Years ago poetry was central to my identity and to my vision. But poetry has slowed to a trickle as i’ve explored other ways of being in the world and other ways of figuring life out. Now, i still love poetry and occasionally write poetry, but i do not want to hold my poems up to the standard of “good poetry.” For me, now, that judgment undermines the whole process of expression. The risk to express becomes greater than the pleasure of expression. (My past “poet” self would have hated this thought….) So i share my poetry here in the spirit that it is the process of poetry that i adore, and the result is secondary. Most of my poetry is erotically explicit and some of it, since i’m going to type up some of my early early poems, is appropriately juvenile for the age i was when i wrote them. So i hope all this can pass without too much judgment. A dear friend has asked for a collection of poetry from me as a gift, so i thought i’d compile some poems here little by little, in the breathing spaces between work for my women’s history degree.
against haziness: like gold
i want gold. to touch its hot sharp
with nimble fingers, wield it with skill
in both hands (it does hurt)
hand it to you. look at this bit of clarity
i’ve produced. no one can argue
what it is. in my mouth, tiny sun
shining behind my right muller, rolled along the tongue, tongued
against the roof of my mouth. My smile shine
my words crisp, you could eat
each word picked from my mouth i will give it to you
sharp. The best way. i am articulate. you understand. like gold
nothing in the way.
i want to touch its hot sharp
in both hands it does hurt
hand it to you. no one can argue
what it is. in my mouth, tiny sun
shine behind my right molar, clarity
rolled along the tongue, tongued
against the roof of my mouth. it cuts
burns your mouth
you understand like gold
nothing in the way
is a long time but it happens
all the time
bright alive a thousand yellow hands
cast off the gingko trees
when you love someone
you take the good
with the bad
you take her
where she wants to go
you take whiskey
at her bedside and fuck into metal-
we rip with our teeth
into ripe and heavy selves
In bed I play banjo for you.
Fingers trace the notes
of another language,
mental tongues speak back
what neither I nor you
can fully understand. You don’t care
about my nervous stumbling
uneven rhythms. You care
only that I try. I feel you
in the deep of my fingers
you cry for no reason
you play me play the
- I like reading your poetry, like I like it when you read to me. I hear your voice and I hear my voice as the lines roll off my screen into my eyes and out of my mouth. I stumble like fingers on strings as I read the words. I interpret your poetry for myself, it makes me think of memories and of dreams, and I wonder what you were thinking when you wrote it. I love the way you start Forever.
is a long time, but it happens all the time.
May this find you well and loved.
You emerged from the envelope
I mean ambulance
a whistling teapot, a scorched tongue, a red
Alive as the Earth
eight limbs rising
from the flame, the scream, the body–
You spilled out of a coffee cup,
You were a jeweled lipstick case
someone lifted from your purse.
Strapped on a bed
that harnessed your beast soul: A clock.
An attic. A pomegranate
that burst. And you were the seam at which the broken
world was spilling
Mother Kali emerging
from your fourteen year old broken
third eye open
Loving women happens
all in arms.
not in full moon bellies
not in touching breasts
not even in the two different belly buttons
Loving women happens
Not in crouching together on a curb
not in two tiger hearts
not in the dangling feet of the one
who rides on the other’s handlebars
No, loving women happens
all in arms
the knots they tie:
eight on a bite with a follow through;
and loving women happens
riding away on her bike
turning the corner
around a brick building
hands in pockets, elbows bent
the way a string holds the shape
of a knot long after
she’s been untied.
The Bookshelf (2007)
the case half built
lays prone along the floor
sides but no back.
I am sitting inside the walls
like it’s a boat, the blue carpet
an ocean. the atlantic.
my books stare at us longingly
from their cardboard boxes, the shore.
as I slide the plywood back
into the precut slits, suddenly I am a rower
on a quiet lake, the fan above me
humming. some memory that isn’t mine.
then the back is pulled up
and I’ve accidentally trapped myself,
less like water or floating,
more like closing myself into a coffin.
the wooden box about to enclose me,
stiff, I think of the one person
who I knew well before he died.
I remember throwing a handful of dirt,
seeing the pebbles rickashay
off the shiny wood of his coffin
I remember not knowing how to pronounce the Hebrew
words that closed the end of his life
I remember the elegy I wrote about cherry trees,
and how grandpa loved to say gze gzunt
goodbye, go in good health
and the rabbi read my poem just as badly
as I read Hebrew
messing up the lines. not pausing
when the poem wanted breath,
not quickening, where the words went
quickening… a lack of fluency
permeated the scene. my grandmother
could not watch her husband, still
there, under handfuls of soil.
I stand the shelf upward, dragging it several feet
to avoid knocking out the light on the ceiling fan.
this is me trying to keep my towering grandfather
from another fall.
how he wavered, like a building
built especially for earthquakes, a skyscraper
designed for so much wind.
when the shelf stands I realize I’ve gone wrong.
I flip backward through the manual,
back through the coffin and into the boat. I sit between the sides
riding on the life of another.
we all make mistakes. and sometimes
we learn from them. there is usually not
a manual. the ocean is much deeper
than carpet. when the shelf is done
I put it in its place in the corner
and organize my books on the shelves.
the pages flutter with excitement.
they like the touch, the careful placement, the gaze.
finally, this knowledge is lifted from the floor.
I am in a place neither my father or grandfather
have been. but something familiar
Now & a Girl
And this is how I behave: breaking
Over the only edge I can find. a girl
At the martini bar on new years eve.
An infinity tattoo doubled over the muscles of her arm.
I couldn’t make sense of our flirting. It was new years eve.
But then, it was only new years eve.
Three faint lines flayed like wings
On either side over her eyes.
I said ‘I like you’
She said ‘how do you know?’
I didn’t care. I only wanted to be
One seamless, shapeless spilling over
Of life from the edges. She could do
What she wanted.
She is only empty space
Days after the kiss at the bar. 2am
Behind red velvet curtains
The space between me and my leaving.
She is only the beginning of these strong queer girls
I am told, and I know
I’d fall in love with everyone of them
Crack my heart open on the side of their stability
Martini glass, their wanting, 2am teeth
In my lips I’ll crumble
Red curtains I’ll open
When and Where I Enter (2008)
Paula Giddings’ book, When and Where I Enter, begins with this: “Only the BLACK WOMAN can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole….race enters with me.’ –Anna Julia Cooper, 1892.”
Learning History (2007)
Today I was sad
So sad, I walked slowly
To the chocolate store and chose
From the case, a chocolate
Let it melt over the tongue
Of 1983, Grenada
Love and anger, caught
(whether making love
their elbows are locked
to the ground.