Murder on Your Tongue

Photo by Mateus Williams via 41.media.tublr.com

This is what I hear
When out of that heart
You speak:

Like grown men of an African bush tribe
Clip-slipping their feet in the hot dust
Around a broke-fire
White dark dirt shoves up
Out of the roots of the earth and
Races up on the heels of them and over the high-topped feather headdresses of grown men
And rising up and out the sound of an overwhelming shout of challenge and victory and defeat
As the sound rages out of their muscle-y burnt bodies and their heart beats
Step-step faster
Out—
Run
Out—
Shout
Out—
Live

And then you are
The one who ran ahead
To shove his spear first into the lions mouth
But got torn in half by its jaws.

This is what I hear
When out of that heart
You speak:

Death to mother
Your sister
Your brother
To your lover

Like every other somebody out there
Is a lion that needs to be taken
Down by a man
Like you.

Poem originally published in Promethia Literary Magazine, Spring 2013.

Hair

Dirty fiber optic chords

clumped into burnt hemp rope:

hair. Each dead cell strand a

weak wisp of my fragile femininity.

Male friends, almost-loves

drape banners of caution over me—“Men like

Their women with long locks.”—

but I ache to tear off the dirty blonde titles

and watch them flutter to the floor between

silver blades.

 

 

 

The Coffee House on Cherry Street

 

Black breeze pulls strangers’ marijuana smoke

Between deck splinters, up our nauseous noses;

Night brings to Cherry Street a symphony

of multicolored voices, tires tearing wet pavement,

Urban wind whistling through metal sheets.

 

Under the too-sweet-cake smell I stay

Because you stay with me. It forms a fist

In the back of my throat, but I stay

Because you stay with me.

 

Black silhouettes behind your slanted shoulders

Lean in, spread lips into each other, know;

Night brings to Cherry Street a subtle show

Of red neon signs, bursting beams of headlights,

Christmas strings suspending us in a yellow glow.

 

Your lit eyes, innocent, watch me watching them;

Your mouth smiles sweetly. Blush rises on this pale face

as it turns away, that you won’t watch me watching them;

Your mouth smiles sweetly.

 

Stuck at a Red Light

Hard plastic wedge, bike seat, pulsing into bruises

as she rocks backwards, forwards on conversed feet,

squeaking rubber under a red light, under broadening daylight.

Her image becomes a postcard slipped into the mail room of

thoughts drivers-by should address when they get around to it:

a young girl stuck to a ride with wheels going nowhere

behind impassable yellow lines

waiting for a little white man to appear

and tell her she can walk away.

 

Stephen

Perfect skin, llama-like

neck and teeth and long face,

no chin, smiles like a dignitary,

he drinks for the laughs.

 

Africa got stuck

under his white nails

last summer, so

he wants to wake

every next morning

grasping black flesh

of perfect soil in

his hands and

feeling it pull back.

 

He reaches, arks his arms high;

The air stretches to accommodate.

Kenya cups her hands

to receive him,

poured out.

Thirst is at both ends.

Vagabond Baggage

The tear wound bleeds inked paper,

book spines, rusty sandal clasp,

computer cord veins, black. Ribbons of

blue frayed flesh unravel lissome. The

mouth heaves a soft bible with

matted leaves like a sigh, teeth

tearing apart, a toothbrush

tweezing the jagged gap.

Pens poke like spines from its

netted sides, tangled in old receipts.

A half-full CamelBak wedges between it

and an unfamiliar backseat. Two slender

legs, long, crossed, curl over it, serape-coated,

socks swishing the window at cars that pass

on the road.

Goodbye, Graduate

Black drapes, square caps, let’s graduate.

Four years gone, gained, hood me.

My parents are not here yet.

Pray, people say.

My mouth chews and spits God’s faithfulness

To redeem all things—deceit

Under the pasty palate of my face,

brittle porcelain Krazy glued into place.

 

I plead, God help me;

I speak, God bless you.

 

This is the end;

I see the start:

College drop-off day.

You didn’t even hug me.

I waved at the back of your heads, quiet,

your clawing words swallowed by the elevator,

slurping up your fight.

You never said I love you back.

I locked my new door,

Thanked God you had left me behind,

Cried.

 

The prayer is over.

I’ve stepped aside.

Someone else is up to speak.

Lord, when will they finally get here?

It’s not that I don’t know how to wait.

What’s a few hours more to a few years late?

 

 

Ethiopian Coffee

The way to eat Ethiopian food wrong is not to eat it at all.

Your host may frown whether you chew diligently or not,

Or they may smile.

Ethiopian’s straight noses and high cheekbones,

Like European descents with milk-chocolate skin,

They are African.

They are beautiful.

They don’t smile to make you feel good about what they prepared,

You simply eat elbow-to-elbow.

Take the foamy injera, a flimsy gluten-free pancake, pale sour, in one hand.

Tear it, but not too small.

This is your silverware, your edible hand.

Grip lumps of shiro,

Injera between your fingers and this main dish,

And shove the messy mass coated in red chili, onion, and bean paste between your teeth,

Fingers and all.

It will be spicy, kicking and screaming on all sides,

Amplifying its tantrum the longer the meal goes on.

Eat it anyway,

Even if you can hardly bear the stings bursting your tongue.

Eat it because coffee comes after a meal,

Fresh beans bubbled up from Ethiopian earth still green.

The grandmother washes them with her aged desert hands,

Water passing over the cracks in her fingers to plump up the pebbles between them.

A cradle of burnt clay holds the beans on the stove as they sizzle and turn black.

In her home country, a mortar and pestle rest between her knees to make powder.

In America, you just turn on the grinding machine.

More traditional burnt black clay like a tall Middle Eastern oil lamp rests on the stovetop.

This is an Ethiopian coffee pot boiling water and grinds.

It takes a long time for the grinds to settle with no filter,

So people sit together in the living room, in the open air, on the ground and talk,

Often in awkward silences waiting for the next topic to surface.

No distractions are allowed, no children or card games.

This is a sacred time of drinking in the smell and taste of fresh coffee and fresh connections,

Right now.

Take it black.

The floral aromatic flavor is enough, with no bitter aftertaste you need to try and cover up.

It is liquid velvet smooth,

A hint of a fresh African breeze through thick green captured in your cup, vibrant.

Drink it in.

Love Like the Hasidim

If I should ever know this being in love, I would want to say:

I cannot tell you why or how, of the stars being out tonight,

of the rains that yesterday didn’t come. I cannot tell you of

the spark of eternity within me; I must coax yours from that

hard-coated shell, and only then will what is electric eternal

in me stretch past the tip of my nose, inasmuch as it

charges awake that spark in you and marvels. Let me

see the wonder of worlds in your eyes; together, let

us awe at the how and the why in the stars and the

rain, at the fact of us, at wretchedness redeemed.

Dark Harbor

“I would like to step out of my heart’s door and be
Under the great sky.  I would like to step out
And be on the other side, and be part of all

That surrounds me.  I would like to be
In that solitude of soundless things, in the random
Company of the wind, to be weightless, nameless.

But not for long, for I would be downcast without
The things I keep inside my heart; and in no time
I would be back.  Ah!  the old heart

In which I sleep, in which my sleep increases, in which
My grief is ponderous, in which the leaves are falling,
In which the streets are long, in which the night

Is dark, in which the sky is great, the old heart
That murmurs to me of what cannot go on,
Of the dancing, of the inmost dancing.”

–Mark Strand, an excerpt from the work Dark Harbor: A Poem.