I Was Told the Sunlight Was a Cure

for the cloak of despair thrown over our bright & precious
corners but tell that to the lone bird who did not get the memo
dizzy & shouting into the newly unfamiliar absence of morning
light from atop a sagging branch outside my window—a branch

which, too, was closer to the sky before falling into the chorus
line of winter’s relentless percussion all of us, victims to this flimsy math 
of hours I was told there was a cure for this. I was told the darkness
would surrender its weapons & retreat I know of no devils who evict themselves

to the point of permanence. and still, on the days I want
to be alive the sunlight leaves me stunned like a kiss
from someone who has already twirled away by the time my eyes open 
on the days I want to be alive I tell myself I deserve a marching band

or at least a string section to announce my arrival above
ground for another cluster of hours. if not a string section, at least one
drummer & a loud-voiced singer well versed in what might move me
to dance. what might push my hand through a crowded sidewalk

towards a woman who looks like a woman from my dreams
which means nothing if you dream as I do, everyone a hazy quilt
of features only familiar enough to lead me through a cavern of longing
upon my waking & so I declare on the days I want to be alive I might drag

my drummer & my singer to your doorstep & ask you to dance
yes, you, who also survived the groaning machinery of darkness
you who, despite this, do not want to be perceived in an empire
awash with light in the sinning hours & we will dance

until our joyful heaving flows into breathless crying, the two often pouring
out of the chest’s orchestra at the same tempo, siblings in their arrival & listen,
there will be no horns to in the marching band of my survival.

the preacher says there will be horns at the gates of the apocalypse & I believed even myself
the angel of death as a boy, when I held my lips to a metal mouthpiece & blew out a tune
about autumn & I am pressing your ear to my window & asking if you can hear the deep
moans of the anguished bird & how the wind bends them into what sounds like a child
clumsily pushing air into a trumpet for the first time & there’s the joke:

only a fool believes that the sound at the end of the world would be sweet.

How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This

dear reader, with our heels digging into the good 
mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something 
about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself 
but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown 
& lord knows I have been called by what I look like 
more than I have been called by what I actually am & 
I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this 
exercise. which, too, is an attempt at fashioning 
something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anything 
worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics arrive 
to the tongue first. say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather 
clock. he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent 
heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning, 
you could scatter his whole mind across a field.

The Prestige

the poem begins not where the knife enters
but where the blade twists.
Some wounds cannot be hushed
no matter the way one writes of blood
& what reflection arrives in its pooling.
The poem begins with pain as a mirror
inside of which I adjust a tie the way my father taught me
before my first funeral & so the poem begins
with old grief again at my neck. On the radio,
a singer born in a place where children watch the sky
for bombs is trying to sell me on love
as something akin to war.
I have no lie to offer as treacherous as this one.
I was most like the bullet when I viewed the body as a door.
I’m past that now. No one will bury their kin
when desire becomes a fugitive
between us. There will be no folded flag
at the doorstep. A person only gets to be called a widow once,
and then they are simply lonely. The bluest period.
Gratitude, not for love itself, but for the way it can end
without a house on fire.
This is how I plan to leave next.
Unceremonious as birth in a country overrun
by the ungrateful living. The poem begins with a chain
of well-meaning liars walking one by one
off the earth’s edge. That’s who died
and made me king. Who died and made you.

Glamor on the West Streets / Silver Over Everything

from the humid brick building below my humid brick building, a woman
bellows at the pizza man. who, it seems, threw no cheese atop the crust
& its red river of sauce because—as he shouts above the sirens of State
Street & the growing crowd lined outside his shop—it is Friday night
& he is woefully short on mozzarella & there are far better pizza options
on every corner of this city, overpriced & tonight bursting at the seams
with lonely people who will seek the warmth spilling from the edges
of a cardboard box & onto their laps & into their fingers on the walk
back to a newly empty apartment. I love the heat for how it separates
the desire for touch from the practicality of it. If it gets too hot to fuck,
like it did for mookie & tina, then we’re all on our own sinking islands
anyway. there is no cheese in this town anymore & what could be worse
than the fraction of a dream behind every door you crawl to. it is friday & surely
some of my people are praising the fresh coin in their bank accounts & what
a tragedy to spend it on a half-finished freedom & the argument below has poured
out into the streets & the waiting masses & I imagine this is no longer over
cheese but over every mode of unfulfilled promise. the cluster of sins still stuck to a body
fresh from the waters of baptism. the parent who must dig a grave for their youngest
child. from below, a man yells there are only three ingredients. you can’t even get that right.
isn’t it funny, to vow that you will love someone until you are dead.

Related Poems

excerpt from “The Age of Aquarius”

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in. I have learned to repeat these words to myself whenever I feel stuck.

Fear rustles mantras out of my body. I have risked a motherland. Why not also seduce the foreigner who implores nativity if loneliness can be broken and shared?

                                                         Aquarius

When Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical debuts on Broadway in April of 1968, it becomes the first production to include a nude scene with its entire cast.

Around the same time, Star Trek has popularized the phrase, Where no man has gone before.

Our bodies contain elements of outer space. So that when we’re naked we are gazing at the universe.

                                                         Aquarius

The night of my second panic attack, after getting released from the hospital and determined to change my mental health’s course, I dream of a nebula in the shape of an octopus, holding an astronaut in each tentacle. From my perspective, the cosmonauts feed on all my arms.

                                                         Aquarius

No more falsehoods or derisions. Golden living dreams of visions. Mystic crystal revelation and the mind's true liberation.

                                                         Aquarius

In the Age of Aquarius, give or take, plurality overtakes singularity. History becomes bored by its self-referentialism. Triangles burrow into single lines. Equal signs collapse on the spikes of other equal signs.

In the Age of Aquarius, give or take, we give birth to information and information delivers us. I make a fist and my fist speaks in four languages. Letters enter me and suddenly I experience flavors few before me have.

In the Age of Aquarius, give or take, gender is a tree is a building is a cloud. It is anything that hasn’t been said. The truest instinct one listens to more and more.

The Conditional

Say tomorrow doesn't come.
Say the moon becomes an icy pit.
Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.
Say the sun's a foul black tire fire.
Say the owl's eyes are pinpricks.
Say the raccoon's a hot tar stain.
Say the shirt's plastic ditch-litter.
Say the kitchen's a cow's corpse.
Say we never get to see it: bright
future, stuck like a bum star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
Say, It doesn't matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you'd still want this: us alive,
right here, feeling lucky.

Poem with Lines from Pierre Reverdy

Maybe the world will not be saved.
It will not be saved. Its commerce, its
every case also
moves into its geology
and then that geology moves
into some great exit of slowing
clocks and the history of saved light.

Listen, I’m not crazy. I want you to save
something for me. If someone says
something false, I will tell that person
“you are false” because I am full
of exaggerations and energy
and also because sunlight scatters
across this lake and just one beam
is enough to make my body insane.

The world will not be saved by despair
so we should spend it all on joy, right?
I despair. Does he despair? The desperate
characters walk onto the stage.
The stage a lake the lake a self I staged
The lake the self I staged.
They sing off key like me. There is no
harmony but when the children clap their
little hands, well, neither is there simile.
I washed the dishes; I folded the laundry.
I wanted to walk around this lake
like an innocent.