Perseverance

18 February 2021

We've landed on the planet named after the god of war and the power's
out all over Texas my mother's buried under her grandmother's
quilt while they're looking for signs of life on the surface of the long-dried lake-
bed my cousins huddling around the clay pot heaters they've rigged
from overturned geraniums and the candles they keep lit
for the dead the heatshield reaching extreme temperatures in the final moments
of descent ice-sleeved branches cleaving from their trunks and downing
communication lines and lines and lines down the block for what's left
of clean water in the ancient river delta the rover arriving to drill down
as scientists cheer in control towers oil men feast and fatten
their pockets craters across the desolate expanse early
transmission from the hazard avoidance camera can't help
but capture its own shadow darkening the foreground.

Change of Address

Rate your pain the physical
therapist instructs and I am trying
not to do what they say
women do lowballing the number
trying hard not to try so hard
to be the good patient scattered
assurances lining the aisles like
dead petals and me left
holding nothing but what’s been
emptied out obviously I am over-
thinking it when I settle on someplace
in the middle six or seven
times a week I walk past the street
vendor on Broadway and say
nothing while eyeing the same
pom-topped hat the physical
therapist asking me now
for the name of that Chinese place
where I sometimes go asking
for the patient just before me
a street vendor in need
of a cheap massage as I lay
the plain wreckage of my shoulders
in the shallow hollows
the street vendor’s body has left
on the padded table in the center
of the story I sometimes read
to my girl a cap seller sleeps
under a tree’s shade waking
to find the monkeys in the
branches above have plundered
his wares he waves his hands shakes
his fists until his rage makes him
throw his cap to the ground and the
monkeys mimic him and down
float his caps his fury finally
fulsome enough to restore
what he’s lost you’ve got to find
another way to move the physical
therapist modeling for me the poses
to mimic assuring her I won’t move
what’s left of the heavy boxes later
unpacking the last of them I learn
about the woman who once lived
here Charlotte who twisted the cap and shook
out the pills Charlotte who swallowed
and slipped into sleep in her last act
of volition here in this bedroom where
the westward windows go on longing
for dawn and I am trying to move in
a new way to pull the mess of sloughed
hair from the bathtub drain to move
in the space of another's suffering
scrub the caked toothpaste
from the sink make a home
in the space where suffering
may meet its end.

Lightening

for Deborah Johnson (Akua Njeri)

—Composed on the 45th anniversary of Fred Hampton's murder, Chicago IL—

you didn’t look

down or back, spent

the fractured minutes

studying each crease

and curve of the law-

men’s faces

so later you could tell

            how it happened:

how you crossed over
           
            his body, how you kept

your hands up

how you didn't

reach for anything

not your opened robe—

nothing—how they said he's good

            and dead

how you crossed

over the threshold

how you lifted one

and then the other

slippered foot across the ice

            how you kept yourself

from falling—how

your bared belly bore

the revolver’s burrowing snout—

            how   
how   

—how when the baby starts

            to descend, it’s called

lightening though

it feels like a weight

you cannot bear—lightening

            is when you know

it won't be

long before it's over

Hecuba on the Shores of Da Nang, 1965

Again the sea-machines creep from the east,
their Cronus jaws unlatched and pups expelled.
The scene the same. Again. Again. The sand
now boot-lace muck, the rutted shore resigned.
No words will do. Laments will not withstand
this thrashing tide. It's time for snarling beast-
speak. Gnash-rattle. Fracas-snap. Unmuzzled
hell-hound chorus unbound from roughened tongues.
Kynos-sema keen-keen lash-kaak nein grind
then ground and rot and reek and teeth and grief
and gabble ratchet growl: custodian
of woe. It doesn't end. Fleets on the reef,
horizon buckling. To meet what comes
the body cleaves from all that is human.

Related Poems

Only we make beautiful things just to destroy them

          After the exhibition “La Gravedad de Los Asuntos 
                 (Matters of Gravity)”
 
The Mexicans and the Russians were always in on it 
This is collaboration in zero gravity democracy 
—blurry violet lights and no clear answer 
This is a nuclear glow in the dark so we can start over 
We board planes to Mars and six engines fire
 
You spin away. It’s candy guts out here—all our voting machines are breaking 
You tumble and can’t stop, but 
Grab a harness—an adult pigtail
 
Six plane engines click on and your homie has to 
Push you so you can swing at the exploding star 
A way of thinking, una estructura doblada
 
Alguien cortó oropel azul en cuadritos 
And stuffed it into the piñata. A yellow paleta 
Big as a chicken, floats to the right hand corner and balances 
Tipping into the comrade’s hands
 
What’s a layer of confetti and candy compared to DDT 
The kind you sprayed over all our naked bodies 

We’re diamonds: hard, shiny, and we 
Get processed to go through 
We don’t infest, pendejo. We invest 
There goes your friend again, diving toward 
The paleta, which has to be pineapple flavor
 
We were always in on it together 
Me and my honey watch a video on loop 
We gently hold each other like the beach balls we are 
The light dims and that constellation swings 

Only one Russian cosmonaut will smile at a time 
They watch a compa swim away 

Reach out 
Don’t make someone else do your work for you 
Some of us were grounded 
The whole time 

Left

   Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
       —Rudyard Kipling, "A Counting-Out Song,"
in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

           The woman with cheerleading legs
has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,
four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,
helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week-
old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty-
two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy
in the New Orleans Saints folding chair.

                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!

           Three times a day the helicopter flies
by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on
not being helpless, so she waves a white hand-
kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head
toward the cameraman and the pilot who
remembers well the art of his mirrored-eyed
posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son,
Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow
Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue
as the Observation Pass.

           The roof is surrounded by broken-levee
water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv-
ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous,
but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old
anniversary of observation begins, again—

                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
                      Catch a—

The woman with pom-pom legs waves
her uneven homemade sign:

                      Pleas Help  Pleas

and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e

do you know simply 
by looking at her
that it has been left off
because she can't spell
(and therefore is not worth saving)
or was it because the water was rising so fast
there wasn't time?

                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
                      Catch a— a—

           The low-flying helicopter does not know
the answer. It catches all this on patriotic tape,
but does not land, and does not drop dictionary,
or ladder.

           Regulations require an e be at the end
of any Pleas e before any national response
can be taken.

           Therefore, it takes four days before
the national council of observers will consider
dropping one bottle of water, or one case
of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof
where the e has rolled off into the flood,

                      (but obviously not splashed
loud enough)

where four days later not the mother,
not the baby girl,
but the determined hanky waver,
whom they were both named for,
(and after) has now been covered up
with a green plastic window awning,
pushed over to the side
right where the missing e was last seen.

                      My mother said to pick
                      The very best one!

What else would you call it,
Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind.

Anyone you know
ever left off or put on
an e by mistake?

Potato   Po tato e

           In the future observation helicopters
will leave the well-observed South and fly
in Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation.
They will arrive over burning San Diego.

           The fires there will be put out so well.
The people there will wait in a civilized manner.
And they will receive foie gras and free massage
for all their trouble, while there houses don't
flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground.

The grandmothers were right
about everything.

           People who outlived bullwhips & Bull
Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely
fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar-
heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by
forty feet of churning water, in the summer
of 2005, while the richest country in the world
played the old observation game, studied
the situation: wondered by committee what to do;
counted, in private, by long historical division;
speculated whether or not some people are surely
born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear.

                      My mother said to pick
                      The very best one
                      And you are not   it!

           After all, it was only po' New Orleans,
old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers
with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would
be left alive to care?

Yolanda: A Typhoon

How much our hands are God’s

to be running fingers over braille cities.

We are this hand pushed through our womb.

Weeping with each other’s blood in our eyes.

I dreamed that I slept with the light on.

I was asleep in my mother’s bed because my father was out to sea

and my claim on him was to feel the frets of my death sure to come.

Sweet, small fishing rod. Ears of wind rushing through many jellied trees.

We were on this cardboard earth with its puffing volcanoes

miniature baseball players and horrible winds

scored by musician’s hands.

Stand in the strong ear of this love.