The Other Side of Nowhere

Thirty feet above the ground, in a warehouse 
in the industrial outskirts 
of a city we’d never lived in,
I knelt inside the near-empty container

to contemplate our nomadic misery: 
mismatched chairs, kitchen appliances 
older than me, baby clothes, 
framed diplomas, books in a language 

my father never taught me (it would 
have stunted my assimilation
and in my head, an email from my mother 
that read, “we’re doomed, save what you can.”

So there I was, on the other 
side of nowhere in sunny Italy… Despite 
the technological changes around us, 
disasters still travel in telegrams: Bankrupt. STOP. 

Sorry. STOP. Homeless. STOP… 
Remember, brother, 
when our parents calling us 
‘global citizens’ inspired great hope?

But the world proved too tribal for us
and so your suitcase shall be your only friend 
while Shi Huang’s fantasy of a Godly Wall 
proliferates across the planet. 

Weeks ago, two cops in Catania 
stung a sixteen year old boy from Darfur
with cattle-prods to impart the following lesson, 
whatever the government says, 

you’re not welcome here.’ 
As if one needed the reminder… 
All across the boot, the green-
shirted faithful lift their pitchforks 

to chase the monster of Otherness, 
so don’t ask me why I love 
to leave and hate returning. 
(Is the answer somewhere inside this container?

It isn’t… but remember Cicero’s saying,
there’s no cure for exile except to love 
every city as you would your own, 
but the past is always easier… ) 

When I was young, I fancied 
myself Indiana Jones; later, 
with erudition, came realer idols: 
Petrie, Schliemann, Carter, Kenyon—

but you cannot rescue history from dust—
all you save one day will crumble 
in your hand. “Trash or burn the rest” 
I told the warehouse worker 

as we rode the forklift back to earth. 
Damn whoever said 
that hell was down below;
they clearly never went there.

 

Florence

Related Poems

Redacted from a Know-Your-Rights Training Agenda—

That a potholed street in the middling borough of Collingswood, New Jersey, bears the name Atlantic, after an all-consuming body of water.

That all-consuming is Atlas’ curse to bear the heavens on his shoulders.

That after the fall of the gods, half of the heavens is darkness.

That inside the car speeding down the street, I believe I am safe from being halved.

That “I” am not a white box, but a body of water.

That white is a pattern of boys who expect to live long enough to become men.

That some of these boys are whistling by on their bikes, and behind them, clear as a dream, welcome candles in the windows framed by blooms of vervain.

That “welcome” means I thought I was not afraid of the dark.

Since the jade scrubs of the cancer ward.

Since the florescent grid of the factory and the vista of small bones in my father’s collar while I was interpreting for the twenty-something-year-old white citizen,

                              “Tell your dad he can quit or I can fire him.”

Grief had already burst its cocoon; it ate him like an army of moths from the inside.

That brown men and women kept stitching jackets under the heavens of the machines.

Welcome.

That a moth is trapped in the car with me – it will die, but I do not want to practice florescence alone.

Like a first language bleeding hearts call, speaking truth to power.

I don’t know how they don’t know that power doesn’t care.

That watching fires go out will become a pattern.

That fire is everywhere, and therefore, cheap.

That the hole in my foundation is all-consuming and at its bottom a frangipani tree opens its yellow hands.

That POLICE ICE is printed in yellow or white on the jacket of the night.

That the night walks freely among the ranks of the sun.

That a body of water parted once like a red skirt then sealed over the armored horses of Egypt.

That Whitney Houston is a bone blasting

out the car windows.

That tonight, the night after, the night after that, for as long as the distance between god and a pothole, a moth’s flight will spell,

                                        “They are coming for you.”

Their Bodies a Xylophone

My father blames them. 
No te andes metiendo donde no debes. 
Walls couldn’t save them
because they couldn’t be saved. 
Thistles hitching a ride
on an unsuspecting animal. 
No te andes metiendo donde no te quieren. 
Don’t go where you’re not wanted. 
Which would rule out the world. 
In the sun, laid out, their bodies a xylophone. 
Mira lo que pasa cuando te metes
donde no debes. Look at what happens
when you want to feed your family. 
In nineteen forty-six he crossed
the bridge as casually as ragweed. 
And never left. No oven of an 18 wheeler. 
No sealed crate to muffle sound
like a plunger mute. No darkness 
to drunken instead of water. 
I ask him how he is any different. 
He says, in English I can barely understand, 
I belong here. 

Migrant Earth

So tell me what you think of when the sky is ashen?
            —Mahmoud Darwish

I could tell you that listening is made for the ashen sky,
and instead of the muezzin's voice, which lingers
     like weeping at dawn,
I hear my own desire, as I lay my lips against my mother's cheek.

I kneel down beside her, recalling her pleas
the day she flung open the gates of her house
     for children fleeing from tanks.

My mother is from Gaza, but what do I know of the migrant earth,
as I enter a Gazan rooftop and perform ablutions in the ashen 
     forehead of sky? As my soul journeys and wrinkles with homeland?

I could tell you that I parted with my mother at the country
     of skin. In the dream,
my lips were bruised, her body was whole again, and we danced 
   naked in the street.

And no child understands absence past the softness
    of palms.

As though it is praise in my father's palms
as he washes my mother's body in the final ritual.

As though it is God's pulse that comes across
her face and disappears