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
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
You rise to bear my consequence.
Stutter of tongue I catch
and load with what
release, I move you
to the fourth
corner. Your lip
the first day of a freezing lake.
Contiguous meaning you
my hands impassable, push
me certain into being
your vaulted ceiling.
Having not seen it
happen but knowing
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.
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.
I fashioned an acre, made moderate
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
They were two storied,
the second ones forthcoming.
At the top of each staircase the door was unlocked.
Inside each house lived one
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
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.
That white place is without ghost.
Having been there once, I want to return
part through their umbrella clump
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
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
to pull the stems from.