now there is brown earth under my fingernails

As we wrap up National Poetry Month, here is my second to last (one more tomorrow!) poem, a sensual celebration of spring, of our love of the earth and for each another by the one and only Audre Lorde (1934-1992).

illustration of a tomato
Art by Kristina Closs

“Sowing”

It is the sink of the afternoon
the children asleep or weary.
I have finished planting the tomatoes
in this brief sun after four days of rain
now there is brown earth under my fingernails
And sun full on my skin
with my head thick as honey
the tips of my fingers are stinging
from the rich earth
but more so from the lack of your body
I have been to this place before
where blood seething commanded
my fingers fresh from the earth
dream of plowing a furrow
whose name should be you.

from The Selected Works of Audre Lorde

it’s not my mom’s English that is broken

illustration of a crash register with orange flowers blooming from it
Art by Kristina Closs

With its unflinching portrait of how broken this country can be, today’s narrative poem by the Vietnamese-American poet Bao Phi rocks me at my core and reminds me of so many painful moments that I–and so many of us–have witnessed as children of immigrants.

“Frank’s Nursery and Crafts”

The lines are long and my mom insists
that the final amount is wrong.
The cashier looks at the receipt and insists that it’s right.
My mom purses her lips, looks worried,
says, it’s not right.
The line of white people behind us groans.
My mom won’t look back at them.
We both know what they’re thinking
Small woman with no knowledge of the way
things are in America.
Though year after year
she makes flowers bloom in the hood,
petals in the face of this land
that doesn’t want her here.
Finally a manager comes, checks, and tells the cashier
she rang up twenty-two plants instead of just two,
overcharging us by forty dollars.
My mother holds my hand
leads me away
without looking back
at the line of white people
who overhear
and gasp,
their sympathy won.
If only I was old enough
to tell them to keep it;
it’s not my mom’s English
that is broken.

from Thousand Star Hotel

I haven’t touched anyone in a year

Here is a poem I’ve always loved by Solmaz Sharif, whose necessary work, including her first book Look, I can’t recommend enough–and who I am lucky to know not just on paper but in life as a dear friend.

an illustration of a blue egg on a plate with white bones and line drawings of arugula around it
Art by Kristina Closs

“Beauty”

Frugal musicality is how Kristeva described depression’s speech

Cleaning out the sink drain

The melted cheese

The soggy muesli

My life can pass like this

Waiting for beauty

Tomorrow—I say

A life is a thing you have to start

The fridge is a thing with weak magnets, a little sweaty on the inside

A bag of shriveled lime

Arugula frozen then thawed then frozen again, still sealed

I haven’t touched anyone in a year

You asked for beauty, and one morning, a small blue eggshell on the stoop, shattered open, its contents gone

Likely eaten

M asked if I’ve ever made a choice to live and why

I lied the way you lie to the suicidal

few times, I said—not Most days

Most mornings

No, not morning

Morning I am still new

Still possible, I’m still possibly

Usually by 3:00

When grandmother died, she hadn’t been called beautiful in at least half a century

Is never described as such

Her fallen stockings, the way she spit, thwack of the meat cleaver, the little bones she sucked clean and piled on her plate, not really looking at anyone, and certainly not me