Poetry Summer 2020

August Wedding

A boy stands
on his hands. His pleated pants
splay like a tree split
by lightning, still blazing
orange in the evening.

Grass-flecked mud squelches 
between his fingers
while the stitching of his sport
coat strains
his armpits.

Blood floods
his head. Chatter
of birds and relatives
in the drumming sound:

like red-plumed legionaries
marching back to General’s
mercenary throne. Then a draft

of smoke, a flipped steak.
Violins begin.

His hair flicks
falls upward
as he rights himself
to cross the purple lawn

and fill the gap
in line they

left for him
between the men’s

black suits.
Their backs settle

like sand into
one shore: in a wave

at night, the dark clouds of quartz
swirl, then spread 

under the foam, surrendering
to the coast that begot

their grains.
Above the breakers

planets rise from the horizon
red, black, brown, blond

like men who stand turning
together toward the aisle.
Poetry Summer 2020

Mother Keeps Us on a Merry-Go-Round

After living in Miramar Inn for three weeks,
I realize we are not on vacation.

My mother spends days in bed, never
moving, even when we try to shake her.

On this day, like all the others,
my sister and I forage food from

the continental breakfast, just in case
we don’t have the money for lunch that day.

We make off with our haul to the playground in the dusty field
behind the hotel, which is really just a single gray

merry-go-round, and we spin and spin
and spin, morning light barely breaking 

the mountain peaks. This morning, like all the others,
we try to forget what the world feels like.

Our mom runs out to us
screaming about running

off without telling someone, but then she
just keeps on spinning us,

and laughs at our oblivious giggles
and for a moment,

she is not thinking about the hotel we can’t afford,
or the food we don’t have, or money that won’t last.

She forgets too.
Poetry Summer 2020

a smoot away

legend has it that he was a stout boy
that oliver r. smoot of lambda chi
stretching all 5 foot 7 inches
of his oliver arms, oliver legs, oliver body
above the enticing midnight water
across the cold harvard bridge
pridefully picked up by his brothers
positioned where his head left off
and his toes began
ticking off the bridge as a measurement stick
each line streaky and chalky
and a smoot.

google maps has it that i’m 1,384,776 smoots
from dorm to home
oliver would only have to lie down a couple
hundred times
hundred thousand times
across neighborhood taco joints
sprinting through know-every-cement-crack back-alleys
by please-let-me-stay-the-night friends’ houses
over no harvard bridge or water
but landlocked panhandle and manmade lake
he’d have to lie under, on, over
that lake where the radio waves of “suburbia”
and “idle town”
and some senior year cry still echo
slowly rippling
as we blink out of red eyes
and sore minds.

rumor has it that it’s only 1,384,776 smoots
of spilled slushies, rushed drive-thrus
last-minute turn signals mowing over highway lines
that oliver would have to endure
interstate miles that all 5 foot 7 inches
of my arms, my legs, my body
the same height as oliver
would have to retrace
tick-mark up, recompute
calculate kundera’s mathematical paradox in nostalgia:
“that it is the most powerful
in early youth when the volume
of the life gone by
is quite small.”

how, i wonder,
can the distance between dorm and home
stretch farther than a million olivers
but also be one short me
one smoot.
Poetry Summer 2020

palindromic time: Interrogating Melancholy, Ancient Neuroscience

Last night I faltered
in my dream as 
a hint of poison started to race in mocking circles,
flaring into a mitosis of carbon monoxide, 
asphyxiating the air.
I dreamed you, while they said 
listen, said you make certain, terrifying, choices about your life.

Smiling benignly, they rip away your will to live
Wrap it, cold like rewashed silverware and 
emboss it on the menu, 
etching a gold filigree of choice: 
Would you like the remission today or a month ago? The disease medium rare?
Spritz sandalwood incense, seduce the rotting into a sinister black.

They have a map of the world, of the brain, 
of my brain and my body,
and there is the equator, and there 
is where you’re going,
along the optimal path to falling
off the edge of the world. 
There, there. 

Speechless in the dream, I strain to ask
why it so shameful to be too weak to stand, to take a sabre for a staff?
Because when I try to startle awake, it feels like stumbling,
wild, through toxic air, my arms heaving and swinging at massive ghosts,
Sprinting away from candlelit banquet illusions.

They feed you until you’re drunk on 
silence, until you forget the balm of loneliness 
and breathless stillness, the erupting atoms 
underneath the proteins hormones serous fluid, 
circulating endlessly like stardust,
Until you’re drugged, unseeing
as the cancer metastasizes — 
seething bloody, bursting raw, 
thrashing out of body.

Half-awake, the very thing, backwards, 
is still the same as you and I, 
inside-out and torn, worn-out, our
hearts ripped open, thinking right wanting 
wrong wanting right writhing raw

raw and writhing, right? your wanting wrong
wanting right thinking of opening 
our hearts, ripping at worn-out seams, insides spilling out.
I am the same as you,
still backwards, startling half-awake.

No. They don’t have a map of me, my mind and my life.
Nor of you. They can’t see our cycles of despair and triumph, 
nebulous clouds and mountain-texture, the single neon-lighted diner and slowly rolling fog.

I don’t have a map either, but I am writing one. 

I am writing one in stone and copper and glass, in the faint glow 
of your skin and in the night air.
I am writing from demon-spirits to salivating dogs,
from subterranean tightropes to that slow, 
aching, freedom of acceptance —
of hope, and maybe,
of love.
Poetry Summer 2020

Someone Told Me Once the Philly Pride Flag is “Aesthetically Displeasing”

Darnell Carson performing his poem “Someone Told Me Once…”
My body has never felt like anything
          but target practice,
          but bug under microscope,
          but porch light to every moth of a man
that’s ever mouthed a slur in the silence,
that’s ever parted his lips to show the venom frothing underneath,
that’s ever lifted his voice to the song of my destruction,
          be it of  my black or my queer,
          hate finds no difference in the tune.

If my body be a home, it has never been a safe one.
I have never been good at sharing space with my trauma.

My mind be a mess I am never able to manage:
          one bedroom and crammed floor plan.
          all walls and no windows to let the light in.
          sink piling with dishes I don’t have  the energy to clean.

This body code-switches for survival,
knows that it is only as safe as I am invisible,
spends each day deciding how to make itself absent,
if it will bury the Blackness for the white gays
or quiet the queer in front of family

The issue with intersectionality 
is that every road leads to a dead end.
You are always too much or not enough for anybody —
always a threat to someone else’s ignorance.
always a silhouette someone is scared to pass on the sidewalk

There are no safe spaces for brown rainbows
so I have learned to make them

in the palm          of my partner’s hand
at the sight         of my sister’s smile
at the base          of my friends’ laughter
a billion          good things          in the sound of their voices

Like maybe the whole world has gone to shit, 
and every night I make it through is a bittersweet blessing,
and every morning comes with a million things
          still trying to kill me, 

I know I still have this:
The warm glow of a candle lit on my partner’s altar.
The way he whispers my name like the strongest prayer he knows.
The way the silence settles on us like a blanket,
every affirmation I could ask for held in the weight of his stare.

How queer it is
for pain and joy to coexist in this body.
for my mind to find nothing but peace.
Poetry Summer 2020

humor turned inside-out

last night i dreamt my sisters body had a gash the size of four fists

within, just behind purple ribs and across from her wild heart
an implanted monitor sat beeping like cracked knuckles
flashing read-outs in jeringonza i hadn’t bothered to learn

so i added to the list of secrets we keep on blood-thinners and 
woke up to find mourning precluded, cauterized mid-vivisection
Poetry Summer 2020

To the boy with the gap in his teeth

To the boy with the gap in his teeth.
Woah, woah, woah — before I start, hear me out: I don’t ~do~ love poems. I don’t do poems that turn into love poems. Those make me sick. They’re sweet and soft and like diabetes-overflowing. Type 2. Not 1. Self-inflicted.
I’ve tried writing about everything but you, anything but you. I’ve tried writing about the way the sunlight hit the line of palm trees as I left the ER Monday after I fell off my bike, but when I think of a fall I think of you. Falling and falling and I’m falling for you. Ew.
I had to get stitches. After the fall, that is. “Laceration on the left leg,” the nurses said.
The L-word lines the inside of my mouth. L-O-WOAH. No. No. No. That word is familiar and soft and cozy — well I wouldn’t go as far as to say cozy, what’s the word… sticky?
Oh yes, sticky. Familiar and soft and sticky.

To the boy with a gap in his teeth.
When I fell in [~insert long pause here~] with you, it felt like the inside of a McDonald’s playhouse. You know the ones. The bright plastic with the pillowed floors and walls — soft edges — tempting colors. The ones you’d beg your parents to let you enter as a kid — salty fingers freshly licked, McFlurry in one hand, hope in another. They’re innocent. Familiar. Soft. But sticky.
Eventually, you grow up. You stop going, but I keep going to you, am I still falling for you? Ew.

To the boy with the gap in his teeth.
I don’t ~do~ love poems. I don’t do like poems. I don’t do poems — why the fuck am I here.
I’ve tried writing about everything but you, anything but you. Stitched-up Mondays and McDonald’s playhouses.
Our first kiss was in that McDonald’s parking lot. Sneakers propped up on dashboards, neon yellow glow, familiar and soft and not yet sticky.
Crumpled Juicy Fruit wrapper in one hand, hope in another, salty fingertips. Two minutes since your wingman “forgot his wallet inside,” I littered our silence with a, “Where do I spit my gum out?”
“Uhhh… so I can kiss you?”
Diabetes sticky.

To the boy with the gap in his teeth.
I thought of you at the ER Monday. I thought of how you like the scar on my nose like I like the gap in your teeth. I thought of how maybe — just maybe — you’d like my new one.

Left leg laceration. Some L-words I can say.
Poetry Summer 2020

Types of Still

Head resting on my left arm,
the sun pales the graphite sky,
the ocean begins to gleam.

I roll to the right, my arm
scraping sheets chilled 
like an ocean too low
in temperature to sustain life.

I return to face the ocean,
sit cross-legged on the gray floor,
and light incense pulled
from beneath the bed.

Eyes closed, palms up on knees,
I breathe. Meditation smoothing
the surface of my mind to mirror
the ocean, silver and sublime.

Bells chime, returning me
to my body, my morning. 
I call Keira’s name.
Claws click and echo
off dawn-lit family portraits
still waiting to be warmed

by the missing, matching bodies:

daughters and a husband