Luisa A. Igloria

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She teaches on the faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University, which she directed from 2009-2015. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

“Tell me, why have I come?” ~ “Crossing from Guangdong,” Sarah Howe

1992

In April, from the Chinese textile stores on Kayang
street, my mother bought four yards of dark

brown serge plus nylon lining to make a long coat
for me. We had no idea how cold Chicago winters

would be, and so she made extra room
in the torso, in the sleeves— allowance,

she called it— so I could wear layers
of sweaters underneath, a sheath of lycra

to seal me from winter’s extended chill.
When my scholarship travel details came

in the mail, news had just broken of the L.A.
Riots; from half a world away, we watched

as fire after fire after fire started
and spread, as storefront windows shattered

and looting began in streets where hate
was a thread that swiftly and rampantly

unraveled: the white driver pulled from his truck
and beaten, the Guatemalan construction worker

whose forehead was bashed open with a car stereo
before his chest and genitals were painted

black… When mother asked, Do you really
have to go?
I know what she meant was

Is it safe for people like us
in America?
I tried to reassure her

Chicago was far from south L.A. But even then,
even as Rodney himself said in public a few

days later, “People, I just want to say— can we
all get along? Can we get along?”
— I knew

with sudden forceful clarity that in that world,
I’d need to steel myself against more than just the cold.

*after Edna St. Vincent Millay

In early summer I like to go
beneath the canopy of leaves—

Lit up, they have, sometimes, a look
sun-struck, or of candle-flame—

But more, I marvel at the forms
of ripening along the branch: the size

and shape of light bulbs, the slight
swivel at the base when plucked.

“…monotony of green. In my last dream
before waking, …wading through snow.” ~ D. Bonta

For three glorious weeks in ’98, late spring, I lived
at a writer’s retreat in an honest to gosh castle up
in the Midlothian highlands, which Wikipedia describes

as a 15th-century ruin with a 17th-century L-plan house
attached
. In those days not so long ago, the internet
was still a fairly new-fangled thing, so when I called

the retreat administrator’s office to inquire about their
email address, the secretary paused and said, “Ach, dearie,
you’ll find that around here, we still use smoke signals.”

When I finally got there after several long plane rides
(Manila to Seoul, Seoul to Chicago, Chicago to Edinburgh),
of course I made the first mistake that every tourist did:

go around to the right side of the car to pull it open,
only to withdraw in confusion as that is the driver’s side.
My host, who’d come to meet me with a shepherd’s staff

in one hand, slapped his thigh and crowed, Gets them
every time!
We were warned it tended to be cold and damp,
even that late in the season. There was a small

fireplace in every bedroom, and tongs, and an iron
grate. Even so, some nights I had to plead for the use
of one of two electric space heaters in the castle.

I’m from a tropical country, I said
in my defense. Mostly, I didn’t want to wake
chilled to the bone, then find myself face to face

with the ghost of the Lady Fiona, the would-have-been
mistress of the premises and bride to the castle laird,
had she not mysteriously fallen to her death

from the ramparts the night before her wedding.
She was supposed to have been a commoner, a peasant;
while I could relate to that, I still preferred

not to be accosted by her sad and eternally
unhomed shroud. After breakfast, sometimes I’d catch
a bus to the city. Mostly, I’d go walking

along paths bordered by vivid green, fields of mustard
dotted with the obligatory moving clouds of sheep, and wind up
at nearby Rosslyn Chapel. There I’d sit in the cool nave,

staring at the Apprentice Pillar, its sinuous,
braiding lines— stark contrast to everything upright
and correct around it. They told the local legend

of the 18th century master mason, who did not believe
his lowly apprentice could have been visited by sheer
inspiration so that he carved this column,

thereby surpassing his teacher’s previous feats.
For this achievement, the apprentice received
a fatal blow to the head from his jealous

master’s mallet. There is some justice
in the story, if you can call it that–
because supposedly, for punishment,

they had the master mason’s face set into the wall
directly opposite the beautiful column, so he
would have to look at his apprentice’s creation

forever. He obviously lived much too long ago
to have benefited from the sage pronouncement
of the great Jedi master Yoda— How fear

leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, hatred
leads to suffering
— The same dark
green thread that spools under

and into everything we do, so we can’t stop
looking out of the corners of our eyes at what
everyone else is saying, writing, doing.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

It happens that when there’s nothing
else to find fault with, they’ll comb through
searching for random errors in punctuation.

*

I’ve refused the adjective deficient.
I am not the one who confuses
manors with manners.

*

Who is that walking on the roof, cawing,
making human-like thumps and noises?
Wings do not always equal flight.

*

The tree is heavy with fruit
on the verge of ripening. I have seen crows
lying in wait: they anticipate an undertaking.

*

Sun-catcher, clapper, brass
bell: I string you on the branches.
When something moves, summon the wind.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Revision.

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2016

Today this old-
fashioned word in a novel
I’m reading trembles

into view— fascinator
and immediately I remember
how my fingers fashioned

years ago from feel,
from scraps of ecru brocade
and lace, a little pillbox

of a hat with a hint
of veil, for my cousin
Cristy. She wore it pinned

to one side of her head,
to top off a modest skirt
and suit of plain beige.

It was a rushed wedding,
before her papers cleared
for her transfer to a hospital

in Saudi, before the seams
of her white nurse’s uniform
started to strain

at the seams around her belly;
before we learned the man
she thought she married

was already someone
else’s spouse. All she’d ever
wanted was a life outside

her mother’s tiny two-
room flat a street away
from where we lived,

a life for which she’d saved
every last coin toward that
plane ticket out.

It was she who’d taught me
how to wrap the blood
pressure cuff around

my father’s arm, pump
the bulb, slowly loosen
the valve then wait

to read the two
points where the needle
came to fitful rest

on the manometer’s face—
Systolic pressure in the arteries
when the heart muscle contracts,

diastolic pressure between beats
as the chamber fills with blood.
Two syllables separated

by barely the space of a sigh;
head slightly tilted to one
side as if already weighted

with ornament. If she
who was so good at listening
had not been able to catch

all that lay
beneath the surface,
how could I have hoped in my

own time to intercept the messages
that spun in circles, that would seem
to scintillate for me and me alone?

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

We look at charts and graphs set before us, the residues of testing. Here is the line that shows where we struggle through a wilderness of feelings we can’t yet name, where nights splinter from the metal aftertastes of worry. Outside, it is fully and ripeningly summer. The ache in the bud gives way to the shaken bloom. We have words for things we cannot guarantee, and jars in one corner of the shelf for catching change. So heavy with the green of its fruits, the tree in the yard bends beyond the scope of what it’s consigned to give. Look at how its flanks are so open: as if a hand running a closed fist back along the branch were all it would take to strip it of all it has.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Testament.

You soothed my fears best with words—
strung them into parables, taught me
to look inside stacked forms

for clues, broke them down into
individual parts so I could trace
their threads back to some

ground of origin. As it is,
I’ve learned of depths
beyond which none of us

can go unless the going
is complete. Like happiness,
I suppose; or like that kind

of surrender. Deepest shadow
beyond blue shadows lapping
at the sill, deeper pulse

goading the compass needle.
What is fortune? When it’s time,
you said, you’ll know.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

New moon

Every thumbnail reminds me
to tuck coins into my pockets.
The window rattles when
the meter maid rides by.

*

Waxing gibbous

On Tuesday, mail arrives
from the colony— each page
soaked with the smell
of fog and bitter melon.

*

Full moon

After we drank the tea down to the dregs,
the gypsy read our fortunes. I want to know,
Where did she learn to tell the shape
of death from that of pillows?

*

Waning crescent

The meadow was ablaze
with firefly light. I knelt
in the garden, practicing
for certain grief.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Face to face.

Do you ever hunger for a taste you can’t seem to find
in anything you eat, but don’t know what exactly?

Do you walk more slowly in the rain, waiting
for some other rhythm with which to fall in step?

You used to keep notebooks of collected facts
which gathered and curled into themselves

in interesting shapes. You’d take them out
every now and then, thumbnails to your own

kind of hairball museum— Hot water is heavier
than cold. A shrimp’s heart resides in its head.

Beetles taste like apples, wasps like pine nuts,
worms like fried bacon. Despite or because of

the memes and .gifs inspired by Nicolas Deveaux’s
short film of an elephant on a trampoline,

the elephant is the only mammal that can’t
jump. And Leonardo da Vinci invented scissors,

that same implement which an American in Taiwan
dismantled into two blades yesterday, and used

to stab himself in a courtroom after the judge
sentenced him to four years in jail for illegal

possession of drugs. All the sad news
this week, all the much too young people

whose names were listed and whose brief
lives flickered like the jeweled flames

music makes in laying down a beat. And all
the stupid accidents on the road today

causing pileups. Still, you are convinced
that everyone and everything just wants

to be loved and understood, accounted for.
Even the single-file line of giraffes

walking gravely through the narrow tiled lane
leading to the high dive platform above the pool

—each one wants to touch noses with the upside-
down spotter before landing clean in the water.