The Local World

Now that I’m forgetting names   

I’m remembering places   sounds   standing 

on a chalked hop-scotch board with my mother

winning a cupcake when they holler Seven

it happens again and a third time three cupcakes

I am three  At four my sister shows me a rock

behind our house I call it my horse and ride

it out of town whenever I hate the world

There was one on a hill at school  white   quartz  

too sharp to ride but good for jumping from

Miss Schiller  my first grade teacher

will leave before the end of the year

to have a baby   I march up to her desk

when she hasn’t returned from recess yet 

Now class I say in my firmest voice as if I know 

You can sit down now Teacher she laughs

how my cheeks warm and this is called blushing

When you can’t pronounce a word cover it

with your hand and say one syllable at a time

her voice  an opening  nnnnight   boar   I begin

thinking  wild hogs   the dark   nay she says neigh

like a horse’s nicker then I can say it entire

neigh   bor   hood    --oh--    neighborhood   

like this room  you  more breath inside me moving   

neighborhood   neighborhood    neighborhood.

The Letter O

O: Your birth month, the full October moon, orange, rising 

behind oaks. O: the fifteenth letter, shown by Phoenicians

with a dot in the middle, as if eyes.  O: the mind waking. O

slashed: the mind oscillating, just before sleep. O: on Oahu,

hula dancers contain the sun. O: the primordial sound Om

as it begins in the back of the mouth. O: reading, in high school,

The Story of O, a woman who loses, reduces, subtracts herself

to zero. O: my fear of such oblivion.  O with circumflex:

my father’s face when I didn’t say, Sorry. O: abbreviations;

old, ocean, Ohio, order, or. O: Ouroboros snake ends where she

begins. O: a love cry, a grief cry, a word meaning these two are

one. O with umlaut: your saxophone, hitting high E. O: the shape

of your matted head pushing out of me. O: my os mirroring. O:

your lips just before you took your first breath. O: what I called

out when I rocked you and our eyes were Phoenecian—O’s looking

into O’s:  O daughter, O snow goose, oh-no-gnome, my only O.

Bogotá, 1964

At the entrance to National University

a light turns red   My father stops the car 

I’m in the back seat of a Chevy squeezed

between two brothers   I haven’t yet heard

of the Vietnam War   Our black license plate

identifies us as Americans   A crowd circles  

Grown men yell    pick up stones   rock

the wild car   Someone lies down in front

of the wheels   My mother rolls down the window

pleads   But I’m a student here  A young man

jumps up on the hood    His voice stays

the storm   my flooding tears   The road clears

and a man thrusts his head inside our window

says   Be glad your children were with you.


Goodbye yellow galoshes from the Sears Catalog

and brown rubbers I wore on rainy days

to protect my penny loafers and Mary Janes 

Goodbye golden victrola I pressed my ear to

as my mother played her 78s and 33 LPs  

Gershwin & the Heywards’ Porgy and Bess 

Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige

Goodbye to my father’s carved ebony chess set   

Goodbye uncles home from the war smoking

Lucky Strikes and Pall Malls   Goodbye Grandpa Bill

who smoothed the crease of his gray felt Fedora

with nails buffed and trimmed   Goodbye to

Grandpa Roy who dove off a high platforms when

the circus came to town   helped his mom in the bakery

after his father abandoned them   Goodbye to

my Great Aunt Bertha who passed down quilts

dating back to the Civil War   Goodbye to Delaplaine boys

who joined the Union Army and never returned

though we have brass buttons from a uniform

Goodbye to Indian arrowheads we found along

the river bank   Goodbye to the Algonquian tribes

that named the river above Great Falls Cohongarooton 

“honking geese” and south of them Patawomeck  

 “river of swans”   Goodbye to words they traded in

now forgotten  forbidden  no one wrote them down  

Goodbye glaciers that smoothed the rocks    

leaving tiny white shells in the crevices and folds.  


When I think of your arms, I do not think

home, but house on fire, Knight of Wands,

and when we burned too brightly, I’d say

ice on limestone, Nine of Swords...

we were a small country once, Belgium,

fine chocolate, a train station in every town,

but now you’re dead, we’re Russia, vast,

pierogis and borscht, with the Caspian Sea to cross,

you’re Moscow and I am banished to Minsk,

you’re the crime I’m doing penance for,

you’re my sentence without end.