Explaining Summer


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


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


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. 


These days sunlight is an ally,
I think of what I forget: the clouds
of smoke amid city buildings.

The dust lifted into the air.
And the voice of that toddler
with no last words, though you know

she was about to say something
that meant “Please.” What does death do
to our sunny days but make them feel

as if there’s more aliveness to go around?
All I know is when I die,
I want it to rain. I want friends

on my Facebook saying “I love you.”
Even the ones I didn’t love. 
I want them to say that my last poem

was sadder than my death;
and I want the music of a thunderstorm
conducted by the Lord himself.

But I know I am just a descendant
of boatmen, whose great uncle
could have died of a toe infection.

Meaning: I’m not getting any of this. 
I don’t know if there’s advice left for me,
but at least I’m done sitting 

in the negotiating room with Death. 
He’s given me X days and the promise 
of a new name. All I wonder now is: 

Is breathing bad for you? 
Do sighs kill? Is laughter
an acceleration of life

or a prolonging? I learned a lesson
when my friend got shot. 
It was with the first girl I kissed

after getting the phone call. 
I knew I deserved it. Not the death. 
The kiss. Live long enough

and you know that sad can’t be
the opposite of happy. It’s about
getting them in the same room

and making sense of the sentences
that don’t go together:
It is sunny outside; and a sailor

prays he can make it to coast. 
Some gulls terrorize the harbor;
and most terrorists enjoy good vodka.

The smoke exits the factory
chimney; and a child is licking
ice cream in cold weather. 

And then they blindside you. 
The truly difficult.
Thomas is dead and I am in love

and no one in this earth is tallying
the days left; no one composing 
the song they will remember us by;

the poem that can tell you
everything is as it should be:
There is no great migration

of birds. It is doomsday
only for a few thousand of us. 
And we cannot yet count

the people rowing boats in a lake
with their children, 
laughing this very moment. 

The Places In Which I Imagine Us

For A.

I’m not sure how many of them exist.
Like that cabin in an unexplained clearing
in an island off the coast of Nova Scotia.
The fireplace sounding like a page
of sheet music being eternally crumpled,
as if to say to us: Sit down. Read a little.
The bed is made and we’ll make a bet
to see who gets to ruin its serenity
first. Then maybe I will kiss you.
Then maybe I will step in the shower
and explore the lengthy chapters
of the book of happiness. Then maybe
I’ll get out and lie down and whisper to you
the thousand feelings I cannot name
zipping around my body like molecules.
I will ask you to tell me a story
about your childhood, or ask you to look
outside at all the trees we don’t recognize.
All the colors we didn’t know existed.
All the while I cannot say where you are
in the cabin. Or outside of it.
I have stopped trying to imagine
the entirety of you. Or at least trying
to fit it into a poem. But still on rainy days
I catch myself dwelling on the drifting island
of my heart, imagining that somewhere,
you are practicing all the words you know
for longing, as I am doing in the language
of poem, very rarely spoken outside its country
of sorrow. But maybe happiness as it is,
and longing, and love, can make it.
Can make a good poem. Or maybe you have ruined me
exactly the way I wanted you to.

To the Past

Be that motel in the outskirts of history.
Hold a vacant room for us on the rainy Tuesdays

of adulthood. Let us sit on your bar stools
whenever we’ve forgotten the name

of a stranger who’s shown us a minor kindness.
Let us converse with no one but ourselves.

Account for the selves that once were alive.
Then tell them of the world and its newest stories.

Of the infinite shapes of sky,
the quiet evenings that await,

and the love songs we still sing in our sleep
we have yet to write.

An Old Poem

Here’s an old one that I just realized I’ve not shared. 


Reaching T_______



On a train stop to T______ I discovered
the smallest freedoms: footsteps 

of a kitten running toward the station exit
right when the car doors slide open,

a chime over the speaker system
cut off by our immediate departure,

a woman on the end of the train
on the speaker, repeating thrice

the next stop. I thought:
who makes a living like that—

who spends their whole lives
announcing where they’re headed

to anyone who’d listen? I stood at the next stop
whispered a name to myself, thrice,

walked across the platform, and waited
for a train going the opposite way.

The cold has a funny way of making you move
into and out of places—cities

or rooms, pockets or scarves.
All of them, if the cold is uncommon enough.

All I know is when I’ve returned
to Manila, all I will take

home is this winter
in a nameless town

of only noun, number, and color:
Lone Black Orchid, they’d call it.

Or Teawater. Or a Field of Cranes.
In whichever of these places, I believe,

hides the human soul: a newly opened bookstore
in a quiet district, flowers by the open door,

snow on the doorstep, a waving gold cat,
awaiting its first customer.