Portrait, with paradise receding in the background

~ after “Narcisa and the Two Mirrors,” Armando Valero

Sometimes when you speak or sing,
it is sunlight flashing semaphore-like

from the surface of mirrors. It is thirteen
hummingbirds hovering for the promise of nectar—

They make a jeweled necklace more brilliant
than the brocade of peonies on a woman’s dress.

Sometimes when you think you’re alone, another
face floats on the surface of the one you bring

to the mirror; perhaps, the ghost of who you’ve been.
Or the lover you hope to meet, who is also looking

into a mirror, trying to divine how a whole
world curls around the bodies of fish

rounding each blue bend in the river; how
like music or the sight of tears, there are

things that have moved you without leaving
their trace on skin. And yet the hummingbird

says it’s enough that you can bear parts
of the world smaller than a dewdrop or pearl.

You can consider the moon’s invisible satchel
and its upraised handle, its offer to fill

or pry open; to empty, arrive, travel again,
to carry in its folds only what you can.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

How to change one’s destiny

A woman stands on a stage
giving a talk about the pivotal
moment in life that gives us
our central narrative—

For one person, it is at six,
when his parents lock him in a closet
for having misbehaved. For another,
it is the time an uncle sticks

his hand under her waistband
then says she cannot ever tell.
And what were they thinking,
the parents that sent away

the still unformed child
through the hunter, the woodsman,
the maid? The future at times shows
its frightening face; and something

in human nature wants to think
a destiny can be pushed away,
averted, exchanged, unmade.
Didn’t Oedipus himself go

away yet wind up running blind
into the arms of his fate? Perhaps
he should have gone to a Ted Talk
instead. Perhaps he should have

learned how to nip in the bud
that simmering wick: one end saying
I can do anything, and the other
saying there is nothing I can do.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

Dancer

~ after Paula Rego, “The Dance” (1988)

So late in the season, so blue
on this beach pearled by the moon—

and still it seems I haven’t learned
how not to be so stiff, or what it takes

to be taken into these circles that move
with apparent easy regard— how everyone’s

hand slips so easily into another’s, how
each seems to know perfectly the role

they should play. The woman’s gold-sheathed
hip pleats into the man’s, and then a child

flowers in that space between them. Soon the child
herself grows into mother, into crone. Above them all,

only the ramparts of the old fortress seem un-
changed. But the one that holds herself apart lifts

one edge of her dress as if testing its weight:
she can still choose, can’t she? She can twirl

in silence, observe how the silks of her dress
open and float like a parachute in the wind.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

Toward Winter

Decades later, and still
I arrow toward you, even if only
in the mind— my flint pieces,
chipped from this lifetime

of toil: some sides dull, some
burnished to the sharpest they
will ever be. All these birds
resting at the hem of the river,

picking through bittercress
and spurge, wild garlic, white
clover: how often must they leave
and return, leave and return,

that karmic cycling
the price of whatever stillness
any one of them craved while rowing
through the long, blind stretches.

Like them I raise my voice
mournfully, asking why it should be
taken for a kind of mistake or failure
to desire rest; to want the shimmer

of silence that means only welcome or
absolution or release. But what kind
of love keeps asking for more than what
a body can carve out of itself to give?

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

Social

It’s the season of the holiday
office party, where the buffet

tables are decorated with foil-
wrapped plastic pots of poinsettia

that will be raffled off as door
prizes at the end of the afternoon;

where the crab dip is still good,
and the cold shrimp platters with

cocktail sauce, though the egg rolls
look overly soaked in their own facial

oils. Everyone’s talking about
the grading they still need to do,

or about the Thursday we all lost
because someone called in a bomb

threat and the entire campus
shut down so the police and Feds

could go to work to try and sniff out
whether it was real or a prank. But

everything is real: much too real.
A colleague says she has two rubber

door stops she carries all the time
in her purse, to slide under the class-

room door at any hint of danger from
outside. Another says she’s read

that more than half the college
population in North America today

is on some kind of psychotropic
medication— all of which makes

for less than cheerful conversation
by the cheese tray. Meanwhile, no one

seems interested in the drink tickets;
instead, they’re trying to get rid

of them, all while also navigating
the tricky protocols of social banter.

It’s hard enough that most feel socially
awkward, despite their sense of worldly

or academic accomplishment. What to do
when you can’t talk about the weather

anymore, or ask again about someone’s
holiday plans? But then you’re mortified

when you ask what your colleague’s daughter
is doing now, having forgotten that she’s

taken some time off from college to step back
from the pressure. But all is saved when

the university photographer comes along; orders
everyone to come closer, hold the pose, smile.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

Forecast

Maybe snow by Sunday, wind strong
enough to spiral away a balloon held
loosely in a child’s hand… Not that one
sees many balloons in children’s hands

nowadays, unless they’re popping them
in games on their phones. The local
grocery store used to have a little area
beside the fake cacti and potpourri bundles

with a shell or sand dollar— where thin,
stretched membranes of helium-filled petroleum
byproduct in pastel shades bobbed against
the ceiling. In a true nor’easter or hurricane,

all the ships in this navy town pull up anchor
and head far out to sea. Half the population
rushes to the stores to panic buy milk, eggs;
beer, whisky, water. The other half boards up

their houses before racing against the clock
to leave town. Last time, we actually got
an evacuation order. I stood for about five
minutes in the middle of the room, unable to form

any coherent thought about what one could possibly
fit in a box or stow in the trunk of the car to take—
where? Not any amount of money in the world can stop
the inevitable plunge into endgame. Still, I stashed

my house keys in the bottom of my backpack, passport
and important papers ready in ziplock bags. All the bells
and chains, all these things we call possessions, piled
in closets and just waiting to get soaked or decimated.

Don’t get me wrong— I love any whiff of a good sale,
the price tag showing up under scrutiny to have lost
one or two digits. Between that and lounging in a bath
with a book to keep the encroachments away, I long

of course to take a trip somewhere preferably
without noisy train terminals, without headache-
inducing muzak, or bills and memos and bills. I want
to just throw these in the fire to forget. I don’t

want to know the future, really. Or who’s
going to call soon. I want to bite into a bright
red apple and then another, and not have to bear
the blame for a whole world going to ruin.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Snack.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

On the nature of epiphany

banal, Tagalog: adj. 1. holy; 2. virtuous; 3. blessed; 4. spiritual

Thin line between mundane
and divine, between the holy and

the nondescript. In other words,
slip on a halo made of bronze

or a gold-leafed garment and
the barefoot peasant cradling

an animal, the boy in the fields
talking to the doves, become

saints. Some days, the light
shining through the curtains is

aloof and foreign. Other times,
it pours into the cup and

spills over into the saucer;
and you pick it up and drink

from it knowing it both is and
isn’t more than what it is.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

Icarus in Manila

“I like to imagine Icarus, having fallen, having lost his wings, swimming to shore, crawling up the rocks, finding his new life, no longer son of the great Daedalus, but an anonymous man, lost, far from home, ordinary but alive.” ~ Kazim Ali, The Silver Road

Something about a war, about the gods
fighting for ascendancy; how bits

of rock they threw were pulverized
and landed in the waters to make

these islands. Everything seethes
like noonday heat, all day into night.

Here in the city, I walk with others
through labyrinthine streets, careful

to avoid run-ins with police, trying
to blend in. Wading ashore I must

have looked like a straggler; or one
of those cats slick with sewer grime,

slinking through the alleys. Some days
I help a ragtag group of children sort

through dump yard piles of metal;
or at dawn in the market, unload

baskets of produce from trucks.
Fear is one of the cheapest

commodities— each day yields
a new tally of bodies felled

by masked gunmen, assassins
for hire. In this world, target

could mean anything including
a child or grandmother or school-

boy. There is a morgue that ran out
of space for corpses: they had to pile them

into a drained swimming pool. Even a bull
waiting in its lair could not be this cruel.

.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

Icarus at Varanasi

“I like to imagine Icarus, having fallen, having lost his wings, swimming to shore, crawling up the rocks, finding his new life, no longer son of the great Daedalus, but an anonymous man, lost, far from home, ordinary but alive.” ~ Kazim Ali, The Silver Road

It returns, that dream pattern: blue
rhizomes of water streaming outward,

receiving him as he falls out of the sky. Each
day, bells somberly intone from the shore

where the dead, wrapped in bright cotton
and gilded with marigolds, wait for pyres

to be lit on the ghats. He should have been
among them. But it’s years since he took up

this life, joined the others who tend the fires;
he’s learned how to stack kindling and scatter

a fine powder of sandalwood, smear surfaces
with ghee— the same way the dead are anointed

by those who still love them as fiercely as they did
when they were alive. It never grows old, his wonder-

ment at the rituals to prepare for release—
how a lattice of wood keeps the body from bolting

upright as its insides empty and the muscles
contract, as organs darken and shrink. If only

his father could witness how all that binds
sinew and flesh to its rudder of bone melts away

like honey, like oil. In this furnace, nothing stands
a chance; how could twine and a wingspan of feathers

outstrip the heat of the sun? After every burning,
ash in the air clings to your lashes, your clothing,

your skin. Finally, flames shoot out of the eye
sockets and the skull bursts open: and that great,

stumbling bird of the soul leaves windows and doors
flapping on their hinges as it exits the house.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

Desire Lines

I knew someone who used to clip
newspaper articles about large

natural disasters— earthquakes
and tsunamis in Japan, hurricanes

in the Philippines, landslides in India;
then he’d study the timeline they made,

to try and predict the next upheaval
in the earth’s biography. He believed

we should all keep a similar record
of whatever befalls us every day,

in order to better control not necessarily
the events themselves but our responses

— to not let the accidents of either
grief or joy gain the upper hand, not

forget ourselves in heights of transport
or in the depths of despair. According

to him, the mind needs to train the body
and its network of automatic responses

to stimuli: to stop on call, merely observe
without judgment. To ease the desire line

pulling constantly in all directions: like a spoilt
child, so used to demanding absolute obedience.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Craft.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.