Not the riverbank. Not the sedges
                   or the black hum

of blow flies that feed off a corpse.
                    Not the river. Not

its indifferent current. Not the bridge
                   or how it bemoans 

the loss of someone who’s left town
                 —the year, the date, 

unimportant. Not the address scribbled 
                  onto scrap paper.

Not the hospital or the room at home,
                 pulsing and humid.

Not the midwife who prays between 
                parted legs. Not

the just born baby. Not his open mouth 
               forming its first 

word because the word is stillborn. Not
                the afterbirth,

its collapse, a memory of its last breath. 
                 No. None of this.

I pretend I’m well-mannered and polite.
                 Wet with my grief.

Barefoot. Burdened by footprints I follow,
                those I’ve trekked

in the mud. I’ve come with no good sense
               of discretion. I seek

sins and secrets, what remains I excavate
                 from the coffin

or confessional. My tongue is pickled 
                in a jar of ink. 

The months have fed from my body 
               by the handful. 

Even so, I foam at the mouth for what
              was never mine.

Related Poems


In gratitude for all of it- theft, small pox, relocation and denial. Wa-do

We need to be stubborn for this work
Stubborn and loving.
The most difficult of lessons for me
Generous gifts
Are often given
By those who didn’t intend to give anything at all.

I call the slave master
Who lost track of my ancestor
A blanket for you
In gratitude.

I call the soldier
With a tired arm
Who didn’t cut deeply enough
Into my great great grandfather’s chest to kill clean.
I return your axehead
Cleaned and sharpened
May you wield it against others with equal skill.

Will the boarding school officer come up?
The one who didn’t take my Gram
Because of her crippled leg.
No use as a servant-such a shame with that face…

Finally the shopkeeper’s wife.
Who traded spoiled cans of fruit
For baskets that took a year each to make.
Thank you, Faith, for not poisoning
Quite all
Of my

Blankets for each of you,
And let no one say
That I am not
Grateful for your care.

Folding a Five-Cornered Star So the Corners Meet

This sadness I feel tonight is not my sadness.
Maybe it’s my father’s.
For having never been prized by his father.
For having never profited by his son.
This loneliness is Nobody’s. Nobody’s lonely
because Nobody was never born
and will never die.
This gloom is Someone Else’s.
Someone Else is gloomy
because he’s always someone else.
For so many years, I answered to a name,
and I can’t say who answered.
Mister Know Nothing? Brother Inconsolable?
Sister Every Secret Thing? Anybody? Somebody?
Somebody thinks:
With death for a bedfellow,
how could thinking be anything but restless?
Somebody thinks: God, I turn my hand face down
and You are You and I am me.  
I turn my hand face up
and You are the I
and I am your Thee.  
What happens when you turn your hand?
Lord, remember me.
I was born in the City of Victory,
on a street called Jalan Industri where,
each morning, the man selling rice cakes went by
pushing his cart, its little steamer whistling,
while at his waist, at the end of a red string,
a little brass bell
shivered into a fine, steady seizure.
This sleeplessness is not my sleeplessness.
It must be the stars’ insomnia.
And I am their earthbound descendant.
Someone, Anyone, No One, me, and Someone Else.
Five in a bed, and none of us can sleep.
Five in one body, begotten, not made.
And the sorrow we bear together is none of ours.
Maybe it’s Yours, God.
For living so near to Your creatures.
For suffering so many incarnations unknown to Yourself.
For remaining strange to lovers and friends,
and then outliving them and all of their names for You.
For living sometimes for years without a name.
And all of Your springtimes disheveled.
And all of Your winters one winter.

Lines Breaking

red pen in hand,
he tells me lines should
in order to empha-
certain words
like the ones in my family’s history:

that words are like the earth
back and
                forth during an
& that verse has more meaning
when words can teeter-

but as much as I try to
break the lines in their proper
there are words
that I cannot separate,
like father, mother and child,

words that I cannot break again
like father and leaving, mother and deserting,
child and hurting,

words that stay together all by themselves,

like immigration, isolation, desolation.