Compulsively larger than life,
mom swaggered out loud.
Her eyes you could get lost in,
and they gripped like a drug.
The Virgin Mary twerking in a thong,
always herself but never the same,
never quite right
but never completely wrong,
she made me feel proud
and destroyed me with shame.
This morning it is minus six degrees.
The old woman at the corner with her bundles
says yes to a ride, but is, at first, unwilling
to say where. Then she does say and tells me
as a girl her grandmother kept three hundred chickens
which she tended every morning before school.
She says a Chinese man would come to separate
the roosters from the hens. Apparently they look alike.
In storybooks there’s no mistaking, but it seems
in real life, one must be outed by his crow.
What moved me the most was a tiny hand,
like the claw of a cub, pawing at my
rib cage in time to the suckle of his lips.
This beautiful, wild person sustained
by milk drawn from unknown wells within me.
I remember nursing once in the basement
restroom of the zoo’s primate house.
The floor tile was cold — no other place to sit.
My bones have been scraped
free of flesh, free of tendons,
muscles, veins—my heart is gone.
The marrow in my bones
is disappearing fast
and I am fragile,
dissolving into dust.
With a gust of wind
my cells could scatter.
It’s silly to call trees people
saying firs waving limbs are yelling at wind,
and cedars so tall their tops disappear
have heads in the clouds,
or to sympathize with plants below
ripening berries, sending out seeds
on wings while struggling for scraps of light,
and then feeding survivors of fires.
Silly. Better listen. Memorial
services have their ways of bringing up
All I wanted was work,
not the old man’s joyful tears as he ran down the hill.
I was afraid he’d fall or burst his heart to kingdom come.
My head still pounds from yesterday’s wine, father’s ring hangs heavy on my finger,
and after all those years of pea pods, my stomach aches from too much fatted calf.
I didn’t want that damn banquet,
my older brother pacing outside the door, muttering into his beard.
But he’s right: he deserves a party more than I do.
“Can a woman forget her sucking child ... ?” —Isaiah 49:15
Mary eyed her little survivor tightly
as he nursed and teethed, then crawl-step-jumping
taught Egyptian games to Nazareth boys
Joseph noticed his ears
how they filled like cups
how they thrilled at the sounds of the synagogue
sifting words that fell from dry scrolls
temple doctors muttered
shaking their heads
he speaks like a man
mobs flocked to crossroads, pushing
their children forward, pleading:
“Awake, awake …
clothe yourself with strength!”
“What Really Happens When You’re in a Coma”
—Cosmopolitan (Feb. 5, 2019)
You dream I’m looking down on you
like a light on a ceiling
as though you are a thing
and I am a thing,
a light you aren’t,
on a body
you can’t escape
even in dreams, like this one
in which you dream
you’re awake, trying to awake
to the light that holds you together
The chickens have a meanness I cannot quell
though I thunder from the kitchen window, a god
of rice and oats. No matter how much I scatter
in the cardinal directions, there is bullying,
the Silver Laced Wyandottes the worst despite their name.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not
have flesh and bones as you can see I have.
So easily startled by vastness, dark
distances, arrival, they were terrified by him
that night glimmering in their midst.
Jesus knew they needed to finger the familiar
relief of bones under warm flesh to believe
the body, pale star
studding their peripheral vision, a specter
rattling even Peter, who had seen the not-
ghost of him before, walking the sea. Jesus
knew their need to know he hungered, tasted
the tilapia baked in olive oil with salt, lemon,
tangy fingers to mouth.
My stanzas do not resemble marimbas
after all. These lines are the warmed
rank of organ pipes, droning & melting
their millennia into my shoulders.
Yes, yes, my God is heavyset & broad
& not a week of childhood passes
without Bach or Luther or a collect
that echoes the grungy psalmist
and all its definitions had dumbfounded. I bit the hand
that fed imagination, took
for pestilence, the flies. For end-of-world, the gully washers.
I shook in handfuls
petals fetched from
The permanent shiny smudge replaced his bronze face,
his features fade in rusted pictures
I play with pigeon feathers picked from pages
on pulpit splinters that bear his cross of puzzled words.
Warriors unite rage, usher 10% offerings
to dear Black children morning, school wombs empty
Sheets untie laid to rest over waving hands
and church pews ready to fly away with sermons
I am the angel who heard their euphony:
the Hebrew prophet’s words turning to
topaz on Ethiopian tongue, their voices
wedded together, gleaming
beneath the desert sun. Imagine it:
you are Qinaqis, born beside
the Gihon River that once flowed from
Eden, marked for exile
from family, from choice,
from even the faith
you one day will embrace,
despite your pilgrimage through
Each word I choose
carries a different rucksack load for each of you
like I’m the fox slinking along rail lines
thinking by instinct & appetite & you’re
the commuter passing through
like I’m the moon whose same beams call
to a weeping child to a prowling owl
to shivering rodents in the grass
I will teach you by the river,
I will name the place to meet,
how quick is the water;
I am the harvest: come gather and eat!
I’ve told you there are wolves out here.
Don’t you believe me?
You could fall in a hole
too deep to climb out of.
You could slip on wet rocks
and fall into the river and drown.
Good thing I noticed
your pink nose was missing.
Good thing I turn around
to check on what’s behind me.
Remember that leading the flock
I look forward to find tender grass.
Who is scorched worse,
the one who dives to take the bullet,
the one who shoots,
or the woman spared?
Take Ruby Sales, for example—
how she and Jonathan Daniels,
thirsty from heat and the Hayneville jail
stop for a cold soda on their way out of town.
Deputy Tom Coleman is angry, is ready;
he aims his gun pointblank at Ruby.
Daniels sees it coming, pushes Ruby over
throws his body in bullet’s path.
Editor's note: Sales, founder of the SpiritHouse Project, is a nationally recognized human rights activist and public theologian. Coleman was acquitted of the death of Jonathan Daniels by an all-white jury and died in 1997.
We wander round searching for demons
and making them of each other
when we find none. Out of feigned necessity,
the slightest difference becomes a reason
to tame—to vanquish—to stamp out until
we look up and catch sight of ourselves:
Lorenzo was mortar for the church
he built, gathering wild birds
for the rafters and fruited trees
for their food. He carted stone
and hoisted, he pestled, he block-
by Valerian and about to be
arrested, Lorenzo goat-herded
the church’s wealth, distributed it
to the poor. He paid the unmade
orphans, clothed the lepers
in money. He sold the sacred
vessels, the varied trestles.