My father calls me Wolf.
He says that I will see things other people will not see
at night. When he holds me, heat comes out
of his big arms & I belong to him.
In the cold of Christmastime he rocks
me in his deep lap in the great shadow of a comforter.
We are wool on wool,
back & forth, singing these songs
whose words I can’t even say out loud.
I think they’re about God who keeps us in his paws.
My mother watches, standing at my window, arms
folded to her chest. One fingerbone
of moonlight reaches in, tapping on the lock
of her face, restless, not like a mother wolf
but lit like she is going
But when I wind my arms around
him, put my face into the dimmed scoop
of his neck, he smells like good warm fire
like dark sweet dreams.
I sleep on the roof now.
She has taken me away from him.
I sleep thinking of his face tucked
next to mine like a big black bear.
There are other children now.
We run like wild
animals. We let our hair go
into puzzles which will never be unraveled.
We let our teeth go fierce.
We leave dirt in our palms
& sleep without nightclothes.
We pee in the yards & eat raw things.
In the dark we watch the traffic lights blinking
from our sleep in the cold night air.
Sometimes I talk to the stars
& the stars keep the traffic
in the sky from bottling up.
Each person gives off a little
torch when they sleep
& mine’s the softest one.
I am Birdie now I don’t know why.
I squat at the edge of the top
of our rowhouse & I’m without wings I think.
Philadelphia isn’t gentle now. Bad things echo up
& down our neighborhood at night.
I think we wound the people of our street.
I am hurting myself.
I can’t tell time you know.
All the Africas
All the Africas live here
like a family of fire.
My mother always wears the bone of moon
across her face. I peer at her
like through a keyhole & I don’t know why.
She never touches me.
The grownups eat cooked things
& we go foraging,
carving our designs in trees
& benches in the park & cedar picnic tables
left out in the trash, we never leave our names
& we can’t read.
I am the clean seed
of a new race springing
from the dark continent of America.
God keeps me pure & savage here
before the gift
before TV & toothbrushes
before the alphabet.
The Last Africa
The man with the megaphone warns Vincent Leaphart
to get out. He stays on, We stay here with him.
From up top of the bunker, the city
is our karroo dotted with colors of light.
In the dark, we are swept
down to the belly of our house.
They turn water on us
like a devil. We stay on.
We are flooding, there is no light left.
Then the fires & we huddle in the basement
under wet green blankets. Everything smells bad.
My mother stops twisting & I don’t know why.
Everybody wailing. I am Birdie & I don’t know how.
Then a quiet like I’ve never heard before.
Ramona Africa pulls me outside to the alley
& I burn there with her, naked on the stones
in the sweet jungle of the city.
When I come home my father will be singing
like an old kind dream. I have seen things
at night that other people have not seen.