only $12

in the thick of expensive cigar smoke,
i noticed your clarks and wondered–
maybe i’d be better at math
if everyday calculations were less troubling.

$12 in my jean pocket
(because jeans go with everything)
and i rummage through goodwill sales
where cute black tennis shoes are only $7.99
(i wish i had a pair)
and beautiful blouses for my new job are $10.99
(because unfortunately, dress to impress)
shit, a shirt or the shoes?

i leave goodwill with the shoes and blouses in memory–
i’m running low on soap and tampons are more expensive
than they should be.

$12 in my ripped bag
(i just haven’t had the money to replace it)
while at target i remember that i should get a pillow
(i’ve learned to sleep without one, but still)
and i see the most beautiful choker:
coral, white, and silver crystals hang like
chandeliers, a serene luxury–12.99.

i leave target with only self-reflection–
i have slept without a pillow for over a month now,
and i need to pay my coworker back.

the cigar smoke couldn’t mask your class.
and when you whispered that you scored a
great deal–chocolate for only $12!
i couldn’t help but wonder who’s better at math.


the lemon tree

pharmaceuticals are bullshit.
have you heard of the lemon tree?
he whispers, and reads my skeptic expression
as a preacher’s invitation:

man-made drugs don’t heal us, sister,
but our family does. the trees, the earth,
the lemon tree, have been here for
thousands of years–and it’s free.
there are no excuses, drinking lemon water
will change your life. have you heard of the
lemon tree?

i tell him i know all about lemons–
the other day i got lucky,
7 lemons for 3.99.

the self-proclaimed jesus of the lemon trees
shakes his head. he says, you don’t have
to pay to live in abundance sister.

he glances around the room and mumbles,
i’m looking for a priestess, and you can’t carry the word.

in a cotton dress he swears he dyed with berries,
he floats around the room, searching for the
undiscovered priestess of the lemon tree.

the u-district

goodwill, used bookstores, american apparel,
independent shops covered in arabian fabrics,
the scent of mellow, brooding coffee shops tangled
with vietnamese pho and ice-cream crepes
invite disheveled young adults to try-on
different identities. the young blonde with a
purple lip-stain wears white dirty bunny ears and smudges
silver eyeshadow in the church parking lot,
a broken toothed man sits cross legged on the sidewalk and
tells everyone who’ll lean in and listen:
let me give you a reading with these stones i brought
from egypt, free reading, tip what you please,
you may not remember karma but karma will
remember you. baby-faced teens wearing blue
velvet dresses and chunky combat boots smoke
cigarettes alone, staring absentmindedly
at the intersection before them. habitual gray clouds
carry inks that seep into the skins of residents
who live the lives of outcasts, a lifestyle they swear
they didn’t choose. like goods in a consignment shop,
they are stand-alone treasures, hoping someone
would find their distinctiveness.

my little secret

you’ve spend weeknights in the company of white noise,
the only lighting that illuminates your half-open eyes and
flushed cheeks, saliva dripping from your mouth and
soaking your shirt. beer cans sprawled on the wooden floor
without your noticing.

the family broken by malt liquor and the crushing
of fragmented dreams haunt the bare walls
we once called home. the ghosts of our
faith in you don’t let you sleep because
you’re afraid to ask forgiveness.

shortly after grandma left, too.
initially you spoke of your momma in memory, that’s what
twenty years of bad blood does, i guess–
and life with her seemed like a brother’s grimm
fairy tale. momma was vile, momma was the evil queen
you banished from the kingdom you rescued.
when she actually passed away, may she rest in peace
i think it was then you realized the value of
your crown.

i feel like little black birds are pecking at my insides,
cawing about my reluctance to speak to you
stirring an overflow of guilt and sorrow and anger
and helplessness–a heartless bitch* i am.
i learned from the best.
now you know who.

underwater dreaming

she floats just beneath the ocean’s waves
her brown hair spread like a scallop seashell.
her gaze, fixed on the profile of a white sun
that disturbed the surrounding blue-green waters
with flecks of white light, surrendered
to a warmth that blanketed her face.
unaware of what lies above,
she lifts her hand and breaks the ocean
feels the sun’s kiss–an eruption of heat
that envelops her hand.

the mermaid said
she discovered peace.


he’s one of the shorter kids in class
who waddles over to jenna to snatch her blocks,
races to emmett to drive his toy-car and hisses at timmy
when he mutters, hello. angel, whose smile blooms
like white chrysanthemums during spring mornings.
he giggles, and i notice the lights in his eyes dancing
as the ripple of his laughter makes me laugh, too.
angel, whose momma died a year ago.

the teachers say he hasn’t been the same since. he refuses
to use his words when wanting his spiderman shoes tied
or when craving sweetened mandarin oranges. angel, whose
favorite song is please and thank you.
if you didn’t know him, you’d think
he’s unfamiliar with these words.

like angel, his daddy hasn’t been the same either.
when angel bites him, he bites back harder and when
angel screams, he screams louder. angel, who always wears
a red shirt and oversized jeans. angel, whose boogers dry
to a green crust on his nostrils and
whose fingernails are rimmed with dirt. angel,
who during nap time dances in circles,
like a lighted carousel.

cat eyes

two full moons,
enigmatic and overwhelming
heavily stare at the peels in the paint
on the ivory, off-white wall
in our living room.

is our beloved cat
observing the aura of a family portrait,
the empty eyes of a ghost staring back,
or the dead bug crushed on the wall?

her eyes, the moons
build intrigue
among their onlookers.

our cat’s unyielding gaze
as i whisper her name
for the fifth time.

waiting for papa

stay put, papa said.
he hugs me
beneath the smoke colored sky
and wetly kisses my forehead.

okay, papa, okay.
i’ll wait here.

as he runs with the men wearing
dirty, khaki uniforms
i sit under a wooden table
holding my knees,
careful to not let anyone step on me.

everyone is running in different directions
yelling the names of their children
and looking for god.
i hope the flares hit the dirt
and not them.

i want to close my eyes
like momma told me to do when i’m scared
but it’s hard not to look
at the flies picking at a dead dog
and my neighbor laying next to me
whose eyes haven’t blinked.
he is a nice man,
i remember he gave me caramel candies.

the skies now buzz with flies
it’s hard to see anything
with all the lights out.

i hear mommas wailing
and papas sobbing.
i peak my head out
and the roads look empty.

i see the sun rising behind the little houses
lighting the faces of
people who slept on the street.
some of them hug the earth
others have their arms open
towards the clouds.

everything is still.

papa still hasn’t come back.
he must have gone to the store to buy those cigarettes
the ones momma doesn’t like.
he’d be proud. i’m such a good listener
i even slept under the wooden table
like he said.

the sun reaches the center of the sky
and no one wakes up.

i will forgive you for leaving me here
only if you bring me some
caramel candies.

i know papa doesn’t like it
when i cry.
but i can’t stop crying.
he still hasn’t come back.

my first time

the first time i wore you,
i hid you underneath my navy sarong.
your white strings, wrapped around my sand-colored neck,
tightened when i smelled our host—
the salty, cold ocean.

i rearranged my towel, my beach bag, my floppy sun-hat
i reapplied sunscreen on my legs, arms, neck
i reminded myself that wearing you
shouldn’t be a big deal.

i uncovered you
felt my fleshy sides jiggle more than usual
when i fidgeted on my towel.
the chill breeze tickled my bare stomach, back, thighs
as i ran in the ocean,
trying to hide you, me, from the world.

i discovered the softness of the ocean’s touch
and the warmth of the ocean’s hug
that day.

the first time i wore you,
you felt intimidating,