They Don't Love You Like I Love You

- 1978-

My mother said this to me
long before Beyoncé lifted the lyrics
from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,

and what my mother meant by
Don’t stray was that she knew
all about it—the way it feels to need

someone to love you, someone
not your kind, someone white,
some one some many who live

because so many of mine
have not, and further, live on top of
those of ours who don’t.

I’ll say, say, say,
I’ll say, say, say,
What is the United States if not a clot

of clouds? If not spilled milk? Or blood?
If not the place we once were
in the millions? America is Maps

Maps are ghosts: white and 
layered with people and places I see through.
My mother has always known best,

knew that I’d been begging for them,
to lay my face against their white
laps, to be held in something more

than the loud light of their projectors
of themselves they flicker—sepia
or blue—all over my body.

All this time,
I thought my mother said, Wait,
as in, Give them a little more time

to know your worth,
when really, she said, Weight,
meaning heft, preparing me

for the yoke of myself,
the beast of my country’s burdens,
which is less worse than

my country’s plow. Yes,
when my mother said,
They don’t love you like I love you,

she meant,
Natalie, that doesn’t mean
you aren’t good.



*The italicized words, with the exception of the final stanza, come from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song "Maps."

My Brother At 3 AM

He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps
when Mom unlocked and opened the front door.
     O God, he said, O God.
           He wants to kill me, Mom.

When Mom unlocked and opened the front door
at 3 a.m., she was in her nightgown, Dad was asleep.
     He wants to kill me, he told her,
           looking over his shoulder.

3 a.m. and in her nightgown, Dad asleep,
What's going on? she asked, Who wants to kill you?
     He looked over his shoulder.
           The devil does. Look at him, over there.

She asked, What are you on? Who wants to kill you?
The sky wasn't black or blue but the green of a dying night.
     The devil, look at him, over there.
           He pointed to the corner house.

The sky wasn't black or blue but the dying green of night.
Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.
     My brother pointed to the corner house.
           His lips flickered with sores.

Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.
O God, I can see the tail, he said, O God, look.
     Mom winced at the sores on his lips.
           It's sticking out from behind the house.

O God, see the tail, he said, Look at the goddamned tail.
He sat cross-legged, weeping on the front steps.
     Mom finally saw it, a hellish vision, my brother.
           O God, O God, she said.

Grief Work

I have gazed the black flower blooming
her animal eye. Gacela oscura. Negra llorona.

Along the clayen banks I follow her-astonished,
gathering grief’s petals she lets fall like horns.

Why not now go toward the things I love?

Like Jacob’s angel, I touched the garnet of her wrist,
and she knew my name. And I knew hers—
it was Auxocromo, it was Cromóforo, it was Eliza.
It hurtled through me like honeyed-rum.

When the eyes and lips are touched with honey
what is seen and said will never be the same.

Eve took the apple in that ache-opened mouth,
on fire and in pieces, from the knife’s sharp edge.

In the photo her fist presses against the red-gold
geometry of her thigh. Black nylon, black garter,
unsolvable mysterium—I have to close my eyes to see.

Achilles chasing Hektor round the walls of Ilium
three times. How long must I circle
the high gate above her knees?

Again the gods put their large hands in me,
move me, break my heart like a clay jar of wine,
loosen a beast from some darklong depth—

my melancholy is hoofed. I, the terrible beautiful
Lampon, a shining devour-horse tethered
at the bronze manger of her collarbones.

I do my grief work with her body—labor
to make the emerald tigers in her hips leap,
lead them burning green
to drink from the violet jetting her.

We go where there is love, to the river,
on our knees beneath the sweet water.
I pull her under four times
until we are rivered. We are rearranged.

I wash the silk and silt of her from my hands—
now who I come to, I come clean to, I come good to.

Why I Don’t Mention Flowers When Conversations with My Brother Reach Uncomfortable Silences

Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing
flowers home.
Wisława Szymborska

In the Kashmir mountains,
my brother shot many men,
blew skulls from brown skins,
dyed white desert sand crimson.

What is there to say to a man
who has traversed such a world,
whose hands and eyes have
betrayed him?

Were there flowers there? I asked.

This is what he told me:

In a village, many men
wrapped a woman in a sheet.
She didn't struggle.
Her bare feet dragged in the dirt.

They laid her in the road
and stoned her.

The first man was her father.
He threw two stones in a row.
Her brother had filled his pockets
with stones on the way there.

The crowd was a hive
of disturbed bees. The volley
of stones against her body
drowned out her moans.

Blood burst through the sheet
like a patch of violets,
a hundred roses in bloom.

Related Poems

Poem for Haruko

I never thought I’d keep a record of my pain
or happiness
like candles lighting the entire soft lace
of the air
around the full length of your hair/a shower
organized by God
in brown and auburn
undulations luminous like particles
of flame
But now I do
retrieve an afternoon of apricots
and water interspersed with cigarettes
and sand and rocks
we walked across:
                        How easily you held
my hand
beside the low tide
of the world

Now I do
relive an evening of retreat
a bridge I left behind
where all the solid heat
of lust and tender trembling
lay as cruel and as kind
as passion spins its infinite
tergiversations in between the bitter
and the sweet

Alone and longing for you
now I do

The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.

I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs

and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead

on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow

feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.

I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot

feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls

skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.

To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white

petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am

in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.

memories of the good daughter

pitorro is what cows use at night to remember day.
god's wine hangs from balconies to signal it's safe.
tourists buy towels with parrots,
on their way to my town.
if they even pass through my town.

my town, which is my mother's town.

we stop by añasco's post office.
we have a task list.
i still have hair.
they recognize me as sotero's granddaughter.
we climb up the stairs to a tobaccoed sofa
full of withered flowers as if this were maría.
they bring us coffee and soda crackers.
i listen to unrecognizable names,
and learn these are my blood.
i don't speak this language,
but they lend me the words.
how is yoli? and school?

my first girlfriend is from a similar town.
we text each other in the bathroom.
i tell her i miss her.
she tells me they're going to the church retreat.
when i come out, my body molds itself
to certain postural expectations.

morning's dimensions are tricky,
a word i acquired in california or nebraska.
it means my uncles enter and leave the house,
so i can't watch tv by myself.

múcaros divide the land amongst cousins.
they fly according to lines drawn in the treaty.
i go into town to buy eggs and on the way
i roll down the front seat window so the humidity
can enter with cold peach light.

i don't understand what sort of memories i'm supposed to have.
one where i didn't go with my boyfriend to the movies every friday,
where i didn't waste my time looking at shoes or eating at el mesón?

maybe one where i didn't lie to my family for years,
faking i was the good daughter,
or one where they don't tell me it's okay,
as they step outside to water the plants.

my grandmother's hand on my chin says qué linda.
with this accomplishment, the fossils rest and i rise.
but i wasn't asleep, nor good, nor a daughter.

las memorias de la hija buena

pitorro es lo que usan las vacas para recordar el día.
el vino de dios cuelga de los balcones para señalar que es seguro.
los turistas compran toallas con cotorras,
de camino a mi pueblo,
si es que pasan por mi pueblo.

mi pueblo no es sino el pueblo de mi madre.

vamos al correo de añasco.
existen las gestiones.
tengo pelo todavía.
me reconocen como la nieta de sotero.
subimos escaleras hasta un sofá atabacado
con patrón de flores marchitas
como si esto fuese maría.
sacan café y galletas de esporsoda.
escucho nombres irreconocibles.
aprendo que estos son mi sangre.
no hablo este idioma,
pero me prestan las palabras.
¿cómo está yoli? ¿y la escuela?

mi primera novia es de un pueblo similar.
nos texteamos en el baño.
le digo que la extraño.
me dice que van al retiro de la iglesia.
cuando salgo, mi cuerpo se amolda
a ciertas expectativas de la postura.

las dimensiones de la mañana son tricky,
una palabra adquirida en california o nebraska.
significa que entran y salen los tíos de la casa,
y no puedo sentarme a ver televisión sola.

los múcaros dividen el terreno entre los primos.
vuelan según las líneas trazadas por el acuerdo.
bajo a comprar huevos y de camino
bajo la ventana del asiento delantero
para que entre la humedad
con la luz de melocotón frío.

no entiendo bien qué clase de recuerdos se supone que tenga.
¿una donde no fui con mi novio cada viernes al cine,
donde no pasé tiempo mirando zapatos o comiendo en el mesón?

quizás una donde no le mentí a mi familia por años,
fingiendo que era la hija buena,
o una donde no me dicen que está bien,
mientras salen al patio a cuidar las matas.

la mano de mi abuela en mi mentón me dice qué linda.
con este logro, descansan los fósiles y despierto.
pero no dormía, ni era buena, ni era hija.