The Day After American Samoa Is Under Water
The evening news helicopters compete for the best camera angle
above the water, fighting to find anything worthy of coverage.
A floating high chief. A baby’s arm flattened by a coconut tree. Anything
Even the Titanic was enormous enough to leave remnants of itself
to buoyancy. They were a giving people. There’s gotta be something here.
Congress assembles immediately to vote on a bill that supports relief efforts
for our displaced, and our Congressman sits in his own numbing silence,
knowing that by law: he still does not have a vote that will count for anything
due to the U.S. national status of our island country, as he watches
The teacher can’t hear the children
over all this monsoon racket,
all the zillion spoons whacking
the rusty roofs, all the wicked tin streams
flipping full-grown bucks off their hooves.
Everywhere there used to be a river,
there’s a bigger river now. Every hard face
on the block is sopping. Even the court
where girls from St. Ignominius ran
the roughneck boys off to play
Winter After the Strike
if you cast wide enough
your net of want and will, something meaningful
will respond. Perhaps we are the response—
each a cresting echo hesitating, vibrant with the moment
before rippling back.
But you’re steadfast as Odysseus strapped to the mast, as you were
I dropped down against the mosque wall
curled my shoulders in
let my feet fall apart
tilting toward the rubble-dusted floor
tried to still my lashes
as rifles came clanging in
their muzzles smelling out fever
heated off a pulse
I was playing dead
The Border: A Double Sonnet
The border is a line that birds cannot see.
The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.
The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.
The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe.
The border is a rusted hinge that does not bend.
The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein.
The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going.
The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so
The City in which I Love You
And when, in the city in which I love you,
even my most excellent song goes unanswered,
and I mount the scabbed streets,
the long shouts of avenues,
and tunnel sunken night in search of you…
That I negotiate fog, bituminous
rain ringing like teeth into the beggar’s tin,
or two men jackaling a third in some alley
weirdly lit by a couch on fire, that I
The Family Solid
We were barely out
of middle school
when Stuart showed me the scar—
an S branded in his brown arm.
Solid, Stuart said, fresh
from his initiation.
They held him down
in a basement, seared his skin.
He wanted another family.
I stop my hand in midair.
If I touch her there everything about me will be true.
The New World discovered without pick or ax.
I will be what Brenda Jones was stoned for in 1969.
I saw it as a girl but didn’t know I was taking in myself.
My hand remembers, treading the watery room,
Once, at the end of his shift,
he came out
and in the first slant light
the parking lot glittered
like the one time he’d seen the sea.
The machines still roared in his-ears.
There’d been no breakdowns the whole night.
His sandwich in its brown bag
had warmed and the cheese melted a little.
He had eaten around midnight.
I watched the flower of Bronx youth be shipped off to Vietnam,
some returned, some didn’t, and some who returned were never the same
The public schools stayed open
I saw the Bronx burn from the 4 train and the 3rd Avenue El
when I first started teaching at Fordham
The public schools stayed open
This is for Amal, whose name means hope,
who thinks of each tree she’s planted like a child,
whose family has lived in the same place
for a hundred years, and when I say place
I mean this exact patch of land…
In Alaska I slept in a bed on stilts, one arm
pressed against the ice-feathered window,
the heat on high, sweat darkening the collar
of my cotton thermals. I worked hard to buy that bed,
walked toward it when the men in the booths
were finished crushing hundred dollar bills
Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus, or The Mulata
—after the painting by Diego Velàzquez, ca. 1619
She is the vessels on the table before her: the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still angled in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand. She’s the stain on the wall the size of her shadow— the color of blood,