The Oxford Unabridged
was how I learned the word fellatio,
though I paused to look up orgasm
and my understanding of male genitals was abstract
at best. I had read the word fellatio in the newspaper,
Local section, in a story
about three runaways, two boys and a girl.
A man held them in a cabin
for two weeks. He raped the girl
and forced the boys to perform fellatio on him
repeatedly. I didn’t have to look up rape—
I’d known that word since fourth grade
when Takeisha told me
that her uncle took off his pants
when he babysat and we told
our teacher. But I read
the definition of fellatio
and I considered what I knew
The man picked up the kids
hitching on the freeway
and said he’d take them as far
as Enumclaw. The girl
gave her testimony yesterday,
which sounded strange when I read it
because in our church,
testimony was when we all stood up
to bear witness of Christ
on the first Sunday, in lieu of a sermon.
The article said the girl had a glass eye.
The man stabbed out her real one
when she tried to escape. The man
told her: I will not kill you. I will
take some things away.
Epitaph for a Pair of Old Shoes
Humble, born to the earth,
They knew where they stood.
When they moved,
It was because they must.
Anger moved them,
And the desire to be elsewhere,
Or something in them
Responding to music.
They knew also
What waiting can be.
Side by side, they mastered it,
Like an old married couple.
Once, you loved permanence,
Indelible. You’d sink
Your thoughts in a black well,
And called the error ink.
And then you crossed it out;
You canceled as you went.
But you craved permanence,
And honored the intent.
Perfection was a blot
That could not be undone.
You honored what was not,
And it was legion.
And you were sure, so sure,
But now you cannot stay sure.
You turn the point around
And honor the erasure.
Rubber stubs the page,
The heart, a stiletto of lead,
And all that was black and white
Is in-between instead.
All scratch, all sketch, all note,
All tentative, all tensile
Line that is not broken,
But pauses with the pencil,
And all choice, multiple,
The quiz that gives no quarter,
And Time the other implement
That sharpens and grows shorter.
they clapped when we landed
thinking africa was just an extension
of the black world
they smiled as we taxied home to be met
black to black face not understanding africans lack
they rushed to declare
cigarettes, money, allegiance to the mother land
not knowing despite having read fanon and davenport
hearing all of j.h. clarke’s lectures, supporting
nkrumah in ghana and nigeria in the war that there was once
a tribe called afro-americans that populated the whole
they stopped running when they learned the packages
on the women’s heads were heavy and that babies didn’t
cry and disease is uncomfortable and that villages are fun
only because you knew the feel of good leather on good
they cried when they saw mercedes benz were as common
in lagos as volkswagens are in berlin
they shook their heads when they understood there was no
difference between the french and the english and the americans
and the afro-americans or the tribe next door or the country
across the border
they were exasperated when they heard sly and the family stone
in francophone africa and they finally smiled when little boys
who spoke no western tongue said “james brown” with reverence
they brought out their cameras and bought out africa’s drums
when they finally realized that they are strangers all over
and love is only and always about the lover not the beloved
they marveled at the beauty of the people and the richness
of the land knowing they could never possess either
they clapped when they took off
for home despite the dead
dream they saw a free future
Darest Thou Now O Soul
DAREST thou now, O Soul,
Walk out with me toward the Unknown Region,
Where neither ground is for the feet, nor any path to follow?
No map, there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.
I know it not, O Soul;
Nor dost thou—all is a blank before us;
All waits, undream’d of, in that region—that inaccessible land.
Till, when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds, bound us.
Then we burst forth—we float,
In Time and Space, O Soul—prepared for them;
Equal, equipt at last—(O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil, O Soul.
When I consider the worn, petal-scented bar of soap
my lover inadvertently left in the deep woods,
alongside the river we camped by for a week,
I think first of watching her bathe there,
how I waited with her towel in the sun, her clean clothes
warming on the radiant stones.
Then I think of a man not unlike myself finding it,
a pink and botanical soap, in a perfectly scooped dish
on the back of a large, water-polished rock.
He senses her in the curve and slope
of its undoing at her skin, and holding it
to his lips he takes in some faint but vivid
scent of her, stepping clean into her towel and my arms,
which now are his, and who then, unable to help himself,
offers the soap’s pale astringent underside a kiss.