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.

There are insects
ground up to give us
the red we call carmine,
the crimson of a lake
on fire at sunset. Touch
a tube of lipstick
to your mouth and know
that color is the color
of thousands of pulverized
bodies— scraped off
broad pans of cacti,
dried in the sun, nested
in tubes of paint: every-
where the eye might not
even detect a pulse.

25 years ago I sought legal counsel
and attempted to file for annulment—

the difference from divorce being that if
proven meritorious, the court renders

the marriage null and void, as if it never
happened. My lawyer had a habit of picking

at his teeth while taking calls during
my appointments; according to him,

among the conditions listed as grounds
for annulment, the only one I could pursue

was “Mental or Psychological Incapacity”—
meaning I was to present myself to a court

psychologist, write an autobiographical
essay whose theme would be my innate

deranged or unbalanced nature. Because I had
no words back then for describing my ex’s

anger management issues, like a fool I took
the printed form and tried to put my life

as I knew it under the awful, recommended
spotlight. Meanwhile, men blithely led

two or more secret lives, or openly flaunted
mistresses. An action star sired more than

eighty children by sixteen different
women, and even got elected senator.

Look at what money can buy, father
quipped, as I shrugged my shoulders

into my good suit jacket, slid
my feet into pumps, and got ready

to go to work. The two older children
were in school, the baby was with

her nanny. I made a mental note to stop
at the store for diapers before returning

home at five. Father was retired nearly
a decade then; and of poor health. He stayed

at home reading the paper in the corner
armchair, taking out his Novena to Saint

Pancratius and murmuring prayers with eyes
half-closed to this patron of children, jobs,

health, cramps, perjury, and headaches—
though you could say Pancras himself never

recovered from the last big headache
of his young life, having been beheaded

around 303 AD during the reign of the Emperor
Diocletian. As for diapers, I never made it

to the store that afternoon— An earthquake
rocked the city and it felt like any moment

the skies might part and we’d see the Four
Horsemen, lances drawn, come down into our

hills on vivid clouds of fire. In mere minutes,
buildings turned to rubble, walls into piles

of kindling. If anyone had known to pray
to Saint Emydius or Saint Gregory

the Wonderworker, patrons for protection
against earthquakes and floods, could that

day’s catastrophe have been averted? Two
weeks later, father passed away on a makeshift

pallet in the local hospital. Stories have it
that Emydius, though he was a bishop, was also

beheaded in that same period of persecution
that ended 14-year-old Pancratius’s life.

We are building a box. A shed. A thing in which we might keep garden tools, and bags of soil or mulch, or sacks of grass seed, or boxes of old Christmas ornaments. To build a box we have to go down to the city hall to secure a permit to build a box. The permit is called a certificate. To be certified we have to hire the services of a surveyor. They have to come and eyeball your property then measure. I did the same thing beforehand with an extra ball of blue acrylic yarn from my stash. It measured up, except I wasn’t an official surveyor. The survey cost three hundred fifty dollars. I could have certified myself but I am not allowed. Once I gave my husband a haircut and his boss told him maybe his wife should stick to the things she knows best. Why does someone always know best? Good, better, best. In my book, you either know or you don’t know. But if you don’t, you can go looking for the answer. I don’t mean Google or Wikipedia: I mean go out and stand in the yard and look around, figure out things in relation to the pitch of the roof to the swoop of a bird, the angle of your shadow and how a person at the far end of the driveway can look like he’s standing on the palm of your open hand. Squint and move to the right or left until you get it right. Paint the roof that color.

How much truth in a joke, in any making-
light-of? The day before the midterms

we laughed and said heck why not eat
the chocolate, buy the expensive coat,

let the cutie kiss you. Maybe we’ll all
be dead after tomorrow. Or want to die.

If not this apocalypse, the one that’s sure
to come after. Only a matter of time. Fire

raging through the hills one day, a spray
of ammunition aimed at any gathering of soft

bodies. One of my students says she takes
dictation from angels: they watch her,

tell her what she should or shouldn’t
do (like, yes go to this party, not

to that one). I wonder what they look like—
I’d be disconcerted hearing only voices,

trying to sift them from my own, looping
through my brain especially at two

in the morning. I’d want to know what
the future holds even if I already know.

I’d ask for a few detail changes, better
scenery. In the yard I squint upward

through the branches of the tree— finally
it’s acknowledged the season is turning,

is letting handful after handful of leaves
furl to the ground. Letting anything go

is possible only with the acknowledgment
nothing’s truly lost: the way you hold

your breath then exhale, if only to see what
shape it makes in the cold air, leaving you.

Ours not the fruit on the tree,
that long shimmer in the branches; waxed,
distrustful surface reflecting what else
might be known about the universe.
A man whips a striped tapis into a flag
between his hands, and dances with it.
In one story either a chicken
or a woman come into the yard
and follow him into the world. In one
story the man and the woman step
out of the bamboo’s heart.
They’ve heard the thunder made
by the bird as it breaks through
the border. If this is the beginning,
how does night translate? It’s not as if
all that came before can just be tucked
into an envelope and buried under
the mattress or dropped from the edge
of a cliff into the sea. That is,
I’m sure there is an edge, but that
can only mean there is also
a flatness preceding that. I’m sure
I heard the bird say gift. Or rift.

the next

Today I heard a story about the gut— that basement
factory into which we toss everything: stomach full
of meal, cheese curls, neon-colored maraschino cherries,
sliders topped with fontina cheese and pearl onions;
coffee, vodka, beer— how all of that ferment topped
up with spore-forming bacteria can make up to 80%
of the serotonin in the human body. The key to
happiness, therefore, seems to be finding the right
combinations of food that will elicit the highest
reactions from gut bacteria. Imagine that petri dish
quietly bubbling, its secret mission to modulate
and carry over; to keep the body somehow going
instead of stopping and giving up, the mind
mouthing a little cheer just for you at the end
of a complex of neurotransmitter highways.

“But jealousy what might befall your travel,
Being skilless in these parts, which to a stranger,
Unguided and unfriended, often prove
Rough and unhospitable.”

~ “Twelfth Night,” William Shakespeare

The next door neighbor complains
about a motion sensor light
she claims is too bright
& in violation of a city
ordinance, that its pearl-
white glow spills over her side
of the fence & into their stairwell
even when the blinds are drawn, into
an upstairs toilet window (as proven
by pictures she’s taken by cell
phone). Even after I’ve conceded
& turned the always on setting
to only motion triggered, texts
continue with their hint of under-
lying hostility, the threat
we will be reported to some
branch of the authorities
apparently with jurisdiction
over the manner in which this
uncontainable element is dispersed
through store-bought conveyances
of molded plastic & simple
wiring— additionally because
I’ve pressed my right to determine
for my own level of comfort
that it’s the longer, ten-
minute duration I’d prefer
rather than five, for the light
to remain on if triggered.
In these times of nervous
uncertainty, it’s more
than the fear of squirrels
accidentally setting off
the sensors than it is
of active prowlers skulking
about, trying doors & windows,
breaking into homes & garages.
It’s hinted that we’d be
better off with firearms,
but we don’t own any. Were I
the trigger-happy sort, I’d
have unfriended her on social
media by now— this nonce verb,
actually first used in 1659
by a British clergyman,
but not then meaning
the removal of someone from
a list of friends & contacts.
Who could find fault with
light itself, girdling & making
friendly the dark passages?

The laws of physics say that two
objects cannot occupy the same

space at the same time, but there are
forces that continue to pull at you,

asking you to prove the principle wrong,
asking you to abandon your place on this

continent, buy a plane ticket, rearrange
your life and whoosh over to the other

side of the world where there are
others waiting for you to fix

their lives, their fortunes, their
crumbling houses. And you’ve come

to the conclusion that the laws
of physics are indifferent or they

don’t really understand the ways
other parts of the material

universe work, especially those
occupied by immigrants, all of you

in the diaspora, everyone who still
somehow calls somewhere else home

and is reluctant to give oneself
completely to the present, even past

the hour of raising one’s hand
in allegiance to a new flag.

And isn’t it something to realize
as well that in this day and age,

fewer schoolchildren know about
Geography than you did growing up,

memorizing the capitals of states
and countries as though your lives

depended on it, reciting in a class-
room through frigid northern winters

the names of sunny climes, their
agricultural products, landmarks,

population; the seasons, wet and dry,
that did or didn’t correspond to your own.

She was born in the year of the Ox

when the ground was hard and nothing

grew except for vines and bittermelon

From a yellowing photograph a child

stared back clutching a false bouquet

lifted from an empty can of milk powder

She was born in a year when photographs

were no longer taken from behind a velvet drape

Instead a man held a flash above his head

and counted or counted over

When called upon in school she hung her head

or looked at her shoes while reciting the times table

One could stretch the coils of telephone wire

just like the tendrils of certain green vegetables

In the ground there are still so many

homely but unkillable things

Coal and potatoes quartz and raw ore