I’ve had more fathers than I can hold
in my hands. Some of them raised me some didn’t. The one
with my eyes has sired half of Pittsburgh. I swear I've seen them on billboards
and taxicabs. In shopping malls, Dollar Stores, football stadiums.
I’ve caught a baseball in my bare hands, hiked a trail, slid a crackling snakeskin
between my fingers, slept to the sound of a lullaby.
Some had heavier knuckles when they hit me some hurt me worse than others.
I’ve had fathers who were just okay. I mean
what’s a father anyway if not just a man who teaches you things.
I’ve had a Dad I’ve called “Dad”
but I’ve also had a “Daddy” and the girls who've gotten flowers at work,
celebrated their birthdays in Vegas, will tell you that those two aren’t
the same thing. At all. I’ve had fathers who've
held my hair after showing me how to drink whiskey, straight, no chaser
and fathers who only drank Gatorade when they coached or others
who were players
of all kinds hockey, swimming, some didn’t
know I was watching them from the stands, some invited me to their box seats.
A few of my fathers had money. Like, money money, climbed Mont Blanc,
interior decorator, can afford to eat whatever they want money.
I’ve had a few vegan fathers. A few carnivorous fathers,
the kind who hunted sometimes for girls who were going
to be better cooks than I’d ever be.
This is a working sentence.
Someone walks by.
Three sentences standing around bonding.
Terrible, terrible sentences.
The third sentence resents the fourth sentence more than the fifth.
Sitting in a late cafe crying.
Trying to stare down carbs with the mistress’s tools.
A panoply of belated newsprint.
A drain stopper with a dripping faucet.
Coming in and coming out of the same entrance marked urgent.
Paragraphs concealing whole illegal phrases.
You marked me like this.
Your flesh was a Styrofoam packing glitch.
My flesh was plastic rotary phone alimony.
I carried about you into my term limits.
No one could see the vast crowd.
Is my protection really there.
Is my storm drain a liar, I said, a lair.
If you can hear the sound of my voice.
If you can weep.
Who seek the quiet non-quiet ingénue
showing up with awareness strapped to her back
and frills, and seasonless outhouse-amending night.
If you can swallow a horse pill.
If you can correct the record so it
flips closed. If you can barrel through the legislation
with a fringe. Pages and pages
betray one another on a whim.
Stand up to the breaker maybe.
The surface is grime. The spandrels
a delicate balance. The fasces
that made our avarice great.
They entrap a womb to leverage mani-pedi channels
Actually, I don't have a mani-pedi lack.
Resistance comes back.
The tumbling locrian meathouse of our maker
our grower, our pretender.
Very very very very very very.
To flatten out the stomach acid.
To paint the birds closed.
A public forest of intangible treeless forms
applauding their ascension. The recycle
bin moves me to tears like a
second chance for ampersand hearts.
A lariat and a missile shield.
What is this poem really about, Trace. Well,
last week you died. You did.
Everything was getting so concrete.
I didn't know you were going to leave
and the medium was keeping us apart.
A panoply of belated newsprint.
Sitting in a late cafe crying.
I discover just as you have become
a signal rushing through a wire signing off.
People are not words or sentences.
I hate social media. You were so
positive and I argued back continually.
If the floor pulled out with each new
memory blaming a distraction.
How many more will die. When does
the surrealism dry up completely.
If you can hear the sound of my voice
tonight I'm at a protest march in the cold.
In socialist realist syntax I am shouting
up at a distant apartment window trying
to provoke any action from a
complacent person in power.
Fear Your Black Son Will Get Shot in the Front Yard in the Car Listening to Music Reading a Book—
There’s a tree in the backyard won’t grow
Half its hair charred those leaves on the other
yellowish in their greening infested
never-ready Sometimes I stand above it
in the sweat of a summer nightgown from
the balcony where I’m afforded time to watch—
my bird’s eye pain(staking)
clamping a beak on a worm
There are worms in that tree sick-like I’ve watched
without seeing All the things one holds to the mouth
& swallows I climb down barefoot
the rocks still hot from the sun though the sun
has gone down I take an axe
The Bowl of Life & the Butcher’s Knife
I threw away the butcher knife
my husband brought into our marriage
It was square could turn animals into other
I’m not a vegetarian & there’s ideas
being closer to what we consume
has more meaning the way of ice cultures
butchering the food & eating it raw
the children crowded around that open-
casket of fur kneeling on the sleet
with their red hands the organs still warm
I wondered about parasites & diseases
the way I won’t even touch raw poultry
not since the miscarriage which had nothing
to do with chicken but swine flu & only
in the way of memory the way it bleeds
I was standing in line at the fairgrounds
for a flu vaccine the pandemic fear—
two blue lines ghosted in a desert
returned & I couldn’t hold the joy
I wonder sometimes about the bowls we carry
My adopted son says life is a bowl in the stomach
you drink from one bowl that clear broth
he holds to his mouth sprigs of cilantro
in his teeth & the other bowl filling inside you
He fell asleep on my lap that night I bled
that baby out again like he knew he was losing
& it would be years I mean I’d get pregnant
again in a month & the daughter would come
but it would be years before I could account
for that knife in the kitchen drawer
the violence we carry that bowl overfilling
sometimes or emptying I’ve forgotten how
the metaphor goes I wrapped it in a kitchen towel
& tossed it in the garbage worried for sanitation workers
but less finally for my family
So there I was, almost at the crossroad
Stuck in a sudden storm of bikers, men in leather, engines snarling.
Flags spurt skywards.
I froze at the metal barricade, the seam of sense unpicked,
Brown body splayed.
In the aftermath of light, what proof is there of love—
Buoyancy of the soul hard to mark
Apart from the body
Its tenuous equilibrium unpicked,
Wave after wave of arrival
Etching questions in encirling air
As if life depended on such flammable notations.
You come, sari with blue border blowing,
Just as I saw you first, head bare.
A sudden turn on asphalt, you reach out your arms
As if in a palash grove and call to me —
Come over here!
Sometimes the bleeding petals bring down a house
Bring down a Republic.
Children are bought and sold for money—
Ghee to burn her. Teen taka. Ten rupees. Ek taka one rupee.
Cloth to cover her with.
Camphor for the burning. Bhang to make her drowsy.
You halt at the crossroad , hair thrummed by a savage wind
(Later I try to follow marks of feet, touch cold cotton
That lashed your flesh in place).
I hear your voice —
Brood, and it will come, a seizure of sense, a reckoning:
Write with chalk, sticks of lead, anything to hand
Use a bone, a safety pin, a nail, write on paper or stone
Let the poem smolder in memory.
In the desolation of time write
How one inked the bubble with a woman’s name
Way at the top of the paper ballot, saw her own hand quiver.
This was in the school with empty metal desks, near Fort Tryon Park.
One set her nipple to her infant's lips
Felt her heart sprout wings, flit over the barbed wire
Of the Immigration Detention Center.
One whimpered in her sleep — Mother, I know I am a tree,
I trail my roots behind me, the man with bad hair will axe me down.
One daubed her face with white paint, crawled
Into a cage outside the museum, hung a sign round
Her own neck — We are barbarians come to live amongst you,
Some of us speak this language.
Hoarse already, you whisper —
Come closer to me.
You who were born in the Gangetic plains
A year after mid century
Consider the fragility of the horizon,
The arc of stars into which your father raised you.
When you fall, as surely you will one day
Try to swim forward into blackness
Arms pointing to where you imagine the vault of heaven to be
As Draupadi did, a great throated cry
She made in the forest,
Only the birds could save her, they picked up her cries.
Think of Antigone, who anointed her brother’s corpse with dirt
To keep away the wild dogs,
She too made bird sounds, guttural cries.
Go to Standing Rock, where people mass outside their tents
In splintering cold, to guard the quiet springs of water.
There the palash blooms,
Tree used for timber, resin, dye,
Tinting the nails of the love god.
On its leaves names swarm –
Anna Mae Aquash , Eric Garner, Freddie Grey,
Julia de Bourgos countless more.
Thrust from earth's core
From the shadow of musk deer,
The green throat of the humming bird,
In the honeycomb of light, they step forward to be counted.
In memory of Mahasweta Devi 1926-2016
Dear what I’ll do,
We are all familiar with terror.
This produces the coming catastrophe
of mind or contagion; produces the cloud,
crowd’s roil overturning,
this discipline of questions. They don’t read, they don’t know—
lovers of terror,
anonymous commenters, ex-soldiers, future mothers, fellow citizens, customers of cable television,
Notes on a lecture, 3/2/11.
Felt through my hair for the missing comb. Kept counting three, knew
there were four. The blind side feels for itself.
• • •
“BOYS WITH FEELINGS” on Lowry Hill Liquors’ worn brick
It’s been the Eighties my whole life.
At the museum with my students
there I saw a nude reminded me of you, how powerfully he
swayed back from those hips where flowered
the firm or dozing, dowsing cock. Go on—I am always in mind of you; let me
“turn to each other” “turn to one another” “turn to
one another” (Spahr) this leaves so little to the political imagination
(eyes his profile on the pillow—finds in dark the
familiar outline but are his
eyes open or closed)
• • •
She doesn’t know, she’s never loved a man like you.
Loft a wrist. heft of lost self.
a sheaf of what wheat.
10/16/12. How my writing changed when I
began to need it.
So today I read
Maggie Nelson quoting Adorno (“Lyric Poetry & Society”): “the lyric I—
that is, the sound of an individuated self,
in all its privacy, individuality, & autonomy—is
always an excision.”
Yesterday I told you what I was thinking
promised myself I wouldn’t.
Hegel: a perfect self-expression will move society forward
p.s. assuming you’re not inwardly ugly?
(Kara Walker: “dear you insufferable cunt”)
• • •
Thinking about writing to Elle,
Dear friend, no, you really didn’t know
what I was going through, it was different for me, I couldn’t just
hang on to the cliff’s edge
like Wile E. Coyote.
For one thing, we didn’t love each other. For another,
(acre of lemon trees)
I loved someone else.
Didn’t you notice?
A wife agrees. A wife agrees to conceal. She conceals a story. But the story unfolds inside her.
Can I express anger without doing only that?
But why not do that?
ain’t chopped liver get the manual
have a face like a bucket of smashed
crabs hurting for certain don’t
think about making a fashion
arrest in this hype joint have you tried
hospital food? because i’m feeling like
a bag of string right now if you don’t collar
the jive you’ll feel the physics random
acts of play excluded rattling about a loose
energy streak across the river crazy
county pines pines trailer
pines at choke point less
amazing shape pattern boasts for this
jitterbug in need of a drop in the
shannon & no ankle taps he asks can i
buy this on the never tick? to which i reply
does a chicken have lips causing that dog
towner to go
beef city meanwhile
bumper to bumper screaming demons
much influenced my writing style around the time i
quit the pop band white horse because
getting our sad on in such simple
bold compositions was all gong no
dinner & ode to cracks discovered upon
a power station reactor in south-west
england proved to only be the start initially you were
all wisteria snagged by a wait-a-minute thorn
bush in big foot county bright red clusters
bare winter branches your distinctive
signature was upon the road to wanker’s
doom then got word of
fist city velvet fog checked your nerves & were all
about that something germinating around the
cackle factory bursts out in fairy lights only to be
distorted by drizzled bands of grey
white pigment before termination by
sophisticated elements that’s
what i’m aiming for
that was my roswell the 1st 7 days were
the worst bright lemon yellow stained
scorched cramped i paid for
the coffee rather than drink from
the fire hose because all that lickety-spit
extolling of a city upon the hill got me dreadful
face ache so come eventual stand-off against complex
mix of hedonistic colors abstract light i went base
over apex piss-to-windward search
& avoid he’ll know how many beans make
5 smoking loco weed in cockroach castle with
his swell pipes preventing this whole thing from
collapse i feel you but can’t reach you through
the gammon & creamed spinach whereby lies
the nuts ‘n’ bolts she said & proletariat drift settles
into warm cluster attrition & they’re totally chill about
giving the cat another gold fish & renewing your royal purple
yankee white clearance which besides
the wildflower roadsides between squaresville & snake’s navel
idaho is the only thing that will ever give me comfort
glass of lunch with some bombsville face stretcher
my 2nd rate hometown is usually the scene of such
meetings fair question would be what’s on the rail for
the lizard? if you find this less than
gross perhaps you should provide comforting
support because i’m more attached to
unsettling backlit places than people viewed today through
minus 7.5 but minus 6 would have done glimmering to the
accompaniment of some kitsch orchestral score giving
me the terrible urge to strip back & edit then
shave the muck am likened to ___ my day is___ my numbers
are ___ my color is___ am adept at___ can help with___ representations of
me are strategically placed to deter retro sci-fi aesthetic cobwebs floodlit center stage i
could change black dog for monkey but your arms & legs must
be painted on &
we have a name for
people like you where i
come from &
that name is