for Michael Brown (1996–2014)

Officer, for hours I lay there.
The sun at my back.
My blood running a country

mile between the pavement
and the crown of my head.
No ambulance ever came.

It took a long time to cover my body.
There are politics to death
and here politics performs

its own autopsies. My aunties
say things like, Boy big and black as you.
Then, the prosecution rests.

My neighbors never do. They lose
sleep as the National Guard parades
down Canfield. I heard my blood

was barely dry. I heard there were soldiers
beating their shields like war cries,
my boys holding hands to hold on

through your tear gas. Heard my mother
wandered the streets,
her body trembling

between a sign of a cross
and a fist. I heard a rumor
about riots got started.

Officer, I heard that after so much blood,
the ground develops
a taste for it.

Today Is a Photograph

All the children
my sister has left

kneeling in a garden.
It is an orange spider

crushed between their teeth,
becoming heirs

to each other’s hungers.
We know better than to have

daughters now.
Today is not a crown

it is a forceps, the sunken
flower of my sister's waist.

Today it only took a minute
to discover who among us was cruel.

Before her morning salatr, my sister digs
her feet in a lake. By winter,

blue throated robins
will have gathered.

Today is one place to bury a child
and what you say after.

Or else today is just domestic work.
How her bare feet touched mine,

the fern finding its way
back to life. Today is the scar I put on

her thigh. God, a man
who will always be hungry.

Kiss her, and the throne looks
empty. Today my sister

is a door put on backwards.
But maybe, snow finds the cypress.

Or the cancer
comes back.

Or maybe today is just another day
between the small

So many times

I have pulled my sister's bones apart.
Took the femur

from the tibia. I buried my sister
in the backyard; can't tell you

how long I have knelt
to this regret.

Today my sister’s teeth are slats
on the broken bridge between us.

Doing dishes we bare our elbows
one sleeve at a time

and today is her husband’s
stain on the bed sheets,

whatever name dark has learned to call itself.
We were like our parents today,

having our enemies name
our children.

Naming Ceremony

My father, who spends most of his days painting

pictures, says coming home to my mother

stroking out was like walking in on an affair.

Bending, he demonstrates how

an aneurism hugged my mother

to her knees. A man always

at his easel, my father tries to draw clarity

from obfuscation. Every retelling:

bluer, then redder. His memory

a primary color saturating

the ears of whomever he can will

to listen. Over and over, my father draws a loss

so big it is itself an inception, a story

he knows better than the day

his daughters were born.

His heart is strong.

He has the receipts:

a scar between his breasts

that I’ve cleaned like a smudge on a window.

Over and over, my father draws me

a picture of the crescent moon

fishooking her hospital room.

He loses the story for the pleasure

of finding it.

We lived in this

maze for years. I can tell you

our best days weren’t glad.

He’s a history

whittled down to this

single story. In my version,

when her mind blew,

boys were playing Beirut,

crushing cans of Pabst

against their shoulders.

White balls flicked into solo cups.

The night turning

like the wheels of a far away gurney.

In their basements, I was an animal. Not yet

knowing how loss finds its way to you,

or that sometimes when you think you are playing

someone else is dead.

These are the ways in which we come

to name things.


Hafizah, when you sleep, a storm suddenly opens its jaw like that ancient dog your neighbors used to beat in front of God and everybody. The wasps duel like prophets and hide their nests in your clothes. Every day your eyes are barefoot. A child could kick the door of you in. So what if you are some kind of Icarus? Sunlight jails itself in your bone. Remember when our eyes were two halves of a locket? And on TV, women were so crazy men had to snatch them by their elbows? You still look like the first time we learned swans were vicious. That year you could carry not even your name. Let’s pretend this grief is possible to initiate when sober. Let’s pretend I am Paula no more. Fact— if you segregate the kingdom by genus you will find the moon bears all the markers of a boarded up fireplace, that the blowflies always find the coyote. In the game of truth, you pick the dare every time.