Luisa A. Igloria

When did it start, the stockpiling
of new with old and dirty clothing,

the thirty-plus umbrellas gathered on
the flimsy stair railing? And in every

cubby of a hutch that once held highball
and footed ice cream glasses, punch bowl,

oval party plates, the kind with a round
depression at one end on which to rest

the bottom of a cup— decades’ worth
of sundry papers, magazines saved from

another time; plastic bags stuffed with used
water bottles. I remember a mint green set

of Jadeite mixing bowls, their cool swirl
pattern. And a Pyrex flameware saucepan

with a metal ring and spout, put to double
duty as cake pan. A door to door salesman

once sold her a pair of waist-high carved
Chinese cinnabar vases; she did not bargain,

did not check if the price was fair. What drove
my father crazy: the way she took such time

adjusting clothing, hair, makeup while he sat
in the car and ordered his driver to honk

the horn. When they were gone, a pink cloud
of fragrance left behind on her vanity; powder-

puff, uncapped bottle of Chanel No. 5. It hurts
to ponder where her rings have gone, the ones she

loosely wore on increasingly arthritic fingers:
if they’re among the bagged detritus of the years,

or if their stones lie in a musty pawnshop drawer.
There’s so much I despair of being able to account for,

or ransom. At what cost: an overhaul, a grand redemption?
This is how fortunes we never had yet dwindle. This

is how the years flense the body: layer by layer, until
what’s left is a sheath strung, slight, on bones.

of hurricane season, only
the beginning of fall.
Speckled leaves detach
from the fig and the oaks,
and the gum begins to drop
its spiked grenades. Where
will the water go after it
has risen, and forced its way
across hardened pavements?
Only the beginning of gradual
darkening: no longer the late
luxuries of sun and lounging
in the shade. Soon the clocks
enact their artificial stay
on time so we might sleep in
an hour or two. Salt bores
its damp fragrance again
into wood: window frames,
dock pilings; swells the sockets
of joints with the ache of rain
and cold. Only the somber
glimmer of shortened days now;
the season only beginning.

which Abomination are you?
The quiz bait: Are you an ass lobster,
or a guy who’s just trying to jerk off
but there’s a bird lizard yelling at him?

Do you prefer ham or olives in aspic,
vodka or cranberry tonic? Are you
the one twerking barefoot in the middle
of the room, or the one taking Polaroids
throughout the party, like Warhol did
to mask his social anxiety? One could
go on. Every square inch of the triptych
is a thick soup depicting every type
of folly and the weird. But I’m looking
intently at those circles in hell, where
every dark congress should be sentenced
that’s stripped the people of their rights.
The bird in the poop-colored high chair
should take them one by one into his mouth.
Then they’ll shit pearls of ill-gotten wealth
while armadillos savage their breasts
for extra. Here are the armies of murderous
police, still wearing helmets; they’ll be skewered
by avenging angels with the mangled faces
of salvaged children or dogs. It’s a sad
and terrible country where the ears
of innocents are pinned together then
cleaved by a knife. Migrants and minstrels
and poets are also there, though they’ve been
chained to machines. They make a kind of music,
though the notes are tortured out of their mouths
and their bodies are strung like harps from the trees.

~ after Hieronymous Bosch


In response to Via Negativa: Propagandist.

Forgive us for our excesses. Tea, seven kinds, including gifts: Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Oolong, Sencha, Matcha, Citrus Blend, Winter Spice. Coffee: in individual pods, and grounds in bags. Noodles: rice, wheat, potato. Dry beans, canned beans. Flour, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder. Grains: rice, lentil, dry couscous. Eggs and bread. Bay leaves, peppercorns, pink and white salt. Garlic cloves the size of two thumbs. In the freezer: chicken breasts and thighs, ground pork; dried fish from two years ago. Grated lemon rind in a plastic bag. Frozen blocks of butter. Soy beans, frozen stew. Zucchini and bitter melon, tomatoes; knobs of ginger next to the half full box of miso. By the front door, denim jackets on the coat rack; canvas bags and rain shedders. Shoes and shoes and shoes and shoes and shoes and shoes. On the second floor, four low walls of books. Underwear, socks, clothes. Paper towels, toilet paper. Woven runners and counted stitch fabric brought from overseas: birds I might not ever see again; and mountains and chevron bars. Bottles of water ready to load in the car. A plastic box not yet packed with important documents. Document, from the Old French; meaning lesson, written evidence; from Latin documentum meaning example, proof, lesson; in Medieval Latin, official written instrument; meaning something written that provides proof or evidence. Of who we are or were in case we get erased.

Outside, it kept raining— eternal,
infernal rain, tenting us in.

The Australian tourists were going to miss
their bus, since they ordered a taxi late.

Someone was calling the front desk at the station,
trying to ask them to wait. The lobby smelled

like liquefied rubber and raincoats, runny
newsprint, coffee, boiled peanuts. Downstairs

in the bookstore, lamplight held the color
of melted tallow. I made my way to the third

floor, where two rooms had been designated
as a spa. Only one other client was signed in

at the counter. A woman gave me a pair of plastic
slippers, a cotton bathrobe, a thin folded towel.

The shower was thinner than the rain, but hot.
In one of the rooms, the light was more than dim;

I lay on a cot partitioned by curtains. Hands
moved over my back, my nape, my limbs, spreading

oils speckled with sugar or salt, the faint
trace of ginger flowers. I sank into the sheets,

heavy as a stone and damp. The woman who pressed
into my muscles with her fingers was deft though she

was blind. She knew how to work the levers of my spine until
something caught and released, until something fell away.

“Are you the one solid enough? Come, break through,
so that all of your touch might happen to me,
and all of my tears might happen to you.”
~ Rilke

Has everything that could break through
broken through, has the one solid enough
come through the misery and darkness
to touch us in our smallness, to open
some new door in our need?

There are times the only language possible
is dread or premonition: the radio brings us
reports hour upon hour; satellites send us
images of great wheels foaming above cities
where whole grids of light are about to go out.

How or what to negotiate for time
before surrendering to the teeth

of the machine these arched lattices
in the grove, these last rare acres

of golden tithe? Each stalk looks
so brilliant in the faded light

of afternoon, against the skeletal
remains of cities— Once, their names

meant more than panicked seizures
graphed on paper, more than dust

and rubble sifted through in the aftermath.
In the distance, the sea looks like the sea,

blue-green and bounded by farmlands
as in old paintings, swallowing that boy

after his bid for flight, and then that fatal
plunge through sheets of air. Somewhere, a man

dug a hole and buried what little fortune
he had left between the roots of a tree

before they were herded into trains. Somewhere,
a mother gathered her young to shush them

as they made a forest crossing by night.
There was a time you could pull drawers out

of a bee box to see how each connected cell
thick with amber still buzzed faintly with life.


In response to Via Negativa: Vagabond.

Give a man a fish, and he will eat
fish. Or the man might say, I hate fish,

I hate the stink of them, the look
of them, the red-rimmed eyes that bulge

as they run out of breath; the over-
lapping scales that make for a pretense

at armor. So I say, teach or don’t teach me
to fish. Instead, sign me up and everyone else

for uniform basic income: the Joneses, hedge
fund investors, the so-called beautiful ones

who do nothing but swim in their clean infinity
fish bowls all day and stand away from us

in elevators. Give us all uniform memberships
to the open-air farmer’s market, the uniform

vehicle distribution center, the clothing depot,
the neighborhood rec center, the universal

library and digital exchange. Give us
unlimited time in adequate uniform spaces—

For taking the time with whatever we’re best at
mulling over or solving: cataloging seeds, renewing

the soil; cleaning the water, adding to the universal
chronicle of what has survived despite our doing.


In response to Via Negativa: Outsider.

There is an excess of it, even in childhood.
Beyond, its many forms follow you into

your grown and difficult life— It’s the reason
why there’s so much satisfaction to be derived

from reading stories that come to a tentative
winding down, if not emphatic resolution:

the suspense broken to reveal the man and woman
did not win the lottery, that the wounded father

is home from the war, that a heart is bricked up
under the dirty floor. The family has been taken

one by one into the woods, and the sharp
reports mean that they’ve been killed.

The grandmother, you know by now, is next.
It’s a kind of comfort to glimpse with certainty

what’s coming. When the father takes the fish
out of the sink and strikes its head with the edge

of a cleaver, you know the hands that sing
over the fire to make a meal are the same ones

that shattered glass, made dents in the wall,
gave you one of the maps you’ve learned

to conceal in your skin. Where there’s no
conflict, there’s no story— or so you’ve

been taught. But you long for smooth,
uncreased fabric after you’ve pressed

the heated metal plate repeatedly
across its garbled surface.

It is not good to be a mother
these days, to watch your sons
go into the streets laughing,

their arms around their friends,
texting each other about where
they might meet for sandwiches

and Cokes after school. On every
newspaper today, the picture
of yet another schoolboy

only fourteen, the hair
on his chin barely even shadow,
fished out from under a bridge

or the slimy waters of a creek.
Only the stars and moon could be said
to be dutiful in their observation

of the law, and yet harm nothing
in the world. How can such unspeakable
crimes each night bear the vestige

of law? Not even the sun is un-
impeachable or merciless like this
in its career: wrapping the face in yards

of tape, cuffing and forcing the boy
to his knees; driving icepick or knife over
and over into a body struggling against its bonds.