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 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 teaches on the faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University, which she directed from 2009-2015. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

Let’s use those 7 CDC-banned words in poems.


Once, ours was a world originally
diverse, originally transgendered— all

different beings fused and whole before
the artificial split: our entitlement to the fruits

of the garden revoked and colonized by false
documents and deeds, the growing fetus

of perverse overseers’ greed, which bloated
into a many-headed beast with many mouths

spewing false and uncouth argument, unwilling
to admit truth is science-based, evidence-based.

They want nothing better than to burn the fields,
fan flames of hate, put idols (themselves) in place

of our sacred monuments. What they want: our wages, rights,
hearts, hopes: what we will never willingly give them.

Mother, how do you keep a thing
you don’t want to happen yet

from coming true? Could we shut
the windows and our ears to the dark-

blue song of mourning birds? Could we
ask the sky to stop dividing the hours

exactly into two? Something is calling
me but I don’t want to go. I don’t believe

that whatever’s here must be linked only
to what isn’t. Sometimes, riding up

the hills, through the cracked bus window
I’ve seen how the moon is still faintly

visible above the tree line well past
sunrise. When a song about silver threads

and golden needles comes on the radio, I think
of thin cardboard wings laid across the bodies

of dead infants, to help their souls
make that crossing into the afterworld.

When I was young, I wore a mask
of acne scars on my face. I carried
a Russian novel under my arm—
Chekhov or Dostoyevsky in English
translation— in order not to have
to make conversation or hold hands.
Before that, answering the phone
could put me in a panic. I don’t know
what it was— genes, hormones, a more
than average predisposition to solitude.
Not that I didn’t crave the golden
ease that others wore like a cape
floating serenely behind them.
Why not go over and join them at
the lunch table? But my tongue
was tied to the roof of my mouth,
and there were no earring-holes yet
on my puffy earlobes. It wouldn’t be
until many years later that I’d learn
to wear jeans, say things like crap or
bullshit, enjoy banter and red lipstick,
come out from under the fog of sadness
that hung over me like the dark
velvet drape around an old-time
photographer’s shoulders, looking
through the lens to focus his subject.

Kicking each other’s legs in line, surreptitiously. Morning flag
ceremony. Announcements via megaphone or speaking trumpet.

No running water in the latrines, and yet the teachers said
to use a sheet of writing paper as toilet paper. Slapping

two erasers against each other to shake the chalk dust loose.
Watching the white trail sift over the third floor railing.

Intonation practice: Good mor-ning miss! Grammar trees
and sentence parsing. Daily multiplication drills. Mission

Sunday and First Friday mass. Friday afternoons in the social hall,
watching old Steamboat Willie cartoons and a full length movie:

Zorro. Sister Carmen writing out the rules for softball
on the board in perfect cursive. Reading and memorizing, then

taking a quiz. Nail inspections. Nape inspections. Underwear
inspections. Kneeling on dry beans in the corner as punishment.

Walking through basement hallways for lessons in the music
room. Rumors of headless ghosts guarding the bell-pull.

On X-ray day, public health vans parked in the field. Rumor:
drinking a whole glass of milk made for a clear scan. How

heat smells, emanating from six hundred bodies spilling
into the yard. Joy of the loud four-thirty bell.


In response to Via Negativa: Portrait of the writer as a young man.

On the radio they’re talking about the milkshake duck
which, along with path of totality, has earned the distinction
of being one of 2017’s words of the year. A close third,

in my opinion, should be virality, which is what enables
the widespread popularity of both milkshake duck and path
of totality; and which the English Oxford dictionary defines

as the tendency of an image, video, or piece of information
to be circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user
to another.
Remember that hot Monday afternoon in August,

sitting on the university’s grassy lawn, sweat sticking
to the backs of our shirts and shorts? We’re far from being in
the swath of totality; nonetheless there’s something momentous

about being among the hundreds there, eyes properly outfitted
with NASA-issued solar filter viewing glasses, tilting our heads
back, waiting for the moment when the moon completely

obliterates the sun’s big brassy face as a band plays jaunty
music in the shade. It doesn’t last long, and neither does summer—
its salty tang, the crowds of tourists splayed out on the beach,

drinking from sand-crusted water bottles or pushing boogie boards
into the waves. After becomes the inconceivable season of one
milkshake duck after another: as Twitter handle Recognize

the Vox Union Now put it, we are now milkshake ducking
at speeds heretofore unseen by man.
Every public figure
revered in one glowing moment quickly unmasked, undone

in the next— Another age gave us gods with clay feet:
that picture, at least, conveys some sense of gravitas.
This on the other hand is shifty, has something opaque

and odious about it— made uglier by prejudice flying off
the tongue; webbed feet sticking out from under trouser hems,
or worse, an ass or penis flapping its pathetic flag in the air.


In response to Via Negativa: Demagogue.

“I wanted nothing but your happiness.” ~ Brenda Shaughnessy,”Magi”

But it is true I wanted to find
some joy for myself too. Why

regard these things as if they
were such a terrible contradiction?

There are those who want diamonds, houses,
sex, men, money, the beauty of the world

with which to garland their bodies. Or travel;
time to read books, widen the berth on which

one might perch through calamitously tilting
years. Space in which to turn into a self

separate from the ones attached to the glittering
need and hunger of others. Once, I was told: reach

and you can reach for others. Become and you can be
their more. I’ve pressed myself as hard as I can

into the mouth of that machine. Can you believe me then
when I say I wanted nothing but your happiness? Still do.

The darkness thinks itself
immutable, so the sky says
we should be afraid—

But the light and all
it touches belongs
to us— Be careful!

Maybe you can try
to keep us from where
we once bathed in pools

of starlight. Maybe you
can try to wipe away cities
of fog as we chart them—

Someone saw where we hid
our wings. Until then
I didn’t know how

it felt to leave the body.
I’m always listening for
the rustle of our bones.

At thirty, I wonder
for the first time where

my childhood went; why I didn’t
for the longest time have words
to describe things done

surreptitiously to me: yet I
am good at summaries and speed

reading; also I know how to gut
and butterfly a fish. I look
sometimes in the mirror above

the bathroom sink to run the tip
of my index finger under my lip,

feeling for the ridge on the gum
where the shard from an old tooth
once sat, rootless, gathering

stench. Of this, I am not afraid:
at night before bed, fingers dig

to loosen the sliver from
its sheath, until one day it
gives up and the mouth floods

with a vinegar taste. That seems
so long ago. Now, past fifty, I want

only to walk lightly on all the powdered
snow while yellow lights come on: first
one side of the street, then the other.


In response to Via Negativa: Balancing act.

is not taking calls or SOS texts right now.

All vision quest tickets sold before this date will possibly be honored again at a time to be determined (or not) by The Sphynx.

Do you seriously think y’all could just keep coming back any time of day or night just because you have a matter of utmost urgency that you think deserves immediate quasi-divine intervention?

S/he is damn tired of taking calls. Especially from repeat customers. Who won’t take advice anyway.

That’s not what we do here anymore. Move along.

You think The Sphynx gives a shit about your little road rage incident that’s now unfolded, and how you didn’t rein in your famous temper?

You don’t need no prophecy to tell you what’s coming.

Maybe, you should go break stacks of porcelain plates against a wall in one of those Japanese stress-relief emporiums.

And who told you anything good could ever come of shacking up with your dad’s old lady? Royalty or whatever, that’s about up there with all those pious child molesters saying Well, Joseph was much older when he took the Virgin Mary to wife.

Did you know the plural of sphynx is sphynxes or sphynges? Yes, there’s more than one of us. Part lion, part human, part bird; in the Philippines’ Bicol region, part human, part eagle.

We like to give pop quizzes. In a good mood, we might spin them as riddles. Like: Why can a being with breasts, facial hair, in drag, see how things are really going down, better than a congress of greedy white men?

If you can’t figure this out either, maybe you deserve to be eaten alive; or flown out (no extra charge, you’re welcome) and dropped from a height into a volcano’s cauldron.

Here’s how you graph this selection: select B and C from the column and insert a scatter plot.

Someone re-telling a story of nearly falling more than thirty feet from a rocky mountain trail might experience his breathing grow more rapid.

The child doing homework at the table wants to know how the Buddha crossed continents. Who gave him plane tickets, boat rides, lifts on buffalo-drawn carts?

Look for symbols to represent the distribution of everything felt across a discrete period of time. For instance, a metal platform across a gorge; something mashed drenched in gravy.

The pilgrim stopped to bathe in a stream, and according to the legend, all the fish either died or fell into a swoon.

After her purse was snatched in a crowded train station, she asked everyone on her contacts list to resend their information.

She couldn’t tell where the thief had run— she turned and turned but of course the lights on the art deco ceiling were announcing a different signal.

Outside, the clear sharp smell of water turning into ice. The moon’s face as if dusted with pollen, large clock face devoid of insistent hands.


In response to Via Negativa: Serv/ice.