"...a fur of experience
rose over us like amber." ~ D. Bonta
How did you know what to do, which number to fumble for in sequence on the rotary phone, your small hand cradling the receiver and your small voice asking for the doctor, you only knew him by his first name, this doctor Fernando, in those days when house calls were still made and you, feverish on the couch, with wet cloths and hot delirious dreams that came out through your chattering teeth and then you felt somewhere the burn of a needle entering the flesh of your arm and the heavy quiet under your lids after– But this time it wasn’t you, it was your mother passed out on the kitchen’s cold granite tile after she and the cruel grandmother had another of their terrible rows and you didn’t know if she was alive, if she was still breathing, after she screamed and heaved the stalk of green bananas leaning against the shelf across the room… You don’t know why that comes back to you, or the smell of antiseptic and lime, the sight of her body on the floor, pale limbs, bony elbows, and the kindness of the doctor when he comes through the door, how he pats your hand, how the curtains look with the sun sieving yellow through their fringes, and the sound of water dripping from a faucet–
In response to Via Negativa: Maquiladoras.
~ after Remedios Varo, "Alegoría del invierno (Allegory of Winter)," 1948;
Pheasant and nuthatch, five-petaled flower,
emerald feather suspended in veils---
we don't know how long the world can hold
such specimens of tenderness, how far
the glacial drifts can ferry such tombs,
immaculate, before they themselves turn
into ghosts--- Everything writhes before the dream
discards what it calculates for reduction:
and yet the yucca moth delivers its eggs
inside the flower, even as leaves sharpen
their bayonet-points. At dusk, we scan the horizon
for anchors and tents; we lean into the wind
hungry for the brass tinkle of hawk bells
and the trance-like drone of hegelong.
If we split these reeds down their length,
how many of us can ride out the coming flood
before sunlight returns or we've softened into moss?
Among the funny, lost
in translation signage
like Do Not Drunken
Driving and Please
Do Not Empty Your Dog
Here I find one
with the sound
of almost epiphany---
Do Not Disturb: Tiny
Grass is Dreaming
Did you know hunger in your past?
When we had nothing else
just after the war, we could find rice grains
or potatoes in a field after the farmers were done
with harvest. At night, the furrows filled
with frogs' voices. They called and we answered;
we went toward them in moonlight
with our shirt hems stretched open.
Did you go to school?
Grandfather hired a man to work for him
on his garden. He was asked to carry me on his back
and wade across the river to the schoolhouse.
I wrapped my arms around his neck; his arms
held the backs of my calves. Once, not wanting
to leave, I threw myself on the floor
and wailed. He picked me up and started to walk.
Oily water thrashed around his ankles. I bit
the top of his ear. He never let go.
When did your fortune change?
The neighbor's daughter used to be
a teller at the bank. Now she is a general's wife
and is learning ballroom dancing. The man
who owned a dry goods store sold his business
after his only son drowned on a holiday
by the sea. It seems just yesterday I sat
on a platform, fists balled, feet
barely touching the floor,
as the auctioneer took bids.
After many years, the river ran into the river,
and the wilderness thickened beside it.
Body overgrown with moss, love made
a hunted sound calling from the nether layers.
Clouds of birds rose to pin themselves
to branches. They looked so much like leaves.
Dirt rained down when I shook them loose
and they pooled like dark pods in my hands.
Every time we looked for the moon,
a different planet floated into view.
Follow those flashes of light and see
where islands disappeared. It's said
every lighthouse is visible underwater,
a cake topper ringed with flickering candles.
Grown now out of their first abandonment,
the children know only this shore:
haze of vanished honeysuckle stenciled
on a trellis, burns and coppered bullet shells.
Imagine a dream like air that used to live
inside a gold balloon, and the string
just out of reach of our hands. Imagine
each day a new season, change after change
knocking to be let in, and quickly--- are those
the same curtains that billowed over Hiroshima,
Leyte, Manila Bay? They still make the sunsets
unbearably beautiful--- gold-streaked indigo,
mutinies of tamped-out fire where
warships, rigs, and galleons once docked in
navy shipyards and blue coves. Once,
we smoothed the sands and painted stones.
Once, hundreds fell out of the sky and into
the waters they hoped would save them.
Place a hand on a headstone and the other
over your heart. When you feel a tremor,
quietly pick up a stick and write in the loam
the first name that comes into your mind.
Remember the taste of a fruit you know now
only as a color: red perhaps, seed and heart,
spikes encasing the smallest knob of tender-
ness. At night, someone calls for stories:
tales that begin in dread and finish
with three or more tests that must be
undertaken--- Except we need to be careful:
it also means the business of undertakers.
Ventriloquists for the dead, somehow
they know how to interpret last wishes.
We should be so lucky to have, in our own
time, a representative of the most internal.
Xanthates, acids, alkali in the soil; bleached
particles of all that's disappeared before us.
Yeast bubbling in the wood, soft, spongy
pockets that open wherever we walk. Endless
zooplankton: another name for wanderer; eternal
jellyfish wrested from home, adrift in the universe.
In response to Via Negativa: Flow.
They’re clean, said the man
behind the counter; they’re gutted.
Meaning the gills had been taken out,
meaning he’d drawn with the tip
of his knife one swift incision and slit
from the anus all the way till the head
of the fish. You wonder what they did
with all the slick guts that spilled
out of their bellies, on whose grill
the long floppy sac of roe will char
and sear. At your sink, you unwrap
the bodies from newsprint and see
they still wear their armor: there are some things
that don’t get taken away. They shimmer
like crushed gems you’d touch to your lips.
When it is a tent, we slit its skin to let in the rain.
The bronze star points
north but never resolves.
In my country our shamans were women
and our gods multiple.
When I reached down to touch the earth it shied and fled.
I walk to see the quiet that has colonized
My name a two-hundred-year-old word for Please.
My soul keeps trying, trying
I escape to the same places and same words.
Bodies were dropping from the trees.
Like telegrams, the gathering of crowds—
To have a country, so important,
to run into walls, into streetlights, into loved ones, as one should.
Each an ambition bird.
Mia Ayumi Malhotra
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
Rainer Maria Rilke
It is a kind of comfort to put on
earphones and listen to a woman
named Claudia give a free, live
webinar on cultivating abundance
in one's life, rather than to the rabid
pronouncements of the self-proclaimed
savior of America as he continues to justify
the building of a border wall. While he's
once again painting a picture of the violence
allegedly sown by immigrants and illegals,
Claudia is telling me and thousands of other
listeners to close our eyes and remember
the first moment we ever felt cut off, left
behind, unworthy of any of the world's riches
or radiance. She is telling us it's possible
to change those beliefs; to picture, instead of
a fence, a gentle light radiating from the universe
all around to envelope us in benevolence and natural
abundance. We don't have to be that hurt,
lonely child anymore: don't have to believe
our place is always in the dark, don't have
to accept that only debt or poverty or struggle
is our destiny. Thoughts are things: which means
the greedy, power-tripping haters, the ones who never
give a fuck about others, will live in a narrow, joyless
world. She has us envision the life we want: reminds us
to never abandon the idea of goodness that not only
remains in the world but still overflows in it.
after the low-pitched whine and rumbling the sound
of a snapped belt the machine winds down
from spinning to a long pause
the clerk at the store files her nails idly
she doesn't seem to want to be there
but there's nobody else on the floor
and we want a replacement for what just broke
we say we need before they turn the sign
over from open to closed
she clicks on her computer and scrolls
the catalog of many possible desires or needs
i may be old- fashioned but i can't
or won't be brought to saying want without
its immediate object can't say for instance
the want in my heart or in my hollow
bones come on, say the neon lights
they blink to fire up that old knowing
engine called desire why can't we just
call it that, desire for i can't bring
myself to say my want for this condition
or for what brings me to the crest frothing
like laundry before the spin cycle then spent, limp
i want is different from my wants the latter
seems both coy and brazen ungrammarly i'll
cringe if you tell me my wants are selfish they seem
like someone else being described wouldn't you
rather claim and proclaim what it is exactly you desire
I vow to give thanks
every morning I wake to find my eyes
open and my arms and legs
still function; to find I haven't
died and gone to heaven the night
before— which, mind, I'm only using
in a sort of idiomatic sense.
I mean, I'm not presuming to know
whether it's damnation or reward
that awaits me in the afterlife,
or wherever that mud path leads
after any of us exits the very last
door in this house of dusty labyrinths
and grimy mirrors. I'll stop regretting
that I've bought more books than I'll
probably have time to read in this life.
And, since everyone from Oprah to the LA
Times to Bustle is listing their Most
Anticipated Books of the Year, accept
the fact I'll probably order more
before the month is over. Every time
the midges of unhappiness and the ticks
of despair bite on my hindquarters,
I'll try not to blame the extra helpings of shrimp
fried rice turning into hidden sugars in
the blood. Moreover, I should try not to jump up
and be the first to answer every
little call for help. Reading in Wikipedia
that occasionally, captive mother pigs
may savage their own piglets if they become
severely stressed, I'll remember what my girl-
friend said when I waffled in front of a store
display for a whole hour: Just buy the damn
shoes! Eat the shiny apple while it's crisp, sit on
the porch to drink a beer and read in the sunlight
instead of straightaway going to fetch the trowel,
the vacuum, the cleaning rag, the mop.