how we hold on

my mother kept a steamer trunk

with classic clothes immune to fad

my husband owned a cedar chest

packed with bits reins and riding whip

 

I am neither fashionista

nor ardent horse enthusiast

in my chest an aging heart brims

with blood both beautiful and swift

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when it drops you gonna feel it

we traded

Internet for mosquito

net cocooned

for sleep

under a halo

of white mesh

the sea beating

the coral cliffs

of Negril a lullaby

of dominoes geckos

the kingpins in the road

hawking anythingyouwant

the minstrel Fire improvising

Toots Hibbert’s “Pressure Drop”

a daughter hopeful that her father

in a Sav-la-Mar hospital would kick

lung cancer with an herbal medicine

something six chemo treatments

in Georgia couldn’t do

ink

years I served the Oracle

of Delphi preparing

her ink guarding

her gate that only one

at a time basked

in the light of those

answers ah but the ink

fell to me I painted

her words prophetic

enigmatic always terse

and what did she command

but make me swear to burn

those scrolls

 

I dreamed of casting

that wisdom into the temple

well awoke heart pounding

slipped snippets of the scrolls

into capsules then flung them

with birds into the fiery sunset

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Weslaco Texas a dark comedy

my sister lives in a noisy neighborhood

bang                                                 duck

border                                            police

gun                                               running

death                                               quick

bang                                                 duck

drug                                                  deal

business                                          cards

explodes                                       played

bang                                                 duck

in a noisy neighborhood my sister lives

FROM THE WELL,

                                    I call.

It is my breath traveling

from within: diaphragm,

throat, lips. 

                       What is dark

looking for light: Mama.

 

Our beginning,

                               a well,

pit of the gut, female

holding: womb. Like ghosts

of sisters and brothers before

me, I hear you practicing

my name, summoning.

I believe

                  your voice

love.

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EXIT INTERVIEW

I loved her?

                    After

all those years

I don’t know

                     what

love is—I used to think

it was in my music there 

I could say anything feel

anything be reborn out

of the hands of a jealous

man wanting my mother

without competition I

learned this New

England game

                        to say

the opposite of what

I desired what I needed

to live now I have nothing

inside she lent me her

womb in that place I could

compose true words I could

leave my body behind.

FLOWER: PAUL’S LOVE SONG

Because the hotel manager floated

scores of our favorite flower on the surface

of the swimming pool, Jane and I decided

to visit the Taxco market and buy enough

gardenias to cover our bed.

                                                At siesta careful

not to arouse staff sleepyheads, we carried two

baskets of blossoms in several trips

into the hotel and up the stairs. When the bed

became a sea of creamy white, we undressed,

lay down and drowned our senses.

 

How much is too much?

 

In the blue fluid of the pool Jane Bowles poked

her head, short curly hair winking red,

through the fragrant corollas — a swoon

of flower boats.

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FLOWER: PAUL’S LOVE SONG cont'd

                  Could a husband and wife, sheath

and knife, be joined in everlasting memory

on a perfumed spread of gardenias? She

with her women; me, Paul Bowles,

with my men.

 

Could I recreate those hours we lay

together?

 

In New York I furnished everything in white:

sofa, chaise longue, Ottoman, coffee table,

lamps, a polar bear rug. Then I sprayed

the drapes, and every pillow, every throw

with ambergris mixed with crushed

petals of gardenia.

                                  Come back

from Taxco, I wrote to her.

 

What price paradise?

LOOKING FOR DIVINE TRANSPORTATION

"I heard the noise of their wings,

like the noise of great waters..."

                     Ezekiel I:24

I have wandered

into the Garden lured

by the fragrance and color

of delicate blossoms. Among

jabbering children speaking

innocent words I cannot repeat

and tragic characters in felt

hats, I search for those angels

who are wheels. With no visa

to be here, no encyclopedia

to guide me, I conjure

an image of you, let you

be my bible of common

sense: how to find my way

in; how to find the way out.

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            LEO ON SEESAW

                                     for the pleasure                                                         of Gertrude Stein

                                  

Little Buddha                  little brooder
Kleiner Bruder                tiny brother
bitty bother                     sitting baldly
in the butter                    in the batter
      shaking philosophic digits
                  in the kitchen
                  for the Kuchen
                  has been eaten
                  by the kitten
wearing mittens        in the winter
hiding splinters         in his fingers
                finding spiders
                in the cracks
                of the plaster
                So we laughed
       twenty HA HA HA HA HA
          in metered breathing
                something close
                    to the day
                   he was born

PRISONER

I was born in the house of Bab Yaga—

legless, nails on my fingers bitten

jagged, eyes like tar pits

containing a mother's hunger.

Her house stands on scaly legs

screening, fencing off my saviors.

Its mobility reminds me,

a snaggle-tooth child,

of my deficiencies.

Then, as always, my mother

in long black skirts sweeps

into the dingy room, her musky

perfume and coarse dark hair

smother my wrinkled face

in a consuming kiss.

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A PROPER CALL TO THE EXPATRIATE

Paul Bowles told me he ripped
the telephone off the wall.
Otherwise he was quite polite
despite the American Government
revoking his citizenship for being
a communist, however briefly.

On the street, when I meet him,
he says, "Come by any night.
My friend Mrabet, raconteur,
artist, will make chicken
with pickled lemon. Show me
your stories and poems, we'll
talk. My poetry is awful.

Gertrude was right."
At the door, he invites
me in, "Yes, yes. Take
your djellaba off. Tangier
is stifling though the wind
blows and doors slam and
people always shout. Make
yourself comfortable. X marks
the spot: sit down." He points
to the symbol in his shaggy
rug. Then he puts his
jacket on. Decorum, not heat,
overtaking him.