Getting schooled has a way of happening in many places all at once.
           She was bad with money and had no patience for poems.
Two things she warned us never to tamper with. My mother
           understood beauty better than poetry and paid
no mind to sweet talk. Bullshit walks is what she would say
           if she were my sister who spoke this way and whose fire
raged stronger than my mother’s because my sister fell in love
           with the future long before my mother threw her out.
It was her mouth at seventeen that led to her banishment.
           Her bad English she picked up over the years
had convinced me that she was a free woman.
           It was her mouth that made things happen
for a woman who began like all of us with nothing.
           But it was our mother’s tongue that formed us
in the way memory hurtles me back to a fight
           between my mother and our neighbor who
never stood a chance when he crossed the line
           with a slap to my face.
Still in her blue skirt and office blouse
           she charged our neighbor’s house
not to demand an apology,
           but to dispense the necessary tongue lashing—
her rage sputtering like sparks
           from the smithy of a mother’s darkest self.
You can say my mother didn’t know jack
           about no line breaks, but she’ll tell you
that one thing leads to another; and violence
           and love can happen all at once.


Brass in Pocket

We shuffle in threes and fours. No one ever
mistakes us for wise guys with brass knuckles.
We’re packing not heat but canes to steady

ourselves when we gaze, or hail our buds—
using them as an extension of our hands.
We survive on little, not extras, support

each other with morsels of kindness
and mosey with purpose in orange Hokas.
We make walking dates with neighbors

before the great shuttering occurred. We carry
in our pockets a weariness of others’ fears,
their antipathies beyond understanding.

We carry their Asian Hate that takes
the form of brass knuckles in our pockets.
We carry in our pockets love, not rockets.

We carry with us this silent humiliated rage.
In our hearts we carry this young brother
who saunters past us with a bud tucked

behind his outer ear, which serves little
anatomical function except to carry a spare
bud the way a wise guy would hold his cig.

The cannabis like a malignant tumor he rolls
into the smoke which engulfs us in fog—
and we, absorbed into the breath of his bliss.


My Mother Never Bore the Scars

My mother who never bore the scars
           of her past was once an action figure—
stronger than a cannonball and able

           to align herself to the earth’s magnetic forces.
She was slight as a particle
           penetrating through all our pores. At Mass,

she’d flip on a vulgar tongue of flame
           over her head as one would flick
the metallic lid of a Zippo lighter.

           This meant that she’s saved, she’d remind us.
My father tells me I should a wear a bullet
           proof vest to work and know all

the exits in every room. But I cut him short.
           Annoyed by his easy orthodoxy
for the questions we’ve yet to formulate

           surrounding the tree and a bitten apple
in the middle of the room.
           It doesn’t take an action figure

with a tongue of flame over her head
           to know that she’s a question unto herself
while bearing many stories told about expulsion

           with doors to former homes shutting close
by a landslide that has sealed off everything
           they ever loved in its wake.

But my father always looked back—
           hanging on to the remote for the garage door,
seeing something no one else could see.
           And so began our great migration,
roaming the earth like little beggars—
           my mother feeling stronger every day
and amassing all her natural powers.