DARK IN LIGHT
Wanted to show you the moon
but cruised off the wrong ramp
and wound up in a war zone
where there is no curfew:
men standing solo in the middle of the street
or huddled, talking beneath burned-out lamps;
wanted to show you the soccer moon
but drove down darkened roads with bars
enclosing windows and doors,
barbed wire spiraling a hardware
store and nursery—planks and daisies
out of reach;
wanted you to count the seas
across that haloed orb
but drove alone
through neighborhoods as treeless
as that dog-song moon;
beat-up cars driven
beyond unmarked borders
pulled over by uniforms
with clubs and guns,
jagged tension cutting concrete air;
I want to know who
declared this war of Americans
children peer from sheeted windows,
women hide behind hollow doors,
a man looks up from an empty street,
each of us equal
distance from the sun’s reflective sphere.
I walk and I rest while the eyes of my dead
look through my own, inaudible
the panorama charged serene
and almost ultraviolet with so much witness.
Holy the sea, the palpitating membrane
divided into dazzling fields and whaledark by the sun.
Holy the dark, pierced by late revelers and dawnbirds,
the garbage truck suspended in shy light,
the oystershell and crushed clam of the driveway,
the dahlia pressed like lotus on its open palm.
Holy the handmade and created side by side,
the sapphire of their marriage,
green flies and shit in condums in the crabshell
rinsed by the buzzing tide.
Holy the light--
the poison ivy livid in its glare,
the gypsy moths festooning the pine barrens,
the mating monarch butterflies between the chic boutiques.
The mermaids handprint on the artificial reef. Holy the we,
cast in the mermaid's image, smooth crotch of mystery and scale,
inscrutable until divulged by god
and sex into its gender, every touch
a secret intercourse with angels as we walk
proffered and taken. Their great wings
batter the air, our retinas bloom silver spots like beacons.
Better than silicone or graphite flesh absorbs
the shock of the divine crash-landing.
I roll my eyes back, skylights brushed by plumage of detail,
the unrehearsed and minuscule, the anecdotal midnight
themes of the carbon sea where we are joined:
zinnia, tomato, garlic wreaths
crowning the compost heap.
to be the first.
As if the other
were a ripened peach,
they time their movements
to the ancient
Sharp tears through
steal her breath.
relentless clock counts towards curfew.
Soothed by his hot sweet breath,
she rests in his embrace—
linear time shifts to the relative distance
between innocence and experience—
as he eases her through
Her chrysalis rips,
new life emerges:
the harsh sun
scent of clary sage
wings drying in a warm breeze.
DREAMING OF GRAM
It was the way her eyes rolled
as she flashed her pack of cigarettes
while I was explaining the impact of
environmental illness, as if anyone who
acknowledged the body’s needs, who didn’t
do what they wanted despite physical
limitations, was a whiney little roach
as evidenced in her smoking while sporting
an oxygen tank for advanced-stage emphysema—
I’d had it with the family code of fuck-your-body-
till-it-drops exemplified by our matriarch so I
got in her emerald eye-shadowed face framed with
brilliant orange hair and said: I don’t like you and if you
want me to feel anything positive about you when you die,
you need to demonstrate a shred of decency now
then I stepped to the other side of the bed.
Perhaps she rose from where she’d
crouched between bed and wall and left,
but for me, she disappeared.
Thank you to the editors of riverbabble for first publishing this poem.
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
Claude McKay, 1921
IN THIS DREAM
I rip the package,
pull sheer stocking over toes, ankle, shin,
beyond the line where prosthesis extends my leg.
This hosiery will animate prosthetic limbs,
transform molded resin into skin,
skirts soon fluttering along my thighs
as I skip on these feet,
attract with these calves,
no longer rolling on wheels or
hiding my legs from pitying stares.
I will be normal.
Yet as I examine my stockinged leg,
I discover the turquoise seam
marking the boundary of prosthesis and flesh.
Deformed, dependent, tricked by desperate hope,
I fold and cry, knowing I’ll never look or walk like others.
Perched on a nearby boulder, my Soul-body marvels
at the powerful wings unfurling from between my hunched
shoulders, grief shrouding me from their luminous tips
as they rise toward the sun.
Thank you to the editors ofriverbabble for first publishing this poem.
Do you scuttle lithely sand and stone,
peek out from rocks through half-shut lids
while others' hands are clasped in dance
beneath the bone-white crescent slit?
Are your eyes autonomous,
right darts to lips and left to toes;
as softer flesh sips steamed orgeat
do you watch the spoon, the ankles cross?
Do you begin each day with push-ups
then shield yourself from sun in shade;
when threatened do your muscles flex,
your speech reduce to a chortling hiss?
Do others comment, How cold your hands,
how dry your skin? Do you dream of
grasshoppers sweet in your mouth, or
screaming wake from the jaws of a snake?
Thank you to the editor of Something Like Homesickness: A Zapizdat Poetry Anthology for first publishing this poem.
Dividing an elementary class into
boys on one side
girls on the other
invites each to imagine the other group has
cooties! cooties! cooties!
and leaves each vulnerable to those who thrive on power
yet united, we eliminate disease, produce
thriving meccas of cultural exchange,
launch ourselves through the universe….
If you think you’re invulnerable to ads and rhetoric,
think about a lemon—
thrust your teeth through thick
yellow skin to release zest’s
zinging scent and swallow
That saliva now beading your gums is stimulated from the reptilian
brain targeted by an arsenal of ads and six-second sound bites that
riddle information till deception sounds like truth, our sanctity
plundered by those who weave their children in the woof of power
while snipping out poor to be fodder for war.
Girls-boys, red-blue, hick-elite, white-colored, gay-straight…
I can keep going since division perpetuates itself and
blinds us to our need to be touched and to touch
for we are not spiders, autonomous from birth, but must be suckled
once the thin film of mucus is wiped from our mouths;
if we didn’t thrive on touch our exterior would be hardened shell
rather than this overlay of neural sensors telling us when to swat,
run, rest, embrace
the Pleiades in every cell,the bell, the smile, the knife—
yet the nourished thrive amid those with hunger that
sinks skin between bones as the body
digests its own flesh to survive—
this inequity perpetuated through our mad divisions—
yet madness is tricky. We think of it as
running naked through streets
but true madness skulks where plans are laid
to destroy this planet many times over
as if this could be done more than once
as if this is the best use of our lives
madness in the reverent joy of orchestrating Armageddon
as if some are connected
and others not
madness in numbing ourselves to suffering
in ways that cause more suffering
but before squaring off into us and them
remember glass houses
and heal thyself
for unraveling the madness of this world begins with me.
It begins with you.
Yet how do we wrap around the odd ones, the violent ones,
the ones who’d sooner slit a throat than say hello?
I know only that we start with kindness and cherishing
the children we create for they are our future, inheritors,
providers, while we are holy catalysts for communion.
If we choose to eliminate hunger, rein in our mad greed for power,
cherish this blue planet’s miraculous life, what force could shatter
our bond for each life is no more than kidney, cell, atom,
of the same body coalesced from stars and seas—
dust to sky to ocean to algae to fish to bird to human,
we are one being
the Pleiades in every cell,the bell, the smile, the knife—why not live as if we chose this sacred life?
Thank you to the editors of The Tishman Review for first publishing this poem.
LAST DAYS OF WINTER
War settles like dust for there is no other side
when winds blow particles from Sudan to
Hiroshima to icy rivers that wild coho
struggle against to lay their bright eggs.
On the first day of the first war declared in this century
the Asian Art Museum opens its doors with stilt-walkers
dressed as emperors and geishas, and with musicians
from Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, for music and art
transcend transient politics and borders. Even
the museum’s map of Asia’s Buddhist centers
proclaims Tibet’s sovereignty within China’s
yawning border. Across the street a demonstration
swells before City Hall to protest a war
veiled in an amalgam of virtue, misinformation
and covert interests.
Something ghostlike transforms this city.
While most stores close, in others clerks
focus like compulsive-obsessives just
to get through the day and homeless
walk the streets as if San Francisco’s
sole inhabitants. One woman, hair
plaited with a plethora of mismatched
ribbons mirroring her clothes, crosses
against red. She zigzags mostly between
the yellow lines while drivers remain
uncharacteristically patient as if
acknowledging the difficulty of accepting
war without dissolving in a despair that
threatens one’s ever-transient
connection with life.
Within these museum’s walls images of Buddha,
Bodhisattvas, White Tara embody prayers for all
sentient beings and symbolize compassion,
wisdom, the acceptance of suffering, as well as
our ability to skillfully control rather than be
controlled by our mad-wraith desires.
It’s no longer a matter of us versus them,
good versus evil. We are all messengers of God
and we are all godless. Energy is neither created
nor destroyed. All those who have lived and
don’t yet live share our bodies through the food
we eat, the air we breathe, the cells that ferociously
regenerate throughout our lives. Prayer wheels
fill these halls with unbound intent that passes
through the walls, the streets, the world: may all
beings be healthy, may all beings be happy,
may all beings live in peace.