Voice Clear As

When my mom discovers heaven’s just a noise festival

the godchoir of all her loves breathing
unsnagged by asthma or Newport-dragged lung

the true song life makes untethered from a body
tugged at last from the men who hold its reins

will she blame her pastors (like I did)
for Sunday portraits of pooled white gold?

Will she miss the wooden flute of her body
mourn the days corner-propped, cloaked in dust

too pious to disturb a room’s skin cells
and stray hair with her sound

snapped awake at the nightmare of a slip fringe
the private note sung aloud?

Or, unburdened by hell

will she exhale
and hear the bells?

A Financial Planner Asks About My Goals, or Golden Shovel with Cardi B’s “Money”

Never touch-starved again, forever a chub-bellied baby sexed big
Skin a heatmapped catalogue of hands still wet still grasping still blood-fat
Behind every steam-slammed door, playplush beds as good as checks
Whole home stitched with only these rooms, only this near-rip big
Kitchen table perfect island for the stranding, meals propped heaven-large
Backyard a honey-dripped grove named Eden, ripe land of no bills
Whatever drops first, spice-adorned, sauce slicked back-to-front
Splayed open slow, tempting a spill, grateful to be devoured like I’ll
Make my giggling groommates, spit-tethered hips churned tender flip
Down smeared-open mouths or whole wedding cakes or any drown we like
Just measure by the fistful how thick this slick can coat a sigh, add ten
And that’d be balm enough to dizzytrip my lonely and her cartwheels

Theory of Plate Tectonics

She says New England hoards college girls like cherries in its cheek,
tongue-tying legs to knots, making party tricks out of people.
Says it’s an old currency, wads of tangled stems tumored with
unfinished bows. Says the quick ones learn to curl like ribbon.
The brave ones learn to run with their hands. The pretty ones
knot and knot into rope and callus, none of their blood stays long.
But half butane, half lemon juice, all pit, no skin, us sad ones
are a new fruit. I tell her we should shower more. Eat something
besides black pepper and rum. I tell her darling, the teapot’s
melted to the stove, the mugs chipped in hazardous places,
dropped from scalded hands to blades, stealing lips from our guests.
She reminds me we have no guests here, just the half-dead boys
we’ve specialized in trapping, leggy never-giants too grateful
to run so now cups brimming with sliced mouths, kitchen table
littered with scabs, we pick over the charred parts: thirteen matchheads
sawed from stems with his sharpest key (ours now); half a collarbone,
still warm (ours now); the lightbulb he almost smashed into her throat
when he learned not all flightless soft-bodied girls are fireflies
(ours to shatter in the rooftop shadows just like one of us).
She tells me Paris is all glitter and ash this time of year,
red-velvet gloved and scowled. Tells me Cape Town paves its streets with wings
that shimmy for stray coins. Says she’s got a naked man waiting
in Havana and his neighbor owes her seven cigarettes.
She’s been studying plate tectonics. Whispering spells for Pangaea.
Lighting candles for the Great Rift Valley with bootleg magma
from Kilimanjaro. Branding Himalayas to her calves’
Appalachia. Speed testing smoke signals hitched to waves.
She asks me the difference between arson and wildfire.
I say arson is chain-smoking with her Tinder wax doll collection.
Wildfire misusing match blaze as daylight. Should have said
the difference depends on what’s burning. Should have said
we have such old bones for such new people, more cinder than marrow.
We feel safe in all the wrong places, most at home in flames.

Undelivered Message to the Sky: November 9, 2016

You were in my dream last night. Titanic falling.
Every cop siren pocking your blue. Shots fired
fired far above my head by trembling men, and then
a terrible rain.          Still, you sank,
and all the creatures bowed—except the humans.
We broke ourselves screaming, but there was no sound.
In that silence, something wicked came aloud.
Before you landed, nothing left but littered,
gaping mouths. When I woke up,

I felt it. A twitching in my teeth.
The rumble of a nearby rapture. I opened the blinds
and a pack of white women were wailing down Maple,
crying into potholes, writhing in the street
like worms. One saw me, then the wails grew
and turned into a chorus of sorry sorry sorry
so sorry we’re sorry and I wished Yemoja
would sling an ocean out my throat. But all I had
was English—blindfolds, trick knives,
no real magic. Nothing in their language
makes them disappear. That’s why the guns
and cages. Why they cut our tongues. Because
we would call, and you would come.

Related Poems

What I Mean When I Say Elijah-Man

And it came to pass, […] there appeared a chariot of fire
and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah
went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it,
and he cried, My father, my father . . .
            —2 Kings 2:11–12

That Sunday in Chehalis, my father testified
and I watched as he wept before the pulpit,

his shoulders heaving, his hands
clapping up thunder above our heads,

his mouth open on the note of awe as he told us
the promise God had made in the dream:

to bring him Home before he tasted death . . .
to wake him with the scent of flowers, proof

of His presence. I learned to cry like that, as if
I could sprain the heart, the body hurting its way out.

But that morning my mind snuck
back to the nights he took paychecks and split,

sometimes for weeks, his head and body
humming for dope, his wife and kids

suspended by the boundlessness of waiting.
If he returned, if his pockets were empty,

if the locks had been changed, I’d watch
from the window as he jumped and hollered,

wide-eyed and ripping the gate from its hinges or
shattering the windshields of cars along our street

with his fists—how, as the sirens drew near,
not even God could stop him.

Jim Limber in Heaven Writes His Name in Water

You walk through Heaven anywhere to any-

where on that soft green grass    or nowhere it

Don’t matter anywhere you walk a bright

And cool and it’s about    a foot-wide stream of

The cleanest water anywhere with each

Step you take parts the grass beside you

On your left side    if you’re left-handed

And on your right side otherwise just reach

 

Down if you’re thirsty or you’re dirty or

You’re hot    they got the sun in Heaven still

And folks get hot sometimes    me    sometimes I

Walk just to see the stream appear

Sometimes I lead it    through my name    on Earth I couldn’t spell

My name now my great thirst has been revealed to me

"All Puffy and White, Goldish, Harpy, and Angelonic"


This the neighbor boy’s exact description of heaven. Which he blissfully ad-libbed from the pulpit, like some Shackleton on laudanum describing the white hell in which he was forced to sacrifice his own sled dogs. But laced with tenderness. Take that, Saint John of Patmos, take that, Thomas Aquinas and dour Kierkegaard, with your cubits and mystic ecstasies and dialectical ladders. Something about that nasal teenage voice, all mercy, lifted me out of the morass of nettles I call my life. He wore a fauxhawk and flip-flops, a Star of David etched in ink across the back of his right hand. Not for symbolism, but for the fun of it. Next week a smiley face, the week after that thunderbolts. Oh, to be seventeen. I was already back in the nettles, clenching and unclenching my fists, like a seasoned sled driver deciding which of my loyal huskies to eat first.