Reprinted from Eyedrum Periodically, July 2013
I am at Manuel’s –
there are plank tables so it must be Manuel’s –
and Stan is here –
we are bundled in knit caps and scarves and mittens –
our breath mingles white in the dank, beery air,
and all I can talk of is Coca-cola –
that thick blue glass,
that luscious frozen sweat
melting in rivulets when it meets fingertips.
I revolve my tongue on it,
hum to it, tickle it with specifics,
shake it up and lick the fizz as it bubbles over the lip.
He says, “You know these bottles may not be enough.”
His arms are laden with them. They look like lilies.
Okay, do something about it: beat back death.
Scrape of wool plaid and the scent of winter,
deckle caps, shock of brown cold, cascade of sweetness –
trembling in the throat, swelling heartbeat, spreading flush,
flecks of ice.
with Unisa Asokan
Reprinted in Eyedrum Periodically, July 2014
A red box of matches,
a ten pound stick of butter,
a 20 pound sac of sugar, the river.
The body covered in yellow cloth, embroidered with a gold pattern.
Down to the river we carry you,
by holy Ganges’ ghastly rush. Bathers in sun
flame, at sunrise, rub their skins with ash,
press hands to foreheads dotted
with bright pigments, bend into water –
no waiting for a reason to let go.
Flies. More flies.
The family touches the skin of the dead for the last time.
Here, to the ghats, we bear you on our shoulders –
bier tented in swaths of red,
tented in fire, hands pressed to your navel.
When we tilt you into the water, flame
rises from your open mouth like prayer – press
of current, chimera – rush of nothing you need.
The fire negotiates an exchange of light, overnight.
A crew of the cremation caste sifts through the ashes and remains.
Fingers find a wallet chain, a septum ring, a flask of whiskey,
an anchor made of copper.
Holy city, where temples shoulder one another
under an ashy sky and bodies drift in the flood,
your mourners, idle now, lower hands,
stand and brush clay dust from trousers,
opening mouths to paper cones of puffed rice.
Holy water, holy river, carry me. Let me go.
“golden orb,” “Body Talk,” “The Shaman,” “Iridotymous” and “Albrecht Speaks,” Record Magazine, June 2014
dream catcher, yellow bloom,
coral legs so straight and horned they tempt
teeth, spits this sparkling mourning crown
for us to blunder into, first word already torn,
already provisional, a thread
we wipe our mouths on: no wonder
she eats silk, vanishes around the corner
of the house like fourth of July,
with moon to light us,
this story our bodies construct.
In the language of muscle
and skin and scent,
sound is sweat,
gender is only
Toss your spangled hat to the floor.
My hand in yours is a long letter,
a chronicle. I teach with silence,
Born suspect. Born exiled
on Adam’s street. My name.
Marker of my mother and her mother,
her father before, his forty-acre tract
of Carolina outland – invisible –
poverty of black on black. Word for it
litany of my childhood,
first word I remember, first word
meant for me, my skin
the story, Everyman’s story,
who I am not.
He has walked through the classroom door one thousand times.
You replay the details: pouch of dung, horn bowl, ashes,
sun-bleached hair woven with feathers and bones,
dried animal blood, healing shells.
His mask is two wounds: blindness and sight.
The force of an archetype
can knock us to the ground, shatter us.
He looks just like Jesus.
Great un-doings, grand falls, will not piece together, say why.
Spirits visit us. There is water. Man walks into a room.
He is not you, not yours. His are not your wounds.
Keep him close, without desire or need –
but tell the truth about it – you
pursued him. You sent his staff arching over the ravine.
You won’t ditch him, even though he is not, nor can be,
the lover you thought
you had saved.
Tragedy is a woman who reads portents, watches for rains
that never come. One evening during the Wanderjahre
as we stand drinking in a tavern,
I show her my drawings, trials in wood and in bronze,
scraps of paper lined up on a bench.
She finishes stories in the spaces
between them, says, as her face dents into planes,
as she bends low over the crumbs under the table,
as if she might like to scoop them up,
“When you are here, you are so much here,
and when gone, all gone.”
I take her by the arm and lead her with me
into the dusk of the square, point to cloud towers edged in rose,
church spires, my own feet in their felt boots – all species of miracle,
all ways of knowing how pain sharpens love –
recall for her my underworlds, rocks sprouting from lichen,
a triptych with its face of Jesus, my face,
dancers on riverbanks, men and women marketing in haggles,
scribes overturning words and finding bricks,
husbands at twilight counting sacks of wool into coin,
and children reckoning reeds or hacking at one another with stars,
crying, “Ha. You’re dead.”
Spoiled son, haunted soldier, oaf queen,
a hare cowers where I follow it into the sedge,
its terror, my terror,
its little life, my life, and this woman tonight, geometries,
ovals and squares of particulars, trace of foam on her cheek.
The waters of heaven and earth are all the same waters, I tell her
silently. Time is all time.
“But I am alone,” she says.
An odd, static exposure in asphalt fog and weird
chaotic sunlight, the aftershock of violence –
our wrench from bed into the publicity of Radio Shack –
its shortwave parking and day-splintered windows,
our befuddled circuit for the high definite,
for the unscramble
in the cords and antenna aisle –
we channel nouns, send skin signals, fix on pelvic
clarity – shattering dipole strangeness,
thick band, lingering drag, tight at the gonads
and chest, semen pulse for startling reception.
Turn away and toward –
it’s in the blood –
this charged and fluent harmony, electric.
See. There goes another one.
In this early fall of feathers
I have found seven, one
for every day, blue steel sheen
calling from the pavement or gray spin,
filamented, rotating before my feet
like a maple key, a promise of return. He says
molting is going on in my tree and I think about energy
persevering, separate, unconscious,
physics and meaning wound into one, every gain
a little loss, differences between us
negligible, all time happening all the time,
the two of us and the bird we know exists
from feathery evidence alone,
growing up together.
In horror flicks attics are bad enough,
but basements, where nightmare lives,
They are what’s at bottom.
I’ve circled this house looking for answers
and passed the door to these stairs downward
a hundred times, no, a thousand. After all, we know what’s here –
do we not? Your white eye tells me you’ve seen it too.
Now with a flash light I find agonies and terrors I expect:
blood-stained sink, radioactive mudpool, veins reaching deep underground,
the monster I keep alive – peering, at once watchful and wary –
it’s up to no good.
Of course we enjoy it.
There’s the sealed room with three hexes on it:
Pain is at least proof of itself –
proof I have basis for everything.
The Vegetable Eater
At a farmer’s market on a green, housewives
from Sierra Leone shop for a wake.
Their veils are edged in gold. They murmur funeral songs,
tales of fire:
“Fire, fire,” they whisper. “I will carry a reed of fire
into the house of death.”
I make my way, keep my eye on them,
on the psychology professor pregnant with twins
who hunts for blue potatoes,
on the anarchist slumping all dejected
in the boxed cocoa pastures, on the gaggle
of college kids: they gaze too long
at sausages under glass,
shun cookie samples, pool for a bottle of wine.
Now, see those trailing children tied to their shirt-tail
nanny – Girl, at home in Liberia they bring you up like military,
but you talk too fast, fall in with urchins in the alley
playing kickball – you won’t read French.
You won’t fit.
Maybe your American sister will screw your head on straight.
She’s got that enlightened middle-class fever.
I review my list of what’s missing. I’ve got no Joe
clinging to my arm and sucking its miserable thumb.
“’One day she up and walked out,’
the neighbors said” – a story I read somewhere.
I fiddle around the root aisle, examine
Lilliputian beets and follow the scent of fruit,
finger grapes with no real aim.
Once I loved a man and his veins were rope.
His speckled eye was green. For him I went into the ground,
waited for light, grew solid and good for food.
“Consider a carrot’s death,” I say to the cashier
as I place my yellow purchase unbagged on the counter.
Maybe he speaks English, maybe not.
His face won’t tell me. “It’s snug in the dirt with its carrot comfort
till a screaming machine snatches it into the air.
From that moment it knows no peace.
It is stacked on a metal tray, tied down in a cold truck,
shipped to never, laid in a bin where it’s hosed
every five minutes. It takes months for it to die.”
On the lawn near the car lots, park service men
in their orange vests are mowing –
green scent, gas of vegetable screams.
“You’re a carnivore,” the cashier says to me evenly,
and with hardly any accent,
“if you feel that way about it.”
The End of Comedy
Early in the 20th century when novels
began to work out a bit differently,
lovers shrugged shoulders
and then perhaps borrowed a good car, got drunk
and headed down the coast for the races,
bad girls no longer leapt before trains or shot themselves
and the poor – here and there – began to think things over
and to come out rather well without the bother
of returning found wallets to kindly gentlemen of means,
was about the time we noticed
we missed something when we skipped the crucial second step
between brushing knees at the cockfight and banging in front of tv.
Oh, I am not saying there wasn’t always plenty
of song beneath the verse, or Mr. Darcy hadn’t better free his slaves,
but when we gave up
all that nonsense about dressing for dinner,
smacking one another in the teeth with feather pillows,
riding out with no saddles at midnight,
we saw all bets are on, anything can happen
and what happens most is endings,
endings upon endings we no longer have to explain.
We stopped apologizing,
but perhaps only began to feel sorry.
Now the Indian boy
with crooked teeth and water on his scull
is bullied by his teachers
and gets ditched like the rest of us.
Gangsters hire lobbyists and go legal.
Well, I know it’s all pretty hilarious,
but the factories are still dealing death.
We would not do for our friends this way.
It is May, and cold in Baltimore. I am eleven years old.
My mother has just given the toss to my savings of colorful M & Ms.
If it is not raining, I take my bike out and spend hours
high in the branches of the cherry tree at the Vanderbilt plantation down the road,
reading. The woods behind our house where I cut my own paths
through webs of sodden leaves,
playing Lewis and Clark, carrying both sides of their conversation,
is a half-mile green swath with a cut-through creek
between new white housing developments and an island grid
of black neighborhood with its own elementary school,
its own library, its own gas station.
One road leads into it, over a bridge I am not allowed to cross,
but a turn of handle bars carries me just a block or two
before I discover clustered flat-roof houses on a lattice of dead ends.
The creek wanders down hill to a shallow pool, stagnant in summer and stinking
of skunk cabbage, but, in May, I fill a mayonnaise jar with tadpoles.
The jar stands in the kitchen window and I hover there,
useless, until my mother shoos me outdoors, out of the way.
When slivers of tadpole tail
appear at the bubbled edges of the water,
she dumps the paddling, grayish mess into the yard,
never mind that futile, minute struggle of diminutive legs in the grass,
my ineffectual tears, the impossibility of rescue.
“The Stage as Battleground: Opera, Ballet and Gender Politics in the Age of Giselle,” Journal for the Colloquium on the Revolutionary Era, 2009-2010 edition, February 2013
Since the 1842 split of opera from ballet with the production of Giselle, audiences have observed a multi-faceted and successful revolution in the staging, design and aesthetics of story dance. In terms of the persistent theme of heterosexual politics, however, opera and dance continue to validate obvious and cumbersome stereotypes. In the 19th century, audiences attended the opera house in order to see two types of works, opera and ballet, which were not yet fundamentally different from one another. (more…)