Isaiah on 6th Ave.
Prophet man’s eyes are grimed with grief.
His dark skin shines in Sunday sun. His lips
white, burned with a hot coal. Go to Hell…
Y’all can go to Hell. The parking lot spins—
faces appear, disappear— frightened,
concerned, blind with contempt, lost in the
gust of his cardboard wings. A hand throws
coins at him — they scatter to the ground
in an unholy rain. Lord, how long? Damn
damnit how long? His sneakers crunch in
diamonds of broken bottles dazzling through
his dark-filmed eyes. All are shadow and light.
Devils crowd him, make the emptiness
tight, unmovable. He thrusts out his hands,
expecting fangs, sharp tearing— he knows
how they do — instead, catches a floating
feather, small downy-soft. Car horns
resound like trumpets calling Heaven down,
as he circles and sings, “Holy, Holy Holy”
On Seeing the Promised Land
Moses lays his ancient eyes on the glory land
and they become young again, beyond young—life-brimming.
His heart pounding unto death, the jubilation
of that which was promised fulfilling before his eyes,
more sublime than could ever be conceived by this vessel.
The heavens foretold it; his brain believed
but stayed housed in a head finite and human,
though it tasted glory once—the trail as God walked by…
Your eyes have seen! They have seen glory!
Those eyes knew glory in their pupils—small, fragile,
though they exploded under that blast of glory-light,
made his face shine like one of Abraham’s stars…
a speck of dust caught in the breath of God.
And inside, a whirl of atoms grasping at the land of promise,
while all around were signs of desert-death.
Your eyes will see the glory land!
Your feet will never touch it
but those windows will allow your soul to see.
Not even old age will rob you that.
You will see! you will see!
And the sight will make your heart stop for joy,
stop with the energy of a trillion stars,
stop with the explosion of a billion neurons screaming praise
to the glory of your God. You will see!
Key Moments for a Liar
My brother and sister are cooler than I am,
and I guess that’s how I got started. They’d
sneak cigarettes by our pool in the backyard,
standing behind the sliding glass door I’d
watch them in my blue one-piece on and ready
to plunge into that cold water that swallowed
you up like an arctic mouth, screaming up all along you
until you couldn’t stand it, making you feel alive
and caught up in a different world free from ground
and air. In those water-times, I’m not cool but cold and feel
brave because I jumped, and not like a mouse that chokes
on shyness behind a girl-mustache and thick black eyebrows
that make the other forest creatures ask her more than she’d admit
whether she was a boy or a girl. The glass separates me and the pool
and that freedom and the smoke, and I can’t get past my own
I remember when I was six, I lied for my brother to our
dad before he left our mom for another woman who had
a sad, nervous smile, and my dad sat me in a chair and asked
me point blank if my brother had kicked me or stolen my toy
or whatever it was he had done, and I sat and lied that he hadn’t,
and Dad demanded over and over, “Why did you lie? Why did
You lie?” And then he disappeared like smoke, the scent of
him lingering, making my mom scream and cry and hate being
a mom, and appeared months later in an apartment with the
woman with a nervous smile, and taught me the benefits of lying,
all the lying people he admired, and how he was the best
liar of them all.
My dad’s new wife hates me. Thinks I’m a little liar.
I let the shower water hit my face and pray that one day I’ll
be beautiful. I imagine the hot steam clearing my skin of the
embarrassing facial hair and awkward smiles and peeling the skin
back and revealing a beautiful creature underneath. One that
could one day have a boyfriend, then a husband that loves
her for whoever she is, for whatever femininity that water
would reveal, and pull her out into the steam forever. As if
beauty could save me. As if beauty meant truth.
In college, I’m beautiful and I get maudlin-drunk off red
wine and scream through tears and purple-stained teeth at
every boyfriend, “Why don’t my parents love me?” And they
can’t answer, but look at me like I got real problems, and
suddenly I’m not above the drama, I am the drama. They leave
me to lay in a bath, naked and sobbing, and check every few
minutes to make sure I haven’t drowned. This time the water
is warm and quiet and feels something like home, something
like peace. I do drown but no one notices.
I get old, at least I feel old, and my body
expands and shrinks, expands and shrinks
until I become four people (five if you count the one that died,
the one whose heart couldn’t take the lies coursing through my veins
and into hers and would rather be in the arms of Jesus. I’d rather be
in the arms of Jesus). So I gather my humans under my wings like that
momma duck I saw at the park, the one whose ducklings were
picked off one by one by crows and sea gulls and other animals
that wanted to devour innocence like a delicacy, and tried to
threaten away the world closing in on them. I can’t protect
them with my dull duck beak and creaky quack, but I
tell them I can. I lie to them. I lie to myself.
One time my heart felt terror and beat against my chest with heavy fists.
My lungs were full of the water that climbed up the sides of my house.
No one could see the walls collapsing in on themselves onto the life I’d built inside.
They couldn’t see the water. They could only see the wildness in my eyes.
Then Jesus reached down with the tip of his finger,
flicked the stopper off my heart, let the water run out.
I fell at his feet, gasping, let the lies
swirl around me
then drain away