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.

listening to Coltrane while watching you play video games

it has been the year of jazz
in darkness. I cut my hand
on something I couldn’t see,
barely believed the blood was mine.
wrapped the flesh too thick
in gauze and tape,
made my fist a tool useless for loving
now everything tastes like copper.
I drink ice and ice until my mouth
becomes too cold for tasting.
half your face shadowed screen blue,
your pupils scuttle back and forth
like trapped bugs. a saxophone solo climbs
over the sound of pixel swords
clashing but you won’t be outdone,
yelling at your declining lives,
the insincerity of animated death.
I listen for the reliable high
hat’s sharp shush in the black.
a small piece of unshifting ground.
it is easier to love each other if we can’t see
what body we’re stuck with
though I do miss the strange ticks
of your mouth: your lips folding into petals
your tongue skimming the cusp
of mustache your teeth grinding like stones
under the low throb of the bass.
we buy plants together knowing
they’ll die unceremoniously
in this windowless room, spend
finite money on philodendron
silk leafed, doomed from the start.
their heart-leaves sound
like the soft crunch of beetles
beneath bare feet, honest
and final with their end. we discover
so many house plants
are poisonous to our dogs
but it takes precious time
to learn this

what’s lost

self-diagnosis to empty bathroom:
knots of the self grown wild, body riddled
with bullets made of flesh. brightly tiled tomb
for sorry organs made victim, whittled

down by the frantic brain, anxieties
turned wound. it began in the skull, that dried
gourd, noisy maraca. an irony:
imagined seeds bring real fruit, body abides

the mind. hypochondriac’s inventiveness—
the headache slides down, explores the chest, limbs
like a slug. wet and heavy. this abscess
eats all language, all the mind’s precious hymns.

it comes without context, no one to blame
for this sadness that offers no other name.

haiku series: a love poem

a sultry autumn
the squirrels already smell
soft scent of wood smoke

critters rummage through
oak, laminate magnolia
bold in their hunger

lessons in patience:
the eager walk home to you,
chipmunks in the road

kitchen ripe with smells:
tortillas gone soft with heat,
cilantro, fresh sweat.

spatula in hand
amidst metal and marble
you are so lovely.

hunger met with quesadilla,
finally, I relax.

lying parallel
on our old sofa, entwined.
the dogs lick our feet.

together, we wait
for sleep or other hungers.
we have our whole lives.

milk summer

I move around his body like glass or a fragile plant,
skirting its edges, touching it only with cupped
hands, feeding & watering on careful schedule.

I fear the finality of his presence, the fullness
of his being here. his lungs, life, picked
up and dragged cross country for what?

proximity, to sleep with sheets instead of states
between us. milkshakes nearly every day
in this summer that won’t break

and a dog for each of us. it’s everything
we wanted but the thing about satisfaction
is it doesn’t last. we’re on the edge of what

could go wrong. the scale could tip so many
ways: I leave chocolate out for an empty house
and the dogs turn up dead, we forget how

and why we used to fuck, he refuses hand towels
that match the curtains. our indulgences
grow foreign and soon don’t indulge in each other.

I wish I wasn’t scared of so many ways
we could end up. I want to move
through this city like a lover. unencumbered

by the weight of what we have already
given up. I want to see more futures
of us, park benched and satisfied

with our sweet small lives.

midtown hospital

helicopters perched on midtown
hospital two blocks from my bed,
whirring like metal bugs, descending
on the critical, the maybe
savable. it’s the loudest
at night: the heart’s favorite time
to call it quits. i can’t ignore
the question of who: whose
body fits the gurney, whose
face pulled open with pain,
what parts remain
intact. what if it’s a body
i know. what if i don’t find out
til morning.

mom had freakish emt stories
i asked for again, and again.
how many times can i hear
construction worker with a pole
dropped straight through his skull,
still living, walking, just suddenly
unable to bend. or motorcyclist
like a piece of paper folded
down the middle, licked, and ripped
by asphalt: reduced, suddenly, by half.
there is nothing to learn
from this except accidental violence
is one way to go. (i check my head
for holes gone unnoticed, continued
completeness of my limbs.)
that sometimes you are dead
before you know it.

i have never lost anyone, except
a saxophone teacher (after just
one lesson together) whose lungs
filled with blood gone hard
after anesthesia. i think
about him at least once
or twice a year but remember him
dead. how is it i remember everyone
i’ve ever known who died but so few
others? this loss of acquaintances is
a conversational commodity,
a place to direct scheduled
sadness, share in the peripheral grief.

each night is merciless
in its uncertainty—who
will make it to morning, whose phone
will ring with the news.
i think about how my mom coughs
thick after waking, my dad walks
off center and my love carries lumps
of fat or tumor beneath skin.
it’s never been one of them
skyborne, suspended by rotors
and so much air, but only
by chance. maybe i am ruined
by the lack of loss—i just need
something big to go. one example
of permanent absence i lived