I Am the Whole Defense

- 1981-

Mid-1700s, Southwestern China

Lightning is the creature who carries a knife.

Two months now,
The rains hold watch.

Statues bury in teak
Smeared with old egret’s blood.

I feel the pulse of this inferno,
Tested by the hour to know

That even torches must not waver.

In the garrison, I teach boulders
To trickle from the cliff.

My fallen grow parchment from their hair,

Calligraphy descends
From their lips.

Infantry attack
But my musket knows.

They scale the sides
Yet I tear the rocks.

I am not wife, but my name is Widow.

Let them arrive 
To my ready door,
The earth I’ve already dug.

Yellow Rain

First, the sting
in your nose.

Then in your eyes,
a furnace flared

To hollow
your face.

Flies above
your empty sockets.

Maggots made
your split skin.

Another cow dies
from breathing

as you swallowed
from the same air.

How many days before
it wintered you gray

in this wilderness turned
makeshift-graveyard.

How many hours
before the lesions,

before your vomit
hardens the earthen

floor. Somewhere
a house ages cold,

no longer warmed
by the hearth

you once tended.
No one lights

any spirit money.
No one chants the way.

Out of Research Into Reveries

                                   Give up      the brain 

        Offer down its clumsy
meditations      its blurred face

                      of fury      its hellbound 
      policies bugged into my throat

        Cough out
that sickled attitude      the ragged shelves

                    downing my ankles      every 
            era of hibernation

It’s all in the performance      the butcher 
      operating on slabs

of my identity      the bereaved dissecting
                      memories of an octopus

                        Lift out      far from of it 

      Careen the elbows      out of murk
                        with wine       taken by

                              the midsummer full 
                              moon

Constantly stoneward

                        hunting toward heartstill

That All, Everyone, Each in Being

Decades I have waited                to make sunlight 
for all of this to                             matter, a mark built to 
rest and a mark laid                     living. I am sworn 
to my worth even                         when the scales weep 
their own little swords,                slanting outside 
the song and full                          of soothing to speak each 
vowel. Everything                        happens toward its own 
making, an infinite                       becoming from all that 
is yet to be faced.                        When it seemed 
as though I had touched              the arm of love, 
little did I know,                            I had found a door 
with which to                                enter the sky. And to         
the sky, little did I                         know, the door would 
open for me. All,                          as it will be, as it should be, 
in effort of                                     The Great Balance. 
Five days ago, I stood                  under a flight of egrets, 
shifting between fenced               field of mud and factory 
yard. What could                          they have guessed of stability, 
a fairness of wings, restoring      what had always been 
theirs to have.                              Like them, I have 
steeped myself with                      others, for so long my roots 
sprouting from the cloud            of this fight, daring to follow 
where the arrow leads,                until it is my turn. 
Until now,                                     my turn. 

Related Poems

Mess Hall

Your knives tip down
in the dish rack
of the replica plantation home,
you wash hands

with soaps pressed into seahorses
and scallop shells white
to match your guest towels,
and, like an escargot fork,

you have found the dimensions
small enough to break
a man—
a wet rag,

a bullet on the back of the cup
the front
like a bishop or an armless knight
of the Ku Klux Klan

the silhouette
through your nighttime window
a quartet
plays a song you admire,

outside a ring of concertina wire
circles around a small collapse.
America, ignore the window and look at your lap:
even your dinner napkins are on fire.