I Say the Thing for the First Time

& there’s no taking it back now.
What comes next? Charcoal underbone, 

darkroom for soliloquy & irises wide
at home. Some underside party popping

off & ending with me counting resignations
on a couch made from my last pennies—

copper profiles cushion deep, dull 
with emancipation & worth almost me.

Button nicks instead of eyes. Green
patina instead of skin over presidential 

profiles. How to separate these awkward
exhales from the marinating revivals?

The song in the park across the street
dials up something endless about love

& big sunflowers, but I can’t split
this primal reflection from its primary 

leather. Sneakers & skeletons arrhythmic
in their leaving & squeaking: twisting

in somebody else’s garden in the middle
of a cracked city near a river so thick

with its own beat-up history, it’s already
eye level to the flocking blackbirds. 

More by Adrian Matejka

Mural with HUD Housing & School Bus (1980)


When 213b finally opens in a crack of yellow linoleum, 
Garrett comes out with the left side of his afro as flat 
as the tire that used to be on his mom’s car & the stuck 
snick of the cheap door locking behind him sounds exactly 
like someone trying to light a smoke with an empty lighter. 
Carriage House East, where menthols cough like a window
slamming shut & outside that window, somebody’s radio 
is already popping static. What’s left of the moon is popping 
white on blue. That’s when we stamp past the squat HUD 
brick toward school in the dark: shadow of the green trash 
can gang signed with misspellings, a mimeograph of Mickey 
Mouse flipping Iran the bird in the landlord’s lit window. 
We made the same middle-finger motion to the school bus 
before ignoring our bus stop & kept walking neighborhood- 
style—right hands skimming from chest down to waist 
then behind the back like a bad breast-stroker cupping air. 
Cue the sirens snagging the matted air like a cheap pick. 
Cue the smoker’s cough of early-morning walks to school. 
We strutted a backward lean like every one of the unconcerned 
streetlamps alternating between our side of the street 
& over there—in front of the fenced-in porches missing slats 
like teeth in a punched smile where Garrett’s cousin leaned 
against the side of one of the front buildings. She put 
two-fingered guns to her temples when she saw us: red patch 
of smoker’s skin around her mouth like a raw sun rising. 

& Later,

—after “Trumpet,” Jean-Michel Basquiat


the broken sprawl & crawl
of Basquiat’s paints, the thin cleft

          of villainous pigments wrapping 

each frame like the syntax
          in somebody else’s relaxed

explanation of lateness: what had
          happened was.
Below blackened

crowns, below words crossed out
to remind of what is underneath:

          potholes, ashy elbows, & breath

that, in the cold, comes out in red light

& complaint shapes— 3 lines
          from the horn’s mouth
in the habit of tardy remunerations.

All of that 3-triggered agitation,

all that angry-fingered fruition   

like Indianapolis’s 3-skyscrapered smile
when the sun goes down & even

the colors themselves start talking

          in the same suspicious idiom
          as a brass instrument—

thin throat like a fist,

          flat declinations of pastors
& teachers at Christmas in the inner city.

Shoulders back & heads up when
playing in holiday choir of hungry

          paints, chins covered
in red scribbles in all of the songs.

Strange Celestial Roads

There’s a father sleeping it off in every master bedroom 
     of the cul-de-sac the morning after, so Saturday
morning is a snooze. The moon is still out, eyeballing
     the quiet street like Sun Ra did his Arkestra. Somebody
has to be a father figure for all of those musical notes.
     No school busses to huff after, no mothers yelling
their children onward. The only weekend noise is us,
     kicking rocks—so bored we can’t even hear each other—
on a celestial swirl of asphalt that will be a playground
     one day. We stand, right feet extended in unison like foos
men, rock after rock arcing at sorry angles toward
     the open bar that hopes to dangle four swings. Some
rocks go through, some miss as we balance on concrete
    meant to backstop hop scotch & echo knock knock jokes.
Not somebody’s father, finally up & at ‘em, yelling,
    You got to be kidding me, after he opens the property tax
bill. Maybe these bars were placed here for some other,
    future kids to be dragged away from by big ears
or red necks toward the unavoidable arguments, fist-to-face
     noises & the bleating saxophones that come after. 

Related Poems

Adore

                                       (adore, verb from Latin, adorare,
                                       from ad- 'to' + orare- 'speak, call pray')

You lie asleep beside me,
one hand on the pillow and cupped
at your mouth, as if to tell a secret.

As if you might say in your sleep
what you could never find 
words for awake.

Or as if you called
across a din of other voices,
or the howl of empty space. Calling

because there are no bells 
to strike the hours where we live. And I must know
when to kneel and when to rise.
What to praise and what to curse.
I must know how to bless
and how to receive blessing. 

One hand on your pillow and cupped
at your mouth,
as if you spoke a word
you'd kept to yourself all day, waiting 
for your most unguarded moment
to say, a thought meant for me, meant to be
shared between us this way,
sealed this way, a secret
no voice can carry without destroying,
a word without carriage, except conveyed
in the peace of your body and face,

a word born out of your deepest rest, a word
which only my own deepest breathing
and happiest rest beside you,
face to face, free of thinking, can sustain.

Maybe you had to be asleep
to say what you knew to be true.
Or what you had to say
you might not could bear to hear,
and so you must say so softly
I must close my eyes, I must turn
inward, to where you've made a room
and a bed inside me, to receive it. 

You say:
We cannot look upon Love's face without dying.
So we face each other to see Love's look.
And thus third-person souls
suddenly stand at gaze
and the lover and the beloved,
second- and first-persons,
You and I, eye
to eye, are born. 
But such refraction, multiplying gazes, strews
Love's eye upon the objects of the world,
as upon the objects of our room. 

My brush, hairpin, mirror, book,
your loving look finds each of these things
lovable, I can see. Things
by any other measure poor, your look crowns
to make them your heart’s royalty.
Face, blush, breath, eyes, evanescent,
pledged to death, nowhere stored,
Love’s look gathers within its fondling
to adore.

This strewing and gathering
of Love’s face, of Love’s gaze, and only this,
begun in death’s audience, is the founding
action, call it the fundamental
paradise…did I say paradise?
I meant paradox…the fundamental paradox
of the breaths we breathe,
the thoughts we witness,
the kisses we exchange,
and every poem you write.

The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.

I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs

and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead

on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow

feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.

I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot

feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls

skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.

To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white

petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am

in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.

You don't love me, you say, and deflate

You don’t love me, you say, and deflate
our air mattress, meeting me at the fold.
                                        We’re in a bad lesbian performance piece

You don’t eat the sandwich I make you.
I puncture your yoga ball. Or, the dog did
                                                            This is a drawing of the dog.
                                           I meant to watch something and be still
                                                                                 for a long time.

I'm not sure what belongs to me. 
                                      It’s your money
                                                         stop asking me what you mean

Porcelain skunk, perfect Q-tip holder.
Ceramic parrot, good for something.

                  If you don’t trust me with this cup then wrap it yourself.

The dog hasn’t stopped barking in hours—anxious.

                                  I know you can lift the chair, what you can do
                                                                                is not the point.