A Modified Villanelle for My Childhood

           with some help from Ahmad

I wanna write lyrical, but all I got is magical.
My book needs a poem talkin bout I remember when
Something more autobiographical

Mi familia wanted to assimilate, nothing radical,
Each month was a struggle to pay our rent
With food stamps, so dust collects on the magical.

Each month it got a little less civil
Isolation is a learned defense
When all you wanna do is write lyrical.

None of us escaped being a criminal
Of the state, institutionalized when
They found out all we had was magical.

White room is white room, it’s all statistical—
Our calendars were divided by Sundays spent
In visiting hours. Cold metal chairs deny the lyrical.

I keep my genes in the sharp light of the celestial.
My history writes itself in sheets across my veins.
My parents believed in prayer, I believed in magical

Well, at least I believed in curses, biblical
Or not, I believed in sharp fists, 
Beat myself into lyrical.

But we were each born into this, anger so cosmical
Or so I thought, I wore ten chokers and a chain
Couldn’t see any significance, anger is magical.
Fists to scissors to drugs to pills to fists again

Did you know a poem can be both mythical and archeological?
I ignore the cataphysical, and I anoint my own clavicle.

Related Poems

Twerk Villanelle

For Valentine

my girl positioned for a twerk session-
             knees bent, hands below the thigh, tongue out, head
turned to look at her body’s precession. 

she in tune. breath in. breasts hang. hips freshen. 
            she slow-wine. pulse waistline to a beat bled
for her, un-guilt the knees for the session.

fair saint of vertebrae- backbone blessing,
            her pop- in innate. her pop- out self- bred,
head locked into her holied procession. 

dance is proof she loves herself, no questions-
            no music required, no crowd needed. 
she arched into a gateway, protecting-

this dance is proof she loves me, no guessing. 
            a bronx bedroom, we hip-to-hip threaded. 
she turn to me, tranced by her possessin’. 

she coils herself to, calls forth a legend-
round bodied booty, bounce a praise ballad.
she break hold, turn whole in a twerk session. 
body charmed, spell-bent, toward progressing.

The Birthday Interviews

Mom said, I want to name him Patrick. Dad said,
He looks like a frog. The moon said, waning
crescent. The thermostat said, It’s South Florida.

Cumulonimbus clouds were not in attendance.
Mosquitos said, sugar of life. The night said, Welcome
young blood. Magazines in the waiting room said,

Jackie O and Charles & Di and Axl Rose and Cher
and Madonna and Oprah, skinny in a sparkling purple
gown, is the richest woman on TV. Ebony said,

25 Years After The Civil Rights Act of 1964
What Has and Hasn’t Changed? “Batdance” played on
the radio. The TV said, War on Drugs. The TV

said, Drought. The TV sang, Thank you for being a friend,
travel down the road and back again. Dade County said,
snakes and amphibians mangled by lawn mowers.

The United States said, The life expectancy of black men
is 64.8 years. 1989 said the following for the first time:
latte, caffeinate, cyber porn, viral marketing, Generation X.

Karen was the last thing the Atlantic Ocean said
that hurricane season. Voyager 2 said of Neptune,
What is this ring? What is this Great Dark Spot?

Saturn in Capricorn squaring Venus in Libra said,
Hello small bachelor, here’s your near fetishistic desire
for classical beauty; said it’ll take your Saturn Return,

a whole revolution, to begin loving yourself. Jesus
didn’t say anything but a senator said He did.
On a break, the attendant nurse bought a Dr. Pepper

from the vending machine. Then she went outside
with her menthols and Walkman to listen to self-help tapes.
The cassette skipped and skipped and skipped.

Legacy

To tell her story, you must know when
to put courage in a matchbox and conceal

it in a loaf of bread. You must learn how
a message betokened deliverance

when courage is simply a word someone
wrote on a slip of paper and the sweet

scent of bread could no longer sustain you.
You must grasp your other hand with what

grit remains, growing and unyielding.
To tell her story, you must walk in her shoes.

If forced out of your leased farmland,
don’t forget to bring rice if you can pack

only what you can carry. And if
your mother did not speak inside the bus

with the windows covered with brown paper
on the way to the barracks, it was only

because she was praying that you would not be
housed in the horse stall with the manure

whitewashed over. And if you were, she was
deciding what to do about the smell.

To tell her story, you must remember
the landscape from behind barbed

wire fences. You must gaze at your body
and know its history, look beneath

the tender, ridged scars and see the bone
protruding out of your right arm

and hole the size of a football
on your right thigh, wondering how

the lights never went out. You must
look at the image of your grandmother

with the weight of rammed earth against
what you survived. To tell her story,

you must say a prayer, not of sorrow,
but of grace. You must loosen the earth,

pick daffodils to the base of the stem,
remember your roots and ordinary days,

and the grit under your fingernails,
the way your grandmother taught you.