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Amy King

The Ugly Americans

Last night I dreamt Maria Santiago
dissolves when she sweeps and stocks
a Manhattan bodega, her borrowed whisper
lingers on the backs of patrons.
I pick up my paper, a rag of news
in a language skimming the length
of Maria Santiago’s dark brown arms
with the weight of the child
she left back home, a place unmarked & dense.
Columbia, Bogotá, that corpse-breasted flute.
Down the spine,
an earthquake headlines the Haitian
mass dead in Port au Prince.
In the next borough over, an imprint of a cold
orange juice can against my inner arm,
I pass Maria Santiago
dusting fruit out front that has sailed
other lands none of us yet visit.
Piranha heart, anything is a musty dynamite,
a distraction from
the membranes of conflict today;
we are seedless and cannot contain
paradise in the flesh of this cocaine kernel,
a potable tea whose damp leaves play
no dowry but envelopes what we might be
worth in the musty piles decaying,
as in the refuse refused a map home.
We just stood around out front,
smoking clove cigarettes and catching up
beside the not-life of Maria Santiago and her
death-knell husband who danced the hell away.

A boiling pot in the background cracks,
the lips of the sun smell of grass
along the outline of our downy cheeks,
and toeing butts in the gutter takes over the set.
Statues of what shall be are forced
no longer to wait.  Descending the curb,
across the street, braided hair whips
off our scalps and pink poolsides lap the island nests;
we ride past yellow cabs
like riding our hips are imposter angels,
not meaning anything, like Maria Santiago’s
bastard gone child.
Even waiters know what elsewhere smells like.
And tonight becomes a starry dump
we know she’d cradle but can’t afford
the standard soulfare.  Tonight is a discarding angel,
Angel Dentata of moth-tattered dogs,
ghosts running Arizona mesas before
we returned as recycled burglars holding court
on the roofs of Brooklyn skylines.
Who sews me whole tonight?
Who takes this limp from my mind
to pull a mustard haze
over crisp white lines no iris obeys?

There is such silence spoken
from the catch-all sadness
around Maria’s working frame —
the tattoo of her motion lengthens our voices.
She’s a quicksand we step through.
We pay her
nothing to carry trash back to a raccoon
marketplace.  We spread apart
into canyon crevices and lagoon the blues,
come back, wait for the child to return to us too,
born from a throat that holds us warm,
cradling leaves brewed to swallow:
no one reads the future, tells a fortune,
or becomes the dream that sees
through a glass eye into deep wind,
weaving a basket of whispers
betrothed to the death swallow-
ing everything, and keeps at that stone, asleep
in the ash at work, in the sediment
that time pushes into fingernails we reach with
to pay money for things that remind us
we are, that we are, and we are again
throughout the life that isn’t
ours, Maria’s, as in her life,
she pities the ones with the feeling that isn’t.

Amy King

Amy King

Amy King’s most recent book is Slaves to Do These Things (Blazevox), and forthcoming, I Want to Make You Safe (Litmus Press). She is currently preparing a book of interviews with the poet Ron Padgett. She also teaches English and Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College. With Ana Bozicevic, King co-curates the Brooklyn-based reading series, The Stain of Poetry. For more information, please visit

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