In Maytime, we leaned out of second-
floor windows to wait for a procession
of saints to pass our street. A band of rag-
tag brass led with solemn march, the off
tones somehow tender to the ear. Such
pageantry for which the neighbors put
together statues’ robes finished with a bit
of velvet trim, lace rick-rack at the cuff;
their crowns repainted with metallic sheen.
And bearing each aloft, a comely schoolgirl
hailed by us as queen and court: each gowned
and rouged as though the road to heaven
or at least to church was a kind of red
carpet, the people on each side occasionally
reaching out to touch a graven cheek or garment
hem, wrangling for a sliver of the holy.
In response to Via Negativa: Angler.
The pump for water, the mossy step. The door we couldn’t close in damp weather, the screen coming loose from its frame. The landlord warned about the basement: how the laundry machines were in the far corner, but there might be loose hardware strewn across the floor. We tried to clean as best as we could, thought it was hard to see by the light from one dim bulb hanging from the ceiling. Winter mornings, we’d wake to find bread bags chewed through on the counter— crumbs trailing toward the gap at the bottom of the kitchen door. Maintenance crew came by to set some bait on a flimsy trap; they returned a day later when we phoned. It had caught something— Roof rat, they said, donning rubber gloves to pick up the creature taking shallow breaths in the corner. Its nose was a pink nerve twitching, its small dark eyes signaling that it knew now we could not live together.
There is a ticking underneath
everything— by which I mean
not only the dark pulling
at the edges, but also the light
reflecting off the surface.
Sometimes I tell myself
it’s only a crow in the yard,
savaging the last fruit
that clung past summer—
Other times I watch small
dark serifs travel across the sky
and wonder how a body can know
when it’s time to fold itself
into the long, hard distance.
In response to Via Negativa: Reference point.
Fog and rain. The stream runs brown—
It rankles to think my thinking
may senselessly inhere, be merely
I do not mean to say desire is everything.
But earth will do to exhume a heart.
My nostalgia is never a lovely wishing but instead
soldiers marching through yellow fields, dizzy with nausea.
Dress of milk and wire.
Let us eat what makes us holy
before the next war comes.
[source texts: Dave Bonta, Sylvia Curbelo, J. Allyn Rosser, Donika Kelly, Nicole Cooley, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Emily Jungmin Yoon, Ghassan Zaqtan (trans. Fady Joudah)]
In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.
Skies are the color of blue slate, waters the tint of a camphor jar when the fisherman pulls out his coldly gleaming catch. This is the moment that divides before and after: What is your greatest wish? We know that even as he takes out the barb and throws back the fish, the edge of the sky recedes and grows more distant. His wife will make him go back more than once to ask for a boon. The stucco on their walls is a flaked and dirty white; the floor, littered with poultry droppings, the smell of things that don’t fly very far. The story never says much about her, or why she can’t seem to keep a clean house, though it has only one room and a window overlooking the outhouse. Technically they don’t own the land, but it’s at the edge of town and so far no one has made any trouble. Who can blame her for wanting a little more room? She’s had her eye on the adjacent lot, wants to plant vegetables, fruit, and flowers, sell them in the market. Whereas the scope of his ambition has always fallen across that surface of the water where he can stand, knee-deep, no further— whatever doesn’t escape through the holes in the net, he gets to keep. He doesn’t question this arrangement, believing it builds character. The fish catches both of them by surprise. Or rather, not the fish, but the possibility that it could be something more than itself. Like anything that might be equated with fate, it either changes them forever, or fixes them even more firmly in place. Overhead, millions of tiny lights adrift in that inverted bowl.
We were both on the same train, the countryside steadily unrolling green through a humid morning. There are some kinds of uncertainty that don’t ask for resolution. Like not being able to remember who fell asleep first. Or if we bought from hawkers a bag of roasted corn, or a packet of boiled quail eggs. In those days there were no toilets, not even a separate baggage coach. Someone played music from a portable radio. We were on our way to the beach, or returning from there. Everyone was on some kind of holiday though it was the middle of the week. The aisles were speckled with little bits of sand— gritty sugar sifting into our sandals. The sea was a postcard announcing itself before we arrived: its mineral smell, and then at last thin white lines of moving text glimpsed through trees.
In response to Via Negativa: Sandbar.
Under every surface, the tooth of a buried
word: forgotten names for moss and salt,
schist, blunt artifacts of skin and bone
shed by reptiles in the trees’ blue shadow.
Small papery hulls and speckled stones,
a body once grafted to its exoskeleton.
In the cool interior of a nine-sided tower,
once we listened for the spirit of absent
choirs, a chant that called all doors open
to everyone who sought refuge there. Where
are the seeds the wind bore from the old
country, and what offerings do the dead
most favor? Sometimes, in our petulance, we
forget to leave them a dish on the counter,
a cup of water. Crawling through narrow
tunnels, it’s hard to track the vein of ore.
Some days, there’s a trace of metal in the air;
if not, a tenderness: night scents soaked with
the aura of distance— all that points
to heartsickness as well as destination,
pouring out of the flowers’ white throats.
In response to Via Negativa: Lexicology.
The taste of air on the tongue; remembrance
of water before it swelled with dying coral.
From inside a cocoon of flotation chambers,
easy to speak of concern for the oceans’
disappearance. From within detergent commercials,
little narratives of rescue— birds slicked
with oil, unable to fly. When windows are
tightly sealed it’s easy to love the sound
rain makes: falling through cups in a copper
chain, down into a barrel. The fat of the land,
something to purchase from warehouse clubs.
At night, on the road, when beams cut through
the darkness: the shapes of furtive creatures,
following trails of disappearing scent.
In response to Via Negativa: Bird-lover.
Tonight I manage to fill two shopping bags
with books: I’m thinning my shelves,
aiming for lighter, for less— Tomorrow
I’ll start going through closets, shed
old suits and shirts from their hangers,
fold and give them away. I imagine a house
with an airier center, uncluttered floors;
tidy drawers, before the immigrant’s penchant
for saving every little thing given or found
for a rainy day— No more assorted knick-
knacks in corners or rolls of used gift
wrap in bags. From such deep-seated memory
of want and hardship, this habit of hoarding
tinned food, good stuff, for use on another day
—that future during which we imagined we’d sit
and finally rest from our labors, from all the days
making bargain after bargain, figuring the sums
of hard choice against pleasure, ambition, or need.
In response to Via Negativa: Rooted.
past the phase of charm-will-get-
you-past-the-bouncer at the door?
I don’t like being told I can’t
wear large hoop earrings or gold lipstick.
Don’t you ever wish you could dive
from on high into the world’s wide swoop?
Climbing up long narrow stairs used to frighten me—
I’d pause in the middle and look back down.
But a ripcord attached
to a large silk balloon is a different thing.
One day I’ll spill out the side
of a plane just to try a kind of weightlessness.
I close my eyes— every day,
so much at which to practice being fearless.
And in the distance, fields or crop
circles or terraces becoming legible like writing.
In response to Via Negativa: Stroke.