Cynthia Dewi Oka
Because I Come from a Lack of Knowledge

of the value of life that in the city under this blank page wilts

without a word, without honor, in the conflict of the rose

the red of it in my hand blackening to crust, because


I am afraid I will never outrun


this ignorance glittering like a mouth, hatchet as the sky I have dragged from border to border, its language pointing


like a conspiracy, a faucet I am too depressed to get

up and screw shut, to make skin interpret the cold dark floors

where the mouths are strewn, their collective weight unraveled

           to private eternities


at the end of the employment contract

at the melodies of the earthquake, because


I am a good performer of value I have never seen meted out


in justice to complete the charts, to poison the rivers and round out the bones in the plumbing system, I am so afraid I will keep stumbling

on the white of the rose in the forehead of my friend

who is warm now inside the precarious wood and stitched up tear                     ducts,


afraid the seams of my clothes will murmur like every woman

whose red and black blossomed in my hands, who like me was winter that stopped fogging the door of the center one day, except that I am




below the night whose face is the back of God, what Moses

accepted in lieu of the promised land the way we accepted

insurance money for the house after cancer made roses


of my father, who offered and offered his bonebread

in the hush of the telephone and hair that carpeted my wedding day

in this Hollywood country of pines, of lines of chitin marching


toward the legalized edges of our lives, where surfaces to which waste           clings are


stacked and the core of the apple and spines of rosemary are


left, alive

and what is language for if not to depress the tongue, to see                                  behind it


the developments glowing green with effort, as in

please do not throw us into the fire,

do not make us lick our babies in the shit-infected waters,

do not cut away


the hoods of pleasure and hope from our eyes, I know

something of development because I held my son

inside me for longer than a mother’s time, held

him like a rag over my eyes in the middle of the Christ powered bridge            and crows whipping


through the prayers of the marked down,

the discounted,

the inventories ready to tip from the shoulders of the harbor,


so many I have desired without value because how may I assist

sounds like


how may I exist


so I that might woo the doctor when my lungs overflow with the                         melting of the iron livers

of capital and the mountains I dreamed in my youth,

of galloping lights and the shredded roses of sunrise, a job

I can snap and bend to with a smile, under

the blond of the searchlight,

because my fate is to be autonomous unlike


the chitinous bodies I do not think twice about wiping away

with a paper towel, sometimes the reds of my fingers,

which as they kill


remind me of pews cracking with human salt, the gathering of it when              value runs out,


so that when a man lay on top of my throat with his whole factory,

fingernails pressing into the soft under my eyes, I did not think

it strange

or particularly wrong


or that I might miss this life by the sea of fathers who disappear before  they can be forgiven, and how I was not

terrorized by whatever the mouth had dragged up from the trenches                    then, the seaweed


jazzing its insides and the horse flesh purpling its gums, the trains crossing its dark cunt and the unwashed men inside

holding their hands out from their chests, reciting speeches composed under awnings of ice for half a burger,


a one-way ticket to the north side,


though a cigarette would be best,

would be best of all so I smoke

in an age when breathing is self-administered medicine,

proof of revolutionary


care for oneself,

I am not fooled,


I have seen breath refuse to leave the body and turn the body

to marble, I have seen I can do this

leave a man shaking his infant at the sun, that that mouth which is


really a poem cannot save anyone’s life, especially


your own if you are honest,

and if I am honest,

another poet is grist for the locusts and the whole world is a whole world, the subjects of my love are


desiccated, repudiated, expectorated into the jars in which their petals harden into fragrance that are made to spill

again and again along the unlabeled


shelves of my blood, waking


metal whose sadness produced this alimony of rust, this sunlight

that strikes my knuckles like a ruler as though it were

my mother, who never and always


meant to say, live




until you have paid the price.


Found In Volume 46, No. 06
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  • cynthia dewi oka
Cynthia Dewi Oka
About the Author

Cynthia Dewi Oka is the author of Salvage: Poems (Northwestern University Press, 2017) and Nomad of Salt and Hard Water (Thread Makes Blanket, 2016). A two-time Pushcart Prize Nominee, she has received a Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant, a Fifth Wednesday Journal Editor's Prize in Poetry, and scholarships from Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and the Vermont Studio Center. She works as an immigrant justice organizer in Philadelphia.