On Ohio & Grief

This is a playlist of poems about grief by Ohio poets. I don’t know if the folks in Iowa think about grief as much as Ohioans think about grief. My entire life, I’ve lived in the Buckeye State, which means I have been buried by heavy winters when it should be spring, and I have driven down roads where billboards tell me hell exists. I don’t know if the Midwestern joke about Iowa, Ohio, and Idaho all being the same states makes sense, but the highways enveloped in corn in the former states hints that it might. Iowa is where I found myself driving through Iowa City, my mother next to me, as we passed by grandparents out with their grandkids, and you could feel the disconnect in our car, the way we couldn’t relate anymore. All of our loved ones have come and gone. Our AirBnB was owned by a woman going through a breakup, her ex having taken on of their two dogs, but you couldn’t feel the weight of heartbreak in the walls. At home, each time I walk into my own house, once owned by my grandparents for over four decades, there is a pressure that I can feel. Grief, when you boil it down to its purest form, is different for everyone. I can’t go anywhere without trying to feel everyone else’s, even if it presents itself in the lightest ways. There’s nothing but corn and grief in Iowa and Ohio, but everything feels so much heavier at home.

"Stay Well Back… Or Risk Certain Death": Giant Waves Slam California Coast

In a bar on West 65th and Detroit, I am thinking again about Alaskan wood
frogs. How they freeze with the elements, when temperatures drop, to survive.
The lime the bartender touched. Forced into the clear neck of the glass bottle
I drink from floats in the golden craft like a lily. I think to myself: all of this
could be a poem. Everyone in this bar is starry-eyed. Arctic ice, the Columbia
Glacier, all the coastlines. The dissonance here is funny. No punchline needed.
A man walks into the bar without a gun but with a woman. The danger still
imminent. Swimming beneath the surface of intent. They embrace in a behavior

of embracing I’ve witnessed lions perform before falling into maned bodies
of the wild. We are connected in our affections. We love. Traverse the heart
without clear direction. Without real protocol. Even outside the trigger’s scope.
In this way we make ourselves vulnerable and call said vulnerability bravery.
Up close but far away the night, which is felt most at night, is unreal. A thing
I cannot reach but know is there. All my life I have been invisible. Been waiting
to be called a home. To recognize the song of earth – the branch the brook
the streaming the snapping – without having ever to discern the sound. The Great

Barrier Reef, black bodies, the Giant Ibis. Tonight, to be the poem written
in the back of a book at a time when the poet would rather be held by someone
he fiercely loves is the goal. We are all amateurs of plot. Like many others leading
up to this week, this week America is drowning. An epic poem about the body
aching all the time. About not wanting to die. About wanting to live forever
comes on and no one is singing along. No one knows the words to disillusion-
ment. It is 39º tonight. And raining. The government is shutting down tomorrow.
There are child refugees dying of dehydration while $3 million dollars are crowd

surfed in support of a wall along the southern border of this doleful place. Kiribati
will soon be no longer. 50-foot waves taunt California’s coast. At this rate, we
cannot save the Maldives. Everything is disappearing slowly before our eyes.
What would it mean to be the poem and not the poet? In what way would I be saved
from all of this? I am trying to see what it takes to withstand the elements
of survival. To convert glycogen into glucose is the body’s greatest invention.
I am learning to sit within an image. To survive cold winters. To be the first
thing moving, as the ice around me thaws, with sound escaping my throat.

a portrait of the day phife dawg died

here i am, huddled under the north hoop at the court i used to play pickup ball on, & i am telling joey about how a tribe called quest rapped to a painting of phife on saturday night live the winter after he passed. i tell him this because we have all earned this performance in the same way we’ve earned this spring snowfall, resting on our goosebumps like attic dust. i tell joey about how the name phife sounds like the kind of name a person born into royalty & the crown painted onto him, a royal death mask for a royal burial, glistened in the final minutes of a freezing saturday. i recall how q-tip & jedi kept going without their best friend, dancing on stage while a recording of phife played from a speaker & there’s a tiny rattle at the beginning of it, & i’ve convinced myself since then it was just laughter. & someone’s voice runs into this cell phone in my pocket & the glowing words on the other side of the line tell me that ruth is in the hospital & i picture the smell of the chicken farm down the road as the birthday meal she made me the day before. I think about how phife used to rap with high blood sugar, & i consider ruth’s shell slaving over the stove before dinner while the seams keeping that hole in her stomach closed ripped open with every syllable & in that moment, god called ruth’s cornbread: bacterial pneumonia. lungs separated from the brain will try breathing on their own, but a brain separated from a pair of lungs melts like the skin of an overworked body. egyptians would place the bodies of dead pharaohs in terracotta coffins deep in shallow oval pits, cover them head to toe in gemstones, food, & ancient games. & there’d be human sacrifices mummified, turned into marmalade-colored flesh figurines, & chosen to stand guard for their beloved prince. every fallen god would be dressed in golden death masks coated in sapphires & rubies, glittering glasswing butterflies made of glass, & pink atlas moths adorning blooming jasmines, & their souls would live in the tombs, their mechanoreceptors clanging off the mud walls—humming melodies & beats deep behind stone entryways. that & so many other stories are what i tell my friends when i’m in search for paint blended in the clouds, for thrones crumbling, for making the broken things in my life whole again. later i pressed my back against the wall of ruth’s hospital room & the bed before me carried the bones of a queen & the tube down her throat began pulsating on its way up out of her mouth & the cords plugging her existence into a monitor contorted & coiled into a crown of thorns, a glowing death mask of spare oxygen, & she looked at me & i told her a story about how the name ruth sort of sounds like the name of a person all of the royalty might have come from as the glowing switches & levers of life dimmed & burned out above her unwashed hair. i talked at her body as she mouthed words at me i couldn’t understand & i looked up at the machine keeping her going, listening to the hums it let out, & i convinced myself it was just laughter

& the [last last last] poem i’ll write about my (dead) mother

my moms is in my head tonight & she’s talkin’ all that weird shit. askin’ me

        why you leave & where you been. mama, i been sittin’ under this oak tree & i been busy

missing you. i put out two nickels on the edge of our water fountain in honor

of your memory. often (or always) i have dreams we’re skatin’: your strawberry blonde hair dancin’
with the wind. did you ever dream about me mama? / was i alive in your mind in your final days /
did i ever seep into your memory / did the cancer wipe my existence away? mama, i been sittin’
under this oak tree & i been thinkin’ bout you. sometimes i close my eyes & speak your name.

i open them:                you are here & then

i blink

& miss                           the wind

wash you

         away again.

My Father is the Sea, The Field, The Stone

I don’t know what makes a country a country.
If the sea softening an edge of land is enough
to say this is mine and that is yours.

There were nights in Tripoli
when there was room for us.
When the sky pulled up the wings of gulls

and we watched their bodies rise from the beach.
Days when I chased my sisters through the market
and we sailed through bright saffron scarves,

past barrels of grain and earthy bins of pine nuts.
And how I stood beside my siblings, all dressed
in clothes my father made stitch by stitch,

and held out my hands for the candy he’d bring
if work was good. I knew it was a lot to ask
and still I asked. Some days I’d swim out

until I wasn’t sure I could come back.
The sun beat its indifference into my brow.
The water, its mercy. Why choose a coast

when my hands are stone?
Why a rifle when my blood is a field?
I carry these suitcases full of rain

because I can’t take my country.
If it’s a choice you want—I’ve never known
a world that wasn’t worth dying for.

It's Just That Sometimes I Feel Trapped

He refuses to eat vegetables
from our garden, says nothing

grown half a mile from a steel mill
can be safe. What about me, then?

But I, I refuse to be a real mother.
My body is not a home for anyone

but me and you, and nothing grown
so close to this mind can be safe.

That first summer while digging in the
yard I found a dog skeleton enveloped

in fur, punctuated by sinew, protected
in rest by a proverbial tomb curse.

Was it always that I cannot look
into both his eyes at the same time,

or only since the beginning of After?
When he dies I will wear a memorial

pinch of his ashes around my neck, a
dutiful partner as these leaden puddles

recede from my ankles, the itch of lace
like bees droning beneath my skin.