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.

“The heart is what I imagine I give.” ~ Roland Barthes

There was a time I couldn’t imagine
knowing what time feels like, reduced

to a void by an absence. I learned
how the grass and flowers opened,

how two dragonflies transfixed in air
become a crucible for what could

go on. Dogs in the street sniff
then lean upon one another,

their flanks trembling. How long
can the heart abide in another’s

suffering? I become exhausted
by the identification with what I

can barely alter or contain. The moon
knows better, detaching from its screen

of branches. Fronds of curling fern
undo me— proof I have so much to learn.

“...the future is unknowable — and that’s a good thing.

I was a gangly, scab-kneed girl of thirteen
when the great “Floats like a Butterfly, Stings
like a Bee” Muhammad Ali met Smokin’ Joe Frazier
for their rematch in January ’74. Rumors had it
that Ferdinand “McCoy” Marcos went over budget
to have the match held in Manila, hoping
all the media hoopla would deflect attention
from stories of torture and the disappeared,
and the fact he’d declared Martial Law in ’71.
It seems to have worked, because even my over-
cautious father, who not too long before made
any excuse not to have to travel to the capital,
was now shaking every connection he had to see
if he could score tickets to the fight. Ali
himself knew the value of a little pre-game
psych war, telling reporters: “I like to get a man
mad, because when a man’s mad, he wants ya so bad,
he can’t think, so I like to get a man mad.”
Which was how his taunt— “It will be a killa
and a thrilla and a chilla when I get the Gorilla
in Manila”— led to the fight being billed
as the Thrilla in Manila. It was true, and all
the bet-taking men craning their necks at department
store TVs couldn’t be more thrilled at this
spectacle of two gorillas insulting each other—
Which when you think of it, considering how gorilla
and monkey have been used pejoratively, as code
for any immigrant or person of color in America, therefore
isn’t it more than just a little moment of unthinkingness embedded
there, showing the internalization of racist categories
by the very people that have been its victims?
And it may be this poem has traveled a long way
from that year in Manila. But remembering the once
great Ali— in Atlanta in ’96, willing his tremor-
filled hand to lower the torch that ignites the rocket
that sets off the Olympic flame— and how he died
last summer from infection and sepsis, all I can think
is: Anything can happen. Though his shoe-loving wife
and ambitious progeny are still alive, the infamous dictator
who named the Philippines’ first commercial shopping mall
after Muhammad Ali is dead and rotted through on the inside
of his carefully formaldehyde-treated shell. Anything
can happen, anything can happen
. The strong and powerful,
the hideous and hateful alongside the beautiful— all
reap in time the reassurance of the uncertain future.

All morning in the cold,
bundled up and in line;

clear silhouettes of trees cut a rim
dark as viridian around the park.

Each of us is given a short
form: name, number, neighborhood.

Gulls give us the side-eye,
huddled near the trash bins.

I know what I want, among the list
jotted down in chalk by the volunteer

kneeling on the asphalt: Fuyu Persimmon,
lush as a peach at peak ripeness;

more delicious, I think, than plum or
nectarine. Virtue and longevity,

oxheart shine, twig after twig
prospering into bending abundance.

Quince or chinquapin? Keiffer Pear?
Rumor of a nut or a stone inside the burr.

Some ladies from a local club have brought
tasting samples of fruit jams and preserves.

Under a sign, another volunteer extols
virtues of the rain barrel. I sign up too,

walk finally to the table where I claim
exactly one sapling, ready to go in the ground.

Young tree, both tough and willowy, I’ll dream
zygotes and little orange planets in the tree one spring.

“… let the strongest live and the weakest die.”
~ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

~ Hylaeus anthracinus

Who has seen the bees with gold-
smudged faces, the only ones

who can make sure the flower
of the naupaka continues to push

its torn half-crown of petals
into the world? Their number

dwindles, and soon the rest of us
in their wake— Who has seen

bees lolling in the waters
of the factory, their hives

hung in tapestries of Blue #1,
Green #3, Yellow #6, and Red #40,

their amber derived from petroleum
streams? The woodland bison closes

its eyes, and the graceful giraffe.
Soon both the banyan and the roses

shrivel, the crops in the field.
Whales and turtles crawl

into a silence of coves.
When this happens,

not even the birds may have
enough strength to fly away.

I’ve never been any good
at mathematics

but I imagine a field
whose purpose is to define

what lies in the field—
or sets off the grass

that grows there
from the grass elsewhere.

And the clover, a slurry
of stones; the goats

and their hard raisin trail
of poop. The long-legged horses,

cows flicking their tails
at gnats. Number them

if you wish: the gnats,
the cows, their rank catalogue

of irregular black and white spots.
Infinity, I’ve been told,

isn’t any of these countable facts
but more like some unseen wind

or a hum that surges through
the electric fence. Add

to it or take away from it:
its quantity remains the same.

This is the tone
that lips are supposed to sound
if the safe house is compromised.

In a neighborhood where all houses
have the same rusted roofs and the same
falling-down fences, which one hides

the fugitive? There is a reason
they don’t have house numbers.
The tenor of bullfrogs

undercuts the whine
of the curfew. Do not report
all threats to your tribe.

Light a fire as usual
under the trees. Sweep the dry
leaves together with a long-

handled rake. Sit on your haunches;
tend to their burning and the smoke
rising through the cold air.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Embouchure.

What do you know
of our lives before this land?
For instance: here are
seventeen years, at least five
moves, boxes of belongings
and books. There were always books
and photographs we could not give up,
donate, throw away. Many printed on thin
paper, poor quality covers that split
at the seams a long time ago;
smell of moth wings crumbled
to a smudge in the middle.
Notebooks with recipes in an old-
fashioned hand. Camisoles sewn by hand,
worn by each child in turn. Small lace
with light brown tea-stains.
But they were worth more
than the aftermath of the first
bankruptcy, the garnishment of wages.
How many bricks in them boxes, lady?
asked one of the Two Men and a Truck team,
heaving them up to the second floor.
We took them out and put them on shelves,
folded them into drawers.
We taped up the windows with plastic sheets
those winters when icy winds knifed their way
in, bent on finding those places where we
kept what we had left of our original hearts.

To this day I am still asked about origins.
I have learned to intuit
when they don’t mean where I first
recognized the way indigo hills
pulled up like fleece to the sky
as it darkened into sleep.

Most days I am able to go about my business
without having to palm my thoughts
back into my pockets.
In truth I am shy as the wild green
plant whose precisely ordered leaves
retract at the merest touch.

I am wary of using the word gesture
though I know this is what most of us
traveling between the furrows rely on
for recognition. The tongue longs
to salve its thirst with salt,
only because this means it will drink again.

Not many sleep anymore
with the shutters open.

Sometimes at the grocery store,
near the rafters, there’ll be

an errant bird that wanders in
on some warm draft. It flutters

confused above the ordered glaze
of bell peppers and bumpy lemons,

the curled decline of greens.
I rouse from sleep late at night

and feel my way to the bathroom,
trying to recall what I know

of accidental things— what finds
the one seam in the lock, the loose

partition; the weakness in
the careful armor. And there isn’t

any particular explanation for why
a pigeon should be wandering the hallway

at 4 o’clock, yet there it is,
as the man snores in the guest room

and the woman lies in her own bed,
in sheets soaked with her own urine.

We push the shovel through the snow
to find the walk again, the border

of stubbled grass. On either side,
white banks grow. I can’t help

recalling that winter tale, the one
where the girl was taken under—

some fissure in the earth lined
with moss, lengthening drop

of dark shale. How far and how long
could a handful of red beads fall

before you’d hear their tinkle echo?
Our arms and thighs burn; late light

gilds the mounds we scrape and toss.
A stinging wind pushes the empty swing

back and forth, back and forth— the way
we repeat what we should have learned.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Cutting back.