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Cynthia Dewi Oka

Cynthia Dewi Oka is the author of Salvage (Northwestern University Press, 2017). She is a member of the Sanctuary Advocate Coalition, which works to expand sanctuary in vision and practice through the framework of black-brown unity. She lives in Collingswood, New Jersey.

By This Poet


Redacted from a Know-Your-Rights Training Agenda—

That a potholed street in the middling borough of Collingswood, New Jersey, bears the name Atlantic, after an all-consuming body of water.
That all-consuming is Atlas’ curse to bear the heavens on his shoulders.
That after the fall of the gods, half of the heavens is darkness.
That inside the car speeding down the street, I believe I am safe from being halved. 
That “I” am not a white box, but a body of water.
That white is a pattern of boys who expect to live long enough to become men.
That some of these boys are whistling by on their bikes, and behind them, clear as a dream, welcome candles in the windows framed by blooms of vervain.
That “welcome” means I thought I was not afraid of the dark.
Since the jade scrubs of the cancer ward.
Since the florescent grid of the factory and the vista of small bones in my father’s collar while I was interpreting for the twenty-something-year-old white citizen,
                             “Tell your dad he can quit or I can fire him.”
Grief had already burst its cocoon; it ate him like an army of moths from the inside.
That brown men and women kept stitching jackets under the heavens of the machines.
That a moth is trapped in the car with me – it will die, but I do not want to practice florescence alone.
Like a first language bleeding hearts call, speaking truth to power.
I don’t know how they don’t know that power doesn’t care.
That watching fires go out will become a pattern.
That fire is everywhere, and therefore, cheap.
That the hole in my foundation is all-consuming and at its bottom a frangipani tree opens its yellow hands.
That POLICE ICE is printed in yellow or white on the jacket of the night.
That the night walks freely among the ranks of the sun.
That a body of water parted once like a red skirt then sealed over the armored horses of Egypt.
That Whitney Houston is a bone blasting
out the car windows.
That tonight, the night after, the night after that, for as long as the distance between god and a pothole, a moth’s flight will spell,
                                	“They are coming for you.”

Portrait of My Father as a Pianist

Behind disinfected curtains,
           beyond touch of sunrise
devouring the terrible gold

           of leaves, a man could be
his own eternal night. City
           flattened to rubble, his

surviving height a black flight
           of notes: the chip-toothed
blade and oldest anesthetic.

           Escaped convict, he climbs
wild-eyed, one hand out—
           running its twin on the rails

of a broken Steinway. Who
           has not been found guilty
of a carrion cry—the dream

           of a feathered departure
one has not earned, then fall
           back down teeming fault lines

of the flesh? Memory recedes
           into nocturne, a kingdom born
of spruce and fading light—

           he reaches in the end what
he had to begin with: fingertips
           on corrupted tissue, cathedral

of octaves in his thinning
           breath, tears like small stubborn
gods refusing to fall.