crowded Monday subway its mindlessness botanical you take the first seat claim it for your age your figural effaced your t-shirt smelling already like somebody else's sweat a toddler is crashing against your leg his mom gives him a sucker he hasn't figured out how to fit inside his mouth you taste the instant's sumptuous pause between confused and choking on surfaces you can't fit your lips around and swallow incentivizing short terms that electronically spit you out your genes passed on without you in the pool you didn't know how soon would drown you
Two women on a train
sit beside me.
I am young and the world
is flying and I am watching.
One of them is frosty.
The other turns like a leaf
to hand me something?—
it looked for all the world like a page.
I thought at the time
that it needed me and I was right.
The letters fell into place
and simple flowers grew.
Now it talks unceasingly
in long white verses
as if at a wedding,
something women understand
and gently want and then regift.
I myself agree with Herbert,
who in a dark mood conjured
the mushrooms underfoot
unseen by bride or groom
and with him I say, Perhaps
the world is unimportant
after all, though this is not
what one discusses with
women on a train, no matter
how long the journey,
or untroubled the land.
(Park Chan-Wook, 2003)
If one rainy night you find yourself
leaving a phone booth, and you meet a man
with a lavender umbrella, resist
your desire to follow him, to seek
shelter from the night in his solace.
Later, don’t fall victim to the Hypnotist’s
narcotic of clarity, which proves
a curare for the heart; her salve
is merely a bandage, under which memories
pulse. Resist the taste for something still
alive for your first meal; resist the craving
for the touch of a hand from your past.
We live some memories,
and some memories are planted. There’s
only so much space for the truth
and the fabrications to spread out
in one’s mind. When there’s no more
space, we grow desperate. You’ll ask
if practicing love for years in your mind,
prepares you for the moment,
if practicing to defend one’s life
is the same as living? You’ll
hole up, captive, in a hotel room
for fifteen years and learn to find
a man within you, which will prove
a painful introduction to the trance
into which you were born. Better
to stay under the spell of your guilt,
than to forget; you’ve already released
your pain onto the world; don’t believe
there’s some joy in forgetting.
There’s no joy in the struggle to forget.
And what appears as an endless verdant field,
only spreads across a building’s rooftop;
your peaceful sleep could be a fetal position,
which secures you in a suitcase in this field.
A bell rings, and you fall out of this luggage
like clothes you no longer fit. Now what to do?
You remember when you were the man
who fit those clothes, but you’ve forgotten this
world. Even forgotten scenes from your life,
leave shadows of the memory,
haunting your spirit
until, within a moment’s glance,
strangers passing you on the street,
observe history in your eyes. Experience
lingers through acts of forgetting,
small acts of love or trauma
falling from the same place. Whether
memory comes in the form of a stone
or a grain of sand, they both sink in water.
A tongue—even if it were, say, sworn
to secrecy; or if it were cut from one’s mouth;
yes, even without a mouth to envelop
its truth—the tongue continues to confess.
For our own private reasons
We live in each other for an hour.
Stranger, I take your body and its seasons,
Aware the moon has gone a little sour
For us. The moon hangs up there like a stone
Shaken out of its proper setting.
We lie down in each other. We lie down alone
and watch the moon’s flawed marble getting
Out of hand. What are the dead doing tonight?
The padlocks of their tongues embrace the black,
Each syllable locked in place, tucked out of sight.
Even this moon could never pull them back,
Even if it held them in its arms
And weighed them down with stones,
Took them entirely on their own terms
And piled the orchard’s blossom on their bones.
I am aware of your body and its dangers.
I spread my cloak for you in leafy weather
Where other fugitives and other strangers
Will put their mouths together.
When first we met, we did not guess That Love would prove so hard a master; Of more than common friendliness When first we met we did not guess. Who could foretell the sore distress, This irretrievable disaster, When first we met?—We did not guess That Love would prove so hard a master.
Tell me it was for the hunger
& nothing less. For hunger is to give
the body what it knows
it cannot keep. That this amber light
whittled down by another war
is all that pins my hand
to your chest.
between my arms—
You, pushing your body
into the river
only to be left
I’ll tell you how we’re wrong enough to be forgiven. How one night, after
mother, then taking a chainsaw to the kitchen table, my father went to kneel
in the bathroom until we heard his muffled cries through the walls.
And so I learned that a man, in climax, was the closest thing
Say surrender. Say alabaster. Switchblade.
Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn.
Say autumn despite the green
in your eyes. Beauty despite
daylight. Say you’d kill for it. Unbreakable dawn
mounting in your throat.
My thrashing beneath you
like a sparrow stunned
Dusk: a blade of honey between our shadows, draining.
I wanted to disappear—so I opened the door to a stranger’s car. He was divorced. He was still alive. He was sobbing into his hands (hands that tasted like rust). The pink breast cancer ribbon on his keychain swayed in the ignition. Don’t we touch each other just to prove we are still here? I was still here once. The moon, distant & flickering, trapped itself in beads of sweat on my neck. I let the fog spill through the cracked window & cover my fangs. When I left, the Buick kept sitting there, a dumb bull in pasture, its eyes searing my shadow onto the side of suburban houses. At home, I threw myself on the bed like a torch & watched the flames gnaw through my mother’s house until the sky appeared, bloodshot & massive. How I wanted to be that sky—to hold every flying & falling at once.
Say amen. Say amend.
Say yes. Say yes
In the shower, sweating under cold water, I scrubbed & scrubbed.
In the life before this one, you could tell
two people were in love
because when they drove the pickup
over the bridge, their wings
would grow back just in time.
Some days I am still inside the pickup.
Some days I keep waiting.
It’s not too late. Our heads haloed
with gnats & summer too early
to leave any marks.
Your hand under my shirt as static
intensifies on the radio.
Your other hand pointing
your daddy’s revolver
to the sky. Stars falling one
by one in the cross hairs.
This means I won’t be
afraid if we’re already
here. Already more
than skin can hold. That a body
beside a body
must make a field
full of ticking. That your name
is only the sound of clocks
being set back another hour
finds our clothes
on your mother’s front porch, shed
like week-old lilies.
for matthew z and matthew r
I remember telling the joke
about child molestation and seeing
the face of the young man
I didn’t know well enough
turn from something with light
inside of it into something like
an animal that’s had its brain
bashed in, something like that, some
sky inside him breaking
all over the table and the beers.
It’s amazing, finding out
my thoughtlessness has no bounds,
is no match for any barbarian,
that it runs wild and hard
like the Mississippi. No, the Rio Grande.
No, the Columbia. A great river
of thorns and when this stranger
stood up and muttered
something about a cigarette,
the Hazmat team
in my chest begins to cordon
off my heart, glowing
a toxic yellow,
and all I could think about
was the punch line “sexy kids,”
that was it, “sexy kids,” and all the children
I’ve cared for, wiping
their noses, rocking them to sleep,
all the nieces and nephews I love,
and how no one ever
opened me up like a can of soup
in the second grade, the man
now standing on the sidewalk, smoke smothering
his body, a ghost unable
to hold his wrists down
or make a sound like a large knee in between
two small knees, but terrifying and horrible all the same.
I have wanted other things more than lovers …
I have desired peace, intimately to know
The secret curves of deep-bosomed contentment,
To learn by heart things beautiful and slow.
Cities at night, and cloudful skies, I’ve wanted;
And open cottage doors, old colors and smells a part;
All dim things, layers of river-mist on river—
To capture Beauty’s hands and lay them on my heart.
I have wanted clean rain to kiss my eyelids,
Sea-spray and silver foam to kiss my mouth.
I have wanted strong winds to flay me with passion;
And, to soothe me, tired winds from the south.
These things have I wanted more than lovers …
Jewels in my hands, and dew on morning grass—
Familiar things, while lovers have been strangers.
Friended thus, I have let nothing pass.
She sings her heart out with a smile
like Louis Armstrong on the subway’s dusty platform
with her band, a bass, guitar, horn player,
and drummer. She keeps singing with a smile
even as an old demented man dances up and down,
keeping rhythm in front of her, blocking the audience view,
with his big rag of a coat, swollen leg and crutch.
Undaunted, smiling even at the old beggar who steals her
spotlight. “Music Under New York” says her sign, and she’s among
the good jazz musicians who play in the subways for quarters
and dollars collected in a hat or instrument case open
in front of them.
Making music amidst the rumble of trains and rush of people
who are made more cheerful by their tunes.
Evelyn Blakey knows that the homeless man
who dances on his crutch is comforted by her warble.
“Georgia, Georgia…just an old sweet tune keeps Georgia
on my mind…” he sings along with her, grinning soul,
the sort of smile that says: “I’ve been
through it all, but sing anyway.” Evelyn Blakey, listens
to the horn jam, listens to the drums roll,
with ecstatic eyes closed, face full of music,
and the old beggar dances on his swollen foot,
his ragged coat swings back and forth with his tired bones,
his grey head bobs in rhythm,
and Evelyn, Evelyn, Evelyn Blakely sings,
her heart full of sonorous sound,
her foot tapping the ground,
her subway commuters gather around.
1. Caught on a side street in heavy traffic, I said to the cabbie, I should have walked. He replied, I should have been a doctor. 2. When can I get on the 11:33 I ask the guy in the information booth at the Atlantic Avenue Station. When they open the doors, he says. I am home among my people.
After you left me forever,
I was broken into pieces,
and all the pieces flung into the river.
Then the legs crawled ashore
and aimlessly wandered the dusty cow-track.
They became, for a while, a simple roadside shrine:
A tiny table set up between the thighs
held a dusty candle, weed-and-fieldflower chains
placed reverently there by children and old women.
My knees were hung with tin triangular medals
to cure all forms of hysterical disease.
After I died forever in the river,
my torso floated, bloated in the stream,
catching on logs or stones among the eddies.
White water foamed around it, then dislodged it;
after a whirlwind trip, it bumped ashore.
A grizzled old man who scavenged along the banks
had already rescued my arms and put them by,
knowing everything has its uses, sooner or later.
When he found my torso, he called it his canoe,
and, using my arms as paddles,
he rowed me up and down the scummy river.
When catfish nibbled my fingers he scooped them up
and blessed his reusable bait.
Clumsy but serviceable, that canoe!
The trail of blood that was its wake
attracted the carp and eels, and the river turtle,
easily landed, dazed by my tasty red.
A young lad found my head among the rushes
and placed it on a dry stone.
He carefully combed my hair with a bit of shell
and set small offerings before it
which the birds and rats obligingly stole at night,
so it seemed I ate.
And the breeze wound through my mouth and empty sockets
so my lungs would sigh, and my dead tongue mutter.
Attached to my throat like a sacred necklace
was a circlet of small snails.
Soon the villagers came to consult my oracular head
with its waterweed crown.
Seers found occupation, interpreting sighs,
and their papyrus rolls accumulated.
Meanwhile, young boys retrieved my eyes
they used for marbles in a simple game
till somebody’s pretty sister snatched at them
and set them, for luck, in her bridal diadem.
Poor girl! When her future groom caught sight of her,
all eyes, he crossed himself in horror,
and stumbled away in haste
through her dowered meadows.
What then of my heart and organs,
my sacred slit
which loved you best of all?
They were caught in a fisherman’s net
and tossed at night into a pen for swine.
But they shone so by moonlight that the sows stampeded,
trampled one another in fear, to get away.
And the fisherman’s wife, who had thirteen living children
and was contemptuous of holy love,
raked the rest of me onto the compost heap.
Then in their various places and helpful functions,
the altar, oracle, offal, canoe and oars
learned the wild rumor of your return.
The altar leapt up, and ran to the canoe,
scattering candle grease and wilted grasses.
Arms sprang to their sockets, blind hands with nibbled nails
groped their way, aided by loud lamentation,
to the bed of the bride, snatched up those unlucky eyes
from her discarded veil and diadem,
and rammed them home. Oh, what a bright day it was!
This empty body danced on the riverbank.
Hollow, it called and searched among the fields
for those parts that steamed and simmered in the sun,
and never would have found them.
But then your great voice rang out under the skies
my name!—and all those private names
for the parts and places that had loved you best.
And they stirred in their nest of hay and dung.
The distraught old ladies chasing their lost altar,
and the seers pursuing my skull, their lost employment,
and the tumbling boys, who wanted the magic marbles,
and the runaway groom, and the fisherman’s thirteen children
set up such a clamor, with their cries of “Miracle!”
that our two bodies met like a thunderclap
in midday—right at the corner of that wretched field
with its broken fenceposts and startled, skinny cattle.
We fell in a heap on the compost heap
and all our loving parts made love at once,
while the bystanders cheered and prayed and hid their eyes
and then went decently about their business.
And here it is, moonlight again; we’ve bathed in the river
and are sweet and wholesome once more.
We kneel side by side in the sand;
we worship each other in whispers.
But the inner parts remember fermenting hay,
the comfortable odor of dung, the animal incense,
and passion, its bloody labor,
its birth and rebirth and decay.
a century past
is like looking
at your own
until someone else
with a stranger’s eye
looks close and says
It was something to let him go.
It was a having to believe, furthermore,
in the voyage
of the other, a Ulysses
without an Ithaca,
was to speak
of the sea
of the shore—
and to have for a body
the going away of the body, to have for eyes
the going away of the eyes. And for hearing,
a silence, where once
And for comfort, a dwelling
steps into that weather
of which all
After a while I dreamt about
the Spider City
& when I woke up in my
the curtain flapped open
& the sky greeted me.
Hello Karen, Hello Little Bee,
it said which is when
I remembered the strange
webbed sky of the Spider
City & your face in the
middle saying Kiss Me.
Every city is a little breathless,
a little behind the times,
racing to catch up, thus
That day I wore a gray suit,
white gloves, 1960 or so.
Some thin man approached
& offered me $$ to
pose in the nude.
The sun over St. Patrick’s
Cathedral like a child’s
sun, all rays around
a smiling face
& the man whose gray suit
matched my own was
occur in a city whose heart
splits open in two shocks.
But this happened later.
& I wasn’t around
though I watched it on TV.
In Florida the palm branches
rustle like neckties,
the ocean an opulent
cologne we plunder,
the grass, green as the
stolen eye of the Dowager
or a bruised infant
which is so sad
found in the trash can
among some white receipts
I am smoking a cigarette
wishing it were over–
the parasols, the gliding waterway
ships, the cocktails,
the aces & clubs, the languorous beach
stretches, the strings of pearls,
wishing it would begin again.
Or Starving City. It’s hard
to tell. For one thing, it’s
dark & for another
I feel inadequate.
My perpetual motion has
ceased to amuse anyone here
(I confide) even though…
I wore a beautiful skirt of red silk
& when I whirled you could
with its captured lights, the
glint of bridges, the
So much of this is untrue.
A worm slunk in the sidewalk cracks.
An old, old woman, wreathed
spoke sharply: She said,
“just because you give me five dollars
don’t entitle you to my life’s story.”
City of Jokes
A man goes to a psychiatrist
sporting a huge gash in his
forehead, says I bit
myself. How did you
do that? asks the psychiatrist.
It was easy, says the man.
I stood on a stool.
Afterwards, I pulled out of
the parking garage & the
day was overcast, streets
I drove up the hill & took
a right. I drove by the
drive-in coffee place &
the brown house with the
shutters & took a left
& then I was home.
on the radio at this point.
A girl with a cane made her way
down the sidewalk.
She was a stranger,
& she was my daughter.
I encountered Hamlet in a glade
& this scene, forsooth, changed into
then again a dark chamber
in which my own mother lay dying.
I wish it were another era
but things occur where
& my defenses are poor ones.
She has elegant bones which,
in age, have become sharp &
(Oh the body weeps & slickers
of hair cover all of us who
In a moment, I too, would
invent a soliloquy about
My heart in its jeweled box
as of nothing
& zero the shape of
sorrow which doesn’t
City of Dot Dot Dot
There was a window, a drape,
a venetian blind thickened with
dust, an accordion sound
up from the street…
Your friend the author [was] inside
this which was inside that which was
shrinks & even afternoons
which once seemed so voluminous
have dwindled to a sad heap…
Little wrinkled days no longer
unfold… Lawns have grown
minuscule & purposeless… Hairs
sprout on the female chin & buildings
formerly majestic are…
But I was crazy then…
In the fullness of each moment…
I walked everywhere in the gloam & sand…
City of Basements
Of course, conducive to sleep.
Of course, musty & poorly
organized. You wouldn’t go there
uninvited. I wouldn’t invite you.
But there are chinks in the brick ceilings
that make it seem radiant
elsewhere, which is a blessing.
& amid the rats & spider houses
I might invent something
spectacular (I almost believe).
This is all I have to say about it.
Because it is unamenable to description.
Because even now my eyes are closing.
Pity yourself, Sister.
Life is harder than you dreamed possible.
A translator who has a phobia of moths
spent three years translating a book with a moth motif.
It’s ironic, she has said, that she knew more about the moths
than the author of the original, who was merely fascinated.
The translation contained a greater variety of moths than the original,
drawn from suggestions she had made, some of which were in fact
too perfect and changed back before it went to print.
Her moths, the ones that were too aptly named,
meant too much, her moths that she hated, where are they now?
The same place as all the versions of people
that have been undressed and slept with, in lieu of the people
themselves, by others. That must include a version
of almost everyone, lots of versions of some people,
some only a flutter, animated then decided against.
Perfect disc of moon, huge
low on the capital’s filthy horizon— ¡Ay,
qué luna más hermosa! she says
pushing the stroller slowly down Atocha.
And gorgeous too the firm-thighed
boys from Lisbon
a block away, who work
Kilometer Zero’s sidewalk, the neon
shoestore they lean against
cupping the flames
of passing strangers.
The sky above Puerta del Sol turns
a darker shade of blue. Who says
it doesn’t become night’s
as it scales the heavens, paling
and shrinking before it moves
across a late June sky? And below,
men persist and circle
the plaza, twin fountains brimming
over their brilliant waters. Hours
from now with the heat
waning, the same moon will spot
the figure of him
making past Neptune, the Ritz
the orange jumpsuits
hopping off trucks to sweep
and spray, hosing
down those electric streets.
When I received the call I was in a store in Missoula, Montana.
A store stocked with sparkling ephemera: glass fauna, tiny belfry bulbs,
winter white birch and stump-lamps brandishing light cones,
little shelves and branches hung with drops of ice and round silver baubles.
I loved the store: it was cavernous, dark with wood and burlap,
a ruddy brick loft with lithographs and monographs on birds or bracelets.
The store-owner, Fran, was away that day otherwise
I would have stayed in there a little longer.
She was a comforting friend—
she had impeccable taste, manifested in her put-together garments,
she also had a warming patient smile.
I didn’t stay long, I didn’t linger;
though linger is absolutely the wrong word,
more like I didn’t stumble around there for hours.
(I would stumble around in that store for a full year.)
If she had been behind the counter I would have turned to her in bewilderment.
You see I had picked up my ringing cell phone while browsing
(I usually keep it off in stores),
and my father said, there’s something I have to tell you.
I don’t want you to find out any other way. I am leaving my job.
They want me to resign.
Fran had met my father the week before—
he wanted to see downtown, the campus, get to know Montana—
he had done research on the education opportunities.
He was interested in outreach.
People all over met him and found him to be a kindhearted man.
I had set up meetings, he was here to meet educators, mathematicians—
more spirited people—I told him—than Bostonians.
I told him the West was a magical place. He agreed.
Later he would tell me that this was his last best day, a strange pun on the Last Best Place.
Little did we know we would have to fight a very public battle.
And apparently from the rumors and from the strange
treatment he received prior to his termination,
there was a plot in place.
We, as a family, felt the public ridicule.
And as an Asian family, we felt the acute Asian shame. It was a dark,
disastrous cloud hanging, hanging, hanging.
My father would be would be publicly shamed
and we were shocked at the racist narratives—
allegations—a greedy brown man—
mismanaging, mismanaging, mismanaging
One public interest story to release venom—
to tease out real feelings from strangers.
Blog comments were aggressive: the Indian was a con,
a snake-oil man.
You just have to give them a scenario
in which they can invest—in which to place those hard-to-place feelings.
White people bury their resentments beneath their liberalism.
We knew he hadn’t done anything wrong—we knew this was bogus.
Like I said, I was getting ready for the holidays,
I played hooky that Tuesday excited to wrap gifts;
I wanted to decorate the house.
This was my first house.
My husband was out looking at Christmas trees.
Albeit I am a Hindu, trees are an awful lot of fun.
And this planning was quickly thwarted with the difficult—
my family was falling apart—
the droop in my life felt permanent.
I was more than 2,000 miles from my father, but the way he spoke
at the moment of the call becalmed me—
I felt anchored to his side—
I will stay there for as long as it takes.
Before this moment I was in a terrific mood.
I wanted to don the table
with the kind of candles that beckoned, pulling you into an aesthetic presence
fully-fabricated and lit, and yet looked like it came from snow.
I had been in Missoula for many months,
I had come from Brooklyn, where I had lived for twelve years.
Now I was ready to escape.
Having been born and raised outside of Boston,
without the opportunities say someone like Robert Lowell had.
I knew I was not of that ilk nor was my father—we now realize.
Boston was indeed for the rich—with its stodgy colonial identity,
with its ridiculous Brahmans—
its oddly cultureless stance
even with Harvard as its mirror.
(Even with Cal as front & center literati.)
Even so, I was pleased, I was unhurried in my new life, I was, I was.
I could feel how I stood, I could feel the rising happiness—of the belly, not the gut.
I was consumed with the bliss of poetry,
so much poetry around me, everything with poetry.
I said and understood, the workshop will be my ideology,
my intentional community, front and center—with bells.
My family was overjoyed with the way our lives
were working together—
my father was comfortable, my mother pleased,
a professorship and presidential position
at a college, he was the first South-Asian president.
He had come to America with very little and now had something.
As you can see, there is an immigrant narrative here.
When he first arrived, he made very little money as a visiting professor so he worked
security at night at the Museum of Fine Arts. He kept thinking his colleague, Bruce,
was calling him bastard, when he was calling him buster.
It took him months to realize this. He first had to confront Bruce.
The sequence of his first major purchases and acquisitions, which took several months:
a suitcase and a rug, then he found a dentist’s chair for the living room.
He bought the Bob Dylan album that had “Blowing in the Wind,” because it really
sounded Hindu—it sounded like it came from the Rig Veda.
For many years I would say he was a model minority—he aspired to being
rewarded for his good work by white people.
We agreed, all was well— I had made my way to where I had wanted to be,
living a poet’s life and it felt extraordinary—
all of the birch-stump lamps lighting up inside, this was a kind of bliss.
I had arrived where I loved in absolute terms.
Where I could love the poetics of if, then & thou. The luminous…
And yet poetry haunts with its suggestion that terrible things are true and stick, as Rilke says:
I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough/to be to you just object
and thing/dark and smart.
The sun was hidden behind the darkest cloud.
I said what is happening to my father?
In response, my husband’s back gave out,
he could not walk without whimpering, there was whimpering in the night
and I wasn’t sure which one of us it was.
What was happening to my ableness?
We had failure, heaps of failure in our hands.
The world had recast itself in such a way that I had to address the power behind it.
I kept saying strange things to people like no one is exempt from suffering.
I felt like a tiny bird with sinking feet.
There are assertions about difference
That I had not wanted to make in the past, but now did.
Where was I? Who was I?
My father was told he had to watch his back
and then they took everything away from him.
To take away his dignity with so many untruths. Do I have to watch my back too?
What did I think I could have? I wasn’t even sure if I had it here.
People hadn’t seen me as me, I started to feel it. Those glass birds
and the birch lamps were a kind of privilege
only others could have—not “others” in the sense in which I was other.
I started to see how money worked the room: when we had it, when we didn’t.
Imagine, we were so close
to the soaring sky, and imagine how we fell.
How we knew falling wouldn’t end us,
fall right here, fall right there, cry out, oh blustering self,
it can’t be as bad as you think.
I said let’s remember how to do it so it won’t hurt
this time or the next.
But I had to say the branches extended their arms,
there was a house attached to them—
we found ourselves languishing, then needing
It was the turning of the year and then another one.
And the showy, extravagant people capped themselves
on the tops of mountain ash—
we came out to clear them away.
live life as a stranger. Disappear
into frequent invention, depending
on the district, wherever you get off
the train. For a night, take the name
of the person who’d say yes to that
offer, that overture, the invitation to
kiss that mouth, sit on that lap. Assume
the name of whoever has the skill to
slip from the warm side of the sleeping
stranger, dress in the hallway of the
hotel. This is a city where people
know the price of everything, and
know that some of the best things
still come free. In one guise: shed
all that shame. In another: flaunt the
plumage you’ve never allowed
yourself to leverage. Danger will
always be outweighed by education,
even if conjured by a lie. Remember:
go home while it’s still dark. Don’t
invite anyone back. And, once inside,
take off the mask. These inventions
are the art of a kind of citizenship,
and they do not last. In the end, it
might mean nothing beyond further
fortifying the walls, crystallizing
the questioned, tested autonomy,
ratifying the fact that nothing will be
as secret, as satisfying, as the work
you do alone in your room.
Because I was born in a kingdom,
there was a king. At times
the king was a despot; at other times,
not. Axes flashed in the road
at night, but if you closed your eyes
sitting on the well-edge
amongst your kinspeople
and sang the ballads
then the silver did not appear
to be broken.
Such were the circumstances.
They made a liar out of me.
Did they change my spirit?
Kith in the night.
The cry of owls. A bird fight.
We also had a queen,
whetted by the moon. And
we her subjects,
softening in her sight.
What one had
the other had to
have too. Soon
in every garden, and
had a tuning fork
jeweled with emeralds.
Learning to hunt in the new empire,
the king invited his subjects
to send him their knives.
He tested these knives on oranges,
pomegranates, acorn squash,
soft birches, stillborns, prisoners
who had broken rules. He used
them on the teeth of traitors.
When strangers massed at the border,
the courtiers practiced
subjection of the foreign. The court
held a procession
of twine, rope,
gold, knives, and
prostitutes with their vials of white
powder. Smoke coursed into the courtyard,
and we wrought hunger upon
the bodies of strangers. I am sure you
it, really what need
is there for me to tell you.
You were a stranger once too, and I
and let the dealers
come to me alone
with their jewels and
At night, we debated
the skin of language,
questioned what might
be revealed inside:
a soft pink fruit,
a woman in a field…
Or a shadow, sticky and loose
as old jam. Our own
dialect was abstract,
we wished to understand
not how things were
but what spectacle we might
make from them.
One day a merchant came to court
and brought moving pictures,
the emperor’s new delight.
He tacked dark cloth
to the windows and turned off
the lights, cranking the machine and the film
like a needle and thread,
making stories we could
insinuate our cold bodies
into and find warmth. Light;
dark. And the sliding images of courtiers
merrily balancing monkeys
on their heads, as if this
were an adequate story.
And our queen, that hidden
self. What became
of her? Slid into the night
like a statue, shivered
into shadows. Knowing as a spider
in retreat. The web
her mind, and in it, the fly.
On Sundays, we flew kites
to ensure our joy
was seen by those who
to threaten us. The thread
spooling out high
in the purple sky
and silver-gelatin films being made,
sliding through the cranking machine
so that the barbarians could know
we made images of ourselves
coated in precious metal
and sent them away
indifferent to our wealth.
I miss the citrus
smell of spring
on the plaza filled
and long-limbed kite flyers.
Do I have anything
to add? Only that
I obeyed my king, my
kind, I was not faithless.
Should I be punished
for that? It is true
the pictures creaking
through the spindle
cause me pain. I know
the powder we coated our fingers
with made us thirsty
and sometimes cruel. But I was born
with a spirit, like you.
I have woken, you see,
and I wish to be made new.
Sometimes a child will stare out of a window
for a moment or an hour—deciphering
the future from a dusky summer sky.
Does he imagine that some wisp of cloud
reveals the signature of things to come?
Or that the world’s a book we learn to translate?
And sometimes a girl stands naked by a mirror
imagining beauty in a stranger’s eyes
finding a place where fear leads to desire.
For what is prophecy but the first inkling
of what we ourselves must call into being?
The call need not be large. No voice in thunder.
It’s not so much what’s spoken as what’s heard—
and recognized, of course. The gift is listening
and hearing what is only meant for you.
Life has its mysteries, annunciations,
and some must wear a crown of thorns. I found
my Via Dolorosa in your love.
And sometimes we proceed by prophecy,
or not at all—even if only to know
what destiny requires us to renounce.
O Lord of indirection and ellipses,
ignore our prayers. Deliver us from distraction.
Slow our heartbeat to a cricket’s call.
In the green torpor of the afternoon,
bless us with ennui and quietude.
And grant us only what we fear, so that
Underneath the murmur of the wasp
we hear the dry grass bending in the wind
and the spider’s silken whisper from its web.
A dream, still clinging like light to the dark, rounding
The gap left by things which have already happened
Leaving nothing in their place, may have nothing to do
But that. Dreams are like ghosts achieving ghosts’ perennial goal
Of revoking the sensation of repose. It’s terrible
To think we write these things for them, to tell them
Of our life—that is, our whole life. Along comes a dream
Of a machine. Why? What is being sold there? How is the product
It must have been sparked by a noise, the way the very word “spark”
emits a brief picture. Is it original? Inevitable?
We seem to sleep so as to draw the picture
Of events that have already happened so we can picture
Them. A dream for example of a procession to an execution site.
How many strangers could circle the space while speaking of nostalgia
And of wolves in the hills? We find them
Thinking of nothing instead—there’s no one to impersonate, nothing
To foresee. It’s logical that prophesies would be emitted
Through the gaps left by previous things, or by the dead
Refusing conversation and contemplating beauty instead.
But isn’t that the problem with beauty—that it’s apt in retrospect
To seem preordained? The dawn birds are trilling
A new day—it has the psychical quality of “pastness” and they are trailing
It. The day breaks in an imperfectly continuous course
Of life. Sleep is immediate and memory nothing.