Moving the Bones

There are too many ancestors, so we are gathering their bones.

The poor ones, their graves broken by the roots of trees. The ones whose headstones have been weathered as blank as snow-drifts.

We have bought the wide plot. We have built the mausoleum. And now we fill it with the bones.

The ones killed in the monsoon floods. The one buried in her wedding dress. The one buried with his medals.

Because there will be a time when we cannot keep track of them, scattered in the cemetery like prodigals, we collect the bones.

The ones whose faces I can still recall. The ones who have been dead for a hundred years. We collect their bones. 

At each opened grave, we think about the body taking its shape as father, sister, cousin, uncle. We hunger for the story of each figure.

We hold the bones, though we know memory is mostly forgetting. Or memory is the sweeper who clears the sidewalk each morning. Or memory is the broom.

The mausoleum is marble, white as certain roses, and shaped like a house. There is room for everyone we will put there.

The rich ones, their gravestones glowing with gold paint. The infants with sweet names.  
We open their graves. We move their bones.

Look back far enough and your family becomes unfamiliar, a circle of people with a fading circumference.  

When I think of it long enough, home becomes a confusion of birthplace, hometown, country, and nation.

We walk through the cemetery, we point to our own, and we gather their bones.

Maybe memory is the desperate pharaoh who commands that the things of this life go with him into the next.

I would take with me the books I loved best. A jar of the ocean spanning my two countries. A slip of my lover’s sunny hair.  

I would take with me a sack of rice. My mother’s orange shawl. The robe my father wears in the kitchen at night, drinking a glass of water.  

That we might go to just one place to worship them, to wonder at who they were, we are moving the bones.  

Our tribe of eros and vinegar. Our black hair, our ordinary minds.

Holding the bones, we say the names of the dead, the music of the syllables, conjuring the hearts they answered to.  We hold the bones. 

Each stern skull. Each proud sternum. Each elegant rib, curved like a horizon.

Cascades 501

The man sitting behind me
is telling the man sitting next to him about his heart bypass.

Outside the train’s window, the landscapes smear by—
the earnest, haphazard distillations of America. The backyards

and back sides of houses. The back lots of shops
and factories. The undersides of bridges. And then the
        stretches

of actual land, which is not so much land
but the kinds of water courses and greenery that register

like luck in the mind. Dense walls of trees.
Punky little woods. The living continually out-growing

the fallen and decaying. The vines and ivies taking over
everything, proving that the force of disorder is also the force

of plenty. Then the eye dilating to the sudden
clearings—fields, meadows. The bogs that must have been left

by retreating glaciers. The creeks, the algae broth
of ponds. Then the broad silver of rivers, shiny

as turnstiles. Attrition, dispersal, growth—a system unfastened
to story, as though the green sight itself

was beyond story, was peacefully beyond any clear meaning.
But why the gust of alertness that comes

to me every time any indication of the human
passes into sight—like a mirror, like to like, even though I am
        not

the summer backyard with the orange soccer ball resting
there, even though I am not the pick-up truck

parked in the back lot, its two doors opened
wide, and no one around to show whether it is funny

or an emergency that the truck is like that. Each thing looks 
        new
even when it is old and broken down.

They had to open me up—the man is now telling the other
        man.
I wasn’t there to see it, but they opened me up.

Dragged Mass

What are we supposed to make
of the granite block dragged across the dirt lot

behind a tractor that has been instructed
to build up a mound out of the displaced dirt, a mess

far away from what we would call the aesthetic
and more to do with the disturbance

of fresh graves or construction, the rock
so enormous it seems more conceptual than actual,

the way large things tend to be, the way scale
is a kind of assertion, the larger

the louder, and the smaller heartbreaking,
so that we want to imagine the theatrics of the dirt lot

back to the artist’s hand on paper,
the artist trying to transform desire into vision,

or a representation of something
like vision, one that makes us see the granite

and the hurt earth as images of the body, of gravity,
of what time does to the body,

which is to scour it, which must have something to do
with why I am looking at you now, asleep

among blue sheets as though it is any morning,
in winter light, in the light of the eye.

 

The Galleons

Because I am reading Frank O’Hara
while sitting on a bench at the Brooklyn Promenade

I am aware it is 10:30 in New York
on a Tuesday morning

the way O’Hara was always aware
of what day and hour and season were in front of him

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
he wrote almost sixty years ago on a July moment

that must have been like the one I am having now
the summer hour blossoming

at the promenades by the rivers and in the parks
and in the quiet aisles of the city

when everyone who should be at work
is at work and the trees are meditating

on how muggy it will be today
and the fleets of strollers are out in the sunshine

expanse of the morning
the strollers that are like galleons

carrying their beautiful gold cargo
being pushed by women whose names once graced

the actual galleons Rosario
Margarita Magdalena along with other names

Essie Maja from places that history has patronized
like O’Hara going into the bank

for money or the bookstore to buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what

the poets / in Ghana are doing these days
or the liquor store for liquor

or the tobacconist for tobacco
and sitting at the Brooklyn Promenade I haven’t looked

at the news to see who now has died
though my fingers keep touching the phone’s face

to find out that when it is 10:30 in the morning
in New York it is 11:30 in the night

in Manila and it is 4:30 in the afternoon in Lagos
and in Warsaw and it is 9:30

in the morning in Guatemala City
where it is also Tuesday and where it is also summer

Related Poems

portraitures and erasures

it ends my sleep to want my story about
my skin melting in the sun that day of
summer and a doctor who tells me i am dying,
that thing i hide under my nails like dirt
scratched from summer skin.

so i pick up a pencil and begin to erase myself.

erasure is sometimes editing.
immigration is always editing.

*

my father with the heart that chokes
him in his sleep, in his shorter and shorter
walks around concrete and glass sculptures,
around mother who keeps leaning one
way then the other at the precipice of fall

as he yells promises at her to keep her alive.

in this journey that began with his misstep
across waters and languages and his
hands on my face teaching me to long

how did he mean to rewrite me—

*

what will i say to the sky and the soil
neither foreign or home when they are
all gone leaving me to hold our name up
alone when i am neither tree nor

fire.

*

in the mirror i look for my head that
has begun to shake, the weight of how
much i am afraid, how it makes me look
like mother when i was a boy—seeing
it for the first time in her, demanding

she make it stop—

*

this fear of sleep has kept me up for years
did you know? because in dreams there is always
a point when your mother dies while
you are traveling through space searching
for your lost child and other such

possibilities.

*

i spent the day moving my body, guided
by a stranger’s voice and somewhere
on the floor my bones recognized pain
told me that in this too / (that is my body)

there are borders to cross
there are borders not meant to cross

*

interstitial—it’s a new word i learned
something about the space between
things, but it is obvious like my body that
wants to break, that space is the thing not
the between, the mass that cannot be occupied

a space between spaces that tell me

i am a child of none

*

i capture my hand grasping at the sky outside
the window of another plane in mid-flight.

it was orange. it wasn’t anything.

and the hand belonged to no one.

there was only the reaching.

Ancestors Are Calling

Sometimes the ancestors call

 

 

 

 

                                                                            tongue to mouth
                                                                            an auburn molt of daguerreotypes stained

Sometimes the ancestors call

 

 

 

 

                                                                            an earwig gracefully arranged
                                                                            a pebble between pincers caught
                                                                            is the scene’s composition

Sometimes the ancestors call

 

                                                                           shovel heeled curt wedge of earth,
                                                                           a convent of daisies assaulted
                                                                           a lunar moth poised at dung end
                                                                           oak leaf suddenly caught at mid-fall

 

 

 

Sometimes the ancestors call

                                                                           dark sip sickle scythe curve
                                                                           a wagon’s tracks from coffins weighed
                                                                           Wind to forecast their arrival
                                                                           Wind to dictate the shuffle
                                                                           and strut of steps
                                                                           to the rust of gates.

 

Sometimes the ancestors call

 

 

 

                                                                  Not in the great cinema graphic arias
                                                                  Of gun firing bandits at a locomotive’s gray smoke
                                                                  But in rage of gray starlings
                                                                  Circling over head 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not in the paranoia of walks down bug house corridors
Nor to bed pans brimmed do they call.
Not in the paranormal cadences
                                                                        of cathedral spiked with sepulcher and crucifix

 

I could be anything
other than what I propose here
                                                                                 I could be song
                                                                                                        I could be dance
                                                                                                                            I could be slab of sky

 

 

How many generations still left to measure?
At what cost this cadence?
At what price the grave’s granite thumb?

 

In Their Motions

At an intersection of lanes within a cemetery,
a corner quartered, a cardinal quad, a cross, from
above, the one star in the gloaming
bright in its area—Was that a yes? It had been
a day of winking receptivity. I looked up
the word fend to see if its stave and manage
meanings had separate derivations. Haven’t.
Manage, is it, one does in the little city
of a cemetery, to stroll its arbors
completely and return to the gates?
Come to know its mounds and overhang
shag semantics and compare
what cannot be known of shade
and piano stone and serenity in
the rest of Boston. Sat right here with
a feuilleton once, wet and dry in the rain
reading, happy to feel on the page
an every now and then thump of life
and keep the thread of the narrative.
Fend is only short for defend, of course,
whereas I had expected a fennel frond
or a foil or something inner forest feeling.
Who meant it first as doing without others
who might have helped? Jackson, Thomas.
1627, in his Treatise of the Divine Essence
and Attributes: they do not direct their brood
in their motions but leave them to fend
for themselves. Not far in you find
a place from which to view the broken
families, on the knitted moss and natural
gravel beneath the juniper and fir.
I wonder who they were.