August challenge


This is even better than that trip to Vegas

with your frat brothers–here they’ve got casinos

too, and you

You’re blowing all your cash in one go

got a daiquiri in one hand

hand grenade in the other

You feel like a cool motherfucker

despite the humid heat slicking

your skin

Got white powdered sugar round your mouth

and down the line of her back

dress unzipped, you bent her

into a crescent–you ain’t got the spine

for that yourself–

you used her, your plaything

feed money in like a slot machine ching!

and pull the lever; you

jack off tonight to bright lights and peepshows ’cause

tomorrow you’ll leave her

today you’re James fucking Bond

tomorrow you’re Ward Cleaver

But when morning comes you’ll wake

with tongue swollen

like canals drunk on storm surge,

your head drumming like a jazz funeral

the second line beat of a dirge

that comes from fists pounding through attic roofs,

from Congo Square drums

waves against the hulls of black ships

crammed with molasses and rum on the way

back from this shore

.

Tonight she’s your lover in diamonds shinin

tomorrow a cubic zirconium whore

You’ll pray forgiveness for your sins, barter

with the father for ten hail Mary’s

to one Magdalene–the lady you used up

and left, on the riverbank, for someone to carry

home and fix up again.

.

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Meet me at the border.

There where little girls use

yellow crime scene tape to play jump-rope

where moms learn the ropes of food stamps,

jump though the hoops

of social security; where their boys

play hoops and shoot from three-point-crown-lines

and insecurity tapes record the noiseless scenes

of convenience stores at nighttime

better not make a scene or you’ll lose

loose your rope or you’ll make a crime scene

zip code encoding your chances of survival

as you take your last breath

(wheezing from the asthma)

take your chance and let feet jump at the end

of your rope, pray you’ll sink

This is the valley of the shadow of death and

we are right on the brink.

Meet me at the border.

Meet me at the edge of your neighborhood

and mine, that thin red line where angels fear to tread

and latin kings quick-draw the line between the quick and the dead

with 9-millimeter lead pencils

Meet me there and we’ll stencil

a new border, sketch with incense and dreamcatchers

zig-zag the edges til the marginalized

becomes the center and we’ll devise

a whole new urban legend to match

this map of yours and mine.

this morning I wake to jackhammer birdsong

and the smell of burnt rubber and coal

the street near my home narrows, then cracks

into a patchwork of turtlebacked pavement

scales of asphalt layer like skin under

a magnifying glass with

tar-colored scabs where the patches

don’t quite fit

in the summer, birds and mosquitoes

divebomb the water where potholes pucker

in the winter, frost traces the fissures

(split by temperature, and ice)

like ashy skin on an elbow

.

this month they’re resurfacing

ripping up layers with a huge metal-toothed comb

shredding the surface til it’s

a danger to feet and bike wheels, revealing

what lies beneath: gravel and sand

blackened as soot, a metal grate

brick cobbles, a squashed aluminum can

two more layers of asphalt

this city likes to cover its history up

spackling bullet holes, filling in marshes

taping together broken laws

tearing down burned buildings, concrete masses

leaving only weeds and parking meters along blocks

where homes used to be

.

this year they’re fixing roads

calling it recovery

but what the city covers still

remains, a scar gone deep beneath

shining new skin

a story silently sleeping, waiting

for the next winter to pass and spring to

melt away pavement like ice

waiting

for us to leave

and weeds to spring up, crack

gravel skin and metal bones

spread seeds where we used to

patchwork roads, where we covered the city’s body

with a shroud stitched of smoke.

tap tap tapatap tap

when they taught “keyboarding” in school–which made me believe

we’d be learning accompaniment for rock bands, how to use synth

but was in reality a lot less cool–they said keep your fingers

together on the home row.  the little bumps under

f and j keep your index digits in place like

white lines on a parking lot

like the slots on toasters

and if you really need to you can stretch

all the way to lonely q or shift your way

to a question mark.  but don’t ever leave

your home row.

Well, I’ve been a long way from home

seen places where the keyboard arranged its

letters and punctuation according to a different

typographical calculus, where all my a’s turned

to exotic q’s and apostrophes into ù’s

I’ve met folks whose fingers read different kinds of bumps into

lines of poetry

This keyboard isn’t my home, just where words slide

easily into one another

combine and we rely on them together

read between the lines

between the regular taps of fingers

this isn’t music, really

it’s believing without seeing

“Wisdom isn’t cheap, and we pay for it with pain.”

The tree knows it has grown

from a seedling to a green-crowned giant, the queen

of the forest because its

view is higher, its

roots dig deeper

bark a little thicker with every passing year

.

Well I’ve finished my last growth spurt

years ago

stuck at five four till aging bones

can’t resist the embrace of gravity anymore, shrink

Every time I’ve found what becomes home, seems like

I have to uproot again

start over in new soil–even the water tastes different here, the air

.

Except for the birthday cards I gather

keep safe like last year’s tax returns, and except

for the calendars I acquire

nothing records my change, no bark

no rings growing wider each year

no rings showing how many years of marriage

I’m not quite my mother’s daughter, or so she fears

.

Growth doesn’t show its pencilled marks

creeping up the side of the doorway anymore, doesn’t mean

buying a bigger size of shoes with extra

toe room; it might mean a scar

still healing from that night, means remembering

to call Nana on her birthday

to buy eggs at the store on the way

home from work, means waiting

for the bus and accepting the mundane

teeth clenched at night and in the morning, headache

change doesn’t come without stretching

there’s always some growing pain

don’t wanna be

a good girl anymore

don’t wanna

wake up early for work, put on nice slacks clean

button down shirt–as andro as I dare

to dress at this job where I

already have to explain words

like ‘transgender’

to co-workers.  I’m

tired of being the spokesperson

the acceptable,

approachable kind of gay

the girl next door

the one who can pass just under

your straight-line radar

Some days I wanna be the one you

wonder about on the train

Is she…? A…?

Or just a hipster? I can’t tell

which

I can’t tell sometimes whether

I wanna be a downright bitch or just

an outlaw

want to yank words like ‘sorry’ and ‘thanks’

right out of my vocabulary like weeds

from the ground

retune my socialized vocal cords to

sound tougher

sling ‘cunt’ and ‘fucker’

casual as throwing seeds

to the ground

whatever it takes

I just don’t want to be the same

as them

(more…)

Dear Chicago,

I love the afternoon light glinting off your teeth

grinning down the length of your lanky streets

and winking.  Or I love the Sears tower

ugly as an electric plug but dauntless, daring

to poke the sky in the belly

’til she laughs thunder

all the way to her toes.  I love

the summer haze over your lake, blurring the

line between sky and water

a faulty mirror to show us only your best Side

distorting the cracks and potholes

I love the sunsets

even though I know they burn brighter from

slowly accumulating death

from the  smokestacks breathing coal over the places

where you keep your poor, your immigrants.

I eat breakfast today of elotes or leftover dosai

before rushing along to work on a

silver zipper down your sprawling spine, alone

with thirty other people and the skyline at my elbow.

I love snow on the boulevards, thick and white

a motherly blanket you wrap around me before

warming it to slush–for now though

you’re making up

for the litter and the boarded buildings

you’re promising to do better, next time

For now I believe you, I

forgive you Chicago

and your gleaming glass smile

your sunsets, your chlorine water

I forgive you

with this postcard, a letter from a lover

who hasn’t left you yet.

Sincerely,

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