obachan standing, bloody
hoe in hand, eyes wide and wet
with fear or victory, four foot
black rat snake, no danger
to anything human,
cut to pieces at her feet.

first time i am scared
of this woman who loves me,
glad the garden tools sleep
outside. i touch the snake’s
lonely head and obachan
snaps in a voice from a different
throat. this moment she is
a mother again, gone the smoothed
corners of age.

she realizes
her ridiculousness: this
unreasonable violence.
the death around her feet
like the start of a garden.


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.

death in the family

he calls at seven pm to tell me.
when i see “dad” on the screen i get nervous –
he calls when someone dies, the only
thing he thinks isn’t proper to say in an email.

it is a process of elimination: not mom, she just
texted me an hour ago. not brother, mom would
call first. answer.

grandpa hank finally died. died in his sleep.
heart had been beating only 35 times a minute
for weeks. a medical mystery how he lasted this long.

tongue feels like a trowel in my mouth.
ah. bummer. 
he says, we both know it isn’t.
tongue starts to dig its way down my throat.

personal question

from the other side of the fire he says,
can i ask you a really personal question?
i nod like shaking a can of soup.

he asks about my mother’s dead babies, why
she kept giving birth to bits of bone and ear
and whether my insides could glue together
something whole.

he defends himself against my unspeaking:
maybe I shouldn’t care about this but
maybe I just want to know what I am
getting myself into.

I want to reach up, pull out a handful
of uterus: is this what you are getting
yourself into?

next time I suck on his fingers I think
of my mother heavy with child full of holes.
next time I am bleeding, I imagine the
beginning of bodies in every clot
suspended in toilet water.

he says: I didn’t mean to upset you.
I kiss him like a watermelon hitting pavement:
wet red flesh on concrete.



she writes letters to my dad like they are lovers.
she calls him “my david” and i imagine her typing
with her tongue, wedging a nail beneath each key
like a crowbar, swallowing without teeth.

when she has sent 17 letters in as many days
and received nothing back, she asks about my
mom, “the kids.” my dad tells me she is sick,
that he showed her kindness years ago and
that is the kind of thing people don’t forget.

another month: she tells him she is going to
have to kill him. she emails pictures of knives,
reminds him of his own address. at the end
of a long string of threats, she threatens
the family dog. finally she has crossed
the line.

holes in the earth (rewrite)

Cambodia swallowed him like a pill
washed him down with ocean water –
mixed with sticky Khmer noodles,
Amok and curried vegetables hot
as equator sun – settled in the country’s
great belly, and some days still
it was hard to stomach him.

two months in the jungle country
in a one room apartment
with a woman, skin like split lychee
he peels fruit with his hands and
next day she is back for more.

six months of stripped fruit flesh and
she tells him, you fed me so much mango
i am growing one inside me.
his knees buckle beneath palm wine,
he climbs out of his skin
to bear the summer heat.

they drink cool broth from yesterday’s
noodle soup, lick salt from upper lips.
papaya skins the size of a baby
pile up in the sink.

A Portrait

She cooks dinner with Anderson Cooper,
tossing her vegetables in olive oil –
two slow twists of the pepper grinder.
when he pauses to smile, she asks
whether he’s eaten yet, imagines her
hands like crumpled paper serving him
forkfuls of overcooked salmon.

Four ounces of measured red wine
cools a clunky crystal cup,
mouth like a crack in her face
splitting to sip the eight dollar bottle.

After, she welcomes Don Lemon
into her home. Greets him the way
she never gets to greet her children.
Maybe she shifts her body to keep her eyes
in line with his, the closest thing to sex since 1994.
Maybe she stands up, puts her fingers
against his fuzzy television face, the length
between two knuckles, and asks
if he’d care for some dessert.