THE OLD JUSTICE
My grandfather was a construction worker, a travel agent;
I knew him as a sea-captain, his wink like an eye-patch,
the gap in his teeth a keyhole I might peer into.
But all I could pick in the whistle of air was a shanty,
sweet on his breath, whiskey foaming on his upper lip,
and his blood salivating, a kind of poison he survived on.
Auntie was the dark green storm of a glass bottle.
She made herself dizzy, swatting the air like lightning,
drunk on those unspeakable nights she went below
deck with the man who set us on the voyage;
his bad eye sliding over each plank, moving low to the ground,
like a crocodile sculling in the shallows, or an island
sinking back into the ocean. When they told me he died,
I retched, thinking of his seasick corpse, the hollow flush
of a minute hand passing time at a funeral cut down by rain
and my absence, the echo of it heaving in a toilet bowl.
That night, I imagine surfing on his coffin, taking a sharp nail
to his heart and pulling up a rusted square of flesh.
In the dead air, I creep into auntie’s flat, slip the quiet pulse
in the panel behind the grandfather clock where the wax nativity
slow roasts by the fire, her living room crowded with vials,
auntie, the mad concocter, weighing his deeds like a wine glass.
after Gemoraw & Meron Getnet
The small fire that smiles
between three stones in winter
thinks itself a hearth,
even as it burns
a kitchen’s pitted belly,
even as it dies,
the stones leavened, once
a ripened fruit, now bloated
for the flies to come.
after billy woods
I put my finger to the wind and don’t get it back / low light snatches me from the front step / the courtyard dervishes with my feet / thinking of that empty house as the shadows stretched / fists punch up through the ground / scatter milk teeth / bloom into hyenas / there are no rules in these hours / this is where magic lives / the blue in green / where time shrugs like a sieve / all the other houses yawn in their sleep / I am delirious / howl my name at the trees / wait for someone to claim it / I steal flickers from the streetlamp / play keepy-ups on the second hand of a watch / a wheeze of grass blades / ain’t no bedtime / mama / the city sleeps damp on a blotted paper sky / droplets of hand-pressed wine / balloons on the window panes / Kirby-pink / everyone is a parapet / I am the only one awake / I move from one house to another like a hammer throw / smack drool out the dogs / throw tennis balls like a hailstorm / the barking follows / grapes wither on tongues / fruit flies rub their hands / stone eyelids / alarms rattle through the compound / I listen for an echo / my name hasn’t come back yet