English Professor

You are what I read between the lines
You are vines climbing crumbling English mansions
Lakes with Algonquian names
Cold air gliding along the peaks of a mountain range
You talk of the spaces art gets lost in
Incomprehensible intangibles
Of ideas getting stuck in your teeth

Your eyes are made of newsprint
Body as angular as the constellation Orion
I wonder if someone broke you and put you back together
You tend clean fingernails
You are unringed
But I’m not thinking about that

Let’s be honest
You’re kinda fit but you’re not fit
Drawing long whistling breaths between jazz sentences
You are three-syllable words like photograph and library and newspaper
Post offices and dead parents
You were Catholic once
Now you’re academically interested in the Bible
You are palm trees and harmattan but you only ever summer in Europe
You only use words with Latin roots, but you are Anglo-Saxon cool
You are boring shoes
You don’t remind me at all of my dad

In college, you were a Panther
Mean and bearded and reading constantly
You didn’t cook, but you kept a shirt ironed, hair uncut like wild diamonds
They all said you’d be a professor
You didn’t read your poetry out loud
You were the single man all the girlfriends called their best friend
You played records for them - a nice guy
You were corny

I don’t like you in your college days
I like you in your coffee mug, brown leather bomber jacket
9am office hours and 9pm bedtime
Wearing long socks and spectacles
Gripping your chest while you read
Alone in the evening with a balanced dinner plate
Drinking with no excitement
I like you at a professional distance
But I swear I have 30 year-old bones
I like you and I am perverse and maybe this is a hormonal imbalance
Maybe I drank too much milk or too little
But I like you and a house in the suburbs and a back porch and two kids and getting even older
I like you and sometimes, I wish I could dilute myself
So the idea of you would get lost inside of me

Tampering with Sonnet 27

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired
For then, my thoughts, from far where I abide—

Give birth to stories I cannot control 
Stories that unfold grandly like Oriental rugs onto my mind’s bare brown floors
I am merely a cherry blossom pattern watching from a panel of wallpaper
As dreams furnish my mind with unexplained epics
Stories told so quickly I don’t question them
In the morning, I sift through the rubble of the life I live with eyes closed 
I find locks of my future daughter’s black hair and find that I have been married
I find a pearl exfoliated by the contractions of the ocean’s belly
And find that I have drowned
Each morning, I add myself to the world, identical to anyone
But for the burden of these false memories
They run through me like diesel
And something in this writer’s blood yearns to make them real
So I draw my dreams in human language
Call them poetry, call them fiction
I am the age-old vehicle of inspiration
Nameless beside the Muse who writes me into relevance
Her altar is here, in the sheets, where the shape of my body lies like a signature

By day, you put the color in my thoughts
They warned me about this kind of love
The kind that makes of us refugees in a state of distraction
Seeking asylum in flower-laced poetry
I wrote poems to you
Once, you asked if you could sleep in my bed
I imagined you tossing and turning in my dust
Flakes of my skin swept up in yours
Your warm body coating my sheets in oil
And your dreams dripping into the dregs of mine
I said no
Baby, I love you, but you don’t tamper with this altar
This is the portrait of the artist at work
And you can paint it from a distance
See her crawl beneath the underbelly of her blanket and lie still
Still until the wee hours dye the world a million shades of black and she can’t find herself
Silence scrubs the world from her used skin and she is blank
A canvas for the scribbles of a second consciousness

That night, my thoughts, from far where I abide
Began a zealous pilgrimage to you
And kept my drooping eyelids open wide
Looking on darkness which the blind do see

I saw the two of us tossing and turning in the starry night of a closed eyelid
The next day, I couldn’t look you in the eye 
Baby, I love you, but I refuse to see you in my dreams
Nighttime is when I do my best work
That time has nothing to do with us
The morning after you invaded, I wrote your portrait
I wrote you into histories populated by silhouettes growing against needlepoint skylines
And into odes to unsung boys unsticking themselves from the rose thorns of manhood
And into the wallpaper of my autobiography
And sometimes, I still write you
But it is only ritual

Only when my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night, 
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new

When they ask me how I write
I tell them I merely shed stories through my fingerprints
When they are born, they bear my features and coloring and temper
But they can trace their lineage without spelling my name
Thus, by day I claim to wield the pen
And every night, my dreams hold ink again

The Landscape of My Brain

I’m from Ifeanyi’s Brain
The suburbs, though
It’s a desert town south of the city
You, with your baby bottom skin, wouldn’t last one afternoon beneath our sun
In the distance, the shape of mountains bleeds through the endless heat mirage
When a local says mirage, he means possibility
We only ever see the fuzzed-out, bleary-eyed version of things
A hawk, circling like a silent lullaby, could be anything
In my town, earthquakes explode like bullets every so often
They write calligraphy across the ground that disappears when the sun sets
All the world’s castoffs seem to end up in this town
Like the aborted choruses of love songs, that we chant like prayers
Like the faces of people we only met by chance
When a local says mirage, he means chance
Last June, a man moved into Ifeanyi’s Brain
We didn’t sleep once that summer
Night stopped following day
We walked around like caffeine ghosts
Eyes wide, hyper focused, every limb on high alert
The earthquakes came every day that summer
We woke up to them the way you wake up to birds singing
The air sounded a pestle grinding a mortar as they ricocheted across the desert
The rain didn’t fall
Lawns grew yellow like burnt corn, the sky stayed cloudless
Nothing grew in the drought so we did not eat
We spent our days pacing past his house in awe, the ground kissing our feet with cracked lips
We’d never been hungry like this
After one week, the man shoved his For Sale sign back into his front sand like a stake
“Why don’t you crazies get out of the fucking wilderness?” he screamed
And drove off into the hungover sun
We asked, “Any mirage you’d come back?”
That fall, our town turned 22
We heard love songs get stuck in the air again, memorized them
Then tied them to origami birds and forgot
There were fewer tourists to entertain
But always, the chance faces floating by in dust clouds
We said good morning to them
Without expecting a reply
We danced along earthquakes
Gathered desert flowers for the kitchen table
We spent more time alone
We gathered one night to watch a mirage evaporate into the horizon
Knowing that it never really meant anything
No one’s really into deserts anymore, but
I like my town
I’m planning to move back home someday

It Was A Fine Night

It was a fine night, just 
Finite
Music flowed as easily as tears do and
We swayed like weeping willows we 
Let songs unwind slowly
Didn’t care about that beat or catchy hooks
Didn’t even care about words
We just swayed to the sound of something happening
Waited inside of now
This was the only religion some of us will ever need 
Singer walked on water, a sea of hands 
When he dove, we held up palms to catch him
He had faith in the crest of our fingers 
We closed the spaces between strangers 
Anonymity is part of the night but     
I met a boy named Ian
Who admitted that we’d probably never see each other again
We only existed here 
Here is the only place that exists
It was a fine night
Just finite 
After the concert ended, the silence left us shaking so hard we held anyone who came close
Like Europeans, we kissed people we’d just met
I was covered in someone else’s sweat and it seemed
Lovely
We had all taken a sip from the same gorgeous volcano
Had the same lava running through our veins
We were blood now
Family
The same history written in our genes
It was one fine night
Just finite
Poet tries to revive it, literary CPR with past-tense verbs
But this is a crime
Like fine china, memory fades the more you polish it
So I could keep probing past-tense passions but they will never shine as brightly as that night
Even though I might taste salty air
Hazy thick and perfumed with weed
Even though I might dance and remember stumbling
With a whole crowd to catch me in the crook of its elbow
Is will never be was
I have this bad habit of trying to hold on to good things
Eating leftovers, swallowing nostalgia, but
I have lived inside of now just before it dies
Drinking in the unrepeatable
If the present wants to keep luring me into these one-night stands
Then I will taste each moment 
Even though tomorrow, I won’t remember burning my tongue

Shower Portrait

One

She steps into the shower and pulls the curtain like a cell door
Closes her brown eyes against suds
She rubs the dead leaves and Niger mud into her skin
Scrubs the thick into her thighs
Carves the wide into her waist
Brown strands, weakened by chemicals, detach from her head and spread into chaos on the walls
Each strand a microcosm of the wilderness it came from
Their color reminds her of her body
She always paints her skin a shade too dark
Her shape? She always gets it wrong
She’s never thin enough
Her hips are always too wide
Her nose, too wide
Her lips, too wide
Each strand of hair reminds her why she hates this ritual

Two

She thinks of the two of them
She’s too shy to dream of their bodies, so she dreams of their hair
Imagines the strands entwining
His: straight, soft
Hers: straight, too--on a good day
Maybe they will never blend, but at least these strands are willing to yield to each other’s coils
When she feels brave, she thinks of their skin
His is the sunrise casting everything in gold
Pale light she wants to bathe in
Hers, the shadow born in corners light rejects
The distance between dark and dawn is the definition of sunrise
The distance between dark and dawn is the definition of sunrise
The distance between them is necessary

No

Ifeanyi doesn’t live there anymore

This morning, she shampooed herself out of her skin
Lying in all this brown called ebony, she re-baptized herself in soap suds
Cleansed herself of mud and dead leaves
Rinsed off shadow
She painted herself wet sand between lovers’ tanned toes
She painted herself tiger’s eye
She molded herself arms big
Enough to hold you in
Carved warm eyes deep as pools to drown your uncertainty in
Sculpted ears that could swallow your sadness
Spelled beautiful in the breakage on the walls
Stepped out of the shower
Saw the sun rise