hermano, mi orfeo
They dream you still, you, brothers,
the color of clay,
dancing hard in the basement,
uprock battle bliss
bodies sweat gladly in time
& the feet going, “we will fly, we will fly”
& the mouth going, “we are men!”
Some dream you hucked, hacked,
stop-trapped or shucked,
shutter shut, no, shot.
But you’re a river by now, & birds.
sold with me
trying to live
salsa breakdance shovel shovel
Now what do you do now
with a chain around your foot
or the doors all shut & the phone-wires cut?
Locked, locked, locked & thrown away.
Fall asleep, fall asleep, Houdini, they say,
We’ve knocked down all your trees & Albizus.
You say, Every time I breathe, I am going somewhere.
Through the window. Out the door.
At a food-stand on my way to the desert
where a cook taps his foot to the dance-song
of a silver radio. Even the radio antennae.
Say, Even the triangle of vapor
that hangs from your dashboard window as you drive
into the deep, free night,
If I were a river I would wash you good.
I know they tell you
You will not be anything, you will not even grow.
They will have you believe
That your body is sick.
Tell it Live.
When they take away the sunlight,
even the sunlight, be
Let them tell you
you cannot sing in hell, good man.
MONOLOGUE OF THE HEART PUMPING BLOOD
Children have painted me pictures,
& I have been loved by certain specific loves
on buses, under trees, on walks in Brooklyn.
& I have
in green grass. Trumpet.
& I, at the Laundromat.
Under awnings. Stale envelope.
& I have
My laced-with-veins legs.
The knee’s shiny scar.
I have fallen right down
on dirt roads, in bottle glass.
Pictures have been taken in cotton clothes
at tables opening fruit,
& in the houses of friends fed & full
by wine & animal meat.
There is a bowl of water at my window.
In my mouth, there is a tongue.
& it is a muscle.
& under my tongue, is a thick blue vessel.
& I have kissed with this.
& I have seen the wind rock houses.
Goldfish swim alive in glass-gallon pools.
Four new pennies flattened to discs
on the tracks, & for this
I am thankful.
Anyway, who ever knows
how it will go?
If something will say, You have lived enough.
Or if I will, spent,
I cannot know if I will lose
my toes to sugar. If the eye will live, or
the hands, no.
But nights, I am a window
opened up, through which the ants & horses go
parading. Bones & muscles are a tent around me,
& in the center I swing
my tentacles: an octopus, a jellyfish,
from this fifth story house
of pumps & racket
where traffic traffics all around
the different byways
to fingers & ears.
& I go everywhere.
I got news yesterday
from a friend of mine
that all people against the war should
send a bag of rice to George Bush,
& on the bag we should write,
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.”
But to be perfectly clear,
my enemies are not hungry.
They are not standing in lines
for food, or stretching rations,
or waiting at the airports
to claim the pieces
of the bodies of their dead.
My enemies ride jets to parties.
They are not tied up in pens
in Guantanamo Bay. They are not
young children throwing rocks. My enemies eat
in white houses where candles blaze, cast
shadows of crosses, & flowers.
They wear ball gowns & suits & rings
to talk of war in neat & folded languages
that will not stain their formal dinner clothes
or tousle their hair. They use words like “casualties”
to speak of murder. They are not stripped down to skin
& made to stand barefoot in the cold or hot.
They do not lose their children to this war.
They do not lose their houses & their streets. They do not
come home to find their lamps broken.
They do not ever come home to find their families murdered
or disappeared or guns put at their faces.
Their children are not made to walk
a field of mines, exploding.
This is no wedding.
This is no feast.
I will not send George Bush rice, worked for rice
from my own kitchen
where it sits in a glass jar & I am transfixed
by the thousands of beautiful pieces
like a watcher at some homemade & dry
aquarium of grains, while the radio calls out
the local names of 2,000
US soldiers counted dead since March.
&, we all know it, there will always be more than
what’s been counted. They will not say the names
of an Iraqi family trying to pass a checkpoint
in an old white van. A teenager caught out on some road
after curfew. The radio will go on, shouting
the names &, I promise you,
they will not call your name, Hassna
Ali Sabah, age 30, killed by a missile in Al-Bassra, or you,
Ibrahim Al-Yussuf, or the sons of Sa’id Shahish
on a farm outside of Baghdad, or Ibrahim, age 12,
as if your blood were any less red, as if the skins
that melted were any less skin, & the bones
that broke were any less bone,
as if your eradication were any less absolute, any less
eradication from this earth where you were
not a president or a military soldier.
& you will not ever walk home
again, or smell your mother’s hair again,
or shake the date palm tree
or smell the sea
or hear the people singing at your wedding
or become old
or dream or breathe, or even pray or whistle,
& your tongue will be all gone or useless
& it will not ever say again or ask a question,
you, who were birthed once, & given milk,
& given names that mean: she is born at night,
happy, favorite daughter,
morning, heart, father of
Your name, I will have noticed
on a list collected by an Iraqi census of the dead,
because your name is the name of my own brother,
because your name is the Tigrinya word for “tomorrow,”
because all my life I have wanted a farm,
because my students are 12, because I remember
when my sisters were 12. & I will not
have ever seen your eyes, & you will not
have ever seen my eyes
or the eyes of the ones who dropped the missiles,
or the eyes of the ones who ordered the missiles,
& the missiles have no eyes. You had no chance,
the way they fell on avenues & farms
& clocks & schoolchildren. There was no place for you
& so you burned. A bag of rice will not bring you back.
A poem cannot bring you. & although it is my promise here
to try to open every one of my windows, I cannot
imagine the intimacy with which
a life leaves its body, even then,
in detonation, when the skull is burst,
& the body’s country of indivisible organs
flames into the everything. & even in
that quick departure as the life rushes on,
headlong or backwards, there must, must
be some singing as the hand waves “be well”
to its other hand, goodbye;
& the ear belongs to the field now.
& we cannot separate the roof from the heart
from the trees that were there, standing.
& so it is, when I say “night,”
it is your name I am calling,
when I say “field,”
your thousand, thousand names,
your million names.
"Reprinted from Teeth with permission of Curbstone Press."
Aracelis Girmay received her MFA from New York University. Her first book of poems, Teeth, was recently released by Curbstone Press.