Return and Other Poems


Descent jumps and jostles,
                                                  nausea drops me
back to the floodplain
                                         I fled.

                                                           The taxi driver asks,
Do you have some mixed blood?    

He says, You have an old world face.

I let my eyes flare
                                  as he drives me
                     past the split
where Walnut Grove divides    
                                                     cropland from greenway.

        On the farm side,
                                         heat gleams

on shoulders screened CORRECTIONS:
Workers in the cotton
                                         still in chains.

                      Past the test plots,
                                                         past the longhorn pen,
barbed wire blooms into razor—


I stacked books in boxes

                             like green-husked walnuts
we left curbside
                             every spring.

On every corner, an alabaster cross:

my parents made sure
                                          we lived among
other mezuzahs.


Midstep, I stop
where sweet pea climbs the chain-link.

I sketch, invert the corners—

erase, retrace,
render the storefronts:


follow the beams
someone felled
                             someone planed

someone nailed in place.


                               Farmers set
                                                      tomatoes bottom-up
to hide the spokes of scars
around their stems.

                                     Sweet heirlooms
rest on a folding table, easy

like the fat gold fruit
                                             I was born to.

I know to visit
before I point out what I want;

pass my cash, take a bag
       Have a blessed day.


In her driveway Minnie hugs my neck, says,
What’d you do with all your hair?

Inside, the news: a robbery, a gun bust;  
she says, They need to go get a job.

I nod and sip my tea, the chill of her A/C blowing.
We lean almost as close

as when we’d visit over the gospel radio.
She asks what my parents won’t:

                    When are you going to give your daddy a grandbaby?
and just like our Sundays on the phone, I say,
                                                                                       I’m all set.

When my parents packed up, she got a pension.
My stomach growls; Minnie says,
                                                             I don’t need much dinner.

As I’m leaving:
                            Tell your mama I need a raise.


My knife plumb
to a warped board, I set to core a tomato.

Imagine the slip
of teeth clean through,

the drip of seedy water
into the sink . . .

                        See the rabbi beam
as he tells me how,
                                   after King’s assassination,

The whole city sat shiva. No riots here.

My teeth tingle

with an anger he wouldn’t approve of.
He says, People are used to the lifestyle.

It’s so affordable.
Here, my money

gets me double
the bouquets of basil,

double the sinuous
summer squash.

I buy pounds of peaches
to slice at breakfast,

slurp alone
in the still afternoon.

Who did I choose
when I wished myself elsewhere?

Dear Memphis,

People on couch
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