because you were alive
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I dreamed you were kept alive in a warehouse
You still didn’t know who you were
But your breath fogged up the tubes

My sister sat with you, trying to explain
That she was your daughter's daughter
You kept calling her "mother, mommy"

Your parents owned the county general store
and your mother was the very first
woman there who could drive

My mother hasn’t had a lot of firsts
But she's the only one who heard your death rattle
And the only one who could stand to hold that boney hand

In my dream I was at a church picnic in July
Crying into the macaroni salad because

My mother lied to me about your death

And also because you were alive
which meant you'd fall again in the bathroom
and mistake your teabags for toast

The Truth About Everything
The truth about headlines
The truth about red and processed meats
The truth about what happens when we die
The truth about Al Gore’s divorce
The truth about Albert Einstein

In the bleak Norwegian night
They spotted a spiraling UFO
A wormhole rapidly opening
A rocket with a blown booster

I look up at it from my cube steak
Savory red juice drips from the fork
Blood splatter art on the plate
Cholesterol I haven’t consumed

This is what happens when we die
UFO satellites and wasted calories
A resetting of life. Redone. Reseen.
The wormhole crashes to the sea

A humpback whale cries when she sees it
She cries every year since her sister died
She cries since the krill tasted tinny
Since her heroes couldn’t get it together

Norway is nothing like Finland in the summer
I’ve replaced all my herring with red meat
All my fish flesh with fatty whale
All my cholesterol with UFO sightings

Every time I start doing something
I think about doing it after i die
I smile because I think that makes me clever
I smile because I’ll keep on smiling.

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The papaya, heavy and orange, plops loudly to the ground, startling me and scattering sticky seeds over my toes. I look up at the tree and see two more ready to fall and at least ten still green. I shift my laundry, sliding the t-shirts along the line until they are no longer under the tree. I wonder to myself why someone built this laundry line under the papaya tree. I hear children yelling my name on the other side of the wall. I climb a few steps and peer over. Four boys and three girls stand smiling around their bicycles. They ask if I want to watch them fly their kite. "Sure" I say, "Just a minute." I wipe the seeds off my foot on the grass and go out to the street, leaning against the courtyard wall with the three local girls. "The boys are all crazy and use bad language" they tell me, "Let's go inside." In the house we watch music television and from the corners of their eyes, the girls watch a boy work to untangle the kite string. A toddler from two houses down wanders over and the girls rush outside again to fight over who should hold him. He struggles for his freedom but finally ends up on the shoulders of the oldest boy, clutching his hair and giggling. The boys give him the kite string and he squeals but lets it go in a few seconds. The boys scramble to catch the string as it slides into the empty lot across the street. I worry about snakes as they charge in bare footed. The string is surprisingly long, the small yellow kite just a speck above us. Suddenly the kids decide to move on and grab their bikes yelling "Ok Miss, See you!" I smile and go inside and put some rice in the steamer for dinner.

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I wipe the sweat from my face with a tissue. The tissue is smudged black. My eyelids itch and I think, longingly, about the cold shower waiting for me at home. A lizard crawls across the wall above my head and moths slam into the four bare fluorescent bulbs, their wings fluttering down to stick to the headscarves of my students. I ask my class if they understand my description of faulty parallelism. They respond with a resounding "No!" I ask if they have specific questions. Another "No!" I sigh and try to repeat my explanation in different words. A student waders in, 40 minutes late. "Sorry Miss," he mutters and I try to decide of I should make him wait outside. I decide it doesn't matter. After class the students ask to take my photo. I've been here months already and I'm still a novelty. The photo session lasts half an hour and my cheeks hurt from all the forced smiling. The students wait in line to stand next to me while their friends snap away on their cell phones. The braver girls put their arms around my waist and their heads on my shoulder. One boy slings his arm over my shoulder and everyone squeals and hisses. He wears a shirt that says "My cock is a machine" with an arrow pointing down. I wonder if he knows the meaning. I am uncomfortable. Finally, I say "Ok enough for today." I walk home in the rain, happy for the isolation I feel under my small umbrella.

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By the dim light from the bare bulb on the deck, I can see the white caps of the waves below. Lights have finally appeared in the distance though I imagine we have 40 minutes or more before docking. The sea is getting rougher as we approach the shore. Earlier, around dusk, there were dolphins and flying fish in the water. I wonder what's out there now. The lights of Senggigi twinkle promisingly and I hope to reach my hotel in the next two hours. Judging by the lights, we may be entering a bay.

An Indonesian man who clicks his jaw with every sentence tells me I'm beautiful and have more intellect than other tourists. He talks about me with his friends and I know only enough of the language to know I am the subject. Traveling alone is a strange phenomenon. Two old Dutch men, sunburned chests exposed from their open batik shirts, chat about surfing and the middle east. The boat tips sharply and the subject changes to football. Another ferry passes silently towards Bali, a bright spot across the water. I tell the Indonesian man I am not a party girl and he leaves to talk football after offering me a sip of the murky blue liquid in his used water bottle. His friend takes his long coarse hair out of its pony tail to blow in the wind while he lights a cigarette. My skin has developed the familiar thick layer of salt and sweat. I want to shower. The temperature must be around 80 degrees but I feel chilly and use my sarong as a scarf. Maybe I will pay more for a room with hot water.

Jalan Jalan
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The child reaches out and grabs my earlobe. Her other hand presses against my mouth. She’s interested in my earrings. Her mother tsks but the girl is too young to understand reproach. I move her hand off my ear and she happily wraps her fingers around my finger. She gnaws on her bottom lip and I put my thumb on her chin and gently pull her lip out of her mouth. She’s got two teeth, her mother tells me. She’s just getting over a fever but she’s happy now. I smile at her and she reaches for my earring again. Her mother takes her from my arms.

Above our heads a dove ruffles its feathers in its cage. The child and I both glance up. “Many birds,” her mother says and I smile and reply “Yes, many. It’s good.” It’s a status symbol, I don’t actually think it’s good. There are no longer any wild song birds on this island because they have all been caged and sold at markets. There’s no wildlife at all left on this island, except for insects and reptiles. I don’t say this. I don’t know how to say this in her language.

The girl’s brother comes out of the house to join us on the porch. He has a disability of some kind, I don’t know what. He is carrying a plastic gun and wearing a Spiderman shirt complete with a cape. He has a cardboard box over his head. His mother smiles and says something to him that I can’t understand. He takes the box off and comes over and kisses his sister on the cheek before going back inside. He is careful and extremely gentle. His mother looks proud.

The girl wants to get down and tries to stand on shaky legs. She holds on to the cement wall I’m sitting on. Her father comes outside with a bowl of oranges and a cup of coffee. “Please eat, drink.” He says. I smile and nod but don’t touch the food until he’s offered it to me three times. Somebody told me that was polite.

He asks me when I will get married. I laugh and reply “later.” He asks if the oranges are sweet. They aren’t, they never are here, but I tell him I like them. He asks if I can eat rice and if I like Barack Obama. The coffee he gave me is too hot to drink. He shows me how to pour it into the saucer to cool it more quickly. I copy his actions but I still spill some onto the table. He doesn’t. He asks me about my sisters’ ages and my parents’ jobs. I don’t know the word for salesman but he understands the English word. He asks what my favorite food is and if I’m happy here. Then he asks something I can’t understand and I smile apologetically. He laughs and rephrases. I still don’t understand. He changes the subject and asks me how much money my father makes and how much a meal costs in my country. When I tell him his eyes widen. “A meal for just one person?” he asks, incredulous. “Yes, in a restaurant. It’s cheaper to cook at home.” He just nods, eyes far away.

His mother, fragile looking in her baggy sarong, comes out with a broom and distractedly sweeps the porch. Her eyes light up when she sees me, as they always do. I try to guess her age. She looks eighty but probably she’s about fifty. “Beautiful!” she says and grabs my arm too hard and for too long with her rough fingers. “Good, good. Very beautiful.” We smile at each other, me awkwardly and her sincerely. “Thank you,” I mutter.

“Let’s keep walking,” my friend says. Apparently we’ve visited with this family long enough. “Oh, ok.” I finish my coffee quickly and burn my tongue. We leave and they all thank me. They give me oranges to take home with me. There are tiny ants crawling on them and they start to crawl over my hands.

My friend goes home and I do the same. My house is empty. I turn on my laptop and watch a movie until I fall asleep. I wake up to the call to prayer loudly broadcast from the neighborhood mosque. It’s getting dark so I turn on the outside lights. My friend sends a message to my phone, asking if I want to take a walk again tomorrow afternoon. I say ok. I fry two eggs and eat them on top of rice for my dinner. I go back to my room restart the movie. I fall asleep again.

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After the downpour

I leave my bedroom

With my empty glass coffee cup.

the side porch door

has a frog stuck to the outside

looking just like one of those things

people put in their cars.

His toes are rounded and cling

to the glass panel.

He sings for mates.

I tap the glass.

He ignores me.

In the kitchen

I take my coffee cup to the sink

inside there is a lizard

which cannot climb out

and is slowly slowly

being eaten by ants.

I call my roommate

to get it out.

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I've never seen the ocean so calm, I could be standing at the shore of a lake. The waves barely ripple. There is something about the small waves, about the muddy sand under my toenails, that turns my mind behind me, to the mountains I've traveled over and through. In a small white van with a broken door I watched the rice paddies slip past and the gorges fall away. I saw butterflies smash against the windshield and goats led to the butcher by a little girl singing and skipping. I watched women step carefully to cross the road, cement blocks or bamboo poles balanced delicately on their heads. They tell me that when I leave here I will understand balance and unity. Maybe they're right, but only if I stay in the tourist areas here on Bali where I can eat organic lentils and go to yoga retreats.

When I was fourteen my grandmother died from brain cancer. It's something that happened, I don't think about it anymore and it's not what this book is about. It's just that she would have been really interested in hearing my stories about Indonesia. She would have been interested in the old Ibus here with their bare chests and long fingernails, carrying their grandchildren in sarongs tired around their shoulders. She'd be interested to know that even people here know about the Native Americans and what was done to her grandfather's people. When I told one man I was American the first thing he said was "You killed the Indians! Your ancestors killed them." I told him I was Indian and he shook my hand. "But only a small part," I said. "My ancestors killed my other ancestors." "Yes," he nodded, "That's the way it is." I wish I could write that in a letter to my grandmother.

I say hello to every wrinkled face I meet
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I say hello to every wrinkled face I meet. I shake the outstretched boney hands and try not to stare at the gaps between sparse teeth. I try not to stare at the crooked backs.

date seed
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at the bottom of my purse
a forgotten seed from a date
the date had been
honey soaked and sticky
eaten quickly in the back of a van
while fighting motion sickness
in the mountain passes
the mountains end with cliffs
sheer drops into soggy rice paddies


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