Self-Portrait in Charleston, Orlando

The news this morning
said that Ramadi
had fallen to ISIS
and that the president
did not have a plan
to push them back
into the Anbar province
though I have a plan
to walk down to the
beach in silence perhaps
where I will stand
in water the temperature
of most corpses
and look out over
the shapeless ocean—
its waves shifting from
one color to the next,
this moment the shade
of an old bruise—
toward Japan,
which I imagine I see
across the map of
motion, that mystical
country which has
almost completely
ridden itself of guns,
like the one the boy
used to shoot nine
people assembled
to worship a man whose
skin history tells us
was the same color
as theirs, that mythical
man who may have walked
the streets of Ramadi in
those missing years
between his youth and
his destiny, and who
knows how many
of the slain
he may have raised
in those streets,
or pulled up out
of night into the
long daylight of the
not-yet-lived,
birthed back into
the skin of suffering,
or how many the man
might have dipped
into those mythical waters
that eventually emptied into
the Gulf of Oman and then
into the Arabian Sea
before their long walk
of waves across
time and history
to South Carolina and
into Charleston
but then retreating to
work their way down
the Eastern coast of
Florida and perhaps
even inland to
Orlando and then
back out again around
every country, every
boat, every body before
arriving on the beaches
of San Francisco on
the far end of the other
side of that mythical
continent, perhaps
even where I am
standing, the water’s
color like a bullet, and I
wonder if all life is
somehow loaded into
the chamber of a rifle,
the long tunnel of
darkness before us
our birthright and even
our destiny, all of it
as close to the hammer
as the width of these
lines, themselves an
inheritance of something
I am only now
beginning to understand,
like an insurrection
that no one saw,
not even those
in it, not even the man
with his hand on the trigger
or the people ready to rise.

Alternate Self-Portrait

One day

I will drift

into darkness

and know it

perhaps

the way a son

recognizes a mother

after he has returned

from many years

of travel

understanding

the new distance

is neither

beginning nor

end

only stillness
 

Poem Begun on the Day of My Father's funeral and Completed on the first Day of the New Year

Light the last light and lift—
                                                                                                  and lift again in to that obscurity—

blue-skinned sky & what it cannot lead to—

                                                 the always immolated flesh of this world’s bone-shell—

what lasts? what goes like a trumpet blast

                                                                                                  through the feathered

                        ear of the angel? There

                                                                                                          & being & the evening air—

is in everything plummet—
                                                                                                                               & yet we go even some-
         times rise—have you wondered?

                                                                                                                               that dark wick—flame both
inward & below light the first fire—

                                                                                                                               what does not burn

                                                      might still die—& yet

                                                                                              what does not might grow—may graft—

                           like leaf & branch together—
                                                                                                                                              live this long lull
before the last:
                                                                let this
                                                                                                    let my words

leave their black axe next to the tree
                                                                                                                             & may
                         the grace
                                                of grace

feel through its fall

                                                                        the way—

I Never Knew I Loved Dean Rader

after Hikmet/O’Hara/Reeves/Vuong

Someday, I’ll love Dean Rader
                                                          the way the blue jay
loves the sparrow egg,
or perhaps the way the waves love the curve they give
themselves to when giving is no longer an option
like falling or dreaming
                                           or even being on this earth,
in this body.
                          Someday I’ll love my body, itself a form of silence,
which is not the same as being quiet, 
even though we are sentenced to this language with its strange letters,
their shapes like bowls, small sticks, the bellies of pregnant women, 
as though everything spelled 
                                                      must also be birthed and broken,
cracked open and spilled, 
                                                filled with the absence of what won’t do,
like waiting for the earth to tap out your name.
                                                                            I never knew I loved my name, 
can someone who has never believed his name love it? 

Once on a train to Serbia a soldier woke me from a dream I still remember
and pointed a gun at my right shoulder. 
                                                                                              I never knew 
I loved my shoulder until I placed my son’s head there 
our first night home from the hospital, 
                                                                      his chest lifting like an umbrella
in a storm. I don’t like comparing my son to an umbrella,
though he has known what it is to be folded, 
                                                                                to be wet and cold.
Someday I will love the cold,
                                                     not just as metaphor but as a means to clarity,
which is what I need this November night, 
the moon swinging in its black noose over the city,
the entire world hooded, 
                                             blindfolded perhaps,
lined up against a wall and waiting,
                                                                       the way a reader waits,
for a poem to get where it’s going. 

Someday I will love the poem, 
                                                         the way I will love being afraid,
but this is not what I want to say.
It is something more like this: 
                                                       the future is not what it used to be,
and even that is only part of it.
The other part has something to do with speculation, 
like what awaits us when we remove the hood. 
                                                                           I never knew I loved blindness. 
The punishment for sight is always forgiveness.
Someday I will love forgiveness, 
                                            but it is difficult to love what has not been earned.

My grandfather when he was tenderest would call me Dean Dean,
and I felt like a child 
                          in the body of a boy who believed he had the ideas of a man.
Every morning after breakfast he and my grandmother
would throw leftover toast into the backyard for the birds.
I just remembered the birds and the bread. 
                                                                                          I love them both. 
Someday I will love more things, 
                                                                   and I will not think of death,
and even if I do I will not feel saddened by the end
of the person who wears my name, 
                                                               even though it is always easy to mourn 
                            a stranger.

*To read this poem in its intended format, please click here from your laptop or desktop.

Related Poems

@ the Crossroads—A Sudden American Poem

       RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
       officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
       Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa
—and all 
       their families. And to all those injured.

 

                                                Let us celebrate the lives of all

As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths

Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace

& chanted Black Lives Matter

Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect 

Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,

Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke

Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately

Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find 

The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing


Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him

                                                           what happened in Afghanistan

                                           what
            flames burned inside


(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot

Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm 

& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was

That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas)


This could be the first step 

            in the new evaluation of our society    This could be

                the first step of all of our lives