I'm just happy to be here.

Month: April, 2015



You read a poem
And a woman says
Thank you.

You finish your set, covered in sweat,
and a man praises the rhythm
in your voice, says he could the hear
movement, feel the intention,
Says he could see
the craft behind all this
assures you someone is always
paying attention.

A mother comes to you,
her voice is quiet but nurturing,
tells you about the sweet
sensitivity between each word you say,
how when you said how you felt,
beauty was all she could see
and you are buried by
The sincerity.

Before you, an audience
who has come here to hear
the stories you have to tell.

Someone asks to buy your poem
but none of this has ever been
about profit.

You were sixteen and sad
and a journal was all you had.

You were seventeen and sad
and a voice was all you had.

You were eighteen and sad
and the language had one purpose:
To Fix.
Then you step on a stage
and everyone knows your name.
You can’t keep your thoughts
to yourself, but everyone
still listens.

How lucky are you?

At this point,
You are twenty three and happy to announce
after the poems are read,
and the poets have left,
and all the audience believes
in poetry again,
you still have to stop and breathe it all in
you still have to hug every poet
because you could not be here without
them, because this is your community,
and when will your life ever be this meaningful?
this true?

Even when the poets have gone
love is the last word in the room.



I look
my eyes burn

The wrong light
emanates and no one wants
to collect the leftover darkness,
bear the ungraceful grasp of grief.

What came first,
the dark dance of a bullet or
the finger that pulled it?
No, let’s try that again.

What came first,
the dark dance of a bullet
or a State Sanctioned game of
musical graves?

Violence is not invisible
is not random
it is a resilient and
rhythmic institution.

If a police officer
with no one
around to see
did his gun make a sound?
Probably not.
Probably got muffled
by the other
the lightning
backdrop of fire

What do I do with
this hive of fury?

A headline last month read:
“Black Man’s Body Found Hanging From Tree in Mississippi”
Another one declares
“All 43 Missing Mexican Students Are Dead”
Another one reads
“Somali Militants Kill 147 at Kenyan University”

I read and weep.
I read and weep.
I read and weep.
It is too loud in my head
But every time I wish to escape,
I cannot help but feel like a coward
too afraid to scour this dark interior
to wed anger with effort,
so I swallow my tongue,
let my mouth go numb,
because while I am alive,
how does one ever
protect the dead?

& this is the riddle of dread.


Son, the first time you come
to Flavor Town, you will want to eat
everything. You will look
at your hands
memorize the size of
what you can hold.
Only fools rush in
so wait for the invitation
learn to love food
by the dance of heat.

A woman’s body is not for you to eat
not for you to pick apart
but to ask for the recipe,
to see what you need,
in hopes of being needed,
to be worthy of her kitchen.
I don’t care how hungry you are
you don’t get fed
just because
you hear a

Don’t just show up.
You need an invitation.
Make sure not to chew
with your mouth open.
Are you hungry?
Are you hungry?
Are you hungry?
Are you hungry?
Do not confuse
I could eat
eat me.
Do not confuse
I’m hungry
I’m hungry for you.

I beg of you. I’m hardly a perfect man.
But when the food is hot, wait your turn.
Just because your mouth is open
doesn’t mean you get fed.
When you hear
it is time
to break
think of your mother
washing your plate.
You don’t always
get seconds.
You are not even promised
If she doesn’t want you
in her kitchen,
say yes, Chef!
When she says her body is out of bounds,
say yes, Chef!
You are, after all, a guest.

You cannot savor the dish
until she sets the table.



“The poem that is merely painful revelations:
my impulse to tell you everything –
which may destroy everything”
– Theodore Roetheke

I know how it feels
when you trick your heart
into being someone else’s treat.
But smiling alone
with you
is how the blood
in my body
refused to rot,
rejected deceit,
rose like a wave &
now the mystery is
who wants to swim
in the mud of love?
who wants to break
the cycle of breaking?
No, I do not know all
my hauntings by name,
but a history of hurt is here,
constant presence, always relevant
but this
is not a poem about defeat.
This is merely pain revealing itself.
This is a monsoon of magnolias
against the grey blanket of morning.
This tired legacy of failed reciprocity
does not bewilder me, the promise of new joy
is a gentle riddle lust cannot solve,
if my heart is knotted, don’t let love resolve,
untie or cut the twist, I just need you to
show up and mean it.
I’ll forget the history of hurt
if you just keep showing up,
turn this historic loneliness
into something we can both fix
the both of us,
your arrival,
the beginning,
finally, all my fear
furnace bound &
is the quiet smoldering,
which may destroy


“…woe is translatable to joy if light
becomes darkness and darkness light,
as it will—“
-William Carlos Williams

On the day of the spring equinox,
I fed myself strawberries, ate black plums,
someone called me handsome and I hummed
to myself in the kitchen.

A quick note on the black plums:
the first time, I grabbed one was an accident
had to be the summer before last
the one I spent alone in my apartment
baffled by want, a linguist lost in love’s speeches,
studying for four months to take a test
so I could go to school for three more years
then take another test at the end of it. Anyways.
That next season, I read a poem out loud
to three other English majors in my Modernism class
about stolen plums, the deceptive sweetness
of language, the immediate contact with the present,
the need to reach through with what is wholly you,
and in that moment, the poet comes to know
the image is more useful
than what it represents & that’s what I’m saying!
I bite into a black plum not by my lonesome
but swirling with significance, a cloud of moments,
the long day stretched out like a highway
I cannot help but get stuck in the traffic
of my own imagination, impavid and impatient
& imagine me humming a number
equal parts lovely and somber, with plum breath
and the confidence of a compliment.
I think of all the mouths I let on my flesh,
eyes closed and touch filled with expiration,
like they expect the sweetest thing in season,
hoping for a brief revival just by holding my body, and
how this explains their reason for leaving, because who doesn’t understand
pleasure, who doesn’t eat a plum on the first day of spring
and throw the pit in the garbage, forgetting forgiveness,
you know, that violent business.


Show me all the possibilities
on how not to be alone.
I am telling you I need you.
The rain won’t quit looking
for a body to swallow
It is telling everyone to need
each other, but people do not
have appetites for people.
People just have appetites.
I don’t long for the company
of another because I am hungry.
Every day I perform for love
but the audience is stuck in traffic
The show does not go on
even when my mouth does,
even when I say what I mean,
and who knows what I mean.
I am under the moon with a woman
who does not know my history with rain
who looks at me like the first days in spring
and suddenly the sensation of sinking is gone.
How do I explain the absence of love
without looking for it?
I am my heart’s only detective.
The mystery of meaning
is knowing without saying
but I cannot do both.
Show me, show me, show me.
All the possibilities.
How does anyone stop being alone?
Does the sadness pile and pile or
does it serve some other purpose?
Say my name in the middle of a sentence
where sadness cannot reach.
If my day is truly good, I will tell you all about it.
Don’t let me slip away with simple answers.
If ever I make-pretend, take away my hands.
Both my hands are open and only you can fill them.
When I trap myself inside the house lonely built,
tell me to open my curtains.
Outside my street, live oaks longer than longing.
Behind my house, a whole street called Moonmist
Early one morning, a grandmother teaches her grandson
how to rake, shows him where to place his hands,
and how to build a mountain of fallen things,
and he is trying so hard to gather, to put his hands
where his hands should go, and even then,
his body is not big enough, he cannot do
what he has to do, but what difference does
that make?



I wish you could smell this flower.
I don’t know the name of it, but
the pavement is blushing lavender
or a color in the lavender family, maybe
a first cousin to lavender, only more lovely
because it is in front of me and nameless,
but petals and petals and petals of beautiful anonymity,
how terribly difficult it must be to love
something you cannot say, ask to stay.

With me is Billy and we just ate ice cream and sorbet
after leaving San Dolores Park by riding a slide down
to the playground where just moments earlier,
a Mexican man earned his living by selling slices of pizza to smiling people
who still had room for want and and despite my distaste for fractions
it is nine-tenths a perfect day when
a little girl kneels down on the sidewalk outside the ice cream shop
and picks up this flower whose name could not possibly
achieve its purpose of explanation
or offer meaning without leaving too much room for
interpretation, but of course it has a name,
of course it belongs to something we can all say,
but what I want to say is,
a little girl knees down and picks up this flower
and puts her mouth up against it
like she’s part of the family, maybe a first cousin
or a sister, or a mother, or a daughter
and she pulls whatever sweetness there is
with her mouth, with her nose, with her whole body,
and I wish you could smell this flower.


I am twenty-three and my heart feels the breeze
even in my sleep. I squeeze a blood-orange and
smell the perfume of citrus on my hands. Even my touch
grows braver the sweeter the songs I sing.
Like last Sunday, I set my body before the sun
lowered my mouth and saw the spring moonlight
pour out, like a melody, parody or parable.
My mouth is a house of blue solitude, wide-open sky,
you should see the trees that give me shade
and the guests who never stay.
I am twenty-three and my heart feels the breeze always.
When someone asks about the potholes in your heart
do not mention the bad days, the flat tire, the reckless speeding.
There are only good days and on good days
survival is the only the answer. I have so many questions
I do not want to ask. The weight of what I don’t know
lets me know plenty room is left to grow.
I don’t always want to finish what’s next.
Whatever happened to breakfast?
I slept through mornings because the cost of living
was not convincing.
I could not remember what waited for me.
I know lonesome does not deserve my love
but that conversation is such a hard thing to do.
I hear my gift with words is such a blessing.
I hear it’s not fair because you’re better with words
I say it isn’t so simple.
When you’re afraid of what the dark can do,
Language is the only room to run to.
Being good with what scares me most
is not a badge, but a casket of truths. Yes,
speech is a gift, but I never asked for a mouth,
for this matrimony of what I feel always coming back out,
never asked to love the significance that
always invites itself over and under my sheets,
but it belongs to me, is mine to sift through.
The pulchritude of an April afternoon tells me
it is too soon for anger.
I am twenty-three and my heart is caught in a breeze,
this poem is an invitation for you sway with me.
I am an architect of kindness and I require your spiritual congruity.
Take Agathist, derived from Greek, is a person who
believes all things reach toward an ultimate good.
Let that be me.
I have a history of inconsolability I do not want to repeat.
Rinse my mouth out with all the color I want to keep.
My mother leaves a voicemail I listen to while
I stir a pot of beans I made using my grandmother’s recipe.
Outside, the birds and the bees sing and sting,
I watch, stir and smell the steam, the weight of what
I do know can feed a family, can find meaning
even when my belly or heart is empty,
damaged by the translation of want and need,
even then, love is instructive,
even then, love is this scene, the one where I leave my house
and everyone is happy to see me.


Did I tell you about the cardinal
in my backyard?
I saw a bright red body leap from the ground
and didn’t think it looked so tough.
Thought of my heart, thought of how hard
it is just to pick up the pieces, but
did I tell you about class last week?
I ask my students to read their poems
out loud to one another.
A student asks me what it means
to be vulnerable and I am not afraid
to tell her the truth.
She tells me she’s only
nervous in front of one person,
whispers his name because it
is still soft and simple, and I can’t remember
the last time I whispered a name like good news.
Did I tell you about the good news?
Cindy Phan is going back to Vietnam.
Cindy Phan is my barber and she calls me handsome.
Cindy Phan hasn’t seen her family in six years
Cindy Phan crossed the ocean because
she was sick, and now she is better.
Did I tell you about the time I got better?
Oh, it wasn’t very extravagant.
Everyone just said they loved me
and meant it.