Object Permanence

This neighborhood was mine first. I walked each block twice:
drunk, then sober. I lived every day with legs and headphones.
It had snowed the night I ran down Lorimer and swore I’d stop
at nothing. My love, he had died. What was I supposed to do?
I regret nothing. Sometimes I feel washed up as paper. You’re
three years away. But then I dance down Graham and
the trees are the color of champagne and I remember—
There are things I like about heartbreak, too, how it needs
a good soundtrack. The way I catch a man’s gaze on the L
and don’t look away first. Losing something is just revising it.
After this love there will be more love. My body rising from a nest
of sheets to pick up a stranger’s MetroCard. I regret nothing.
Not the bar across the street from my apartment; I was still late.
Not the shared bathroom in Barcelona, not the red-eyes, not
the songs about black coats and Omaha. I lie about everything
but not this. You were every streetlamp that winter. You held
the crown of my head and for once I won’t show you what
I’ve made. I regret nothing. Your mother and your Maine.
Your wet hair in my lap after that first shower. The clinic
and how I cried for a week afterwards. How we never chose
the language we spoke. You wrote me a single poem and in it
you were the dog and I the fire. Remember the courthouse?
The anniversary song. Those goddamn Kmart towels. I loved them,
when did we throw them away? Tomorrow I’ll write down
everything we’ve done to each other and fill the bathtub
with water. I’ll burn each piece of paper down to silt.
And if it doesn’t work, I’ll do it again. And again and again and—

Truth

I’m allergic to hair dye and silver. Of the natives,
I love the Aztecs most of all, the way they lit fires
in the gouged chests of men to keep the world spinning.
I’ve seen women eat cotton balls so they wouldn’t eat bread
I will never be as beautiful as the night I danced in a garage,
anorexic, decked in black boots, black sweater, black jeans,
hip-hop music and a girl I didn’t know pulling my hips
to hers. Hunger is hunger. I got drunk one night
and argued with the Pacific. I was twenty. I broke
into the bodies of men like a cartoon burglar. I wasn’t twenty.
In the winter of those years I kept Christmas lights
strung around my bed and argued with the Italian landlady
who lived downstairs about turning the heat off,
and every night I wanted to drink but didn’t.

The Female of the Species

They leave the country with gasping babies and suitcases
full of spices and cassettes. In airports,

they line themselves up like wine bottles.
The new city twinkles beneath an onion moon.

Birds mistake the pebbles of glass on the
black asphalt for bread crumbs.

          *

If I drink, I tell stories about the women I know.
They break dinner plates. They marry impulsively.

When I was a child I watched my aunt throw a halo
of spaghetti at my mother. Now I’m older than they were.

          *

In an old-new year, my cousin shouts ana bint Beirut
at the sleeping houses. She clatters up the stairs.

I never remember to tell her anything. Not the dream
where I can’t yell loud enough for her to stop running.

And the train comes. And the amar layers the stones
like lichen. How the best night of my life was the one

she danced with me in Paris, sharing a hostel bed,
and how sometimes you need one knife to carve another.

          *

It’s raining in two cities at once. The Vendôme plaza
fills with water and the dream, the fountain, the moon

explodes open, so that Layal, Beirut’s last daughter,
can walk through the exit wound.

Turnpike // Ghost

Wrong morning, late train, I wearing red for you.
A girl-thief. Startled,

the train lurched between two smokestack towns.
The subway, eye of a concrete needle.

Orchids, purple-furred. Trashed along with the orange peels.
Tulip-wearer. I never understood Brooklyn,

how a place could be bigger than it was.
The bartenders ask if I want another before I’ve had a first.

You, frost-eyed, a lake in the pocket of your khakis. I launder,
fold the warm clothes,

find a porch inside them. You call me home. Home.
What an Oklahoman sky is made of:

arrows in red dirt, quilt in the home team’s colors.
Chimes to announce the wind.

My father wanted a suburban lawn. Warm biscuits at Red Lobster.
He knows America as equation to be memorized,

ghost + furniture + eastern turnpikes. Fog as home.
The expressway, congested with commuters,

cars that steer back the way they came. I never did learn to drive.
Even if I wanted to leave, I couldn’t.

Related Poems

The Lyric Theatre: Lyceum of Dreams

On the occasion of the reopening of the Lyric Theatre, 1940s Black dream house, Lexington, Kentucky

On the East End, we shine our
own shoes, dress our own legs,

smooth down willful hair, let all
new trouble float. Done-up.

We promenade and pass, Deweese
(DoAsYouPlease) & 3rd, where

Winkfield & Murphy once hoofed
& flew backwards, black-winged,

on horseback. Under the blazing
marquee we hand our shiny quarter

over, glide toward, then across,
our eight-point star, rose-tile light

of regeneration. In the dark theater,
the salt-cod sweat of work, now left

behind, names hurled our way all day,
now set aside, paychecks that never

match our labor folded away now.
House lights dim: Paul Robeson is

Othello. Miss Ella strikes & swings.
The Duke & Count jazz-juice the night,

royalty speaks to royalty. The Ink Spots
spill all with Sarah Vaughan, Miss Mahalia

orchestrates & moans and moonbeams,
Candy Johnson & his Peppermint Sticks

fill every inch of stage. Marian Anderson
poses her hands in alto-soprano.

Woody Strode, our Black cowboy,
wild-rides the open oat fields & range.

Our dusty eyes drink in Beah Richards,
Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne.

Intermission at the Lyric: Lights up!
Freda Jones tries on a brand-new

hat and no one is arrested. Bernard
Lewis licks his ice cream cone on every

melting side, no one is booked for
licking or loitering. Morgan and

Marvin Smith, the famous picture-
taking twins, take our picture too.

At the Lyric we pose, bright futures
we portray. At the Lyric we fall in love

with our lips: Lucinda kisses Big Tank
clear through the opening act. Julia

can’t see the show for looking at the
ocean of their mouths; open, close.

We cry at the Lyric, laugh out loud at
the Lyric. Whisper Quiet! Here comes

the principal! Miss Lucy Harth Smith
proudly takes her seat. At the Lyric,

William Wells Brown pulls out his
indelible pen to write us down. Isaac

Scott Hathaway shapes our faces in
a mustard-amber clay on new money.

We come to the Lyric to rise, rejuvenate,
see ourselves win, watch ourselves lifted

up in lights, hit the home run, be hero
champion of the world. Only to file

back out live & alive, stroll back across
the rays of the eight-point star, rose-tile

light of return, sink back into the race-
track of the East End with everything

we have now become. Sweet Lyric,
lyceum of dreams, where once we came

to rise into who Mama, not dime-store
magazines, promised us we were.

Mural with HUD Housing & School Bus (1980)

When 213b finally opens in a crack of yellow linoleum,
Garrett comes out with the left side of his afro as flat
as the tire that used to be on his mom’s car & the stuck
snick of the cheap door locking behind him sounds exactly
like someone trying to light a smoke with an empty lighter.
Carriage House East, where menthols cough like a window
slamming shut & outside that window, somebody’s radio
is already popping static. What’s left of the moon is popping
white on blue. That’s when we stamp past the squat HUD
brick toward school in the dark: shadow of the green trash
can gang signed with misspellings, a mimeograph of Mickey
Mouse flipping Iran the bird in the landlord’s lit window.
We made the same middle-finger motion to the school bus
before ignoring our bus stop & kept walking neighborhood-
style—right hands skimming from chest down to waist
then behind the back like a bad breast-stroker cupping air.
Cue the sirens snagging the matted air like a cheap pick.
Cue the smoker’s cough of early-morning walks to school.
We strutted a backward lean like every one of the unconcerned
streetlamps alternating between our side of the street
& over there—in front of the fenced-in porches missing slats
like teeth in a punched smile where Garrett’s cousin leaned
against the side of one of the front buildings. She put
two-fingered guns to her temples when she saw us: red patch
of smoker’s skin around her mouth like a raw sun rising.

Kid, these are train tracks,

the train never comes.

You smell it anyway, its blue-coal
body. In August, the fringe sticky

with Queen Anne’s lace, you might
walk these tracks inside

gigantic noons. I walked them.
You might smash bottles,

start fires, watch clouds from
your back, breathe clouds through

the red sparks of cigarettes.
Take your first sips of bad

sweet wine, cry in a graveyard at night
with your best friend, a half moon

and grave dirt in your hair.
Have your first bad kiss here, like

swallowing a living fish. If you see
the older kids, run, god

knows why. They will chase you
into the waxy halls

of high school. Unlike me,
you will have all your music

in your hand, the best
movies, a phone that calls

everyone at once. Look up.
The big fires of June stars

are so slow and boring they will
keep you awake for good.

Swim the mucky river.
Wash your hair in clover-smell,

the swish of trees. The crows—
you can’t not love it

when they chatter the sun down.
Follow gravel roads

to screaming crickets
and beer, sleep out

on the hood of your
hand-me-down Honda,

wake up with yellow flowers
in your mouth. Walk the streets

on the first night
of fall, every tree swelling

with what I can’t say
and see in the lit-up houses

beautiful pictures
of strangers.