Issue > Poetry
Aracelis Girmay

Aracelis Girmay

Aracelis Girmay is the author of Changing, Changing: Stories and Collages (George Braziller, Inc., 2005) and the two poetry collections Teeth (Curbstone Books, 2007) and Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions, 2011). She serves on the faculty of Drew University's low-residency M.F.A. program and Hampshire College's School for Interdisciplinary Arts.

When They Ask Me My Name

When they ask me my name. (Whoever.)
Angels. Gravediggers. The newspaper
chroniclers of tragedies & the dead.
I will say, I am a city. This one.
Who hums electric as an exposed nerve
touched by both good & bad weather. Years
of trains & passengers moving in & through
my tunnels, my alleys. Reptilian. The saints.
Machines. I will tell them all the same thing:
The mattress below the East River
speaks for me. The river, the snow,
the summer bees. I will try,
in my wisdom, to be mistaken for the trees
so that when they come for me (whoever)
no bullet or jailhouse will kill me all.
I am here & there—scattered, having been thrown
to the dogs & pigeons, I am the dogs & pigeons. I eat
in the streets, at the table. I eat with flies at the table.
They arrive in uniforms, magnificent & gaudy suits,
green, black, iridescent, without an invitation.
They tell me my life is very long. So be it.
My life is very long. But short compared
to the turtle's, the stone's. I am both
the bird whose chest flashes red
at the window, & the cats below
screaming Return to me.

(making You A House Upon My Leaving)

Some murder, really,
to build this house,
though there are ferns!
& children! & someone golden
whose hands make the bread
you eat on Sundays, both of you
handsome, & alive. Some murder to
extract my arm, extract my other arm
from the body of this dream, to
erase our laughing & the daffodil
you placed in my skull's high rafter.
What a funeral, this poem. Still,
doesn't someone say love—flash, or ever—
is lucky? Lucky, lucky death, I say,
to have touched your rose, to have known
your bull's face in the morning, full
of birds, even though I turn my back
& call my leaving golden now.


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