Prayer for my New Daughter
with lines by Audre Lorde and William Butler Yeats
A soul in chrysalis, in first agonized molt,
must choose: LADIES, or MENS.
For some—for you—these rooms are fraught,
an open field where lines are drawn: think of
the White-Only signs. Or Serrano’s Piss Christ
and Duchamp’s Fountain, pitted with acid
and icepicks, de-faced. As for restrooms called
“Bathrooms with Urinals,” no, his words
will never dismantle the master’s house.
For an hour I have walked and prayed,
musing on icepicks, how they’re made
to fit a blind hand; how kept so well honed.
You are soft as sown grass and fierce as cut glass.
You pack your new purse with lipstick, and mace.
First published in North American Review, Fall 2014.
[Note: written after an attack on transgender college students attempting to use a restroom with a sign that said “Bathroom with Urinals”]
1,123 reported killings of trans people worldwide within the last five years.—Examiner.com
Transgender, as in counterfeit, as in someone appearing
or attempting to be a member
of the other gender, as in equated with transsexual
or cross-dresser or pervert
as in a term used by ugly girls as a defense mechanism
against prettier girls. As in
the only solution lies in psychology or religion or,
until 1960, an icepick lobotomy
done without drugs. Sufferance means passive permission
from lack of interference,
as in tolerance of something intolerable, the teen set on fire
at the back of the bus, the way the world
daily scathes you, my fear for your safety a daily sufferance,
as in endurance, as in [archaic] misery,
as in Middle English or Latin equivalent of suffer, akin
in its way to suffrage,
the right to vote. As in vote for, support—child, I am trying
to support you in this—
as in Ecclesiastical, a prayer, an intercessory prayer or petition.
Intercessory, come between.
Intercede, yes—my body—between yours and theirs.
First published in the Bellingham Review 2015 (Finalist, 49th Parallel Award)
the olive tree that dropped its great gout
of dark fruit onto asphalt for the swerve
and spinout etched in fresh virgin press;
blame the natural law that made helpless
bodies attract and collide then come to rest
in the acacia-treed canyon. The driver sat
behind the wheel, his side not pierced,
not yet. Yes, he was drunk, but only
with joy for the lovely, lithe boy
now fused with the car, shrinkwrapped
in leather and steel, and veiled
in the webbed windshield; the boy
who sang backup Gospel like a bruised angel
and was the hope of his whole Bronx block.
Blame the last bright note that opened
his throat and sank into pollen and dust.
First published in The Seattle Review, 2010.
Gratitude for an Autistic Son
He speaks, and when we speak, he understands.
Not like my friend’s boy, who tap-taps the board
behind his bed, sucking on both his hands.
Who taps the wood with his forehead, in a kind
of mandarin code. A light’s gone underground:
no speech, but he can gesture and understand
—better off than the steel-cribbed child, blind
even to pain, left at the Home. Whose eyes are wide
and blue. Who also began by sucking his hands,
then his teeth came in. What’s left of his hands
are mittened in gauze and bound to his side—
our son speaks. He talks, we talk. He understands.
And this is the crux: he talks; we understand
when he hungers or thirsts, is sad or scared.
He’s not left in his shit, we put food in his hands.
He’s not wild pinned in a trap, chained
to his own spine, gnawing the only way out.
He speaks. He holds a pen. He understands.
He has all of all of his fingers. On both of his hands.
First published in North American Review, 2013, Second place for the James Hearst Poetry Prize
O Heart, this happened, or it did not.
In a room with green walls,
my son was born. The cord was torn
too soon, so his head
was cut off to save his heart. He lived
for a long time.
For a long time there was no breath or cry.
When finally he spoke,
he spoke the wide, whorled leaves of corn.
He spoke the crickets
in clusters beneath the sheaves, he sang
the soil in. He sang the wind
in the dune and hush of ebb tide. Some say
he died. Some say he died.
First published in The Hudson Review, Summer 2013.