The Words That Move Us
This project introduces poetry to wider audiences by presenting poetry in collaboration with design on UWG buses and in other areas. The project aims to share the talents of students in the UWG English, Mass Communications, and Art Programs while making daily commutes more interesting and inspiring. It also allows for creative students to engage in unique collaborative experiences together and influence the perspectives of the UWG community of students, faculty, staff, and visitors. Poetry by UWG English students, illustration by Art student Nancy Vu.
They taught us the ups and downs
Of bullets—aim for the nuts, guts, brains.
While brass shells gleamed, they taught us
How to box our chests in Kevlar,
How to bend air sideways
As we rappelled down the splintered tower.
We learned how to down the black
Cardboard men popping up in the molehills,
How to duct tape our rifle barrels
Rub our socks with baby powder.
We were babies with runny noses, stinking
Of goose feathers and sweat. We had to be
Taught how to speak, climb, squeeze, shit,
How to eat raw coffee grounds to stay
Awake. They taught us how to breathe
In gas chambers with the air burning around us
To taste the salty snot and tears and flap our arms
Like birds. We learned to dodge shrapnel
From our grenades, carry plastic men
On gurneys over wooden barricades.
We marched through make-believe villages
In Northern Iraq. Dabbed gunpowder
From our hands with baby wipes,
And learned to lose ourselves
In watermarked maps and soggy fields.
We were pillars that fell and climbed back to their feet.
Pull canvas of leaves. Then draw
mangoes hanging over heads.
For fruit, yellow, but sweet juices,
dye patches of chalk dust in hair.
Vertical strokes, as steel pans
blast R. City out the band room.
Dash of red for the hermit crab
peeping over lopsided shelf.
A loop, then zig-zags watching
pâtéman stirs soursop in wobble
of his truck. With brush dripping wet,
Crayola of every rainbow
soak in saltwater, blue kind,
filtering caps in seaweed.
I dry off with my Cancryn skirt,
Then paving road to Crown Mountain.
Hills with yellow cedar left,
Fade shadows from palms. Widen
dots of pink, reflect fancy hats
dropping little seashells in crest.
But at cruises honk, I lay
murals to face 82 suns,
burning a long trail of green paint.
So, the dirt can leave a mark.
I grab the saltfish by the tail,
lay it sideways so eyes remember waters.
Throw a pinch of thyme for dry skin.
I caress behind fins to the petite belly,
Ground pepper and habanero for his bad breath.
Pray for ingrown shells on his back.
I dress saltfish in my quadrille skirt and sail
to dock, but sandy shores were packed
like pâté at noon. Johnny Cake bakes
right thumb. Red onions brew Ox tail with shears.
On max heat, Callaloo’s fevers rise.
I try to sizzle to health. But caught with weeds
toss them back in the fryer, gold patch
skinned for letting chicklets take a bite.
I drag the saltfish up Nadar hill, pleading
for ducana and fungi to cling
as his sides. But rotten lies from appetizers,
place him under the scalper. Blessed
with Corona oil, Caribbean islands gather
in lines, awaiting another plate on Easter morning.
And all of the images that left you blocked
From me. You can have all the shows that turned you
Into the reality of what is and what could’ve been.
Take the plug while you’re at it.
It gave you the power to control
What you said you had switched off. And I hope you decide
To take the monitor and the speakers
Because they drowned you out from me each night
I tried to tell you something wrong. And none of this
Compels you. I was a friend, never your wife. But go
Ahead, please take the paint off the walls. I wouldn’t care
If you took the drapes and the coffee table, so take
The television, and the box that it came in. Keep it.
Every commercial that played and every football game
Recorded and re-watched. Before I go
I beg you to take this house—
The bricks might as well have remained sand, and the front door
Opened to your true self, you transformed. I guess I should blame
The construction workers for not enough cement to keep
Me concrete. One last thing—good luck
Finding the remote.
My mother’s hands carve halos of steam
from stuck-grease skillets, crest sea-foam
from off-brand dish soap and a hard turn of her wrist.
Each bead catches a piece of sun and fills
Violently with colors--which is my favorite?
All of them. Even the gristle-brown runoff
with flecks of iron and pig-ash.
Even the gold reflecting on her now-
broken hands. These nerves already died—
she said, from too-hot water,
from Pentecostal fire, hands
still throwing her against plastered walls
San Ramón Nonato Church
The sun sets, background bottom-left,
in every vision of Jacob
wrestling with the angel.
Perhaps a framing technique
to lure the eye towards the unbiblical
sensuality of Jacob’s naked waist,
obliques engorged with heat,
transversus abdominis pressed flush
against the angel’s white sheet,
bulging quadriceps hurtling towards one
another through sandpaper skin.
Leloir painted wrinkles into the gray sky
behind the angel’s head, an oil curtain.
Maybe the sun, then, is only a stage light.
Maybe it doesn’t set, just sits, until
the furious curtain falls and the light burns out,
thorny clouds choking day into night.
Outside, kids in blue uniforms leave school
And parade San Ramón Square Park.
A boy straddles the fountain, pining
For the girl on a bench reading her Bible
Beside a man with his hand up a woman’s skirt,
Fingers jostling for warmth.
Okinawa, Japan, May 1945: American troops find
Moritoshi Oshiro, a 12-year-old boy, tortured
by Japanese imperialists and hiding from the war in a cave.
A boy with the face of bread, who wipes
honey from the lip of a Japanese soldier
that beats the word Kokuzoku, traitor, into
the trenches dug on his belly. His eyes—
gunshots without exit wounds, and his skin
hisses yellow, a habu snake or the way
napalm sheds before torching a nation into Fall.
No, don’t fall, he whispers, as he catches a Shikuwasa,
a sour citrus, a beheaded Japan, and cradles
the dead Pacific in his jaw. The water boy that extinguishes
flames with his feet—scarred by a shadow from the afterglow
of a burning bonsai. A night-skinned boy who wears
his smile on his palms and reaches for the sun on a flag
that will never love him. A boy whose father wraps the sleeve
of moonlight over his son’s body and prays that his son is too weak to die.
A boy whose father stitches his mother’s softness to his cheeks and calls
him daughter because a lie is not a lie when God covers his ears with gunfire.
He cannot see a Sakura bloom but can feel its death,
a haiku stolen from the tombstones in his mouth.
He cannot see bloodshed but tastes its lead,
a pineapple rotting in his throat.
A boy that cannot see peace as he peels back the sky,
a blue scab, stretched over the earth’s wound.
Who will call him human
to his light-eroded body?
Who will call him son
to his motherless stare that
crawls to meet the camera’s flash?
I wish photographs could speak,
as if reciting old lullabies to a fitful infant,
without interruptions like silent prayers.
On one of my hands I can count
all of the photos I have of my father,
printed and displayed in rooms
where people say,
“you look just like him.”
I try to forget the deep shadows
of my father’s deep-set eyes,
yet they peek out,
in my mother eyes
as she nags about my nonchalant look,
or in mirrors
as clusters of sleepless nights deepen the color,
so how could I forget that my eyes reflect his.
Yet, I can’t tell you if he smiled so big
that his high cheekbones obscured his face
or if he laughed for so long
that the creases near his eyes
were happily embedded in his skin.
The only photo where I saw
the slightest curve of his lips,
he held onto me at only a few months old
in a velvet rocking chair.
If I could melt away into the film as ink
and recapture the moment when
I was held by a stranger
whose last name I bear,
whose cheeks I carry,
whose walk I uphold,
maybe I could remember how my father’s embrace felt.