Luisa A. Igloria

What would you not
take with you if you needed

to go away? What would you keep?
A photograph, one dark blanket

embroidered with tiny seeds that mimic
the flowering of stars? A broken teacup,

your heart a sieve brought repeatedly
to the mouth of the sea— If only

you could remember what it’s like
to taste yourself in a basin

of shy leaves that pull away
at the slightest touch,

what the clean unlined sky was like
before you started to write

in order not to forget, before it filled
with rain and wings and glyphs.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Nation of immigrants.

“mi ritrovai per una selva oscura…”
(“I found myself in a dark wood…”)
~ Dante, Inferno

Today is a mixed bag.
In one sense you are hidden, yet
in another way you are conspicuous.
If you are in mid-life, stay chill
and don’t get sucked in. Hormones
aren’t the only big picture! As long
as you’re aware, enjoy schmoozing
with others! If you’ve started the day
single, never fear: the sun activates
your involvement chart. Be honest. Admit
you want to achieve more. Be daring. Your new
love could sweep you along or be the lone figure
contemplating ephemeral egg white sculptures
in the gallery. Radiate your gossamer wings.
The planets are always boasting about who
has the bigger pull: grade this retrograde,
baby. Wear shades and go without makeup—
pretend you don’t see them stumbling
down the avenue like talent scouts
wasted from yet another after-party.
Go ahead and plan, pitch and promote.
Be your own agent; this is your sign.

I knew when he’d gone out on the porch,
I knew when she’d locked the door
to their bedroom.
From my window I could see
where he sat with his forehead cradled
in his palm, the edge of his nape
milky in moonlight.
I wanted to shout Stop
being so dramatic! Stop making the air
so heavy with your sad misunderstandings!

The glistening barbs thrown
before breakfast was even on the table,
the knives and forks and fruit
whistling through the air like compact
missiles. No one paid attention
to the narrowing orbits of the stars,
or whether spiders fell from the insides
of open umbrellas. I sat under one
wishing for a telegram to come from overseas,
for a hand to pluck me out from under
the bathroom sink where I crouched.
When they didn’t, I discovered I could break
through the skin of my silence. I discovered
words which could plow through the earth
and start up with the sound of an eighteen-
wheeler, to drown out these little hells
and their tiresome ping-ponging
back and forth in space.

Wasn’t there joy, wasn’t there appetite
and expectation? Weren’t the jets of steam

from the laundry a welcome veil on the skin?
Wasn’t the stucco on the wall a way to keep

the sugar trails alive longer? Didn’t the ants
crowd every baseboard and the geckos plummet

like dark green weights at dusk? Wasn’t the blown
glass lamp an ochre pool that wings papered,

night after sultry night? And wasn’t there a bed
with sheets of cotton, surrounded by nets of gauze?

Didn’t the water flower crimson in the basin
and the child open its mouth to the moon?

Here’s the quote now made famous in
the Disney movie: “Ohana means family;
and family means nobody gets left behind
or forgotten.” And no matter how cheesy,
I can’t erase it from my head, nor

the moment when the alien adoptee
recreates in the child’s bedroom
the scene, to frightening scale, where
Godzilla stomps through San Francisco,
terrorizing the people, chewing up cars,

tossing suspension bridge pilings aside
like so many pretzel sticks. And of course
he doesn’t know he’s only acting out
what some psychologists have called
the Theory of Abandonment: how,

given the trauma of neglect,
emotional or physical detachment,
the psyche responds with fear
or lashes out in rage especially
when the sphere of the intimate

comes to bear down again to make
its complicated claims on him. All
I can think of is how in my ohana
(so close in sound to the Filipino
tahanan) circumstances have made it

so that I’ve physically left my children behind
enough times—for school, for work, to build
a new life and relationships— I wonder if I’m not
the sole cause of their own difficulties whenever
that sad, dark beast comes down from its lair

to rampage through their lives. At such
times I can’t see, blind through my own griefs,
but to follow in their wake: holding out my arms
even as I step sideways through the pile of broken
toys, and the shards the hula girl lamp has become.

“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods,
They kill us for their sport.”
~ Shakespeare (“King Lear,” Act 4, scene 1)

What to make of a dream in which
fields are littered with decapitated
remains, the sightless heads of the fallen
in even rows tilted up at the sky, their hair
matted with dried blood yet somehow
artfully arranged like fringes of grotesque
sunflowers? What to make of the pair of us,
winding hand in hand through grounds
made slick with the issue from these bodies,
the air rank and thick with flies? You were
frailer than I ever remembered, slight
in a thin cotton wrapper, undone by
the terrible waste surrounding us. I led
as if now the parent and you the child,
feeling as if somehow I’d been there before,
winding through maze-like paths flanked
by hedges made of reeds whose ends
were quilled blades. Ahead, an armored
shape emerged from out of its cave; I stayed
our progress, trembling in the crosshatches.
What might we do if we had plumes or wings?
And yet on every side, the puce from doves’
breasts dripped warnings on the rocks. Bent low
to the ground, at last we found our way to where
a dying sentinel stood guard at the edge of this
world: he dipped his finger in his blood and marked
our heads; then pointed out the exit in the distance.

In the front yard, wet
with a weekend’s worth of rain,
two drakes have come to tussle
for the favor of a hen
who’s plunked herself beneath
the hydrangea. They circle round
each other, they stab and bite, aiming
for the nape where it’s most darkly
open, that curve shaped like the back-
side of a question, like the handle
of something one might take hold of
and hook as a trophy on the wall.
The hen seems indifferent
even when the feathers fly,
even after the one green-headed
drake runs the other off the yard
and onto where the sidewalk drops
to the edge of the road, then
comes back as if to tender
officially his credentials.
But she doesn’t sit in one place
either— moving through the grass
as if she’s not all that into such
rituals, as if the musk of sex
hasn’t stained every pennant
they’ve brushed against by now.
Nothing, at least as we can see,
gets consummated, though the very
air ripples with signals given off
by every lure: tipped spears
of lavender, white veils
of scent from overhead as tight
skirts of magnolias loosen.

I must have been six when my mother took me
with her one Saturday to market, when I first
witnessed how blood could run down her legs
like water from a spigot then thicken like paint,
congealing as it dried. It wasn’t till later
in life I understood where it began or why
she suffered so from unabated periods.
That day, lips pale and knuckles tightening
their hold on me, frantic, she flagged down
a passing jeepney and begged the driver
to take us home. A day later she was in
the hospital for a hysterectomy, a word
I heard my father say but did not understand
yet either. All I pieced together from talk
overheard was that her insides had been
scraped and parts tied up— with what?
I couldn’t imagine: twine? ribbon? yarn?
sewing thread? and that the doctor
had thoughtfully thrown in an appendectomy
for free. When we visited her they showed me
a sealed transparent vial of brown glass,
where the appendix floated like some dead
grey fingerling in a bit of liquid.
Her legs were clean below the plain
starched blue of the hospital gown:
they bore no trace of viscous crimson
branching toward the sidewalk, pooling
in her shoes. And I’ve never liked
the smell or color of red since then.

What was it like again, what were my thoughts
as I sat nearly two decades ago in the kitchen

of my dead father’s house, handwritten notes
on index cards spread out on the table, landline

phone in the middle, waiting to be interviewed
for a job halfway around the world? I mean

I knew it was a job interview, but what
were the risks as I felt them then, sitting

an hour before midnight with an afghan
around my shoulders, a storm raging outside,

praying that the power wouldn’t go out?
It was noon where my unseen interrogators

gathered in a meeting room for the conference
call, with questions about my experience,

probing my visions for translating the ideals
of a multiethnic and literary education

into concrete teaching plans. The battery-
powered clock ticked on the wall; my nerves

skittered wild beneath my collarbone. The sense
of a future and how it might fold— such

high stakes, though I couldn’t yet imagine them,
nor see at all beyond the rain-streaked window-

panes. No one else heard this performance
in my childhood home— everyone was in bed:

my daughters, my mother nursing a hot
water bottle for warmth. Near the end

of an hour, I put the phone down. I’d made
my pitch, whatever that meant; filled in

as best as I could the parts they needed
to see more closely. How to sleep thereafter

for wondering how the river stays the same,
though the waters pouring into it are always

changing; how everything had already
begun to change though everything still

seemed the same. How around us, neighborhoods
breathed though quietened by unrelenting rain.