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.

I have yet to become the bowl that can hold
without breaking; that, left out on the balcony,

would not get kicked into a corner or fall
without shattering on patio tile below.

So far I have opened to rain and the overflow
of what’s poured into me. The taste of salt

is a most familiar tonic. Sometimes I long to be
the flat and even surface of a dinner plate,

to be the forgettable saucer on the coffee table:
what doesn’t brim so much as to be unbearable.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Guest.

Every story begins
in rupture: ice falling

from the sky, a mountain
that convulses with smoke.

Didn’t they teach that all
earthly plots mirror

what wheels in the skies
overhead? The king lies

unseeing in his cold, hard
bed. No one can rouse him.

And the queen? Deranged
by all her losses, she travels

the countryside, promoting
her new line of black and white

clothing, her gospel of stark
forms. The land can only mourn:

weeping shriveled kernels of grain,
pouring poison into the throats of fish.

I never understood why the antidote
to stasis should be more stasis: standing

motionless while predator birds circle
and sniff, make as if to peck out your eyes,

tear your face to shreds. The Beloved says,
No, they are meant to teach patience. With all

my heart I love the Beloved too, but also
I believe in the potency of weapons. I have

but a few: given the right conditions, some
of them could singe, some of them could burn.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Mare Frigoris.

Only twice in my life did I see
my father naked, unpeeled from his

careful clothes— once, through a keyhole:
Sunday afternoon, the bedroom door locked;

pale sheen of his thighs glistening under
my mother’s. I tried not to make a sound,

not even when one of them got up to drape
a shirt over the doorknob— a little light

goes through the weave of cloth, and the view
ripples. The second and last time, he lay

on a makeshift pallet on the hospital floor,
debris from earthquake tremors around us.

Nurses had thrown the covers back as they
went to work with paddles for the shock.

His body bore all the marks of time
passing, passed— the blueing flesh,

the wrinkled sex, thinnest vein of blood
beginning its slow trek down the side

of his mouth. Over and over, hands like doves
tried to pull him back. But he was gone,

into that sheen more inscrutable than the sun:
into the silence that let us see how hills

and orchards went on for miles, how light had
slipped off what used to robe the tender organs.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Felled.

For years I tried to be
that kind of relative others
sent letters to, with a paper
outline of a foot tucked into
the last page: size 6 1/2, black

patent leather please. Then
laptop, digital camera, Hills
Bros. coffee, bags of Hershey’s
kisses. The smell of mints
and chocolate, milled soap,

toothpaste. I save these in brown
boxes, in my house overrun with ink
and paper. In the margins, I write
apologies before folding these
into envelopes stamped with wings.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Ordure.

When she hits a deeply embedded
shard of ingrown toenail on the left

side of my right big toe, Carmela
the nail technician turns to Celine,

who is working on my sister-in-law’s
pedicure next to us. A flurry

of consultation ensues— after which
Carmela turns to me and says, Tell me

if it hurts, okay? With the tip
of her nipper, she nabs the offending

piece of growth and starts to tug.
It’s almost as if this hurts her

as much as me, so I tell her I have
a high pain threshold. Three more tugs,

and she lays the small hard nub
triumphantly on the towel: barely

a trace of blood. You okay? I’m okay.
I’m glad it’s out; even a small thing

like that can feel almost omnipresent:
pressure against the toe from closed

shoes pulsing bulletins to the brain
throughout the day. I apologize—

I’m ashamed she has to work on my ugly,
neglected feet, clearly in need of some

mojo. I envy their beautifully lacquered
nails— Celine sports a different color

on each finger, a different design. Carmela’s
are buffed to sleek points, and she has a contrast

color on the fourth fingernail of each hand.
They tell my sister-in-law they live near Montrose

and she says Oh! that’s where we lived
when we first got here.
Two women walk in

from the street. The manager is quick
to hustle. Sister, he says, I have some new

mineral foundation all the Filipina ladies
are c-r-a-z-y about. You’ve got to try it!

“Who wants to reach
inside the marvelous?”
~ Tung-hui Hu

I begin with what I have
and go on toward all I’ve ever

wanted. How beautiful the film
of moisture on the grass, not yet

taken by the heat. Once, a man
in a great coat stood on that

street corner, raised both
his arms, and solemnly twirled

without stopping. Here at the end
of the fence, the metal newel has two

indentations that give it the familiarity
of a face. How still the river is at midday—

as if all the wet, bright spirits
have decided to lie down for a nap.

Oh traveler. Sometimes the sea
is calm, sometimes the swells

are overwhelming. When
were you duped into thinking

the rudder was only a slotted
spoon, a coffee stirrer, a plastic

toy? Whatever you read by the blue
glare of handheld light is not

the real story of any future
that might actually come to pass.

You left that uninhabitable country,
taking what you could. Yes, it is

a common tendency to want more
than need. So many knick-knacks

tied up with twine. So many pots
and plates with crackled glaze.

Lowered into the water, they’ll float
awhile then sink into foamy oblivion.

But touch the wood of this craft
and remember how skillfully built

it was from the start. No guarantees,
but overhead, the constant skies and stars.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Visionary.

of the day we bury my father-in-law’s ashes,
rain falls at last after a week of dulling

heat, then clears up just before the drive
to the cemetery in Niles. We pass the Polish
bakeries, and St. Joseph the Betrothed

Ukrainian Catholic Church with its thirteen
slightly faded gold domes symbolizing the twelve
apostles and Jesus— and I think this is possibly

the first time I’ve seen any reference to Joseph as
“The Betrothed.” This seems a fitting discovery,
an accidental motif: for my immigrant father-

in-law could be said to have worked at several
trades, and also was a canny do-it-yourselfer:
for his wife he built a wooden step-stool

and refinished the floors of the duplex
where he and his family have lived for almost four
decades. This is the house with yellow siding,

a gargoyle on the front stoop, a small area in back
that doubles as a spare room, enough for some storage
boxes and one cot. My third older daughter and I

fit into it many years ago, when she was about 7;
perhaps the letters faintly spelling out her name
in pencil are still there, somewhere on the wall

where she wrote them. Don’t we all harbor a wish
to leave part of ourselves behind, to find a ledge
on the rock the tribe calls home? At the cemetery

office, everyone has gathered. It’s a short distance
to the section where numbered family plots have been
purchased, and the priest is ready with a baton

of holy water for the prayers and blessing.
We stand in a semicircle facing the hole in the ground
where the wooden urn, encased in a protective box,

is lowered; then take turns dropping flowers
into the grave. It is such a long way from
his hometown across the sea— One could plot

the miles, but never the loops that bind life
after life after life to another. Now, dirt fills in all
the gaps; eventually, grass will border the marker.

Everything is the country
of childhood— a dented thimble,

your secret name embroidered
into the tufted loops of a terry-

cloth towel, the undersides of mantels
studded with pearls of drooping,

hardened paint. Let’s compare patterns
in enamelware and gold and white

Corelle; the blue speckled cups
you say remind you of chamberpots,

the flowered wreaths around each
plate. Months when the sky

was a nimbus of fog and rain,
drumming on roofs the map

of the known world to the farthest
edge: where it shuddered and fell.