Memory

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

Alone

I never thought Michiko would come back

after she died. But if she did, I knew

it would be as a lady in a long white dress.

It is strange that she has returned

as somebody's dalmatian. I meet

the man walking her on a leash

almost every week. He says good morning

and I stoop down to calm her. He said

once that she was never like that with

other people. Sometimes she is tethered

on their lawn when I go by. If nobody

is around, I sit on the grass. When she

You knock on the door

You knock on the door but nobody answers. Cupping your hands around your face you peer through the side-panel of frosted glass. A kettle is whistling, a woman singing as she sets the table. This is a familiar house. You knock again. Inside, the sounds are festive. Glasses clink and a band starts up. Pressing your ear to the door, you hear the sound of your own laughter. This is the house you grew up in. You're sure of it now.

Happy Birthday Moon

Dad reads aloud. I follow his finger across the page.

Sometimes his finger moves past words, tracing white space.

He makes the Moon say something new every night

to his deaf son who slurs his speech.

 

Sometimes his finger moves past words, tracing white space.

Tonight he gives the Moon my name, but I can’t say it,

his deaf son who slurs his speech.

Dad taps the page, says, try again.

 

Tonight he gives the Moon my name, but I can’t say it.

Too Negative

I was a kid other kids’ 

parents gossiped about.

 

They told their children

what I was: too negative.

 

I get it. Fair to fear

contagion of bad attitudes,

 

to think naming a thing

can be an inoculation.

 

Of course my friends

filled me in. Of course

 

I took my diagnosis

lying down on mostly

 

frozen sand. Loose

grains made their way

 

to my scalp. Stayed there

Unfledged

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

— Robert Hayden

 

 

Weekends too my father roofed poor neighborhoods,

at prices only his back could carry

 

into profit.  In the name of labor’s

virtue—or was it another bill collector’s callous

 

calling again?—my brother and I became

his two-boy cleanup crew.  During those hard,

 

gloved hours under the sun’s weight, I studied

my father, from the ground—the distance he kept

 

Cold Solace

When my mother died,

one of her honey cakes remained in the freezer.

I couldn’t bear to see it vanish,

so it waited, pardoned,

in its ice cave behind the metal trays

for two more years.

 

On my forty-first birthday

I chipped it out,

a rectangular resurrection,

hefted the dead weight in my palm.

 

Before it thawed,

I sawed, with serrated knife,

the thinnest of slices —

Jewish Eucharist.

 

The amber squares

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,

The First Day

When I was five I was put on a bus

and sent to Catholic school

not unlike my mother who was five

when she was put on a train

and sent to residential school,

both feeling that gut feeling

that this was not going to be

a place we would like.

 

My parents told

my older sister

to watch over me

but she had long ago

grown to not like me,

let alone protect me.

 

As we waited to go in

that first morning

a group of boys decided

Jacknife/2

Each day, I am apprenticed to the boy

I want to be.

 

He rifles the ball

and I catch it

 

or I fumble.

His red head ducks and weaves,

 

thinking, end zone.

I tag him

 

or I don’t.

He swaggers

 

no matter what.

With the deftness

 

of a novice

I’ve learned the language

 

that drives us

toward that hallowed

 

and to no mind

imaginary

 

Start here: