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Biblical Interlude

Here is my dignity
given unto you that you might have laughter
(inwardly at the very least).
Blessed be the cheerful recipient of another's dignity.

(October '89)

Learning Curve

No words this time.
No affectation of explanatory hubris;
in silence, respect.
This day at the altar of repetition
only deep breaths
and prayers for a short memory.


Somewhere I have seen
her form inclined,
contemplating change.
Backlights, tunings, a chord or lover.

A universe in equipoise:
one girl, six strings.
(Two brown eyes,
one deep voice,


Say it with feelin',
like you mean it.
Not a county, but a way of life.

[Things are different where I come from;
I can't take that stuff for granted.
Leave "County" off of "Delaware"
and you've gone to the First State.

I got me some relations
somewhere out there on Long-Guy-Land,
but that ain't the real New Yawk,
as you kindly informed me.]

They say the girls are something else on Broadway.
But looking at them just gives me the blues.

They told your ma:
"You goin' with that dirty Spic?"
But he showers twice a day.
You can cleanse.
You can purify,
be the true you,
and shiny.

They told your pa:
"You marryin' that fuckin' Wop?"
But you don't get it.
She ain't no Orthodox.
She's a real American.
She can do the Boogaloo.

Bronx baby,
big brown dog, poor lost cat.]
why do they look at us like that?"

Say it slurred, intoxicated;
on an acid trip, elated;
through the veil of coke and gin—
through it all,
through everything.

[You love an audience.
But you don't need no microphone
to sing the blues.]

"Lawd, I got me some troubles,
troubles weighin' on my mind.
Lawd, I got me some troubles,
troubles weighin' on my mind.
They say a good man won't desert you,
but a good man is so very hard to find.

"If you ever get to White Plains,
light a candle for me there.
If you ever get to White Plains,
light a candle for me there.
There's a boy there knows my name;
there's a boy may even care."

I have heard the white girls singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.


Tell me the story
the shocking true story
until I can't jam one more word in my head

Buy me a ticket
a one-way excursion
to places unknown from this roman à clef

Keep me beside you
in memory beside you
a salve for your solitude, balm for your burns

Sing to me softly
give me a reason
a home to return to at wanderings' end

This Do in Remembrance of Me

I take in hand
one tall cup, red,
filled with cool blue Slurpee slush,
to draw one plaintive sip.

Moon over Andronico's

The blue house on the corner
where you once lived
stands still, silent,
"For Rent."

The supermarket check-out girl
recalls your face—
in a dream of cottage cheese,
you appear with strawberries,
chocolate bars, and Jujubes.
(These are my unopened gifts;
this my mansion, desolate.)

I saw her walking in the breeze,
arms enfolding groceries,
laughing in his company.
(Something in me wished that she
could laugh in perpetuity.)

Vanessa annabella (West Coast Lady)
for Vanessa Anne

Note: The Three Ladies—Painted, American Painted, and West Coast Lady—present a number of variations called aberrations, in which the normal pattern and color are somewhat altered. They have been given names although these names do not have taxonomic status. ...They are all considered rare, but several of these aberrations are seen fairly often in Northern California.

from J. W. Tilden and Arthur C. Smith, A Field Guide to Western Butterflies

Butterfly, my words are
vague as dreams of empire.
They do not concern you.
Your form here is secondary.

Still, I've seen your silhouette
stealing 'cross the back wall,
held the urge to call your name—
you might only keep on walking.

(In the place I come from,
they don't talk of Puerto Ricans.
Some things you'd best leave alone,
cordoned off by city limits.

Tell me all the things that
I must know to know you truly.
One for one, I'll swap you stories,
my Main Line for your Miami.

Share with me the secret,
how your tongue can speak your mother's
while my mouth denies the forming
of my parents' syllabary,

and I will make peace with
my existence spent in exile.
When your love completes me,
will we sing in Esperanto?)


It jolts me still—
the sound of strangers speaking words
that once it seemed
my mom and dad
had all made up between them:
a private code
as twins might have,
and unyielding.

And Now Here's Something We Hope You'll Really Like

When I go home, I talk different.
Well, same words, same ideas in my head,
but they don't come out the same.
My throat's constricted—stage fright.
Because I know they're watching, thinking,
"Damned if I've ever seen an O-riental
could talk English right."
It seeps in.
Try as you do to fight it.
So my Berwyn mumble's more mumbled than my Berkeley.
"Huh? What's that you say?"
It's a chink thang—
you wouldn't understand.

Laff Riot

"Funny you should mention it,"
he says,
light bulb blinking overhead.
"I know the feeling,
just the one
you see,
my folks—they come from Italy."

I turn to hide
the roar inside—
for it would be
a bit unseemly
to laugh my fucking head off.

Alma martyr

The sun that shines on Walnut Street
is not the sun that shines for me
is not the light by which I see

The breeze that blows 'cross Locust Walk
the wonted chill that it has brought
is not the solace that I sought

The din that swells on 33rd
confounding man and beast and bird
ensures once more I am unheard

Hidden Estrus

On my old street
the girls don't sing
to any old beat
or any old thing;

in my old town
there's only so much
that an open smile gets you,
or a mind lets you touch—

you gotta have style,
miles and miles of heart,
and a certain nasality
to play the lead part.


In a dream I've seen the city implode—
in a moment, an instant,
all sucked through the hole.

A heart-shaped vagueness swelled in my chest:
benediction, belonging,
my coveted rest.

Opus 25

Do the shuffle,
the quarter-century shuffle;
do you know what you want,
or just want what you know?

A nation bred to impotence
turns to hate in self-defense.
I won't go down so easily,
nor let them see desire in me.

Do the shuffle,
the quarter-century shuffle;
one third of your life—
how much is that in dog years?

If I never do the do
with Barbara Ann or Peggy Sue,
I'll shuffle on out with a grin on my face;
I'll shuffle along right out of that place.

Do the shuffle,
the quarter-century shuffle;
is the measure of a man
five inches on the average?

They call me foolish
but I can see
it all ain't nothin' but jealousy—
can't no one else do the shuffle like me.

Race Riot

It matters, then,
that they can see
from fifty steps
my difference.

The Progress Narrative of History

Used to be I'd hate myself;
now I just hate everyone else.

Maxine Hong Kingston Wants My Balls in a SaladShooter®

Or was it,
a Cuisinart®?

Maxine Hong Kingston Wants My Balls in a Cuisinart®

So, for that matter,
does Bharati Mukherjee,
but her I don't count as a loss.

Memo to the AsiAm LitMafia

A burden
doesn't make a community.

Tourniquet (lyric)

They say it's all a matter of time
They say it's all a matter of fate
Plenty of the time it seemed I had no choice to make
nor heart to break
nor nothing sweet to set on my plate

I would hear I shouldn't go making demands
"A boy like you, you take what you can."
Well, I've shed tears of blood in the small hours of the night
and I need you beside me to put things aright

Never been much for those flashy clothes
nor big long cars, nor opera shows
But somehow I would tell myself it would all turn out fine
and I could staunch your bleeding
if you'd just help me with mine

Been up to see a man on a hill who could read the truth in your veins
He said, "Go on, find your fortune, son, but don't look for pride or gain."

They told me I couldn't expect too much
They said it was all market forces and such
Well, I've crossed the straw desert, waded through the river of blight,
and I need you for my tourniquet tonight

I need you for my tourniquet tonight


I like her voice
the sound it makes
the words it says
and how it catches
now and then.


A finite rhododendron
from Miss Sara's plastic box
through the third-floor safety railing
to the sullen asphalt drops

and the angels of a minute
in a minute do descend
with their rubies, silks, and amethysts
to mark a sister's end.

No actuary's certainty,
no form of ivoried kind
will keep her mirror company
this April in my mind

(nor forty days
nor forty nights
nor forty years
shall make it right

for what is past
is passed away,
and in its stead
no blooms today).


I remember her well
I remember her name;
to the place where she walked
I have come once again
to bargain with memory
for a dream that abides
of the succubus virgin
with sleep in her eyes.

Midnight Train to Downingtown

Tears of rage
on the last R5
from Market East
to all points west
recall to mind
the face of one
who might have said
as you once did
how it would be
a fitting end
to meet again
in this lone place.

Lonesome Row

In Lonesome Row the paving stones
are growing cold

and all the children who lived there
are growing old.

In Lonesome Row nobody sees;
the dreamer dies,

and in the row nobody cares,
nobody cries.

But in the row one day I'll go
and make my home,

and there will stay, will settle down
no more to roam,

and wait and welcome all who come
and are alone.

(February '86/March '87)

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