Even If

By Cynthia Dewi Oka

The whiskey cooled to a nail
circles the scent of the chasm a boy
leaves behind — an anarchy of limbs

distilled to the muscular pattern
worn by those who daily sour
the ink on their fingers with bile

press them against the glass jar
of history: pickled skin, sparks
colliding in the canyons of skull

even as they dig heels their silence
into cement, a smear of faces
straddling the speed of a bullet

the city blooms. Hatred, body, fire
civil punctuations on the note
posted again and again like spit

of the poor, polaroid of the damned
to the wrong address: it’s never been
God, only pain that is incorruptible

We throw the words down like planks
bound by the rags of our rage across
what physicists call an event horizon
They tangle, knock against each other
propelled by the engines that churn
color in and through us colored people
(the weak splinter in a rapture of dust)
We conjure the other side, homeward
glance to scrape us clean of metaphor
but the eyes resist direction, implode
on the present, shifting train of flesh
classified, prototyped, unrelenting bas
relief, language staggering upon us
(What is this us anyway? Stratagem?
Proverbial currency? Certainly not fact
unlike the ghosts that crouch in the pores
of our faces, sucking the salt of days
that tick by unresolved toward complete
survivor’s amnesia — by which we nod
in recognition at each other’s still life)
How my body empties when migrating
birds drag the sun out of the blue, that
kind of hollow, un-skinned, memory
loosened, damp world spinning away
nothing but I pinging from leaf to leaf
Give me the lie instead that gives me
weight, agony by which I earn my place

Thanksgiving in lieu of sick marrow, tin scraps
laughing off the edge. Flirtation: jury convened
in defense of disbelief. Febrile air. Bone Thugs
& Harmony on waves and waves of ice. Even
the pulverized dead wafting in and out of lungs

“too heavy.”

A man I should not have loved said,
“There’s always guilt.”

I keep coming back to this. Stain on a favorite
photograph. I’ve never held

Michael. Aiyana. Trayvon. Eric. Tamir.
When vultures feed, what’s left is the hardness that angled
the body in ferocious light, revealed

futility. Come close, closer to see
my own blindness, the brutal demands of hope –

Chestnut Street, watching the city flex behind me
on the café window blood’s refusal
of skin’s ontology, even now

shafts of cerulean divide the streets, voices
muffled in the walls. The mouth on my neck

a lit match

I can’t even.

I can’t even though.

I can’t even the odds (a man insisting the life he took was fiction).

I can’t even as hundreds lie prone on the piss-stained road, the whites of their eyes.

I can’t I can’t.

He said, “I can’t breathe.”

He said, “I’m tired of it.”

I can’t even with the dogs barking down the darkness, the dog I have been called.

I can’t even under camouflage of fire. Even with phoenix in my DNA.

There is a debt that must be paid.

I can’t even if you say peace.