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        hermano, mi orfeo                     



They dream you still, you, brothers,

the color of clay,

dancing hard in the basement,

or March


          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.




          strong back

          smile maker


          sold with me


          trying to live

          no beds

          high swing

          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,

is me.




If I were a river I would wash you good.




          It’s prison,

I know they tell you

You will not be anything, you will not even grow.

Grow anyway.


They will have you believe

That your body is sick.

Tell it Live.


When they take away the sunlight,

even the sunlight, be

the sunlight.


Let them tell you

you cannot sing in hell, good man.

Then sing.



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

          with matches.

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

even both

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,

messaging out

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

meats & vegetables at tables

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

a multitude.


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."



  Beam Pattern


Aracelis Girmay received her MFA from New York University. Her first book of poems, Teeth, was recently released by Curbstone Press.