Sunday, February 26, 2006

Florida

This evening walk around Lettuce Lake
begins on the planks of good intentions.
Palm fronds droop, like fingers over railing, over land
sliding below wetland, and weeds
yielding along an indeterminable wave to duckweed,
a false green carpet to the door of the lake.
Bald cypresses, wearing beards of moss, sit
surprised in water, their greyish knees
breathing above the rootless bladderworts.
Here, the wading bird is king, the Great Egret
picking its way between land and lake,
spearing the temporary frog to an unexpected hump of ground.
Here, the roseate spoonbill swirls the mud.
Even the osprey, who nests in feather-tips of trees,
must bury itself in the lake, wings held up
like an archaic angel landing on a gravestone,
before rising with silver in its beak.

And here, reads the sign in stainless steel raised by park authorities,
is Alzheimer’s Walk
that travels two feet above the bog, two feet
from the leafy stink, but does not sink.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Hungry Ghosts

My father took me picnicking in Hell
in Tiger Balm Gardens when I turned five.
Horse-Face and Ox-Head flanked the door to quell

tourists, returning ghosts, recaptured live.
Small spectator of retribution’s drama,
I shuffled through the dark; I’d rather dive

in and out but the crowd before King Yama
passed as if shackled by the chains of crime.
Father explained to me the law of Karma

while a mirror screened a whole lifetime
in a flash. Jostled into Court One, I balked
at heads and arms and legs, in bloody mime,

stuck out from under giant slabs of rock,
impossible to tell which limb belonged
to which gory head on the granite block

(Father said, unfilial boys, they wronged
their parents who gave them everything);
into Court Two where sinners had their tongues

pierced by long knives for lifelong gossiping;
in Three, the greedy were handcuffed and whipped;
the tax evaders, in Court Four, drowning;

one body blurred into another, stripped
of eyes or bowel, heart torn out with a hook,
and on a hill of swords a traitor was flipped.

It wasn’t me. It wouldn’t be. I shook
as if my bones, and not that man’s, were scraped
by sharpeners, for writing a dirty book,

my butt, and not his, by a spear-tip raped.
Expecting the worst horror in Court Ten,
I imagined punishments nightmare-shaped.

A blue wheel, painted on the back of the den,
displayed the paths for the purged souls’ rebirth
as insects, fish, birds, animals or men

depending on each individual’s worth.
The worst are born as hungry ghosts, Father said
and strode ahead of me out from the earth.

Under a raintree’s shade, he laid out bread,
ham, apple juice. I still didn’t feel well.
Eat. Don’t waste food, Father said. We fed.

*

I’m turning thirty-five today at Soul
Mountain, Connecticut, USA,
a Writing Resident on foreign dole.

Winston is coming up for my birthday.
I’m walking with a black dyke poet called
Venus, along the river’s snow-packed way.

I tell her, smiling, I must have been installed
as an emperor’s favorite boy in a past life
after I schemed to pleasure those blue-balled.

I was a Taoist priest who left his wife
for Mount Tai to achieve immortal fire.
Such hunger turns fruit to flame, nuts to knives.

I tell her my book rises on dammed desire,
a book my father would have called dirty.
Last summer, tired of being damned a liar,

I stopped Father from switching on the TV
and announced to my parents I am gay.
I talked too much. He didn’t look at me.

When I wound down, he mumbled, it’s okay,
and flicked the TV switch. In bed, that night,
he consoled Mother that every family prays

a secret sutra that is hard to recite—
a crippled son, retard or murderer.
Mother repeated to me his insight.

He treated Winston to a satay dinner
at Lau Pa Sat and tried to make small talk.
He has not asked me about him ever.

The air nips us. Venus cuts short her walk
and retreats indoors to make a late breakfast.
I’m left standing beside the golden stalks

of cattails tall as I am, gazing across
the river to trees branching spears and barbs.
A deer noses the brown scrub. Then a burst

of knocking, from the thicket, the smart stabs
of a woodpecker tapping in a bowl
of bark. I should go. Winston’s coming up.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Hungry Ghosts (1 of 2)

My father took me picnicking in Hell
in Tiger Balm Gardens when I turned five.
Horse-Face and Ox-Head flanked the door to quell

tourists, returning ghosts, recaptured live.
Small spectator of retribution’s drama,
I shuffled through the dark; I’d rather dive

in and out but the crowd before King Yama
passed as if shackled by the chains of crime.
Father explained to me the law of Karma

while a mirror screened a whole lifetime
in a flash. Jostled into Court One, I balked
at heads and arms and legs, in bloody mime,

stuck out from under giant slabs of rock,
impossible to tell which limb belonged
to which gory head on the granite block

(Father said, unfilial boys, they wronged
their parents who gave them everything);
into Court Two where sinners had their tongues

pierced by long knives for lifelong gossiping;
in Three, the greedy were handcuffed and whipped;
the tax evaders, in Court Four, drowning;

one body blurred into another, stripped
of eyes or bowel, heart torn out with a hook,
and on a hill of swords a traitor was flipped.

It wasn’t me. It wouldn’t be. I shook
as if my bones, and not that man’s, were scraped
by sharpeners, for writing a dirty book,

my butt, and not his, by a spear-tip raped.
Expecting the worst horror in Court Ten,
I imagined punishments nightmare-shaped.

A blue wheel, painted on the back of the den,
displayed the paths for the purged souls’ rebirth
as insects, fish, birds, animals or men

depending on each individual’s worth.
The worst are born as hungry ghosts, Father said
and strode ahead of me out from the earth.

Under a raintree’s shade, he laid out bread,
ham, apple juice. I still didn’t feel well.
Eat. Don’t waste food, Father said. We fed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Natural for a Man

I was hurrying by the college green
where sunlit men in sleeveless shirts and jeans
were flicking a Frisbee and catching it
with hands grown up and sure in baseball mitts
when a deep voice called out to one, “Yo, Drew!
New haircut! Nice! You look so beautiful.”
Gold-curls who stood the nearest to me wheeled
round on his hips, shaded his eyes, revealed
white teeth in smiling to the ardent fan,
as if it was most natural for a man
to be appreciated by a cock,
without fear of being made a laughing stock.
The sun-flecked moment, flicked for someone’s hand,
curved into me, winded and then wing-spanned.
I flew down to the city (on a train)
and, in a quiet park, landed the plane
of my hot hand in yours. You kept it there.
Then, after leaving the fenced grassy square,
you shook your hand free as if stung by scorn
as we walked down into Hoyt-Schermerhorn.
You looked around, I followed your unease—
three young black men in baseball caps and tees;
a Chinese mum; a white girl with her guy.
You leaned apart as though I was poisoned ivy.
The walls grew white and shrill. The train pulled in.
The doors warned Watch your step before opening.
I watched and did not touch you in the train
and chafed and chafed against our skins’ restraint.
In your apartment, you drew down the blinds,
switched off the moon and other lights. My mind
fired sharp orders as my fingers fumbled.
My larynx was a lark but my mouth mumbled,
you look so beautiful. “What did you say?”
Nothing. Nothing but well-rehearsed clichés
prompted, you’ll burn in hell for being a fag;
you shame your parents; you’re a girl in drag.
The moment pulled up, full of waiting, pulled
out from your body’s platform into the dulled
mouth of the tunnel all things rushed toward.
Even the shiny disc, the gold award
of a gold afternoon unearned, unstopped,
could be, despite all green intentions, dropped.

Monday, February 13, 2006

To Philip Larkin Who Said

“Deprivation is for me what daffodils were to Wordsworth.”

For half a life I followed you, Old Fart,
hoping to catch the accent of your art.
You cussed the dogs of boredom pissing on stones
engraved with others’ names, one with your own.
At tea, curling around your feet, Bitch yawned.
When a friend praised your poems, Fido fawned.
The dogs, and not the girls, kept you alone
and dug up beds of flowers to find the bone.

Now I’ve traded in my dogs for men,
hung up my leash but not my ball-point pen
which empties in detailing ecstasies,
dancing, gold-petaled memories.
Embracing this hot afternoon, I take
root in fair, rotting bodies by some lake.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Grand Historian Makes a Virtue of Necessity

Dear Heart, you hear the gossip Lord Hu circulates
about how I begged the Emperor to castrate me
instead of quaffing down the poisoned cup, how base
I am to return a remnant of the blade to my father.

The slander passes in winecups around the court
once every year. More often if the border’s quiet.
My name’s divulged to new officials as a joke
or else a warning not to defame the Son of Heaven.

Defame! Because I spoke up for General Li
who fought the Xiongnu brutes until he was brought down.
Each day my bowels twist nine times. The nights! So wrote
Zhouyang: Accumulated slander destroys bone.

Sweat springs from my cold hands and runs into the ink.
I have completed writing Records—all one hundred
and thirty chapters—from the earliest sage-kings
down to the present reign—more than two thousand years.

To the fragments gathered by my father for the work
he dreamt about but did not start, I added flesh
and bones, stitched them together into history.
The Master edited one Spring and Autumn Annals

which Records extends—Essays, Chronological Tables,
Hereditary Houses. Lord Hu’s father preens
in Chapter Forty-Nine, embroidered with such true
colors that his son’s balls, in his rich robe, will shrink.

In my Biographies, kings are threaded with assassins,
male favorites, butchers, turtle-shell diviners, women,
whose names are commonly lost unless they cling like fleas
to a warhorse tail flying over bamboo strips.

My work will live and penetrate every house,
village, city, district, province, court and state.
The written word is sharper than the word of mouth.
It will scratch out my shame in Silkworm Hall. It will

revise my name. In Hell my father will have his book
though not his son. I chose, my Heart, a higher duty
when I begged him for my mutilated life. Burn
this letter in a cup of wine and drink to me. Qian.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Come on, Straight Boy

Come on, straight boy, and make gay love with me.
One day of loving will not make you queer,
if queer is what you will not bend to be.
Loving men is but a change of gears.

Why settle for a girl, an undulating
waterbed, and stress leaks pinched too late?
Why with an oven she loves regulating,
you stick your tray of cookies in, and wait?

Men love themselves when they love other men.
Loving themselves, they know well how to give
each other head, maneuver two or ten
round the bend of straightforward relief.

What have you got to lose? Leap, acrobat!
You can still fall back on pussy-cat.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wildwood, Nebraska City

This poem appears in the inaugural online issue of andwerve, a journal out of LA.

I wrote the first draft of the poem while on a 2-week residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Thanks, Julie and Jess, for making me feel so welcomed. The poem received the benefit of crits from MonoE, Urizen, Kemmer, shadygrove and Dunc at PFFA. Thanks, everyone of you.