Safe Harbor in Enemy Homes

Even the trees are not blameless here
they choose sides, shelter conspiracy,
and lend their limbs to massacre

on this green knuckle of mountain
made retreat for writers and fiber artists,
potters, lapidarists, and some of history’s
most famous racistsfolks so deeply dyed
it’s not clear anymore what they’ll break for.

And I would be ready sure to steady burn
this sturdy cabin so clean, tendered
to me for shelter, for there is
no place in this good green earth
safe from its own history’s hollowed-out horrors.

Who among us can take a retreat from horrors,
who seeks to beat a hasty one from consequence or scrutiny,

and how do we make any peace
when even our retreats choose sides:
            fostering peace and unity
            recruits starched southerners to sponsor 
            apartheid in some land hallowed
            by war to hasten the end times,
            because in the beginning, this place housed travelers
            merely means meetings
            for the organizers and fundraisers of b’nai b’rith.
            and supporting his brethren 
            funds youth militias to clear houses and empty villages

In this gracious confrontation
under the sweet breath of branches
on land reclaimed by zion from the hands
of a clansman propagandist and a friend of presidents:
            Here we are supplied with a partial archive
            in a refuge built against two reckonings:
            so which lines are pointed enough
            to pierce the open copping to crimes
            left unlocked on library shelves, 
            framed on the wall, celebrated with a graven plaque?
            Every shelf is dreaming two nations’ glory.
            Every shelf is a recruitment, ahistory,
            every shelf complicity among the ruins.

My words endure in the frayed spine.
Peel back the coversheet and find:
I’m in your retreat, righting where the pages
of the deep south touch palestine.

Have I not come here to find safe harbor
at the point of a knife, daring respite
or the remediation of ill-gotten spoils
and spoiling for a fight, am I not reminded
no harbor is safe and every port is the point of a nation’s knife.

Related Poems


The problem here is that
This isn’t pretty, the
Sort of thing that

Can easily be dealt with
With words. After
All it’s

A horror story to sit,
A black man with
A white wife in

The middle of a hot
Sunday afternoon in
The Jefferson Hotel in

Richmond, Va., and wait
Like a criminal for service
From a young white waitress

Who has decided that
This looks like something
She doesn’t want

To be a part of. What poetry
Could describe the
Perfect angle of

This woman’s back as
She walks, just so,
Mapping the room off

Like the end of a
Border dispute, which
Metaphor could turn

The room more perfectly
Into a group of
Islands? And when

The manager finally
Arrives, what language
Do I use

To translate the nervous
Eye motions, the yawning
Afternoon silence, the

Prayer beneath
His simple inquiries,
The sherbet which

He then brings to the table personally,
Just to be certain
The doubt

Stays on our side
Of the fence? What do
We call the rich,

Sweet taste of
Frozen oranges in
This context? What do

We call a weight that
Doesn’t fingerprint,
Won’t shift,

And can’t explode?

Unwished For

I’m standing in my town’s ice cream shop when I notice them: the white couple smiling at me. Blonde woman standing beside a mailbox, waiting patiently for news, husband reassuringly placing a hand on her shoulder. The flyer they’re on is pink: international color of positivity in the face of infertility. They are having a hard time, my couple. That’s why they’re here in my ice cream shop. But they have faith, they’re trying, haven’t quit wanting what they want, in spite of it all.


             Could you be the one?


I lick the crest of my cone slowly, examine their bullet-pointed criteria.


             21 to 42 years


It’s not conscious, but somewhere inside a voice says: “Check.”


             No criminal record.                                       “Check.”

            No history of mental illness.


I say, out loud to the paper, not caring if the teenager behind me churning into an icy chunk with a steady fist hears, I say: “I know this is different, Susan, Jim, but I would never wish Frida to not have been hit by that trolley. I would never look her in the face and say, ‘I choose to unmake you and your paintings and your horroring heart. I rob the woods of your little deer.’”


“It’s different,” Susan says, “you’re not Frida.”


“Plus,” adds Jim, “that was physical. A freak accident. Try another argument.”


What they don’t want of me lives. It sees through my eyes that they would prefer it dead. It knows better than to whimper, or show defeat. What they don’t want of me breathes.


“Eugenicists,” it says


The woman gasps, hand to chest.


It continues: “You want to spare yourselves. That’s not love.”


“We don’t want her to suffer,” they chime in unison. Oh—her? It was decided: A girl. Claire. Or, Vanessa. Or, Claire. She’d have red curls, love olives, sing in her sleep.


“She doesn’t want to suffer either,” I peel the words open slowly, “but she’d rather be alive, than not suffer.”


I am not talking to a piece of paper in Herrell’s Ice Cream Shop. I am not invoking Frida. I am not naming an unloved ghost Claire. I’m licking my wrist of a smudge of strawberry cream, listening to the terrible Top 40 hit blaring overhead. I’m staring at the words No history of mental illness, trying to move my feet, and leave the world where this is taped up, natural as the moon.


Will the Normal Rockwell of our time paint me standing here before it? In my jean cutoffs, finishing what’s left of a soggy cone, drugs in my blood, unwished for by strangers.