no more grandma poems

they said 
forget your grandma
these american letters
don’t need no more 
grandma poems
but i said 
the grandmas are 
our first poetic forms
the first haiku 
was a grandma 
& so too 
the first sonnet
the first blues
the first praise song 
therefore
every poem 
is a grandmother 
a womb that has ended 
& is still expanding 
a daughter that is 
rhetorically aging 
& retroactively living
every poem 
is your grandma
& you miss her
wouldn’t mind 
seeing her again
even just 
for a moment 
in the realm of spirit
in the realm 
of possibilities 
where poems 
share blood 
& spit & exist 
on chromosomal 
planes of particularity 
where poems 
are strangers
turned sistren 
not easily shook 
or forgotten

west of philly

they asked me to write a poem like a lush life,
a johnny hartman poem. a poem that would make
your fake eyelashes fall off. a poem with the city all
up in it. a poem, matter of fact, like a city, one that
can only be reached by train. yeah, write us a poem
like a train, but not like coltrane. just write a coltrane
poem that contains the essence of the city, the way
the horizon sounds like elvin jones playing cymbals
& trash trucks. i mean, just write a poem that contains
the essence of west philly—a poem you’ve already
written—write that. yeah, write a recycled philly poem
about a philly that doesn’t exist anymore. write the
sequel. write a new romancing the stone, but set it in
philly, starring a black woman poet & a belizean sailor.
write that scene where your angry neighbors shut down
a fast food joint with danny devito or those motley kids
discover the smirking mouth of a creek buried under
43rd. make sure it’s juicy with brotherly love & that other
stuff. drop-in a cheesesteak, but make sure it’s gluten-free
because our audience is particular. y’know, like people who
don’t like poetry. not that you can’t write what you want,
but for now, just write it like you love every damn inch
of the city. even the hawks & vultures & raccoons & the
characters like knives sharpened by the week, or like fruit
bruised & first-frosted. write it like you believe the city has
seasons, that it can change in its deepest cracks, unseen
corners. write like you know these corners, you know
why this building is painted pink, why this one is empty,
why this one is a missing tooth on the block. write it like
you know what it’s like for a tooth to be taken. write it
like you know what it’s like for a home to be lost. or try
writing it like you carry the voices of lost homes to bed
with you. like they are evidence & you are a detective.
like they are memories & you are family. write it like you
can see beyond seeing. like you know the origin of
shoulders sharp as javelins, can decode 3-pointed stars
hunched under streetlights. like you are related to the men
selling socks & incense, oils & belts. like you can read the
compass on their faces. like you can recreate the arpeggios
of the one-eyed singer or the $200 upright with beer-colored
keys at the thrift store. just write a poem like a secondhand
store full of dishes & leather jackets. vibrating with the leftovers
of people. bleeding in solidarity with a woman in a ripped red
sweater like an ear, wailing in the street one summer night.
a poem full of peach seeds & lightning bugs. a poem that can
change the color of the sky.

Related Poems

Wrap

I don't mean when a movie ends,
as in, it's a! Nor tortillas splitting
with the heavy wet of bean.
And I don't mean what you do

with your lavender robe—all fluff
and socks—to snatch the paper
from the shrubs. Nor the promise
of a gift, the curl and furl of red ribbon

just begging to be tugged. What I mean
is waiting with my grandmama (a pause
in the Monsoon) at the Trivandrum airport
for a jeep. Her small hand wraps

again the emerald green pallu of her sari
tucked in at her hips, across her breast,
and coughs it up over her shoulder—a hush
of paprika and burnt honey across my face.

for grandma

i heard your voice this morning
speaking from the foot of the bed
your quilt crawled to the
floor
as i lay down in the
first whisper of dawn.
i heard your voice this morning
the sound of cloth
a casual sound
a sunday morning
preparing to visit your lord
sound
half your life
half my life
half my daughter’s life
we all dream of landscapes
romantic deserts
white sands
connecting us together
a half dozen roses
i play out my life
listening every morning
for your voice
at the foot of the bed.

Grandma Climbs

Grandma climbs a chair to yell at God for killing
her only husband whose only crime was forgetting
where he put things. Finally, God misplaced him. Everyone
in this house is a razor, a police radio, a bulging vein.
It's too late for any of us, Grandma says to the ceiling.
She believes we are chosen to be disgraced and perplexed.
She squints at anyone who treats her like a customer, including
the toilet mirror, and twists her mouth into a deadly scheme.
Late at night I run at the mirror until I disappear. The day is over
before it begins, Grandma says, jerking the shade down over
its once rosy eye. She keeps her husband's teeth in a matchbox,
in perfumed paraffin; his silk skullcap (with its orthodox stains)
in the icebox, behind Uncle's Jell-O aquarium of floating lowlifes.
I know what Mrs. Einhorn said Mrs. Edels told Mr. Kook about us:
God save us from having one shirt, one eye, one child. I know
in order to survive. Grandma throws her shawl of exuberant birds
over her bony shoulders and ladles up yet another chicken thigh
out of the steaming broth of the infinite night sky.