For Bangladesh and Korea

On August 3, 2014,
a ferry sank in Bangladesh,
I heard the mothers’ screams
half a world away.

On April 16, 2014,
a ferry sank in Korea,
I heard the mothers’ sobs
half a world away.

When a ferry sinks
we will cry out loud.
But the drowned children
are forever silenced

by gulping saltwater
instead of their mothers’ milk.
They are rigid against steel
instead of cuddled in their mothers’ arms.

They will never take
another breath
from the air
that shakes with our wails.

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For George M.

Grind the block of French limestone flat, smooth, and blank.

Make your drawing.

Apply gum arabic mixed with nitric acid.

Wash it clean.

Move it to the press bed.

Dampen the face.

Roll the stone with ink.

Register a sheet of rag paper.

Cover with newsprint and tympan.

Lower the bar.

Crank.

When the edition is done, lift the stone.

Grind the stone blank.

 

You presence in the world

has been ground away,

but the students you imprinted

have spread around the world,

and what they imprint

still bears the impression

that you pressed into them.

 

(in memory of George Miyasaki, printmaker and teacher, 1935–2013)

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For Veronica

For Veronica

 

I had to choose,

had to open

the bomb bay doors,

hear the whistle

of the bomb drop

on ground zero

in my own heart.

My great city

burst in a flash.

My wings caught flame.

 

Marble statues

and golden shrines

shattered and burned.

Running children

were blown to dust.

The mountains split.

I crashed headlong

to the river,

and swam panting

from the black cloud.

 

I do not know

how many days

have passed, and I

no longer know

how I will count

lone tomorrows

when you were once

my calendar.

Beached in rubble,

I can barely breathe.

The flash returns

with every blink.

But then I squint:

the dawning sun

outshines the bomb.

I clutch for bricks

and start to stack.

Soon I must stand

to build the wall—

brick by chipped brick.

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For Clara and Simon

Gone was your graduation day
the rose you held,
crushed. Gone was your church wedding day,
the white lace torn.
Gone were your four giggling daughters,
the pony rides,
the parties with hundreds of guests,
the swaying lights,
and the sound of a jazz band,
wailing, hollering.
Simon watched you die. It was like
bearing witness
to a white jade palace crumbling
for five decades
until it collapsed in a heap
of gray rubble.
Simon talked to his lawyers. He
set the business
you both started on its own course.
He said goodbye
to friends, daughters, and grandchildren.
He picked a suit,
closed the bedroom door and lay down.

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For Kimberly and Sharice

Kimberly Black and Sharice Swain sat
in a parked car Thursday
with the motor running
when they got into an argument.

Kimberly left the car,
went into her house,
returned with a knife,
and stabbed Sharice in the face and neck.

Spurting blood, Sharice stepped on the gas pedal
and the car hit Kimberly’s two young children.
Two-year-old Kimshia was killed,
and one-year-old Taraji was hurt.

The car struck a house,
bringing the porch roof crashing down.
Kimberly, twenty-nine, was found naked
several blocks away and arrested.

The women had been
“best friends since birth” and
Sharice considered Kimberly a cousin,
said the victim’s mother, Anita Swain.

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For George

In fourth grade, our teacher
noticed we were the only two
who could carve, draw, and paint.

She took us to the museum
and before El Greco,
we looked at each other and knew

we were standing before
a painting of terror and awe.
His tormented brushstrokes,

even the way blue died
into his titanium white
initiated us.

I can’t forget your crooked grin,
or your rooster-tail hair,
the way you argued for “more beauty.”

I can’t forget, because
first you sold stolen wristwatches,
then it was cars, then guns.

You’re in jail now, an El Greco,
hanging on a brick wall
while lightning flashes behind you.

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For Lily

The fire burns but brings no warmth.
Cypress stands black against the sky.
You’re gone; shadows die on the floor.

We drove here, our first trip as one,
watched sunsets shimmer on white sand,
and blue waves breaking on the shore.

Later, we came back, to relight
that same fire against the sunset
What was the argument this time?

The fire burns but brings no warmth.
Cypress stands black against the sky.
You’re gone; shadows die on the floor.

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For Those Killed in Wars

I dreamed last night that there was a shrine half a city block in size. A thirty-foot bronze fence enclosed a mountain of human ashes and bits of broken possessions like cookware, children’s toys, and pieces of plastic whose function could not longer be identified. These were the unidentified remains of people killed in the wars, a gray heap of unknown but still honored human beings.

Outside the shrine, with its Chinese gate of wooden pillars and tiled roof, were worn buildings, traffic, people rushing about on their business. The view to the west was open, with a town of old buildings and fading paint, the same as many small towns—well-used, no fancy money, no boastful high-rises, no pretentious architecture. Beyond the hills, the afternoon sun was still powerful enough to light the streets in honeyed tones, but the mountain had already fallen into shadow.

No one was allowed inside the locked gates, but the ghost of my mother brought me there, put my feet into the sand of crushed bones and burnt flesh, and let the particles run through my bare fingers.

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For Ken

You were a head taller than the rest of us,
with a lean body clad in white T-shirt,
black jeans, rumble belt, and leather jacket
from a street our parents wouldn’t go to.
You were a man among our nervous tribe
of scrawny kids because you didn’t care
about stupid things like graduation.
We scattered when you walked into the gym,
trembled when your huge hands grabbed one of us
and shook us down for money. Astounded
us when you unshouldered your black boom box
and talked tenderly of Nancy Wilson.
You made recess an ordeal. You made class
a confusing thrill with your defiance.
Then you were gone. Not because you cut class—
you’d knocked the boom box into the bathtub,
it was still plugged in but the music stopped.

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For Alma

The summer wind sets the curtains flapping,
the ends of the cords snare-drum the plaster.
Garlic and chili waft from a kitchen
and a sax player on the street blows hard.

She lays on me, panting, black hair flying,
eyelashes wet, damp air like opium.
“Are you hungry?” She says she’ll be right back.
Five minutes later, sirens stop the sax.

I did nothing at the trial. Did nothing
at her funeral. I sit in her room
where the curtains hang limp, and the night fog
smothers the city and snuffs out the stars.

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