90 Proof Sky

Drink this sunset with me.
I know it’s not much;
winter has drained most of the colors
the reds are weaker and there’s
a tone of finality in the blues
like barbed wire.

But sip on the song of this waning light
anyway, a toast and a funeral for
the warmth we used to have in abundance
and the intensity we had co-opted
for our own anthem and gotten
so drunk off of in each other’s presence
the laughter that sweetened the four walls
as if we had out of thin air created love
of enough quantities to convince
impressionism to make a comeback
in the digital age just to rain down
ones and zeroes on our constellated bodies
in bursts of amethyst purple and
sparks of emerald green
and that unnamed and elusive
mad brushstroke of the divine

I still feel like an unfinished
canvas every time I think of you

and to be honest I didn’t think
I’d still be here in December
watching the changing sky and wondering
about stars, wondering if they had
also written our paths crossing
a second time as they had ordained
and orchestrated the perfection
of our first encounter
but they are silent and keep their secrets well
no matter how hard I beg for answers

but later, as twilight moves to claim
your consciousness and you slip
into the softness as you would
if you had my eyes to drown in,
drink that haze that toes the line
between tomorrow and today

as if you are kissing me again
as if you are getting lost in me again

if this changing sky is all we have
make your thirst all about that
slowly fracturing dusk

To be Next to you

To be next to you
when the heartbeat quits
its feeble pursuit of sleep
starts rhyming with the restless night
and wonders where you are,
what part of the city,
is the moon over your left
or right shoulder,
are you in the presence of love,
the kind that pleases you,
the kind that makes
the surface of the lake look like
it’s covered in flames
and the hours till morning
your joint sentence,
and are you taking your sweet time
putting out the fire

stumbling on what will never
be spoken, not aloud,
not ever,
when will I next find you
when will I next coax the fates
to give me you
to surrender a memory
to tear out a parcel of time on which
to paint that ache that defines me
that forbidden that defines us
or was it you who found me
or did you even find me
or did you find a mistake
and was it worth making

to find you in the fall
and the falling pinpoints
of nautical light
shuffled cards and muffled words
clairvoyance, caste, chastity,
convergence
where impermanence meets
the impermeable darkness
that used to know us
used to witness us
used to know just where
you end and I begin
pushing and pulling with pleasure
and that ultimate pain

oh to be next to you
tonight
when everything that makes sense
to my soul feels so far away…

Night as Scripture

When the difficult questions
go home and slip out of their armor

become softer

When even the most rigid lines look up
and acknowledge the otherwise faint flicker
they occupy in infinity

When unconditional compassion for
a long buried, never spoken shame
rises from underground

an imperfect redemption

and loneliness runs in torrents
down the streets
like howling misfits

the piano keys disconnect
from the dainty hammers

the dancing shoes are abandoned

survival is an olive and gray Hopper painting

shadows and footfalls are language
and not everyone speaks

There are no messengers
or prophets locked in debate
over what the verses mean

When all conversations are in free fall
gravity being the only truth

Which of these silent stars
is the right word for found?

Lichtung

Because the night
begins in breaks
and not with intentions,
the pieces more chant
than prayer
falling into the clearing
holding each noise
accountable, both
for what it interrupts
and what it distracts from,

I appeal to my heart to
listen more than it speaks,
knowing it probably won’t heed.

Because the night
is for escapes and dissolutions
where old grief takes the form
of water and passion is a bed
of doused coals, weak and
intermittent electromagnetic
pulses in Faraday cages,

I ask my heart to keep
in check what it remembers.

Because the night
gathers home the voices
as if home were some contraband
silence, hard-won and needing
constant defending,

I tell my heart to be frugal
with the space it occupies.

Because the day is promiscuous
with hope and the night
is vocal with its judgement,
with even the craving for
rest bearing the face
of my harshest critic,

my heart retreats at the chime
of the clock without being told,
and covers its tracks.

In the Space between Exhales

Maybe the light,
ultraviolet and irreverent.
Maybe the sound
reaching all the way in
and touching all flammable things
with fingertips of phosphorus.
Maybe the vectors of freedom
circling the room like
librettos of a dark will.
Maybe that dark will
crouched in wait,
soft shoulders, arch of color
tracing emotions, idle
and draped over chairs.

What is missing?
That the most important words
stand on the edge of this crater,
waiting to fall.
That all the years of fearing
that one large loneliness
did not teach me to recognize
its smaller, more agile sisters.
The nights that no one talks about.

En Route to “No Blue Memories”

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
exhaling indifferently
to passersby on the street.

Reveries in Satin

crevices of a murmur
silences padded with damp echoes
the unspoken fusing with lost time

dreams of flight
patchwork of rooftops
blind horizon burning upon
contact with the omnipresent sky

smudged charcoal edges
retired fiddler silhouetted
rampant bootleg copies of the past
old songs against the current
moon river consciousness
Audrey Hepburn likeness
with my voice

stubborn joys on corners
thought valleys collecting rain
plains flooding with phantasms
they talk in dialects
only daughters understand

upside-down days
sand in an hourglass dyed blue
speckled with chances
falling between fingers

soft landing
surviving
parachute of furtive resistance
folded hands in blankets
the muse of open windows
covered in seeds of words
sleepless and slipping
into crevices of murmurs

Wicker Park / Friday / Past Midnight

incongruous
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

Ajar

And the hours to daybreak
unravel like fists
of spent secrets

and intimacies

the pre-dawn sky
soaking the voices
of belated dreaming:

the mind’s horizon
wrapping around
the insurmountable past
and taking control
of desire

as it throbs
to the near-painless
rhythm of absent light

Beacon

The glass is full
and the night is overflowing

I watched
the beautiful beloved
of a forgotten confession
give birth to a silent,
but infallible, compass

I saw untouched hunger
brimming with dark legacies

true north
is a rare orchid
cut open with a scalpel

grace of blade
on folds of fever

not all nocturnal songs
are lullabies—

I saw one just crouching
under the eaves of
indecisive constellations
hanging its lyrics on
the beams of porch lights,

wide awake with intention

on a garden where the rest
of the pregnant symbols
have been spared