Leaving Mulberry Street
(New York, 1943)
When your father found the dead man
swinging in the walk-in–meat hook gored
through muscle, slight tenting at his
shirtfront, a coagulated bloom pressed
to breast pocket–you were maybe eight, baby
curls shorn, old enough to have witnessed
an endless procession of pigs’ heads
cleaved, calves’ tongues sliced, young enough
to marvel at the slick iridescent pillows of liver,
neatly wrapped in wax sheets by his hard hands.
Do you recall the chickens, Sonny, temporary
pets, how you and Little Davy played
puppets with their lopped-off feet, how
you savored the treat of sweet marrow
sucked from warm bones? Having watched
the ink spill from pierced sheep’s eyes,
why would you be daunted by some stiff’s
milked-over orbs, viscous with death
and the freezer’s chill? At eight, nightmaring
over tales of your family’s escape from
Mulberry (the spinning corpse/dropped
cleaver/crammed trunk/daylight flight), I shrink
from the slap of greasy lips as you gnaw hogs’
knuckles, incisors grinding through gristle.
First appeared in Freshwater, 2013.
He’d watch her kneading
lumps of meat, raw egg
and rice, long hands stripped
of gold, pink chuckshreds
caught beneath her nails.
The jade bells would stand,
wax bowls packed—a fistful
along curving spines.
In the stove, they’d sizz,
foil-shrouded, as she
spooned hot broth over
their skulls. Darkening
like the range-hood, their
charred membranes, slipping,
red coils would flicker,
as the peppers bled,
her Pyrex filling
with bitter juice.
First appeared in Freshwater, 2012.
It is nothing like the sacred wafer,
this oblong of gauze and tape. But my mind
metaphors as I strip back adhesive.
His flesh, plump as a baby’s fist, submits,
lifts, drops back. Yellow-cast, the skin seems to
pulse, expand. Tracing the edge where pigments
bleed—workman’s tan to sub-bandage pallor—
I count the sutures, their meticulous
march, and lift the tube worming from his back.
Latex spirals to his waistband, ending
in a picnic cooler spigot. Sliding
notched cotton beneath the tube, I recoil
it, press fingers to my father’s skin, close
the circle, re-swaddling it in fresh gauze.
First appeared in Freshwater, 2011.
Morning—Jokibu, Sierra Leone
for my student, Mohamed
The calls of pan bird, of rice bird have returned,
but where is the song of our mothers?
Shreds of canvas twist in searing wind;
our house burst wide, a rotted gourd.
In the dust, a man clenches crimson hibiscus against
his chest. What child is dying in his arms?
My uncle’s palms weep from digging—
two hands to bury so many.
I cry to my sister, Sia, my heart!
But only the pan bird replies.
First appeared in the July, 2007 issue of the online poetry journal, Pirene’s Fountain.