Anyway, Love

While we are here.

No, there isn’t a map, but you’ve heard this before. That isn’t what you’re after, is it? When you speak of what you never knew.

So much is obscured by the fog of empire. Maybe if it blew into the thin air of the last mountaintop at the exact moment of your arrival, still living, at its narrow peak––then you’d be able to see your way down. But maybe not.

Fair enough. How much blood in the veins of the earth, gathered from these wrecks and battles across time? The waste of it we call history and imagine this a map to what we used to be, that the discovery of this might involve some ancient key, glowing like the last fifteen minutes of a quest film, to lead us forward from our stadium seats, into the light.

But I don’t know, except for being here in the dirt, with clouds all week, and now mud from the rains, and here comes the wind again and those questions about what it might blow away or into us. I am here with these others; we’re tethered for now, and so there’s nowhere to go, is there, if they are here, too? Nowhere better but the staying while they are here, too, even as most of them are strangers by official standards. For which I have little use.

This morning, I was reading the words of five poets I’ve only ever known by the flesh of their words, and I knew I loved them for the way each sang of someday, when I learn to love––


Inspired when I chanced upon this Dean Rader poem, which echoes poems by Nâzim HikmetRoger ReevesOcean Vuong, and Frank O’Hara. What a stunning chorus across time.


Happily after us.

 . . . And then one day we were empty, depleted of selves, and when this happened, at first it was quiet all around, all of us stunned by the sudden vanishing of familiar noise. 

Then came laughter. The babies started it. They seemed thrilled to find us suddenly without filters. Like them, we couldn’t help ourselves. It was hilarious. We went on for a long time.

We made a mess of our faces, a mess of our forums. The rooms exploded with an extravagance of sudden joy, and all decorum shattered at our feet. Leaking from our eyes, it washed us.

We looked around and we saw one another. The babies knew us.

In the Mesh

A visitor to the abstractionists.

There was a visitor. The visitor had some questions but didn’t give a name. 

The visitor inquired. Let me ask you this: why did you bother with a trip to the moon if all you found were pleasant pictures to remind you back to the optimism of the intellect that got you here?

Writing in light is a matter of stage management, the visitor told us. And it’s worth asking how you got from the beginning word to this endless buffet of utopian manifestos made manifest by your co-opting of the lens. 

We didn’t know what to say. There’s a start, the visitor nodded. Try abandoning confidence.

One of us moved to speak.

Shh, the visitor said. Look around. Consider, for example, this net of records. You keep trying to close it, to capture its contents. But it will not be closed, and you are in it. Debt, in the end, will have no satisfaction.

The visitor was silent, then. One among us asked, what are you thinking?


Nothing? we pressed.

Here’s a cipher: zero. Without it, no algorithm: 00101001 . . ., and so on. You were so excited when you made that a starting point, for calculating the value of a loaf of bread against the cost of making it, the weight of fish against the trouble of going out; the power of, say, the atom bomb. But as the net only grows more intricate, cutting blood off at the wrists, are you any closer to seeing, as you say, The Big Picture

Abstraction always does this, and only the abstractionists have the stolen luxury of negating particulars. This junco, this scarred back, these soiled diapers, this afternoon, that baby’s pink sock in the middle of the road. Even subtle omissions in the particulars of birdsong make it impossible for one to be recognized as a member of its own kind.

So, we asked the visitor. Um, how are you, anyway?

Great. Fine. Take your pick among the abstractions you prefer. Each is a substitute for the here before you, a zero to add to or take from. 

An old saying: the devil in the details. As if to negate the trope of the killer in disguise.

But where does the time go? As it runs through your splayed fingers and you still forget to drink, too distracted by your reflecting pool of questions of who you are and the meaning of it all and the big nothings of what now and when, forgetting the bodies right here––one, and one, and one––preferring the salvation of nowhere.

We wanted the visitor to elaborate, but the visitor turned, saying someone needs to check the buds, the eggs, the dishes and the tiny nests, and the waters, while you orbit around your zeroes and keep on deciding there are not enough fish.

Constant Witness

For César Vallejo.

In the presence of endings, your imagination lifted, and death was never far. Where others ran away, you went to meet it. You waded into waters of long suffering, returning with the precious and unseen.

With death never far from where you rested, you rested only briefly. You knew waters deep and rough enough to drown the best of us, how they silenced, and the violence of a blow to stop the mouth.

Still, you spoke of longing and living in a fallen world. Beholding, for you, was a series of flashes. Each pierced you. You kept looking.


Early this morning, I spent time with the work of César Vallejo, whose life I mean to honor here.


Among the living.

The heart of the living beats hard, time out of mind when the hot nerve breaks. When nowhere was steady, we gathered in pairs and threes, hoping to hear a call or cry. Wanting to respond, in times like this, to anyone, drums like an ache. The tenderness of those faces was spectacular.

Then it was late, all eyelids and moons and vertebrae on the shore at our feet. Sniffing the tide, the split shells, the seaweed. Something sat near us, against the wet cliff. It did not speak. One of us whispered, I have been waiting. It is understood that he means his whole life. It is understood that he means, to be brought to something like belief. It is understood that this does not matter, now. We are still here.


Witness, waiting.

The tracks uncross, uncoupling the stars in our eyes. It is late and the light won’t train toward the alley by the liquor store on Broadway. Saturday night leaks greasy blues against neon signs for lotto prizes and fast-food payday loans. The discount tire guy waves and falls, to be raised again, a blow-up Lazarus. Alive. 

The buzz of broken streetlights reminds that everyone is hanging as you are, by the thread to which we’ve tied some whispered prayer. Give us this day, our daily bread––no, never mind, take it back. Regrets fur like smoke at the crosswalk, teasing, Go. Not Yet. Hurry. You’ll miss it again.

My eyes hurt. Show me one thing blooming. Here they are, cellophane-wrapped with other plastic-plated symbols of significance, ready for purchase, bright tokens. Pang of grief, but you work with what you have. The hungry eye learns to make do. The gas station oasis lit to magnify the lines on the faces in line, we avert our eyes in respect for one another’s naked needs. 

If not this day again, give me something. I pay to spill back onto Broadway. Beneath the glow of a No Vacancy sign, I wait to cross, sated now, the stems in hand. There are others on foot, and we stand at the banks. Not yet, don’t go. You can feel something hold us by the words we still won’t speak, nudging toward the next chance to give it all away.

Repair Work

Best done in darkness.

Considering the challenge of writing among the dead; the fabrics connecting blood and screens to war machines, it can be helpful to keep attention in the unlit regions. This is why I prefer the dark corners, the spaces where all I can do with language is acknowledge its opacity, and all I can do with looking is notice the limits of sight. So much of what passes for light is blinding. I am suspicious of acts of solving and fixing, when applied to the living. I can’t fix anything, have no solutions, and prefer not to be distracted from the living by any more offers from those that claim they do. Leave me to the tender work of mending instead.

On Sanctuary

With June Jordan.

When the visionary told you, Man is not a tree, you took note. The punchline had to do with the whole country up and moving every few years. Out of one town, into another––given the means, which were a significant factor. You considered reasons. Why the impulse to cut and run; to fly, stop, land?

Meanwhile, you could not––would not, stop thinking of the child who couldn’t flee, who didn’t make it. You refused coexistence with the mental calculations that allowed the peace of some to be secured by the occupation of others.

It is a fundamental need, you said, basic as shelter, food. For sanctuary, you said. Because man is not a tree.


Adapted from June Jordan’s 1989 essay, “Finding the Way Home.”

Ends Meeting

Notes from an underground.

The border of a wound is sewn to the opposite border until the gap between them recovers its missing substance, the dormant body waiting underground as others come and go, tending. 

They sing as they come and go, tending. They check the dressings, the heart’s drum. They find a song. They avoid demands for answers to the old questions. They are too busy with slow singing. The dormant body has new questions. When it comes, the old ones will no longer matter. They call them forth, the body and its questions. 

What happens in this shelter is mostly waiting and song. The dormant bodies will not come until they are called. They will not approach the old borders with their new questions until they have swelled beyond the lines that held them, and when this happens, they will sing a response.

Every Lifted Voice

Why the singing.

Now a manifesto, now jazz, now a love lyric; through these voiceprints of language now the witness takes a stand. Another stirs the mischief of the multitudes within each vibrating body of this vast and trembling We.

The point? Only this. Create a landscape wide enough to hold the simultaneous becoming dance of each and all, from the last beginning to the next. Any tent will tear against the strain.

But what do you need? Only to feel tended to and left well enough alone. You might try taking scissors to these pages, and then make a world to hold.

To hold us? That too.

What are you doing? This art is simply a protest. Against the dying off.


“Voiceprints of language” is a phrase June Jordan once used to describe poetry.