The 4 “0” Clock News @ House of Sky – from The Alchemist’s Kitchen
Different Places to Pray – from The Alchemist’s Kitchen
Mohamud at the Mosque – from Cures Include Travel
Wendy – from The Cartographer’s Tongue / Poems of the World
In the beginning we wanted
to cast ourselves
as opera stars, to break apart
like gorgeous women
palm reading at the piano bar ~
music stinging like salt from the sea.
We were spiraling ridges, dust-darlings
We were peonies ~ cut
and arranged like astronauts
in flight. We soaked in syllables
not water; rode the Southern
drawl of the wind
over cobalt glass ~
backlit by a disc of sun.
Everywhere, everywhere she wrote; something is falling –
a ring of keys slips out of her pocket into the ravine below;
nickels and dimes and to do lists; duck feathers from a gold pillow.
Everywhere someone is losing a favorite sock or a clock stops
circling the day; everywhere she goes she follows the ghost
of her heart; jettisons everything but the shepherd moon, the hopeless cause.
This is the way a life unfolds: decoding messages from profiteroles,
the weight of mature plums in late autumn. She’d prefer a compass
rose, a star chart, text support messages delivered from the net,
even the local pet shop – as long as some god rolls away the gloss
and grime of our gutted days, our global positioning crimes.
Tell me, where do you go to pray – a river valley, a pastry tray?
– for my student, upon his graduation
And some time later in the lingering
blaze of summer, in the first days
after September 11th you phoned –
if I don’t tell anyone my name I’ll
pass for an African American.
And suddenly, this seemed a sensible solution –
the best protection: to be a black man
born in America, more invisible than
Somali, Muslim, asylum seeker –
Others stayed away that first Friday
but your uncle insisted that you pray.
How fortunes change so swiftly
I hear you say. And as you parallel
park across from the Tukwila
mosque, a young woman cries out –
her fears unfurling beside your battered car
Go back where you came from!
You stand, both of you, dazzling there
in the mid-day light, her pavement
facing off along your parking strip.
You tell me she is only trying
to protect her lawn, her trees,
her untended heart – already
alarmed by its directive.
And when the neighborhood
policeman appears, asks
you, asks her, asks all the others –
So what seems to be the problem?
He actually expects an answer,
as if any of us could name it –
as if perhaps your prayers
chanted as this cop stands guard
watching over your windshield
during the entire service
might hold back the world
we did not want to know.
“Wendy, Wendy when you are sleeping in your silly bed
you might be flying about with me saying funny things to the stars.
Wendy,” he said, “how we should all respect you.”
This time she would know better.
There would be no sewing shadows
mending the boy’s tails, hot afternoons
cooking alligator, skinning
the pirates for stew.
She’d rather walk the plank.
Why would she go with him?
After the storytelling
windows open to the night
she would not be fooled by promises
of fairy dust or tempted with the offer
of mothering lost boys.
No patience with false Romance
she’d go only for the flying —
a movement like magnets to the stars.
Second to the right
and straight on till morning.
Air travel would win her over.
Energized, she’d start a union
for the mermaids
find counseling for Peter
and be off again.
She’d move above volcanoes, investigate
a tangle of clouds.
And then like the pilot resisting
the runway home, she’d hold her breath
and offer up this
pleasure — the telling
of the journey out alone.
First published in The Cartographer’s Tongue / Poems of the World