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Category archive for: Poems

War Metaphysics for a Sudanese Girl

For Aciek Arok Deng

I leave the camp, unable to breathe,

me Freud girl, after her interior,

she “Lost Girl,” after my purse,

her face:

dark as eggplant,

her gaze:

unpinnable, untraceable,

floating, open, defying the gravity

I was told keeps pain in place.

Maybe trauma doesn’t harden,

packed tight as sediment at the bottom of her psyche,

dry and cracked as the desert she crossed,

maybe memory doesn’t stalk her

with its bulging eyes.

Once inside the body, does war move up or down?

Maybe the body pisses it out,

maybe it dissipates, like sweat and fog

under the heat of yet another colonial God?

In America, we say, “Tell us your story, Lost Girl

you’ll feel lighter,

it’s the memories you must expel,

the bumpy ones, the tortures, the rapes, the burnt huts.”

So Aciek brings forth all the war she can muster,

and the doctors lay it on a table, like a stillbirth,

and pick through the sharpest details

bombs, glass, machetes

and because she wants to please them

she coughs up more and more,

dutifully emptying the sticky war

like any grateful Lost Girl in America should

when faced with a flock of white coats.

This is how it goes at the Trauma Center:

all day the hot poultice of talk therapy,

coaxing out the infection,

at night, her host family trying not to gawk,

their veins pumping neon fascination,

deep in the suburbs, her life flavoring dull muzungu lives,

spicing up supper, really,

each Lost Girl a bouillon cube of horror.

from RefugeFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2013
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

The Cat

I have been trying to understand

whether this life is what we burnish for the next.

Or will we be undone.

Last week a feral kitten found me, and now,

mottled with ringworm,

she moans in quarantine in my kitchen

and hugs a catnip mouse made of felt,

A scrawny, contagious cat in a kennel—

she could be my heart.

Which is to say: yowl, darkness, prison.

Which is to say: aria, nocturne, home.

Which is to say: pushing words around,

the in-box and the out.

I named the cat Simone de Beauvoir.

Is that the name of my heart?

I don’t even like cats,

which she pretends not to know.

What does my heart pretend not to know?

Working at love

means abandoning the burnishing.

When I first saw her almost dead in the street,

I sat down and waited.

She circled me, coming closer,

until I was stupid and put out my hand.

The two of us in the middle of the street.

How could she think I know anything,

sitting in the middle of a street?

Now near the end of her sentence

she scratches the plastic kennel to get out.

What could she know?

Which is to say: need.

Which is to say: fear.

So many poems about the next life.

To make the poem itself a moral act.

Which is to say: heaven.

Which is to say: a larger room.

from Love Song With Motor VehiclesFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2003
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Getting to Know You

What is your favorite flower, favorite bird?

I really want you to tell me. If you had twins

what would you name them? Or two goldfish?

How about two cats from the same litter?

Mittens or gloves?

What letter did you most love learning to write

so when you scripted it over and over in your copybook

you tingled with graphic pleasure?

Pick a crayon. What’s the best time of day?

When you play Monopoly,

which little token represents you on the board?

Have a seat. This could take a while.

Cup or mug? Placemats or tablecloth?

Would you rather live in a world where no one cared?

When you were six, what was your favorite song?

It’s sad to forget. Uh huh.

What suit of cards do you prefer? Which fairy tale?

Seashore or mountains? You must choose your horse

on the merry-go-round or you can’t ride—a lesson

of long ago. What were the most comfortable shoes

you ever owned? (Here I could tell a strange story;

let’s just say I have evidence—somewhere

there’s someone who could fill your shoes exactly.)

What do you want for dinner?—speak or starve.

My head hurts too.

As it happens, you’ve stumbled

into my humble democracy.

Here’s your cup of coffee, your violet-blue crayon,

your miniature iron, your hummingbird . . . ,

now, friend (if I may call you friend),

let’s get to work.

from Burning of the Three FiresFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

The Half King

What reigns here is not a king

but confusion so great half

the people think they really have

a king, making him Half King,

the name of a bar in Chelsea

owned by a friend of a friend

whom I hope someday to lend

advice at his place by the sea,

which was falling to pieces

when he bought it from someone

as famous as he has become,

though not on the level of Jesus,

who watches over us all,

waits and waits for us to call.

from Chaos is the New CalmFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

XVI

The early bird might get the worm, but the early person

mostly just has to sit around and wait for everyone else to show up.

So much for pithy ideas about personal betterment. People

have always been like this, I’m certain, waking up one day

feeling a little different (6% Neanderthal, maybe), and then wondering

if this means it’s the end of something or the beginning of something.

I’m better now, this morning, not realizing I’d been worse,

a light cold. So maybe this is the worse to some future better? The idea

of becoming enters, and so then we’re all becoming.

In the movie The In-Laws, there’s this scene where the fathers of the bride

and groom are running through gunfire at an airport, and the

secret-agent dad calls out to the common-man dad, “Serpentine!

Serpentine!” while zigzagging. For some reason that’s stuck with me more

than most anything else from my youth. It felt like good advice,

as the unknown is merciless, and so of course, the common-man dad

runs back to his starting place and begins again, running through the bullets

a second time, getting it right. Repetition is how we learn things,

as Natalie and Eliot both are asking me for the same story over and over,

until it starts to feel to me as if there’s no other story than this one.

When did I become what I’ve become, then, as it always seems

nothing’s changing? “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy

making other plans,” as John Lennon had it, and I stood

in front of the Dakota in the cold, on the anniversary of his murder.

I thought I was paying attention. Maybe I should have paid something else

then. Some more subtle division, as three years after writing this

I’m looking back at it: it’s 2012 now, we’ve moved across town, after

our neighbor, Matt, tried to corner Robin in our basement while I

was out of town. There’s a question in that, and the answer comes

when you stop asking the question. We sit around, and windows

are what we talk about, because we’re surrounded by windows. Life’s

a game of Hide & Seek, they say, and maybe you’ll be a really good hider.

from In A LandscapeFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2014
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

A Spot on the Kitchen Floor

A spot was moving slowly

across the kitchen floor.

I placed a card in front of it.

The bug, for such it was,

climbed on, and continued

to move . . . without legs

apparently, like a toy.

I tilted the card,

and the bug went wild,

running in a circle,

and back to the door,

where it vanished.

There’s nothing much doing

here. We might have talked.

from Struggling TimesFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2009
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

wishes for sons

i wish them cramps.

i wish them a strange town

and the last tampon.

i wish them no 7-11.

i wish them one week early

and wearing a white skirt.

i wish them one week late.

later i wish them hot flashes

and clots like you

wouldn’t believe.  let the

flashes come when they

meet someone special.

let the clots come

when they want to.

let them think they have accepted

arrogance in the universe,

then bring them to gynecologists

not unlike themselves.

from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965-2010Find it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2012
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

A Childhood

Our drinks came with paper umbrellas.

My mother put on tennis whites.

My father went to the bar

the way he always did.

My mother put on tennis whites.

My brother threw me against a wall

the way he always did.

I believed in my guardian angel.

My brother threw my mother against a wall.

I walked in my sleep.

I believed in my guardian angel.

I woke up far from the house.

I walked in my sleep.

My mother read fairy tales and sang to me.

I woke up far from the house.

My mother was old, my father dead.

My mother read fairy tales and sang to me.

My father and brother crashed through the door.

My mother was old, my father dead

along with my guardian angel.

My father and brother crashed through the door.

I went to the bar

along with my guardian angel

and our drinks came with paper umbrellas.

from Tell MeFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2000 BOA
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

String Theories

        I say nothing

about how fast the light travels

   or of Einstein’s problem catching up with it,

     or of Ludwig Boltzmann, who killed himself

when scientists mocked his belief

   in other dimensions. Today

     the strings of Boltzmann’s theory

have stories to tell, they

   pulsate to anyone’s rhythm.

     I hold you in ten dimensions,

wish you safe in all of them.

   I know space and time curl around strings

     that give rise to the gravity

which holds us here, the way the notes

   of Mozart’s Requiem scrolled

     on his last staves. The invisible strings

in us spin themselves into specks of light,

   and two new forces one strong and one weak,

     draw us together. This is the complicated

shape of our time together, our past and present

   woven into a fragment of the sky.

     It is an elegy to you.

from Walking the Dog’s ShadowFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

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