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.

After reading the story of her third great love affair, I think
I understand better. We love even harder, preparing for ash.

On the surface it might look to be more careless— the car keys,
letters, watches; the mind drunk on love but preparing for ash.

The wish to binge equally on solitude, and in the nest of the other:
blissful nights wrapped in the lover’s arms but preparing for ash.

Breakfasts in bed of coffee, croissants, jam; summers spent on some coast,
autumns teaching. Tucking into poems the idea of preparing for ash.

Sweet irony to find the one you can be easy with so late in life,
or when other things have been compromised, preparing for ash.

In 1971 Elizabeth (60) wrote to Alice (28): “The poor heart doesn’t
seem to grow old at all,”
though it knew it was preparing for ash.

I never knew she slept with Alice’s letters, or kept her photo buttoned
into her shirt pocket
— In every pull of longing, the preparation for ash.

In my own ledgers I keep count of my own remorseful, wild, unforetold losses.
The more one loses, the surer one comes to the moment of preparing for ash?

Yet every day the sky changes: deep blue, dark purple, cloud-flecked;
and every day are new pleasures to spend while preparing for ash.

My savings dwindle, my debts increase. I lose friends, loves, children,
possessions to the unknown future; in time, myself— preparing for ash.


In response to Via Negativa: End of days.

“…despair is an art” ~ D. Bonta

On a winter evening, we line up
waiting to be let into the glass
museum across from the small

French restaurant, to witness
a performance: the music of molten
things combined with sound coaxed

from out of a violin, from a synth
whose pedal gets pumped on each
down-bow. I don’t quite understand

the meaning of these sounds made
by a series of tubes resembling flared
lips, open ears, strange foliate heads

lined up on an industrial trestle—
Like some terrible high-strung bird
crazed with grief, the repetition

of its one note against the fire
kept fresh in the background—
I keep looking around, as if

Phalaris and his bronze bull
might be somewhere in the hall:
as if the sound system

might pick up the muffled cries
of those tucked into its gut.
But there’s only the rustling

of programs, an audience dressed
in tasteful neutrals shifting in the seats.
And outside, the cold and dark and wind

shivering the leaves— making them
beat like little flames against
this crucible that holds us in.


In response to Via Negativa: Togetherness.

The roof of the first house we owned was discovered
to jut over the property line, past its official limits.

It wasn’t a simple matter of revising the blueprint:
boundary issues made others aware of their limits.

The issue was settled, meaning some payment was made. Less
than a year later, an earthquake further tested our limits.

The edifice survived, the foundation intact; but other
repairs cost. We sold it to settle our debt limits.

That was a cruel year: one of calamity, of losses and deaths.
When I prayed I cried, pushed to the ends of my limits.

By some grace we survived, only to be ushered into other
predicaments. I forgot: the Fates deal out stuff, without limits.

Lately and besides, I am tired of being the first one others come to
in every crisis; I need to learn how to say I have my limits.

In a quiet room, the therapist draws one circle engulfing another:
This, she says, is what it looks like when one doesn’t set limits.

Days, weeks, months, a lifetime goes by. How can you tell when
the people and things in your life are straining your limits?

It’s lonely running loops around this track. The course is shrouded
with fog. I can’t see where I’ve come from, nor any marked limits.

Often I pause, sit on my haunches, lie prone on the ground—
pockets empty, flanks aching, heart fit to burst from its limits.

Precario seems almost
the same as peligro
though the first sounds slightly
more delicate than the latter,
so it is possible to imagine
a small glass vase on the window-
sill, and a cat padding through
the apartment— Not the metal
grates staring from each door
along the alley, not the chain
link fences or security
warning signs. As children
we used to dig for hours
in the gravel, roll an inner
tube down the deserted street.
No one thought it unwise that we
walked by ourselves to the corner
store to buy iced coconut candy
or tubes of plastic balloon.
No van with tinted windows
waited, engines idling,
at the end of the block
under a dangerous sky.

~ after Thomas Lux’s “Ode to the Joyful Ones

And what of the others? Should they not
also be protected like the joyful ones?

They stumble even more among us: make
mistakes they never seem to learn from,

even after having made them again and again.
Family coffers are drained from being used

for bail, to bribe some offended party to look
away and not press charges, to fix the damage

done by hands or feet that bashed the door in
or a car windshield in the middle of some consuming,

unjoyful rage. When they are with others, the aura
of their crippling pain will sometimes obliterate

every other sense in the room. And then you realize
how fleeting joy is, how pleasure evaporates

before the dew dries off the leaf in the morning.
They eye the better piece of pork chop on the table,

the slice of cake, the plate of imported ham
and cheese, and transfer the good sheets

to their beds— They want it all, for in them
is such a hunger not even milk and honey

at midnight could appease. As for the light,
they want it as much as you, perhaps even more:

having lived seemingly so far from it for so long,
a mere sliver in the distance drives the sharpest

pang into their hearts— Oh what they would give
to simply throw off the covers, open a window, walk

out the door into a blinding field of radiance that won’t
extract too high a price for the grace of living inside it.

“a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning…”

~ The Diamond Sutra

By candlelight,
the dented cup
is burnished.

As darkness falls,
garden stones gleam
like polished granite.

The river’s surface: rows
of whipped foam, faces
open to the wind.

Do you remember how we stacked old newspapers under the rafters, how we tied them up with twine and waited for the women who came to buy them, measuring by the handspan? Months would go by then suddenly they were at the gate, smiling, stepping over the threshold, lowering too the makeshift buckets they’d lashed to poles for collecting slop or compost. We never asked where they took what we gave freely and with relief. This was in the days before talk of recycling, before we ever sorted glass from cardboard or tin; when we gathered dry leaves in piles beneath the trees and struck a match to them each afternoon. A season turns, and I think sometimes I can still smell these things in the air— Dark smudge of ink on newsprint. Dry crackle as things surrender their souls; as, forcibly, they change from one state of matter to another.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

In those islands
once under foreign rule,
half the year hurricane winds
blow through streets named
after dead soldiers and presidents.

Only on golf courses
does the grass not look deranged.
But the perfume of ginger flowers
and hibiscus flutes wildest
along the ravines.

My eyelid twitches
at the scent of jasmine or gardenia.
I am not ashamed to say I
was neither eager to leave
nor eager to stay.

But the room described
by the ring of hills felt
more airless each day. I wrote
in a journal Forgive me
though I knew no one could.

Out of cardboard stock and black
marker, I draw and cut out shapes of deer.
I string them like a mobile— One presses
its head to the ground, another cranes its neck.
One curls into itself, skittish but proud.


In response to Via Negativa: Amputee.

The dressmaker turns sleeve after sleeve inside out to inspect the seams. She lays the panels face to face and binds them so they won’t tug apart at the slightest pull. For seeing in, there is the keyhole shaped like a tear, through which she dreamt he fed her grapes with his long fingers; when she opened her mouth she nicked each one a little with her teeth. And she imagines a catch on the way in, the way she has to tug to release the bite of metal clamped around a fold.

Everything hurts like that inside, in the factory
where the little heart labors night
and day through the years.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How will the bones of the future
look, fanned out against the sky?

Sometimes a school of wings
rises in my chest, the air there

filled suddenly with movement
and volume, a sharp iridescence

of flight instigated by feelings
of ardor or longing, or that

particular sadness which comes
of not knowing— I can only move

like one leaf in a body of leaves,
like one thing borne on a current.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.