I followed you through a hundred cities
I watched your eyes
I wanted to soak up your movements
through the screen, feel the smooth
easy vibe of your presence
be all electric on my skin
because I can’t forget your hands
because the night I saw you on stage
in the city that is home
to my most recent pains
breathing the air that has been
my poison of choice in recent years
has become the night to hold
my future nights against
knowing they won’t measure up
knowing the music won’t be pure
because you won’t be here
knowing the passion will be tainted
knowing the moonlight will be jealous
the stellar configuration of December
abrasive against these city streets
in the wake of that brush with fate
the threadbare silk of the tired silence
snagging every so often on the question,
did I rise to the occasion
did I bring you as close to the fire
as I could,
did I make sure there would be
echoes of me in every bottle of Jack
you would ever pour from after?
The lives, they try so hard to intertwine
on nights when they feel most acutely
the threat of unraveling.
I have a stubborn void in my heart
for people whose calling it is
to make such nights happen.
You think you’re only making music,
you call it a performance,
for us mortals you’re invoking dimensions
where freedom is the default
and sin is just shorthand for ‘you need another’.
Another song, another exhale, another chance
another shot maybe of courage
maybe of vodka.
We all wake up the morning after
scents and debris of other people’s lives
that we had pressed a little too tightly against
the previous night
in our hunger to spark something
that lasts longer than a hangover
still clinging to our clothes, our necks,
the center of our tongues.
Back to our prisons.
Back to the processed and packaged
and missing your rawness.
And you carry our most sacred parts
with you, in the next cities that
the insatiable road takes you to.
And just like that, it’s like winter
never happened. Was it only
a moon ago that home
was a heated brick prism
with the comfort of a prison
and we dressed in layers
to survive, complementary
colors and prints be damned?
I am witnessing a new first
springtime on the CTA.
Women wear their hair down,
dark braids with a shock of fire
engine red or Prince purple;
fierce afros with a peppering
of gray. Mothers forego
the goose feather and dress
their young schoolboys with
The dealerships are no longer
shiny metal graveyards, as if
everybody suddenly remembered
they want a new car.
* * *
Tomorrow my therapist will
surely say something about
my high spirits, the bounce on
my step. He will think I had
a breakthrough and ask
like, “What changed?”
“It got warm,” is all
I’ll think of to say.
it’s not that I don’t love you,
but I don’t know you
I don’t know your mornings,
I don’t know the words your mother
hurls to trigger the insecurities
that make you hide
and make you so hungry
you’d eat broken glass
just to prove yourself worthy,
I don’t know the dishes
you dream the gods will
lay out for you in Valhalla,
I don’t know if there’s a song
on the radio that makes you cry,
or which books remind you of
being bullied in high school,
or whether darkness is friend or foe?
Does rain ruin you or make you
think of love? Are the shadow shapes
on your low 1960s ceiling
proxies for a past trauma?
I see your sharpened angst and
your powerful mating calls spread out
on Monroe Street like a fan, but
even in your fiery nakedness
I sense a shell of another day,
another time, like a hand held up
to signal wait, in a DNA I haven’t
decoded. Heels clicking, a decade
and a half older under your eyes
where the concealer didn’t last
the day, your moments of
compassion towards the homeless
man in the corner, tattoos of
words from another hemisphere,
a well-punctuated opinion
about last night’s Cubs game.
Street musicians with passions
large enough to drape over four
blocks’ worth of skyscrapers,
and you, betraying an innocence,
But I need more time.
Bright and blazing as you are,
I still cannot pick you
out from a crowd.
Like blood running through
the city’s veins,
and its arteries in a grid.
We feed its heart/ we are its pulse
fragile bundles of will
layered in fleece and goose down
skin tones from ivory to bronze,
medley of languages
in routine exchanges of politeness.
Tic-tac-toe in the terminal
checkers with the empty seats
private purpose/ hearts on sleeves
protagonists in disparate destinies
our personal spaces like sacraments.
Eyes on your phone
Eyes to the window
counting stops and starts
our shared ride a synchronicity
of movement with no deliberate design,
this prism of steel and laminated glass
a petri dish of stories
rolling on a straight line
come snow or fair weather.
I borrow the marquees, the streets
from your decadent will
for a day,
for a profane heartbeat,
the brooding lake sympathetic
but the intersections
foreign and curled
around a prosperity I can
claim no familiarity with.
Even the ordinariness touts
an articulate struggle,
the solitary walk a long,
complex history of silence.
I used to know you.
The fragile breaths of armistice
between my reckless choices
used to cover you with kisses,
my future pregnant with
the colors you favor
in the springtime.
Hundreds of steps,
dozens of unmailed postcards.
Your passion and reciprocity
patternless and obscure.
I’m just a somnambulist
under your streetlights,
unable to pay in full
what I owe.
“In New York, they say, you’re always looking for a job, a boyfriend or an apartment.”
—Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City
It would always be just borrowed space,
until you make peace with paying instead
for that elusive floor-to-ceiling clarity
with a fraction of a view, that
metropolis of freelance circuitry,
mastering connections. You would have to
try very hard not to see the spiderweb,
the silk with a hundred jealous eyes,
the predator secretly wishing to switch
places with the prey, if only for one night.
To be ensnared in a dance of sirens
and shadows, light through stained glass
on Norman windows, and when, I ask again,
did the sight of exposed brickwork become
commonplace? Elegant monsters,
American geisha standing against the noise.
It’s a skill to plug—and unplug—at will
into that coordinated chaos of synapses.
Grief, grief, kindness.
Bliss, rage, bliss, rage.
Wonder. Loneliness. Wonder, wonder, wonder.
Like Morse code for a faster paced humanity.
The square footage a fractal folded
behind a sonata of slain expectations,
a compact between you and the zen
of becoming your skin.
2.705 million people
own a piece of this city.
All the steel bridges and politics
were swimming in that fall rain.
What’s one more rusty bolt?
The city is many things, but
quaint and dainty aren’t among them.
Turned off from Lake Shore Drive
with the view of the greenish blue
surface undaunted by the weather
to Grant Park via East Roosevelt,
from where the Field Museum
veiled in fog looked just like
the Manila City Hall from
the top of Lagusnilad, the tunnel
notorious for flooding during
typhoon season, where the teenage
urchins of Ermita held swimming
races across the water the color
of smog mixed with rat urine,
while all the stranded yuppies
cheered before scrambling into
those death-trap buses
(there is a kind of slowness to
remembering when you have to
superimpose memories onto places that
are otherwise unfamiliar, when their
resemblance to childhood landmarks
through an unflattering filter
is all you have to go on).
The car dropped me off at the
State Street entrance because that’s
where the Google Maps navigation
told it to go. The driver of
the #29 bus behind us honked his
horn while I struggled to open
my umbrella before getting off.
The sign on the door said,
“Closed after 5 pm.
Use Plymouth Entrance.”
So I had to walk halfway around
the block at 40 degrees, heels
of my boots clicking, my mind
automatically playing the intro
to the 2008 Jordin Sparks song.
There’s an alcove on the wall
along Van Buren. Two men were in it,
taking refuge from the capricious
Chicago night. Their backs were
pressed against the brick that made
me think of newly harvested wheat.
They were smoking weed and
to passersby on the street.
spray of carnations on the sidewalk
sensuous horns and heavy bass
spilling from open doors
out into the torrid summer air
and its parade of exposed skin
shades of brown and boldness
tangles of conversation and
a seemingly contagious drunkenness
permeating the hour that
had long become a myth,
imaginary creature I’ve glimpsed
from my responsible bed and
lethargic, motherhood-weighed dreaming
I’ve forgotten the riot of culture
and cultivated desire that
the city, any city, feeds off at night
or the way it comes alive
dressed in temptation
with the tattoos showing
the frank pursuit of sin and synesthesia
or the lights that shine
the fiercest around the edges
and blur everything they touch
I feel like an impostor,
negotiating this traffic
cutting through a sea of vibrance
idling at the intersection of
North, Damen and Milwaukee Avenues
just under the Blue Line tracks
thoughts of my ordinariness
swirling around me like a cloud
of unsifted flour,
waiting for a change of light
waiting to be released by the past
waiting to return to life
on the long road from church to home
The shell of light unfastens
from the wavering end
of the day’s chaos,
the colors of dusk
burning on the rooftops,
on things not said
and things broken by repetition,
bruised from the lynching
smothered by digital noise
clothed in red, the sky
and everything under it
painted in defiance for the way
we are expected to end,
to fold into nightfall
restless and covered
in judgement and debris
of the fast emptying vessel
Piercing the heart of the Windy City
at sixty-five miles per hour
aiming for midnight
with every arrow in my quiver
and all the windows down
something about this nocturnal wind
rushes at me with memories I never had
like a touch that never made it to skin
but desperately missed
here, blowing through my hair
an unremembered dream
awakening at light’s tapered end
there, stinging my eyes with smoke
a heart that asked to be broken
if as a price for a pleasure
I never tried to understand
here, a handful of years
like a flood-prone interstate
and a network of roads
where accidents are commonplace
there, all the times I heard
the phrase “too young, too young”
they usually said it twice
like a votive incantation
a short code for primitive spirits
one for awe
and another for judgement
and then this one breeze
brushing against the bared shoulder
of the road close to home
tasted like the mess
of a forgotten bed
in a convoluted night
tormented by the impossible forbidden
that marked me for life
I am no longer marked
this is another life
titanium and luminous and
consorting with raging winds