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.

What’s that hum? I sometimes ask
in the after-hours, when the dishes
have been put away and the shades
have all been pulled down.
It’s only the refrigerator, my husband
will say. Or It’s the heater.
When we sat in the dark for two nights
during the last hurricane, every violent
pass of wind through the pine trees
and the ancient gum was premonitory.
I barely slept for imagining the knot
of roots at the base of the largest tree
coming loose in the sodden ground,
then the sickening sound of limbs
crashing through the roof. Flashlights
barely pierced the ragged gloom.
Our neighbor offered use of the generator
in her garage. But the power came back on
just as she tossed the extension cord
over the fence. We never took
anything out of the freezer, and only
the ice cubes melted in the tray.
We went to bed after checking each room
for leaks and resetting the clocks
in each little appliance. They only blinked,
and did not tick. Climbing under the covers,
I heard the low note of a foghorn
in the distance; and closer, the less
audible beat of my pulse settling back
into its rhythm, after answering
to so many anxious cues to improvise.

One after another
they go quietly under:
the little-stemmed,
tender-skinned, the soft
blue and broad-leaved
remainders of summer.
I walk past each plot,
dig my hands deep
into my pockets.
In the river’s folds,
the fish burrow deeper.

Above the eastern ridge,
a hawk enters its one figure
of accomplishment for the day:
the widest circle, the biggest

zero darkly brushed against
an unmarked page. I can respect
its talons, the purity of its
mathematics; its indifference

even when, from hunger,
it snatches up a vole or snake
or other creature from the ground
—But never what underwrites

the growing tally of hapless
bodies fallen in the streets:
the poor, the young, every day
sheathed in blood and placards.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

When there was milk it was sweet
and poured from a punctured can.

It bubbled quietly in the pan
until a skin formed, which then

could be lifted out whole—
another sacrament to feed

the mouth if not the soul.
And when there was bread

it rose as the sun rose,
that clock more faithful

than the work time strapped
like punishment to our wrists.

And at night there was either
more time or no end in sight—

no peace to make except with our
pale ghosts, riding ahead of us

into the dark wood, through towns
just starting to gloss with light.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Day planner.

“…one more light, the bowl shall brim.” ~ Advent carol

Near winter break, my final year in Chicago
at the end of my fellowship, before I had to get back
on a plane to leave for our other country on the other
side of the world— After the first heavy snow,

you took me home to your family, more confident perhaps
than I about how they might take me in, someone I myself
had described as a woman with history. I think I baked
a chocolate cake— choosing three smooth-curved

bay leaves for improvised decoration atop the buttercream
icing. Did they sense how much I feared not ever again
being loved for who I was; not ever completely finished
or becoming? But after you told the gathering I was

the woman you wished to marry, your sisters
broke the ice: So where’s the ring, dude? Then
your mother, putting the kettle on the stove to boil
for tea, held out a box of matches and instructed:

Buhayin mo ang apoy, meaning Bring the flame to life.
Already I was in love but fell deeper in when your father,
rolling out dough on the table to make steamed buns, said
in response to my mumbled thanks for making room for me

over the holidays, Kasama ang lahat sa pag-alsa:
meaning The yeast makes all rise together. He stuffed
and shaped each disc, and after they were steamed it was true—
we held their heft and fragrance doubled, generous, in our hands.

~ in memoriam, Ruben B. Igloria Sr.

Wind carries certain smells through the air:
sometimes a whiff of anise, smoky peat;

phosphorus, chocolate, wet dog. Driving
through the town closest to a poultry

processing plant, we held our breath
from the odors of dead or dying flesh.

How do they stand it, you asked, referring
to all the people who must be employed there,

cutting and dressing and packing parts.
They must hold masses of quivering pink

in their hands and lay them out in a certain
order: 12 to a tray, or 10, or 6; then vacuum-

seal them in casings of styrofoam and plastic.
There are certain things we don’t want to do

but that we’ll do anyway, because they
will matter to others. Some go deep

into the earth bearing no other hope
than a canary. Others go deeper still

to sacrifice who they might have been if not
for their desire to provide for others.

And the ocean is boundless, as the sky
is boundless; and we name them ocean

and sky though we don’t know which
secret name they would rather answer to.

“The heart is suspended
over the lake of the unknown
and only those who go there
can be trusted to show
that all will be well
and all will be well.”
~ Madelon Wheeler-Gibb

In my favorite Borges story, a man
arrested in a pogrom and sentenced
to death by firing squad in the morning

thinks of his one regret— that he could not
now finish his life’s most important work.
When you know you are doomed, it’s impossible

to distinguish between a wish and a prayer.
But in the night, he enters a dream
and finds himself in a library, where God

or a guide touches a book. Its spine
cracks open, and his fingers light
on a page as if outlined in fire.

In the rainy courtyard at dawn, soldiers
line up and take aim. He sees the bullets
leave their chamber and make for his head,

his chest, his heart; sees the smoke curl
upward from the cigarette one of them
holds, smoldering, between his lips.

Somewhere in the bushes a bird makes
a sound. But time freezes and suspends
everyone and everything in this in-

between world. In this reprieve, he writes
and rewrites in his head every question,
every conversation, every scene

in his play. I will tell you now
that in the end he dies, as we all
will die: without pity, without

any particular reason to justify
the waste of a body fallen on the stones,
the tragedy of a mind whose light is dimmed

before its time by cruel circumstance.
But who could know what coursed through
that brief invisible corridor—

what wave of understanding rinsed his body
before he stepped back across the threshold
and returned to the burning interval.

“To me, the universe is simply a great machine which never came into being and never will end.” ~ Nikola Tesla

There you are, prone in a white-sheeted bed
that faces a window. But where did you go

when the breath slipped momentarily
out of you, when your heart stalled

then startled and flew like a bird
into the limbs of a tree we could not see?

At one end of the lake, the skeleton of a wheel
traces the shape of a circle, its tangents

creaking in the wind. On the other end,
the roof of the planetarium slides open

so from our seats we can crane our necks
toward the sky. Between two points

of a pendulum swing lies a great
unfathomable silence with no allegiance

to either joy or sorrow; and the weight
of a silver-tipped censer, where smoke

and the body’s burning coals decrypt
the ticking of ancient stars.

Pipe not a pipe, angel not an angel.

Maybe snipers. Shovels aloft in the crowd.

Protesters close ranks, close ranks:

the tighter the better not to let

manic soldiers mow bodies down

with their army-issue trucks.

By the time the journalists arrive

there is red on the tires. The dead

want to abandon their graves. 30 years ago

we thought we were done. What kind of shit

is that formaldehyde, and what have they

buried in stealth? Wax mannikin, effigy

crawling with interior worms. Its widow

makes a scene, plastering the glass

with kisses. Drones circle overhead.