Luisa A. Igloria

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 (forthcoming, 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, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

and sitting, or leaning, or wanting
to fall asleep in the middle of
the afternoon. Or getting up
from the table to wash a plate
at the sink, and finding a roach
behind the toaster. Isn’t that
a body too, and that of the slug
that tore the leaves of basil
into a kind of lace? Today
is the first day of autumn
and I found not a single new
fig on the tree. A friend gave
me a bag of chestnuts shaken down
by hurricane winds— what else
to do with them but take up each
brown body and boil and score them,
then feed them whole to the fire?

 

In response to Via Negativa: Walking.

Friend, I tell you I have no real
power in this world but what is given
me: that is, they take one look and see
a woman born in a foreign place,
they point out accents in my speech
to use as argument for how I couldn’t
possibly teach about the nuances
and meanings of literature
or language. Nobody can imagine
anyone’s pain better than through
a story— perhaps that is a power,
but not one I can exclusively claim.
Diligent student though, I count
how many times in a day I stop to think:
what am I really trying to say? Who
has already said it better than I could?
The hope of hopes is that someone
will love us back, will return
with some kind of care the words
we’ve allowed, though haltingly,
out into the open.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Omission.

Moved four times in the last two
decades, kept from taking out
a mortgage until egged on
by others. Wouldn’t you know it—
these nesting dreams made recently
precarious by threat of tidal
swell and rising oceans, by news
of melting icecaps. When told
to leave you look around, not
knowing what to take, being
that it’s impossible. Water,
heat, fire; broad stones
under the fig tree in the yard.
Though everything you need
is already in your heart,
you’ll continue to eye
the coats on the line,
the good boots in the closet;
the army of beetles edging along
the length of the garden hose.

We are blown grass, rocks
sheared into pieces by wind,

box houses tumbling into
the Balili river. We are

splints of fools’ gold,
seed libraries shaken

into upended gardens.
We’d crawled into the earth

with pick-axes in search
of luck and scrimshawed

bones. We come out thick
with mud, tails between

our legs, watching as one
by one omens come true:

horses flaring their nostrils
before they step over the edge,

the sun’s lazy eye clicking
into place, fixing us all.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Death angel.

“6:00 o’clock, morning, 30 December, 1896.
To my very beloved Mother, Dña. Teodora Alonso.”
~ Jose P. Rizal’s last letter to his mother before his execution

In his last hour, he writes a letter to his mother
consisting of the time and date only; a salutation,

followed by silence. For how could language gather
the enormity of what could be said; or even what can’t?

There are people who are so uncomfortable
with silence they have to fill it with something

immediately: click the radio dial on, the TV,
keep the babble going in the background

though they don’t feel the need to pay
any real attention. My doctor friend who lives

alone says he makes it a point to use the guest
bathroom regularly just to hear the sound of flushing

from another part of the house. But returning
to the hero’s silence, which archivists have described

as both cryptic and lyric or profound: someone sent
me a picture of my mother when she was brought

to the ER after falling or fainting on the street
corner. No broken bones, only surface bruising

on one shin. When the Barangay tanod brought
her home, she was appalled by the sight of unkempt

rooms— empty plastic bottles strewn in every
corner, piles of unwashed clothes; styrofoam

boxes crusted over with food remnants. Two
children left to watch over her and also

themselves. Hardly a trace of any responsible
adult: the orphans of her sister, who’ve lived

rent-free under her roof all their lives
and eaten at her table in ampler times, yet can’t

be bothered. The ones quick to say she has
a daughter in America, why should they be the ones

to care? River rats come and go as they please
through cracks in the floorboards. Bread disappears;

fruit, rind and pith. The faded drapes are streaked
with marks of their desperate foraging. Or perhaps

other mouths are at work here too. Someone turns off
the electricity to her rooms, while theirs are lit.

How does one even begin to address the enormity
of what else is hidden from view? Beloved, there is

no letter ample enough for my helplessness and that
kind of silence: door pummelled by wind day and night.

~ From poetry prompts given to 2nd graders at Buckingham Primary School, Buckingham, VA; 17 September 2018:
Write Two Animals
Write Two Machines
Write Two Things that Taste Good
Write Two Things that Hurt

1
A newspaper article on how to survive a monster storm tells people returning to check on damage in the aftermath. It also says, “In the Philippines there are some more unique risks. Beware of poisonous animals like snakes that may have entered your house….” We didn’t see any. Only a deer in the shadows, head bent and deadheading the hydrangeas.

2
When I am heartsick I press
my right hand to my chest
and listen for the whoosh of water.

When I court sleep I hold the levers
of my thumbs as I was taught.

3
Sugar.
Salt.

4
The body scored
by sugar
and salt.

Inside the periphery, the smell

of chlorine bleach and lemons.

The brown husk of a cockroach

beached in a corner of the room.

Who can say how limits are drawn

when water in fact isn’t separate

from earth, when the ground extends

as a series of linked platforms

under wells and lakes and fountains

arcing over granite slabs in the square?

You try to leave: like the navy sending

its fleet into the high seas, like lines

of birds moving in the shape of one

arm pulling itself away from a sleeve.

It’s no use: even in sleep you carry

the wind’s voice, its folded

handkerchief in your pocket.

through the night; the twitch in the hind
quarters, the way they’ve lapsed back

into habits of humid, casual coupling:
sa kalye, nagkakantutan— The dogs
going on with their doggy lives, by which
another botched encounter with the end

of days could be inferred. They’re lucky
to escape the fate they would’ve been dealt,
back in the barrio: steaming accompaniment

to Cerveza Negra, in bowls laced with fat,
lashings of vinegar, peppercorns. A dish
even the hardened could drown their most
hidden sorrows in. After the floods recede,

you’ll find your washed-up others in some
back alley: bellies distended with water,
muzzles stuffed with stones and reeds.

My child says in her next life she should like
to be a potato, if a potato could make someone

happy— in other words, tuber grown in loamy
soil, starchy carbohydrate that converts to sugar

as soon as it’s eaten. And its green runners
streaking across the ground, every eye pinned

on its jacket a bud or a node— I thought of
the famous Flower Sermon, in which the Buddha

holds up a single lotus pulled up from the mud;
and of his apprentice Mahakasyapa who smiles

in understanding. The blue-green leaves are first
to unfurl on the surface of water in summer;

then, the fragrant double blossoms of deep pink.
Inside the matchstick curtain of stamens,

a seedpod the color of burnished yellow: shape
that marvelously resembles an expensive shower

fixture you could get from a hardware store— So
much form, simmering in brown and formless mud.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Replete.

Here by the mouth of the river
the water has teeth, or a tongue

mellow in summer and swelled
with the tides. You can still

see your reflection in it, a wash-
bowl filling steady with the sound

of a current whose source is out of
reach. We wade with our pant hems

rolled and our skirts hitched high:
we can count the shoes floating by

like boats; refrigerators, microwaves,
children in plastic laundry baskets.

The sky is a crater the color of wet
ash. The sky is a mouth, all mouth.