Monthly Archives: March 2019

Regret

I adore how each word represents itself
in the congress of language.

It stands up, demands,
cajoles, thunders. It makes itself

known. I wish I’d been born
a word instead of…this.

Had I been born a word myself
instead of one enslaved to them,

I might have been more secure
when I spoke, could have gestured

at myself in many situations
and just said…”this.”

I might have been enough
had I been born a word

instead of fumbling among them,
seeking to put the best of them 

in the best order, hoping
to say something that validated me. 


Improving Your Lie

It’s rumored that you’ve admitted
to being an atheist in private 
while praising God in public. 
Come clean. You will gain new fans
and the old ones
will find a way to negate it
as they’ve negated
all the rest.

It’s rumored that you love
young skin. No swimming
in the blood of virgins for you, though —
you prefer to just grab hold and 
wait to see if it gives itself up to you.
Come clean 
and admit it —
oh, but you have, 
haven’t you?
You’ve all but danced upon

a field of their bodies in an arena
and no one seems to care.

It’s rumored that while you are as dumb
as stonecutter tools, you can be wielded
effectively in the smash before the grab.
Come clean — America loves a fool, prefers
an idiot to a genius, thinks any other organ
or muscle trumps a brain hands down,
no matter how small the hands in question.

It’s rumored that rumors make the man.
Come clean — you started half of them,
didn’t you? Self-invention as a path
to the narrow edge of the Big Jump.
Maybe you even think that if there is no God
there’s a void you can fill? Maybe you think
they love the way you touch them? Maybe
you think you really can think, do think,
are the greatest thinker in the moment
we’re in? Come clean — clean as a dog whistle,
clean as a golf ball clearly arcing
toward the rough — not that it matters much
where it lands, right?


This Improbable Life

It is incorrect to say
I have led my life. Instead,
say I followed it —

no, say I found myself
on a moonless path, then stumbled
from beginning to now —

no, say I fought to avoid cleared ground
with every stubborn step 
and ended up in weeds and thorns —

no, say now and then I landed
on soil packed hard and 
eons-deep by others and thought
I’d struck upon new territory —

no, do not speak of my life,
do not put a breath on it. Say instead
what I say of it: this has been
an improbable life

and where I am is not feasible
but I am here, without question
I am here — moving on,

tripping over roots
as I run with my eyes closed
over trails I’ve tripped on
one thousand times,

swearing whenever I fall
that I meant to do that.


The Banker

The banker comes for me
as I’m falling asleep.
Counts my debts out loud, 
drowns out my attempt
to counter by numbering
my blessings.

I get up and drink.
I get up and smoke —
a glass of warm milk
cuts nothing anymore
and nightlights just make
the shadows grow
arithmetically darker.

I know bankers
have children and love them
and fret for them as I do
my own; certainly 
something must come
for their peace now and then
while they sleep,

but I am awake
every night
and the only banker 
I ever encounter
seems less worried
and more hungry.


Codes

Do you have

right music,
right slang,
right stuff hanging under 
correct clothes?

How do you pronounce
your family name?

How do you count 
your money: with one hand,
two hands, a boatload
of servants to help?

Do you dream
America as you’ve been told
to dream it? Do you perform

your Body
as given,
as you’ve been
trained to do?

Do you consume as required?
Are you ravenous
for pleasure,
abstemious
with self-sacrifice?
Just enough pain
to pass around?
Is the resultant gain
yours alone
to take
and hand down?

In other words:

do you know the codes,
where to punch the keys,
into whose ears you should whisper
the passwords?

If so,

won’t you share them?


The Adversary

There are those who say,
do not succumb to despair 
in these days. Do not
hold the Adversary in contempt,
offer love in your heart, try to 
listen, try to understand

how their arsenic nation
was founded, how they closed
its borders and were shocked
to find us, terrified and confused,
within the walls. Wisdom, they say,
use your wisdom 
and keep compassion

for how threatened 
the Adversary feels these days, how
the bloom is off their funereal rose,
how they see the sky as a casket lid coming down
even as we have begun to dance
under our suddenly visible moon. Love them,
say some, honor their shaky hold on things

for we should know what it must feel like
to see the walls closing in after the grand history
of their fortress Earth. And then what —
as they crush us, do we offer them a kiss?
Look into the Adversary’s teeth and say,

so fine and pointy, so ready and built to rend?
There are those who say, we need to come together
and those who say we need to find common ground
with the Adversary: when their teeth come together
should we offer ourselves to be gnawed
in the common ground of their maw?

No.  No. Am not fodder, am not
ready for this.  I will not succumb to despair
but neither will I turn and open my arms
to the Adversary as they snarl into movement,
heavy limbs crunching live ground as they march.
No.  No.  You may offer compassion
but I will keep mine for my children, my land,
my own dance below my moon. My wisdom
for defense; my hand for any necessary blow;
my arm, weak or strong, for the War.


One By One No One

One by one they fall;
one by one in response come formal inquiries.
One by one, throat clearing and disapprovals.
No one calls it a pileup or a pile on.
No one calls it a trend or epidemic.
Each instance is an isolated incident
and unique and now we move on.

One by one by one and now there are
three and then three dozen and then
three hundred or more of them. Thousands,
perhaps hundreds of thousands. 
No one calls it out the same way twice.
No one says it’s deliberate, built in, systemic.
No one knows the right thing to say
and now we move on.

One by one by one and now there’s wind
and red glare and names and mistakes 
and deliberate choices. One by one. Steady drip
of incidents. Steady drip, drip, one by one by one
of blood and tears. No one dares admit it’s a war.
No one thinks fighting back makes any sense.
No one by no one saying the right things.
Body by body, one by one, no one calling it
until no one left can say a bloody thing.


Not An Attempt

Every other time I have managed
to survive. You ask: why not this time? 

I think I was just too tired
to keep on. Weary of the ride;

though I put up a small fight
it was mostly for show. I knew

what was likely to happen. I knew
I’d likely fall down and not get up again

of my own accord. I guess
it’s clear to me now that this time

I was not in fact prepared,
but was ready. All the wrong stars

were in the right house. I had not tied
a neat bow around anything left behind

but the package was sealed and awaited
delivery. Look at it now, sprawled

on the kitchen floor. I’m just above it
looking at it just as you do — although

my shrug at it being there is nothing
like your reaction to it. I’m already turning away.


The Evidence

Something
bleaching on the lawn:

is it bone, is it 
turd, is it even worthy

of remark today
when so much else

is immediate and true and distressing?
Something white,

pale and toxic on the lawn.
Lawn that looks like

face of a forgotten grave.
The long grass of neglect,

something white there
seems out of place,

to approach it
is impossible. To get near it

engenders fear. Something made
of recent shit or aging calcium. Something 

discarded. Something
you don’t want to look at,

something no one wants
to admit is there. But there it is

right there on a family grave
in broad daylight and we might have

put it there and pretended 
to forget about it — a bone

we took from a body, a shit we took
from within ourselves, left it

visible and obvious though we know
its toxicity could be traced

directly to us, as a crime scene
it’s all pointing our way, something

bleaching white in broad sun,
never becoming clean, left unclaimed.


Case Studies In Management

From 1989…?

1.

At the pre-shift meeting,
our ops manager
talks down
to the crew boss.

He repeats himself often,

speaks loudly,
pronounces Namthavone’s name wrong twice
and in two different ways.

He explains to me later
that he understands these people,
thanks to two tours he did in country.

“I had a lot of fun there,” he tells me.
I say nothing to this.

I am remembering
that Namthavone
once told a story in ESOL class
about his tattoos –

the script that runs
around his body,
up and down the arms,
up through his hairline at the back of his neck.

He said they date back to
when he fought in the Highlands
for the CIA against the Communists.

He said they were charms against bullets, knives;
incantations
to avoid being seen
by those who would do him
harm.

2.

At dinner,
Larry explains
how Spanish women
are passive by nature.

Again I say nothing,
recalling Lourdes and Santa
after second shift last Thursday,
standing toe to toe with boxcutters
on the median strip just off the factory property,
mad eyes hidden
in third-shift darkness.

Lourdes had just told Santa
that she was sleeping
with her man Ruben.

Santa replied
that must be where
he’d caught the drip.

I see them raise their arms
as the first cruisers arrive
and scatter the watchers.

It took three cops to tear
Santa from Lourdes,

four to hold Lourdes back
once that was done.

From where I sit tonight,
I can see the women seated
on either side of Ruben,

still bandaged, not speaking,

forcing alternate bites
of their cooking on him,

re-drawing the rules of engagement.

3.

Daniel Opong walks into work
and announces that he entered this country
under a false name
but now has established legal residency

and after ten years working here as
Daniel Opong,
wishes to be called
by his real name, Anthony Otoo.

“Who do they think they are?”
says Pauline, our personnel manager.
“That’s the third one this month. How dare they?”

I am told to fire him for falsifying his application.
I refuse. I suggest that she would do the same thing
if she were facing whatever
Daniel faced back home.

I lose. I am reprimanded.
He is fired anyway, nods when I tell him
about the personnel office’s decision,
then shakes my hand.

I apologize.

“You do not have to be sorry,
because I’m not sorry”,
he tells me
as he leaves.
“I would do it again.”

I am hoping I would.

4.

Araminta tells me
that she used to hate
having me for a boss,
but now she thinks I’m ok.

I don’t know what I’m doing differently these days,
and I tell her that.
She doesn’t know either,
but she’s sure she’s right.

I tell her
I’m not sure I agree with her,
I think I keep quiet a lot more often
than I should.

She looks at me
for a long minute,
saying nothing.

5.

The management team always leaves after everyone else is gone.
On a Friday night, we usually head to McGuire’s for a beer,
McGuire’s because we’re sure not to see
any of our employees there.

When I drive home from the bar later that night,
the apartments that line the road to the factory
are still lit and raucous.
There’s a party going on somewhere.

I recognize a few of the cars outside from the factory lot.

I don’t know who lives here.

Sometimes I think
none of us knows
anyone who lives here.