From The Man With My Face
The Father and the Daughter
There once was a girl who looked so much like her
father that no one in the town could tell them apart.
Despite their difference in age (he was fifty-two and
she was twelve) not even the artists or the architects
could see that the girl’s head was much lower on the
horizon than her father’s. The saddest part was that
the girl’s father was both a feared and hated man in
the community. So wherever the girl went, people
would either walk in the opposite direction to avoid
her, or they would move aggressively toward her to
One day, the girl went to her mother (who was
white) and fell into her arms sobbing: Mother,
Mother, why are people so cruel? At which the
mother replied: Stop crying! What is it with you
men? You are like children, expecting women to
see to your every need. You men are all the same!
One summer he planted a tree.
It was young,
small as a rose bush.
We were intent on watching it.
We were young,
we wanted the fruit to come.
Father brought the coffee can outside,
paced between the tree and the backyard spigot.
We liked to watch him fill the can,
feed water to the little tree.
We liked to see the brown soil
blacken beneath his fingers.
Young trees keep their fruit inside
for so long. You have to stay with them
for years before they’ll bear it.
When the first pear came
we forgot about the water,
the soil and the man
with the coffee can.
We could already taste its sweetness
through the hard, green skin.
It hung there new, like so
many curves we recognized.
We listened at first, we obeyed
Because it was small then
easier to resist.
But later we saw
its size would fill up our hands
At night when he went away
we held it.
Finally the yellow ink took over,
the flesh was soft,
we became gentle.
Father decided it was time to pluck it,
he decided it was
time to eat.
Mother brought out the special plate,
the red one mottled with Chinese birds.
He placed the yellow pear on the red plate,
divided the fruit with a knife.
It lay there open like a flower,
a pale tropical thing with four
petals, keen with the smell of sugar.
Each one dripping juice, almost tears,
each one riven from the others,
so yellow against the red birds.
And we knew he would watch to see which one we chose.
The old story echoed in the air,
he did not have to speak
to tell it. The story of the child
with the most honor
the one who saves the best
for her mother.
All of us fight
for the smallest piece.
Soon the fruit is gone,
eaten under his watchful eye.
Time to wait for the next one.
Mother rinses the plate,
shines the birds with her swift cloth.
Now he has cut the tree down.
He says it interferes with the plumbing.
Too many roots.
Mother is a bird flying.
Sister sends me fruit in the mail:
Apricots, cranberries, apples, plums.
We are young, small,
hungry as girls, hiding
our fruit in the cupboards.
I am making this poem for you
in the manner of a handkerchief.
To shake at the sky, to fold
as your ship leaves the shore.
Red for the blood that races
distance. Veins arbitrary, blood
yours. Square for the shape
of limits and four-fold returns.
Cut from your mother’s dress,
its weave consoles you. Palm
sugar in the hem, for the sea
is harsh and you will be hungry.
If I asked, you would claim
not to need it.
Yet there it is in your pocket.
There it is hidden.
Rain. You lean on the prow
and dream of me: child with a mind
like your own, child who might
write you a love poem.
How can you know that I’ll speak
a stranger’s language?
My poems more bright red
scraps than words you love?
Fever. The sailors blow their noses
with their hands. Your hands are clean.
The red cloth, clean. But even in my poem,
mucus, raindrops, tears, the sea, darken it.
I am making this poem for myself
so that I might watch you
sail the long sea toward me.
Fifty years and what have you lost?
Red for the complicated body,
Veins arbitrary, blood ours.
A square resembles the four
of us eating at a table.
The weave of my grandmother’s dress.
Tears that perfumed her manly face
and hands. Sweat from your endless
forehead, swept clean by a storm.
If you asked, I would claim not to need it.
Yet here it is in my hands, here
it is written. I have wanted to be
this poem in another language.
I have wanted to be the handkerchief:
red hidden in the dark
of your suit, an organ working,
red for the black duration.