If You Have Never Been Married
I guess I’m the salt-shaker you always
wanted, the hot, spicy pepper,
the one, who can undo the done things,
the trouble maker you saw in your dream.
When I tell you to wade the water
so the fish can swim upstream,
know that this is not the farm your father
left you. I guess, if you had me
in your home, your neighbors would
have smelled burning flesh long ago.
I guess, when the lappa’s on fire,
it is the owner that’s on fire.
This is not an art piece you can put up
on the wall. I guess I was born
upside down, oh, I mean upright.
Isn’t everyone supposed to be born upside
down? How come each time a child
decides to be born standing up,
the midwife panics? This is what’s wrong
with the world. Everything that’s wrong
is right and what’s right is wrong.
I guess, my uncle was right. “if you have never
been married,” my Borbor used to say,
“you haven’t seen anything yet.
I Want Everything
How do you negotiate something you cannot see?
But the woman on the phone is laying out in minute
details, the outcome of so many years of her marriage.
Gate 11, Detroit Airport, such an odd number,
where a woman takes out all the ammunitions of voice
with calm precision. As if this were only a board
for flattening out donut dough. This phone call
is so serious, all of us passengers, seated at the gate
are invited to listen. This is a matter for divorce, all
the property, partitioned in small portions right here,
amidst the airport’s new carpeting, so hard, it feels
like stepping on steel, and the feet of already weary
passengers becoming brittle and sore, and the years
that knew nothing about her impending divorce
are poised for accounting. “Listen to me,” she declares,
as if you could see her now at her kitchen sink, her
dress splattered with cheese and oil and the years.
A woman, already old enough to be sixty or seventy
or just fifty-nine. They tell me a white girl ages
differently than us hard bone, slow wrinkling-skinned
black girls. Maybe she’s only my age, how can I tell?
“Five hundred thousand dollars in hard cash,” she says.
This woman is calm, her voice so still, it has become
a windless thing, as if she’d already killed this man
in her heart years ago. She may have soiled many
pillows many nights; She may have crashed many
wine glasses after the consolation of wine bottles,
the comfort, temporary, but potent enough to wipe
away years indiscriminately. Maybe she’d laid it all
out years ago, waiting for the boy to grow up, for
little Jessica to find herself. Maybe she’d swallowed
hard during many hard nights. Maybe she’d waited
and grew tired of waiting. “Five hundred thousand,
upfront, the lake front property, five thousand dollars
of alimony each month and the 401k, oh, I meant,”
she smiles, gazing out the window, eyes, cold, tearful.
Who is she married to, Bill Gates? I shake my head.
Outside the gate, our plane waits. In a few minutes,
it will navigate the clouds, parting blue sky from
white puffy balls, slashing up clouds so the plane
can exhale, so it’s passengers can stay breathing.
But how do we negotiate what we cannot touch
or feel? “I want it all,” she says into the kind ears
of a smart phone. Good thing, a phone is now smarter
than a husband, smarter than the woman herself
who holds it with cold, sweaty hands, in this long
distance show. “Listen to me,” the stranger woman,
divorcing her husband from Detroit, declares.
Detroit, what a place on which to lay out the issues
long distance. “I want everything, everything,
except him, of course. It’s been a long hell,” she
sighs hard and dry. “We’re boarding now. Please.”
Sometimes, I Close My Eyes
Sometimes I see the world, scattered
in small brick shacks along the hillsides
far away in Colombia,
where it is only the poor, at the peak
of the mountains. Medellin, holding on
so the city can find rest.
Sometimes, I see the poor in my Bai,
shoeless and old, his teeth threatening
to leave him if he continued on,
and walking on barefoot, he looks ahead,
his eyes, not betraying the future, where
the children he’s populated
the globe with, will cradle him beneath
the soil, where we all go, poor or rich,
where we all go, if we believe in the grave.
Sometimes, it is just these children who
have emerged from a long war they never
saw; children, left along
the sewage drains, the same people who
brought on the war, now recapturing
the land as if the land could be captured.
Sometimes, the world is hazy, as if fog
were a thing for the artist’s rough canvas;
sometimes, the world is a shattered piece
of your Iyeeh’s dish, the one from ages ago,
the one that was not meant to crack,
but sometimes, this is the world, the simple,
ordinary world, where people are too
ordinary to matter. Sometimes, I close my
eyes so I don’t have to see the world.
The After-Midnight Storm
When April came in last night
with an after-midnight storm,
it tossed everything about, thundering
and lightning, firing up the skies.
Liberia’s making way for the big
tropical rainfall that will carry away
people’s shacks and houses, will send
thousands, scrambling again for life.
When April came in last night, it met
me in bed, me, sleeping and drenched
wet in what used to be my bedroom.
For renovations, the windows,
under construction, frames and all,
the remaking of once lost things
to shield us not from bullets, but
from the careless world of clattering
neighbors, children, kicking football,
and unwelcome greetings.
The rain could not wait for windows.
Rain does not need windows.
But my bed, half soiled, water
flowing everywhere, unlike anything
since I'd been a windowless woman.
I am a windowless woman, I say, having
wandered away, and in my half return,
discover how shattered my world still is.
And I am tickled that I, at my ripe age
was rained on in my own bed.
If you live long enough, they say,
you will see something.