Predictions of the Material

Before the wick rejects
the flame; before the glass salts
the waters, or the rental en route
to your funeral stalls, I worry

the dog isn’t getting enough sun,
& it is midnight but we step out
anyway onto summer’s chow

tongue. Clouds extend the glare
of lightning far off. Before phlox
heads drop, the dog sinks
the anthill gathered full & quick
at the ceiba’s trunk. Nothing swarms

his leg or the river he pisses
into the heart like a god, no arthropod
island, no insect bridge of grappled
spurs. Before sunrise, I turn

a burner high in anticipation, olive oil
dollop ready to smother the pan,
when a moth plummets to the blushing
element. Wings immediately

charred. Let me tell you,
more than once in a parked car
I’ve held the searing buckle
to my chest—before drivethrus,
before driveways, drivel down

philtrum; before the beach, crushing
indistinguishable mounds
in bare feet, a horse conch’s crown

tearing skin. Even anaphora
can’t coax the future. You said, Ay mija,
are you crying again? before dusk
revealed the hook in the pelican’s beak.

Related Poems

Triple Sonnet for My Father’s Pet Goose, Pigeon Wars, and Daddy Issues

Lovers in cartoons get into swan boats
before declaring their undying love,
but I’m terrified because have you seen
the wedding footage of the swan eating
the bride’s white dress, chasing her down the pond,
and we live in such a scary world
that the bird poems really aren’t helping,
because what good do they really do?
But what about my father growing up
in Macau, in Hong Kong, across too many
boarding schools in Asia to count,
one day going home to his mother,
a goose arrives at his bedroom window,
like a sign from a higher being.

And when I’m twenty-three, in Singapore,
I’m telling this story to a man
double my age—we’re greeted by pigeons—
and no, I don’t have daddy issues,
I’m just pouring my heart out
because that goose was my dad’s best friend,
because my grandma ended up
cooking that goose, because the man I’m dating
understands these old-school-Chinese-stiff-
upper-lip-we’re-poor-so-I’m-sorry-son
situations of survival,
because this same man wants me to write
about his father, but I don’t have time
to be someone else’s biographer

when I’m thinking of how my father
made sure we always had a family dog,
a Buzzie to keep us warm, take out
for Italian ice and custard trips,
how during the Pennsylvania winters,
my father would bring lost birds inside
the house and feed them milk to keep warm,
how growing up, we’d go to the park
every weekend to feed the ducks,
and back to Singapore, when I look down
at the pigeons interrupting my date,
starting a brawl over scone crumbs
in the middle of the coffee shop,
I can’t help but just look down, laugh at them.

This is the Cow

She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be 
boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk.
			—Gabriel Garcia Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Imagine the years being sucked out 
of you, the losses so numerous 
you counted gains instead: the shiver

of holy water, your quinceañiera, 
burnt cedar, the faith in the cross-
town taxi in Mexico, not knowing derecha

from izquierda. Think of all the shattered
glasses, cursing the sky, women you keep
yearning for. You taste the slow arrival

of the moment only to watch it fade
anxiously. Now think of absence, staring
at some beast in a field and saying never

have I seen this thing in front of me.
When the cow moos you will understand
the simple lexicon of the green

in its mouth, the dynamics of the jaw like 
nothing you can’t recall, have never seen.
And what impossible eyes--unlike yours--

swelling with your losses and successes;
they too are losses, ready to escape
your skin like the sweets of a piñata,

the dull thud of the instant still there,
when you realize that to know this beast
by name is to lose this beast, lose it

hopelessly in the catcombs
of names for other things: the coffee bean,
your blood, the ripe guava, penitence,

the left bank of the river, crumbling,
where you learned cow from awkward profile,
milk-heavy, its one eye, reflecting.

Space Station

(Note: a space station generates gravity by revolving one way and then another. When it reverses direction to revolve the other way, there are several moments when gravity is suspended.)

My mother and I and the dog were floating
Weightless in the kitchen. Silverware
Hovered above the table. Napkins drifted
Just below the ceiling. The dead who had been crushed
By gravity were free to move about the room,
To take their place at supper, lift a fork, knife, spoon—
A spoon, knife, fork that, outside this moment's weightlessness,
Would have been immovable as mountains.

My mother and I and the dog were orbiting
In the void that follows after happiness
Of an intimate gesture: Her hand stroking the dog's head
And the dog looking up, expectant, into her eyes:
The beast gaze so direct and alienly concerned
To have its stare returned; the human gaze
That forgets, for a moment, that it sees
What it's seeing and simply, fervently, sees...

But only for a moment. Only for a moment were my mother
And the dog looking at each other not mother
Or dog but that look—I couldn't help but think,
If only I were a dog, or Mother was,
Then that intimate gesture, this happiness passing
Could last forever...such a vain, hopeless wish
I was wishing; I knew it and didn't know it
Just as my mother knew she was my mother

And didn't...and as for the dog, her large black pupils,
Fixed on my mother's faintly smiling face,
Seemed to contain a drop of the void
We were all suspended in; though only a dog
Who chews a ragged rawhide chew toy shaped
Into a bone, femur or cannonbone
Of the heavy body that we no longer labored
To lift against the miles-deep air pressing

Us to our chairs. The dog pricked her ears,
Sensing a dead one approaching. Crossing the kitchen,
My father was moving with the clumsy gestures
Of a man in a space suit—the strangeness of death
Moving among the living—though the world
Was floating with a lightness that made us
Feel we were phantoms: I don't know
If my mother saw him—he didn't look at her

When he too put his hand on the dog's head
And the dog turned its eyes from her stare to his...
And then the moment on its axis reversed,
The kitchen spun us the other way round
And pressed heavy hands down on our shoulders
So that my father sank into the carpet,
My mother rested her chin on her hand
And let her other hand slide off the dog's head,

Her knuckles bent in a kind of torment
Of moonscape erosion, ridging up into
Peaks giving way to seamed plains
With names like The Sea of Tranquility
—Though nothing but a metaphor for how
I saw her hand, her empty, still strong hand
Dangling all alone in the infinite space
Between the carpet and the neon-lit ceiling.