Authors: Kristin Naca
In memory of beloved teacher and mentor, Carl Mills
The National Poetry Series was established in 1978 to ensure the publication of five poetry books annually through five participating publishers. Publication is funded by the Lannan Foundation; Stephen Graham; Joyce & Seward Johnson Foundation; Glenn and Renee Schaeffer, Juliet Lea Hillman Simonds Foundation; and Charles B. Wright III.
2008 Open Competition Winners
Anna Journey of Houston, Texas,
If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting
Chosen by Thomas Lux, to be published by University of Georgia Press
Douglas Kearney of Van Nuys, California,
The Black Automaton
Chosen by Catherine Wagner, to be published by Fence Books
Adrian Matejka of Edwardsville, Illinois,
Chosen by Kevin Young, to be published by Penguin Books
Kristin Naca of Minneapolis, Minnesota,
Bird Eating Bird
Chosen by Yusef Komunyakaa for the National Poetry Series
U Prize, to be published by Harper Perennial
Sarah O’Brien of Brookfield, Ohio,
Chosen by David Shapiro, to be published by Coffee House Press
The generosity of so many enabled me to complete this collection. I owe the greatest debt to my family: Christian and Lisa, Michael, Rosalin, Puring, Ralph and Mary. And my family: Julianne McAdoo, Nikki Ono, Bill and Alejandro Sanchez, Roger Solis, Arturo Madrid and Antonia Castañeda, Omar Rodríguez and Verónica Prida, my Elena, Jim Clawson, Vicente Lozano, Carla Trujillo and Leslie Larson, Anel Flores, Chris Cuomo and Karen Schlanger, Erin Flanagan, Maxine Leckie, Derek Walker, Chris Byrne, Leah and Macauley Devun, Stacey Berry and Andre Jordan, Barbara Banfield, Kate Nelson, Padrino, Madrina, and the Macondistas.
Thanks to many professors and writing teachers who responded to my work with generosity. Special thanks goes to my committee members at University of Pittsburgh and University of Nebraska. For their wisdom and unflinching belief, thank you, Sandra Cisneros and Hilda Raz.
To my friends who wore down their fingernails against my drafts: Dina Rhoden, Nancy Krygowski, Heather Green, Mathias Svalina, Jehanne Dubrow, Lois Williams, Jan Beatty, Ellen Placey Wadey, Jeff Oaks, Chingbee Cruz, Renato Rosaldo, Diana Delgado, Marcia Ochoa, Nick Carbó, Eileen Tabios, Hadara Bar-Nadav, and Chuck Rybak. For all their timely advice: John Marshall and Christine Deavel of Open Books. Thank you, Joy, for your horses.
Special thanks to María L. Lorenzo, at University of Nebraska, whose generous feedback and encouragement made my writing poems in Spanish possible. Thanks to Hedgebrook, and UN-L, for providing fellowships and time to write. Thanks to my colleagues at Macalester College. Thanks to painter Heather Hagle for her friendship and vision. And thanks to the National Poetry Series for the support of my work, Michael Signorelli at Harper Perennial for his enthusiasm, Yusef Komunyakaa, and everyone at MTV for giving me “My Shot with Yusef Komunyakaa.”
These poems originally appeared in the following venues:
: “While Watching
My Auntie Grooms Me for Work at the Massage Parlor”
THE ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN JOURNAL
: “Grocery Shopping with my Girlfriend Who Is Not Asian”
THE CINCINNATI REVIEW
: “Heart Like a Clock”
CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW
: “Uses for Spanish in Pittsburgh”
: “Baptism,” “In the Time of the Caterpillars”
INDIANA REVIEW: “Todavía no,
” “Not Yet”
THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW:
“What I Don’t Tell My Children about the Philippines”
OCHO: THE MiPOesias PRINT JOURNAL COMPANION
: “Speaking English Is Like,” “Glove,” “Adoration at El Montan”
PINOY POETICS: A COLLECTION OF AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL ESSAYS ON FILIPINO AND FILIPINO AMERICAN POETICS
: “Language Poetry / Grandma’s English”
: “Ode to Glass,” “One Foot,” “
/ The Maids of Honor,” “Rear Window,” “Witness”
RIO GRANDE REVIEW:
“Speaking Spanish Goes Like This”
RIO GRANDE REVIEW ONLINE:
Her Spanish sounds like sunlight drying a wet shirt.
And in the process, I’ve grown fond of her.
a word that names her nature.
Whose dream deepens in the rain? Whose hair is lilacs?
Brown and beige and blonde tiles set in panels of tile across the bathroom floor.
Wakes curled into the pavement by traffic, the asphalt a slow, gray tide.
A loose floorboard hiding the gouges chunked out of the floor.
Tawny red curtains hamstrung in the quick, morning light.
Her body oils like sage in a shirt, in the bed sheets.
Pigeons on a line and in the gutters.
The staple that misfires and jams the hammer.
The tender, black wick at the top of a candle’s waxy lip.
The lonely woman secretly dying her curtains red at the Laundry Factory.
The purple and purple-blue berry sacks tethered to a blackberry rind.
Branches lolled by the weight of voluminous, tender sacks.
The path along the lake lit up with the pitch of purple stars.
Mouthfuls of lavender at the height of August.
Her lips, red gathering in the creases when she puckers.
Endings that are dirty tricks and also feathers.
Red water out the pipes, teeming from the rusty gutters.
The curtain flicker in the leafy, August breeze.
The ghostly cu-cu echoing through the purple night, under stars.
Los pedazos de la lengua quedan tan gordos y abultados como flores.
Dime, árbol. Son los que están allá solamente ramas desnudas y alguna corteza.
Todavía no, no hay palabras para hacer capas de piel sobre la primavera.
El color verde se difumina sin
El único pájaro que aterriza allí es el halcón.
En el espejo, el reflejo de su pelo es castañas labradas.
Las venas de la cala están labradas con paredes. No, piedras. No, pérdidas.
Mientras tanto, tus manos están hechas de nudillos y hechas de piel.
En la ventana, el cristal se superpone al árbol desnudo afuera.
Los dedos-garras. Los dedos-lanzas,
La ropa en la cama está limpia y suelta.
La mujer en la cama espera no morir mientras duerme…
El halcón la aguada en el árbol desnudo, más allá de la ventana, más allá de los muros.
La canción del pájaro superpone a la noche despejada, la deja despierta.
Todavía no, todas las canciones que canta, le da de comer al halcón.
Todas las noches que espera ella, le da de comer a la muerte.
The nubs of the tongue sit fat and bulky as flowers.
. What’s there but bare branches and some bark.
No words for putting layers of skin on spring yet.
Green glows loose without its leaves.
The only bird that lands there is the falcon.
In the mirror, the reflection of her hair is carved chestnuts.
The veins of the creek encrusted with walls. No, stones. No, losing.
Meanwhile your hands are made of knuckles and made of skin.
In the window, glass overlaps the naked tree outside.
No fingernails, just the nails.
The laundry on the bed is clean and limp.
The woman in her bed hopes she doesn’t die in her sleep…
wake up…wake up.
The falcon waits for her in the naked tree, beyond the window, beyond the walls.
The small bird’s song overlaps the clear night, keeps her from her sleep.
Still, every song he sings, he’s food for the falcon.
Every night she waits, she’s food for death.
Once a bird pecked her lover’s hand
with such sincerity that she lost
hold of the seeds she secretly tossed,
to keep all the birds at her command.
No dejabas de mirar,
you sang me,
estabas sola completamente
bella y sensual,
and the notes stirred
loose feather dust from your chest.
you didn’t stop staring
you alone were completely
beautiful and sensual
When you exhaled, your silhouette
dissolved, reddening the D. F. dusk.
Vibrato frayed your veil: how you fled
one city, but betrayal beckoned you;
confess, how lovers nest in branches
of your collarbones while you sleep.
Entre tus brazos caí
by your song’s, lonesome downbeat.
How I fell into your arms
I know some days begin with birds.
Nights we suffer from too few songs.
How the chorus of a woman’s lips delays
Sorrows that each heartbeat prolongs.
Tell me how you’re leaning, before
sunlight bathes the city in pink spells.
Will your voice deliver me morning?
Or, will the caroling street-vendors bells?