The in-flight magazine crossword partially done,
a corner begun here, scratched out answers there,
one set of answers in pencil, another in the green.
The woman with the green ball point knew
the all-time hit king is Rose and the Siem Reap
treasure is Angkor Wat. The woman, perhaps en route
to hold her dying mother’s hand in Seattle, forgot
about death for ten minutes while remembering
husband’s Cincinnati Reds hat while gardening after
the diagnosis. Her handwriting was so clean. Maybe
she was a surgeon. Maybe a painter. No. What painter
wouldn’t know 17 down, Diego’s love, five letters?
In a rush, her dying mother’s voice came back
to her, or maybe she was Chinese and her mother’s
imagined voice said, wo ai ni. At 30,000 feet,
you focus on 33 across, Asian American classic,
The Woman ________, when a stranger in the window
seat sees the clue, watches me write in W, and she says
Warrior, and for a moment you forget it is your favorite
memoir, and she reminds you of lilies or roses, Van Gogh
or stems with thorns, art galleries in romantic cities
where she is headed but you should not go. The flight
attendant grazes my shoulder. The crossword squares,
the letters, the chairs and aisles seem so tight in flight,
but there is nothing here but room, really.
Maybe the next passenger will know
what I do not: 64 down, five letters, Purpose.
And why do we remember what we do? We know
the buzz of Dickinson’s fly and the number of years
in Marquez’s solitude, but some things we will never
know, as it should be: why the body sometimes rumbles
like a plane hurtling over southern Oregon, how exactly
we fall in love, or if Frida and Maxine Hong
Kingston would have loved the same kind of tea.
When you lost me, or when your heart caved,
or when your heart flew through the city like wild herons
on the ledge of my broken window sill in another country,
you name infinity as the home of your intoxication,
ferment as the placeholder for love, the ocean sized grace
of our common language, the ocean sized chance in this
moment. Grace. That’s what I meant to tell you about.
I saw it a few times in my life. I saw my daughter cradle
the broken body of a tiny bird. I saw a young poet
repair the broken charm of a younger poet. I saw that
poet forgive another poet by a stream in the City of God,
by a monument for mothers like you who write poems
about men like me, who write by the ocean with their dogs
waking in the morning cool, the wild seabirds searching
the waves for a small fish to devour.
How Music Stays in the Body
Your body is a song called birth
or first mother, a miracle that gave birth
to another exquisite song. One song raises
three boys with a white husband. One song
fought an American war overseas. One song leapt
from fourteen stories high, and like a dead bird,
shattered into the clouds. Most forgot the lyrics
to their own bodies or decided to paint abstracts
of mountains or moons in the shape of your face.
I’ve been told Mothers don’t forget the body.
I can’t remember your face, the shape or story,
or how you held me the day I was born, so
I wrote one thousand poems to survive.
I want to sing with you in an open field,
a simple room, or a quiet bar. I want to hear
your opinions about angels. Truth is, angels drink,
too— soju spilled on the halo, white wings sticky
with gin, as if any mother could forget the music
that left her. You should hear how loudly I sing
now. I’ve become a ballad of wild dreams and coping
mechanisms. I can breathe now through any fire.
I imagine I got this from him or you, my earthly
inheritance: your arms, your sigh, your heavy song.
I know all the lyrics. I know all the blood.
I know why angels howl in the moonlight.
-from Scar and Flower, Word Poetry Books, 2018, selected by POW Spring 2020 Guest Editor Luke Johnson
BIO: LEE HERRICK is the author of three books of poems, Scar and Flower, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, and This Many Miles from Desire. His poems appear widely in literary magazines, textbooks, anthologies, including Columbia Poetry Review, The Poetry Foundation, One for the Money: The Sentence as Poetic Form, Indivisible: Poems of Social Justice, and Here: Poems for the Planet, with an introduction by the Dalai Lama. He is co-editor of The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit (forthcoming in Spring 2020 by Orison Books). Born in Daejeon, Korea and adopted to the United States at ten months, he lives in Fresno, California. He served as Fresno Poet Laureate (2015-2017) and teaches at Fresno City College and the MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.