Calling Him Back from Layoff
I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been
confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was
and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars
painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle
for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said
he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean
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That’s the Job
That’s the job, he said,
shrugging his shoulders
and running his hand
through his hair, like Dante,
or a spider
that knows its web,
That’s just the job,
he repeated stubbornly
whenever I complained
about working the night shift
in hundred-degree heat,
or hauling my ass
over the hump
for a foul-mouthed dispatcher
yelling at us
over a loudspeaker,
or riding the cab
of an iron dungeon
creeping over bumpy rails
to a steel mill
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All morning in the February light
he has been mending cable,
splicing the pairs of wires together
according to their colors,
white-blue to white-blue
violet-slate to violet-slate,
in the warehouse attic by the river.
When he is finished
the messages will flow along the line:
thank you for the gift,
please come to the baptism,
the bill is now past due:
voices that flicker and gleam back and forth
across the tracer-colored wires.
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What I Mean When I Say Truck Driver
During the last 50 miles back from haul & some
months past my 15th birthday, my father fishes
a stuffed polar bear from a Salvation Army
gift-bin, labeled Boys: 6-10. I can almost see him
approach the decision: cold, a little hungry, not enough
money in his pocket for coffee. He worries
he might fall asleep behind the wheel as his giant,
clumsy love for that small word—son—guides
his gaze to the crudely-sewn fabric of the miniature bear
down at the bottom of the barrel. Seasons have flared
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For the City that Nearly Broke Me
A woman tattoos Malik’s name above
her breast & talks about the conspiracy
to destroy blacks. This is all a fancy way
to say that someone kirked out, emptied
five or six or seven shots into a still warm body.
No indictment follows Malik’s death,
follows smoke running from a fired pistol.
An old quarrel: crimson against concrete
& the officer’s gun still smoking.
Someone says the people need to stand up,
that the system’s a glass house falling on only
a few heads. This & the stop snitching ads
are the conundrum and damn all that blood.
All those closed eyes imagining Malik’s
killer forever coffled to a series of cells,
& you almost believe them, you do, except
the cognac in your hand is an old habit,
a toast to friends buried before the daybreak
of their old age. You know the truth
of the talking, of the quarrels & how
history lets the blamed go blameless for
the blood that flows black in the street;
you imagine there is a riot going on,
& someone is tossing a trash can
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To Abuelita Neli
This is my 14th time pressing roses in fake passports
for each year I haven’t climbed marañón trees. I’m sorry
I’ve lied about where I was born. Today, this country
chose its first black president. Maybe he changes things.
I’ve told Mom I don’t want to have to choose to get married.
You understand. Abuelita, I can’t go back and return.
There’s no path to papers. I’ve got nothing left but dreams
Where I’m: the parakeet nest on the flor de fuego,
the paper boats we made when streets flooded,
or toys I buried by the foxtail ferns. ¿Do you know
the ferns I mean? The ones we planted the first birthday
without my parents. I’ll never be a citizen. I’ll never
In Two Seconds: Tamir Rice 2002-2014
the boy’s face
climbed back down the twelve-year tunnel
of its becoming, a charcoal sunflower
swallowing itself. Who has eyes to see,
or ears to hear? If you could see
what happens fastest, unmaking
the human irreplaceable, a star
falling into complete gravitational
darkness from all points of itself, all this:
the held loved body into which entered
milk and music, honeying the cells of him:
who sang to him, stroked the nap
of the scalp, kissed the flesh-knot
No More Cake Here
When my brother died
I worried there wasn’t enough time
to deliver the one hundred invitations
I’d scribbled while on the phone with the mortuary:
Because of the short notice no need to rsvp.
Unfortunately the firemen couldn’t come.
(I had hoped they’d give free rides on the truck.)
They did agree to drive by the house once
with the lights on— It was a party after all.
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,