Do you remember how often I used to dream of searching through houses not our own for a bathroom? I pushed in door after door, following what I thought was an audible plinking. And no, it wasn't dark. Or at least, not yet. In some rooms, bedclothes were mounded on sleeping forms. In others, the shape of a crackling fire. Long wooden tables with woven runners, salt shakers and stone bowls of a flecked blue shade reminding me of river water. Is this about the body holding in, until it can no longer? When it does, it wants to excuse itself or keep others at bay. A last door always opens upon a view of fields, or a hill. Light hovers. Wild grass, waist-high, makes another room through which a body could find its way.
How many turns in place on the school playground—your head flung upward, your eyes looking straight at the steeple of the church next to the gym— before you're gripped with vertigo or tip ground- ward? Once, on TV, a seismologist offered: what if, between the big magnitude quakes that flatten cities, disrupt our lives and push lava out of volcano cones, the tiny, daily tremors beneath the earth are too fast, too close together so they register on the needle as a line we think is flat? There are towns with roofs still sunk in hardened clay; buried belfries and plaster saints whose cloth robes have turned the color of dust, whose heads now resemble shredded dandelions. Stippled indentations on walls mark the places where birds careened out of the mouths of cliffs, colliding with their own displacement. I can't imagine how it is that a tortoise holds up the pillar of the world; how a legless snail holds tight to this surface of trembling filaments.
You remember afternoons of warm summer rain washing the clay walls clean. Towels folded into a drawer; the lift of wings. Even the sounds of the city felt softer. A baker rolled out a carpet of dough on the table; the noodle man twisted sweet ropes that lengthened and divided between his hands. What you couldn't see, but knew. One side of the street in sunlight, the other lined with papery shadows of cut-out leaves. You've dreamed of a tree gleaming like a lighthouse, radius of white blossoms spiraling; and all your loves rising through the air, wide open, to catch them.
Imagine a long train, every coach a dining car. Imagine the sparks firing up each cell of its engines. Imagine a pole strung with clear, red- orange lanterns. Every thing's a mouth, every mouth's bobbin or an appetite. O bell-shaped medusae ringing through the ocean night: would I forget my place in this domino-scatter of work and desire? Only a hot plumb line cuts through our pronouns: I, you, we, us. Each polyp's colony can't exist except in the blur with others.
See here; there's always a story of two birds. One of them's bound to another; the other, too, though secretly. I have two of them that I keep in a miniature house. They eat little squares of bread dipped in too-sweet coffee, skewers of meat grilled over a fire. In the afternoons they unfold pattern paper, bright bits of cotton and silk. I watch as they twirl in front of a long cheval mirror, or pace each other while pawing the floor. One does up her hair with pins and flowers. The other sobs into the soup. Guess whose mouth prismed with glass. Guess whose wings were pinned in a room where sewing needles flashed. The first time you lay beneath someone you thought you heard the crumple of wings, felt the scalding on your tongue.
~ after "The Feathered Cloud" by Armando Valero Even the blue-veined dragonflies in the grass have heard his approach. The owls hold conference among themselves, unsure of how to break the news; their eyes, soft brown and human-like, tell me they know. The woman gestures, one hand near her lips and the other as if drawing a curtain aside. That's all we can really do until the rider looms closer on the plain. We can see the sparks from his horse's hooves; then there's no mistaking his cloak of bitumen or his slate, marked with names and numbers.
"Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me..." ~ Janice N. Harrington I've been reading about transformation again: all those women who writhed on a hillside then looked upon their own limbs scaled over with bark; or their hair fanned out and leafing with green— How, in the throes of an agony (some god in hot pursuit), they cried out: and this trans- formation was the answer they were given. But what if the girl was running away from a different sort of god, one who didn't want her body nor her capture but only wanted to make her pay for the audacity of drinking from the cup of her own desire. Every night, her mouth is the mirror on which petals of breath rise and fall on the damp pillows. Like her, all I want now is to stay, embraced, inside that cove of air.
I think I could stay cocooned from the world without being absolved To be brave like that as long as a pulse hums the outlines of shapes we've made Trying to raise a life out of life arranging our myths in such plain vessels
When you grow up in a city with a man- made lake, you do not learn to swim. You learn to lean into the oars and pull, all the while facing the creaky dock. This is one way to move forward, to set into motion, to look as if you know where you're going. Overhead, a sky filters through willow leaves. Streetlamps are only streetlamps and not a row of gavels preparing judgment. Your ancestors still sleep under bedspreads tufted with fog and pine needles. Unlike you, they never wanted to climb over the teacup's rim. You know a god doesn't linger there or strike a spoon, giving off lightning sparks. Your eyes have learned to adjust to light; your hands, between the makeshift screen and the source, still remember how to make the shapes for dragonfly and bird, fish and trembling hare.
Gypsum and karst my consonants; pine and mountain-fed streams, my vowels. My syntax and speech of copper-mined and gold- veined hills; the craggy, rain-soaked vowels that won’t stop stippling the ceilings. My tutors: stonecroppings and terraces, ochre-traced sunflowers; the flint-tapping call of the mountain shrike. My avatars: stick shift jeepneys, five of them crowded into two-lane roads. My aubades from hot bean curd vendors, the molasses of their song. Vesper of unfertilized duck eggs tucked into warming cloths. In the oldest café, click of chess pieces and rumor of coffee grounds mingled with eggshell bits. In the distance, ghosts of Dominican friars and Kempeitai walking ruined labyrinths. My countrymen: low-moving cloud rats; carnival queens and Benguet lilies. My harbor of monsoons and February cabbage-frost. Monuments, mudslides and bus graveyards; soft gauze of mummy scarves. My conjugation of vegetable carts, hefts of burlap slung into the air. I walked across the city as if from the front of a small monograph to the very end then turned the pages again, my feet leaving trails of inky sludge.