the ABCs of loss


I’m losing my accent, an animal forgetting
itself in parts; two-thirds arms, three-quarter legs, my body
a memory of three meals and lots of books

I sit in my hardest chair, playing in my inner deportation center
wrestling to see what I’ll have to abandon tonight, testing the
next story against the others, they say

all losses are imagined, but I’ve stepped out of my-
self so many times there’s a grudge in that doorway
a blockade of flies taking away

from the meat of
what we’ve meant


at fifteen, I give up the word gravity and float around for days
I disturb nothing in our rented house, I consider us a museum
in that we always have something to come back to

I’m only the more lonely of its curators, my father bangs me
against the walls like a cheap prostitute, I blacked out after the first time
I failed science

I woke four-fifths gone, one-fifth
wanting my glasses back


at sixteen, I am a piñata for almost everything, the world shakes even
as the grandparents visit us in jersey, an ant colony under a blurry microscope
but they are getting the sense dad doesn’t leave the house

most days he lays in the backyard, a weird dinosaur
on a plastic lounge chair trying to change psychiatry
and the english language, other

days he takes it out on us, he obsesses over my education
until I don’t want to know anything which is good
because another word for this is humility


anyone who has begged too hard for too long is of a slightly different species
I built spaceships to breath in my bedroom, borrowed oxygen from the television
trying to wait out that silver storm, I left

large parts of my heart in the furniture
I signed cards to my dark side, open-ended, to whom it may concern
because I wasn’t sure who was there

we all get caught playing nobody
but some of us stay that way, I’m nobody because of
the silences I’ve accepted


random mortar took over, afternoons of cartoons floated in from the vents
a little less real every day, I lost the word sad in my piggy bank
but I could taste it, mom cooked rice to hide our sins

we ate meals tinged with a violence none of us could explain
I predicted victims like a weatherman, my mother and brother
switched chairs as I chose another bruise

in a blacker purple, this might be the difference
between you and me, I don’t see faces as anything
real or beautiful


at twelve, I write lyrics for my dog, he jumps out of our chevy
and a few days later the bird dies, I stuff my shirt with newspaper
and sleep in the breezeway

years later I’ll pee in jars because I’m too scared to see anyone
my mother lines up twenty white pills because dad fucked the asian baby-
sitter back in new york, she starts melting so

I call 911 and while I wait for the ambulance
turn into a very old man with no body: nobody
I understand the concept of a corpse


variations of sleep, we’ve woke as worse
my brother and I are entirely different pets, he, my father’s, stabs hamsters
and molested our cat missy, while I, my mother’s

want to be alone in an almost supernatural way
my guess is none of my teachers wanted to face the black hole
I play dead in, one birthday

J. drops acid and has a grand mal seizure
spends the next three years at the four winds mental institution
I visit twice, most of him is

missing but he doesn’t ask for anything
I can see how seriously he takes his escape
it’s in me too


my father was a moderately famous psychiatrist once upon a time
he understood the principles of what could break and what could heal a man
and so he became my judge and executioner

passing out white candy for my better performances
and crushing me when I stuttered, he molded me into a camel
and no the ocean in my hump is

in no danger of bursting, there’s an erotic side to every beating
so I know my father well enough to know he understands it will take
years for us to get human again


surrender took us to quiet places when dad started hitting harder
he found us there too, repeatedly, as the room became a submarine
I once put up a white flag

and hit his arm in the car hoping we’d crash and you and mom
could live some soft new life somewhere far from that suburbia
from the invisible graveyard

growing in our basement, I
wanted that life for you two
that badly


my brother, my mother, my father and me
we took vacations in each other, played our nightmare roles for academy awards
I was the star, my mother the audience, my brother

the supporting cast, my father, the director and producer, screamed action
and we all survived in place, playing dead loudly, pretending in and out of
ourselves like animals

years later I’m obsessed with dictionaries, with verbs and history
with killing seeds, with archetypes, with thresholds, with strength
and purity, with accents


my mother stood between some shots, side-stepped others
my brother had seven pairs of blue corduroys and seven blue T-shirts
because my father was in charge of school supplies

he joked it was his victim uniform, I dressed beautifully because
part of me was still a woman for dad, rumor has it last Halloween
a kid was killed by the police

years later I openly shoplift for the rush of getting caught
the handcuffs, the cell, the call to my parents, I’m flirting with
being someone else’s prisoner

Quiltmaker's Curse By the Water