“The Border: A Double Sonnet” ~ Alberto Ríos

The border is a line that birds cannot see.
The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.
The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.
The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe.
The border is a rusted hinge that does not bend.
The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein.
The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going.
The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so many.

The border has always been a welcome stopping place but is now a stop sign, always red.
The border is a jump rope still there even after the game is finished.
The border is a real crack in an imaginary dam.
The border used to be an actual place, but now, it is the act of a thousand imaginations.
The border, the word border, sounds like order, but in this place they do not rhyme.
The border is a handshake that becomes a squeezing contest.

The border smells like cars at noon and wood smoke in the evening.
The border is the place between the two pages in a book where the spine is bent too far.
The border is two men in love with the same woman.
The border is an equation in search of an equals sign.
The border is the location of the factory where lightning and thunder are made.
The border is “NoNo” The Clown, who can’t make anyone laugh.
The border is a locked door that has been promoted.
The border is a moat but without a castle on either side.
The border has become Checkpoint Chale.
The border is a place of plans constantly broken and repaired and broken.
The border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier.
The border is a big, neat, clean, clear black line on a map that does not exist.
The border is the line in new bifocals: below, small things get bigger; above, nothing changes.
The border is a skunk with a white line down its back.

“A Queerification” ~ Regie Cabico

 

—for Creativity and Crisis at the National Mall

queer me
shift me
transgress me
tell my students i’m gay
tell chick fil a i’m queer
tell the new york times i’m straight
tell the mail man i’m a lesbian
tell american airlines
i don’t know what my gender is
like me
liking you
like summer blockbuster armrest dates
armrest cinematic love
elbow to forearm in the dark
humor me queerly
fill me with laughter
make me high with queer gas
decompress me from centuries of spanish inquisition
& self-righteous judgment
like the blood my blood
that has mixed w/  the colonizer
& the colonized
in the extinct & instinct to love
bust memories of water & heat
& hot & breath
beating skin on skin fluttering
bruise me into vapors
bleed me into air
fly me over sub-saharan africa & asia & antarctica
explode me from the closet of my fears
graffiti me out of doubt
bend me like bamboo
propose to me
divorce me
divide me into your spirit 2 spirit half spirit
& shadow me  w/ fluttering tongues
& caresses  beyond head
heart chakras
fist smashing djembes
between my hesitations
haiku me into 17 bursts of blossoms & cold saki
de-ethnicize me
de-clothe me
de-gender me in brassieres
& prosthetic genitalias
burn me on a brazier
wearing a brassiere
in bitch braggadocio soprano bass
magnificat me in vespers
of hallelujah & amen
libate me in halos
heal me in halls of femmy troubadors
announcing my hiv status
or your status
i am not afraid to love you
implant dialects as if they were lilacs
in my ear
medicate me with a lick & a like
i am not afraid to love you
so demand me
reclaim me
queerify me

“Everybody Has a Heartache: A Blues” ~ Joy Harjo

In the United terminal in Chicago at five on a Friday afternoon
The sky is breaking with rain and wind and all the flights
Are delayed forever. We will never get to where we are going
And there’s no way back to where we’ve been.
The sun and the moon have disappeared to an island far from 
anywhere.
Everybody has a heartache —
The immense gatekeeper of Gate Z–100 keeps his cool.
This guardian of the sky teases me and makes me smile through the mess,
Building up his airline by stacking it against the company I usually travel:
Come on over to our side, we’ll treat you nice.
I laugh as he hands me back my ticket, then he turns to charm
The next customer, his feet tired in his minimum wage shoes.
Everybody has a heartache —
The man with his head bobbing to music no one else can hear has that satisfied
Feel — a full belly of sweet and a wife who sings heartache to sleep.
In his luggage (that will be lost and never found) is a musty dream of flying
Solo to Africa, with a stop on the return to let go the stories too difficult to
Carry home. He’ll take off his shoes to walk in a warm, tropical sea.
He’ll sing to the ancestors:
Take me home to mama. No one cooks like her.
But all the mamas worked to the bone gone too young.
Broken by The Man.
Everybody has a heartache —
Everyone’s mouthing fried, sweet, soft and fat,
While we wait for word in the heart of the scrambled beast.
The sparkle of soda wets the dream core.
That woman over there the color of broth did what she was told.
It’s worked out well as can be expected in a world
Where she was no beauty queen and was never seen,
Always in the back of someplace in the back —
She holds the newest baby. He has croup.
Shush, shush. Go to sleep, my little baby sheepie.
He sits up front of her with his new crop of teeth.
Everybody has a heartache —
This man speaks to no one, but his body does.
Half his liver is swollen with anger; the other half is trying
To apologize —
What a mess I’ve made of history, he thinks without thinking.
Mother coming through the screen door, her clothes torn,
Whimpering: It’s okay baby, please don’t cry.
Don’t cry. Baby don’t cry.
And he never cries again.
Everybody has a heartache —
Baby girl dressed to impress, toddles about with lace on this and ruffle on that —
Her mother’s relatives are a few hundred miles away poised to 
welcome.
They might as well live on a planet of ice cream.
She’s a brand new wing, grown up from a family’s broken hope.
Dance girl, you carry our joy.
Just don’t look down.
Everybody has a heartache —
Good-looking punk girl taps this on her screen
to a stranger she has never seen:
Just before dawn, you’re high again beneath a marbled sky,
I was slick fine leather with a drink in my hand.
Flying with a comet messenger nobody sees.
The quick visitor predicts that the top will be the bottom
And the bottom will flatten and dive into the sea.
I want to tell her:
You will dine with the lobster king, and
You will dance with crabs clicking castanets. You will sleep-
Walk beyond the vestibule of sadness with a stranger
You have loved for years.
Everybody has a heartache —
This silence in the noise of the terminal is a mountain of bison skulls.
Nobody knows, nobody sees — 
Unless the indigenous are dancing powwow all decked out in flash and beauty
We just don’t exist. We’ve been dispersed to an outlaw cowboy tale.
What were they thinking with all those guns and those handcuffs
In a size for babies?
They just don’t choose to remember.
We’re here.
In the terminal of stopped time I went unsteady to the beat,
Driven by a hungry spirit who is drunk with words and songs.
What can I do?
I have to take care of it.
The famished spirit eats fire, poetry, and rain; it only wants love.
I argue:
You want love?
Do you even know what it looks like, smells like?
But you cannot argue with hungry spirits.
I don’t know exactly where I’m going; I only know where I’ve been,
I want to tell the man who sifted through the wreck to find us here
In the blues shack of disappeared history —
I feel the weight of his heart against my cheek.
His hand is on my back pulling me to him in the dark, to a place
No soldiers can reach.
I hear the whoop-cries of warriors calling fire for a stand
Against the brutality of forgetfulness —
Everybody has a heartache —
We will all find our way, no matter fire leaping through holes in jump time,
No matter earthquake, or the breaking of love spilling over the dreck of matter
In the ether, stacking one burden
Against the other —
We have a heartache.

“What Changes” ~ Naomi Shihab Nye

My father’s hopes travel with me

years after he died. Someday

we will learn how to live.  All of us

surviving without violence

never stop dreaming how to cure it.

What changes? Crossing a small street

in Doha Souk, nut shops shuttered,

a handkerchief lies crumpled in the street,

maroon and white, like one my father had,

from Jordan.  Perfectly placed

in his pocket under his smile, for years.

He would have given it to anyone.

How do we continue all these days?

“What it Look Like” ~ Terrance Hayes

Dear Ol’ Dirty Bastard: I too like it raw,
I don’t especially care for Duke Ellington
at a birthday party. I care less and less
about the shapes of shapes because forms
change and nothing is more durable than feeling.
My uncle used the money I gave him
to buy a few vials of what looked like candy
after the party where my grandma sang
in an outfit that was obviously made
for a West African king. My motto is
Never mistake what it is for what it looks like.
My generosity, for example, is mostly a form
of vanity. A bandanna is a useful handkerchief,
but a handkerchief is a useless-ass bandanna.
This only looks like a footnote in my report
concerning the party. Trill stands for what is
truly real though it may be hidden by the houses
just over the hills between us, by the hands
on the bars between us. That picture
of my grandmother with my uncle
when he was a baby is not trill. What it is
is the feeling felt seeing garbagemen drift
along the predawn avenues, a sloppy slow rain
taking its time to the coast. Milquetoast
is not trill, nor is bouillabaisse. Bakku-shan
is Japanese for a woman who is beautiful
only when viewed from behind. Like I was saying,
my motto is Never mistake what it looks like
for what it is else you end up like that Negro
Othello. (Was Othello a Negro?) Don’t you lie
about who you are sometimes and then realize
the lie is true? You are blind to your power, Brother
Bastard, like the king who wanders his kingdom
searching for the king. And that’s okay.
No one will tell you you are the king.
No one really wants a king anyway.

“Hands” ~ Safiya Sinclair

Out here the surf rewrites our silences.
This smell of ocean may never leave me;
our humble life or the sea a dark page

I am trying to turn: Today my mother’s words
sound final. And perhaps this is her first true thing.
Her hands have not been her hands

since she was twelve,
motherless and shucking whatever the sea
could offer, each day orphaned in the tide

of her own necessity—where the men-o-war
ballooned, wearing her face, her anchor of a heart
reaching, mooring for any blasted thing:

sea-roach and black-haired kelp, jeweled perch
or a drop of pearl made with her smallest self,
her night-prayers a hushed word of thanks.

But out here the salt-depths refuse tragedy.
This hand-me-down life burns sufficiently tragic—
here what was cannibal masters the colonial

curse, carved our own language of the macabre,
sucking on the thumb of our own disparity. Holding
her spliff in the wind, she probes and squalls,

trying to remember the face of her own mother,
our island or some strange word she once found
amongst the filth of sailors whose beds she made,

whose shoes she shined, whose guns
she cleaned, while the white bullet of America
ricocheted in her brain. Still that face she can’t recall

made her chew her fingernails, scratch the day down
to its blood, the rusty sunset of this wonder,
this smashed archipelago. Our wild sea-grape kingdom

overrun, gold and belonging in all its glory
to no one. How being twelve-fingered she took her father’s
fishing line to the deviation, and starved

of blood what grew savage and unwanted. Pulled
until they shriveled away, two hungry mouths
askance and blooming, reminding her

that she was still woman                    always multiplying
as life’s little nubs and dreams came bucking up
in her disjointed. How on the god-teeth

she cut this life, offered her hands and vessel
to be made wide, made purposeful,
her body opalescent with all our clamoring,

our bloodline of what once lived
and will live and live again.
In the sea’s one voice she hears her answer.

Beneath her gravid belly
my gliding hull
a conger eel.

“American Pharoah” ~ Ada Limón

Despite the morning’s gray static of rain,
we drive to Churchill Downs at 6 a.m.,
eyes still swollen shut with sleep. I say,
Remember when I used to think everything
was getting better and better? Now, I think
it’s just getting worse and worse. I know it’s not
what I’m supposed to say as we machine our
way through the silent seventy minutes on 64
over pavement still fractured from the winter’s
wreckage. I’m tired. I’ve had vertigo for five
months and on my first day home, he’s shaken
me awake to see this horse, not even race, but
work. He gives me his jacket as we face
the deluge from car to the twin spire turnstiles,
and once deep in the fern-green grandstands, I see
the crowd. A few hundred maybe, black umbrellas,
cameras, and notepads, wet-winged eager early birds
come to see this Kentucky-bred bay colt with his
chewed-off tail train to end the almost 40-year
American Triple Crown drought. A man next to us,
some horseracing heavy, ticks off a list of reasons
why this horse—his speed-laden pedigree, muscle
and bone recovery, et cetera, et cetera—could never
win the grueling mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes.
Then, the horse with his misspelled name comes out,
first just casually cantering with his lead horse,
and next, a brief break in the storm, and he’s racing
against no one but himself and the official clocker,
monstrously fast and head down so we can see
that faded star flash on his forehead like this
is real gladness. As the horse eases up and we
close our mouths to swallow, the heavy next to us
folds his arms, says what I want to say too: I take it all back.

“Abeyance” ~ Rebecca Foust

letter to my transgender daughter

I made soup tonight, with cabbage, chard
and thyme picked outside our back door.
For this moment the room is warm and light,
and I can presume you safe somewhere.
I know the night lives inside you. I know grave,
sad errors were made, dividing you, and hiding
you from you inside. I know a girl like you
was knifed last week, another set aflame.
I know I lack the words, or all the words I say
are wrong. I know I’ll call and you won’t answer,
and still I’ll call. I want to tell you
you were loved with all I had, recklessly,
and with abandon, loved the way the cabbage
in my garden near-inverts itself, splayed
to catch each last ray of sun. And how
the feeling furling-in only makes the heart
more dense and green. Tonight it seems like
something one could bear.

Guess what, Dad and I finally figured out Pandora,
and after all those years of silence, our old music
fills the air. It fills the air, and somehow, here,
at this instant and for this instant only
—perhaps three bars—what I recall
equals all I feel, and I remember all the words.