It is funny to watch a poet at a funeral.
Not funny exactly,
but interesting –
like watching geriatric lesbians purchase anal beads.
A poet will cry at all the wrong times,
before the service even begins –
like when some child-sized relative of the deceased
starts to whine to their mother,
the poet cries because one time, the deceased was a child.
there’s his mother sitting quietly in the front row,
impeccably dressed except for her hair,
which feels like the only honest part about her.
She divorced her first husband
and the Catholic Church with the same signature,
but even after 15 years
there is nothing like a dead child
to give us the need to believe in something bigger than us.
See, a poet
winces at the eulogy
because of the bad grammar,
and quietly judges
the relatives in track suits, tank tops & blue jeans
for their disrespect for the dead,
while refusing tissues for her tears
worried about her carbon footprint.
a poet builds distance from grief
so she can write
like she was in the centre of it.
A poet is
See more of Lisa Slater’s work by searching her name on Youtube.
in the voice of my brother Jacob
By Aaron Samuels
Irrefutable fact / my brother is black jewish
Kink hair & a wide nose / that’s gotta be black, jewish
He said look in the mirror / naked / if it ain’t black—jewish
If we don’t do it to ourselves / first / then they do it to us
Said he loves countin’ stacks / is that black? / jewish?
Said we loves eating chicken cause we black-jewish!
Said, you gotta keep it real / listen to black music
If you wanna keep your teeth / you ain’t allowed to act jewish
And that’s jewish / Night of the broken glass jewish
They’ll beat your face in with a bat / until its black. jewish
They raped your great grandma, and that’s a fact, jewish
Say a prayer for the secrets your family keeps, Kaddish
See Aaron, you run / but I learned to attack: jewish
In order to survive, you gotta be black, stupid
Let ‘em tattoo my arm, that’s how I act Jewish
That’s how I be black / but that’s not what you did
Got yourself a “good job,” where nobody’s black / jewish
Cut the slang off your tongue / it’s too black; jewish
And, you never came home / Aaron / where it’s black-jewish
And not coming home / is black
When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, “What will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? What comes next? Oh right, will I be rich?” Which is almost pretty depending on where you shop. And the pretty question infects from conception, passing blood and breath into cells. The word hangs from our mothers’ hearts in a shrill fluorescent floodlight of worry.
“Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty?”
But puberty left me this funhouse mirror dryad: teeth set at science fiction angles, crooked nose, face donkey-long and pock-marked where the hormones went finger-painting. My poor mother.
“How could this happen? You’ll have porcelain skin as soon as we can see a dermatologist. You sucked your thumb. That’s why your teeth look like that! You were hit in the face with a Frisbee when you were 6. Otherwise your nose would have been just fine! Don’t worry. We’ll get it all fixed!” She would say, grasping my face, twisting it this way and that, as if it were a cabbage she might buy.
But this is not about her. Not her fault. She, too, was raised to believe the greatest asset she could bestow upon her awkward little girl was a marketable facade. By 16, I was pickled with ointments, medications, peroxides. Teeth corralled into steel prongs. Laying in a hospital bed, face packed with gauze, cushioning the brand new nose the surgeon had carved.
Belly gorged on 2 pints of my own blood I had swallowed under anesthesia, and every convulsive twist of my gut like my body screaming at me from the inside out, “What did you let them do to you!”
All the while this never-ending chorus droning on and on, like the IV needle dripping liquid beauty into my blood. “Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? Like my mother, unwinding the gift wrap to reveal the bouquet of daughter her $10,000 bought her? Pretty? Pretty.”
And now, I have not seen my own face in 10 years. I have not seen my own face in 10 years, but this is not about me.
This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in. About women who will prowl 30 stores in 6 malls to find the right cocktail dress, but who haven’t a clue where to find fulfillment or how to wear joy, wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, beneath the tyranny of those 2 pretty syllables.
About men wallowing on bar stools, drearily practicing attraction, and everyone who will drift home tonight, crest-fallen because not enough strangers found you suitably fuckable.
This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, “No! The word ‘pretty’ is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters.
“You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing. But you will never be merely ‘pretty.’”
Marc says the suffering that we don’t see
still makes a sort of sound — a subtle, soft
noise, nothing like the cries or screams that we
might think of — more the slight scrape of a hat doffed
by a quiet man, ignored as he stands back
to let a lovely woman pass, her dress
just brushing his coat. Or else it’s like a crack
in an old foundation, slowly widening, the stress
and slippage going on unnoticed by
the family upstairs, the daughter leaving
for a date, her mother’s resigned sigh
when she sees her. It’s like the heaving
of a stone into a lake, before it drops.
It’s shy, it’s barely there. It never stops.
Because you need more Hafiz in your life.
“In Guns We Trust” by Houston Hughes
I got my first god from my father
Before I even understood what one was.
And even though it seemed centuries old
And was more than a bit worn,
I believed in that god, because I got it from him.
He taught me to respect it,
So I kept it locked up
In a rosewood case
Next to the kitchen table,
And that’s where it stayed until Sunday
When we’d all pile into the dilapidated old station wagon,
And go down to town for the God show.
It wasn’t till I got older that I realized
It wasn’t so much about the gods as it was the community,
A whole group of people gathered together to celebrat
The one thing that that keeps them feeling safe
I keep my god in a steel box underneath my bed,
Between the photograph of my mother
And love letters from an ex girlfriend
Scribbled in eyebrow pen.
I don’t pull them out much anymore
Except when I’m alone
And the whole world seems to be slowly closing in,
I’ll squeeze it between my palms
Till my fingertips tremble,
Or push it against my temple
Whisper my fears to it
And listen to the cold silence
As it echoes in the shells
There’s a man down on the street corner
With a sandwich board
Who’ll sell you the type of god that’s illegal now,
The kind that’s ready to kill a man at the drop of a hat,
The kind you pull out when your woman cheats on you
Or your sun turns out to be gay,
The kind with hammer-cock like held prayer breath,
With barrel like a pulpit,
The kind of semiautomatic brimstone spitter
They don’t allow in pleasant company anymore
Of course the founding fathers intended for us all to have gods!
Look, if someone comes along with a god and threatens you,
You don’t want to be the only one without a god, do you?
And nobody wants us to be like England
Where not even the police carry one!
Really, what’s gonna keep people from raping and stealing
If they don’t think a god will?
That’d be like trying to take
“in guns we trust” off our money!
This country was given to us by our gun almighty
So that we could have the freedom to carry our gods
Where ever we gun-damn please.
And a good conservatives knows
that any form of god control
You haven’t forgotten what happened,
All it took was a few men with an unwavering faith in their guns
To take down those two towers.
And they didn’t even have gods.
If everyone on that plane’d had had a god
You know that never would have happened…
It almost makes you doubt the power of your own gun.
The Safety Manual:
Never point a god at someone, even to joke around.
If you see a god in the area, please leave immediately.
If your friend wants to show you a god, just say no!
By telling a parent, teacher, or guidance counselor when you see a god,
You could be a hero and save lives!
Parents, Keep your gods away from children!
Children don’t realize
That gods are tools,
And might instead treat them like toys,
To threaten people around them.
Gods don’t kill people,
People with gods kill people.
You fold two loads of laundry.
Your hands, once split by heat,
are now calloused, invincible.
You sit at your kitchen table,
masturbate next to a half-eaten bowl of cereal-
swollen clouds floating in pink sugar milk.
You stand in your living room
turn off the television, glare at the
reflection of your thickened hips,
wipe your hand across the screen
tearing through static.
A garbage truck roars outside your window.
You watch the barrels spit out the unwanted-
exhausted light bulbs and soggy cabbage,
a doll’s torso bruised by crayons.
You press your hand against the glass, shock
at how the morning’s cold presses back,
how even calluses do not deny
this pointed chill.
It is in this moment that you see yourself.
First, spot your left arm, pale blue stiff
and reaching. It tumbles with empty milk cartons
and a dead hamster zipped in plastic.
You see your heart waddle
like a damaged plum as it drops against
your breasts now sticky with syrup.
You watch your blood crumble and fall
like day-old rice, your face,
thin and jagged, slides from
the barrel like an oiled mask.
You turn away, once you recognize
the sound of your legs slamming
against the truck like twin corpses.
This is when you realize –
you should have kept his number,
should have stayed after he kissed you
so hard it split your lip
when he chewed your nipple through
your sweater and you nearly fainted
by the shock white charge of it,
when he ripped your stockings
grabbing your thighs, when you felt
his fingers move inside you
as if searching a coat pocket.
This is why the price tag still swings
from your wedding dress, why you cannot
fuck your husband with eyes open,
why you dunk your child’s head too long
while rinsing his hair.
This is why permanence terrifies,
why your spine threatens to tear out
and run, why you do not own pets
but keep cages
this is how you haunt your own house,
why your hands coil in hunger
and why the sound of screaming tires
burning away in the night
is the only song
that ever puts you to sleep.
Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.
At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.
Someone tell him he should sleep now.
My father keeps a light on by our bed
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy’s pants.
His love for me is like sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces
clean through with each stroke of his hand.
At this hour, what is dead is worried
and what is living is fugitive.
Someone tell him he should sleep now.
God, that old furnace, keeps talking
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.
At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind
and helpless. While the Lord lives.
Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.
I’ve had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.
“What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.”
—Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sonnet XLIII