what i never
from my mother
just because someone desires you
not mean they value you.
desire is the kind of thing that
leaves you starving.
what i never
from my mother
just because someone desires you
not mean they value you.
desire is the kind of thing that
leaves you starving.
now i wish i were asleep, to see my dreams taking place
i wish i were more awake
i wish a sweet rush of tears to my eyes
wish a nose like an eagle
i wish blue sky in the afternoon
bigger windows, & a panorama—light, buildings & people in street air
wish my teeth were white and sparkled
wish my legs were not where they are—where they are
i wish the days warmly cool & clothes i like to be inside of
wish i were walking around in chelsea (ny) & it was 5:15 a.m., the
sun coming up, alone, you asleep at home
i wish red rage came easier
i wish death, but not just now
i wish i were driving alone across america in a gold cadillac
toward california, & my best friend
i wish i were in love, & you here
of inclement climate
too stoic to open,
like an oyster
that cloisters a spoil of pearls,
the heart that’s had
so there you have it, jack…my desire and my withholding.
what i can and cannot give.
after learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
i heard the announcement:
if anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-a understands any arabic,
please come to the gate immediately.
well — one pauses these days. gate 4-a was my own gate. i went there.
an older woman in full traditional palestinian dress,
just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
help, said the flight service person. talk to her. what is her
problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
i put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
sho bit se-wee?
the minute she heard any words she knew — however poorly used -
she stopped crying.
she thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
she needed to be in el paso for some major medical treatment the
following day. i said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
who is picking you up? let’s call him and tell him.
we called her son and i spoke with him in english.
i told him i would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
would ride next to her — southwest.
she talked to him. then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in arabic and
found out of course they had ten shared friends.
then i thought just for the heck of it why not call some palestinian
poets i know and let them chat with her. this all took up about 2 hours.
she was laughing a lot by then. telling about her life. answering
she had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered
sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag —
and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
to my amazement, not a single woman declined one. it was like a
sacrament. the traveler from argentina, the traveler from california,
the lovely woman from laredo — we were all covered with the same
powdered sugar. and smiling. there are no better cookies.
and then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers —
non-alcoholic — and the two little girls for our flight, one african
american, one mexican american — ran around serving us all apple juice
and lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
and i noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands —
had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
with green furry leaves. such an old country traveling tradition. always
carry a plant. always stay rooted to somewhere.
and i looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
this is the world i want to live in. the shared world.
not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped
— has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
they took the cookies. i wanted to hug all those other women too.
this can still happen anywhere.
not everything is lost.
long after i thought
i had done with grieving
there arose in my chest
between the sternum and clavicle
a soft commotion, like the gerbils
caged in my niece’s room
that race all night across the furious wheel.
it would start when i least expected—
in the theater during credits
or among the squash and spinach
of the produce aisle. my breath
would catch, my hand flutter to that spot
the way a mother’s hand
rises instinctively to her child’s brow
as if touch itself could bring the fever down.
anxiety attacks, my doctor said,
scribbling in hieroglyphics his perfect cure.
i took the pills, and sure enough
the palpitations stopped, packed up and moved
like a band evicted from the premises.
but i found i missed
that little tuning up of cymbals and drums
the way i still missed you
and threw the pills away.
when i think of your heart, i think of a snakebite to
uncountable lifetimes ago there was an empire in
egypt. we burned the libraries. we destroyed the
temples. everything that was beautiful then is lost
to us now.
these days, poetry is the only language i know how
to speak. but you speak anthropology. you speak
hieroglyphs. you spend your life studying things i
only bury in metaphors.
when i think of my heart, i think of stone tombs.
last year, they found cleopatra’s palace sunk deep
in the mediterranean sea. but anything they could
learn from the ruins of her home is not worth empty-
ing oceans for.
i love you like i love
all beautiful things.
true beauty is truly seldom.
you were. you are
in may. may now is looking onto
the june that is coming up.
this is how i measure
the year. everything was my fault
has been the theme of the song
i’ve been singing,
even when you’ve told me to quiet.
i haven’t been quiet.
i’ve been crying. i think you
have forgiven me. you keep
putting your hand on my shoulder
when i’m crying.
thank you for that. and
for the ineffable sense
of continuance. you were. you are
the brightest thing in the shop window
and the most beautiful seldom i ever saw.
when the best of it is prized from the dung
of the sumatran common palm civet,
sweetened like a cherry in the gut
of this little island cat, i feel better
about not drinking coffee, sipping instead sweet
tea crude as a hammer. i feel
better that i never read much
tolstoy, stopped at the bulwark of so much
french. i should begin
a second life. i should not dream
of my macrobiotic afterlife
in which i am what i do not eat
and the animals i loved enough
to eat grass, to pretend one thing was another,
purr and sing and chirp
sweet hosannas outside my bedroom window
where sometimes we made
love but never continuances
of our selves which we’d name
hank or emily while saving up for harvard.
i feel better that none of me
works well at all,
that for twenty years the fog
has never lifted
from the landscape i mean to cease defiling
someday. thank you
cards i should have mailed
and gifts given
and favors repaid with crippling interest
i grow to love
the way i once loved
shame. what will i do with my days
now that my nights
are sublimely alone
and how will i make use of this wound
i carried like a map
so that i would never, never
i’m always thinking about lot’s wife,
wonder what her neighbors thought
when she packed up her tunics and cooking pots
and left town without so much as a fare thee well.
dave, the guy i work with says, “it’s because
she was a sinful woman in a sinful town.
you know where the word sodomy comes from.”
i tell him, “sodomy’s been made legal in texas.
i read it in the paper yesterday.”
dave has been known to get down on his knees
and pray before a computer, but it never seems
to work because it’s always messed up.
“you see, dave, if she’d had a name, maybe someone
could have called to her, maybe she might
not have turned back.” i’m obsessed with this,
it’s true, but i can’t get the no-name-pillar-of-salt thing
out of my head, and this woman
who probably left with wash on the line
and goat stew simmering on the fire.
and, then there are those two daughters,
who later lay with their father, there being no
other men worth their salt in that mountain town
where they ended up. “good thing she wasn’t around
to see that kind of sodomy,” i say. “women
need guidance. remember eve?”
i tell him, “let’s agree to disagree on this.”
he glares at me; his face turns red; pimples
stand out like, like angry mountains, i think.
“beside, dave, lot lingered—he lingered,
and god took mercy on him. i want
mercy for her. and a name, dave,
a name for god’s sake. please call her
something besides ‘lot’s wife’.”
dave takes my hand, says, “kneel with me
and let’s pray for you, my disagreeable friend,
and for all those sick people in texas.”
meanwhile, the computer flashes:
this program has performed an illegal operation.
“how about loretta?” i ask, thinking of my best friend
from high school. i shuck off his hand and add,
“it’s a good name, and mary’s been used.”
—and when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a wednesday and a saturday,
and most especially when you have forgotten sunday—
when you have forgotten sunday halves in bed,
or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon
looking off down the long street
hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
and nothing-i-have-to-do and i’m-happy-why?
when you have forgotten that, i say,
and how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
and how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
and how we finally went in to sunday dinner,
that is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
to sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
or chicken and rice
and salad and rye bread and tea
and chocolate chip cookies—
i say, when you have forgotten that,
when you have forgotten my little presentiment
that the war would be over before they got to you;
and how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed,
and lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
then gently folded into each other—
when you have, i say, forgotten all that,
then you may tell,
then i may believe
you have forgotten me well.
you will never be let down by anyone
more than you will be let down
by the one you love most in the world
it’s how gravity works
it’s why they call it “falling”
it’s why the truth is harder to tell
you have more to lose
but you can choose to bury your past
in the garden
beside the tulips
until it’s so alive
it lets go
and you belong to yourself
when you belong to yourself again
is not a tidy grave
it is a ready loyal knight kneeling before your royal heart
call in your royal heart
tell it bravery cannot be measured by a lack of fear
it takes guts to tremble
it takes so much tremble to love
every first date is a fucking earth quake
sweetheart, on our first date
i showed off all my therapy
i flaunted the couch
where i finally sweat out my history
pulled out the photo album from the last time i wore a lie to the school dance
i smiled and said “that was never my style
look how fixed i am
look how there’s no more drywall on my fist
look at the stilts i’ve carved for my short temper
look how my wrist is not something i have to hide” i said
well i was hiding it
the telephone pole still down from the storm
by our third date i had fixed the line
i said listen,
i have a hard time
i mean i cry as often as most people pee and i don’t shut the door behind me
i’ll be up in your face screaming “seattle is too rainy seattle is too rainy
i’m never going to be able to live here.”
i sobbed on our fourth date
i can’t live here
in my body, i mean
i can’t live in my body all the time it feels too much
so if i ever feel far away know i am not gone
i am just underneath my grief
adjusting the dial on my radio face so i can take this life with all
of it’s love and all of it’s loss
see i already know that you are the place where i am finally going to
sing without any static meaning
i’m never gonna wait
that extra twenty minutes
to text you back,
and i’m never gonna play
hard to get
when i know your life
has been hard enough already.
when we all know everyone’s life
has been hard enough already
it’s hard to watch
the game we make of love,
like everyone’s playing checkers
with their scars,
whenever they get out
without a broken heart.
just to be clear
i don’t want to get out
without a broken heart.
i intend to leave this life
there’s gonna have to be
a thousand separate heavens
for all of my separate parts
and none of those parts are going to be wearing the romance from the
overpriced vintage rack
that is to say i am not going to get a single speed bike if i can’t
make it up the hill
i know exactly how many gears i’m going to need to love you well
and none of them look hip at the hot coffee shop
they all have god saying “good job you’re finally not full of bullshit”
you finally met someone who’s going to flatten your knee caps into
baby, throw me
throw me as far as i can go
i don’t want to leave this life without ever having come home
and i want to come home to you
i can figure out the rain
poetry, i tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though sterling brown said
“every ‘i’ is a dramatic ‘i’”)
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, god
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and i’m sorry the dog died.
poetry (here i hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?
1. i told you that i was a roadway of potholes, not safe to cross. you said nothing, showed up in my driveway wearing roller-skates.
2. the first time i asked you on a date, after you hung up, i held the air between our phones against my ear and whispered, “you will fall in love with me. then, just months later, you will fall out. i will pretend the entire time that i don’t know it’s coming.”
3. once, i got naked and danced around your bedroom, awkward and safe. you did the same. we held each other without hesitation and flailed lovely. this was vulnerability foreplay.
4. the last eight times i told you i loved you, they sounded like apologies.
5. you recorded me a cd of you repeating, “you are beautiful.” i listened to it until i no longer thought in my own voice.
6. into the half-empty phone line, i whispered, “we will wake up believing the worst in each other. we will spit shrapnel at each other’s hearts. the bruises will lodge somewhere we don’t know how to look for and i will still pretend i don’t know its coming.”
7. you photographed my eyebrow shapes and turned them into flashcards: mood on one side, correct response on the other. you studied them until you knew when to stay silent.
8. i bought you an entire bakery so that we could eat nothing but breakfast for a week. breakfast, untainted by the day ahead, was when we still smiled at each other as if we meant it.
9. i whispered, “i will latch on like a deadbolt to a door and tell you it is only because i want to protect you. really, i’m afraid that without you i mean nothing.”
10. i gave you a bouquet of plane tickets so i could practice the feeling of watching you leave.
11. i picked you up from the airport limping. in your absence, i’d forgotten how to walk. when i collapsed at your feet, you refused to look at me until i learned to stand up without your help.
12. too scared to move, i stared while you set fire to your apartment – its walls decaying beyond repair, roaches invading the corpse of your bedroom. you tossed all the faulty appliances through the smoke out your window, screaming that you couldn’t handle choking on one more thing that wouldn’t just fix himself.
13. i whispered, “we will each weed through the last year and try to spot the moment we began breaking. we will repel sprint away from each other. your voice will take months to drain out from my ears. you will throw away your notebook of tally marks from each time you wondered if i was worth the work. the invisible bruises will finally surface and i will still pretend that i didn’t know it was coming.”
14. the entire time, i was only pretending that i knew it was coming.
what if love is no more than
a tangle of muscles
aching to be untied
by knowing fingers?what if love is made and nothing else -
asked narcissus, leaning over the green iris of water.
cried echo from the green cochlea of the woods.and they were both right.
and they were both lonely.