In Praise of Dreams

- 1952-
after Wisława Szymborska

In my dreams,
I lasso a wild steer on the first try.

I chauffeur Picasso
To meet up with Dali—
None of us is happy about this summit.

After licking my fingertips,
I play guitar masterfully.

I use index cards to make sense
Of the universe.

I discover my childhood cat in the neighbor’s tree—
So that’s where you’ve been, you little rascal.

I beg the alligator, por favor,
To make a snap judgement,
Will it be my leg or my arm?

Picture me swimming with dolphins.
Picture me with these dolphins
Sitting in lawn chairs.

I’m full of gratitude—
The lightbulb comes on
When the refrigerator door is opened.

Yes, I’m the scientist who solved laryngitis—
Now all of us howl at our own pleasure.

I get to throw a trophy from a moving car.
When I park my car,
I’m awarded another trophy—
Someone above is giving me a second chance.

Earth Day on the Bay

Curled like a genie’s lamp,
A track shoe from the 1970s among seaweed,
The race long over, the blue ribbons faded,
The trophies deep in pink insulation in the rafters.
Perhaps the former distant runner sits in his recliner.

The other shoe? Along this shore,
It could have ridden the waves back to Mother Korea,
Where it was molded from plastic,
Fitted with cloth, shoelaces poked through the eyelets,
Squeezed for inspection.

I remember that style of shoe.
Never owned a pair myself.
With my skinny legs I could go side-to-side like a crab,
But never run the distance with a number on my back,
Never the winner or runner up heaving at the end.

I bag that shoe, now litter, and nearly slip on the rocks.
Gulls scream above, a single kite goes crazy,
A cargo ship in the distance carrying more
Of the same.

Telephones from the 50s

Nisei, remember the party line?
How you shared the same line,
The same mornings,
The same problems—
My girl is sick, the check was mailed late,
The irrigation pump doesn’t work—
Two hundred for the man to come out.

Life on the nisei family farm… 
If Mrs. Oda lifted the black telephone
And another voice was there,
She set it back into the cradle,
Looked up at the clock,
Maybe folded baby clothes,
Maybe cut coupons from the newspaper,
Maybe ironed a shirt,
Maybe took a broom to the spiders
Near the ceiling.

(Water drip from the kitchen sink,
Tractor roar near the barn,
Dog barking just to bark,
Sunlight hot as an iron on the sill.
She looked at the telephone, looked and looked.)

Mrs. Oda smoothed the front
Of her dress—printed with chickens,
Little white fences, roses faded from the wash.
She could have cooked rice,
Chopped green onions and carrots,
Nappa if one was in the fridge.
Elbows on the kitchen table,
She could have examined her book
Of Green stamps.  

At a quarter to five
She lifted the receiver of the phone.
She called her sister-in-law on the next farm
To say that she had folded clothes,
Ironed and cut coupons,
Swiped the broom at spiders,
And saved the better part of the nappa.

Her sister-in-law would say,
“I did those very things—
Okazu’s for supper.
You could come over
But looks like you’re having the same.”

A Walk through the Cemetery

In memory of David Ruenzel, 1954–2014

I searched for twenty minutes
For my murdered friend’s grave,
A small, white marker,
# 356 it reads. He is not
This number, or any number,
And he is not earth,
But a memory
Of how he and I hiked
Through this Oakland cemetery—
What, six months before
He was shot? We stopped
At the Fred Korematsu stone,
Righteous man, stubborn
Behind bars for refusing
The Japanese-American internment in 1942—
Jail for him, in suit and tie, god dammit.
We righted flowers at his grave,
Bright with toy-like American flags,
And shaded our eyes to follow
The flight of the hawks above.
We left and walked up a slope
And visited a part of the cemetery
Where the Chinese are buried,
A division of races, a preference?
Now I’m at his grave marker—
The stone for him has yet to arrive.
His widow lives a mile up
In the Oakland Hills.
Here is truth: she has a telescope
Trained on his grave.
She pours coffee—she looks.
She does the vacuuming—she looks.
She comes home hugging bags
Of groceries—she looks.
Perhaps she is getting up
From the piano, an eye wincing
Behind the telescope.
If so, she would see me
Looking at marker #366—
This plot is available,
Purchasable, ready
For a down payment.
But the first installment
I must pay with my life.
What then? His widow
Will still keep the telescope
Trained on his grave,
Now and then swiveling
It to #366, his friend.
The buzzing bees would languidly
Pass the honey between us.

Related Poems

SS Nevertheless

The widower in silk pajamas slides
his hand along a glossy blue sleeve,

thinking, Water to fabric, rivulet
slipped through a needle’s eye.

He’s all ripples when he moves,
all waves breaking against flesh.

He read in the paper the human body is
80 percent water. He is almost

a brook when he wanders
around the yard, practically a river

flowing upstream when climbing stairs,
the distant past of Pacific salmon

leaping over his shoulders. He naps
for hours on a king-size, the mattress

dimpled where two bodies slept
together for decades. Dreaming,

he is the relative of that lake
where he tipped the urn overboard.

What was left of her the water
dissolved, becoming the water

and the lulling blue sounds it made
while he paddled back to land.

melancholy lake

who never thinks too cold, too coldly of themself
who lay awake (toûtseul) in tha dark room & thot to
     disappear themself.
who would not (not not notnot) be consoled & raged
on pompous ponces, jowlyfacd rich people &
     that melancholic pool, despair

last night I dreamt brad pitt and I were lovers, we
     had each committed a murder and confessed to
     ours in turn—he had killed someone who wouldn’t
     leave w/ him right away to go somewhere, a party
     or something. I—I had killed someone just then,
     as we took a turn around melancholy lake, which
     at first (in the dream) was a salt mine. the salt
     farmer was giving a lecture on the ecology of
     the pool, it was in santa cruz, it was toxic, (we do
     not anymore hear of a clean pool or pond)
     (so that even narcissus is uglified) there were chunks
     of it, salt, floating about at the edges of a pool or
     pond, resembling ice. I could not (cannot) recollect
     the details of my own murder (the one I had
     myself(myself) committedof late). in any case, we walked around the lake
(as I said) on a vertiginous & slippery path of
salt which seemed like ice, and the broken pieces of it floating near, salt rather, gave
a cold and melancholic feeling, and the color of the blue of the pool turned
                        pale green at its center, making it appear warm
                        and tropical. the whole effect was so seductive
                        brad wanted to leap in. I understand, I communicated
                        to him, the desire to leap into the lake of despair but
                        come now old boy do let’s carry on

[Magic needed]

Magic needed. A letter to Lorca. Outer space martians to help me translate. A letter I write and sign by Lorca to introduce my poems. Love poems to the beloved. Lorca or Gloria or Jack Spicer needed in the absence of a beloved. Someone who understands María Sabina’s wisdom. A chachalaca as a pet.A glass of water for the dead, to help in their journey crossing. The dead and the not-yet. Sometimes I think I only have water to offer. Dark ruby tunas needed, easy to cut from the tops of cactus paddles. Life offers its appendages. Trim the drooping tree limbs before hurricane season, before we mourn their violent losses. But white-winged doves have their nests in the branches. Nighthawks visit. Bats. Bats keep flitting through the neighborhood. Once, I was attacked by a snake and a bat, my beloved totems. Real visceral pain in my thigh and neck woke me up like seeing the agent reach for his gun. It’s still there in his hand, in his holster, keeps rising like the walls that put me to a deep sleep, a sleep that needs The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes to wake and find Sappho’s golden chickpeas growing again along the riverbanks.