze us out of
flour, water, yeast

while you dress
behind the thin curtain

while you flatten
lapel, collar, slacks

in our tightly ironed
tar paper life.

Your tie clip, carved from
ancient wood and not

the real topaz you deserve.
Outside, we shuffle in dust

flap powder
from between our feathers.

I used to be a swamp.
In this government aviary

dust storms can’t be predicted
unlike the government

which splits atoms
the way it did your chest.

Spilled you
on the ancient sea bed.

The mountains blow
their alien breath in you

while sleek muscle men
cactus across my humid eyes.

They don’t stop
to light my cigarette

or palm a slice of
fresh, warm bread.

Now bluebirds trill
from my cuffs

and it’s time to clock out.
Beyond the perfect

frame of this prison city
desert peaks buzz

the rich, rich song
of my hunger.

Related Poems

Closet space

I know I’m godless when
my thirst converts water                into wasps, my country a carpet
                                                            I finger for crumbs. A country
my grandmother breeds
dogs instead of daughters             because only one can be called
                                                            home. I am trained to lose accents,
to keep a pregnancy
or cancel it out with                       another man. My tongue is
                                                            a twin, one translating
the other’s silence. Here
is my lung’s list of needs:               how to hold water
                                                            like a woman & not
drown. I want men
to stop writing &                            become mothers. I promise this
                                                            is the last time I call my mother
to hear her voice
beside mine. I want                        the privilege of a history
                                                            to hand back unworn
to grow out of
my mother’s touch                         like a dress from
                                                            childhood. Every time
I flirt with girls, I say
I know my way around                   a wound. I say let’s bang
                                                            open like doors, answer to
god. I unpin from
my skin, leave it to                          age in my closet & swing
                                                            from the dark, a wrecking
ball gown. In the closet
urns of ashes:                                   we cremated my grandfather
                                                            on a stovetop, stirred
every nation we tried
to bury him in was                          a war past calling itself
                                                            one. I stay closeted with
him, his scent echoing
in the urn, weeks-old                     ginger & leeks, leaks
                                                            of light where his bones halved
& healed. With small
hands, I puzzled                              him back together. I hid from
                                                            his shadow in closets
his feet like a chicken’s,
jellied bone & meatless.                His favorite food was chicken
                                                            feet, bones shallow in the meat
When he got dementia,
he flirted with my mother              he mouthed for my breasts
                                                            like an infant
We poured milk
into his eyeholes                             until he saw everything
                                                            neck-deep in white
the Chinese color
of mourning, bad                             luck, though the doctor
                                                            says everything is
genetics. I lock myself in
the smallest rooms that fit             in my mind, my grandfather’s:
                                                            a house we hired back from
fire. So I’ll forever
have a mother, I become                a daughter who goes by god. I urn
                                                            my ghosts, know each by a name
my own.

Aleppo

I talk back to the videos. Someone ate paper. Someone isn’t eating anymore.

Mornings like this, I wish I never loved anyone. What is it to be a lucky city, a row of white houses strung with Christmas lights.

There is no minute

A fortuneteller told me I’d marry one of Aleppo’s sons. That was seven years ago.

to spare.

Yesterday I dreamt my grandmother was a child who led me by the hand to a cave. Inside I found the wolf. I buried a dagger in his hot throat. 

This is the dark the world let in, and learned

:: to stomach
:: to shoulder
:: to keep

I woke up with my hands wet.

They are just

This ugly human impulse to make it mine.

hours away.

The Syria in my grandmother is a decade too old. When she dies, she will take it with her.

This is how a lone bomb can erase a lineage: the nicknames for your mother, the ghost stories, the only song that put your child to sleep.

No one is evacuating me.

Your citadel fed to the birds. Your mosque. Someone will make an art project out of your tweets.

My daughter.

The prophet’s birthday arrives without a single firework.

Surrender. Or die.

Or die.

In the city bombs peck the streets into a braille that we pretend we cannot read. A street fool of

:: girl bodies
:: mattresses
:: cooked hearts

Meanwhile, the wolf sleeps in his wolf palace. He drops each ghost into a water hole and licks his perfect teeth.

We were

a

free

people

We could paper all of Arkansas with your missing.

May you give us nowhere else to look. May you burn every newspaper with your name on it. Every textbook. Every memorial.

This too.

Boy in a Stolen Evening Gown

In this field of thistle, I am the improbable
lady. How I wear the word: sequined weight
snagging my saunter into overgrown grass, blonde
split-end blades. I waltz in an acre of bad wigs.

Sir who is no one, sir who is yet to come, I need you
to undo this zipped back, trace the chiffon
body I’ve borrowed. See how I switch my hips

for you, dry grass cracking under my pretend
high heels? Call me and I’m at your side,
one wildflower behind my ear. Ask me
and I’ll slip out of this softness, the dress

a black cloud at my feet. I could be the boy
wearing nothing, a negligee of gnats.