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.

In third grade, for a genealogy project,
I came home with a sheet on which was pre-
printed a simple family tree, and questions:
what were the names of my grandparents
on either side? when were they born,
what did they do, when did they die?
On mother’s side, I knew how Lorenzo,
her father, left his farm at nineteen
and came to the city for work. He was
a cook for four years in Baguio at a hotel
built in 1909; my daughter and I stayed there
when we visited in the summer of 2015.
His first wife was Filomena— I never saw
her picture, but her name sounded like flowers.
She died young of a heart attack, from news
of her brother’s death during the war.
His second wife was Victorina; visiting us
in my childhood, she brought with her a warm
tobacco smell that clung to her skirts;
when she sat in a dining chair she liked
to draw up her knees and eat with her hands.
After the war, Lorenzo went into business
with a friend and put up two small barbershops,
one of them named Lucky and the other, Symphony.
I never knew about Lucky, but I do have a dim
memory of Symphony: the smell of shaving foam
and hot towels, the men tipping up their chins
at the blade’s approach. Little piles of hair
gathered at the base of each chair, bright
red-white-and-blue striped helixes revolving
in the barber’s pole outside the door.
No one could tell me much about my grand-
father on the other side— least of all
my tightlipped father. Only his name, Felix;
how he was father’s father, but not my aunt
Sofia’s. Father’s mother Irene stayed with us
part of the year. She never liked my mother,
poor farmer’s daughter. At the end of her life,
bedridden, it was only my father’s name she
called out in the night. It was never
him but my mother who had to bring water,
the chamberpot, a change of sheets.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Sandman.

(next section in this series; a partly found poem)

Written on water: what describes a debt that will
in all likelihood never be paid back.
Meaning when someone borrows money or goods you sigh,
knowing that may be the last you’ll see of it.
Meaning a ledger of blue-green lines, always moving.
Meaning erasure; meaning hiding or wavering.

That joke about how many islands there are,
depending on whether it’s high or low tide.
If it could never be written in the first place,
what is it that’s erased?
Should you leave town, change your name?
Write on the envelopes that come
in the mail: Return to sender?

60-70% of the body’s weight is water.
12 gallons per day sustains the average person’s
water needs— including washing, bathing, cooking.
In third world countries, more than half
the population has no access to clean water.

It is well known that one could die
of thirst.There are also cases of death
from water intoxication.
In 2007 a woman died after drinking more
than 6 liters of water in 3 hours.
It was for a contest called “Hold Your Wee
for a Wii,” sponsored by a radio station.
The prize would have been a Nintendo game console.

Mostly women and children spend more than an aggregate
of 200 million hours per day collecting water for their families.
One pail in each hand. A length of cloth twisted into a ring
to help carry a jug or basin on the head.
Training for these things can start as young as 5.
There are dances involving the balancing of glasses
of water on each open palm, and one on the head.
Also, fire might substitute for water—
a votive, a flaming bowl.

The cameras are waiting.
Don’t spill one drop.

When a stitch burns
in my side, I pray
to the fates who hold
the keys to life.

I remember a dream in which
white flowers open after a year
of shutting themselves in.
In a drawer, a double string

of red beads. When I undo
the mouth that holds the two ends
together, their falling repeats
the syllables of rice or rain.

~ a partly found poem

Rainwater is best collected as it’s falling out in the open: not running through a gutter or a drain.

Water from a creek or river might seem ok, until you think of laundry and soap, villagers bathing at one end.

The wealthy pay to have a drill go straight down to the water table; then they lay pipes, devise connections to tanks in their fenced-in backyards.

To render water safe, we collect what we can in bottles, in pails, in metal drums.

The women improvise filters: squares of cloth cut from cotton undershirts.

In any case, we always boil the water on the stove.

*

I remember having a flush toilet in our home only after I turned 3.

It took a few years until all the glazed bathroom tile was put in.

Before that, the nakedness of cemented cinderblock walls; a high window with bars.

When grandfather brought a sow from his farm to fatten for a birthday, they penned it in the unfinished shower stall.

Years later, rushing in to wash off meconium stains late in my first pregnancy, I thought of that pig and its wet grunting through the night.

*

Traveling in foreign countries, I’m warned not to drink the water.

To keep the mouth shut, standing underneath the shower stream.

Not to swallow the residue in the mouth after brushing.

In St. Petersburg, they also said not to drink the water.

The only thing I could find was mineral.

Order Coke or Sprite, suggested my mother; no ice.

*

Dorado: Spanish, from the past participle of dorar (to gild); Latin, deaurare, from de- + aurum (gold).

*

In Dorado, Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of hurricane Maria.

They’ve fixed a broken fence, secured an exposed spigot, and put up a sign saying Peligro – Danger.

Before that, how many had already drawn the toxic water for bathing, washing, drinking?

The well at Maguayo #4 is part of the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Superfund site.

The US Environmental Protection Agency previously marked the site as toxic; it warned of the presence of industrial chemicals, including tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, known to have serious impacts on health including damage to the liver and increased risk of cancer.

*

Here are some of the most expensive waters in the world:

Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani – $60,000 per 750 ml
This is probably the most expensive bottled water in the world. Costing €60,000 for a bottle of 750 ml, this ought to quench your thirst and empty your pockets. The water is from France and Fiji. The bottle is 24 carat solid gold and was designed by Fernando Altamirano of Tequila Ley, who is also credited with the design of the Cognac Dudognon Heritage Henri IV, thought to be the most expensive bottle of cognac in the world.

Kona Nigari – $402 per 750 ml
Kona Nigari is a bottled water sold in Japan. It is collected from a spring around 2,000 metres under the sea off the coast of the island of Hawaii and is said to have health benefits.

Fillico – $219 per 750 ml
The bottles are made to look like chess pieces, in particular the king and queen. This is because Fillico water bottles are topped with golden crowns associated with royalty.

Bling H2O – $40 per 750 ml
The bottle is made out of Swarovski crystals and corked like a bottle of champagne. The price actually seems rather low, when compared to some of the other waters we’ve seen.

Veen 5 – $23 per 750 ml
Veen water is from Finland and arguably the purest water in the world.

10 Thousand BC – $14 per 750 ml
The water comes from a far-off and exotic place off the coast of Canada, so far that it would take a few days to get to the location the water is bottled.

AquaDeco – $12 per 750 ml
The name alone suggests that this water is heavily invested in style. But this is not a case of style over substance. In fact, in 2007 it won the gold medal for that year’s best non-carbonated spring water.

Lauquen Artes Mineral Water – $6 per 750 ml
It comes from an aquifer 1,500 feet deep in a remote part of the South American Andes. Another water that uses the purity and cleanliness of its source of origin as a stand-out feature.

Tasmanian Rain – $5 per 750 ml
As the name says, this water is sourced from the rain of Tasmania, the island off the south of the Australian mainland. What makes it unusual is that it’s collected in the bottle straight out of the sky.

Fine – $5 per 750 ml
From a spring in Japan, on the slopes of Mount Fuji, one of the most beautiful places in the world. The spring is located 600 metres below the mountain belt and the water is particularly pure.

*

In the story, Midas is the guy who asks that everything he touches be turned to gold.

Golf courses of gold, La-Z-Boy loungers in gold, golden statues of naked boys and women.

Gold leaves in the garden, gold furniture in a golden house, gold crap in the toilet.

All the sudden bling, rooms of high culture and kitsch: gold paintings, beaver hats, condoms.

He is so mindlessly happy he hugs his golden-haired daughter, teetering in gold stilettos.

And then he sits down to eat and drink.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Harvester.

In a class on multicultural literature a boy in the front row
says he imagines coconuts falling in my voice.

It’s winter in the midwest. It’s warm in the classroom,
but not like the tropics. I like the hush of snow
but only from behind glass. I wonder, does he

actually know what it sounds like when coconuts
fall to the ground? Their meat is sweet; the water

sweeter. Every part useful beyond itself, beyond the moment
something detached it from its nest, whether by accident
or design. Sugar and oil. Rope and fiber. A husk

with which to buff a wooden floor. Occasionally I have
trouble with some words— where does the accent fall again?

The lapses happen, I think, as an effect of bad timing:
when the mind hasn’t quite expected the gap it must leap over
to get to the other language. And then it’s just there.

Iambic Pen.TA.meter. PEN.ta.meter? Books say
this is the closest approximation to meter, if everyday

human speech were scanned. PRO.so.dy. Pro.SO.dy? I
was amazed to overhear two women in the hallway figure out
what exact part of Canada each was from just from listening

to the way the other spoke. When the British writer
came to teach at my university for a week, everyone

was charmed by her pixie haircut, her obviously
British accent. When I wrote about the river, she said,
I took long, looping walks; I’d stop to look at a bridge,

the architecture, the vegetation. It seemed the perfect
structuring device— you make a digression, you come back

to the main theme. Exactly what I’ve been talking about,
I said triumphantly to my writing class. Only, one student offered,
she said it so much more clearly than you. Would you like the analysis

in French deconstructionist parlance, or postcolonial theory? The builder
leaves but the hammering continues. The flags of the old order continue

to fly, even when, supposedly, they’ve been pulled down. Violent
hierarchies: the signified over the signifier; speech over writing.
The family of dual oppositions eternally replenishing itself.

Watch my mind leap in the open, delighting at what it finds.
The day I earned my graduate degree, four nurses, one

greying accountant, and one policeman from the community
came to stand in presence for every person in my family,
living or dead, that could not be there. At parties,

the accountant and his wife, who were from another
province, liked to ask: How do you say this in your language

up north? Or they told stories of the war, when they crept
out of their bombed homes to forage in the fields at night.
They ate whatever they could find, skin and substance—

The mouth opens in its own efficient way to take in the world.
Overripe bananas. Frogs singing in the ditch after rain.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Tonight let the tips of fingers touch
together in the shape of a bud;
think of a slender wheel revolving
above your head, pouring radiance

straight down to the tired hollows
of your feet. How many times today
did the clapper sound its notes
in your chest, or your heart flutter

like an electrified bird? How often
did the bones that lie across the shoulders
think they might break from the very thought
of flight? Little fork, little trowel,

the curve of water on the shore reflects
the curve of the moon. You used to think
it might be enough to write down a list of all
you still needed to do. You used to believe

a hand skimmed lightly over a surface could be
a version of love: how you wanted to touch without
injury, wanting only to lay a quiet finger
over the places most likely to fold.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Meeting.

“…What can
it mean, significance minus
meaning?” ~ J. Allyn Rosser

At dusk, as if it were a question
of life or death or the first
paragraph in an existential novel,
moths hurl their soft bodies against
the storm door. Lit up by porch lamps,
it glows like an electric field,
pulsing bars the color of melted
honey. Even the small checkerboard
beetles that usually sit like red
and yellow enamel pins on the siding
want to edge closer to this brightness.
The last time I tapped the lantern’s
glass cup upside down to clean it,
a dry rain of papery wings unfastened
—so many acts of significance or
insignificance, depending on how
you look at it. Like that day
in a high school literature class
when, to teach about metaphor,
the teacher made us file one by one
to the front of the room and look
at a poorly drawn watercolor pressed
under glass on her desk. Some girls
gushed about the strength and longevity
of rock; only one said it was just
a picture of mountains and trees.

I’m sorry for the afternoon,
which was late and now won’t ever

be coming back. And I’m sorry
for this fibrous heart I’ll tear

from the tree before it’s ripe,
that I’ll pull apart at the kitchen

sink. Here’s the knife I was given
and which I’ll use to hack time’s

signature green fibers into shreds
—For I was trained to use all

parts delivered into my hands:
from the woody rind to the pulp

to the seed’s thin sheath; and
at last the seed itself.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Dictator.

When the rain stops at last so many skins
cover the drenched ground, though small

unripened fruit still cling
high on the tree— as if difficulty

never changes the heart of things.
I learned that lesson late and now am wary,

though the light that rings the world
when the sun returns allows me to forget

from time to time how I labor, how we
aren’t spared— How the fire, when it comes,

and the winds, will pass like twin flames from one
mouth absorbed only by its own shimmering.

There was a man who held his wife in his arms
in the water, in the deepest part of the pool,

hoping the two of them together would make
an alloy to survive that bright

encroaching. I know how hard it is
to give up the habit of persistence—

We want to pray and not surrender,
we want to trace a wide alchemical circle

inside of which sorrow might find
the strength to abandon itself.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

When the caldera breaks open
again, everything will telescope

to the immensity of our fears
then scale back so that we might know

intensely, the truths of the world
we refused to see at last— In that

precise instant, before our shared
oblivion, the soft but sharp edges

of jasmine opened by heat; and the emerald
currents our bodies never completely

surrendered to, though our souls were thirstier
than fish. In a dream I saw the air

waterfall with the most transparent dying
of orchids, with the scales of a rare

white python uncoiling from the roof
of the world. It didn’t rain

anymore; and there were no more winds
or wildfires. There was a road

shiny as foil on which we lay
side by side, looking for the moon.

By then it didn’t matter if we forged
our travel documents or if our feet

were unclean. By then the word
insurance ceased to matter.

By then we would have— should have—
bent to kiss like a beloved child

every bone wearing shackles
stacked in the ditch.