Triptych with Cityscape

Ina Cariño

     Chicago, 2008


in sweetrot city air

          I swallow pills

                                    for happy —

forget how to be a living


            my body’s slow

decay smells

            of the fusty crush

of creatures jostling at dusk—

men & women


the L as a charm of finches


          overhead. in the hospital,

               watching the news,

building briefly ablaze

on Devon Avenue,

                         Little India

where people push hands daily

into fragrant:




to fill gaps in my teeth.



I’m a different kind of brute from what the man on the train thought —

          me facing the window as he asked

                                                                      how’d you get your hair to be so straight?

his reflection in plexiglass — dull form warped, grin crooked, coat

                         stained with booze & upchuck. he stammered confused

                                                            when I turned — but I was all mum-smiles

                        as I got off at Hyde Park, where shiny condos swallowed shoddy brick.

               yes, I

always smile — even

                                        after papa scooped me up from the psych ward

          after Thanksgiving.

he warned me of a mother’s shame, & I nodded.

                                                                                          but I told him —

if you find me on a sidewalk, head in a puddle under a streetlamp,

oil seeping into my sorry mouth —

                                                            help me stand. tell me again

                                                                                      of my mother & her name —

my wilderness: so that I might lift myself from concrete, shuck off

                                        my pallid skin, & inhale —




I am lucky: my pulse mimics the slap

of sandals in gutter ponds where a child plays

under the spout of a hydrant. mornings,

I rise to windwhistle shrill between buildings.

Saturdays I slurp rice noodles, tofu skin,

in Chinatown — patina of hoisin sticky

under tongue. & nights, before burrowing

into sleep, I loose my hair from its flaccid coil.

so if I don’t wake      if I fester lifeless

in my own muck, into maggots feasting —

it’s because I’ve coddled my yearnings,

left my body spoiling in noonday heat: the kind

that leaves a mark even on the darkest part of me.


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