My heart is set on wandering;
even the swamp-trash water of the river would smell sweet to me
if I were among the magnolias and the weeping willow leaves.
In this town of wartime ghosts I stand, barefoot in the dirt of local soil
but it does not speak in gurgling tongues. No holy fire grips my mouth
and makes me spit out prophecies like when the bayou meets the sky—
the dead crowd around me and pull at my coat but I do not know their language.
The war boils over come July and the lightning becomes cannonades over Baltimore
the red color of Maryland's bad dreams.
In a September rainstorm, I see a party of dancers,
practicing the newest Viennese waltz on the lawn.
I want to shake it off; shed my summer skin like a water snake
and swim out to sea where half my people were born.
I have rhizomes somewhere, buried deep down. Before the wars of sedition
this was all my ancestral land—
but I am blond-brown and bone bleached and I don't know the secret names
that once called my family up from where my mother's people lay them down to be forgotten.
I stand in the wind and call for my own kind;
but I have left my grandfathers in the Western Frontier
buried in the Kern County graveyard, marked "beloved brother"
and decorated with the grape vines where they toiled in solidarity.
Only soldiers straggle out of the near dark, with bodies broken like mine
looking for people I am not local enough to know by name the first time.
On 624 where nothing but the road will hold you to the world
and lights out in the water that summon you to your slow, sleepy death
I will call out for my people. When I am tired, a thousand miles from home,
it is easier to shout in the speech of ghosts.
I want the sea-dead of Saint Malo to touch my face, and understand the texture of my hair.
I want to call them forth with the food my father taught me to love
acid and vinegar, sharp and pungent, rice that sticks to knife,
sweet mangos, bell pepper beef stew.
I want to belong to this country, since my kin have always been here—
just once, when the candles light themselves and the white mums open for the dead
I want to see a face that looks like mine.
In the city where the dead never sleep, I saw the Keeper of First Graves
walking with his bone-face and his black top hat. I was afraid, then;
I looked away, and cursed my second sight, and wanted desperately
to play touristi, a foreigner’s foreigner in the kingdom of the dead
like an expiring visa would repatriate me to where the living are.
But I cannot escape the dead for trying; they followed me home
with troubled faces or oblivious smiles. I understand now how you might take a vice
like smoking among the dead; they look almost solid on the exhale.
Like the Baron, I am afraid of being bleached white in memory,
wearing a European suit, and always smiling—
but I spit against the Devil of my doubt, and swear to myself.
I will go wandering where the ghosts know me. I will feed my own kind.
I will raise the dead until I find where I am buried in the loam
and I will bring myself back to life.
For more information about this poem, read the poet's liner notes here.