how to say thank you.

On a hot, Saturday afternoon on an island off Manhattan called Governor’s, I found myself digesting the echoes of poets swirled in the air like tornadoes of deep thinking. Every year this happens right here, called the Poetry Festival and as I sat at a table with other writers called Poetry Teachers NYCI suddenly noticed a poet who looked quite similarly to one I have admired for awhile now.

His name is Kazim Ali and a previous lover graciously gave me his book, Fasting for Ramadan, several summers ago when she was observing this holiday. I knew very little about this observance of fasting and reflecting, but each night, when I helped her break her fast, she shared her stories and finally gave me his. I carried this book around each day, slowly slipping my eyes into each word, feeling its deep pocket of knowledge. This book is composed of Kazim’s journal entries during fasting, but to me, they were poems. Reminders of how to exist in a body that yearns. In a body that needs even when something is taken away. He wrote about the discomfort in an honest, exploratory way.

Growing up with Jewish parents, I knew a little about fasting. We had to engage in this once a year during the holiday of Yom Kipper and I found it deeply deeply hard. I’ve recently been called a “labrador” (like the dog) for my constant hunger and desire to eat. I like to celebrate my appetite and have always found it difficult to go without.

But I understand the meaning behind fasting. We remove/take away in order to understand why we desire it.

Kazim taught me this.

And on this hot Saturday on Governor’s Island, I saw him. This poet who breathed pain and discovery into pages I kept at my side for a summer. And still open every so often to remind me.

What to say to someone who has had such an impact on you.

So, I told him how much I admired his writing. I thanked him for sharing these words which came from hunger’d body, observant body, spiritual body. I gave him some of my poems as an offering.

When we read, we don’t often get to tell these writers: Thank you. Or You impacted me in ways I am still articulating. 

And we must. Because they need to know. Words are bridges, leading us all to each other. To a deeper understanding. Encouraging us to travel through feet and with mind(fullness).

dear lidia.

Dear Lidia,

I am bloodied.

He asks, “Paper or plastic,” and I choose noose.

Dear Lidia,

Somewhere between page five and the end, you mishandle my organs; I’ve put up four dozen MISSING posters all over Brooklyn in search of my lungs.

Dear Lidia,

My genitals have relocated themselves to my wrists behind misspelled tattoo and fourteenth scar. I rub them against humans shaped as time machines traveling me away from here.

Dear Lidia,

That photograph.

Dear Lidia,

How many ways can a child die and still breathe through teeth.

Dear Lidia,

I’ve lost track of all the mattresses which turned into monsters.

Even with all that flailing, I still count bed sores.

Dear Lidia,

The painter.

Dear Lidia,

That gun.

I’ve got a bullet hole beneath my right knee from that time that time that time.

Dear Lidia,

I’ve hemorrhaged out your ISBN.

Someone should have cradled my tongue before I castrated it.

Dear Lidia,

Napalm.

Dear Lidia,

The one with eyes, color of my childhood lampshade or emerald.

Dear Lidia,

The Vietcong man with the mosaic’d brain.

Dear Lidia,

My mother.

Dear Lidia,

Me, dressed as Charlie Chaplin, age 8.

Dear Lidia,

The photographed soldiers near Brooklyn Bridge, wearing masks to cover the missing in their faces.

Dear Lidia,

Each time I took my clothes off I became less of an onion and more like a shallot.

Dear Lidia,

How many languages speak the same version of ‘no’ and yet I an never quite master the accent on the right syllable.

Dear Lidia,

The writer.

There was that time that time that time that time.

Dear Lidia,

There is no such thing as a happy ending, even when giving a happy ending.

Dear Lidia,

The filmmaker.

Dear Lidia,

How to love.

Dear Lidia,

The womb.

Dear Lidia,

How to heal what rots what blooms.

Dear Lidia,

Did I ever tell you that I title my blood, war, because my body is in battle and yes, my cells rent their hunch to soldiers looking to punish my gender.

Dear Lidia,

I just. Can’t be. Girl. Anymore.

Dear Lidia,

I prefer to bag my own groceries because then I can understand the weight of ingredients and then it will be my city scum on potatoes and collard greens and then I will be reminded of all the ways

one attempts

to live.

Governor’s Island Poetry Festival JULY 25th and 26th!!!

I was recently talking with a writer from Seattle named Anastacia Tolbert who blew my mind with her explosively thought-provoking poetics.

Before the reading, she asked me about places to see during her brief visit. I gave her a list and then she asked me, “how do you feel about living in New York?”

I said, “I love it and it frustrates me simultaneously.”

“What frustrates you?” she asked.

“That,” I say, pointing to a ginormous heap of garbage bags on the curb.

“But what I love,” I said, “is finding graffiti on buildings and the endless amount of museums. I love being queer in a city that so often celebrates it. I love the art and music. I love the pockets of magic (not so secretly) hidden in so many corners.”

***

And I LOVE Governor’s Island……this magical spot that can only be reached via ferry. With art and bike paths and food trucks and……POETRY.

Every summer, Governor’s Island houses an impressive poetry festival featuring reading series and the poets who frequent them. It is FREE and open. A place to listen, write, share, connect.

Find the The New York City Poetry Festival in the Colonel’s Row area of the island – it will be well-signposted from the ferry ($2 round trip, morning ferries free, takes 10 mins.)

Info and directions (Easy and fun!) http://newyorkcitypoetryfestival.com/general-info/info-faq/

This free two-day festival celebrates New York City’s vibrant poetry community. The event includes over 65 poetry organizations and 250 poets on its three main stages; a Vendor’s Village where local booksellers, artists and craft makers sell their wares; healthy and delicious food options; a beer garden sponsored by Brooklyn Brewery; poetry-inspired installation art throughout; the Ring of Daisies open mic; and, of course, the Children’s Festival at NYCPF!

It is Saturday and Sunday, July 25th and 26th from 11-5pm. I’ll be reading with Poetry Teachers NYC, great weather for MEDIA and the great reading series, Big Words!

I am excited to be reading BOTH days. Find me here:

Saturday: 

1pm @ Chumley’s Stage reading for Big Words!

4pm @ The White Horse Stage reading for great weather for MEDIA with Jon Sands and Corrina Bain

 

Sunday:

2:30pm @ The Chumley’s Stage reading for Poetry Teachers NYC w/ Megan DiBello, Dan Dissinger and Colin Clough

 

 

 

on the poetics of graffiti

On a day I seemed to have a difficult time approaching, I sat on the inside of an air-conditioned Corporate Chain Coffee Shop, staring out its window. I watched a human graffiti an elephant on a steel-gate shutter protecting a closed storefront. He stepped back every few minutes to view, carefully studying the drips and dimension of curves.

His elephant, flecks of white against grey.

My elephant, the thirsty wanderer curled mass behind my teeth.

I think about an evening in Nebraska with the artists and poets. After drinking wine out of red plastic cups. After baptizing my nudity beneath the not-quite summer night. We sat around the crackling of a fire, sharing our names and spirit animals. I announced: elephant.

Someone spoke out, “But why?”

And I said, “Because I like their wander. Their desire and drive to reach water.”

What I forgot to speak: Because their skin and ivory is hunted and I’ve been hunted. Because of their mass. Because of the strength of their footprints.

I finished my coffee and grabbed my things. I wasn’t ready to be a worker yet. I wanted to exist as just a wanderer. Be elephant, instead of human.

I walked by the graffiti artist and stopped. I said, “Thank you. For creating.”

Then, I noticed that it wasn’t an elephant actually. Rather, a boar. Hairless pig. Predator of wolf. Though comparatively, it has fewer predators than most animals, so it tends to run free. More importantly, they are solitary. Solitary roamers.

Perhaps I am more boar than I ever imagined.

to the one with the red hair behind bars

Dear Jennifer,

I dug feathers from my pillow, sewed them to a piece of paper full of my words and lent it to the sky to fly toward you.

Two months have passed and I wonder if my language has reached you. I think about your red strands falling from imprisoned scalp, like breadcrumbs alerting the hours of your whereabouts.

Last night, you visited me while I slept. Perhaps this was your letter back to me. You were looking for something, which I tried to help you find. But. You never told me. What. You were looking for.

Somehow I understood because. I am so often in search of things that I’ve yet to fully name or even understand.

Without you asking, I lifted my shirt so you could see the ink on my back from when we traveled together at eighteen to tattoo shop.

“I had to change it,” I said.

And without having to explain, you understood my need to wipe away the femme-inity from skin to replace it with more of a hybrid.

I asked to see your angel [tattoo], but you had carved it away years ago.

Sometimes it is difficult to be good in a world of so much bad.

the cardboard cut-outs

Here in Chinatown, at 7:36am, the cardboard cutouts still sleep with the rest of their lives scattered beside them. When they sleep, they are still awake, with fingers webbed around their belongings.

I lock up my bike and wish I had something to offer them. More than just a handful of nuts and dried cranberries or one-fourth of a granola bar, from yesterday. More than just a look of acknowledgment (which so often translates as pity). More than just a pile of pennies or coins not quite enough to make a difference.

Later, a cardboard cutout smiles at me and I give him one back. He counts my teeth and notices my scratched body. I notice the bruises staining his face.

He calls this, “A good day.” And I replay his voice in my mind because suddenly I am unsure if he asked, “A good day?” or was telling me, “A good day!”

I want to tell him that it’s good because we are in it. Or it’s good because we are halfway done with it. Or it’s good because we both seem to be breathing and sometimes that is the biggest accomplishment of a day.

 

Dear Rebel…

I encountered a disemboweled ice cube between china town and the east village, but it was too expensive to bring home to brooklyn. I can no longer afford old thingsbecause aged goods have increased in price and the new stuff is too much too. So I search for the discards….the free……the treasures in the trash….since that’s all I can achieve with what little I’ve got.

Often, when I find money on the street, I leave it there, knowing even though my wallet is mostly full of love notes and directions, there are others without even that.

An almost-lover I once had mailed me a book without her name attached. I couldn’t figure out who had sent it to me. By the time I realized who it was from, she was no longer accepting my phone calls.

An occasional lover sent me a different book, which I had a difficult time reading, but maybe I’m just not smart enough for Proust; what do you think?

The one I now love collects keys and coins; I collect guilt and memories, bruised like pocketed fruit.

Who should we put on that $10 bill, Rebel? I vote for Lidia Yuknavitch. Or Kathy Acker. Or Audre Lorde. And why stop at the ten dollar bill?

Rebel, I’m thinking about putting my words into melted copper and nickel; then, I can pay with my collection of syllables. As long as I read and collect more words, I will never be poor again. I will horde dictionaries and thesauruses. I will play Scrabble every night to encourage the long and obscurely short words. Then, we can collide again and finally find that yurt and live off the earnings of our speech.