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poetry

24: traveling the self

I’m getting to know myself 
better often. 

I can tell 
where I hoarded all my old 
curses, and I found somewhere 
to throw them away 

without causing too much 
harm to my environment. 
I found all my loves 
back from where I misplaced 
them, too - all those little 
baubles of joy in myself 
from long ago. 

I wiped the dust 
off a gospel song I played 
on a cassette one time when I was thirteen 
or fourteen to fall asleep. 

I took the dog ears out 
of a book I refused to read 
because the hand-carved epigraph 
in the corner of the flyleaf 
was love, love 
as I would never have it, love 
as I was afraid of tasting. 

I put every poem I had ever written, 
the ones I would rather print than save, 
in a box beside my dresser, 
cool and dry and 
undisturbed. 

Some of those are curses; 
I’ve been torn, 
but I decided 
better they be torn than I. 

I made myself neat again 
so I would not trip over anything 
sharp within myself. 
I can find my thoughts 
more simply now, 
lusts in a red folder, 
worries in a blue, 
black for all my rages 
and lily or lilac or lullaby’s 
pink for all my blessings. 

O, to travel every inch of me 
without a hassle has been 
revealing and warm and 
I can only recommend it. 

I wish I had a hand 
to fill the space now, 
all the space left over in the center 
where confusion’s dust bunnies 
hopped and grew and fornicated. 
But I guess 

the space is fine. 
I’ve had far too much 
to scorn.

23: a fan of the love tap

I’ve gotten a few strokes. 

Look how good a 
man I turned out, 
devoted and fond of 
correcting my mistakes, 

cleaving to my rod 
and having grown up 
wanting more right in my life, 

staying away from the girls 
and calling God’s name 
and standing upright 

just like my lover wanted 
every time she raised a fist- 

wait, 
what’s that? 

oh. 
you mean when 
mothers hit children. 

i underst- 

wait. 
no. 

I don’t understand 
the difference. 

Boys hit boys 
for making kissy faces 

and boys hit girls 
for sitting neatly 

and girls hit boys 
for having made friends 

and all of these things 
just act as fingered walls, 
curtains between us and the street 
where we want to be ourselves. 

Hands are 
changing things 
even though you said God makes no mistakes. 

So if correction 
means changing someone’s ways 

means not saying a word 
but answering with white knuckles

means striking while 
the iron is ignorant 

then the girl who thought I was missing, 
never wanted me to see the space around me, 
shackled me far from friendships 
that gave me light 

and wrapped her 
fists around my eyelids 
so I would see nothing and 
feel her 

was only disciplining me. 
Look how good a boy 
I’ve become from that.

22: 1 lb ground pet meat, TT$23.99 (things that are not lovely)

I can’t paint scars 
rouge, can I? 

I can’t put blush 
over my timidness 

just to draw a wayward 
glance, and if I tried 

it’d be trying too hard, 
I reckon. Right? 

I don’t want to discount the 
value of other people’s consumer decisions, 

but I imagine lost puppies 
in pet store windows think 

the same: 
why won’t anyone choose me  

over a snake 
if they all say they’re dog people? 

Why do they pose outside the window 
and whisper all these cooing things 

if they don’t think they want 
something that grows up 

to the height I will 
when that time comes? 

I looked for that, though: 
a lady once told me 

that it may feel like 
a desert of love now 

but when romance rains 
it pours; 

I haven’t been able to 
recover from the thunderstorm 

that razed all my dry roses 
and flooded out the remaining living 

and said that love meant 
tearing down everything that came before 

(just look at 
all the other letters I’ve mailed to the month of April already). 

If I were just a doll or a brick set, 
a pear or a pack of rice, 

something that won’t feel 
passed upon in the seats beside the aisle, 

then this wouldn’t matter, 
but dogs often feel cold against windows. 

Can I pretty up a 
lost leg? Bark up an eye 

for an empty space? 
Can I whimper til you love me? 

Because if we can say 
all animals need love 

then it should work 
the same way, yeah? 

Let me find the rainy street again, then; 
refuse me, and back to the refuse 

for me, and i’ll make a bed 
and make a meal and 

bite every face like yours, 
because they remind me of 

pet store windows. 
All animals need love. 

If I’m going to feel cold 
let that be on my own terms. 

tropes are-

If a house is its bricks upon concrete
upon a space and within space
and with space, 
and a home is a house that is filled 
with people and hope; 

if an LP is plastic bound with tracks, 
and a track is a song, and 
a song is lyrics and melody, 
and a lyric is made of portions 
of words, and a melody 
staples sound upon a stave; 

if a poem is comprised 
of words, cut finely into 
its lines according to pressure; 

then what is a novel 
if not bricked by paragraphs, 
all of which must have the best sentence 
before a wall comes down? 

If I can shoot through one brick, 
someone can die in that novel. 

We cut apart tools 
because any tool that can be broken 
does a bad job of putting together 
the made thing. 

Things can only be made up 
of things. 
If I can’t say now that a limb is 
broken or a heart corrupted, 
then I can’t say how one will 
die upon the heap of those 
things. 

Any part of it 
is it, is still something 
someone thought made the whole 
stand out. 
I’ll look at it. 
It hasn’t been covered, 
hasn’t been hidden, 
and no one will replace that brick. 
That means something. 

If, after all, 
not one sliver of a scene deserves scrutiny, 
then what are you getting at when 
you make? Are all your characters the same 
thing, and all your settings the same time? 
I’ll assume no one learns or is 
challenged in your work, then, 
if that’s fair. 

Nothing is worth scrutiny. 
Everything is on the same plane, 
and you’ll do best 
to remember how far the goalposts 
shifted all that time 

when you could have just admitted 
that if someone can put a hole through a house 
we’d all be in danger of being stabbed.

21: rsvp (for my father)

I heard that you passed 
near my mother at the dinner table 
as if it were part of a flippant list: 
"Have you caught up on the latest 
episode of Star-Crossed, Brandon? 
Can I ask you to wash this 
plate for me, Brandon? 
Oh, and by the way, 
Brandon, I heard your father’s 
dead, do you want to 
go to the funeral, Brandon?”

I racked my heart 
for an hour 
to find some sliver of sensation 
that sons send forth to fathers, 

and my chest is still a desert, 
dry bone where tears would be, 
I was actually kind of relieved. 

I heard even 
the saddest sisters of mine 
across town
double-dutch to better songs than 
I could sing: 
love you, love you, love you, 
he did, he did, he did; 
he stood high above you, 
you were just a little kid

they could say even the shadows 
of their truancies 
were the best daddy in the 
whole 
wide 
world 

when what I had was a woman 
who loved to slap first 
because the Mothers’ Union said that was what motherhood was, 
and to her side, out of the frame 
of the photograph, a looming 
gap that I was assumed to fall into. 

how it feels 
to be a child o’ his 
was sharp and shouting, 
rude and wondering - 
I had names for my first daughter 
when I was twelve 
because I decided I wasn’t going to be Mister Jones 
when I was ten 
because I was told I was half of 
Mister Jones anyway. 

I was what grew 
when the farmer that planted me 
refused to tend. 
I was either a picked plant 
or a weed. 

My mother said 
you never RSVP’d my christening. 

I can deal with 
not coming to parents’ days - my mother 
sat with us every night 
and couldn’t even manage that. 
I can deal with 
missing confirmation - I regret 
the thing, and I’d regret more 
having to say so to one more person. 
I don’t even think you 
had to see me emerge from the 
well all stupid and happy 
like other men do, 
life can be busy sometimes, 
I can’t assume your days. 

But you missed the day 
I was cursed with such a middle-of-the-road name as 
beacon 
no 
hill of straw 
so fragile that the whistling whims of others 
could rock me past 

I could have been a Peter 
or at least something separate from my brother 
if you’d just answer your phone 
every once in a while. 

Stromae wrote 
a song for me 
and I won’t get to tell you to your face 
what that means as 
triumphantly as I had planned it in my head. 

I want to hate you, 
but all your teeth and hopelessness 
have already faded away 
in my chest, 

you’re barely an eaten coffin, 
you’re barely an ethereal thing, 
I may even forget your name one day. 

I want to say I miss you. 
I want so badly to not come across 
as bitter over your dirt, 

but I must decline an invitation 
to see you disappear. 
The walls of my bedroom 
have heard me shout you down 
so often they know what to ask me next, 

who gave you an axe to grind, 
who gave you a path to find? 

I had sharpened my pencils for 
all my youth on the notion 
of what I’d have to be to not 
be you to my children, 
and followed those lead lines to who 
I am right now, 
fearful and easy to hit. 

who gave you a row to hoe, 
who gave you your sorrow? 

I could have grown 
into something lily-white 
if you could have at least 
tried to meet me halfway, 
in my books, in my card games, 
in my dreams. 

who gave you the break of dawn, 
a pleasure just to look upon? 

It wasn’t you, 
and the person who had isn’t here either, 
the past few days have been rainclouds all. 

who gave you a barn to build, 
and an empty page to fill? 

I sleep here, 
this white lined linen is my bedsheet, 
it’s been here all the nights 
you forgot my name. 

I’ve already an appointment 
for its warmth. 
I will not be able to make 
your funeral.

20: on the subject of tomorrow (psychological dependence)

I wrote a letter to myself 
four years ago saying 
I would never be able to live without 
another hit of this. 

I wrote a letter saying 
if ever I found myself in a time 
when addiction disconnected 
and I was going fine in the future 

without the feel of her sting 
rushing into blood, 
then a part of me would 
pull at the loose threads of time 

til it came apart 
just above the head of the past 
so it could tell once-me 
that now-me had made some mistake 

and only for the sake of one-day-me’s future 
we should go back to that dark place 
where I found the love I thought I wanted 
rushing over my skin like madness; 

I wrote a letter to myself 
saying that I had no right 
to cleanse myself of this 
wretched feeling dining on my spirit from within. 

Damn the man who wrote it, 
damn the life he thought he lived 
if he held his breath and thought ‘love, love’ 
out loud long enough that he’d feel better. 

He never felt better. 
He still felt ashy and 
broken, he knew this high wouldn’t last. 
And then the future came.

19: prometheans

History is full of old men 
telling new adults that they should 
never save children from making 
what they do not know are mistakes. 
The newest is an angel I met 
with concrete on all his limbs, 
every wing clasped in solid grey, 
his legs of light twisted and his 
face no longer of glory but 
of stone. He said I was lovely, that 
he had come right from the office 
that said I was lovely, that he 
had come to let me know because 
their files said I didn’t know yet so 
he had come right from the office 
to kiss me on the lips like wet 
sweet truth and now he wasn’t 
sure if he was lovely either and 
I said, ‘that’s what the earth does 
to you, it’s lovely itself in all its 
treachery, it is a sight, it is a 
magic all its own, and that’s why 
we stop to watch it, but it can take 
your self-love from you long enough, 
if you stare at it through you and not 
at you through it’. I wanted to see his light. 
I wanted to see his light so bad 
and feel what holiness would feel like 
against the s(k)in, would it feel like 
nicotine and joy and being tipsy 
enough to disappear through the touch 
but sober enough to remember it? 
God, I wanted to see his light, 
was that sinful, to want to kiss an angel? 
I cried, I wanted it so badly. 
He cried, too, the kind of cry that 
watered little seeds in his new-stone face 
til I could see his pupils become daisies. 
He said he wanted to see my light too, 
God, he wanted to see my light too, 
was that sinful, to want to kiss God’s own 
image, the bodyguards of space? 
God, look upon your creation with pity 
at how our skin whimpers with want, 
how could you put us in a place where 
love is so addictive and then lock us 
out of twenty-four/seven love and 
watch the withdrawal shakes take us?

18: songs hummed during awkward silences

Hey, yes, I’ve seen you.
And then there is an absence,
a kind of apophasis
with our projections of lost time
held inside them. We haven’t
spoken in a while. Who knows
how many things we’ve buried then,
and how deep, and why and who
was wrong. If you heard a lie from
an old wound before you met me
here in this cafeteria, what do I do?
Play it straight? Bow gracefully and
draw the line or the bulls-eye softly
til you notice? Do you remember
my name? Do you need to?
How’s life been? Have you been
winning all its trials? Do you need
to count all my losses and ties?
Does it matter? You know
I’m alive, and between that and you is
a kind of apophasis.
We nod, you stare into
the space I momentarily fill.
Exactly an hour from now you
will never hear from me again
one more time, forget the reason
why, never notice the quiet,
stare into it with no effect.

17: first movement

I am not strident, 
neither am I agrarian; 
there’s nothing magical about me, 
and there’s less that’s real; 
I am always offbeat. 
I mean something, but 
what do I mean? 
A loved one may tell you, 
'he's about unrequited desire, 
or else he’s about manhood, 
or else he’s about this really strong drive 
to remind you where drumming came from; 
oh, and if there’s been a song in 
his head for the past few days, 
one he loves, one he hates, you 
better be sure it’s going to be his refrain’. 
Maybe they’ll call us the Worst Indeed school, 
because that’s where we ate lunch and lamented 
the glare of the sun against the window of humanity, 
that’s where we had all our meetings, all our fights, 
a few of our first kisses; our convictions have been 
stuck under all their food court benches. 
But what does that mean? 
I danced on the other side of Agostini Street and 
I danced under the trees by the parking lot and 
University Drive has been signed with the bottom of my sneakers and 
maybe that should mean something by itself, 
but everyone else planted a universal ideal. 
Something grander than ‘here are words 
and I want you to have them because they’re 
more precious than their causes 
or my causes or the First Cause or 
you. I don’t ever want to make something 
that says it’s good just because I wasted a 
couple shades of graphite; I want meaning to 
be its water and its seed, and I keep looking for 
good seed, and people have them, Whitman does, 
and Dickinson, and Atwood swims in good water 
and has her feet pressed against good soil, 
they won’t stop growing. 
Am I a weed? Only weeds 
don’t know what they mean, only 
weeds don’t have petals of a certain shade. 
I guess I can even do with being violet or blue, pink 
would be nice, even, but what colour am I? 
Am I a weed? 

16: when dark-skinned girls have to vape in a video just to think Chris Brown is worth shit enough to stick around in the gotdamn video (These Dawgs Ain’t Loyal)

(Someone tell Lil Wayne 
buy a vowel 
and stop calling me ‘baby’) 

When a rude nigga want ya 
and the rap game can’t do nothin’ for ya 
these dawgs ain’t loyal 
(don’t know) these girls still royal 

Trying to stay the same
I could opt out of the game
I could make a thug nigga tame 
but all these thug niggas lame 

tried to teach a dawg but go figure 
that if you call Chris Brown ‘hitta’ 
he’ll get hype if you say ‘Jigga’ 
shading all circles from ‘thug’ to triggers 

he wanna get love (get love) 
Chris just want a hug (a hug) 
but he done screwed up 
getting stood up at the club

they think they can dance in quick paces 
to get back into queen’s good graces 
but there ain’t no footwork enough 
to forget fists, right? tough… 

come on, come on, man, 
why you frontin’? 
brutha, you ain’t nothin’; 
suit and tie don’t mean you there yet, 
all the lyrics won’t make us forget; 
come on, come on, man, 
why you frontin’? 
brutha, you ain’t nothin’; 
you done tried to hide your wicked 
but you still want a girl to kick it? 

ladies, when a rude nigga want ya 
and the rap game can’t do nothin’ for ya 
these dawgs ain’t loyal 
(can’t see) these girls still royal… 

15: broken in every direction

One war
is all I can afford,

No more.

Hey, look high, and we look low
We never find our enemy
We never find our enemy.
Somehow, this war is out of control,
We never find our enemy
We’re gunning down whatever breathes.

They tell me I 
shouldn’t call a man a 
traitor. I think things, 
though, about the man who 
stands beside the place 
the knife in my back came from. 

Far too often 
did he tell me 
I’d broken down after 
we’d broken up 
but on his cups of compassion, 
once locked up from me, 
I can find her fingerprints, and 
scrapes where her nails would have 

rested on the brass. 
They trade battle codes, 
talk about the wars I’ve 
come back with the scars of, 
discuss deposing, 
discuss death. 

I’m the bitter one, 
surely, 
for having this sudden ache 
every few days 
deep in the wound 
from what was once 
love. 

This betrayal 
leaves shards of me 
everywhere, in every direction, 
fists in the air, 
jaw on the floor, 
mind misplaced deep in my room 
somewhere past old letters and 
books we read aloud together. 

Shouldn’t I rightly think 
a thing about a man 
who stands behind my 
murderer and smiles, 
hand around waist, 
lying and calling me liar, 
frowning that I would refuse 
to accept bleeding now? 

He says I started 
this. So why am I 
the one who bled the most, 
took soldiers with me, 
only tea leaves and poetry 
for bandages as we 
wrapped ourselves in the trenches 
as war was declared? 

What first stab 
did I make, brother? 
Let me know. 
Or stay in your ranks 
and know 

I think things 
of enemy combatants.

14: customer service

you will call me close 
and inquire about me. 
you will ask me about my 
sleep cycle at four in the morning. 
you will ask me to 
comfort you when something’s gone wrong 
and won’t ask before you hang up 
if there has been anything sharp or 
gruesome on my end of the line. 
you will tell me 
you wish everything was different 
and i will tell you 
there’s a change rolling down on its way 
and you will get really annoyed 
and hang up. 
you will not call for weeks. 
you will call back weeks later still 
and ask why 
we stopped doing this. 

the answer is because 
you can’t think of a thing 
that comes purely out of me 
that you feel impassioned to hear, 
so i will shut up and 
be a fountain for whatever living water 
you’d prefer to drink, 
i’ll be a little box for you to 
put your feelings in, 

and then the box will break 
and you will get really annoyed 
and hang up. 

ask me if 
the night is cold. 
ask me if 
the knife is cold. 
ask me if 
i get flustered sometimes 

and want to call someone 
and put my hurt away 
just like some other people do. 

there’s someone else 
i wish i could bother anywhere 
near enough to talk to 
about the murmurs of my heart, 
because if only she could find another 
hour of the day lying prone beneath her 
couch, she’d oblige me; 

you have a bit more hours, 
and they are all hours for you, 
and i wish at least you’d stop telling me, then, 
that when my body’s rent 

i should pull myself together 
for you.

13: bookmark

When I meet someone I think is lovely, 
I want to find the remote for 
the passage of time, 

and press pause, 
just for a moment, 
so I could come to terms with the fact 
that I don’t know anything valuable 
about what comes next. 

I only know ice-breaker games
and riddles about your past, 
and the top of my 
nodding head is my best quality. 
I think you’re precious, you 
have no idea how much 

(I can’t tell you, 
that’s why you don’t know, 
please don’t ask). 

I keep bookmarks for every 
rose-word I’ve watered 
on your lips 
with questions. 
Drill me about my intent, 
and I’d be direct - 

you’re precious, 
you’re precious, 
if I could keep a covenant with you 
right here under this street lamp 
in the middle of this moment 
you’d have me all to yourself, 

but you have no idea, 
I can’t tell you. 

I’ve put the covers down 
over this other mark, too. 
I’ll return, maybe, 
if you’ll give me patience.