Self-Portrait as a Fish Head in a Pot of Water
If you are my father, you will take my eye,
now a thimble of jelly, into your mouth.
You will take my head between thumb
and middle finger, hold me to your lips and suck
what is left, drain into your belly what once
processed light into stories about tax evasion
or the mating rituals of penguins.
You will peel the skin back to reveal
my flaccid interior. You will say
here is the muscle that contained
a dream about his predators.
You will say there isn’t much left of the brain,
but what’s here is tender. Careful
when you eat around my mouth, how my teeth
can sting the gums. My lips are not intended
to collide with yours. Say this is the source
of our broth, the reason any of us have come
to this small kitchen waiting to become a fire.
Not the beans or the onions. Not the potatoes.
I can tell when someone doesn’t wash me
properly, when their stomach fills with my sand,
with the hard calcium of my scales. Listen
to the way the grains grind inside of those mouths,
as if tiny television sets are exploding with news
of another country. Someone is calling out my name.
Perhaps it’s the children who discover me waiting
in the stew, and want to know who will do what
they have watched their fathers do for them,
to be the first to smell me in this mixture,
to pinch my dream muscle or tip
my lower jaw to make me speak.
*first appeared in The Literary Review
In Walmart, in Macy’s, when my father’s eyes take
the shape of a moon I have not seen, one covered
in smoke or storm, I know that look, that urge to gauge
a prospective countryman with a phrase I cannot call
my own, that carries the flames of a distant
countryside, whose roads are colors he does not see
anymore, here, amidst all of this abundance. There,
my father and a stranger stand surrounded by the latest
trends in length and texture, talk about mortgages,
about the taste of the air in unbearable humidity.
To the ones who do not recognize my father’s call
as their own, forgive him this loneliness, the islands
he thought he heard rattling in your throat, the glaze
on your skin he mistook for salt and ocean,
for volcanos and birds and the bones of giants.
Forgive him the street and all of its fires, the flood
in which his sister is always drowning. Into my hand,
my father shoves a fist full of shirt with “Made
in the Philippines” printed on its tag. Perhaps, we discuss
the murkiness under which such fabrics are produced.
No, the role of the son is not to strip such joy
from his father, who holds in his hand the horizon
as a second skin. Instead, how much pressure
does a needle need to penetrate this cloth,
to break the skin where a splinter rests?
When my father speaks, I dream of the color
of his tongue, how it contracts, isolated
in the darkness, enters the world already heavy
and blackened. I dream of all
the blood it takes to say hello.
*first appeared in The Margins
America Tries To Remove A Splinter
don’t worry aaa this will be quick aaa my thumb on your palm
your thumb on my neck aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa my wrist aaaaaaa quick
like your father aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa like your mother
everything is aa a shark is aaaaaaa a wolf is aaaaaaaa quick
I have done this aaaaaonce or twice aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa trust me
if you do not have faith aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa most ghosts are the color of grease
my hand feels like a flame I put through your hair
I can clip the ends of your toes until they are clouds
thank you for your patience which is unnecessary aaaaaaaaa listen
to me when I say you do not need to move
you do not need to breathe put your hand on my hip
I swear aaaa a quickness a it will be over
and you will thank me aaaaaaaaaaaa you will not notice how
I have put my hands inside your bones aaaaaaaa which are hollow
which are your father your mother aaa I have
your hand on my palm aaaaaa how does this feel
the weight of a shark aaaaaaaaaaa your patience is rainwater
I have never seen aaaa hands like these aaa do not
move aaa when I say I am quick aaaaaa I mean look up aaaaaa the sky
is not quick but sad and still
*first appeared in Zone 3
Transubstantiation or Gruyere is the Miracle of Cheeses
Your mouth is the closest any god comes
to death. Have you thought about that?
What you tongue is not holy, but a shade
of grace, a cheek made of wheat outlined
by grease and animal fat –revelations need
a little pressure from the wrist. I am not here
to absolve your appetites. The lip trembles
with hallelujahs every time it swallows joy.
I know what swells your guts, vinegar
that finds its way into your blood,
the veins that go blue at night. The gods
you know best are the ones you can eat.
I was born three layers of stubborn, a face
you seared against a cast iron’s heat, proof
that all devotion is a relative of hunger. Miracles
have no interest in the small details, in the physics
of bread or fish, does not dress starches or flesh
with witness. When you hold me in silence,
as if silence is an act of time and not will,
I wear your breath like a shroud or kiss.
Flattened Children are Inevitable
You could walk inside the heart of a whale.
You could have a cocktail party there.
You could carve your name into the heart.
You could pretend to be one half of a couple
that is deeply in love and carve both names
and no one would know about your lie.
Harold, there are children inside the heart
of a whale at a museum, and they leave
mustard everywhere. I am a terrible
person who allows terrible things to happen.
I know about the walls of muscle ready
to collapse in on them and I will not tell them.
In my head, I am yelling at the children, but in my throat,
Harold, nothing followed by whistles of nothing.
Harold, they will sit in the center
of another animal and find it unbearable.
I will not tell them they are the center of attention
and no one will stop any of this from happening.
I will let it happen, Harold. They will make a chandelier
out of their fingerprints and I will let it happen.
I will watch the light pressed out of them,
watch them compressed into pinholes,
into memories of sad but beautiful pinholes.
*first appeared in Boston Review
An Extraordinary Animal for Extraordinary Times
I cannot stop watching the YouTube video
of the man with a moth buried deep
in his ear, cannot stop thinking
about the wing strokes that filled
his dreams. Kumar, I am anxious
when I see someone pinned to the bed
by friends. How long should it take the head
to realize it is host to an extraordinary
circumstance? How can he bear the knuckles
of the woman trying to extract the thorax
and not ask to be forgiven for his prior
transgressions? Kumar, we grow attached
to the darkness that occupies us, no matter
how loud the song, how deep the well.
When she pinches the abdomen, withdraws
the wings that have lost their soft powder, the ash
they carried into a lit brain, I am still surprised
by the size of what she finds, as if I forgot
the definition of a moth and the shape that implies,
as if, Kumar, the idea of the moth was made
more beautiful, more devastating
when suddenly forced into the light.
*first appeared in interrupture
A Head Full of Music, A Sky Full of Smoke
Harold, I am waiting for the sky to break apart,
to finally unlock into more sky. The color gray
is not a sky, but a personality. What is waiting like
where you are? I hope it is not gray
and figureless. I hope it is not torn
into feathers or hair or hair-like feathers,
into the necks of children who grow both.
The hard truth, Harold, is that I could not look up
into whatever substance separates above us
to reveal colonies of sky made from the bluest blue
of children who replaced their lungs with accordions.
What music do children make when they are around you?
Harold, I am told my wife and I will have beautiful
children, and I secretly believe this is true.
I secretly believe we have skies full
of children inside our chests and they swallow
all of my clouds. I am guilty of not releasing them.
Harold, I am not ready. I want to have a star
small enough to fit on the width of my thumb,
but I am not ready. Harold, you understand
when I say this. Your chest expands when you fill
it with smoke until you are ready to let
the contents of your own head drift
in the air around you.
My children are beautiful, Harold.
So beautiful I will not let them go.