In the evening, my father mistook me
for his father’s country. It is the day
of the republic’s birth and thus yours
he said. He was off by a month.
Neither of us could believe so small
a span of hours is all that separated
a boy from a nation.
Mum manages the month, at least.
She crow hops each year to another
number, asks, is this it? Always
there are more numbers to be taloned.
Somewhere in the haze of her hashish
a child emerges clutching mountains.
The year of my birth birthed revolutions.
Eastern Europe convulsed. Walls opened.
A web sprawled under sea, spidered here.
I became me in the land that blew air
into my lungs, a country not of father
or mother. They cannot remember
where they do not belong.
How many times must a man be born
before it is considered final? Poets know
not to mark the day. A thousand births
can take place in a year, after all &
a year on some planets last a lifetime.
Some days I wake up as Kafka waking
up as a man up as a son up as a bug
up as a country, which though changed
into some unrecognisable scurrying,
idles in the space it grew up in
unable to leave and with no one
willing to kill it, or look it in the eye
or caress one of its long antennae.
Some days all I hear is the hateful buzz
of its sweet luminous wings.
I know the day my mother was born
but not the year. And nothing of the man
who thinks of me as his country.
Like any land I have been fought over
with some claiming to love me
more than others, some who are of me
and some who are invaders, new
comers. Those who brutalise my flesh
have also kissed it. Patriots, I suppose.
Everywhere patriots, everywhere
countries burning. I am scared to be
a country in this world.
Every river, every distant snow-
bound peak, every scraped sky
leans toward its unmaking.
With each gust of wind I grow
outward, dissolving the dirt,
picking borders apart.
Somewhere at the end of this
I will be born, a body without edges.
Burn all the maps. Forget about want
I need unspoiled long-&-latitudes.
Some unguttered earth, a place
even the stars haven’t touched
where I can come up for air,
where there is no such thing
as drowning, and no killing
but in which I can still die
a natural death. Impossible
dreams are for young men.
I am not as young as necessary.
It could be a dream this large
requires age, and I am not old
either. Countries are unwieldy
things not to be made alone.
I wish someone told me that
before I started building beaches.
It’s got nothing to do with land,
that gorgeous animal. I just forgot
the people. Maybe I meant to &
I should make the most of these
acacias, the long tapering bush
before it inevitably bursts
into flame, the language not
of gods but of man. Prometheus
knew. It is a lesson we unlearn
as often as we can: alphabets
are all sinuous destruction.
All we wanted was to sear
a moment, a handprint, a hunt
into the rock to let it know
our names, unaware naming
the world would also end it.
My country resists language.
It does not want to know you.
It has its own knowledge, and no
holes for flags. It can’t be
stolen. I built it just for me,
not for other hands to cradle
its edges or to pin to a skin
of parchment, satellite eyes,
and yes it is truly as lovely
as it is lonely every day
watching it grow beyond me.
when the long silence of dirt
is drawn over my skin, my body
will unbless itself and begin to confess
what it was before
a thing of want, a meat need, a hunger,
a flame. god is listening to
what my body has to say—every muscle
has its catalogue of sins.
my gut will speak first with its long tongue:
he filled me with more than I could hold
without pain, it will say I grew fat
after every excess, until excess became me
and less began to feel like not enough.
my eyes will grow mouths and blink apologies
for every taut muscle they lingered over.
some days, they will say, he did not let us
see anything but naked skin & openings.
some days we wanted the world
& he gave us only men. some days we begged
to see your glory, Lord, and he gave us only his
reflection in the eyes of another boy.
my hands will say he did not put us to work
the flowered earth, nor did he take wood
and nail to craft a lasting comfort or necessity
for others. he gave us over to his lips, Lord,
to things of the air, to what is whispered
to what glides into the heat of a girl
in love. then the holy voice of the other
will give my unbodied soul leave
to defend itself and it will remark the oddness
of the spider that eats its mate and the beauty
of that single-minded confidence in being
able to live alone. it will talk of the black male
swans who steal the eggs of females
to raise young together in the protective halo
of their dark, their life-long matrimony.
it will say, Lord, have you seen a flock of starlings
chattering as they wheel in the sky
a formation of unity, yet each voice divergent,
and if so, what did you think of their ideas
because I have some thoughts on the matter—
like, they might be saying, we know this world
is only a test before heaven, but it sure feels like
heaven, or is it wrong to build a home
in another’s wing, or to adore the wind?
is it wrong to love this beautiful crucible?
At the end of me, I forgive the worms my fat
& a hundred years later, when I am dust & light
when I am grass and mud and root,
I will say, yes Lord, I accept what my body tells.