All those poems I wroteAbout living in the skyWere wrong. I live on a leafOf a fern of frost growingUp your bedroom windowIn forty below.I live on a needle of a branchOf a cedar tree, hard-bitten,Striving in six directions,Rooted in rock, a cedarTree made of other trees,Not cedar but fir,Lodgepole, and blue spruce,Metastasizing likeBacteria to the fan-Lip of a draw to drawWater as soon as it slipsFrom the snowdrift’s gripAnd flows downward fromBranch to root — a treeRunning in reverse.Or I live on a thorn on a trellis —Trained, restrained, maybeCut back, to hold upThose flowers I’ve only heard ofTo whatever there is and isn’tAbove.
Instead, he said, Brother! I know your hunger.To this, the Wolf answered, Lo!
There's a patch of old snow in a corner That I should have guessedWas a blow-away paper the rain Had brought to rest.It is speckled with grime as if Small print overspread it,The news of a day I’ve forgotten— If I ever read it.
Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walkingthrough bare rooms over my head,opening and closing doors.What could he be looking for in an empty house? What could he possibly need there in heaven?Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches? His love for me feels like spilled waterrunning back to its vessel.At this hour, what is dead is restless and what is living is burning.Someone tell him he should sleep now.My father keeps a light on by our bed and readies for our journey.He mends ten holes in the kneesof five pairs of boy’s pants.His love for me is like his sewing:various colors and too much thread,the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces clean through with each stroke of his hand.At this hour, what is dead is worried and what is living is fugitive.Someone tell him he should sleep now.God, that old furnace, keeps talking with his mouth of teeth,a beard stained at feasts, and his breath of gasoline, airplane, human ash. His love for me feels like fire,feels like doves, feels like river-water.At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind and helpless. While the Lord lives.Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone. I’ve had enough of his lovethat feels like burning and flight and running away.
I liked the bellows operated by rope.A hand or a foot pedal – I don’t remember.But that blowing and blazing of fire!And a piece of iron in the fire, held there by tongs,Red, softened, ready for the anvil,Beaten with a hammer, bent into a horseshoe,Thrown in a bucket of water, sizzle, steam.And horses hitched to be shod,Tossing their manes; and in the grass by the riverPlowshares, sledge runners, harrows waiting for repair.At the entrance, my bare feet on the dirt floor,Here, gusts of heat; at my back, white clouds,I stare and stare. It seems I was called for this:To glorify things just because they are.
They came like dewdrops overnightEating every plant in sight,Those nasty worms with legs that crawlSo creepy up the garden wall,Green prickly fuzz to hurt and stingEach unsuspecting living thing.How I hate them! Oh, you knowI’d love to squish them with my toe.But then I see past their disguise,Someday they’ll all be butterflies.
Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,up to my neck in that most precious element of all,I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon featherfloating on the tension of the waterat the very instant when a dragonfly,like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,hovered over it, then lit, and rested.That’s all.I mention this in the same waythat I fold the corner of a pagein certain library books,so that the next reader will knowwhere to look for the good parts.
The ivy and the wild-vine interknitThe volumes of their many-twining stems;Parasite flowers illume with dewy gemsThe lampless halls, and when they fade, the skyPeeps through their winter-woof of traceryWith moonlight patches, or star atoms keen,Or fragments of the day's intense serene;Working mosaic on their Parian floors.And, day and night, aloof, from the high towersAnd terraces, the Earth and Ocean seemTo sleep in one another's arms, and dreamOf waves, flowers, clouds, woods, rocks, and all that weRead in their smiles, and call reality.
Chew your way into a new world.Munch leaves. Molt. Rest. Moltagain. Self-reinvention is everything.Spin many nests. Cultivate stingingbristles. Don’t get sentimentalabout your discarded skins. Growquickly. Develop a yen for nettles.Alternate crumpling and climbing. Relyon your antennae. Sequester poisonsin your body for use at a later date.When threatened, emit foul odorsin self-defense. Behave crypticallyto confuse predators: change colors, spit,or feign death. If all else fails, taste terrible.
i’ve left Earth in search of darker planets, a solar system revolving too near a black hole. i’ve left in search of a new God. i do not trust the God you have given us. my grandmother’s hallelujah is only outdone by the fear she nurses every time the blood-fat summer swallows another child who used to sing in the choir. take your God back. though his songs are beautiful, his miracles are inconsistent. i want the fate of Lazarus for Renisha, want Chucky, Bo, Meech, Trayvon, Sean & Jonylah risen three days after their entombing, their ghost re-gifted flesh & blood, their flesh & blood re-gifted their children. i’ve left Earth, i am equal parts sick of your go back to Africa & i just don’t see race. neither did the poplar tree. we did not build your boats (though we did leave a trail of kin to guide us home). we did not build your prisons (though we did & we fill them too). we did not ask to be part of your America (though are we not America? her joints brittle & dragging a ripped gown through Oakland?). i can’t stand your ground. i’m sick of calling your recklessness the law. each night, i count my brothers. & in the morning, when some do not survive to be counted, i count the holes they leave. i reach for black folks & touch only air. your master magic trick, America. now he’s breathing, now he don’t. abra-cadaver. white bread voodoo. sorcery you claim not to practice, hand my cousin a pistol to do your work. i tried, white people. i tried to love you, but you spent my brother’s funeral making plans for brunch, talking too loud next to his bones. you took one look at the river, plump with the body of boy after girl after sweet boi & ask why does it always have to be about race? because you made it that way! because you put an asterisk on my sister’s gorgeous face! call her pretty (for a black girl)! because black girls go missing without so much as a whisper of where?! because there are no amber alerts for amber-skinned girls! because Jordan boomed. because Emmett whistled. because Huey P. spoke. because Martin preached. because black boys can always be too loud to live. because it’s taken my papa’s & my grandma’s time, my father’s time, my mother’s time, my aunt’s time, my uncle’s time, my brother’s & my sister’s time . . . how much time do you want for your progress? i’ve left Earth to find a place where my kin can be safe, where black people ain’t but people the same color as the good, wet earth, until that means something, until then i bid you well, i bid you war, i bid you our lives to gamble with no more. i’ve left Earth & i am touching everything you beg your telescopes to show you. i’m giving the stars their right names. & this life, this new story & history you cannot steal or sell or cast overboard or hang or beat or drown or own or redline or shackle or silence or cheat or choke or cover up or jail or shoot or jail or shoot or jail or shoot or ruinthis, if only this one, is ours.
Caretakers — died in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, one after another. One didn’t show up because her husband was in prison. Most others watched the clock. Time breaks for the living eventually and they can walk out of doors. The handle of time’s door is hot for the dying. What use is a door if you can’t exit? A door that can’t be opened is called a wall. My father is on the other side of the wall. Tomatoes are ripening on the other side. I can see them through the window that also can’t be opened. A window that can’t be opened is just a see-through wall. Sometimes we’re on the inside like a plane. Most of the time, we’re on the outside like doggie day care. I don’t know if the tomatoes are the new form of his language or if they’re simply for eating. I can’t ask him because on the other side, there are no words. All I can do is stare at the nameless bursting tomatoes and know they have to be enough.
Their shadow dims the sunshine of our day,As they go lumbering across the sky,Squawking in joy of feeling safe on high,Beating their heavy wings of owlish gray.They scare the singing birds of earth awayAs, greed-impelled, they circle threateningly,Watching the toilers with malignant eye,From their exclusive haven — birds of prey.They swoop down for the spoil in certain might,And fasten in our bleeding flesh their claws.They beat us to surrender weak with fright,And tugging and tearing without let or pause,They flap their hideous wings in grim delight,And stuff our gory hearts into their maws.
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