Poker After Funeral
Grandma flicked a deck of fifty-two
from a Shreveport casino past her
thumb, mimicking the noises in the dark.
All day we worked deep-sixing grandpa,
but now the day was gone,
so we sat in the dark
to play a game of five-card,
hoping that his soul was somewhere else, not stuck
inside the shallow box of lacquered cedar.
Uncle cut the deck and grandma dealt,
growling deuces wild as she snapped
her wrist. The bet went to my uncle,
check then to my second cousin, check.
And then it came to me check. Grandma’s
eyebrows lifted from her eyes. Three
dollars she said and pushed twelve quarters
to the center of the table. The bet
went to my uncle fold then to my second
cousin fold and then to me, call. I threw
three ones on the table. The family
and lookers-on raised their heads and voices.
Grandpa would have been howling
to her right, you ain’t got nothin’!
so I told her, you ain’t got nothin’.
We both drew another card, hoping
we would dig up luck, some glossy gift
buried face down in the deck. Neither
of us did. We played the cards that we were dealt.
Cards to chest she said, you first and so
I slapped mine on the table: triple aces.
Grandpa would have told her, give up
while you can -- but I didn’t say that.
She laughed, exhaled, and showed her hand:
full house: three tens, one king, a wild deuce to pair.
She leaned forward, pulled the pot to her side
of the table. She threw her arms around the cash
and change, and straightened up her back.
Dan A. Cardoza
We All Float
We know what makes
a balloon float,
clouds without string too.
After all, we built magic
way up there, if just to compensate
All things ascend somewhere,
So much so,
the dark vault we call sky
Then, the clouds buckle like
riveted steel beams, exposing cracked
seams, regrettably, impossibly so.
For now all the patched stitches
won’t sieve, though a few of us
believe it’s only a matter of time
and inflated faith.
Farm in Ireland
It’s my anniversary day, seven a.m. I’m late by any measure, a soup spoon a bowl, the milk in the cows, twelve hours old. So full, utters churn cream and butter. Chores multiply, breed like wild March hare. My feet can’t seem to find my shoes.
All I imagine are the armies, as they advance in divisions of sycamore at the end of the far pasture, along the tracks, ablaze against the grey and platinum walls of November. In the top of the trees, fires climb ladders in the sky like a new religion. Seasons are something we shared.
There’s a half moon hanging, as white as any broken tooth. It’s near the horizon aching its down. I imagine the sun too ashamed to rise, ride its bright stallions in its ceaseless skies.
There’s a cemetery nearby as full as a freezer, a nineteenth century convenience for those who believed in the preserving souls.
I don’t, and that’s why I still sleep with a measured mist of her perfume. In bed each night my body betrays me, it tosses and turns, feels like an affair.
When she packed honey in the Ball canning jars, she said a tiny sprig of Rosemary blossom kept good luck. I’m mindful of that, but not enough, as the day breaks my broken heart.
Teal Screen Door
It’s platinum November, the bouquet of the Fourth of July BBQ lingers, even the scent of missing you.
The chipped teal hue is emotive. Who knew grandpa would someday speak
the linguistics of acrylic some twenty years gone.
How can I forget last summer when the hinges swelled like a molecule conventional, stiffening the crackle and guiro as tight as a caw in a crow?
It’s been a while since you died.
Tonight, in case you don’t know, I am drinking Jack Daniel’s, sitting on the redwood bench we built, and smoking unfiltered Camels into the deep tar of night.
The rusted door knob changes channel’s every time I take a leak.
With each in and out, dust wafts out from its cage in the screen, smelling as sweet as the sky, forgiveness, and the stale whiskey we drank at the beginning, on our failed wedding day.
And now I wait for the purification of funerals, the ones they say help you move on somehow.
But I only awake in the dawn's early light from all the white noise.
A First Astronomy
Dionne Custer Edwards
What if the stars become a rumor?
Drip down in courtyards as slow
passive globs. Become an urban legend
we whisper about around the dinner table,
if we ate dinner together.
Maybe we whisper about it
in front of the phone glow. We will say,
I heard telescopes used to touch
your eye to sky. The longer you looked
the more blue-black the pool,
the more gnarled the shapes of stars.
We will say, I heard we named the dots
and lines: Orion, Aquarius, and Cassiopeia.
Drew them in the sky as warriors and flame.
Traced them to their deaths
with white-light and efficiency.
A heavy favor on day burdened the night.
The children will not wonder about glitter.
Standing in the middle of the backyard,
the porchlight glow, artificial
and predictable, glares with no meaning.
A makeshift mouth wide open and loud.
Something we can rely on in the dark.
The children will not notice the absence
of stars. They will not know
to question the flat sky, the golden litter.
They will call it moonlight.
José del Valle
A stairwell opens onto
a rooftop in a foreign city, Bucharest
or Mexico City -- and stars,
the rhythmic buzz of insects.
The suffocated night & its desultory drama!
You return from the falafel guy exhausted.
Shouts in the street, car horns, sirens,
& the gripped cry -- startling at night -- of the hot-water faucet.
A woman was beheaded in Yemen,
on Turkish television, with a scimitar sword.
Her dress was a thousand tiny lemons . . .
I couldn’t find the words.
Lemons spill from the basket. The woman
was from Egypt; her name -- rhymed with bird.
Richard Dinges, Jr.
Mourning dove swoons,
a mournful reed
in cool morning breeze,
displaced by Russian
dove’s harsh monotone
kazoos. We lose
even this one small
reminder of childhood
on a porch swing
surrounded by gray
wood exposed behind
peeling paint and sun
sets against long
shadows drawn by
dove’s long slow croon.
a sob of raindrops wets the face of earth,
& the night, like cherry blossom, dreams
under the miracles of heaven.
in the dark, i open the vehicle door,
walk you into the café. you sip through hot
coffee as i stroke your hair into a bridge
the radio track engines your heart into a
snow of memory. your mouth —a pigeon
testing the current of water. we share
stories of our past & your lips
caked with coffee stains become a
threshold into the warmth of grief.
i unhook your hair & watch it
canopies into a garden of lavender
flowers. we watch an episode of
Sorrowful Passion; afraid of losing
your voice to the dryness of ash, you
cup your face with your palms —two
pairs of torn shoes & a broken flower
remind you of your father's tragedy, how
that night his body was an animal
smeared with ash like dead flower
without chlorophyll. your brother knelt
at his feet like a bird in awe, mother
rushed for the rosary bead only
to meet a dead tilapia. it's months
now, you walk into the bathroom
scrubbing your past away; you peek
into the mirror & your body reminds
you that healing is a miracle & that
you're still far from God's threshold.
you walk through the garden, the birds
mistake you for a paparazzo. A flower
falls on your shoulder, you inhale
the folioge to know how it feels like
to be a garden. in the cafeteria, you're
bold enough to choke under the grip
of memory now, you talk about your father
like a bird sipping through a cup
of lemonade. you giggle as i stroke
your hair into a candelabra.
later that night, you dreamt of father
in a white satin dress gracing the
orchard entrance like nature
I sleep between my feet and my hands,
ensconced in money. My gold sheets
down to my toes cover the heat of summers
past where everyone begs for me to dance
again between the shadows of fence posts.
All the trees growing on my land give fruit.
The best rain from the best season falls
each month. I waste my wealth on strangers
in the city, dry mouths from parched tenants,
fat men fallen on lean times in the tournament
Living alone brings me motionless to windless
nights when the moon tucks uncovered
behind the barn and the best light reaches
the earth in scrabble. Acquaintances discover me
in small spaces, in rooms that can barely hold
song. The story I tell is self-defense.
I understand the stars better than a friend’s
breath, better than the anxiety that covers
everything with suspense unspeakable. Nothing
makes this easy. Everywhere I go something
is aware of my presence. I cannot buy an open grave
to fall into.
The day-to-day struggle keeps us enormous,
our wild hair matted with trash, wool from the world
over, our flesh stretched taut across a drum.
We digest the rudiments of this disaster
when we look down at housetops and eat
whatever worries us. How else can two people
stay fat together?
Children scrimmage around
our feet. The vestibules of light illuminate our giant
faces when you tickle my chin with a tree.
Your hand in mine is all I can think about these days.
Your swaying body is the base line of each song
that comes to mind
and will come to mind after you’re gone—your
freckled skin the only music I remember.
Flowers bloom in this rummaging. Things change,
but the process by which they change remains the same.
None of this can stop a river from damming in my ears.
My plight is happiness. A sour tongue blights
all my food. I cannot name the refulgence we face
together, the fog we enter alone. We are joy redoubled
and contracted. Nothing without us can appear.
Camera Obscura: Room By The Sea
from the sand
& is lost
to fog. Ocean
turns to you,
sky. Off a bluff
a man casts
a line up through
of a wave that is
Each night fashioning roads
into a forgetful moon.
Who knows how to sing
below an unexpected bridge?
We built that on the back of
millions of years, not knowing
what we’re after. Memory
is a pulp, & we fear death
in ways that never seemed to
bother us before. No matter the slant,
the sun is light without debt; the cave
has never paid a single bill & thrives
in spite. Why did we come down
from the trees? I’ve regretted
the pond we crawled from.
Oh bright Dharma, how have you
stayed so sweet for so many
Almost Easter and the vultures have returned,
roosting on my neighbor's roof, like praying
monks in sacerdotal robes, swaying
in their rapture. Soon they'll fly, adjourning
to perform their holy office, blessing carcasses
of possum, deer, raccoon and squirrel laid low
by cold or cars, revealed by melting snow
and resurrected from the deep freeze. Bless us,
oh Lord, and these thy gifts. So welcome back
you black-winged, thermal-gliding angels, God's great
recyclers. With no stain of guilt, no weight
of worry, the vultures conjure life from wrack
and send it soaring. I hope one day I, too, will rise
in beak, on wing, dakini-borne, to clouds and sky.
Last night’s celebration spools knots in my chest.
As I sniff singed plastic, the rusted husk of discarded metal
is a monument in my femur. They wheel me into a motel parking lot
that gifts complementary condoms on the second night.
I am the lightweight they felled and fitted into their neighbour’s dumpster,
a slick measure to avoid a dead man turning statue of witness,
hauling anchor in a DEA office. You jingle keys on the sidewalk,
I envisage you distorted into something that doesn’t match my memory,
dealers thrumming your blood with feral thread.
But there is hope in this tension.
I hallucinate a woman howling
face down on a broken mirror. The lid lifts,
perfume slaloms overhead.
first homicide of 2019
"you could smell the gunshot"
said the witness
of the night Nick killed his roommate
maybe his friend
the paper reports now
they've rounded up the two
accused of the crime
reported as the first homicide of 2019
(which says something about us
as a culture,
as a city,
for more bad news
but what that something is,
I do not know)
in the little apartment
felt something was off axis
about these two showing up
wearing dirty hoods over their heads
Nick's hands deep in his pockets
they imagined their dealer
still didn't call the cops
it was a drug deal"
the paper reported
these two men
robbed eleven other homes that night
I keep thinking
by some sort of luck
I didn't push the offer to help
Nick too much
and right before
he put a gun to
his dealer's head
he didn't need a ride
Nick wasn't lying
Where We Lived
A clapboard bungalow squatted
in a thick surround of blackberry patch
on the outskirts of the campus
where athletes played their serious games
and carried their hopes away
in helmets and buckets.
But you would not remember this
as you were not yet born
and the weather was curtains of drizzle
and only the fish loved it
the fish and the letters of words like rafts.
We all fished we all believed
that streams would never fear
the first light. Then the hook flashed
and the first among us died.
And still we rose before full day.
Some would later say that angels slept
leaning on the furniture
but we were not counting sheep
or keeping what we caught
or confused by the enemies
who grew in number. We lived
where streams were fat with sense
and friends were the invisible line
silvery and taunt and quivering with life
disappearing into the rapids.
Agnes Hanying Ong reads and waits. **************
Necks crane upwards in the bar parking lot. The people keep saying we are approaching totality because we are disappearing together. As it becomes darker it gains dimension. I understand now. The bouncer comes out, crushes a Busch can and says There it goes it’s gone fuck that moon. He’s right: things only matter as much as you want them to. The shadow of the earth is perfect. Mel swears it looks like a skitlit in the sky, but Matt and I have never had or even heard of a skitlit, so we just nod and take her word for it. On the day I was born it was new and nowhere. It’s here tonight, but the parking lot waves goodbye anyway. Totality is imaginary, widening the gap between us and the order of things. It obscures itself then invites us to start again. Can you see me now?
An abrupt and indelible boom
unfamiliar to these streets, stuns everything to a terrible silence
everything but my heart that it sets galloping like a mad horse.
Is it a bomb detonating?
It might be something out of a TV news clip on war in Gaza.
The overwhelmed brain is left to its inept speculation
till the source of the sound is revealed.
The frail nerves so wired to the brain are now turned on.
I can hear them scampering like rats.
Then around the corner of the street I see
little children at play setting off fireworks.
The stars now seem forgotten --
as the faux stars melt into a shriek
lighting up the night sky,
and take their place.
Then the blazed trails of flickering gold dissolve into fumes
blotting out their own artistry,
filling up the lungs with a sharp metallic stink
that gags the inner light
leaving behind a sense of inky heaviness.
On The Beach
The sea suffers from a sad formlessness. It tries to reach out to me.
I stretch my arm out to seize the importunate waters,
but my fingers close on nothing.
The vast isolation of the sea magnifies my despair.
Pink and delicate, the shells and conches
glisten like precious dreams.
The sight of little children collecting them
fails to warm me.
These are the little treasures that the sea hides
which come from a place far away as happiness.
The winds sneer at the sea like fate, goading it into rage.
Then the stubborn waves crest to the wind’s sneer.
But the futility of it isn’t lost upon the sea.
Resignedly, the waves fall to their demise --
Their resentment dissolves at my feet.
Alone in its ordeal, the sea is intent on dragging me --
The tropical sun,
the glitter of the sea,
or the flaps of the gull-wings against the clear blue sky,
nothing melts the darkness inside the head.
All I see is the finality of bone-white foam. Its message is death.
All the roads were smoldering
My father’s face rippled,
a torn flag.
Each time I thought of him,
the dry corn fields,
And the October light,
falling through his eyeglasses,
set fire to the newspaper
on the kitchen table.
I could taste the ashes in my mouth.
And the smell,
the clinging odor of smoke
I wore in my hair,
a mourning headscarf,
I collected tears
in a tin cup
to throw them
into the fire.
A cinder bird flew
through the open window,
bringing a message,
I saw it,
rising to the ceiling.
Ode to the onion
With your rings,
your many silk dresses,
and translucent veils,
you rise up from the dirt,
its runaway bride.
warrior princess of the underground,
of a 7,000 years old dynasty
from India, China, or Iran,
you were worshipped in ancient Egypt,
a symbol of eternal life.
You traveled to Pompeii
and cured the Romans of sores,
toothaches, dog bites, lumbago,
then showed up in Greece
and conquered France.
The spade unearths your gleaming fists,
your golden paper armor,
and the knife undresses you,
peels back the scales
And your scent!
Your pungent smell has the power
to conjure the past
and make everyone weep
for its riots and tragedies.
You share the destiny
of every woman in the world:
until the knife enters you
and you fall apart,
throwing tear gas
And, in the end, you step back
and let the show go on.
Transparent, glorious, glazed,
leaving behind your sweetness
as a gift,
so others can shine on.
The alp at the end of the street
cleaves my thoughts in solitude.
Address after address piles up
in window shades of February
near a concrete river bank,
where two kingfishers mate
violently, and then abandon
the desire. Watching, I know
we are more than numbers,
the necessary ways we quiet
into nothing at all, and then
never more absent our sounds.
The street stretches us beyond
the comfort of new asphalt,
where closer to the alp a hawk
on the ground, half a squirrel
in its throat, choked to death.
Placed, so, beyond the compass of change,
The sinkhole at the edge of the wheat field,
deepening, a magnet in its center--
it is common to mistake types of birds,
or grasses. I once mistook the trees
for desire. Then, the other day I could not
remember the name of my mother’s cancer.
Sun affixed upon a field-bed, you lie
on a sheet in the middle of a hay field
spread out and damp from the dew.
You keep your focus on the trouble
with the spaces between what matters.
A compass—our cells do experience
magnetic stimulation—where is that
field—yet the body is never enough.
Christmas Morning, 1960
On a conifer branch tucked in a small white envelope
above the unicorn ornament, beside a string of flashing
white lights, the face of Ulysses S. Grant peers out. Closer
to the floor, easier to reach, another with that same image
for my younger sister. It’s an annual gift he gives in lieu
of boxes brightly wrapped in colored paper, splashed with
ribbon, maybe a bow, a red bow to highlight the season.
There’s no sleigh or jolly fat man or a wife wearing a white
mobcap teasing a group of tiny men, offering a shiny apple
to a red-nosed deer. It’s dark in the morning, snow drifted
outside the front window. Mother tends the kettle chirping
in the kitchen, gray Formica table pulled out from the wall,
four chairs tucked underneath. No hot chocolate, muffins,
donuts, or scones, but we always had enough to eat.
Aunt Jesse raised two girls after Uncle Mel
died, changed her name to Toni, bought a ’62
Chevy Impala convertible, hung out in Syracuse
clubs sixty miles north with cousin Bert listening
to Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis. The family gossip
was she found new bed partners most Saturday nights.
She was a cosmetics clerk at McLean’s during the week.
Bleached-blonde hair in a beehive, red satin jacket
draped over a low-cut blouse, tailored skirt, slick shoes
that sparkled in the light, she took me for a ride in that
fine-tuned driving machine, windows down, radio blaring,
the wind like an old friend danced around us. Her older
daughter was called the town pump, had a reputation far
exceeding the truth. She was quiet, more of a plain Jane,
an A student who kept to herself. A few of the local boys
talked shit about her at Harold’s Place where I hung out,
not knowing she was my cousin, which led to nasty words,
fists flying. Her sister had a baby out of wedlock. After
the adoption, and the rumor mill quieted, she spent most
of her time in a tiny flat on Prospect Street leaving daily
for an insurance job she hated. I visited in the eighties,
John Travolta poster on one wall, Olivia Newton-John
on the other. Time warp? Maybe, or just wanting
to spread those wings, but never learned to fly.
Anne Marie Warner
These days, our sometimes-holy ghosts are the handfuls of ashen birds in fractals of bare trees—restless, unwarm, exposed. Shiftless pigeon-feather eggshell skies we want cracked open demand electric lighting in the near-noon kitchen.
A jotted scribble found: He restores the years locusts have eaten. Google reveals she was quoting the prophet Joel. She must have said this over the phone. Brother Joel continues: You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied / And praise the name of the Lord who has dealt wondrously with you.
Memories of recent sight and sound: a heavy skillet of lemon slices—browning, bubbling, crisping—in the rendered fat of bird. Sunday’s supper was a shallow bowl of durum wheat semolina shells, some curling over cabbage shreds and green pea pearls, mingling with dill in a sauce of lemon cream. Today there will be Tom Kha Gai (which I cannot say but will cook slow all day) with its juices and zests of lemon and lime.
All this while Congress takes its hostages, its piece of pie, and bickers with mouths full over which party’s children to save, to fund, to impress their well-dressed dreams upon. The appointed ponder if a wall will save us. Can a wall save us from ourselves?
“Longing for sun,” I text to him, “This must be why so many of our dinners lately involve lemon. Trying to injest the sun.” I correct myself: “ingest.” But maybe injest is correct. These days seem to be some kind of darkly feathered manifestation of manifold jest.
The Morning of My Suicide
On Union Street I was, and bells
repeated their sentence, on a block
that stood for every man’s
affirmation I walked. I couldn’t
tell anyone under all the neutrinos
breathing on me, all the secrets
told, all the valentines I never sent
because I read them. Small hands,
small fading, sky one blue, cloud
two blue. An older man smiled at
me and told me I was beautiful.
How kind you are, I said to him.
How kind. But thank you
is what I should have said. Thank you.
Icarus at Eventide
The sky’s irresistible purple
darkens my unleavened thoughts.
Drawn to that thin light,
tomorrow’s wine, I stagger
towards a grimacing moon.
One gray grief turning to shadow.
A silver cloud circling. Blind fish
Blackened wings plunging
into brackish waters.
From A Window In Poipu On The Island Of Kauai
for my sister
We never had a peach tree. I dreamt you married
silence, Chloe. Words, lies, centuries, you said.
We saw that green light sliding in the waves
near Barnstable—they spilled with a hiss like Mom’s
cast iron skillet. Wind blew mist off the cliff
of the next crest. Now this sun shower,
small blobs of transparent suns, not droplets
on a shower curtain. I’m past that age,
says a thin, pink haole by his white Audi,
as if longing were not his habitat.
Now you’re the white space in this poem,
bride of silence. When I look in the mirror,
I see this man who wears our father’s suspenders.
Remember, he told us about Saint Stylite
on that sky pole. Now it’s enough, the sun
in this walled garden—these wet ash-gray
palm trunks almost shimmer. I’ve let
go of our story of fire, that red leaf burning,
half-buried in earth. You were a leaf in the sun,
the seventeen names for wind in Wailua.
Now you’re water, its lilt and quaver.
Things happen, you said, and you’re not the same.
The privacy of white clouds—not the life
I wanted, Chloe, but the one you may have
had to lead. The doctors want to destroy
my liver, you said. She must be strong to live
so alone, said our mother. Now as breakers
build and collapse, this small girl in yellow
does cartwheels in the sun. What else
can I give back except smoke?
Coyotes Come to the Suburbs
Sit still and lengthen your lines,
Shorten your poems and listen to what the darkness says
With its mouthful of cold air. —Charles Wright
From these black woods, houses line the ridge like boxes in a row, one lone home light shining
through the winter-bare trees.
Above the creekbank, outlined in cold moonlight, silhouettes of a tree’s limbs twist into the night
as its diameter commands an estimation of years—
a tree I’ve only noticed now, at night, after all this time away, a species I cannot name.
You saw the farms go: of wheat, corn, and beans, their pastures, their fencerows, their groves;
the limestone outcrop and springs: why they called it Springdale.
Can you see blackbirds scatter from the towers, or merely the blinking lights?
Fog spins within my breath, December frost in the knee-high grass as I climb the creekbank,
the tree winding into stars.
Once a coyote up a slope belts out a howl, I sense the others beyond the briers, their panting—
lances of breath.
You pass stop signs and street signs, yard lamps and spigots, all the parked cars in their
Driveways. Then come the yips and yaps of the others:
from the black woods below, the Old Westport Road farm, shadows in and out of the easements.