Ghazal of Oranges

On New Year’s Eve, my father overfills the baskets with oranges,
mangoes, grapes, grapefruits, other citrus too, but mostly oranges.

The morning of the first, he opens every window to let the new year in.
In Chinatown, red bags sag with mustard greens and mandarin oranges.

A farmer in a fallow season kneels to know the dirt. More silt than soil,
he wipes his brow and mumbles to his dog: time to give up this crop of oranges.

The woman knows she let herself say too much to someone undeserving.
She lays her penance on her sister’s doorstep: a case of expensive oranges.

At the Whitney, I take a photo of a poem in a book behind the glass.
Above it, a painting: smears of blue, Frank O’Hara, his messy oranges.

The handsome server speaks with his hands: Tonight is grilled octopus
with braised fennel and olives, topped with peppercress, cara caras, and blood oranges.

No one at the table looks up, ashamed by the prices on the chic menus.
The busser fills my water and I inhale him: his faraway scent of oranges.

Seventh grade, Southern California: we monitored the daily smog alerts.
Red: stay inside. White: play outside. I forget what warning orange is.

Clutch was serious about art and said our final projects could be
whatever . . . performative . . . like, just show up with a wheelbarrow full of oranges.

Jan, in all of those first six years, why is all you can remember this:
the mist rising in the sunny air as you watched her peeling oranges.

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

Related Poems

Smell Is the Last Memory to Go

on my block, a gate
on my block, a tree smelling

of citrus & jasmine that knocks
me back into the arms of my dead

mother. i ask Ross how can a tree
be both jasmine & orange, on my block

my neighbors put up gates & stare
don’t like to share, on my block

a tree I can’t see, but can smell
a tree that can’t be both but is

on my block, my mother’s skirt twirls
& all i smell is her ghost, perfume

on my block, a fallen orange
smashed into sidewalk

it’s blood pulped on asphalt on my
block, Jordan hands me a jasmine

by the time i get home
all its petals are gone

Why I Am Not a Painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

color bleeding

one year, i carried the blues around
like a baby. sure, my coffee mugs cupped

amethysts :: water gushed, rose-tinted
and -scented, from the faucets at my touch ::
the air orange with butterflies that never

left me. meanwhile, indigo held fast
to my toes :: lapis lapped my fingertips ::

and a hue the shade of mermaid scales
bolted through my hair like lightning.

my eyelids drooped, fell, heavy with sky.
that year i carried the blues around

left me mean :: while indigo held fast,
the daily news tattooed azure to my back. 
true, festivals of lilies buoyed me. but what 

good could white do? the blues grow like
shadows in late sun :: stretch  creep  run.