All by Terrance Hayes, 2013 Featured Poet
Hey, I am learning what it means to ride condemned.
I may be breaking up. I am doing 85 outside the kingdom
Of heaven, under the overpass and passed over,
The past is over and I’m over the past. My odometer
Is broken, can you help me? When you get this mess-
Age, I may be a half-ton crush, a half tone of mist
And mystery, maybe trooper bait with the ambulance
Ambling somewhere, or a dial of holy stations, a band-
Age of clamor and spooling, a dash and semaphore,
A pupil of motion on my way to be buried or planted or
Crammed or creamed, treading light and water or tread
and trepidation, maybe. Hey, I am backfiring along a road
Through the future, I am alive skidding on the tongue,
When you get this message, will you sigh, My lover is gone?
Because keyless and clueless,
because trampled in gunpowder
and hoof-printed address,
from Australopithecus or Adam’s
boogaloo to birdsong
and what the bird boogaloos to,
because I was waiting to break
these legs free, one to each
shore, to be head-dressed in sweat,
my work, a form of rhythm
like the first sex, like the damage
of death and distance
and depression, of troubled
instances and blind instruction,
of pleasure and placelessness,
because I was off key and careless
and learning through leaning,
because I was astral and pitchforked
and packaged to a dim bungalow
of burden and if not burden,
the dim boredom of no song,
I became a salt-worn dream-
anchor, I leapt overboard
and shackle and sailed through
my reflection on down
to ruin, calling out to you,
and then calling out no more.
Arbor for Butch
a pecha kucha after Martin Puryear
I am with my newborn son and the man blood says is my father
in a shit motel and if each of us is, as I sometimes believe,
the room we inhabit, he is a bed used until it’s stained.
Even if I knew this first meeting was our last, I would
have nothing to offer beyond the life I have made without him.
In the far south where history shades everything,
there are people who fear trees. I once heard an old man say
I may be black as a crow but I’m white inside.
Nowhere else does the sky do what the sky does there
where the graves are filled with dirt the color of fire.
We drank whiskey until we were drunk as the couple in the photo
my mother gave me to show him, the boy and girl swaying
at the edge of my future. I watched my father curl on the bed
like a leaf drained of its greening as my child cried
the way rain cries when it is changed to steam.
Because I believe the tree is a symbol of everything,
one of us was the bough reaching across the road as fumes
scorch its leaves. One of us was a door opening and closing
in the darkness, one of us was a boat being carried downstream.
My father and I sat in a motel room beside a highway
Where his pickup was the shade of a bruise beneath the glow
of the vacancy sign. Where he and his talk began
to evaporate. We were two fathers watching the faces
of two sons where the evening passed as it arrived.
[LADDER FOR BOOKER T. WASHINGTON]
Where the rain comes, long toed and crushing the high grass,
swamping the land, where a slave talked his children
out of running away with the bottom of his shoe.
This is what it means to believe in ascension and fear climbing.
In the far south where sap jewels the bark, the teeth
of the saws are sticky and bittersweet. But I wanted to carve
a door out of the wood and around that door I wanted
to build a room because I knew what my mother wished for
and I knew from far off what she would need.
The arm of the boy falls around the girl heavy as a branch
in the photograph with the gloss that’s been rubbed
clean and the blurred inscription which nearly delivers
its message before vanishing. I drove the long night
to see the face my son and I wear like a mask.
Where history can be a downpour of joy or guilt spilling
its wronged headed desire all over the body. Where
a boy and girl fought in a motel bed to make me, one desire
beating against another. Where my mother seemed to blur
calling him her first lover even after she said she was raped.
In the far south my father, the first time I met him
where for that night and the next one, he’d sleep,
said God made nothing sweeter than pussy. We smoked
our history, we drank to our future until each of us was
a head of steam, clouds above each other’s dreams.
Where the plan was when I saw him to cut off his hands.
Where because of this man my mother would want me
dead, would want no limbs to branch inside her,
no cluster of sound waiting in a drum. Where
she wanted to, but could not shape her want into an ax.
Sometimes my body is a guitar, a hole waiting in wood, wires
trembling to sleep. To identify what you are, to be loved by what
you identify, I thought This is how the blood sings into the self.
I thought what was hollow in me would be shaped into music.
[BIG AND LITTLE SAME]
The first time I met my father I believed I would understand
the line connecting me to him because a man rooted to his kin
can never be a slave. But he was like the road, skid marked
and distant, like the rain breaking above ground and beating into it.
In the far south where as one man swung from the limb
Of a tree, he said I may be as black as this bark
but my heart is light. Where even when your lantern burns
out, they say the flame lasts. Where everyone I know
is ablaze with this story and darkened by its ash.
Certain arrangements must be made
if you want access to the past. With his room
without rooms and his truck without gas,
my father was a nail bent in the shaft of a hammer,
a wound the length of a kiss, a mouth bled of its power.
I am with the ones the blood says are mine and if each of us is
as I sometimes believe, little more than a bray of nostalgia,
we are like the village mule chained to its muling. My father
fit a slim ragged hand over the head of my newborn son
and said he sounds like a white child crying like that.
What if blackness is a fad? Dear Negritude, I live as you live
waiting to be better than I am. Before sleep last night I thought
how it would be to awaken with all the colors of this world
turned inside out. And that was the name of my suffering.
The story my father told me did not reveal one body inside
another, the arms of the boy who would become my father
embracing the girl who would become my mother, it did not hold
the sentence rooted to the beginning of my life.
I am not doing anything now, except waiting like the bird
who uses the bones and feathers of other birds to build
its nest. I am on my bed of leaves thinking about the past,
how my father dragged his shadow across the room
the way a storm drags its rain.
Where there were too many trees and too many names
etched into the trunks, where the knots in the wood
Were the scars of old limbs, where, to be reborn, the birch pine
must be set aflame, where the door if I opened it might have
Revealed the love making or abuse still waiting to be named.
They are like those crazy women
who tore Orpheus
when he refused to sing,
these men grinding
in the strobe & black lights
of Pegasus. All shadow & sound.
“I’m just here for the music,”
I tell the man who asks me
to the floor. But I have held
a boy on my back before.
Curtis & I used to leap
barefoot into the creek; dance
among maggots & piss,
beer bottles & tadpoles
slippery as sperm;
we used to pull off our shirts,
& slap music into our skin.
He wouldn’t know me now
at the edge of these lovers’ gyre,
glitter & steam, fire,
bodies blurred sexless
by the music’s spinning light.
A young man slips his thumb
into the mouth of an old one,
& I am not that far away.
The whole scene raw & delicate
as Curtis’s foot gashed
on a sunken bottle shard.
They press hip to hip,
each breathless as a boy
carrying a friend on his back.
The foot swelling green
as the sewage in that creek.
We never went back.
But I remember his weight
better than I remember
my first kiss.
These men know something
I used to know.
How could I not find them
beautiful, the way they dive & spill
into each other,
the way the dance floor
wet & holy in its mouth.
The Blue Terrance
If you subtract the minor losses,
you can return to your childhood too:
the blackboard chalked with crosses,
the math teacher’s toe ring. You
can be the black boy not even the buck-
toothed girls took a liking to:
the match box, these bones in their funk
machine, this thumb worn smooth
as the belly of a shovel. Thump. Thump.
Thump. Everything I hold takes root.
I remember what the world was like before
I heard the tide humping the shore smooth,
and the lyrics asking: How long has your door
been closed? I remember a garter belt wrung
like a snake around a thigh in the shadows
of a wedding gown before it was flung
out into the bluest part of the night.
Suppose you were nothing but a song
in a busted speaker? Suppose you had to wipe
sweat from the brow of a righteous woman,
but all you owned was a dirty rag? That’s why
the blues will never go out of fashion:
their half rotten aroma, their bloodshot octaves of
consequence; that’s why when they call, Boy, you’re in
trouble. Especially if you love as I love
falling to the earth. Especially if you’re a little bit
high strung and a little bit gutted balloon. I love
watching the sky regret nothing but its
self, though only my lover knows it to be so,
and only after watching me sit
and stare off past Heaven. I love the word No
for its prudence, but I love the romantic
who submits finally to sex in a burning row-
house more. That’s why nothing’s more romantic
than working your teeth through
the muscle. Nothing’s more romantic
than the way good love can take leave of you.
That’s why I’m so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I’m lonesome and I’m blue.
3 boiled whole yams unpeeled and sliced,
into a saucepan
1 stick melted butter
2 big tablespoons nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup brown sugar
1 brown-sugar woman
quietly slices yams
at a wicker table.
She does not melt
into the ruckus of
a rumbling house.
2 boys who never stop
She gives each
1 brown yam topped
gives each a love
for the impossible;
for the majesty
of soul food;
I want to write
something about that:
the saucepan’s infinite scent,
the dip & tenor of tablespoons,
the brown hands blacker
than these scratches I make.
I want to write something
about my mother’s yams;
I want to make magic
After I have parked below the spray paint caked in the granite
grooves of the Fredrick Douglass Middle School sign
where men and women sized children loiter like shadows
draped in the outsized denim, jerseys, bangles, braids, and boots
that mean I am no longer young, after I have made my way
to the New Orleans Parish Jail down the block
where the black prison guard wearing the same weariness
my prison guard father wears buzzes me in,
I follow his pistol and shield along each corridor trying not to look
at the black men boxed and bunked around me
until I reach the tiny classroom where two dozen black boys are
dressed in jumpsuits orange as the pond full of carp I saw once in Japan,
so many fat snaggle-toothed fish ganged in and lurching for food
that a lightweight tourist could have crossed the pond on their backs
so long as he had tiny rice balls or bread to drop into the water
below his footsteps which I’m thinking is how Jesus must have walked
on the lake that day, the crackers and wafer crumbs falling
from the folds of his robe, and how maybe it was the one fish
so hungry it leapt up his sleeve that he later miraculously changed
into a narrow loaf of bread, something that could stick to a believer’s ribs,
and don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer too, in the power of food at least,
having seen a footbridge of carp packed gill to gill, packed tighter
than a room of boy prisoners wanting to talk poetry with a young black poet,
packed so close they might have eaten each other had there been nothing else to eat.
Cocktails With Orpheus
After dark, the bar full of women part of me loves—the part that stood
Naked outside the window of Miss Geneva, recent divorcee who owned
A gun, O Miss Geneva where are you now—Orpheus says she did
Not perish, she was not turned to ash in the brutal light, she found
A good job, she made good money, she had her own insurance and
A house, she was a decent wife. I know descent lives in the word
Decent. The bar noise makes a kind of silence. When Orpheus hands
Me his sunglasses, I see how fire changes everything. In the mind
I am behind a woman whose skirt is hiked above her hips, as bound
As touch permits, saying don’t forget me when I become the liquid
Out of which names are born, salt-milk, milk-sweet and animal-made.
I want to be a human above the body, uprooted and right, a fold
Of pleas released, but I am a black wound, what’s left of the deed.
Derrick Poem (The Lost World)
I take my $, buy a pair of very bright kicks for the game
at the bottom of the hill on Tuesday w / Tone who averages
19.4 points a game, & told me about this spot, & this salesman
w / gold ringed fingers fitting a $100 dollar NBA Air Avenger
over the white part of me–my sock, my heel & sole,
though I tell him Avengers are too flashy & buy blue & white
Air Flights w / the dough I was suppose to use to pay
the light bill & worse, use the change to buy an Ella
Fitzgerald CD at Jerrys, then take them both in a bag
past salesmen & pedestrians to the C where there is a girl
I’d marry if I was Pablo Neruda & after 3, 4 blocks, I spill out
humming “April in Paris” while a lady w / a 12 inch cigar
calls the driver a facist cuz he won’t let her smoke on the bus
& skinny Derrick rolls up in a borrowed Pontiac w / room
for me, my kicks & Ella on his way to see The Lost World
alone & though I think the title could mean something else,
I give him some skin & remember the last time I saw him
I was on the B-ball court after dark w / a white girl
who’d borrowed my shorts & the only other person out
was Derrick throwing a Spalding at the crooked rim
no one usually shoots at while I tried not to look his way
& thought how we used to talk about black women
& desire & how I was betraying him then creeping out
after sundown with a girl in my shorts & white skin
that slept around me the 5 or 6 weeks before she got tired
of late night hoop lessons & hiding out in my crib
there at the top of the hill Derrick drove up still talking,
not about black girls, but dinosaurs which if I was listening
could have been talk about loneliness, but I wasn’t,
even when he said, “We should go to the movies sometime,”
God is an American
I still love words. When we make love in the morning,
your skin damp from a shower, the day calms.
Shadenfreude may be the best way to name the covering
of adulthood, the powdered sugar on a black shirt. I am
alone now on the top floor pulled by obsession, the ink
on my fingers. And sometimes it is a difficult name.
Sometimes it is like the world before America, the kin-
ship of fools and hunters, the children, the dazed dream
of mothers with no style. A word can be the boot print
in a square of fresh cement and the glaze of morning.
Your response to my kiss is I have a cavity. I am in
love with incompletion. I am clinging to your moorings.
Yes, I have a pretty good idea what beauty is. It survives
alright. It aches like an open book. It makes it difficult to live.
Mostly people talk to people, holding
On to lingo bits in the gone hours
Of Monday. You see them meandering
Words while the calendar tilts and pours
Its steady juice of minutes. You see them
On Forbes almost vaporish, almost stupid
To newspaper’s steady whip; to trash bins
Gluttoned with watchheads, switchblades, red-lipped
Cups, obituary ink. Lost letters,
Teeth of despair, relics of the moment:
Everythings ignored in the name of Weather,
Or somebody’s business & “Howyoubeens.”
I too am guilty, chattling after strangers,
Wasting it. Dumb. Whining about the wind.
Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy
Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I’d better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no bra
in winter. I believe everything is a metaphor for sex.
Lovemaking mimics the act of departure, moonlight
drips from the leaves. You can spend your whole life
doing no more than preparing for life and thinking.
“Is this all there is?” Thus, I am here where poets come
to drink a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice,
something to loosen my primate tongue and its syllables
of debris. I know all words come from preexisting words
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves.
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say
about the way we live. I’d rather have what my daddy calls
“skrimp.” He says “discrete” and means the street
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman.
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom’s soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife,
sometimes I taste her caution. But let’s not talk about that.
Maybe Art’s only purpose is to preserve the Self.
Sometimes I play a game in which my primitive craft fires
upon an alien ship whose intention is the destruction
of the earth. Other times I fall in love with a word
like somberness. Or moonlight juicing naked branches.
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don’t quit opening. I am carrying the whimper
you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom
of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights
out on a limb, there’s a chance you’ll fall in your sleep.
Even if you love the racket of ascension,
you must know how the power leaves you.
And at this pitch who has time for meditation?
the sea walled in by buildings. I do miss
the quiet, don’t you? When I said, “Fuck the deer
antlered and hitheredin fur,” it was because
I had seen the faces of presidents balled into a fist.
If I were in charge, I would know how to fix
the world: free health care or free physicals,
at least, and an abiding love for the abstract.
When I said, “All of history is saved for us,”
it was because I scorned the emancipated sky.
Does the anthem choke you up? When I asked
God if anyone born to slaves would die
a slave, He said: “Sure as a rock descending
a hillside.” That’s why I’m not a Christian.
I said Folk was dressed in Blues but hairier and hemped.
After “We acoustic banjo disciples!” Jebediah said, “When
and whereforth shall the bucolic blacks with good tempers
come to see us pluck as Elizabeth Cotton intended?”
We stole my Uncle Windchime’s minivan, penned a simple
ballad about the drag of lovelessness and drove the end
of the chitlin’ circuit to a joint skinny as a walk-in temple
where our new folk was not that new, but strengthened
by our twelve bar conviction. A month later, in pulled
a parade of well meaning alabaster post adolescents.
We noticed the sand-tanned and braless ones piled
in the ladder-backed front row with their boyfriends
first because beneath our twangor slept what I’ll call
a hunger for the outlawable. One night J asked me when
sisters like Chapman would arrive. I shook my chin wool
then, and placed my hand over the guitar string’s wind-
ow til it stilled. “When the moon’s black,” I said. “Be faithful.”
New York Poem
In New York from a rooftop in Chinatown
one can see the sci-fi bridges and aisles
of buildings where there are more miles
of shortcuts and alternative takes than
there are Miles Davis alternative takes.
There is a white girl who looks hi-
jacked with feeling in her glittering jacket
and her boots that look made of dinosaur
skin and R is saying to her I love you
again and again. On a Chinatown rooftop
in New York anything can happen.
Someone says “abattoir” is such a pretty word
for “slaughterhouse.” Someone says
mermaids are just fish ladies. I am so
fucking vain I cannot believe anyone
is threatened by me. In New York
not everyone is forgiven. Dear New York,
dear girl with a bar code tattooed
on the side of your face, and everyone
writing poems about and inside and outside
the subways, dear people underground
in New York, on the sci-fi bridges and aisles
of New York, on the rooftops of Chinatown
where Miles Davis is pumping in,
and someone is telling me about the contranyms,
how “cleave” and “cleave” are the same word
looking in opposite directions. I now know
“bolt” is to lock and “bolt” is to run away.
That’s how I think of New York. Someone
jonesing for Grace Jones at the party,
and someone jonesing for grace.
Ode to Big Trend
Pretty soon the Negroes were looking to get paid.
My partner, Big Trend, wiped his ox neck and said
He wasn’t going to wait too much longer. You
Know that look your daddy gets before he whups you?
That’s how Big Trend looked. There was a pink scar
Meddling his forehead. Most people assumed a bear
Like him couldn’t read anything but a dollar,
But I’d watched him tour the used bookstore
In town and seen him napping so I knew he held more
Than power in those hands. They could tear
A Bible in two. Sometimes on the walk home I’d hear
Him reciting poems. But come Friday, he was the one
The fellas asked to speak to the boss. He’d go alone,
Usually, and left behind, we imagined the boss buckled
Into Trend’s shadow because our money always followed.
A large woman gabbing at the bus stop.
She mistakes me for someone who gives a damn,
For a native son of her gray industrial breast.
She blesses her Bucs, her Steelers,
Her father, God rest his soul, was a Penguins fan.
She mistakes me for someone who gives a damn,
Her blue scarf twisting like the mad Monongahela,
Her blue face lined like a jitney’s street map.
I’d tell her I’m not from this place;
These severed grumpy neighborhoods,
These ruthless winter tantrums,
But her long-winded stories have numbed me.
She is persistent as snow, as boot slush & Thinsulate,
As buses rumbling like great, metallic caterpillars.
She lights a cigarette & it means:
Spring will burn quick & furious as a match,
Summer will blaze.
She tells me, Nobody’s a stranger in Pittsburgh.
And maybe I believe her,
My frosty, fairy, foster-Mamma,
My stout, blabbering metaphor.
My parents would have had me believe
there was no such thing as race
there in the wild backyard, our knees black
with store-bought grass and dirt,
black as the soil of pastures or of orchards
grown above graves. We clawed free
the stones and filled their beds with soil
and covered the soil with sod
as if we owned the earth.
We worked into the edge of darkness
and rose in the edge of darkness
until everything came from the dirt.
We clawed free the moss and brambles,
the colonies of crab-weed, the thorns
patrolling stems and I liked it then:
the mute duty that tightened my parents’
backs as if they meant to work
the devil from his den. Rock and spore
and scraps of leaf; wild bouquets withered
in bags by the road, cast from the ground
we broke. We scrubbed the patio,
we raked the cross hatch of pine needles,
we soaked the ant-cathedrals in gas.
I found an axe blade beneath an untamed hedge,
its too dull to sever vine and half expected
to find a jawbone scabbed with mud,
because no one told me what happened
to the whites who’d owned the house.
No one spoke of the color that curled
around our tools or of the neighbors
who knew our name before we knew theirs.
Sometimes they were almost visible,
clean as fence posts in porch light;
their houses burning with wonder,
their hammocks drunk with wind.
When I dreamed, I dreamed of them
and believed they dreamed of us
and believed we were made of dirt or shadows:
something not held or given, irredeemable, inexact,
all of us asking what it means to be black . . .
I have never wanted another life, but I know the story
of pursuit: the dream of a gate standing open,
a grill and folding chairs, a new yard boxed with light.
Now that my afro’s as big as Shaft’s
I feel a little better about myself.
How it warms my bullet-head in Winter,
black halo, frizzy hat of hair.
Shaft knew what a crown his was,
an orb compared to the bush
on the woman sleeping next to him.
(There was always a woman
sleeping next to him. I keep thinking,
If I’d only talk to strangers. . .
grow a more perfect head of hair.)
His afro was a crown.
Bullet after barreling bullet,
fist-fights & car chases,
three movies & a brief TV series,
never one muffled strand,
never dampened by sweat–
I sweat in even the least heroic of situations.
I’m sure you won’t believe this,
but if a policeman walks behind me, I tremble:
What would Shaft do? What would Shaft do?
Bits of my courage flake away like dandruff.
I’m sweating even as I tell you this,
I’m not cool,
I keep the real me tucked beneath a wig,
I’m a small American frog.
I grow beautiful as the theatre dims.
Snow for Wallace Stevens
No one living a snowed-in life
can sleep without a blindfold.
Light is the lion that comes down to drink.
I know tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk
holds nearly the same sound as a bottle.
Drink and drank and drunk-a-drunk-drunk,
light is the lion that comes down.
This song is for the wise man who avenges
by building his city in snow.
For his decorations in a nigger cemetery.
How, with pipes of winter
lining his cognition, does someone learn
to bring a sentence to its knees?
Who is not more than his limitations?
Who is not the blood in a wine barrel
and the wine as well? I too, having lost faith
in language, have placed my faith in language.
Thus, I have a capacity for love without
forgiveness. This song is for my foe,
the clean-shaven, gray-suited, gray patron
of Hartford, the emperor of whiteness
blue as a body made of snow.
Support the Troops
I’m sorry I will not be able to support any soldiers
at this time. I have a family and a house with slanting floors.
There is a merciless dampness in the basement,
a broken toilet, and several of the windows are painted shut.
I do not pretend my dread is anything like the dread
of men at war. Had I smaller feet, I would have gladly enlisted
myself. In fact, I come from a long line of military men.
My grandfather died heroically in 1965, though his medals have been
lost. I try to serve my country by killing houseflies. I am fully
aware of their usefulness, especially in matters of decay.
Napoleon’s surgeon general, Baron Dominique Larrey,
reported during france’s 1829 campaign
in Syria that certain species of fly only consumed
what was already dead and had a generally positive effect on wounds.
When my grandfather was found,
his corpse shimmered in maggots free of disease. As you can
tell, I know a little something about civilization.
I realize that when you said “Freedom,” you were talking
about the meat we kill for, the head of the enemy leaking
in the bushes, how all of it makes peace possible.
Without firearms I know most violence would be impractical.
And thank you for enclosing photos and biographical information
of soldiers who might suit my household. I am sure any one
of them would be an excellent guardian of my family.
I admit I have no capacity for rifles or gadgetry.
I cannot use rulers accurately.
I have not been able to drive off the flies. I can see
that they all have teeth that are the very masticates of democracy
and I thank you for noting the one with a talent
for making the eagle tattooed across his back rear its talons.
I realize my support comes with a year long subscription
to the gentleman’s magazine of my choice.
I realize were it not for the sacrifices of these young boys,
America would no longer have its source
of power. I have given considerable thought to your
offer, but at this time, I simply am unable to offer my support.
Wind in a Box (after Lorca)
I want to always sleep beneath a bright red blanket
of leaves. I want to never wear a coat of ice.
I want to learn to walk without blinking.
I want to outlive the turtle and the turtle’s father,
the stone. I want a mouth full of permissions
and a pink glistening bud. If the wildflower and ant hill
can return after sleeping each season, I want to walk
out of this house wearing nothing but wind.
I want to greet you, I want to wait for the bus with you
weighing less than a chill. I want to fight off the bolts
of gray lighting the alcoves and winding paths
of your hair. I want to fight off the damp nudgings
of snow. I want to fight off the wind.
I want to be the wind and I want to fight off the wind
with its sagging banner of isolation, its swinging
screen doors, its gilded boxes, and neatly folded pamphlets
of noise. I want to fight off the dull straight lines
of two by fours and endings, your disapprovals,
your doubts and regulations, your carbon copies.
If the locust can abandon its suit,
I want a brand new name. I want the pepper’s fury
and the salt’s tenderness. I want the virtue
of the evening rain, but not its gossip.
I want the moon’s intuition, but not its questions.
I want the malice of nothing on earth. I want to enter
every room in a strange electrified city
and find you there. I want your lips around the bell of flesh
at the bottom of my ear. I want to be the mirror,
but not the nightstand. I do not want to be the light switch.
I do not want to be the yellow photograph
or book of poems. When I leave this body, Woman,
I want to be pure flame. I want to be your song.
Wind in a Box (one)
This ink. This name. This blood. This
This blood. This loss. This lonesome wind.
This / twin / swiftly / paddling / shadow
an inch above the carpet—. This cry. This
This shudder. This is where I stood: by the
by the door, by the window, in the night /
in the night.
How deep, how often / must a women by
How deep, how often, have I been touched?
On the bone, on the shoulder, on the brow,
on the knuckle:
Touch like a last name, touch like a wet
Touch like an empty shoe and an empty
and incomprehensible. This ink. This
name. This blood
and wonder. This box. This body in a box.
in the body. This wind in the blood.
Woofer (When I Consider the African-American)
When I consider the much discussed dilemma
of the African-American, I think not of the diasporic
middle passing, unchained, juke, jock, and jiving
sons and daughters of what sleek dashikied poets
and tether fisted Nationalists commonly call Mother
Africa, but of an ex-girlfriend who was the child
of a black-skinned Ghanaian beauty and Jewish-
American, globetrotting ethnomusicologist.
I forgot all my father’s warnings about meeting women
at bus stops (which is the way he met my mother)
when I met her waiting for the rush hour bus in October
because I have always been a sucker for deep blue denim
and Afros and because she spoke so slowly
when she asked the time. I wrote my phone number
in the back of the book of poems I had and said
something like “You can return it when I see you again”
which has to be one of my top two or three best
pickup lines ever. If you have ever gotten lucky
on a first date you can guess what followed: her smile
twizzling above a tight black v-neck sweater, chatter
on my velvet couch and then the two of us wearing nothing
but shoes. When I think of African-American rituals
of love, I think not of young, made-up unwed mothers
who seek warmth in the arms of any brother
with arms because they never knew their fathers
(though that could describe my mother), but of that girl
and me in the basement of her father’s four story Victorian
making love among the fresh blood and axe
and chicken feathers left after the Thanksgiving slaughter
executed by a 3-D witchdoctor houseguest (his face
was starred by tribal markings) and her ruddy American
poppa while drums drummed upstairs from his hi-fi woofers
because that’s the closest I’ve ever come to anything
remotely ritualistic or African, for that matter.
We were quiet enough to hear their chatter
between the drums and the scraping of their chairs
at the table above us and the footsteps of anyone
approaching the basement door and it made
our business sweeter, though I’ll admit I wondered
if I’d be cursed for making love under her father’s nose
or if the witchdoctor would sense us and then cast a spell.
I have been cursed, broken hearted, stunned, frightened
and bewildered, but when I consider the African-American
I think not of the tek nines of my generation deployed
by madness or that we were assigned some lousy fate
when God prescribed job titles at the beginning of Time
or that we were too dumb to run the other way
when we saw the wide white sails of the ships
since given the absurd history of the world, everyone
is a descendant of slaves (which makes me wonder
if outrunning your captors is not the real meaning of Race?).
I think of the girl’s bark colored, bi-continental nipples
when I consider the African-American.
I think of a string of people connected one to another
and including the two of us there in the basement
linked by a hyphen filled with blood;
linked by a blood filled baton in one great historical relay.