Rigorous
Volume Five, Issue 1



André O. Hoilette


layaway raven’s wings

companion poem to “The Magic Cloud” art installation

so many bikes commuting        into /out of/                  into       /out of/              into        /out of/
downtown        the avenues |arteries| boulevard |veins             downtown is a pounding organ gets
little rest.
                            can i hitch your commute?
                                                                      ride the handlebars
                                                                                                  the strap of my red crocheted
                                                                                                  briefcase does a ribbon’s dance
                                                                                                  close to the spinning silver spokes.
             inhabitants men | women, but this ain’t no binary.      we ain’t binary
             they’re more possibilities than two
                                                                                 more realities too.

a mural of me murdered                          in pretty colors of death: ochre, pimento, beryl, black and
blue around the face---more loved than the actual me, breathing.                      paint it downtown
where the new pour-over coffee shop               slash ramen         slash vinyl        slash sorrow     slash
tattoo   slash want        slash hunger   slash impotence                 slash locally-sourced distillery
river north, maybe?
             the friends and family who miss me are guaranteed 10% off and every 10th one free.

             you didn’t know time was an eddy?        better seen as a river, than a tidal pool
flows then ebbs            calm then chaos.              in a calamity year, clouds seek omens, trap rain,
demons overcome joy,             hello evaporates as a salutation,               replaced with “how are you?”
“how are you feeling?” replaces good morning…these diseased days; a look into the eyes,
a nod,  weak but necessary humanity.

denverites on a nyquil stare        can’t find their keys         walk through whole clouds, buildings,
drag their feet                 back themselves into shanties and tented streets            below 1 million dollar
condos:                a cozy five-hundred-forty square feet with city views.   four-hundred-eighty square
feet with mountain views for 1.5 mill.
             rich men in the soup lines,           eating foodbank spoils,            in crisp magenta audis.
needles in street cracks; some free-clinic insulin |empty.            some for dope.
we’re all sick junkies for a public option.

chasing the dragon now
smoke on everyone’s breath, even the kids,
smoke in our eyes, in the folds of our clothes and when we
exhale or kiss our lovers,
ash in our cars, on the dash and windscreen. the           whole           damn           summer
             was smoke, i couldn’t breathe fast enough or hard enough.

you don’t know me!       and that’s true. i put my hood up and walk on
wear the soles of my shoes unevenly.
                                                                      divine from the angle
                                                                      of wear that all my grandparents are dead,
                                                                      some friends too, and the gnosis
                                                                      of love or at least the how-to.

             any sidewalk is a search,            no a quest;          that when you hear your
footsteps on a stroll,  you are visited by old secrets,       the dead come up for a breath.
and there ain’t no sorrow lord. our loved ones just bubble up like thoughts, but not always the
suffering,           sometimes just a dark joy, sweet and sour.
they’re lost, but with you.            ready for their wings to come off lay away,      ravens’ wings lord!
                                         slick and black and rainbow in the sun’s light.


that nod?, means good morning  |answer|  i'm working on it, on good days and bad
working on the light      red or white light,
necessary humanity, | weak |nod when daps and hails could kill you.

i wish i had a friend. good days are me pretending everything is okay.
others i gnash my teeth             try for a numinous conquering of these circumstances,
but i'm a terrible liar,  so i rarely fool myself.     them days,

constellations in the city are obscured by the faceless,
                                                                      we don’t hug and i don’t dare press the shoulders
                                                                      of my loved ones into my chest, not until we match
                                                                      our breathing to a sterile safety.

there’s a chill in the air now |a slight hint of decay on the wind, around every corner
and a sudden interest in golden leaves.




to yearn in a time of extinction

after v. mitchell’s “to be in a time of extinction”

to be mostly alone                     to remember the mongoose’s hunt
                          with the viper’s head in its jaw               no venom clots in the vein
             to be a forest fire            birth another scorched beginning
there is blood rotting in your                 mouth               to be the melting of salt teeth
             to know extinction’s march never relents          licks your door just after
your children have fallen to sleep        to go out into the wet night
             no socks or shoes             to watch the water bead on your skin
to play the cello suites                 bach or casals                 to know again what it is
                                       to be someone’s                 smell them on your fingers
             taste them on your lips
                                                                 and                      teeth after leaving
                          to want to paint           but never pick up the knife
             to dream the dead        sew them into their former lives
                                                                                           to sex orchids                           wet the delicate
                          petals       like the thin skin of her feet
                                                    to kneel                as if submitting to a new lover
                                                                 take their cool fingers                     with your mouth
                                                                                           to swallow
                                                                                                        the promise of nothing




cry [krahy]

verb cried, cry•ing.

to utter lamentation
to weep
to suffer
to grieve
to wail with tears
             to wail without tears
to collapse, sometimes on one’s knees
to hold the mouth agape, scream, sometimes without sound
done onto god, a shoulder, a pillow or the crook of an arm
to warn
to become intimate with unsuitable lovers, calloused, mean, apathetic, sadistic,
selfish, manipulative, fouled with self-hatred
to lose
to win
to call, as in for help, to arms, to my arms, an embrace.

to feel the wave barely reach the toes
             to feel the wave cold and sliding off the feet
             to feel the wave rush the legs
             to feel the wave gather at the thighs, cool but temperate
                          torrent around the groin, sloshing
                          caress the belly
                          swirl the gut
                          crash the hollow
                          crash the groin
                          crash chest
                          crash
                          a contortion
                          crash in orgasm
                          to call out, as in to god or a person’s name
to collapse in the ecstasy of giving birth
to remorse the stillness of tiny hands
to have loss, as in loved one, matriarch, patriarch, child, lover, teacher, friend
to be ecstatic as in an abundance of joy
to be incoherent, hysterical, drum inarticulate vowels               grief
to be illiterate in the language of one’s own life




your burial shroud came in the mail today

-an elegy for Alli Gerkman

your burial shroud came in the mail today:
                                       hemp or muslin,

reminded me of the kaddish:
                                       Jewish or Ginsberg.

you are sleeping in the other room.
                                       we listen for your stirrings,

every breath,
                                       holding ours between yours.

             what are the words for this?

remember the summer day, last year,
             after metastasis
your car running 6 hours
                          parked across from my house?

rain slipped between the oak’s
broad, beryl leaves
danced against young acorns
before smacking the windshield.

neither of us could leave
                                       each other
an embrace in conversation
as if we were practicing for
this moment
             now at the escarpment.

in the car, your eyes
filled with worrying,

brimming over your swollen lids.
i said it wasn’t time yet
             and you:
                          how do you know?
             and me:
                          “i just do
                                       and it’s not now”


you asked how long i thought?
             but, i didn’t know.
             instead i told you how i would die and that
             made you feel better,

understanding that i knew how it
would come and greeted it.

forty years ago, your restless body found
comfort in the sway

of your mother’s arms
and last month,
yesterday
and today
             she rubs your legs

the same; humming as she moves
to your back and head,

trying to allay your

sight of the approaching mystery.

                          i will not dignify the destroyer
                          by naming it, a gluttonous,
                          awful affliction
                          torn from the side of terror and angst.

vengeful.
             i hope, years from now,
still ready to curse,
it does not find me .

last night a storm pounded the solarium
             glass of the house in which you

have chosen to do your leaving. the rain
smacked and rolled all night. i slept

across from you and you entered
my dreaming, spoke again, though

you cannot now. laughed again
though you cannot now,
                                       a hymn to my ears before waking.

my lord, i cannot lie, your dying is beautiful
as is the way you’ve lived.

You disappear in glorious summer, Alli.
             Reborn Kore in Eleusis,
                                                    face him now.
firmly, caress Death’s
face like the warm
             sun through wood and glass.
take his teeth,
             tame him,
as you trace his lips and face

like a lover

i will await you as Spring
                          in the meadow

erupting with fiddleheads,
blossom
             all teeth
                          and laughter



*italicized line from Tiny Ruins “Kore Waits In The Underworld”




amerika spelled with a “k”

it suits me | to walk after midnight | easier to breathe the cool air | every grey bush hulks |intention, maybe murderous| i’m just a black boy walking | invisible in the grey-blue night |with my quiet vansTM and gentle steps |quiet|dark where the police can’t find me when they are looking for the next bloodied hashtag while i’m thinking about how to pay these bills with no work and if sprouts still has the shishitos and firm nectarines |i turn the corner without being seen | but i stay my ass home at the moon’s height|too much light |and for full moons too|avoiding officer-made tombs | i’m holding the child that was barely a child | i was a man at eight after we moved to amerika |prickly on black skin| blue-black grey-blue | and don’t remember coming home or| jumping the fences or| who i was running from |or when | it was |and how it was |in the street|the nectarine glow of fires in my periphery |who was burning? |another black boy? |no| black woman? |no| black man? | salute the static-ky republic |sinking senate |they’ll probably burn anything black | tires | opals |pearls |holes| the black of your eye |all assassinated| same as the belgians did lumumba | but not good enough to just murder |they dug him up | and dissolved him in acid |celebrated with stroopwafels i suppose| fool, you can’t kill the spirit| but i wake up in my bed to news our president is dead| dead-dead | and i didn’t care how | just knew war was coming to the street | wouldn’t be able to walk anymore | wearing quiet vansTM |not at midnight|not in daylight |or in starlight from galaxies nine extinctions ago | they’ll find me face down in the dirt | a poet’s tomb |quiet|




for the writing of poems, a ritual

                          1
steam rising for ginger
tea is how it starts.

carefully i remove the bird’s skull and beak
maybe it’s one of the mouths that will sing
me its verses tonight

then the yak bone mala

and the white box of Winston’s ashes.
he always whispers to me and
sometimes brushes the side of my leg when i write.

i dust each of them, the shelf that

holds my favorite poets, quietly reciting their
names as i put each item back.

                          2
when the whistle erupts from the kettle, i
bring the charcoal and cedar cone with me to

catch light on the gas stove. i kneel next to
the alter and drop the cedar, add frankincense
to the charcoal nested among my favorite shells,
feathers and fossils.

i pour two shots of Appleton,
my oldest liquor. the first for while the tea cools
and the other on the altar for whomever may come.

some choose to burn sage,
but some spirits and memories invited, need
better restraints. the devil has stories too
and frankincense repels while the cedar cleans.

                          3
the rum i chose is warming my lips as i
lean into the red suede embrace of my couch.

my fingers graze the pores of the whales’
vertebrae, trace their shapes, five times.

the bath is filling slowly with hot water and i
read through “blessing the boats” and then
“salt”. my mind reaches to a poet living at
the edge of the sea and how we have each been
at one time the salt in each others mouths.

submit to what is and leave what could have
been. i call other mysteries to the back door
while undressing for the water and wonder if

every poet must go to such measures to write
a single poem? i know they do not, but for
me writing poems is more parts
magic than craft.




upcountry, there is red dirt

through the slit of a goat’s eye
red dirt conjures another plane
we taste the salt oceans dried on our lips
every baby born             knows how to hex
knows the ways of thorns          torn skin          caress of hibiscus flowers
how to untangle when buried in tree roots
the dead rise at night
duppy and demon walk the bamboo shade

when a duppy passes through you
upcountry,        your head swells
with rain water
runs smooth over red mud
builds to a splashing torrent, spilling like blood
into a cool river.

born into an island imbued with murder
we take a black life         as easily as a summer hog’s

pity no boney dogs as you starve
white rum cures hauntings and fever alike
anoints heads holy
peppery
salvation a song in the rapping of high winds
it whips the tall grass into waves                       waves                      waving into the next gully
we yearn to be feathers
                                       hum spirituals about flying away.




pandemic dream

never struggled against a choke hold
but fee the officer’s
malice on my skin
             yes lawd! as anderson paak would say.
where is my love, with knitted cap to
quarantine with
                          isolate with
to make love with,
                          midday on the red suede couch
with the afternoon’s light strongest in the big window
Netflix: are you still there?
             yes, but we are moving to the bath
the sidewalks below are empty,
mid-morning, workday empty,
black out empty like when colfax went dark
for 40 x 30 blocks
             brought alli spare batteries,
cancer made her body weak,
                          held her hand with my left,
my right on the glock’s safety,
broken glass on the street below

it feels like that now,
                          to begin at any moment,
                                       panic
how i wake up now       4 weeks straight
gasping with malice around my throat
a whole man on my chest

will i live to see the crows return
as they do in summer?  the russian olive’s
             balding top, raven-black bodies
             cackling beak to black beak.

on the back deck the air is poison
                          but i must see the sun’s light
lotion self-love
                          into my dry skin

             been told:
                          “you probably wouldn’t survive”
             die gasping.

so i water the plants again.
                                       i’m killing this cactus SMH
             there is no one to care

                                       (for)
                          i haven’t cried yet.




Cothilda: origine d’une femme flamme (origin of a flame woman)

Dominican Republic late 1930s

                                       i

i was born twice.
once in Haiti across the river in Jérémie.
ma maman was a washwoman on the other side of the island.
when i was a girl les autres enfants
would remind me how she, ma mere
was bad-minded and boasty.
no one was shocked when she was returned
missing teeth, her foot mash up
for theifin’ from her mistress’ power box.

we moved to Pout-au-Prince the shame was so bad.
maman could wash and press clothes but the foot
kept her from carrying les enfants or standing long.
we were, for generations, in the service of “betters”.
nou te chwal     we were horses ridden by spirits
she made ‘a money’ as caplata undoing the
hexing stares of jealous women or singing back wanton men
to their rightful homes with a root oil to be applied to their
foreheads while sleeping.

                                       ii
when maman died, i moved to the other side of the island and
found a good family to wash for.  i lived in the back room off the kitchen.
their children were almost white.
my skin was the color of eggplant.
the mistress has a long face and is always ill.
the misye was surveyor for the government
and gone all the time.

there’s talk of upset on the radio
and among the washwomen and hands who cut cane.
they say we have to go
back home to Haiti.  but no one stirred, really.
this was the talk they talked all the time.

misye came home late and found me in my room.
Cothilda! Get dressed!  soldiers are coming. get dressed!
they’ll want you to go with them, say they are taking you back to Haiti, but i have heard
that no one who has left with them has arrived. you’ve heard the rumours!

for months we have heard of people going
missing at the hands of soilders but thought: rumor.
they must have left their jobs to go back home.

he stuffed money  in my hands, gave me a loaf of bread,
two avocados and butter.  Find others and leave tonight!  i found out
from the field hands that other workers were meeting at the sugar mill.
we were going.  we cut through the gullies and traveled at night.

                                       iii
i met the others. all were talking of what was heard, who was missing,
who left.  i heard some of the field hands were working for the government,
to spare their own lives or to stay in the country. they were black like us, hearing
our whisperings made us easier to catch.

we came to a road at the brim of the gully.  it was my turn to look before
we crossed. the others stayed back in shadow. i was deliberate and slow.
i listened and when i thought it was safe i began to cross.
see one there! come!  when i turned to run there was another man.
they seized me.  he ripped off my head tie and pulled me down by my plaits.
he knelt on my arms. i called out, but the others remained quiet.
other men came running, cursing me.  a soldier pulled up the jeep to give them light.
one grabbed a big stone and swung it down knocking my jaw loose.
before i passed out, i saw three of the hands running to me
did the soldiers killing for them,
their cutlass blades glinting in the light.
my feet were the first to go
metal working through bone
by the flame tree, they dug me
a muddy sore
an unwilling womb,
and i was born again
the color of smoke.



André O. Hoilette: “I am a Jamaican-born poet living in Denver, Colorado. I am a Cave Canem alumnus and the former editor of ambulant: A Journal of Poetry & Art and assistant editor of Nexus Magazine. I have earned MFAs in Fiction and Poetry from Regis University’s Mile-High MFA. A 2020 poem was recently been nominated for Pushcart Prize. My previous publications in Role Call, Stand Our Ground, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Gathering Ground: Cave Canem 10 year reader, Inverted Syntax, Cultural Weekly, milk magazine, and other journals.”




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