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.

No one wants to talk about the woman
in the upstairs room, how she saves
every last scrap and item that has

anything to do with her former life;
how she has come down, as they say,
in the world. No one wants to deal

with the tirades, the obsessive
hoarding and impulse buying, her stubborn
insistence that thirty umbrellas on hand

are ideal for emergencies. Does she
remember the year she refused to be
alone in the kitchen, the evening

her friend came to dinner, took a sip
of coffee then fell dead on the floor?
The leathery heart swings around on itself

like a revolving door. Someone’s here to scrub
the tiles and carry out garbage. She can’t understand
exactly how things aren’t the same as before.

Two waist-high jars by the door,
small hulls of frosted glass

carefully detached from a lamp
fixture. On the shelf, a pair

of short lidded boxes: one marked
Sugar, the other marked Flour.

I listened to the woman in the armchair
tell of her walk on the shore last week

and of the beached calves she came upon—
How the water kept licking at their grey

linen forms out of habit. I asked
if they were dead. She said of course

they were. And then: But I don’t know—
don’t they frequently need to surface

in order to breathe? She closed her eyes
then, said she was tired. I cleaned the sink,

wiped the table, put new sheets on the bed.
I tried to move as quietly as I could.


In response to Via Negativa: Bedding.

to have a heart in— not one that made
graveyards of streets where thousands of souls
rose up with the wings of a deranged congregation.
How terrible to think especially of the young
who’ll never get the chance to practice the simplest
acts of living: mornings in a schoolroom, chanting
the alphabet’s bellweather— M after L, X after
W; every dog belonging to its home, and not
to a shackle and chain. Who spends the days picking
through skins discarded by others, to find one pure morsel not
tainted with decay? Rejoice if you can for those who will see,
a split second before the blast goes off, a vision of their own
fate caught in the crosshairs of history. It’s a gift not easily
come by: to hear above the noise a clear note that summons
remembering; that makes a lake of all the nights we mourned,
over which we bend to surrender the empty boats of our hearts.


In response to Via Negativa: Contractor in hell.

~ Mellisuga helenae

It’s so quiet at night.
In these rooms, each one
prays in her own compartment

to whatever gods might listen
this side of the ocean. Don’t you
want to be accounted for too,

invited in: no longer the permanent
house guest, no longer the dark-
skinned maid with the chamois rag,

betrothed to furniture perennially
in need of polishing? The silences
don’t necessarily mean the saints

have retreated into their rose quartz
caverns, lain down in their fern-lined
crypts. If you see a butterfly or humming-

bird drumming on a plume for nectar,
think of what the soul must have been
before it fell into this world.


In response to Via Negativa: News Junkie.

Under the table she swings and swings
her feet. They still look girlish, but

for the pucker of old flesh behind each
knee; and the bunion pushing against

the worn fabric of shoe. It pains to imagine
how she gropes her way in the dark from bedroom

to bathroom then lies back down on a mattress
almost as old as me; or longs for a blue flame

at midnight to heat water in a kettle for tea.
Meanwhile the wind whistles through gaps

in the floor: its long trail a daily laceration,
coming from far away. It says when you’re young

you want to make your fame by doing something
outrageous, something that strives for importance.

When you’re older you start not giving a fuck,
not making apologies. And then when you’re old

you want merely not to have to beg to rest your bones
inside the shell of a cup, inside a linen-lined trunk.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

The corpse of a bee hangs
six feet above the garden;
the writing spider is nowhere
to be found. So why do ducks’
feet have webbing? Two
nylon ropes were knotting
under the pier. Have you
fallen asleep yet? Dreams
make the best worst jokes.
They start and clear
their throats but then
never conclude. When
was the last time you
were in that country?
No one is clapping.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

There are folders and old newspapers in every corner and more than forty bags of mildewed clothes in the foyer, in the spare room— nobody now knows what is in them. Aunty has finally agreed to let the cleaning women take them to the gate for the next trash pickup. There may have been silks ties serge suits a yellow sheath with a ribbon on one shoulder. Dark sable slippers with holes in the arch. Trousers in a small houndstooth check sweater sets of mohair navy skirts of plain cotton. White slips with small rosettes and lace trim a tan leather coat with brass buttons and two breast pockets once borrowed by nephew S. without asking the summer he came into town. Sixteen but eager to get his driver’s license early he begged uncle to use some of his influence at the city hall. Maybe in one of them is the fleecy bathrobe with two pockets— one for holding a folded novena to St. Jude and the other a pair of nailclippers. And the yellow shirt with rust colored dots that uncle liked to wear each new year’s eve the one with a dark stain on the cuff from forgetting at the last minute to toss a firecracker into the yard. Sometimes we are seized with fear like that or a sudden pall of misunderstanding. Perhaps that’s when the world kind of stands still. Then part of the future comes through the haze like a warning. And it is so strange and frightening it roots us to the spot. We don’t even feel the small flames beginning to eat at the outlines of our hands.

Don’t tell
Speak of something else

Don’t play
with matches or your own heat

Don’t stick your fingers
into dirty holes

Close your eyes
as the throat opens with each bearing down

Do you want me
to return you to your real home

I am smoke or sugar
or its more homely double

I was the arms that raised you
not the belly you were riven from


In response to Via Negativa: Caregiver.

When did it start, the stockpiling
of new with old and dirty clothing,

the thirty-plus umbrellas gathered on
the flimsy stair railing? And in every

cubby of a hutch that once held highball
and footed ice cream glasses, punch bowl,

oval party plates, the kind with a round
depression at one end on which to rest

the bottom of a cup— decades’ worth
of sundry papers, magazines saved from

another time; plastic bags stuffed with used
water bottles. I remember a mint green set

of Jadeite mixing bowls, their cool swirl
pattern. And a Pyrex flameware saucepan

with a metal ring and spout, put to double
duty as cake pan. A door to door salesman

once sold her a pair of waist-high carved
Chinese cinnabar vases; she did not bargain,

did not check if the price was fair. What drove
my father crazy: the way she took such time

adjusting clothing, hair, makeup while he sat
in the car and ordered his driver to honk

the horn. When they were gone, a pink cloud
of fragrance left behind on her vanity; powder-

puff, uncapped bottle of Chanel No. 5. It hurts
to ponder where her rings have gone, the ones she

loosely wore on increasingly arthritic fingers:
if they’re among the bagged detritus of the years,

or if their stones lie in a musty pawnshop drawer.
There’s so much I despair of being able to account for,

or ransom. At what cost: an overhaul, a grand redemption?
This is how fortunes we never had yet dwindle. This

is how the years flense the body: layer by layer, until
what’s left is a sheath strung, slight, on bones.