Joel Dias-Porter

Seven Poems in Response to “Romeo and Juliet”

Litany for Revival

Once, it was the swirling
agates of your eyes,
the coal-colored
corn silk of your hair,
or even the plush cushions
of your lips.
But, now
I supplicate silently
for the soft halo
of your hands.
Not like a kneeling Nun
recites a rosary
for orphans in a Favela
or a penitent priest
invokes “Our Father”
before his congregation,
but how in mid-July,
two blue mittens
wait like
an abandoned mailbox
to be filled
from the inside.
They await your hands
as gallons of Butter Pecan
frozen behind frosted glass
await a melting mouth,
coil for your fingers
as Spaghetti
around the tines
that will lift it onto
a tongue’s wonder.
They hunger for your right hand
small in the hollow of the back,
your left blessing the blades
of each shoulder,
they open for each slender finger
as a smoker’s lips
part for a fresh Newport.
Their chest heaves like
a front yard under
a heavy sweater of leaves
praying for the sweep of a rake
to raise small hills.
Their face awaits your hands
as second story windows
covet the graze
of airborne blossoms.
They tingle for your fingertips
as a branch tickles
under a caterpillar’s feet,
they splay for your palms
as silk curtains drawn at night
pray to be parted
in the rising heat of dawn.
And what if their torso
dreams of falling
asleep dotted
by your fingerprints
like a leopard
with a thousand glowing spots.
Waiting as blank paper
for the kiss
of the calligrapher’s pen,
as a rainy windshield
on the swish
of wiper blades,
as every morning
rows of cups
stacked behind the counter
at Starbucks
curve like the backs
of sinners at a Revival
aching to be made holy
by your hands.

"A Scene from Romeo and Juliet" by John Massey Wright. Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

“A Scene from Romeo and Juliet” by John Massey Wright. Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Don’t Explain

for Rob

Under a sapphire ceiling
the three of us walk west
on Constitution Ave.
At 19th St. we become
black threads weaving
through a quilt of white tourists.
You and Denise ask
what I remember of the war.
I recall in black and white,
helicopters swarming like locusts,
two men emerging from a jungle
bearing a bandaged comrade.
A Buddhist monk wrapped in robes
a warmer orange than
the flames which engulfed him.
I was barely old enough
to understand the flame’s finality.
Our conversation fades as
we approach the book of names.
It says Robert Louis Howard,
Panel 22W.
You say Thua Thien, June 1969.
We round the corner,
find the headstone of an era,
an eternal funeral.
Is the sudden silence
reverence or shame?
Roses, wreaths and carnations,
bright as fresh blood
lean against the stone,
heads bowed.
A legless vet rolls by,
the eye of his camera blinking. .
The name sits
thirteen lines from the top.
The tallest, I’m drafted to make the trace.
I square the paper
shading to reveal a shade.
As I hand you the ghost of a name,
the arithmetic hits me.
The summer of ’69
found you in diapers.
All you’ve had for a Dad
is a folded flag,
and a Sergeant’s smile
on a curling Polaroid.
Slowly, the reflecting pools
of our eyes fill.
Trembling, you clutch the letter
that vexes still. Why?
We walk to the benches
trailing teardrops.
Denise hums a balm
as we huddle and rock.
Hush now.
Below us, three tight-lipped
bronze soldiers.
Above us, a flag spilling
like blood down a bayonet.
Above that, an August sky
almost blue
as the tremor
in Denise’s contralto.

Ode to Lips

Horizontal half-moons
soft as cinematic whispers,
I salute
your red’s exquisite sheen,
how easily
you outshine
the Two of Heart’s glossy finish.
Every night my tongue
prays for a sacred space
between you.
You know it isn’t good sense
that has me imagining
your fat bottom gleaming.
Minutes ago,
I dreamt you as sliced halves
of fruit beneath glass,
above teeth white
as an apple’s bare flesh.
But now I’m shoplifting Chapstick,
brushing rich gloss
across a canvas
stretched like skinny jeans
after a midnight binge,
bewitched by what
surrounds your mouth’s
satin machine.
You’ve been chapped
by cold, wind, and salt.
But a single flick
from the scarlet felt
of a wandering tongue,
can supple all again.
And when are our
busses scheduled?
I want to ride
such double-decked fullness,
into your mouth’s tunnel
and string bright sighs
down its dark ceiling
You need no MAC,
Max Factor,
or Clinique.
Peck. Peck. Peck.
Now that I’ve kissed
the blues for you,
come close and hum
your cinnamon song.

Painted copper roundel showing a scene from "Romeo and Juliet" from the 1750s production starring David Garrick and George Ann Belamy. Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Painted copper roundel showing a scene from “Romeo and Juliet” from the 1750s production starring David Garrick and George Ann Belamy. Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

For G.S.

. . . only because
it was a Thursday
(which is her Monday),
and she was walking as though
carrying something heavy
(albeit not in her hands),
and I thought I heard her sigh,
and recalled Lonnie
(who you might not know)
not Lonnie who was always
pawning his wedding band
so he could feed the penny slots
or Lonnie from The Hill
who always seemed to be
half a slice short
of a sandwich,
but Lonnie from
Lonnie’s Lament
(and here she
cocks her head and
wrinkles her nose
saying “Who?”)
because whatever blew
his rain so sideways
inspired John William to put
a saxophone between his lips
and blaze a lamentation
which matches
her Monday motion,
a wistful grace
with piano lines almost
legato as her legs
and a bassline that
plunges like her hair
when she combs it
into a black Niagara,
which she can’t know
makes me wish
I could spend
the rest of my days
naked and trembling
in a wooden barrel,
falling forever through
its obsidian mist.

The Bukowski in You

(after Terrance Hayes)

When your last stack of chips
gets shipped the other way,
when your wallet gapes
like the mouth
of a two-coated man prone
on a splintered park bench
what else is there to do
but stagger out and
return to the shadows
of an empty womb,
then curl up like
the last macaroni
stuck to a paper plate?
You sense even the women
sweeping under the tables
and trashing the last odors
wouldn’t coax you
into their dusty pans.
The red deck, the blue deck,
the shuffle machine,
all reduce you
to a darkness under
the dealer’s manicured nails,
his Rolex stopped to watch.
Damn. Damn. Damn.
Everything you touch stutters.
You can’t remember
what singing sounded like
before the Ace of Hearts
punctured your last lung,
can’t feel your buddy
tapping your shoulder
asking “How much you down?”
You remember the elevator
ride to your room,
39 floors of sunk stomach
before the white scowl
of a towel spread across
the bathroom floor.
Suppose you were nothing
but a hand towel
in a $49 motel?
Suppose you lived
to lick beads of brightness
from a working girl’s back,
but all you had
was parched lips
and a swollen tongue?
That’s why whiskey
clings to the bottle,
slight burn in the beginning,
then oak smooth and
polished as an expensive casket,
that’s why when
the last card turns,
whatever you hear
sounds like a bullet.
More so if you dig
digging in moist earth.
Even more so, if
you’re a not a gardener
or a man in a straw hat
wanding the beach for beeps.
You’re addicted to
the dance of the Blue deck,
but also to the way
the Red deck parts like
a pair of painted lips.
You’re addicted to
to knowing that even
a gypsy psychic
can’t find your card first,
no matter how far she
follows a palm’s
rugged grooves
like wood grain.
You’re addicted to
knowing the cards love
no one
but the hands
that hold them.
Is there anything sexier
than the way
desperation’s dress
hugs her hips ?
Anything sexier than
putting it all-in and
having the moment
Morse code thru your veins?
That’s why you return,
why you tease your chair
to the table’s edge
and post a blind bet,
why you peel the corner
of your hole cards
like they’re prosperity’s
last pair
of good panties.



Lighthouse beacon—
A crimson flicker of lipstick
through the fog


Gamblers Anonymous

This is not about a tall man
with no front teeth standing in front
of a Wizard of Oz slot machine
for three or more hours, staring.
This is not about
the expressions of people
seated at nearby machines
or standing about.
This is not about
the grace of a waitress,
dipping at the knees
to serve a mixed drink.
This is about
dark chocolate.
This is not about music
made by spinning reels
or tinkling bells or
a message that could
be encoded in the sequence
of the flashing of the lights.
This not about
the all night party streamers
of a waitresses’ hair,
about what inflates
the life rafts of her lips
or what taunts from the tone
of her skin.
No, this is simply
about dark chocolate.
About what
could make it liquid
in the mouth.
This not about a woman
walking past and checking
her side view mirror
to see if he’s watching.
This isn’t even about
which candy he
may or may not desire
as he swipes his card
in the register of longing.
This is not
about a bar.
This is about
dark chocolate.
About how it
melts and sticks.
This isn’t about
how the arrows of some eyes
narrow if he doesn’t speak or
the mariachi band of
laughter from certain
lips when he does.
This is not about a man
standing in front of a bank
of thieving machines
dreaming of symbols
lining up on a reel,
not about
a progressive jackpot.
This is about
dark chocolate.
This is not
about smiling through
reclining eyelids
or softly licking
the lips
This is about
what gets
wagered on
the tip of a tongue,
about being
lost in a bet,
about what
moistens the mouth
on the slow cab ride
from the airport
of possibility
to the center of
the city of sighs.


Joel Dias-Porter (aka DJ Renegade) was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. He represented Washington, DC as a team member or individual competitor at the National Poetry Slam for six consecutive years (1994-1999). He made the Individual Finals five years in a row (94-98) and was also Heads Up Haiku Slam Champion two years in a row (98-99). His poems have been published in Time Magazine, POETRY, Mead, The Offending Adam, Callalloo, Ploughshares, Antioch Review, Red Brick Review, Asheville Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and the anthologies The Best American Poetry 2014, Resisting Arrest, Gathering Ground, Love Poetry Out Loud, Meow: Spoken Word from the Black Cat, Short Fuse, Role Call, Def Poetry Jam, 360 Degrees of Black Poetry, Slam (The Book), Revival: Spoken Word from Lollapallooza, Poetry Nation, Beyond the Frontier, Spoken Word Revolution, and Catch a Fire. Performances have included The Today Show, SlamNation, and the film Slam. A Cave Canem fellow, he lives in Atlantic City, NJ. To read more by this author: Eight Poems (Summer 2002); Two Poems (Split This Rock Issue, Winter, 2008); "Saturday Poem" (Audio Issue, Fall 2008); Four Poems (It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue, Spring 2009)