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I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
You are light
when the sun is punched out
and darkness reigns.
You are the antidote
to what came before:
black blood, black heart,
hands tied, kneeling before
a ditch of human bones.
The French chef says, Try the foie gras, it’s very good.
So I treat myself to the liver of a force-fed goose.
Give it to me on a crostini with black currant!
The ancestors of everyone I’ve let into my body
are gathered in a small room with one window,
no lights. Yes, the room is crowded. Yes, there
are no chairs. Yes, they are talking. Why are we
In some, the luggage lies open
like a mouth mid-sentence.
In others, closed zippers grimace:
What would you have brought?
Slippers, a stuffed platypus, a gold watch
My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
of the bathroom at Sears
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
My father threw his language overboard,
a bag of kittens, waterlogged mewling:
small hard bodies.
My mother hung on to hers —
Wove the words like lace, an open web
Winter has landed; my boot bucks on a stone
surrounded by snow; I swear, I murmur
Oracabessa. “The rock” is what I call home,
all islanders do, and I’m in blessed Ann Arbour,
What do they think about you,
the people who pass you on the street?
What would you like them to see?
They see the druggie, the whore, the junkie.
Only the thickness of log
and triple-paned glass
between my children and
the open maw
of a bear.
I slip warm chocolate chip
cookies from the pan
to the cooling rack -
My father liked them separate, one there,
one here (allá y aquí), as if aware
that words might cut in two his daughter’s heart
(el corazón) and lock the alien part
“The link with poverty is there is there in the man's hat, too, for money has got to be brought in, got to be brought in somehow,” M.D., The Lover.
Dem did sey she pregnance
Cum a sea full a mi
Weighing har down eena har shoe dem
Dresses, coco, mangoes an baggy an arl
Dem did sey de ship nearly sink
Mi mumma nebah sleep a wink
it's okay if you only learned about your culture from Google
it's okay if you only read your language at the public library
At the park I look for Levita,
because our work is the same—
swaying wide-legged over foraging toddlers,
we avert bruises, discourage the consumption
Life is short & I tell this to mis hijas.
Life is short & I show them how to talk
to police without opening the door, how
to leave the social security number blank
my mother occupies the passenger seat. my brother and i
stick in the back.
the radio babbles and sings between us. she is estranged, returning
I've dreamt of you so often that you become unreal.
Is there still time to reach this living body and to kiss on its mouth the birth of
the voice so dear to me?
for auntie nagasaki
it's the same story
told again & again
& the machinations
& the dream
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
A black and white picture
The sun is shining through a window behind you
Your hair black short Your small brown hands folded neatly on a tiny wooden desk
i can barely speak in my mother tongues stutter
my accent is bad
i hate jalebi
but i like aloo samosa
i'm a bad brown
girl i didn't join the
SAA or the ISA
power lines held by birds
of prey the hostile expanse above
ditches teeming floral invasive
late summer the shoulder sang
holds breeze by
I come from the land of
Where You From?
My people dispossessed of their stories
and who have died again and again
in a minstrelsy of afterlives, wakes,
the dead who walk, waiting and
the animal in me
sleep is uncertain,
in the night,
I hear footsteps.
Should lanterns shine, the holy face,
Caught in an octagon of unaccustomed light,
Would wither up, an any boy of love
Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
My Black heroes don’t drop names like Fendi Gucchi Prada
My Black sheroes rock afros like Angela Davis and Assata
But my sheroes are more than a trend and they’re bigger than a hairstyle
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During two hours on the train
I rerun the film of my life
Two minutes per year on average
Half an hour for childhood
Another half-hour for prison
Love, books, wandering
take up the rest
I threw away your letters.
Years ago, just like that.
The tight black swirls,
circles and strokes
filling fine sheets —
I would not see them again.
The last items I had left.
(for the Chinese maroons, British Columbia, 1999–2001)
if you arrive in the belly of a rusting imagination, there are grounds to
outlaw you. but Canada is a remix B-side chorus in the globalization
There’s a joke that ends with — huh?
It’s the bomb saying here is your father.
Now here is your father inside
your lungs. Look how lighter
the earth is — afterward.
In the empty classroom, at sunrise, a girl
sits on the floor, staring at a glockenspiel.
She’s shredding the cuticles on her left hand
At the heart there is a hollow sun
by which we are constructed and undone
An ars poetica
I remember the death, in Russia,
of postage stamps
It is never easy
Walking with an invisible border
Separating my left and right foot
yesterday at the Oakland zoo
I was walking alone for a moment
past the enclosure holding the sun bear
We have each tried to read to him, with no success, except for James,
who read him all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the
Coin Exhibit, British Museum.
Their misshapenness strikes the table in tiny splashes,
like still-cooling splatters of silver. Stater and shekel,