~ after “Warning Mother” by Leonora Carrington
Only those who make mistakes
could aspire to wisdom:
the finger singed by flame
remembers what the stove hissed
in the morning, before even a single
thread of smoke wounded
the alarm on the ceiling.
And yet, a life spent in service
can turn one into a ghost: its slippers
shuffle in the hallway,
joints of furniture, vegetables
fallen from the colander, the family
cat. Every fish
out of water
retches with the effort to keep
safe, to remain
alive: it splits
itself in two– even then, thinking of
how many mouths there are to feed.
Two decades, but gone
in the blink of an eye.
applied to what could be called
making life: purposing empty
space, collecting evidence.
How finally we learned
the elusive was its own
Each summer, those ships
with jaunty banners and sails
slipped into the harbor; and wasps
built their homely nests
before abandoning them again.
How did the bull
deep in the labyrinth sustain
Eventually, it too
must have learned the trick
of the crimson thread we wind
around our wrists—
How it flashes like a vein
or a capillary of ore
that tethers one measure
to another, though the distance
going in isn’t always
the same that spirals out.
Remembering our dead, we’re told to fill
a plate of food, pour
a cup to set
on the sill or under an alcove light.
But years pass
until the logic
of the empty bowl with its celadon sheen
seems a more
honest gesture: the shorn
branch, the broken cistern, water
but back into the ground along idle chains.
Their faces are fixed in that last
darkness— as I imagine mine
will be, folded
away into the first or last
layer like an artichoke.
It takes a while
to get the hang of peeling apart
the armor: one leaf at a time
until there’s nothing
left but that small mouthful of
tenderness. After that, even the voice
after all, is inexhaustible. What I give
now— advice, a loan, a payment;
judgment, confidence, comfort—
teeters in that traitorous
interval of too little
and too much. Little soul, if only
what it really meant to journey;
if only I could still be here
for my own
rescue, for that untrammeled taste.
I didn't have to leave a country
with one suitcase haphazardly
stuffed with pictures or deeds of sale.
I didn't have to cross a bridge
whose ramparts were burning at one end.
I never jumped trains rolling through
prairie grass to see sunrise on another
coast. But whose fathers did we trail
across the sea like scrolls of smoke?
Whose child was finally born
in the shadow of a great cathedral?
In the year of curfews, we hung
dark curtains across windows and learned
not to answer the door after a certain
hour; and yet we hid women passing through
to safety, bundling their babies
in soft brown blankets. Pigeons
swooped down on stones strewn with bits
of bread; then their wings blurred a dirty
blue as they took off again.
"...the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was
no longer any sea."
~ Revelation 21: 1
Should I say Please don't come
too close, don't breathe that way
down my neck so I smell resin and smoke
from forests burning, hear the crackle
of wings as the rainforest ceiling
begins its collapse? You seem
so curious about what I might write
next, now that the world's catalog
of images has dwindled: not yet nothing,
not yet complete extinction, but well
on the way. Your cloak is the color
of worn silk or dull knives, your hair
a sad and unconditioned tangle desperate
for a brush. I was unhappy too, going
without a shower for weeks after our city
shook like a train of dominoes clicking
down and down around every block— The first
night, hard rain made moats of mud around
each cracked plywood sheet we tossed
for bedding on the ground. And then
the taps hissed like crazed snakes
so we backed away, taking our plastic
pails instead to the empty lake. Nothing
lasts; hasn't that always been your bottom
line? But these circling moths, these
thin-winged creatures with indigo bars
and copper eyes on their backs: I want
so much to cup their shine in my hands,
pin them to my hair or breast— keepsakes
I won't surrender to the ongoing blaze.
The dough will rise,
sweetening in the pan. I pinch
my sadness into coils
dusted with powder of cassia bark,
cane syrups spun in a centrifuge until
they are the color of our skin.
Heat completes the arrangement of desire
overlaid by everything gathered
throughout history: who saw
the first clump of pink
peppercorns, knots of lemongrass,
startled deer receding
from slabs of salt still wet
with the tracing of their tongues?
Above the ashy ground,
shorthand of fiddlehead ferns.
Beneath the water where we can't go,
the sounds made by whales
crying for the mothers they
will never see again.
In stockyards, a Judas goat will lead
sheep to slaughter, while its own life
is spared; with scent
of estrus, will lure
other goats out from behind rock and scrub
so a helicopter rifle shot
can pick them out, one by one
by one— A little world
within itself, wrote Darwin:
with pools where blue-
footed boobies come to wade, and
tortoises old as boulders. Once,
a neighbor told me of the family dog
they had to give away
when they moved;
how her new humans said
she limped back to the house they used to own,
and curled up under the laurel tree
to die. What do the leaves say
when they move like mouths
as the light changes, as little buds of jasmine
continue to give up scent
even as a different color takes over
their pale ghost bodies?
All our dead come back to us
in dreams so we can make apology.
They hold out sheets of our tears,
so much silver warming
the grass neatly clipped where we lie down
to live out the rest of our days.
The article says the age
of consent in my country
is 12. I was 3, then
I was 7, then 8. No one
asks. They just go
ahead and take you.
~ after "Ladrona de Lunas," Armando Valero
Half-moon blade, mezzaluna, edge
I rock back and forth across
the face of a wooden board: my best
instrument, how I tune you according to
the tides. How my breasts float like two
new planets above your central hollow,
veiled in the colors of sunrise. I am
sharper than rock, more subtle
than steel. The sky and its collection
of dead stars lies quiet around my
shoulders. I've lain my spine across
your length: a birthing chair,
intimate with my blood and fluids.
Every child I've brought into this
world comes through the two points
of your smile. And at night,
I rest my chin in your dead center,
both hands ready to pluck
what light I can before it steals away.
~ The Thomasites were a group of 600 American
teachers who travelled in 1901 from the United States
to the newly annexed territory of the Philippines
on the transport ship USS Thomas.
Are we not yet as good as
Perfectly pleated cutouts of girls
and boys with red and blue lines
Haven't we lisped all the way
down the alphabet B is for brick
and baseball bat H for the hammock
we wove for the teacher unused
to this heat The ship has gone
away Good morning! Good-bye!
Under acacia trees we build
our résumés folding our knees
repeating and repeating all day