Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Fall

my language has no words
and my culture has no gestures
with which to demonstrate
the intense sincerity of my self-abasement
when I am confronted by your worth
(when I am confronted by my incomplete understanding of your worth)

there is no comparison I can make
to you, the superlative,
except to say inadequately
that you knock the sense from me, like the cement
(pummeled into the lower back muscles of a fallen child
when she slips on the sidewalk)
steals her power to breathe

this love that is more than love
encumbers you, but although I build up
walls for me to slam into, although I weave
nets to catch me, I am locked in orbit


when I was small, I threw myself out of the top bunk
to learn what it felt like to fall
but I could just have waited
to meet you


new and strange to contemplate:
my thoughts are not Myself—
the constant stream of reactions to my experiences
can be my enemy

—can be my tool,
can be irrelevant, is not Me
anymore than my hands are Me
or my memories, or my reflection
or the contradictory set of behaviors
acquaintances lump together and call by my name

and maybe I only exist
in this moment,
maybe in two minutes my body will be made
of a new combination of atoms;
when I pull back, I can no longer see
where I end and You begin, or if
I and the chair are not the same, after all

and maybe I have a soul,
new-created at my conception or as old as Saṃsāra—

—but total nonexistence seems just as likely


There will be a moment
when I don't remember this anymore
when its effects are lost
in the vast complexity of all action
and my mind is empty, or
is full of other things

In this loneliness, this isolation from pre-made meaning
I will find
a kind
of freedom that no other freedoms
the delight
of drowning, suspended, head covered, feet stretched out,
in the seeming infinity
of my own agency

If I dismantle my barbican, overflow
my baileys, I will scrape myself raw,
I will expose myself to a rain of sulfur
but I
will move, after a long wait, I will
move, I will no longer be too large
for my skin

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Week 38

Hurt people hurt people

I remind myself of this as I watch you on the sun porch,
your belly swollen with potential and your forehead
pushing in toward itself
Each word you spit designed to slice me up, designed
by you and by some other, some other
who designed you
Serene, I say nothing to your tirade; I let it hit me,
and part around me, a great wind blasted at a pillar
of rock; your barbs are blunted
I see what they are, little pebbles of hate

and I remember the times I have
hated, the times we sat
on the sun porch and held sweating glasses of iced tea
Every word I have spat
when my helpless arms grasped
at nothing and my insides were stolen
Some people worry for the child in you but
I have faith

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


The heat makes everything more real:
the sweats are sweatier today;
the stark dark hairs are hairier,
the fats more lipid, more opaque,

and through leftover water drops,
the seeing sun steams oil from us:
humanity is raised at last,
a rich exchange to swap for sun.

The sweat, the hair, the fat, the waste—
and age beats down like summer heat,
the sun made redder by the breaths
of human thousands, damp beneath.

I turn my face against my sleeve
and breathe the smoke my sleeve has caught,
which we were given lives ago
in sharp defiance of the gods.


I see you, sometimes, in a face,
in young men hurrying with tasks
or pushing through the crowd in pairs,
too vivid for me and too fast.

You dart across their irises
and through the muscles of their cheeks;
I hear you echo when they laugh,
ineptly hidden, out of reach.

How many of us have you passed
without a touch, without a word?
We’ll never find out what it’s like
to be these men, intense, secure—

but even they can’t see the homes
you build and vacate in their eyes:
we never know about ourselves
until you’ve left us way behind.

Friday, July 25, 2014

I'm not a liar

Every word of truth was spoken
by my hands as they pushed the window open,
as they pushed the window shut;
every sincerity pulsed pain
behind my eyes, tensed
in my forehead.
If you can't read what is written,
if you can't hear what is declaimed,
come into the amphitheater through any
of its many doors,
and learn another language, one spoken
under the breath, one written
in the tiny spaces between each word,
where there is little room for the cut-out tongue
to sing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Put your mouth on my face and understand me,
see the faces in my face;
slide your hand through my hand,
for I am a specter

Put your lips on my forehead, put your mouth
on me, and understand, beloved, you
who have listened and obeyed, who learned
from our teachers

Ask me your questions; I will give my answers;
they don't match, and oh

I never wish to frustrate you,
who loved me, who were never
so beloved as I

and I know, I know but it was not in my nature
to love, and how much less
can I regret the coldness of my heart
when the path led me to Liberation

(yet love came to me, too, in my turn, and was overcome)

But my words are merely an abacus, so put
your mouth on me,
open it wide and red,
and understand me, beloved, for I
am a specter

Friday, May 23, 2014


Last night, in my dream
I saw faces I never
touched, never took, and
now I have awoken; I
have still not seen them
since the life before I died

I know what they were—
the bone-deep tolling
of the Gion Shōja bells:
the cold, beaded dew
on the morning glory bud

Now, for the first time,
as has so often happened,
the morning has come at last

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


This is the week
that all the lilacs bloomed,
bursting out too quickly for me to say
that they unfolded.

Their heavy, sweet smell,
wet with newness,
unrolls across the city, a tapestry
embroidered with May.

I touch them;
I brush my fingertips across each cluster
as I pass, lift them to my face and breathe,
overcome by the feeling of home,
by the idea of belonging.

But I do not belong
to these lilacs; they are not mine;
this house is not mine; this land
is not mine; it is only part of this city
that is also not mine,

and the house with the lilacs
where I lived long ago

was not my home

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Not a Symphony

I don't want to get better at handling my feelings
I just want to not have feelings anymore

I don't want to spend another afternoon facedown on the floor, wet spots forming in the carpet--
my tears and, uglier, my wet, wide breaths

I am fat and dysfunctional and unpleasant to be around
and I'm lonely but I fuck people up.

I am trying to write this but
the ink is smudging in the teardrops on the page--I'm literally crying on all my work
and its not even interesting or beautiful, it's just pathetic

I drank all the wine we have in the house and
it didn't do anything, I only stumbled
through the garbage can and smeared cat vomit
on my hands because
I'm crying too hard to walk straight

I live in a pile of cat vomit
my life is disgusting
everything I own is made of particle board
and I never get to go outside.

I'm not even an interesting character anymore
I'm a cliche
a mom from the 60s who drinks martinis and hates
her vacuum cleaner

All this pain and I don't get anything out of it
I'm not writing a symphony, I'm not painting
a portrait, I'm not even writing shitty
poetry, just scribbling this down in
ugly ass handwriting, while I wipe snot
out of my mouth-breathing face with
my other hand

The salt in my tears stings my skin--how
have I cried so much and never noticed
that before?

I have nothing that is worth anything to me
it's all just thick-smeared garbage, and
it's heavy, and I

I wish I could go outside, spend more than ninety
minutes without looking at a screen, breathe
air that doesn't smell like dishes that
haven't been washed in weeks

Monday, April 28, 2014

Long-Legged Spider Keeping Up

Of a deeper color than jade
is the pond by the road,
cupped between spring-forested hills
in Michigan, where I pay rent now,
and I would give my jade
and my emeralds, if I still had them,
to belong to these hills and to this pond
or to the fruit of the trees.

I belong only to the road:
each cornfield I drive by cuts neat rows,
even-measured furrows into me, running
endlessly beside me, like a long-legged spider
that barely, mercilessly, keeps up.
And I ache for a home
that I never was born to, for a country
where I never belonged,
homesick for a people whose language
I understood but could never speak without
an accent--
a moth forbidden
from crawling back to its chrysalis.

Beneath the corn and the soy is the soil
I call mother, in whose warm muddy realness
I dream of immersing myself,
hogs and Holsteins lazing over me,
spread open to the unobstructed Iowa sky--
in Minnesota or Illinois, in Wisconsin or Missouri,
somewhere just off I-80 or I-94,
not farther than you'd drive for a fill-up or for
2 for $2 bratwurst

becoming, finally, one of a million farms,
each unique yet indistinguishable among
the million--and all the shame
of realizing I have no use for their uniquenesses
gone with my face, gone with my name.

I love her like no one else could,
this placid mother
who turns her tits to face her litter,
all born knowing how to suck,
while I stare at her spine and wonder
how I never learned this trick,
this skill that automatically comes with being human,
a buy-one-get-one-free at the Farm
and Fleet. I don't think
these softball-dusted girls, these sunburnt
boys in white t-shirts, know her face--
too busy sucking to look up. But I

have spent--oh, decades now--
imagining what her face might look like
if she smiled on me. And if I had money I could buy
a John Deere tractor, but I could not
turn myself into one.

Friday, April 18, 2014


I read, when I was in Russia, a poem
whose author was fascinated
by the femininity inherent to his beloved's verbs:
вошла, she said, услышала, влюбила,
ла, ла, ла, la la la la ~
and I know what he heard there, because
when I see your emoji,
the spellings you've chosen for their exact shades
of meaning, your use of — where someone else
would use --,
I know you. And in knowing I

You don't have to have a face or a voice to be
a person. All that you need
is a self to express, and

Friday, March 28, 2014


The mornings I’m alone and aching,
resplendent-mouthed and open-skinned,
the lashing rain is flung, retaking
the earth in fits of fickle wind.
And silence in the autumn hallways
is warm, expansive, safe as always,
a living thing that fills to blur
the corners with its fluffy fur.
The air is cold behind my shoulders
and underneath my sinking breasts
and on my thighs, presenting tests
that prove my bones as dense as boulders
and force my innards to revive:
I am alive, alive, alive.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Значение имени

In Moscow, on the street
one Sunday between
the pale tubes of neon lights, recently extinguished, and
the rhinoceros-guarded façade of
a gentlemen's club,
a young woman I have not met since asked me, "и ты --
как тебя зовут?"

and I answered truthfully.
"--Красивое," she said, her eyes
breathing, her mouth
open like a split fruit, "как песня, ты
песня, песня--да?"

"Ну да," I said, tilting my eyes down, down
to her split-fruit mouth in
"как песня."

Как песня--я песня,
народная песня,
рождественская песня,
старая, святой песня,
запрещённая, так же,
как все суеверные, красивые лжи запрещённые--

and in the wet breaths of her eyes were
древние крестьяне,

крестьяне, которые танцуют по кругу,
забытый хоровод,
француженки с толстыми косами и
молодие люди;
томятся; ищут любви.
В глазах были карие глаза, светлые волосы,

тысячу лет назад,
в то время, которая мир забыл,
в стране, которой язык уже не говорят.

In her small, plump face, turned up at me, I
could read that her "Красивое" was
earnest, that her breaths were
alive, that песня meant something
big, bigger than a continent, as big as
history, and imagine
my astonishment--
because in English, all it means is


Friday, February 21, 2014

Sonnet LXXXVII: Audacity

In its demesne the rolling Shinto bell,
your brightest laugh that spikes the screen, the spine
of a dimetrodon, is a design
that's locked in a genetic, verdant cell;
each inhalation's perfect, tapered swell
spreads visible along with its decline--
this tiny, living thing that is not mine,
creating body from a dust-made shell.

I could erase it, cover it with sound,
could amplify, repeat to match my mood,
accompany its tones with tinny psalms.
For all I cannot touch, my hands surround
its boundaries; I hold it here, subdued
in incorporeal yet heated palms.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Туул гол

The year that I died,
Saladin at Al-Karak strode in through gaping archways.
Karak's echoing hallways were not then so undefended,
but the sky was as empty,
as impenetrable and deep and as deeply blue,
and as deeply blue and empty as the sky over Khatan Tuul
in the year that I died.

She is an almost worthy lord:
she sucks the willows through her long, splayed fingers,
and the sturgeon dart in and out,
piercing her belly where she over-boldly bares it to the sky;
the sky is a window that looks through itself,
a mirror that paints my secrets on the faded grass
more vibrantly as my search moves east.

I was turned inside out by the sky
in the year that I died,
and my name became the steppes;
my bright hope became the Altai and my hate Baikal,
and Sakhalin was all that amounted of my purpose.
But Saladin tore forward,
fueled by the condensed flame in his own belly.

There were flames that year,
when my lord turned inside out
and his insides were nothing but meat,
meat and terror and the desire to be covered,
painted over with saffron and jade.
I am a painter

and his bones burnt up, and every arrow
was the arrow that opened me to the blue-razor Eye.
I felt my armor peel like skin,
and I faced forward.

My body was left at Al-Karak,
my doors burned to ash and my ashes blown westward,
the idea of a fortress,
with nothing to echo but the faded grass.

If Saladin comes again to Al-Karak,
let him flow in like winnowed grain;
let him fit doors to my doorways and meat to my bones.
I will paint him emerald as a virelai;
I will paint him vermilion as an Atlantic sky,
and he will fill me with his name,
with hate and with hopes piercing bright,
like the scales of sturgeon,
sucking me in with the vacuous blue that precedes the flame.

Khatan Tuul and the sky reflect each other,
transparent and impenetrable,
beyond the Altai,
behind Baikal.
Now I dart between the willows and unfold across the steppes;
now I am vast and animated.
But if Saladin comes again to Al-Karak,
doors will fly up against the sky.

I am a painter

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


The Ibuprofen's red stare burns
through the desk drawer, blazes
four inches into my belly;
I know; I don't touch it, but I know
it's there, and I know so am I.

I can take two, just two of the
sleeping pills, just two and I can't
find the scissors because I hid them
one day when fear was stronger
than sadness, but I know
they're there, and I know so am I.

If I went to the hospital they'd scold
after they saved me but maybe I'd pay
that price for the distraction of what
comes first--a new kind of pain,
a sensation I've never felt, and I don't want
to tell you because I love you, but I know
you're there, and I know so am I.