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.

finding a pair

of bronzed shells

in the field.

And if a pair

of gunmen pump

twenty-seven bullets

into their victim‘s body

at the intersection

of Clarin and Zamora,

what will the children

in the passenger seat

remember? Dull glint,

the vehicle coasting

to a stop. The sounds

numbed vessels make

as every small gold

cell breaks and breaks.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Farmer.

Some Friday evenings after work, father had a staff
member help him carry it home from the City Hall,
from the fourth branch of the City Court where he

presided— we lived but a ten minute walk from there,
and a cab while helpful would be extravagant. I was
a high school junior and had just finished a course

in typing and stenography, and was to help him
whenever he worked on court decisions. We started
after supper, the typewriter in its blue-gray metal

case sitting heavy like some relic from the last
World War at one end of the table. He composed
on lined yellow legal pad, scrupulous about

the format I was to transfer, stroke by stroke,
to paper. The hammers of the keys I pressed
cut through carbon paper layers to spell out

headings, case or docket numbers, dispositions,
summaries, before coming to the all-important
opinion— the part where he was to craft a ruling

based on analysis of the law as applied to the facts.
As fill-in clerk with no legal training or experience,
I could not discuss the intricacies of these undertakings.

But as I watched and read and copied, the import was not lost
on me: before the machine, there is the fact of language.
And before that, the processes of well-considered thought.

At the park, they gather
on Sundays to be washed

in a river of sound: bevy
of tongues, unloosed after

fortnights of quiet bowing,
slippers only in the house,

saying only Yes or Okay Madam
or Here is the change. Every girl

has a story, words that branch
into new distances from the tree.

Fountains splash their chain
of quilted echoes.

Every unrimmed space unlocks
a few hours, every morsel

they exchange both vestige
and confiscated passport.

Once she asked her father (born
in 1913) what he remembered

about that place before the Americans came,
before the streets changed from names

of creeks, mountain gorges, and orange groves
to names of dead presidents or men in uniform.

He told her soldiers came with threats to shoot
their animals if people refused to move

their homes farther away from what would be
the center of town: no warm entrails

festooned on the trees, no bones
bleaching on the hedges. Blueprint for

lawn-mowering the grass in that
wilderness of hills. From that time,

there’s a photograph of the Governor
General, all 360 lbs. of him: dark suit,

straw hat, carrying a riding crop; sweaty
in the tropics, astride the broad plank

of a water buffalo. Not a beast
for riding, but someone took

care to fit it out with blanket, stirrups,
bit. Taft cabled back to D.C. that he’d

enjoyed a horse ride, prompting
the Secretary of War to inquire:

“How’s the horse?” In the canopy, chatter
of the indescribable; birds of unidentifiable

color. She and her kind, among the new
taxonomies of empire: little and brown.

Note: “Little Brown Brother” was a term used by Americans to refer to Filipinos. The term was coined by William Howard Taft, the first American Governor-General of the Philippines (1901-1904) and later the 27th President of the United States.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Grave goods.

every bird on a wire is a message,
every rusted stain bleeding through
porous wallpaper a letter from
the dead, who can’t believe

the life he’s exchanged for this:
every tree watching over the junkyard,
every coil sprung loose from each busted
vinyl seat therefore a summons from

the netherworld. So he keeps his eyes
cast down as he passes, turns his face
to the shadows. Better that they don’t
see the doubts that flicker there,

the twitch at any thin stroke of scent
wisping over a wall: sea foam, gardenia,
smoke; some gauzy longing he must
refute, tamp down— lest it flare into
an aura visible from miles away.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Dream journal: the vulture.

in her mind the words for custom
and care. She needs to tell the surly

landlord about the ill-fitting windows
that let in too much winter air, the hook
and eye fasteners that are loose, her fear

that roof rats have made their way
into the dark back hallway. It is
her custom to choose words with care,

but now she must find her way
more slowly. There are words in this
new tongue that continue to surprise her

as she walks to the train station
and back, that catch like little banners
on the wind, or sharper— before flying

away from what mouthed them. Some
are translucent as milk she pours
into the cracked blue ceramic dish

of the soft gray cat belonging to
the wheelchair-bound woman she
works for. Some are dark and reek

of blood or sour piss and peppers,
which her employer confirms are the same
peppers which go into pepper spray,

a small canister of which she presses
into her hand one afternoon saying You aim
this nozzle right in the face of anyone

who ever bothers you in the street. You run
like crazy, you shout Help and Fire but you
also make sure that there are witnesses.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Slight difference.

in a drafty room
somewhere in Chinatown

in a basement shared
with 4 cooks and 3 cabbies

in a shack at the edge
of a tomato field

in a garage with a door
to a makeshift outhouse

in a pantry cabinet fitted
with a cot and lightbulb

in a kitchen where a pallet
can fold out close to the stove

the plastic bags lining the trash
bins in the lobby and rooms of Hotel
America. Her dark hair’s parted in
the middle and neatly done up in a bun.
On her left lapel is a name tag which reads
Florinda. She has the evening shift,
so the bins already overflow with the day’s
accumulation of every guests’s cast-offs: lids
and empty styrofoam cups, tissues, greasy sandwich
wrappers, crumpled bags whose insides are dusted
yellow-orange or dull brown. She ties up the ends,
careful to check for any rips or spills. There can’t
be any wayward smells, no hint of fleshy stink
or rot to mar the sanitized air in the lobby.
She hefts the bags out of the bins, onto a trolley;
pats down a double liner then snaps their mouths
over the rim. She’ll do this thirty times on this
floor, until her palms inside the latex gloves
itch from sweat and constant chafing. As she works,
a steady stream of people comes and goes: talking,
laughing, impatient with the doors; wobbling from
the bar in the early hours. They hardly notice
she is there, and that is exactly as she’s been
instructed. Upstairs, on every floor, the corner
lounges overlook the bridges arcing over the bay.
Sometimes she’ll stop to adjust the potted plants
and check the soil around their bases— how spongy
or dry, how stiff the limbs under this skylight,
every embrasure punctured with cold white light.

There are days when I no
longer feel generous.

There are days when I don’t
feel like pretending to be

a good guest in your house. Besides,
I’ve just in time remembered

it’s my house and was so mine
before you came into the picture,

so why should I have to suffer
the indignity of paying rent

or answering to a property
manager, of trying to find

an unfastened back window
or trying to jimmy a lock

in order to enter what was my
indigenous space to begin with?

I want to keep the water in the well
free of contamination. I want

to sleep in my own bed and use
my own toilet, have access

to the clothes in my closet
and the books on my shelves.

And if I want to wake up late
or sing in the shower or cook

breakfast in just my undies
you don’t have the right

to issue executive orders:
you don’t have the right

to tell me I don’t know
how to run my own affairs;

that I eat the wrong
kinds of food and buy from

the wrong kinds of people.
Don’t tell me my desire to send

my kids to good schools is unseemly;
that I pick the wrong kinds

of friends to run with;
that my values have all

gone downhill— Don’t tell me
I need to be hectored on all

the ways that threaten your own
utter lack of discernment

and respectability, hence
the daily wars you wage on me.

Dear father, here I am now in the belly
of the beast you dreamed of so much
when I was young, though differently—
You used to tell of the stark white
beauty of trees in Michigan, the bounty
of apples that burdened orchards
in the gold-tipped months before—
so much fallen on the grass they felt
a luxury to trample, and therefore wrong.
Here, you said, everyone has a chance
to hammer out the measure of a dream.
Here, you said, everyone could grow wealth
from mere foam. But you were a traveler
passing through; and did not live long enough
to see how those like us might have bread
and rations of cheese handed out in welfare
lines; coupons for cuts of meat no one else
but our kind would dare to eat— neck bones,
tail bones for broth, ends we cunningly fashion
into sustenance. Our industry is legendary,
father. They give us one mop, one pail, one
building to strip of grime in the wormwood
hours of neither night or day. We are ghost
hands that bring the hot food on a tray
and clean the diner tables after everyone
else has gone away. At dawn we snap on
safety belts and climb the scaffold
to gird beams of steel that otherwise
might buckle in the wind. They don’t
really speak to us, father; or care
for our tongue. Our same silences call
to others of our kind. Here I married,
and watched child after child come to us
like a tumult of water in our cupped,
cracked hands, as silken flowers or doves
might begin— in a ripple of mauve
and an incandescent longing, the kind
with which we fill whole wardrobes.
The kind I might have first felt long ago,
herding goats; braced against the wind,
tracking a hairline path through the hills.