Luisa A. Igloria

All except three are brought in
on wheelchairs. Two have hands

that flutter like leashed doves:
trying to take off, but not

succeeding. One has a worry
doll of some sort on his lap.

Two slump slightly forward
and appear to fall asleep

for a few minutes at a time.
One asks where I am from

when I go to shake her hand
in greeting; then she tells me

I am from England— England.
One, when speaking, slurs

some of the ends of her lines.
A nurse or orderly sits discreetly

at the back of the room. All
are dressed comfortably,

as if they were about to go
play cards or sit in the garden

while having a cup of tea. I know
one of them, and that she at least

has family nearby; in her one-
bedroom flat, she is surrounded

by books and her favorite art.
Among them, on a Friday morning

in a room where a vase of white
flowers gleams on the grand piano

and leatherbound copies of National
Geographic line the shelves, I read

poems: on daughters, mothers, partners;
on phone calls from annoying insurance

agents; about the uncertain cargo
we push in front of us as we go,

telling ourselves there’s a bit of a ways
more, but how much more, we don’t know.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Old, blue.

after “Object,” Meret Oppenheim

When I touched your nape,
my finger came away

slick as if after a birth
inspection. But one,

two, three birds emerged
from between your breast-

bone and your shoulder
blade, then made their way

to the nearest thing
covered with leaves.

Under the canopy I wait
with these empty vessels,

midwife to air: my spoons
of skin and hair tipping.

Should I paint over every
surface with white? Empty

all drawers, feed all moth-
balled things to the wind, open

the shutters that have hidden
themselves from the light?

I want to unburden each corner
of remainders and afterthoughts,

pour rice and beans and herbs into
clear containers, smooth out sheets

and linens; cup water in my palms,
press them into the lines on my face.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Standard bearer.

When it’s time, that flotilla
of sound in the trees— a great

rushing echo at their hems. After long
silence, they emerge into their gold-

outlined awakening. Our ears fill
with the tumult of wings opening,

of being opened, singed, tiled:
desire’s radio signals pinging.

Once, a woman I barely knew
confided to me that after a long
illness, she almost died— except

the way she put it was I nearly
went to heaven.
I looked at her
and marveled at the guilelessness

of her confession, the implication
that she’d passed every test, never had
the slightest blemish on her driving

record— nor ever swore, sneaked a cig,
lied to parents, teachers, lovers, friends;
touched herself in the dark, felt

the hot and sour ping of envy
at the girls who were golden
no matter what— how they ate

whatever they liked, never seeming
to gain a pound; kissed whoever
they liked and never lost

their social standing; and also
at the ones who had no qualms
about mouthing off at anyone

who crossed them, whose very
shadow in the hallways cleared
a path through rows of dented

lockers. From childhood catechism,
I still remember the definitions of
the venial and the mortal, those two

varieties of sin and the difference
between what could deprive the soul
of divine grace. And though I have

sometimes been so angry or frustrated
that I’ve come close to thinking I might
like to strangle someone with my bare hands,

of course I’d never do such a thing. But even
for my innumerable small transgressions and selfish
appetites, no matter how generous I was toward myself,

when all things end I don’t think I could feel
so confident of winding up sandaled, clad in an airy
white tunic, in a green garden garlanded with fruit.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Microcosmic.

The water singing to the bridge
is past all fear, as are the fruits

that even in their greenness weigh
the branch nearly to the sodden ground—

As for the source of such increase,
I try to make an effort to remember:

before the bankruptcy and the homes lost
to one calamity after another, before

the deaths of those I’ve loved and
missed; before the growing frequency

of bulletins from this aching, aging body.
I scan the skies and there they are again:

the bilious clouds poised to release
a new and generous cache of rain.

 

In response to Via Negativa: The long view.

the white flowers that open at the approach
of summer, their musky scent spilling,

finally, out of petals they cupped
so tightly to their hearts until

they could no longer; is magnolia and
gardenia, snowbell and japonica, the swill

of their breath nearly unbearable
in the rising heat, bringing you

to the point of nausea. And isn’t that
the way it is, when grief’s flask finally

unstoppers: how, before any cleansing flood
of tears, you reel toward the nearest bush

and open, you heave until you are dry, until
your insides are completely emptied. And then

it will not matter what the cause, nor what time
of day it is: high noon, dusk, or whatever season;

for what they’ve brought is the gift of a knowing
that will never leave you, now or at the end.

~ after Sean Thomas Dougherty

“[Dr. Edward] Wilson …didn’t make it back from the 1910-13 Terra Nova Expedition. …The curious 1899 date on the painting may indicate that Wilson painted it years before, when he was recovering from tuberculosis in Europe, although the mystery of why he brought it to the isolated hut remains.”

Hooked bill narrower than the nose
of a boat, stiffened claw held

as if over the keys of an invisible
piano— I can understand why

he might have taken such a thing
with him to that icy wilderness,

this likeness of a dun bird
that once crept to forage along

the bark of trees. What did he hear
when the wind lashed across the open

face of those desolate plains?
The bird, being dead, could grip

no more than air that rendered all
dust, all trace of feathers, to clear

fossil. The bird, being dead, could not
have modeled the spasm of surrender,

that moment of the soul’s passing from one
spiraling end of the helix to the last.

On the drive home, the road narrows
to a point that ends at the water. Mine
is the last turn before the shingled house,
the one whose blue never got completely

painted. At dusk: sometimes the twin
dark-circled eyes of raccoons, caught
in the headlights. The bellows of frogs
by the river, where students dangle

their feet from the rocks and pass
smokes, their tips glowing in the dark.
It is the summer of sad gardenias,
funereal intoxication of rosemary

grown in rows in place of a fence.
It is a summer barely begun,
yet already full of news: fire
and death, people leaping

from burning buildings, men
holding their slashed throats
on trains, still blubbering
love. At night the solar

lights come on, a blue
string of them that we wound
around and around slats of wood,
against whose backs we rest

on the deck. And here
is that kingdom of clover
and crabgrass, their endless
conjugations standing up

to the tyranny of the blade.
If only I knew their secret for increase,
if only I had their confidence for filling
every boundary with riot. What is wealth?

I call to the birds that come and drop
their surplus of wrong answers on the leaves’
broad ledgers. And still I am only one,
blessed and unblessed, quarried with ink.