Thursday, April 25, 2019

Poetry Thursday

The Body Remembers
~Yusef Komunyakaa

I stood on one foot for three minutes & didn’t tilt
the scales. Do you remember how quickly

we scrambled up an oak leaning out over the creek,
how easy to trust the water to break

our glorious leaps? The body remembers
every wish one lives for or doesn’t, or even horror.

Our dance was a rally in sunny leaves, then quick
as anything, Johnny Dickson was up opening

his arms wide in the tallest oak, waving
to the sky, & in the flick of an eye

he was a buffalo fish gigged, pleading
for help, voiceless. Bigger & stronger,

he knew every turn in the creek past his back door,
but now he was cooing like a brown dove

in a trap of twigs. A water-honed spear
of kindling jutted up, as if it were the point

of our folly & humbug on a Sunday afternoon, right?
Five of us carried him home through the thicket,

our feet cutting a new path, running in sleep
years later. We were young as condom-balloons

flowering crabapple trees in double bloom
& had a world of baleful hope & breath.

Does Johnny run fingers over the thick welt
on his belly, days we were still invincible?

Sometimes I spend half a day feeling for bones
in my body, humming a half-forgotten

ballad on a park bench a long ways from home.
The body remembers the berry bushes

heavy with sweetness shivering in a lonely woods,
but I doubt it knows words live longer

than clay & spit of flesh, as rock-bottom love.
Is it easier to remember pleasure

or does hurt ease truest hunger?
That summer, rocking back & forth, uprooting

what’s to come, the shadow of the tree
weighed as much as a man.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

los dias nefastos comienzan de nuevo

It's cold and foggy out this morning, it fits perfectly with my state of mind and mood.

I feel both like I am walking in the fog and yet clear, painful memories keep cutting deep.

Tears flow just thinking about the trauma of that morning six years ago.

I'll come back and tell you more if I have the strength, for now, please just send me peaceful thoughts.
-------------

4.22

Six years ago today, we forced the doctors to sit with all of us ... to explain what was really going on with my sister.

Six years ago today, we let go.

Well, I don't know that we really let go. I didn't let go. But the headache I had been suffering lifted for the first time in three days.

I have to construct a wall around my heart to even write these words.

I wonder if I will ever be far away enough from this to actually remember those days in the hospital. I wonder if those days will remain in the "nefastos" category forever.

And tears fall down my face and little splashes of tears dirty my glasses, and I still can't REMEMBER, but the grief pierces my heart.

And even though I cannot will myself to remember all that happened in those days, I get flashes of the story as if it were a movie, and sometimes these wake me from sleep.

In sleep, I am in that panic mode of what can I do to make this stop. I used to be able to change the trajectory of my dreams, but this is not just a nightmare, it is reality.

Yesterday we sat around the table and shared some of the the trauma of the last six year with a friend we haven't seen in a while.

The tears welled up in her eyes. I felt bad, but we don't talk about it, and her presence gave us the space to do it.

4.23
I am exhausted. Sleep is hard, not as bad as it was all those years ago. But in the darkness, I remember that night I arrived. I had the mijo with me. His dad was at the hospital over night with Chila. As soon as the room was dark, the mijo asked me, Do you think she can get better?

What could I say? I told him I did.

You can't expect a miracle if you don't believe.

Last week, after six years, we talked about the trauma. I had the mijo with me for three days, and as always, it was bittersweet. And he asked me as soon as we were alone. Nowadays the questions are not as straightforward as they were that night. He asks a really hard, oblique question. He sees how I handle it. If I say something he can trust, I might get another one. I have to guess at context and meaning. I have to navigate the bombs. And if I do a good job, I get a little window into what is bothering him.

This time, eventually, after several hard questions, I said to him that he is allowed to have emotions ... that the trauma of losing someone when he was so young will stay with him, that it is okay to talk about it, to take care of himself.

I reminded him that at the hospital he was so worried about others - it's who he is, it's what he inherited from her.

He had a box of tissues, and if he saw a tear fall down someone's face, he was at that person's side, offering solace. He was scared to death, and he was consoling others. And afterwards, he was so worried about his dad, his own emotions did not get to be aired.

I took him to grief group every week. I suggested the one on one, but he didn't want to talk about it.

And now, here we are, and I worry, but I am glad that he still trusts me.

And I worry that if I could have just cried in front of him that maybe I would have helped him more. But even now I can't just let go and wail even though my soul is doing just that.

I am exhausted.

I say that feeling emotions is exhausting.

But maybe it holding them in that is exhausting.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Poetry Thursday

It’s Not Easy Being Green
~Debra Kang Dean

Whatever her story is, today
and every day that I’m here,
she’s here in her long, quilted green coat,

her companion—a beagle?—
nose to the ground, its tail
a shimmy. Unlidded to

lidded trash can they go, and
all along the fence lining the stream,
looking, I think, for whatever

salvageable cast-offs can be found.
By all appearances, she doesn’t need to,
but who knows, maybe she does.

The day after the first snow, she’d stopped,
asked, What’s that you’re doing? and, to my answer,
Yes, she’d said, of course, taiji.

Today, as I turned southwest
into Fair Lady Works the Shuttles, in it
lost, there they were, close by, again,

her companion sniffing along the fence
at court’s edge, and she, standing by. I want
to believe by now that she and I have gone

beyond just being fair-weather friends
as, moving on without pause, we simply
smile, nod, say, Hello. Or don’t.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

One

It's amazing how numbers can make perspective so incredibly important.

Almost 21 years ago, my sister-in-law gave birth to my nephew ... and named him a not-approved name. It broke all my mother's rules, and was, generally, not preferred by my sisters.

So, when my mom's cockatiel started hatching babies, they all took turns naming the birds what they would have named my nephew. I can't remember all the names, there were at least five baby birds. I remember Cristian and Joaquin, but there were others, and finally, ET. My older sister said that the little baby birds that my mom was hand feeding, no feather yet, looked like ET, and they had run out of their preferred baby boy names.

Turns out they were all girls, so the names had to be modified. My mom gave away at least two of the babies since she already had two adult birds.

ET turned out to be a pearl cockatiel, beautiful with her little pearls on the tail feathers and a yellow-tinged stomach. The only one to be so beautiful.

One bird will be friends with the human; two birds don't even care about human interactions; three birds or more, and only one male, apparently makes mean girls like qualities emerge.

The other birds ganged up on ET her whole life, pecked at her mercilessly, causing her shoulders to be bald, no feathers will grow back after years of abuse. My mom always thought it was about competition for the male, but maybe it was bird envy. ET is really like the Cinderella of birds.

Why did my mother never remove her from that cage? I can't say, but she didn't. Perhaps my mom has more Darwin characteristics than I know.

And slowly the birds began to die.  I wasn't here for any of this, really, except occasional trips home. So, I would only hear from my mother, so and so died, on a catch up call.

But now I am here and I get to see day to day the update.

A couple of weeks ago the last of ET's sisters passed away. They are almost 21 after all. One morning, my mother found just ET sitting up on the perch and the other on the floor of the cage.

She is now only one, and her demeanor has changed. 

The birds have always asked for attention. Somehow they know the sound of my father's truck. As soon as he pulls up, the squawking begins. He always greets them in the morning and when he comes in, too. They always remind him, just in case he forgets, to come say hi. And it is like a neon sign, Dad's home!

I found out recently it is not just the attention they like from him, though they did love that. He gives them treats. Of course he does, my dad is the treat purveyor for all animals in this house.

Now ET is much more demanding ... and I assume that it is because she is lonely. Birds like to be in a flock, even if it is only two.

So, we all take turns going out to see her. Dad even throws out some bird seed right outside the door in front of her cage. Little sparrows come and chat with ET through the screen door. I wonder if they speak the same bird language.

She is still skittish after years of having to protect herself. But if you get low, especially if you bend your head, so she can just see your hair, she will make a little cooing sound.

No touching, no putting your fingers near, but talking is welcomed.

She gets as close as she can to you, she bends her head down like yours, she cranes the neck to get the best view, and she makes her little welcome sound.

And if you walk away too soon, she screeches or she just calls out - depends on how far away you get before she sounds the alarm.

I am teaching my niece to spend time with ET when she is here. ET can use all the attention and companionship she can get. And it is a lovely, fairly quiet moment of meditation to spend time with the little bird.

Working on renaming her with some better, nicer name ... something with the initials E.T. but I haven't landed on the right combo yet.

Note 1: mom's name rule states that given names should be in English with equivalents that are also acceptable in Spanish. The rule theoretically comes from my mom's experience growing up, where her name was always translated into English, including on all of her documents. (I am not convinced that she didn't do the actual translating herself since she also doesn't like the name in Spanish.) My mother broke her own rule with my younger sister, giving her the French equivalent rather than an English equivalent. But she was the baby, and it was clearly a new age in the world, or so we all believe.

Note 2: no mother needs to get approval, but she can also not prevent criticism, aloud or whispered behind her back.

Friday, April 12, 2019

comment that turned into a post

I intend to post.

I draft pieces and they feel flat and ugly and stupid and they languish.

But, sometimes, what I am feeling does come out, in response to others. I wrote this response to Anne Nahm on her post. And I realized it wasn't a comment. It was a post, wanting to come out. So, unfiltered, here it is.

Grief has changed my life... I can't say all in bad ways, but it is really hard to find the good ways (and, truthfully, when I do, I get bitterly angry about those changes, too).
When the experts say, everyone grieves in their own way, it's irritating, but true. 
The first year, for me, was interrupted when I had another major loss (brother first and then seven months later, sister). In the first seven months, I went from being unable to sleep or eat and wanting to claw through the floor, to feeling like I might be ok. 
And then the second loss. I completely lost it, but in a very strange way ... not unlike what you describe, but also different. I crawled in a "I'm ok" hole and stayed there, refusing to feel, heal, or deal.  
And then everyone else in my family fell apart in very open, real ways. My reaction to that was: I'M OK, I can handle it all! I will fix everyone. I can stick to all my plans and all my deadlines, EVERYTHING IS FINE! 
When I scheduled my qualifying exams, no one even thought to say, Are you sure you can do this? 
In fact, no one checked in on me. 
Friends I have known for year, for whom I have been a major emotional support for every little thing in their lives, did not even call me to see how I was.
I was busy. I was holding everyone else up. 
When I mentioned to a virtual stranger how hard the weekly calls with my mom and sister-in-law and brother-in-law were straining me because I couldn't take any more pain, she shamed me. 
Apparently, it was my job to be OK! FINE! Nothing to look at here...
I was so beyond dealing with the grief that I saw my sister everywhere. I would see her drive by in a car. I would glimpse across a crowded mall, and lose her before I could catch up.  
And I would think, good, she got away. She doesn't have to deal with this. I was developing an intricate story about how she was living a new, better, unfettered life..
And this month will be SIX YEARS since I lost my sister, and I just barely started crying about it a year ago... and it still comes out as yelling and screaming and angry and conflicted and and and ... it seeps out whichever way it wants to, when it wants to, unbidden, unwelcome...
All this to say, it really is different for everyone. 
And whatever gets you through the day. [And all those other things people say which are all too true.]
But also there is no way around grief. You have to go through it. When you feel you have the strength to face the loss, the scrubbed memories may just come rushing back and rushing out. And even when you are not "ready" ...
I checked in on you the other day because I want you to know that your grief matters... whatever stage or feeling or denying, it all matters, to me, and to a lot of others... but you don't need to post anything. You don't need to entertain me.
I will keep checking on you. <3

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Poetry Thursday, um... got stuck in draft folder...

Dor
~Nathalie Handal

We walk through clouds
wrapped in ancient symbols

We descend the hill
wearing water

Maybe we are dead
and don’t know it

Maybe we are violet flowers
and those we long for

love only

our unmade hearts

On attends, on attends

Wait for Duras and Eminescu
to tell us in French then Romanian

light has wounds
slow down—
memory is misgivings

Wait until the nails
get rusty
in the houses of our past.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Poetry Thursday, a bit late, but totally worth the wait...

I used to be a roller coaster girl
~ jessica Care moore
(for Ntozake Shange)

 I used to be a roller coaster girl
7 times in a row
No vertigo in these skinny legs
My lipstick bubblegum pink
                         As my panther 10 speed.

never kissed

Nappy pigtails, no-brand gym shoes
White lined yellow short-shorts

Scratched up legs pedaling past borders of
humus and baba ganoush
Masjids and liquor stores
City chicken, pepperoni bread
and superman ice cream
                                     Cones.

Yellow black blending with bits of Arabic
Islam and Catholicism.

My daddy was Jesus
My mother was quiet
Jayne Kennedy was worshipped
by my brother Mark

I don’t remember having my own bed before 12.
Me and my sister Lisa                                shared.

Sometimes all three Moore girls slept in the Queen.

You grow up so close
never close enough.

I used to be a roller coaster girl
Wild child full of flowers and ideas
Useless crushes on       polish boys
in a school full of       white girls.

Future black swan singing
Zeppelin, U2 and Rick Springfield

Hoping to be Jessie’s Girl

I could outrun my brothers and
Everybody else to that

reoccurring line

I used to be a roller coaster girl
Till you told me I was moving too fast
Said my rush made your head spin
My laughter hurt your ears

A scream of happiness
A whisper of freedom
Pouring out my armpits
Sweating up my neck

You were always the scared one
I kept my eyes open for the entire trip
Right before the drop I would brace myself
And let that force push my head back into

That hard iron seat

My arms nearly fell off a few times
Still, I kept running back to the line
When I was done
Same way I kept running back to you

I used to be a roller coaster girl
I wasn’t scared of mountains or falling
Hell, I looked forward to flying and dropping
Off this earth and coming back to life

every once in a while

I found some peace in being out of control
allowing my blood to race
through my veins for 180 seconds

I earned my sometime nicotine pull
I buy my own damn drinks & the ocean
Still calls my name when it feels my toes
Near its shore.

I still love roller coasters
& you grew up to be
Afraid
of all girls who cld
                                          ride

Fearlessly

like
me.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Poetry Thursday, grief, again...

Poof
 ~Amy Gerstler

Here on my lap, in a small plastic bag,
my share of your ashes. Let me not squander
them. Your family blindsided me with this gift.
We want to honor your bond they said at the end
of your service, which took place, as you’d
arranged, in a restaurant at the harbor,
an old two-story boathouse made of dark
wood. Some of us sat on the balcony, on black
leather bar stools, staring at rows of docked boats.
Both your husbands showed up and got along.
And of course your impossibly handsome son.
After lunch, a slideshow and testimonials,
your family left to toss their share of you
onto the ocean, along with some flowers.

You were the girlfriend I practiced kissing
with in sixth grade during zero-sleep
sleepovers. You were the pretty one.
In middle school I lived on diet Coke and
your sexual reconnaissance reports. In this
telling of our story your father never hits
you or calls you a whore. Always gentle
with me, he taught me to ride a bike after
everyone said I was too klutzy to learn.
In this version we’re not afraid of our bodies.
In this fiction, birth control is easy to obtain,
and never fails. You still dive under a stall
divider in a restroom at the beach to free me
after I get too drunk to unlock the door. You still
reveal the esoteric mysteries of tampons. You
still learn Farsi and French from boyfriends
as your life ignites. In high school I still guide you
safely out of the stadium when you start yelling
that the football looks amazing as it shatters
into a million shimmering pieces, as you
loudly admit that you just dropped acid.

We lived to be sixty. Then poof, you vanished.
I can’t snort you, or dump you out over my head,
coating myself in your dust like some hapless cartoon
character who’s just blown herself up, yet remains
unscathed, as is the way in cartoons. In this version,
I remain in place for a while. Did you have a good
journey? I’m still lagging behind, barking up all
the wrong trees, whipping out my scimitar far
in advance of what the occasion demands. As I
drive home from your memorial, you fizz in
my head like a distant radio station. What
can I do to bridge this chasm between us?
In this fiction, I roll down the window, drive
uncharacteristically fast. I tear your baggie
open with my teeth and release you at 85
miles an hour, music cranked up full blast.



What is so hard about grief is precisely this: (note from the author when her poem was posted on the Poem of the Day (emphasis mine):

 “An elegy that blends predominantly real and a few fictionalized details, this poem was written in honor of a friend who I met way back in fifth grade, who died last year. The loss of this bright, adventurous, beautiful woman who’d been my friend since before either of us wore a bra, since I had braces and hair down to my hips and she was a tall leggy pre-hippie with a cool nickname, who’d coached me through so many ‘firsts,’ (first drunkenness, first crushes, first sex, first drugs, etc., etc.) who had been such a beacon, is hard to process. Poems being one of the ways we can attempt to speak to and of the dead, this poem is for C., who was always 10 steps ahead of me.”

How do you speak of the dead and how do you keep your loved one alive?

Everyone going through grief will tell you, in lucid moments, that talking about your loved one is bittersweet; it is like that bruise you touch to ignite the memories. Of course, it is painful to recall your loved one is no longer here. But whether we like it or not, especially in the first few years of loss (yes YEARS), the knowledge that your loved one is gone is with you like the air around you. Those loved ones linger in every word, every memory, every breath. And, the thought that others will forget what is foremost in your mind, is even more painful. 

It is so very interesting how the memories have come to me over the last six years. As we approach the sixth anniversary of my sister's death, I am remembering the months before her death. We were all desperately trying to survive the death of my brother, gulping for life like someone drowning gulps for breath.

And then she was gone. No, then she was in the hospital and we were having to let her go.

I thought I had borne the greatest pain when I watched my brother's body dropped into a grave. It changed my relationship with cemeteries. It made me hate the place that took him to forever.

But this was so much more painful. So painful in fact that I tried to turn off life all together.

We were on the third day of being in the hospital when a friend noticed I hadn't eaten.

I remember that, but most of the rest of those days I do not remember. I only remember pain and hollow and a horrible headache. My head recalls the pain, as I write this, it explodes in the same pain.

In the past few months, I have been able to approach the memories of those days. Not full on remembering, but tentative glances through the portholes. I am still not sure what is real and what is distorted.

But there are other memories, too, that pop into my mind. Memories that are now only mine - of time with my sister and my brother - stories that only we three knew, that only we three remembered.

I wonder how I will learn to say good bye to them, or if I have to... and it hurts.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Poetry Thursday

Self as Goat in Tree
~Mihaela Moscaliuc

Nine goats scamper up
the gnarly argan tree and graze it clean.
They ingest the wrinkled fruit whole,
though it’s the bitter pulp alone
that rouses their appetite for more.
Sated, they stare at the horizon
till branches wear thin and fall.
Farmers harvest goats’ droppings
to extract the pit rich in kernels of oil.
Haven’t you too wished yourself a goat
perched punch-drunk on a linden tree,
blasé about the gold you might shit,
how it might serve both hunger and greed.
Haven’t you goaded yourself
to balance just a bit longer,
chew on some fugitive scents,
forget what a ditch the earth is.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Poetry Thursday

Bitch Instinct
~Analicia Sotelo

Before this day I loved
like an animal loves a human,

with no way to articulate
how my bones felt in bed

or how a telephone felt so strange
in my paw. O papa—

I called out to no one—
but no one understood. I didn’t

even. I wanted to be caught. Like
let me walk beside you on my favorite leash,

let my hair grow long and wild
so you can comb it in the off-hours,

be tender to me. Also let me eat
the meals you do not finish

so I can acclimate, climb into
the way you claim this world.

Once, I followed married men:
eager for shelter, my fur

curled, my lust
freshly showered.

I called out, Grief.
They heard, Beauty.                   

I called out, Why?
They said, Because I can and will.

One smile could sustain me for a week.
I was that hungry. Lithe and giddy,     

my skin carried the ether of a so-so
self-esteem. I felt fine. I was

fine, but I was also looking
for scraps; I wanted them all to pet me.

You think because I am a woman,
I cannot call myself a dog?

Look at my sweet canine mind,
my long, black tongue. I know

what I’m doing. When you’re with
the wrong person, you start barking.

But with you, I am looking out
this car window with a heightened sense

I’ve always owned. Oh every animal
knows when something is wrong.

Of this sweet, tender feeling, I was wrong,
and I was right, and I was wrong.

Poetry Thursday

Hummingbird Abecedarian
~Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Arriving with throats like nipped roses, like a tiny
bloom fastened to each neck, nothing else
cuts the air quite like this thrum to make the small
dog at my feet whine and yelp. So we wait—no
excitement pinned to the sky so needled and our days open
full of rain for weeks. Nothing yet from the ground speaks
green except weeds. But soon you see a familiar shadow
hovering where the glass feeders you brought
inside used to hang because the ice might shatter the pollen
junk and leaf bits collected after this windiest, wildest of winters.
Kin across the ocean surely felt this little jump of blood, this
little heartbeat, perhaps brushed across my grandmother’s
mostly grey braid snaked down her brown
neck and back across the Indian and the widest part of the Pacific
ocean, across the Mississippi, and back underneath my
patio. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been silent in my lungs,
quiet as a salamander. Those times I wanted to decipher the mutter
rolled off a stranger’s full and beautiful lips. I only knew they
spoke in Malayalam—my father’s language—and how
terrific it’d sound if I could make my own slow mouth
ululate like that in utter sorrow or joy. I’m certain I’d be
voracious with each light and peppered syllable
winged back to me in the form of this sort of faith, a gift like
xenia offered to me. And now I must give it back to this tiny bird, its
yield far greener and greater than I could ever repay—a light like
zirconia—hoping for something so simple and sweet to sip.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Poetry Thursday, still celebrating Black history

Poem Full of Worry Ending with My Birth
 ~Tarfia Faizullah

I worry that my friends
will misunderstand my silence

as a lack of love, or interest, instead
of a tent city built for my own mind,

I worry I can no longer pretend
enough to get through another

year of pretending I know
that I understand time, though

I can see my own hands; sometimes,
I worry over how to dress in a world

where a white woman wearing
a scarf over her head is assumed

to be cold, whereas with my head
cloaked, I am an immediate symbol

of a war folks have been fighting
eons-deep before I was born, a meteor.

Poetry Thursday

Entry 003 from I love you and I’m not dead
~Sade LaNay

New moon in midheaven, in Libra. The hermit wields two swords. Temptation overcomes the star. The chariot travails with weakend strength. Death rises to meet every face you meet. Ten wands whittled from prickly ash. Fall in love with a teacher. Build a home on the moon. Grow twinberry and gentian. The chart culminates in a stellium of ginger coins and wild yam discs.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Black History Month, Poetry Edition

America Gives Its Blackness Back To Me
~Shane McCrae

The shadow I had carried lightly has

Been forced upon me now and heavy since

Bulky since     now and since unwieldy as

A corpse the shadow I     was born from in


And to I     should have known I couldn’t being

As how it wasn’t me who lifted it

Not     all the way     from me in the first place being

As how its lightness after was a gift


Its near-     bodilessness a gift     from those

Who bind it to me now I should have known

I couldn’t while they watched me     set it loose


They bind it     to my back they make it strange

That I knew     in my arms they weigh it down

With the shadow they had kept the bindings in

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Poetry Thursday, Black History Month Edition

Beginnings
~Mahtem Shiferraw

This is not how it begins
but how you understand it.

I walk many kilometers and
find myself to be the same—

the same moon hovering over
the same, bleached sky,

and when the officer calls me
it is a name I do not recognize,
a self I do not recognize.

We are asked to kneel, or
stand still, depending on which land
we embroider our feet with—

this one is copious with black blood
or so I am told.

Someone calls me by the skin
I did not know I had
and to this I think—language,

there must be a language
that contains us all
that contains all of this.

How to disassemble
the sorrow of beginnings,

how to let go, and not,
how to crouch beneath other bodies
how to stop breathing, how not to.

Our fathers are not elders here;
they are long-bearded men
shoving taxi cabs and sprawled
in small valet parking lots—

at their sight, my body dims its light
(a desiccated grape)
and murmur, Igziabher Yistilign—
our pride, raw-purple again.

We begin like this: all of us
walking in solitude
walking a desert earth and
unforgiving bodies. We cross lines
we dare not speak of; we learn and
unlearn things quickly, or intentionally slow
(because, that, we can control)
and give ourselves new names
because these selves must be new
to forget the old blue.

But, sometimes, we also begin like this:
on a cold, cold night
memorizing escape routes
kissing the foreheads of small children
hiding accat in our pockets,
a rosary for safekeeping.

Or, married off to men thirty years our elders
big house, big job, big, striking hands.

Or, thinking of the mouths to feed.

At times
we begin in silence;

water making its way into our bodies—
rain, or tears, or black and red seas
until we are ripe with longing.

Black History Month, Poetry Edition

Incantation
~Chris Abani

What words can you wrap around

a dying brother, still dying, even now.

A man who has not eaten for a month

sips at water and says, even thirst is a gift.

He asks what other gifts God has given him.

I’m your gift, his daughter says from a corner.

And he smiles and rasps—

you can only unwrap a child once.

The rest is prayer and even more prayer.

You sing softly to him in a language

only the two of you speak and he

snores softly into your palm, breath and blood.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Black History Month, Poetry Edition

Speak Now, Or Forever. Hold Your Peace.
~Patricia Smith

Two weeks after 17 students were gunned down in Parkland, Fla., hundreds of worshippers clutching AR-15s slurped holy wine and exchanged or renewed wedding vows in a commitment ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pa.

Draped in thick silk the hue of hemorrhage and bone, you fondle your butt stocks, muffled lust needles your cheeks. Your aim? To
make America great. Again,

your terse-lipped Lord has nudged you into the glare—numbed and witless in His name, you preen and re-glue blessed unions,
mistake America straight, contend

your unloosed crave for the sugared heat of triggers. Besotted beneath
your crowns of unspent shells, you hard-rhyme vows and
quake, aware of that weight again,

the gawky, feral gush of fetish. Every uncocked groom and rigid bride is greased and un-tongued, struck dumb by what’s at
stake. A miracle waits. You men

and women kaboom your hearts with skewered Spam and searing pink Walmart wine, graze idly on ammo and blood-frosted
cake. A prayer is the bait. Amen

woos guests in their ball gowns and bird suits, hallows your blind
obsession with your incendiary intended. Though you’ve
faked America, hate upends

all this odd holy—its frayed altars, fumbled psalms, assault rifles chic in itty veils. And we marvel at this
outbreak, bewaring that gate again,

left unlatched so this bright foolish can flow through. This ilk of stupid blares blue enough to rouse ancestors—y’all ’bout to
make Amiri berate again,

’bout to conjure Fannie Lou and her tree-trunk wrists. While you snot-weep, caress mute carbines, wed your unfathomable
ache, America waits. ’Cause when

the sacrament cools, and the moon is pocked with giggling, who’ll fall naked first, whose shuddering tongue will dare the barrel? Take that dare. Consummate. And then,

whose blood will that be?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Black History Month, Poetry Edition

Cento Between the Ending and the End
~Cameron Awkward-Rich

Sometimes you don’t die

when you’re supposed to

& now I have a choice

repair a world or build

a new one inside my body

a white door opens

into a place queerly brimming

gold light so velvet-gold

it is like the world

hasn’t happened

when I call out

all my friends are there

everyone we love

is still alive gathered

at the lakeside

like constellations

my honeyed kin

honeyed light

beneath the sky

a garden blue stalks

white buds the moon’s

marble glow the fire

distant & flickering

the body whole bright-

winged brimming

with the hours

of the day beautiful

nameless planet. Oh

friends, my friends—

bloom how you must, wild

until we are free.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Black History Month, Poetry Edition

Boat Journey
~Ladan Osman

Sunday afternoon on a city beach.
No sand, slabs of manufactured stone.
I watch two blondes, maybe sisters,
Inflate a raft. They use a bicycle pump.
One tries to assemble two paddles,
Gives up, puts them in her bag.
The one on the pump removes her top.
She has exerted herself into better posture.
Her breasts are larger than I expected.
I want to see if their tiny raft will hold them.
The clouds and current move north.
As they enter the water, Tony Allen warns
Against the boat journey: Running away
From a misery / Find yourself in a double misery.
I recall photos of British tourists in Greece
Frowning at refugees,
Greek children in gym class while hungry.
In the direction the raft floats, the sisters
Paddling with their hands, a planetarium.
I wonder if it houses a telescope capable
Of seeing the double misery on a Greek island.
Maybe its lens is too powerful.
The side of their raft reads EXPLORER.
Their soles are black. If you pay attention
To movies, white women have grimy soles.
I have seen black actresses with exquisite feet.
I recall my mother checking my socks
In the exam room before the doctor entered.
The sisters let their ponytails drag
In dubious lake water.
I’m not sure I hear these lyrics: Even if
They let you enter / They probably won’t let you.
Even if they let you enter / The baron won’t let you,
The baron won’t let you.
I note their appearances,
Takeoff point. Just in case.
I doubt any of our thoughts converge.
What is it like to be so free?
To drift in water in a country you call
Your own. Unprepared because you can laugh
Into an official’s face. Explain, offer no apology.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Black History Month, Poetry Edition

Headwind
~Amber Flora Thomas

Weak motion of grasses and tern before the sea.
Worry’s school cresting here and everywhere
as failings.

I pace the cliff path, my hands cupped above my eyes.
The glare steals your progress, a kayak needling
the wide open.

Love means you answer, this the child’s rebuke.
A pattern crosses the point, hemming
the horizon: steamship.

I didn’t know you were the green pitch
unable to beat the storm to shore.
You didn’t know I was the lookout.

Get accustomed to the sad girl picking you
out of the sea, the knot caught in her throat,
and the unraveling of her speech: an endless rope
thrown out of me.