The Negro Speaks of Rivers

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.


I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy

For You Shall Be Called to Account

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

here, says the Nazi resister. Where are the chairs,

says the Viking (no horns). Where is the light, say

the people with their new French name hung

around their necks heavy like a long black cross.

Here, says the grand wizard, and a long white

A Hundred and Fifty Pounds

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

on a chain, copper pots swaddled in bedding.


The hypotheses: that thinking

can be things, that each decision shrinks

the pained mind to the space


inside a suitcase. Include

lacquered chopsticks, silver forks,

a hammer scarred by rust, the orders


nailed to telephone poles and doors.

My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears

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

the mandatory prayer time for Muslims

She does it with great poise, balancing

herself with one plump matronly arm

against the automated hot-air hand dryer,

after having removed her support knee-highs

and laid them aside, folded in thirds,

and given me her purse and her packages to hold

Winter House

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

over the window, light caught on the edges.



My daughter is starting to pick at language,

names at dawn – dog, star, mumma –

alone in her crib, learning the edges that will mark

meaning, create borders.


I'm trying to find those words of my mother’s,

Ideas of Home



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,

mainland, where I found safe harbour under

green sea of trees now becalmed, frosted.

Ideas of Oracabessa propel me forward

down the straits of Packard, past the Jewel

Heart centre where a wild beat poet is ash

urned behind red doors. I stop and pay

respect due him. Then I’m urgent, in need


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.

I’d like them to see me as their daughter,

a sister, a lover, their mother.


They see garbage, blood, feces.

They see us in alleyways passed out in heaps,

sick, crazy for a fix.


I’d like them to see me as a dancer

who can’t remember the steps, a singer


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 -

their father loads the gun.


He fires a warning shot

from the porch

while the kids lick

the mixing bowl,


as the bear.


The conservation officer

brings a culvert trap

baited with

bacon, canned pineapple.



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


to what he was—his memory, his name

(su nombre)—with a key he could not claim.


“English outside this door, Spanish inside,”

he said, “y basta.” But who can divide


the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from

any child? I knew how to be dumb


and stubborn (testaruda); late, in bed,

Duras (Poverty)

“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.


Poverty is in the language, it is in her gaze back. It seeps and oozes into every poverty-stricken word.

Each word is used sparingly as if each word were currency.


It is everywhere. It stains everything.


It is everywhere. It flies about. It watches from every corner of the page.


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