Book of Fire {a poem}

Photo: Rey Seven

To you
hurt in the crossfire
of my confusion
I’m sorry

To you
harmed in the chaos
of my coming out
I’m sorry

To you
hit by the clamor
of my clarity
I’m sorry

To you
for telling me
to take up all the room
thank you

To you
for emboldening me
to be my own witness
thank you

To you
for bearing witness
when I was so frightened
thank you

To you
for believing (in) me
when I startled awake
thank you

To you
reading these words
stand in your own bold knowing
stop beating yourself up
apologize
and make right what you can

Let her go
who holds you hostage
in a room with no doors

Let him be
responsible
for his own growing

Trust yourself
and stay close
to the places where sustenance
comes easily
the woods
ice cream
the voice
of that one friend
who always answers

Accountability
and self-forgiveness
have their own fan club
for two
check under your door
for a personal invitation
today only
and tomorrow, too
and the next day
as long as it takes

The keys
the answers
the way

These are in you
as sure
as the air
you breathe
and the poison
you exhale thirty thousand times
every day

To you
who waited
and watched
and loved me
as I learned to be still
thank you

I will return
this gift
even as it dissolves
into daylight

I will practice
listening hard
looking closely
laughing freely
and raging
with reason
on your behalf

We are not the same
you know
but our roots are tangled
together
deep
beneath
the frozen winter ground

Somewhere
there’s a book of fire
a desert
a crossing
a circle of dancers
a tribe of scholars
a place where
we stood
before the earth
shifted and we had to choose
sides

Somewhere
the broken spaces
where borders became
perilous thresholds
still remember
our suffering
and our joy

To you
who wakes
with a glimmer
of memory

To who
who makes
coffee the night before
and brings it to your lover
in bed
to you who longs for
a lover
to you who left your lover

To you who said I can’t
to you who said I won’t
to you who said no more
to you who said I’m sorry
to you who said I’m not sorry
to you who said nothing
and regretted it later
to you who said nothing
to save your life
or another’s

Somewhere
the embers
remember
you

How Do We Hold All of This?

Photo: Ayo Ogunseinde

Yes, the fires. Yes, the shootings.
Yes, the arrogance. Yes, the brutality.
Yes, the denial. Yes, the ignorance.
Yes, the lies. Yes, the corruption.
Yes, the greed. Yes, the misogyny.
Yes, the disregard. Yes, the heartlessness.
Yes, the same old made new again.
Yes, the exhaustion. Yes, the retreat.
Yes, the front lines. Yes, war.
Yes, end times. Yes, it’s time.
Yes, ecosystems crashing. Yes, ice melting.
Yes, public spaces. Yes, the end of privacy.
Yes, secrets. Yes, tapes. Yes, hearings.
Yes, rampant narcissism. Yes, we did this.
Yes, we are screwed.

Yes, it’s all real. No, you are not crazy.

Yes, everything is not ok. Yes, everything is ok.
Yes, both can be true.
Yes, you must keep going.
Yes, you can rest.
Yes, let’s sit here.
Yes, listen to the birds.
Yes, there is more bad news.
Yes, I saw the video.
Yes, I read the article.
Yes, I have a deadline to meet.
Yes, but did you look into her eyes?
Yes, but did you see her expression?
Yes, say I love you.
Yes, like you mean it.

Tangled (new poem)

Photo: Krista Mangulsone

Trickle of sweat between breasts
down the insides of thighs
underarms, lower back — I wake
this way every single morning,
tangled in soaked sheets and you.

This, the same body I lived in-
side of when a boy, Maceo,
pointed out my pert nipples
during gym class, when I showered
at camp and stole glimpses
at the older girls — the way
their bellies rose ever so
slightly between hip bones.

I thought I was comparing
all that time. I thought I wanted
their bodies, but not like that —
I thought, if only I looked like
that, like her or her or her.
In fact, I did want their bodies
tangled around mine, lying
around someone’s bedroom
listening to Joni Mitchell
or Phoebe Snow or Bob Dylan.

If I could go back and disentangle
the messages I received then,
the ones that made queer weird
and gay something not even
on the radar, if I could go
and tell my gorgeous young self
something, it would go
like this: Eat the food, kiss the girl.
Fill up on pleasure and meat
and skip a class or two and
you don’t have to be the cold,
quiet moon.

Anyway. I don’t go back, I don’t
say these things. I don’t tangle up
with how things were because
there is no rewriting history, only
learning from it — or so they say.
They say a lot of things. Maybe
that was the problem —
their voices so loud in my head
that I could not listen
to my own poetry unless
I was all the way alone,
and solitude swallowed me like
a snake eats its own tail,
like a story the digs its own
burial plot.

And so I rise now,
sweaty, hair tangled, legs tangled
with a woman who knows me
from the inside out.
I rise and step into the shower
and run my hands over where
my belly rises now between hip bones,
breasts round, skin soft
from the wear of years,
no longer comparing myself
to who I wasn’t but coming,
little by little, finally after all these
tangled years, all the way
into this being.

It’s uncomfortable
and downright squirmy sometimes —
old angry voices from the past
don’t like being tossed
to the wolves. But I do
just that, make an offering
of what once ruled my life,
all of the demands, the vicious
not-enoughness that plagued
me into chronic restlessness.
I watch as they tear into
the tangle of sinew and bone
and artery, standing back
and seeing what will become
of all that I am no longer am.

Expand/Contract

Jack Comstock: “The American Dream II”

“with every contraction there is an expansion” – Peter Levine

Yes there is the breath
Yes there is belly rising falling
Yes here is chaos and fear of chaos
Yes we clamp down – – effort – – control
Yes we say can we say can’t these are just
Yes these are just words until we feel in the body
where can lives where can’t lives how the stomach
clenches or the temples pound and the temple doors
open like a mouth saying come come in or close like a
renunciation of what you thought was safe blessed even
by a god whose name you were told was sanctioned by state
leaders but no that was not here that was not yes that was not
ours that was another time another place another person’s history
not ours surely we would be we were destined to be different
and by different we knew we really meant better better than
our predecessors our ancestors our mothers and fathers
after all wasn’t that the myth the fairy tale the storyline
we followed through privileged childhoods believing
we were special believing each generation goes
beyond the one before except oh not for those
people it’s different these rules don’t apply
to the ones who are poor or who were
not born into opportunity and ease
no for them this was never true
and they knew it even tried to
keep telling us through acts
of poetry and resistance
but we did not listen
and now it’s time
when the only
choice is to
say you
were
right

Watching Animal Videos at Four in the Morning

1. THE PITBULL
Tip-toeing from the den
so as not to wake the cat,
she reminded me of myself
after nursing the baby back down,
as she stood stock-still on three legs,
the fourth hovering like a prayer
that the creak in the floorboard
hadn’t startled her friend from sleep. .

Four in the morning,
three words came to mind:
“if only,” and “imagine.” Utopian.
A world where for one day, a single day,
we treated each other with kindness.

2. THE PARROT + THE MAN
The man wore a neon construction vest;
the parrot had downy white and yellow feathers
and watched intently as the man flattened
the gilded cage with heavy work boots,
one clomp after another. Even in silence,
I could hear the bird egging him on,
cursing (as the caption told me) the cage
that had kept his freedom elsewhere.

Four in the morning,
three words came to mind:
“if only,” and “imagine.” Utopian.
A world where for a day, a single day,
we wanted each other’s liberation.

3. THE ELEPHANT
Isn’t it always the elephant videos?
The overlay of words — all caps, bold:
ELEPHANT CAUGHT PICKING UP TRASH.
Sure enough, you kind of got the feeling
she was looking to see if anyone
was around, then vacuum sealed
a ball of paper to the tip of her trunk
and tossed it into the plastic barrel nearby.

Four in the morning,
three words came to mind:
“if only,” and “imagine.” Utopian.
A world where for a day, a single day,
we took care of our own home planet.

4. TINY SCREENS 
Dimmed and muted in the dark,
a racing mind and frightened heart.
So in awe of the world’s wonders,
the beauty and the best of it,
and wondering what else we can do
to bring more kindness, more justice,
and more selflessness to the waking.