21 Oct

For Alyssa

Before the sea I recite all that I remember:
the gulls, the swallows and the mystery
of nameless birds. But nameless only
in the small industrial city of us.
In that strange weather you were Eve.
Every uttered syllable composing
the vocabulary of the Earth.
Didn’t we look at the sculpted trees
crawling up the ridges of mountain?
And weren’t their leaves funneling
the ambient breathing of the country
into song? The hawks were diving
into the gorge; we didn’t need to talk
about beauty. Do you remember
the boats dark and distant?
Tiny as the motions that waded us
to the shores of today?
That wasn’t our place,
but it was our silence.
How I wish we were places
known only for what surrounds them.
Laguna only a lagoon.
Cubao only a hunchback
who lived atop a hill.
I wish to be known in history
only for a proximity to you;
for the springs and the pines
and the woods between us,
where nothing else exists
but breeze and silence
behind every opened door;
where I no longer write,
but sit by whatever fire we can build,
where I can look at you
from afar, close my eyes,
and revel in your breathing.


4 Jan

I was waiting for the sky to darken.
For our particular world to slow
into a ballad so I could listen

to the wind and the many verbs for it.
How it funnels past the gaps
in our fingers. The same gust

once caught in a sail, blowing
a nameless explorer into more water
and more wind. How can I not think now

of the world’s minor inventors?
Take the word brisk and the joy
that comes with watching

our existence acquire
a tiny sliver of precision.
I don’t think we have a choice.

The world is a beautiful place
and we are overwhelmed
by default. All that’s left

is choosing which parts of it
to carry into death. As for me,
I need this night and its winds

like another man needs sparrows.
I need the silence and the quiet
combustion of stars.

Tell me: How can anyone speak
confronted by this sky, this splatter
of cosmos? What can we do

but count the holes under the heavens
and never finish?
The world is tiny and brisk.

We are all alone.


20 Nov

The plan was to watch the sky darken
in silence.

Yet to my left are schoolboys shouting,
pelting rocks into the bay.

This was the exact scene
of a dream I once had.
I was wearing a coat of light
on my feet and spoke loudly.

I can’t remember of what.
Those particular sentences
perhaps being washed
into a future dream.

These past years I have learned nothing
but patience. About anything else,
I was probably wrong.

The boys’ arms are worn now
and they are not talking.

Only breathing.

They do not know they are a form of sacredness
in any story of any man
stranded between joy and sadness.

I just want them to remember
the sunlight.

How easy laughter
will always be.

How the world, sometimes,
decides to be just a little warmer.

Again in a Dream

30 Jul

Walking alone
and slowly to my room

in an old style hotel,
I take a wrong turn.

A hall of paper doors
are sliding open

to the ocean.
Battleships moored

to concrete pillars.
Japanese children

naming all the birds.
Hato, tsuru, suzume.

Every person was a coast.
How do I decide

what it means?
All of it is beautiful.

The rooster too
chasing a scared child

around the tatami room.
I drop my bags

onto the sofa in wonder:
How fast I have gone

from being lost
to being where I desired.

I have no reason
for telling you this.

Only that I once read
a poem in a pier

for you. And that
was the only plan.

Not the rain.
Not the Chinese drunks

laughing about business
in the hotel bar.

Not falling in love with you
again and again,

as if we were empty
bookshelves in a library:

metaphor for our hope
for all the five-year olds

sitting calmly by the shore—
that they will all have

something meaningful to say
one day. Some days, I think

my life’s been a map.
What’s left of it

only a long revision.
One morning I will wake

having completed
the book of everything

I know. Laughing
at boring old stupidities

and you are beside me.
I am telling you

of the peacefulness
of birdsong

or how everything
is only suspicion.

Even the meowing
of the bedside kittens.

Then maybe I will tell you,
as I do, about all things

I don’t know.
A life of only questions

as the sun climbs
the cloudscape,

and we are tangled up
in morning,

revising and revising
and revising.

Explaining Summer

10 May


On the first day of existence,
the sun chose us. And that was that.

He’s got a street address now
and a delinquent tax record.

Let me explain. I am lying to you
because it is cold where you are.

Cold and far and snow and darkness
and chilly hands. Or maybe not.

But such dichotomies are easier.
And who are you to stop living

multiple lives and occupations
in the snowstorms of my mind?

Teacher and farmer and secret poet.
I need to tell you I don’t love you.

I just need to stop falling in love
with you each time a cool breeze

rushes past the tips of my fingers.
Or revising another novel I will shred

in the hidden office behind my rib cage.
As if my entire body were a mob front.

But isn’t everything a front for something?
How, in my world, cold weather is nothing.

Only a history of you. Remember that talk?
The gulls? The Baskin Robbins in winter?

I said: Anger is almost always shame
in an existential crisis, writing poetry

in a café, shielding its notebook
from each passing stranger.

Oh, I might as well be talking to myself.
Besides, I theorize that you

will only read this in one of a thousand
possible universes. If not here, there.

Or in the warmth of my skull. Imagine that:
One goddamn poem for each world

in which our lives intersected.
Like hairs tangled in sunlight.

What’s not to like? What person
would say no to zipping from body

to body on some madman experiment,
taking notes on the many cuisines

of love, giving each of them names
like they were your children.

“Instead of love, why not sky?
A species of bird? Or the changing

climate of the heart?” I give up.
I am thinking of names now

as a breeze passes and I do not love you.
I am merely enjoying the cold

in the national park of myself.
As if the origin story of something

entirely unimportant were about to begin.
A new sub-breed of sparrows.

An alternative to happiness.
Curtains raising to a new color of sky.

When I Am Most Alone

16 Feb


I count the poems I have written
in my lifetime. The audiences

I have dazzled: those I loved, those I loved
only through art, and perhaps the cats

bathing themselves in the maze of city.
Then I remember how I try to feel

my way into humanness. Breathing in
twice as much on starlit evenings.

It must be good for some part of you.
Maybe the heart. Or the lungs. Maybe that ache

you threw down the creek is aching
its way to your doorstep to bang on your door

and introduce itself as a familiar dullness.
We all have a catalogue of pains

in the vast library of memory. 
A list of where you felt them last.

The first words you spoke after they left.
The ballads playing on all the radios switched on

in the vicinity of your humanness.
Forget forgetfulness. Annotate your sad life.

Someone else will take care of the ending. 
For now, look at the sky.

And breathe patiently.
And breathe impatiently.



Once I Claimed Sorrow

21 Nov


Once, I claimed sorrow greater than anyone else’s. The world
was as it is now. Corpses of children loaded into trucks

each day. Change only ever coming in narratives. Gas leaks.
Landslides. Of course a tornado matters more than the antiseptic

room of patients in the nursing ward. Of course it matters
what you’re dying of. Lupus, for example, is a word

no one wants on his gravestone. Better “bravery.”
Or a quote by some bearded European thinker, saying

all we are is people. See, the first thing I’ll do when someone I love
walks that beaten path is quarantine their closet.

Then smell a piece of clothing each day. While watching a sitcom.
Or while walking Belle, my dog, who uses scents to determine

who she loves. Let death never blind us. Disappearance
is always beautiful and flowers are always blooming.

If you cannot find it in you to tell that laughing child
swinging in the monkey bars to stop, perhaps you can save

an equal kindness for grown-ups. True, we are not children.
We are far more worn. Look how we lie: Once, my old man said

that the great earthquake in this country
probably swayed a daffodil continents away

in the perfect direction, creating a beauty that can fill
whatever fracture it made in our souls. Probably,

they are wrong. The deepest sorrows are not fractures.
They are holes within the body. But even still

earthquakes do happen in the context of flowers;
and flowers sometimes bloom in minefields.

Too much happiness can be treated by thinking
of the man in the coldest place on Earth.

And what can I say about sadness
apart from how I cannot have it all to myself.

The world has not changed, but now chances are
my sorrow is average. I am most important

only when starlight passes through my irises
after thousands of years of travel; and where I dispense it

may be the greatest ripple I can manage
in whatever sea we’ve been thrown in.

This is not a call to be humble. I do not mean
to empower anyone.  This is just a prayer in its rawest form.

This is an instruction to befriend your executioner. Or no.
This is nothing but a howl. A cry. A gasp.

A yelp. 


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