I wake up early
I meet a shadow
The moon is still out.
I run into an old routine.
A poem asks for directions.
Then I meet a future without a past
How can I talk about my presence
The poem keeps staring at me.
Back when I used to be Indian
“Continue” was originally published in Mark Turcotte's Exploding Chippewas (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2002).
To subtract to increase.
Brancusi’s brass bird
On marble heads
Just lips jut out
Each paring, each chip
to express only essence.
Paperboy, cleaner, tourist guide, stock taker, dishwasher, lifeguard, waiter, bartender, teacher, house painter, writer is a thing I have been paid for. Kyke, algebra, wop, drop-stich, jap, bowline, chink, piecrust, nigger, radius, dyke, spelling, faggot, manners, yank, voltage, spic, driving, whore, ice-skating, slut, baseball, cracker, geography, trash, climate, dingo, playboy, French-press, prep, weed, jock, drinking, nerd is a thing I have been taught. Whale, snake, dolphin, dog, chicken, pig, cow, ant, cricket, camel, lamb, bear, buffalo, pigeon, pheasant, duck, lobster, crab, oyster, snail, mussel, roe, tuna, salmon, veal, trout, catfish, piranha, swordfish, cod is a thing I have killed. Paris, London, Tokyo, Doha, Dubai, Christchurch, Seoul, Hanoi, Moncton, Vancouver, Lima, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, LA, NY, Dallas, Beijing, Colombo, Ulan Bator, Gale, Siem Reap, Efate is a place I have slept. Lied, loved, slapped, kicked, cheated, liked, defrauded, slurred, defended, accused, believed, envied, trusted, helped, stole, cared, hit, threw, shamed, lusted, burnt, built, hated is a thing I have done. Ayako, Amanda, Mohammad, Brian, Chris, Jon, Jane, Alex, Hyun Jung, Roanne, Halumi, Ahmed, Glenn, Ayesha, William, Anna, Ozgur, Merv, Alana, Joanne, Soo Nam is a person I have known. I, me, you, we, they, them, those, these, son, rival, brother, student, lover, enemy, friend, foe, colleague, boss, teammate, opponent is a thing I have been. Hate, fear, passion, lust, hunger, joy, compassion, respect, love, horror, history, friendliness, thirst, inspiration, reverence, betrayal is a thing I have felt. Archapilago is how I first said it but my father correcting me by saying archipelago is a thing that taught me shame and pride.
Pirogue and paddles
Fly rod and spinners
Black gnats and cat-gut
This poem is about a swamp where I fly fished into my twenties. A true swamp, it nevertheless had an open feeling. The light coming into the darkness was like shafts of light in European cathedrals. The water was dark, but not muddy. The green trout were really small mouth bass, but the locals called them “green trout.” Moccasins would plop off a limb and aggressively swim toward the pirogue we fished from. I killed many with the paddle. The fly bait was a wet fly (black gnat) we used with a very tiny spinner and trailing a sliver of cat-gut. No fly fisherman ever uses a spinner except in the Southern Louisiana swamps. The most an alligator would let us see were two black nostrils, just above the water line. After we cooked the bass late in the day and ate them, we took small wooden stools down by the water, sat, listened to the silence.
“Caravela with Two Lines by Fernando Pessoa” was originally published in Terri Witek's Exit Island
My Grandpa Al was a seminal figure in my life. The youngest of 12 children, he was born in 1913 in Austria-Hungary and came to America at age 2. He was raised in a poor Jewish family and acquired a “worldly education” on the tough streets of the Bronx. He married young and became a traveling pasta salesman singing Italian songs to his customers. Tired of east coast winters, he moved his wife and three daughters (my mom included) across country to Los Angeles in 1948. After a failed pretzel business, he opened a liquor store in midtown Los Angeles at the corner of Western Avenue & Pico Boulevard. The store was adjacent to Redd Foxx's nightclub “Foxx's” and celebrities often came by for Al's barbecue chicken and ribs. Al loved telling the story about how he almost killed Wilt Chamberlain. It seems Wilt entered the store via the 8-foot high Western entrance for some ribs and left through the 7-foot high Pico door. Being 7 foot 1" tall, Wilt slammed his head on the doorframe and fell to the ground. Al gave Wilt a lifetime supply of barbecue to keep him happy. In 1977 when I was 14, Grandpa Al gave me my first ever job as a clerk in his liquor store. I'd lived a sheltered life in the suburbs and that summer at Al's store was eye opening. The surrounding area was impoverished and crime-ridden. Two years earlier, Al was robbed four times at gunpoint. Six weeks before I began working, the store was robbed in the middle of the night and half the liquor stock was stolen or destroyed. Al was not intimidated. He'd made it through the 1965 Watts Riots and he considered himself a “tough jew.” He gave me lectures about the tricks of his trade. “Never leave more than twenty dollars in the register...Don't open the register until you see the customer's money...If someone asks you a question while the register is open, close the register, then answer the question.” He showed me the thin strip of rubber beneath the counter that triggered the silent alarm. He taught me how to spot a counterfeit bill by rubbing the bill against a white piece of paper and looking for a faint green mark. He instructed me to leave a hundred dollars in singles in the “fake safe” in the storage room while leaving the lion's share of money in the “real safe” upstairs. He showed me the secret compartment beneath the register where he carried his loaded pistol. “I've never had to use this but if that day comes, I'm ready.” Grandpa Al was also a prankster. One time he decided to teach a lesson to a customer named Clarence who came in every day and stole candy bars. When Clarence entered the store, Al took a foil-wrapped Ex-Lax chocolate bar and inserted it into the outer wrapping of a Kit Kat bar. When Clarence approached, Al left the faux Kit Kat on the counter and walked away. I watched from the storage room as Clarence pocketed the Kit Kat and left. We didn't see him for two weeks. When Clarence finally returned, he looked noticeably lighter and pale. “Where you been, Clarence,” my grandpa asked. Clarence's reply was unforgettable. “Man, you wouldn't believe the shit that's been happening to me.” My grandfather finally sold the store in 1988. Along with my Grandma Stella, they devoted the rest of their life to raising money for the City of Hope Hospital to help aid children with cancer. This was my grandparents' tribute to their daughter Lita who died of cancer at a young age. Grandpa Al passed away in 1994. He was a beautiful man and I still miss him.
My death rolled over in bed with a sorrowful face.
“Why do you not embrace my torso?” it asked
The babbling street crawled in one ear through the window
But I recovered and to my death replied:
“It is your neck I love, the rough dusty feel on my fingers
and my death merely stared at me,
I knew she was of the sea