I breathe in the heavy summer,
heavy with the scent of young jasmine blossoms,
heavy with gunfire. 24th Street is the deep red of teenagers’
bodies. And my mother’s brother is one of them.
It is the same red that flowers
from the robes of monks face down
in the rivers, begging for peace and then
mercy. It is the same red in my face
as I suffer for air.
My mother spits on the word “democracy.”
My mother flees from the bathroom with acid
dribbling from her mouth and no sisters in her eyes. And
my mother flees from the kitchen with a microwaved
Salisbury steak, like a war trophy. She does not feel the heat
from the flimsy black plastic on her fingers. They are rough
from years of wrestling with ambition. She leaves me with
the steak dinner, like a kill, and an apology in the form of a hope:
My mother believes in things I know will never be. She still
has dreams she would die for. She does not know any better.
We are all clotted blood; the vin chaud sitting in the kitchen,
my face on the pillow, my mouth on the cold metal
of the engagement ring, playing with it, as if it is a joyous thing,
like me. In a whisper into the abdomen of his pillow, I grieve:
if there is no war, why do I hear bullets?
He reaches for me, but only with his hand. He needs me
like money, the kind to gamble, the kind to buy happiness.
I cry it like a child, I do it for him like a mother, I leave him
like a country. And in the silence, I give my things to the suitcase
with the red thread he tied on the handle. I unravel it.
The whole house, the family inside, it is all dead.
The scar is a closed lesion
that lived on my chest, the size
of a country. It festers,
the nervous difference
is paper-thin, between
grass and injury: where
to graze, where to let
the blades fall. Chest
—fibrotic and messy
saws itself right
When an arrow does not hunt, he permits
the clouds to pass over his body,
that sweet wind of white clover floods
his lungs. The earth quivers
when the arrow waits like this, strung,
eyes caught on his prey, his breath bated.
Like his mothers, the arrow vigils
for food and aches for respite.
Daydreams from the distance
I keep counting seconds on the train
until days outrun my tongue, and I lose moments like years.
I have only kept what never existed is the long way to call hope—
I make things sick and complicated to keep the sugar on the word.
I once saw someone pull a knife on the train, and I said,
that was too fast for me, I want it as slow as possible, worse even.
I lay my body on the rails to stall the train.
I am anklegazing on the street and
there are faces in the ground that I dance around
because I know they will not move for me.
I put my cheek to the sidewalk to be kissed
I hold what is dead and cold.
I am waiting outside the girls’ bathroom, and
I wonder if they love me like a sister yet, which is the cruel way to mean
I have never been lonelier than now. I am just a door away from you.
If you leave me, take my love with you. In some reveries,
there is a goldfish who rams his face into glass windows,
breaking window after window. Breaking face then body,
but never speed. I open
my mouth to speak. My cavity grows.
In some dream, I am not a poet. I don’t snap my memories like ribs,
don’t swallow them as stares. I keep liquor down like it’s nothing.
I take my body
keep it open as a whale.
Our pain is a heavenly mမှတ်scle
Even at dawn, I am slow dancing with my own body, taming
my fingers soft on my sides. I was born
from mothers who come from mothers and therefore
my flesh is our memory. On Sunday my mother asks me
to drive her to her mother’s grအိမ်ve. She lays out
fruit on newspaper, tames her hands together,
and tells her mother the truth:
I haven’t spoken to my brother in years. As she wipes away
the hair from her eyes, she traces
the wrinkles thသွေးy share from a mမှတ်ther, the deepest ravines
where her tears should be follow. She calls it an obligation
but her agအစ်ကိုny tells me it’s a promise.
Sometimes I surrender to the nights I gave
to Rubin’s rooftop, wrapped in his heaviest quilt.
Anita is in the room next door rummaging
for a lighter, Kyros is passed out on the couch, but
Rubin and I are building a family, keeping our bodies
as slow as dawn. And the last time we held
each other, our ribs became fused as one set and
would never fall apart again. From the smell he kept
in the cအိမ်nter of my chest, I am learning that
any love I ever shared is one I will never ask for back,
like the warmth I leave in the dimple of my bed, alအကုန်ne
I am crafting this pain into a heavenly mမှတ်scle
like the mothers did before me.
Note: “Our pain is a heavenly mမှတ်scle” uses Burmese words in the middle of English ones to illustrate the effect the past has. To help, here are some translations:
မှတ် (mhat) = remember, note
အိမ် (aain) = home
သွေး (thwe) = blood
အစ်ကို (ako) = older brother
အကုန် (akone) = all
Text message poems co-written by my mother and me
Fri, Sep 6, 6:08 AM
How are you
Fri, Sep 6, 9:48 PM
T*** are you ok
Please text m[e]ssage
If you busy dont call
I am busy
if you ever knew who I became,
if you would still love him.
I’ve stood on the edge
of bridges, grown older
to the lilt of cars underneath, some nights for years,
until I met morning as a surprise. She
gapes at me until I learn to take shame.
I have kept years busy, falling
asleep at windowsills, watching
worlds from under lakes,
always sniffing to find the rotting thing,
always finding out that it was me.
Sat, Sep 7, 8:44 AM
Sorry yesterday I missed your phone
My phone is near to me but I don’t know why I not hear
Very very sad
I could not let the phone ring more than twice before hanging up
I cannot find the hope that reaches from my world to yours
Fri, Sep 13, 11:23 AM
This year I spent my birthday at the bridge to grow older.
I sat there until the traffic became still and the clean underneath came.
To wash me. To un-
write this poem.
But I stretch it
open like arms, from my world to yours.
Amay? How many stars still shine in the night sky,
and how many are fireworks that you’ve painted for me to see?