rain race

leaving the restaurant we find ourselves
caught in the cold blast of movie-rain,
the kind of downpour that is a thousand ropes
connecting earth to sky. you are hell bent
on not getting wet and I refuse
to get wet alone. the car is four blocks away
so we run: you with your coat wrapped
like a blanket over your head, arms
like pistons, your pants darkening
in rivers up your legs. you have always
been faster than me but once
you were kinder. now, we run along
the unmarked border between love
and whatever end awaits us otherwise.
I chase after the momentary dams
of your feet, watching your heels rise
and fall like a fair ride growing small
in the distance. the streetlights float
atop the concrete like dozens of perfectly
spaced moons, pale faces just below
the surface. I imagine the street might open
like an ocean, the smooth dark asphalt
turned sea, deep and without
warning. that one moment I’d be running
through heavy ribbons of rain
and the next I’d be settling in the black
of ocean floor, perfect and unreachable
as shipwreck. instead, the concrete
proves solid beneath my feet. I find you
already in the passenger seat, jacket
stripped and panting, your clothes
as dark as the pavement, your skin
another light source. the inside of your
arm, dripping and white as tusk, the veins
like blue fish, exploring the parts of you
where I am no longer welcome.

haibun for obachan

two tiny Okinawan sisters in muumuus push eighty at a card table on the big island, drink half-glasses of bad wine and talk kumejima: spiral shells, as big as a baby, that ani pulled from the ocean floor, sake and drunk father too unsteady to make the cliff-side walk home alone. they use the names of those both loved & dead sparingly, do not mention the absence. there is too little time to visit all the mind’s graves. tipsy from drink and the pleasure of togetherness again, nearly two decades gone, they laugh at the new world’s bizarreries: dr. oz listing beni-imo, the small purple potato of Okinawa, as one of the year’s best superfoods. my obachan tells Sumiko about finding beni-imo in heaps at the grocery store in Junction City, Kansas. her utter disbelief. they must have sprouted arms and swum across the ocean. how else would they get to America? potatoes that can swim! certainly a super food. they break into near silent laughter, shielding their mouths with their hands, embarrassed at the looseness of their joy. my obachan speaks in spliced sentences. sworn off her childhood language for most of a life, sometimes she digs through a vocabulary too small in both languages and comes up empty. her fingers rummage through the air, find nothing but the hills and grooves of sumiko’s own palms.

two sisters clasp hands.
knowing passes between them
like a summer rain.

coming home

when he says he’s coming home
after a month in another state
doing what is promised necessity,
it feels like the end of a good book.
i have grown used to leftovers, to
the full width of the bed, constant
music over the good speakers.
there are two dogs and I have two
hands. the dishes are always done.

sure, there have been small
lonlinesses. once i realized I hadn’t
spoken aloud the entire day.
another time the old dog was sick
and i was alone with the fear so big
it took up the whole couch. i stood
or walked for two days until
the dog kept down dinner again.

i do what i should to ready
myself: i bake a pie he likes
or has significance, i vacuum
twice and darken the duster.
i know he won’t want it,
will mourn the death of the dust
mites and leave his plate
on the table just so it feels
like his home, too. i will resent

his little rebellions and dream myself,
as though mid snow-angel,
spread wide and happy.

summer camp

the girls bear the weight of themselves
like urns of water, balanced or sometimes
not. some falls onto their shoulders. knees
and elbows wet with their bodies’
misunderstandings. eating snacks on summer
camp cots, the girls laugh, full of air
and drops tumble into their hands,
a silent rain. hands make poor vessels
but they have been given nothing better.
here, July in the south, there is no sky.
guide the girls to the river to fill themselves
again. we drink pickle juice and runoff
and throw up empty. we are all bad
at saving for later. when the girls eat
all their snacks the first night, i am pitiless
and still so hungry.
the first and only time i held a bird
it was dead. found wing and splinter
in the stairwell, the girls sit around me as if waiting
for a speech. their pupils wide and all
black: my body is small and upside down
in their eyes. they are old enough
for this but not old enough to go at it alone.
this place is full of different deaths:
the wasps spin drunkenly off the cinderblock,
june bugs like flying oil stains, flies pile up
in the windowsills, the girls bleed through
their sheets. every corner is a burial
ground. summer teaches us what we can take.
the faucets leak red clay, the creek
has gone to rust. it’s dirt we know. we bury
the bird without words in the soft muck,
refill our chests with river water. the mud
is cool and gritty on our tongues.

(1)

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.

going out with gusto

seven year old me said when i die
i want to go by tornado. scooped
up and whirled and whirled until
probably some fatal airborne collision
or the wind tired of me, dumped me
onto something sharp or hard or
just too far down. this was the best
i could imagine: some kind of glory,
gusto, pizzaz. maybe there’d be
a body maybe there wouldn’t.
the mystery felt good out loud.

i have considered other ways.
for a while it was getting smaller
until i winked out. one minute
we’re talking and maybe you
can see through me a little but
i am definitely there and the next:
air. surely it can’t be this lovely
but the imaginings were sweet.
this time it might have been closer
than the tornado but not much.

i spent a few months thinking
of keeping a tally on my hands
and a few days doing it. of what
it didn’t matter: maybe the cups
of coffee i drank or the number
of dogs i saw and then the number
of times i wanted to see a whole pack
of dogs all at once. that wishing
was the same as wishing for help
but i wouldn’t have believed it.

now mostly i’m boring. i try to forget
to fasten my seatbelt (though never
on the highway because somehow
that feels like too much). i chew
my fingers to bleeding and play
the overconfident pedestrian. i blink
comically slowly. it’s a silly charade
because it’s not. when i dream i dream
of tornadoes.

madison

this city is a quilt
of places i know.
it’s unavoidable: contact
with the familiar. each house
i’ve been is a reason
to leave. an ache. first
it’s Little Blue on Johnson
where my friends live
without me. i’ve eaten jam
and warmed biscuits here.
a stack of my bread baskets
sits on one counter and
they look like part of a stage
set. i go inside and can’t sit down.
i pass a house jack could have lived
but didn’t. i want to imagine
him inside but not expecting
me. sometimes it’s good
enough to know someone
is there. still playing
the guitar or slicing mushrooms
or smoking a cigarette or
next, it’s where i came,
once, after a date to let
a boy rub himself on my
legs or stomach or wherever
even though i didn’t really
want to. he grabbed
at the softness snuggled
around my waist and said
something about liking curvy
girls and then i liked him
even less. then, the place
a friend of a friend doesn’t live
anymore. people i love drank wine
on the porch and were happy.
it rained so we raced, bared bloody
feet through parking ramp
puddles screaming names
of those running screaming
my own name and not knowing
who it belonged to