THERMOS 2: Janine Oshiro

The incredible tension and precision in Janine Oshiro’s lines have always cut straight through to the poetry receptors in my heart. Her book, Pier, which won the 2010 Kundiman Prize (and is available here from Alice James Books), is one of my favorites of the decade. These five poems, all of which are in Pier, originally appeared in our Spring 2009 second issue. You can check out her 2009 interview with us here. — AS

 

 

Of the Place

I say I, I
mean it, am
the evidence I see
on your face.

Hands of the place and your body
inexitable.
Foreign is your
temperature I set

to cool upon the inside
of my wrist.
Now that I say my, my hands
in darkness don’t seem

a bolt uncut
by light.
Steady, chest.
Pulse wake.

You rise to bear my consequence.
Stutter of tongue I catch
and load with what
you can’t

release, I move you
to the fourth
corner. Your lip
the first day of a freezing lake.

Contiguous meaning you
push against
my hands impassable, push
me certain into being

your vaulted ceiling.

 

 

Invitation

Having not seen it
happen but knowing
it happened

a black snake
crawled down my spine.
Something but what is

wrong. I make my desire
for the rain to stop visible
by stacking three flat

stones. I make my desire for you
not a marker of direction.
I never saw

the wasps alive I
never saw them fall but the floor
of my house is

covered with them. Because
asking is kin
to knowing. Please

will you reach
your hand into my back?
Get it out.

 

 

Praise

Heaven is a prop that the stage
hands erect on stage before
my brother and sister descend
from it to invent the world.
My brother and sister existed
before the world. They brush off
praise for eyelashes and cuticles
and look away when I say
my brother, my sister.
Who am I to say my brother?
Who am I to say my sister?
The stage hands’ bodies dressed
in black appear seamless against
the dark curtain. The hands
that draw the curtain shut, open it
with the same mechanical button.
My brother, my sister, I am clapping
my hands to welcome you to invent
the world I am dying to enter.

 

 

Anniversary

I fashioned an acre, made moderate
the interior.
Pinned in the crickets with their decent clicking.
At the end of July appeared one animal.

I mustered up a mountain for a view.
The opposing houses shone like
straightened teeth.
They were two storied,

the second ones forthcoming.
At the top of each staircase the door was unlocked.
Inside each house lived one
obedient daughter.

I put the daughter there I put the daughter there.
Not a window cracked its milky
reflection of the clouds. The glass
bowls on the shelves were nested as proper.

I expected the animal to introduce
the next disaster. Its mouth was a cushioned entry otherwise
unpronounced its abundant legs rambled proposing
no use.

I kept an eye on the animal and nothing happened.
The mountain blistered and popped into its plural.
I kept an eye on the animal.
The sky remained, where it was, distant.

The obedient daughters kept their houses neat.
The animal remained the animal except
with ears alert, unrecognizable.
(Sing) My eyes leaked spilly spilly all the way home.

 

 

Rest

That white place is without ghost.
Having been there once, I want to return
to violets,

part through their umbrella clump
of leaves
as my hands divide from prayer.

In the white place I tried
to draw a horizon.
I wanted days, minutes, a distance to seek,

a resting place
for the sun to mark the time. But the horizon was
all wrong.

It came out in a child’s hand and I was
not a child.
I had been waiting

in a hallway before the white place.
I was not alone.
I had been waiting for my mother and she came.

I kept the time by her going.
I prayed for her return and I prayed for her
return to the dead.

The hallway had walls, a floor
to kneel on.
In the white place I was alone.

Without even her, without
even ground
to pull the stems from.

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