When they teach us of our history,
they always begin with dates: never
before 1521, which is when the Portuguese
sailor reaches our shores, takes one look,
and freaks. Out come the flags and christening
oils, the cross with which to subdue the natives
showing too much inked skin, optic weaves,
dark elements, ores. Little does he know
he’ll be dead in under a month and a half:
spear finding quick the flaw in the armor.
Months later, Tenochtitlan falls and Cuauhtémoc
surrenders, also to the Spanish. Even then,
there are prophets predicting apocalypse:
the end of days is always coming soon
to a theatre near you. War, marauding,
hand to hand combat. Going rogue, biding
time in the forests: all of which
our forebears were always good at.
In response to Via Negativa: Civics.
old fashioned words unapologetic for the crispness of close consonants
and the first click in the finger joint after the needle’s steroid deposit
the slow breaths you coax as counterpoint to anxious thoughts at night
and the spinning echo of clothes tumbling in the dryer
the woody smell of rosemary next to sparse fringes of lavender
and felted caterwauling calls of barred owls
the pale clean stump where a camellia bush used to stand
and the underpattern of roots beneath the grass
a letter that wounds whenever it’s read
and a ransom that won’t ever be paid
the feeling you get looking up into fruiting branches
and the electric hum from cicadas’ tymbals as their torsos contort
peaches that drowned a brown sugar taste in the beer
and your fear of the season’s first slow-moving storms
the fat on the back of a slab of brisket
and the jar of bird chillies in a drawer
the clock on the mantel that never keeps the time
and the piles of small change you keep finding through the house
~ after “Flower Woman with Soft Piano,” Salvador Dali (1969)
If I could roll up my soul, bolt
of blue cloth under an arm; fallen
drape that crumples up then ends
in music— perhaps finally I’d
understand what it means to say
And time stood still. I can’t
remember when last my head erupted
in flowers, when a dream of ice
descended from the skies in foliate
shapes before melting and warming
into streams. Every day, it’s work
to try and widen the ledge on which
I stand. Every day, it’s work
to couple one hook to its eye, one
car to another, then send it off
in the right direction. I would like
to be unshackled from here, to lope
like a thing with young, supple legs
into a field without grids, even
without the accompaniment of music.
It’s long afterward, but still
you want what doesn’t exist anymore—
and so you light a votive, set it
on a leaf to float across the lake’s
dirty surface. Every crack in the pavement
is part of a letter penned in script,
its fissures just wide enough to admit
a trail of insects walking toward the ghosts
of bodies trapped in a cavern below.
They drink from a trickle of rainwater
falling into the basin. They save
a thimbleful of pee for that time no one
speaks of— Please, don’t tell them it’s
over. When you shred a dandelion’s slight
corona in your hand, don’t mention the sound
of buildings collapsing. Don’t tell them
the morgue has run out of sheets, the funeral
parlors have run out of candles and coffins.
In response to Via Negativa: Childhood memory.
anticipation, is nubbed spines
covering every inch of the jack-
fruit’s body: green armor
keeping the gold inside its
quarters— that’s what is meant
by inflorescence: all that heady
perfume repeating its singular
note through hallways of mirrors.
Lucky, the one that breaks
through without losing
itself. The one who comes
to understand time’s
illusion, how salt marries
ash, makes everything teeter
close to ripeness.
the gut that listens to each
clamor the body makes before
it even makes a sound—
So the nerves frill out
like wings, receptive to
the smallest rumor in the air:
trouble, mostly. But also,
the quieter waves that emanate
from joy, though they might seem
too rare. I’ve had a lifetime
of instruction, turning
my face to any coming wind.
Another name for it is mother;
in due time it finds
its twin in daughter.
That sense finds kin in any
particle that darkens rapidly
inside the hours: cloud, wave,
storm; each slip of moss
that sandals our feet as we run
across the stones, beguiled
by fruit gold-chalked, tumbled
from indifferent trees.
It may be late for me, but I
have only wished for you that
rupture, that gap between
arrival and threshold.
In summer, you feel more keenly
the light that stays afloat late
above the canopy; that opens early
like a window shade pinned back
by a hand that wants to push you
wholly into the day. Inside a terra
cotta dish, the ashy end of a coil
of citronella. On the deck, two
planks of wood buckling away
from their warped frame. A block
away, the river’s throat swells
with rumors of cicadas in the trees,
their wings drumming up another cloud
of heat. Everything’s one or another
version of your restlessness, of that
fever in your bones that sets a cabinet
of worry-gears clicking— o lucky
spider that merely sifts through frets
in its web, that tamps and beds a wayward
body as if it were a gift to the gods.
You try to flex your thumb, make a circle
with your index finger, but it doesn’t
listen. Everything works on the left, but
something is stuck on the right. The hand
doctor pulls out a diagram describing
the arrangement of tendons: like
passenger cars on a train. Pulleys
allow for the ease with which they
can glide forward and back on the tracks.
Something is stuck in your thumb’s pulley
system, causing pain that radiates
from the hinge and tenderness at the base.
It hasn’t gone away, despite the different
kinds of salves friends have recommended.
When you hold a pen, your grip is awkward;
and marking student papers or signing
your name is like pushing an iron bar through
dry soil. And that train? It wants so badly
to leave the station, to climb up those hills.
Perhaps a masked man is holding the engineer
hostage, forefinger resting on the trigger.
What he wants exactly, no one can figure out.
Once I read a story about the poet Eduardo
Galeano’s wife Helena: how she dreamt of being
in an airport, along with everyone else
carrying the pillows on which they’d lain
their heads the night before— passing through
the screening machines, they’re purged of all
traces of dreams that might have leaked
into them, for fear they might harbor
subversive material. Can you imagine each
slip-covered mound of cotton or memory foam,
buckwheat, feather or down, moving on conveyor
belts under high-wattage light? TSA agents
no longer care if your carry-on bag of toiletries
exceeds 3 liquid oz. They don’t bother to wave
those electromagnetic wands down your arms
and legs or in the area of your crotch.
It’s kind of like a giant laundromat— lines
of unacceptable matter processed for bleaching
before being tossed out the other end:
colorless, odorless, blank as amnesia.
Whoever penned Ecclesiastes 3:1 must not
have had a mortgage and an older house.
Must never have had to take care of repairs!
is what I think as I hunt for Nextdoor
recommendations of plumbers, as I call around
for estimates and check the prices on lumber
and siding. To everything there is a season
is what it says: a time for this and a time
for that, for the orderly and equitable march
of seasons as well as their bloom and fade.
The stalk comes up after the seed, the flood
disappears into the plain. And the cost of fixing
what’s damaged shouldn’t amount to another
disaster, should it? O let this not be the time
for the hot water to go out just as the deck umbrella
snaps almost cleanly in half in a freak wind storm,
at the same time you find a snarling nest
of coons burrowed in the shed’s rotting wood
when you go to retrieve the ladder. Let the broken
fence palings keep from falling down into the service
road, let the neighbors’ dogs poop regularly
somewhere other than the edge of the footpath
where you come and go. Look up at the sky if
you can, past the greenish cast on windows and walls
in need of power washing; at the flowers’ hot
and thirsty faces, sending out semaphores of entreaty.