Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2015  v14n1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The Oldest Story

1 (second person)
Maybe not that many ways to say it after all.
Your old selves fall softly, mean and short
these afternoons sky concentrates harder, but
snow isn't trying to make sense of anything.

Poached egg of the sun and the teeth you used
to eat it. Snow doesn’t rank your sins, or know
the difference between angel and engine.
You measured the distance between thunder

and flash in how many Mississippi? Now you have
lived enough years far from what gathers
and disappears between us. You don’t have to
shovel sunshine. You don’t have to close your eyes.

2 Historical Fiction (or My Grandfather Kept National Geographic)
in the downstairs bathroom
which may in part

account for summer evenings
on the cul-de-sac

with my cousins when instead
of kick the can

we played now you have to get married
off to a terrible old chief

& wait for us to come help you escape.

3 (third person omniscient)
She reads every letter from her African
lover before deciding where to bury it.

& in the time it takes her to answer another
village girl has tugged on her tightest

jeans beneath blue robes so when
she goes far into the brush to gather

wood for cooking she can believe
there remains some small chance

the pants will be too much trouble
for him who has already thrown her

down in red dirt & fallen to his knees
as that rusted sun just keeps on nodding

like a god who loves everyone the same.

4 Whiteout
How long remains
the wrong question

for falling that keeps
repeating the first

word it learned as if
the only word

in the world. There are
that many people

& still we say this
is ordinary life.

5 Pantoum (Word Up)
From the front of our big white
Suburban, my sister yells at her boys
rapping badly & too loud in
the way back seats. Could you please?

My big suburban sister tells her boys
to at least try & use their golf course voices.
In the way back seats, could they please?
I begged the smart chicas in juvie.

At least try? Their golf course voices?
They just called me Country, all
the smartass chicas I taught in juvie,
as the leaf blowers roared outside.

We all call this Country.
Put your hands in the air . . .
The leaf blowers roaring outside
always pause for la guera to pass.

Put your hands in the air . . .
Like you don’t care . . .
For la guera to pass, this pause says
what the big black cop doesn’t,

like he just don’t care.
For me gunning 49 in a 35,
what the big black cop doesn’t
as surprised go his eyes, then kind.

Me gunning 49 in a 35 means
I can still tell this as a story where
surprised go his eyes, then kind,
and nothing goes Chekhov at the end.

Where if I tell this as story, still
not two weeks after Trayvon
when nothing checks off again
& the old song repeats itself.

Not two weeks after Trayvon
from our big white front
itself, an old song repeats
& we rap badly, & too loud.

6 (the first person)
O my hyena

of gratitude,
so long

you have followed me

shouldering the guilt
of being


O my mouth, on bone
and thorn you feast,

each time I say

I can’t imagine
I also say

I don’t want to.

7 Teaching the Honduran Refugees to Use the NordicTrack
It did not snow that season we hosted the folk singers
who’d walked from Tegucigalpa to Houston in flip-flops
& took them ice skating inside the Galleria, then downtown
where the window washers dangled & dripped, misreading
our lips. So when I say you don’t have to be a citizen
to lie down & die alone in the eyeless dark
as your five sisters keep trying to solder your name
into a roof or a wheel, understand I mean we
don’t have to wake covered in desert, spit-less & listening
& after they played the one about walking on water,
I thought I should instead show them the fine machine
I used every day to heave myself nowhere, sucking up
all that cold clean American air. It did not snow
as they waited, so patiently, for me to just stop.

One proverb suggests: You’re a big white chicken
but you don’t know your weight in okra soup.

(So much depends
upon the pot

a fat mouth.)

Here’s another: Being tired isn’t the same as being lazy.


The song is done, but the words remain.

Even children can see
the world is too much

for Woody Woodpecker,
his busy heart thumping

out from his chest, as if
the rest of him will

ever catch it.

Meanwhile, Gilgamesh, like the rest of us,

walks his Mesopotamian mud road

wondering why we end. The gods

have him thinking he could

use a friend, and when Enkidu arrives,

their inevitable fight—think

head butt that crumbles soft

the city walls—is not,

as one might expect between animal

and animal, to the death.

More the everyday kind, each

body still trying to break

from where we touch another

without letting go.  end  

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