playing at death

it was like this: i hear five-year old footsteps
and drape myself off the edge of the bed
eyes rolled like white marbles for his discovery.
he walks into the room. first he says kiyoko
i know you are ok get up ‘yoko helloooo
then he says kiyoko? you okay?
and pokes me in the cheek. it is hard
not to laugh but that would ruin it, this joke
we are sharing. his voice rises
and i can hear the crying building
in his throat. ‘yoko stop it get up. please.
get up. it is amazing how young
children recognize death. it is just the two of us
in this big house and he can’t reach the phone.
i am still holding my breath. it hurts
but it is worth it. this is not a joke
this is about power, about being older
and smarter and able to be so still.
he is crying now, really crying
the kind that only little kids do. it takes
their whole bodies working at the grief.
suddenly it’s over, the thrill of the whole thing;
it’s just the two of us in this big house
and i ruined it. i unroll my eyes and get up,
hugging his boy shoulders saying sorry
i’m sorry i don’t know why i did that but i know
i’ll do it again and he isn’t mad.
he’s just happy that i am okay
and that is the worst part.



after she called to tell me
he was in the hospital,
i swallowed the fingernails
i had been growing for months,
tore the razor scabs until shins
freckled with blood and skin,
pulled at lips until they hung from
the corners of my mouth like sidewalk worms.

i sat at the edge of the lake to meditate
feet entrenched in trashed mud
but instead I siphoned coffee down my
throat and nose until ulcers in my stomach
matched those on his gums.

slivers of algae shined lake glass
made comforting holes in the back of my thighs,
the sighing of thumb-size swells
became louder than the sound of
skull-bound neurons firing.

Johnny or Bobby

Little brothers should be named Johnny
or Bobby or something that shows they are small
but will one day be men.

I keep dreaming of swallowing my brother’s
eyes, spooning them gently from beneath his lashes, taking
them into my throat
too light to be dealt the job of looking at things so hard
to see

except this is not a scene of violence
he does not remember ever having his eyes
and when I take his teeth – not all at once
but singularly,
as a little girl pulls petals from the pimpled center
of a daisy, he forgets those, too.

The little girl with her toes
dusted in pollen, a gaze too big for ten years
asks her blooming oracle about the nature of things.

the flower is silent.
my brother asks why it doesn’t answer
his eyes revolve like planets behind my tonsils,
his teeth clink guiltily against a pocket of pennies and pop-tabs,
I tell him it is just the nature of daisies.

To Brother:

I dangled stubby legs off the edge of the white hospital bed
dug fat fingers angrily into the bleached sheets-
If you hurt mommy to crawl out of her
So eager to explore fluorescence
Why wouldn’t you open your eyes?

I wanted you to walk months before you did.
February, and your head thumped against the marble of our kitchen floor
Tiny domed feet couldn’t support
The weight of the body I set on them
And you cried until Mom yelled at me-
Even at 7 months you understood revenge.

I once wrote poetry about you stealing my mom from the inside out
You took her black hair,
Her size 8 pants,
And her heart.

13 years later your eyes are almost always open
The light beneath your door is on
For my midnight snacks and morning runs
And I just wish you opened that door
To hug mother
A little more often.