The Mechanic

Stretching over the carburetor,
he shouts about the quality of life here
compared to back home, how they stood
in line for bread, how there were no cedars
more green than those by the shore.

He could be my uncle in Syria, 1948,
a man taking in fumes, a cigarette balancing
on a fender, hands lined with grease,
saving coins in a jar for his newborn,
losing relatives to malaria, to civil war.

But today we’re in Hollywood—the palms
dry. This man speaks to me in Armenian.
He remembers working late into the Lebanese night,
the plaza’s noise of backgammon boards,
headlights beaming beyond the Mediterranean.

Now, he’s used to customers calling out
his American nickname, while he wrenches
spark plugs into place, the old country
preserved on a calendar. He’s used to this
new world of dollar bills, available parts.

I say bless him and this hand-made auto shop,
the first opening, closing of hoods, pump of pistons.
And bless the one who never made it over
the Atlantic, an arm extending into the engine,
a scar exposed, the shape of an eagle’s wing.

Partial Tubectomy Revisited

             There are many reasons why a woman falls
      to the floor. An optimist surely imagines
lovemaking, or the uncontrollable writhing

             of modern dance that sweeps across the stage,
      not a harsh plunge onto hardwood, the tumble
so sudden one thinks the old furniture

             has slipped, crashed, cracked the tile.
      Let’s work backward. She is lying there
screaming her husband’s name. The right

             tube gave up, gave out
      like an old rubber tire does after much
wear. All it needed was a nail. All it took

             was an embryo to get stuck along its path,
      the pressure unbearable, and the day before
no increased human chorionic gonadotropin,

             though twenty days of bleeding while
      going back and forth to the hardware store
to mend the fixer-upper, same age as her,

             fallen siding, withered eaves,
      should have been the obvious sign.
So, she is lying there and the husband

             rushes her to the emergency room
      and she does not die as the doctor
said she would have had she not signed

             the paperwork. When she wakes
      she discovers the tube is gone,
couldn’t be saved. On the television

             an old black and white with wagons,
      women in ankle-length skirts, poke
bonnets almost like a trap for hair,

             boots full of dust, their hands rough
      as pumice stone. And if these
settlers fell to the floor, she wonders,

             who would come, who would hear them
      and realize those long aprons had become
flags fluttering at the cabin door?

Apology to the Body

Sorry for mercury strewn in veins of fish,
for traces of carbon monoxide loose in the air,
for radiation that circles and enters the aura.

Sorry for deliberate puffs and sips
late in the night, for an empty stomach
burning with coffee grounds,

for words of magma, thoughts rough as tufa
scratching the indivisible cells, fragile nerves,
divisions of labor and function,

for scraping skin until it bled, garnet
scars in constellation form, for chemicals
bathing in a pool of genetics, under viral stars.

I’m looking to cleanse regret. I want to give
you a balm for lesions, give you evening
primrose, milk thistle, turmeric, borage,

feet moving toward a language
of trees, hands deciphering sediment, steady
rhythm back in the pulse, the breathing you knew

before you were born. Believe me that we began
together and I will mend each sheath of myelin,
reverse the dark that grows behind my eyes.

The Book of Lamenting

begins on edges of highways

where the sun raises its swollen belly,
grasses outgrow themselves,
vineyards wither their nerves.

The sun cracks the dashboard,
slithers between rows of eucalyptus, juniper,
rolls along the wheels of trucks.

Past crows that caw, pod atop railroad crossings,
the engine cranks its monotonous pulse, distracts me
from posted signs, the yellow snake that guides me along.

This is where I find reasons to question the living,

my father’s face held
in his hands, his brows etched
in the stained glass of the missions,

my mother’s sacrifice dwelling
in deserted turnpikes, her eyes
gazing from overgrown orchards.

Trees disappear. Dried brush crumbles
into camel’s fur. In the distance, no horizon,
but tumbleweed large as sheep.

This is where I am when the world has closed its ears,

alongside rusted tractors, abandoned fruit stands,
roaming for hours, nothing but barbed-wire fences,
nothing but the smells of harvest and gasoline.

The road matters more than the earth,
more than those on the road, it turns
into a spine, ladder of teeth and bone.

In the passenger seat, my grandmother’s ghost
holds a palm full of seeds, scatters them
skyward for the crows to eat.

All of it behind us now. She tells me
not to tangle my nerves, not to stop
the creed of the open road—

nothing that runs can stay the same.