Luisa A. Igloria

“…What can
it mean, significance minus
meaning?” ~ J. Allyn Rosser

At dusk, as if it were a question
of life or death or the first
paragraph in an existential novel,
moths hurl their soft bodies against
the storm door. Lit up by porch lamps,
it glows like an electric field,
pulsing bars the color of melted
honey. Even the small checkerboard
beetles that usually sit like red
and yellow enamel pins on the siding
want to edge closer to this brightness.
The last time I tapped the lantern’s
glass cup upside down to clean it,
a dry rain of papery wings unfastened
—so many acts of significance or
insignificance, depending on how
you look at it. Like that day
in a high school literature class
when, to teach about metaphor,
the teacher made us file one by one
to the front of the room and look
at a poorly drawn watercolor pressed
under glass on her desk. Some girls
gushed about the strength and longevity
of rock; only one said it was just
a picture of mountains and trees.

I’m sorry for the afternoon,
which was late and now won’t ever

be coming back. And I’m sorry
for this fibrous heart I’ll tear

from the tree before it’s ripe,
that I’ll pull apart at the kitchen

sink. Here’s the knife I was given
and which I’ll use to hack time’s

signature green fibers into shreds
—For I was trained to use all

parts delivered into my hands:
from the woody rind to the pulp

to the seed’s thin sheath; and
at last the seed itself.


In response to Via Negativa: Dictator.

When the caldera breaks open
again, everything will telescope

to the immensity of our fears
then scale back so that we might know

intensely, the truths of the world
we refused to see at last— In that

precise instant, before our shared
oblivion, the soft but sharp edges

of jasmine opened by heat; and the emerald
currents our bodies never completely

surrendered to, though our souls were thirstier
than fish. In a dream I saw the air

waterfall with the most transparent dying
of orchids, with the scales of a rare

white python uncoiling from the roof
of the world. It didn’t rain

anymore; and there were no more winds
or wildfires. There was a road

shiny as foil on which we lay
side by side, looking for the moon.

By then it didn’t matter if we forged
our travel documents or if our feet

were unclean. By then the word
insurance ceased to matter.

By then we would have— should have—
bent to kiss like a beloved child

every bone wearing shackles
stacked in the ditch.

“…to tell someone that you lived,
and this is how it was.” ~ Sean Thomas Dougherty

If I count the time I’ve spent
living in this body minus the years
spent trying to summon the fragments
it left behind, I wind up with string
the color of smoke, a plume dark
as a dream of birds rowing the air,
silvering the night with their cries—
What kind of promise is it to say
everything’s made beautiful and sleek
by effort, though it never arrives?
My desire is also perpetually disheveled
by desire. Yet if I count the morsels
of bread and meat that touched my tongue,
they would only be proof of my shame—
Who can tell what the gods throw
in the water for sport, and how to fashion
a net to bring it back? How could I thrive
in this body while my other body, my heart,
rocked itself to sleep in a silent house?

~ After Louise Bourgeois (1999)

There is an outline in chalk on the pavement.

At the intersection, a car with its engine still running.

A pool of red matches the red of an overturned plastic chair.

There is a cardboard sign crudely lettered.

The hands of the freshly dead are silver with tape.

Two holes in the spine, two through the forehead, one through the heart.

Mangy dogs sniffing through mangled grass.

Nothing but the smell of darkness and dying.

Wakes held beneath the street lights’ yellow flares.

Sorrow and dread pick through a wreck of roadways.

Rain falling through a rusted basketball hoop.

The silence of thousands on thousands of graves.

And death not yet done riding through the countryside.

~ after Louise Bourgeois, “What is the shape of this problem” (1999)

Anything can be a thread: fossil

of a seahorse entombed in an earring
box, safety pin festooned
with four wrinkled cords.

A friend tells me
her daughter once confided:
I want a life
different from yours.

I’ve been there,
and also been that wish.

What could one do
with the moon’s floodlights
burning a hole in the sky?

I wanted to stand
in the aperture and be

and what I’ve wanted
may have come true
or not. I lay down
and let a body

press into mine, undo
the chaste buttons of red silk.
Afterwards, even the rain

could feel oracular. But what if
it’s part of our nature
to want to leave
more than a trace?

Even the moon doesn’t want to return
the comb stuck in its cheek.

The metal teeth bend
toward the river swells. Small
white wings paper the sides of a lamp—
Beautiful and unerring, whatever fate
singes with fire.

Out of the cold current I lift
and stack stones. I rub sticks together.
There are some things I can do.
There are some things I can’t take back.

Who brings you news of your father’s death?
I don’t know, but it’s the first time I see you
really crumple: your legs buckle, then splay
open. Then you bend from the waist
as if broken. I don’t understand where
the unearthly howl comes from— a grief
guttering through the body’s entire architecture,
then loosed through the open mouth. What syllable
is this, pure name burned by fire to one
dark smudge? And how will I know, when it is time,
what sound I will be expected to make?

Sure sign of the season departing: one last gift
of summer, lone fruit purpling, still clinging

to the tree. On the ground, leathered skins
of leaves that could not keep from shedding.

It’s hard enough to be a body among other
bodies, to walk the streets, descend

the stairs; to ride in trains, swaying, hanging on
to straps. The world accelerates past flickering

windows. Life is that indifferent engine humming,
hurrying us toward the next thing and the next.

I close my eyes and think— should the wheels
disengage from the tracks, being one among

so many other bodies, how would I manage
the certain panicked rush toward the exit

signs, a stairwell leading back to safety?
In the city, my body moving among other bodies

barely reflects the light that glints
like fire from rows of perforated windows.

How we must look from up high: dark, grainy
forms, indistinguishable to some cold eye.

We come home that Friday night after having
pizza at the mall; we’re laughing about one

thing or another, lifting leftover slices
from out of the oily box to wrap in foil

when one of us notices ants everywhere— in single
file around the sink, the edge of the dish rack,

climbing across the green plastic chopping
board: which is strange because there isn’t any

food left out, no sticky piles of dishes, no jar
of sauce or sugar accidentally uncapped. In a flash

I rummage under the sink for the can of Natural
Roach and Ant Killer made of herb extracts

and cinnamon oil; and start spraying the window frame,
the tile behind the faucet, the sides of the toaster.

Meanwhile, you want to carry everything in and around
the sink to the dining table then wash each item

in hot water. We don’t realize we’re bickering
until our youngest child starts crying, saying Stop!

I hate it when you’re fighting! before rushing away
to her room. We look at each other and put down

what we’re holding, then each in turn goes to offer
comfort, to reassure her we’re not angry, we don’t

hate each other, we’re not about to break up;
it’s only because of the ants. How do I know that,

she says in between sobs— I never could tell,
I was just a small child growing up
. I know the years

she’s referring to: when only one of us was working,
when there were lawyers’ immigration fees to pay,

school and car payments and finally a chapter 13
bankruptcy. We did rage a lot at each other then;

and cry, or threaten to throw in the towel. Also, swallow
our pride. What a miserable time. We may be out of the woods,

but not without this consequence: she’s still at the mercy
of those triggers. After, when she’s asleep, we wipe down

the kitchen counters. Only a few ants are visible—
no longer stepping after each other in a straight line

but meandering around the soap dispenser, which means
whatever reinforced the pheromone trail has dissipated.

Of what use are the things others call
useless right from the start? When I

was a child, my mothers poured a paper
sackful of legumes onto a winnowing

basket. While they worked peeling tubers
and severing small animals at the joint,

this was a way to keep me occupied—
Tedious exercise in finding each dark

scar tucked into the side of a bean;
from there, tearing and pulling away

at the spandex-like sheath. You could say this
might be practice for all the things I didn’t

know yet: about choosing one problem
at a time from the heap to soak overnight

in water. About shielding what I can
before it’s time to give up the heart.


In response to Via Negativa: O tempora, o mores.