Triolet: Climate change

Temperatures swing from one extreme to another:
drifts of powdered snow in the west, tidal surges;
fires raging across Australia, winter in summer---
Temperatures swing from one extreme to another
as oceans rise and ice caps soften like butter. 
Into the ports crawl oil-spilling barges
as temperatures swing from one extreme to another:
drifts of powdered snow in the west, tidal surges.

Movie Marathon, 1968

In Malcolm Square, we emerged after the theatre’s last
full show into the flashing blue lights and blare 
of a police squad car. Father had called in 
an almost missing persons report— My recently retired
schoolteacher aunt, visiting from out of town, taking
to heart the advice she’d read in a magazine about 
the importance of keeping busy every waking moment 
so as to prevent one’s faculties from deteriorating, decided 
she and I would go out and try to watch as many movies 
as we could in one day. I felt like her accomplice in crime;
her sidekick, all grown up like Bess or George to Nancy 
Drew in those dog-eared library mysteries I loved to read
after school. There’s one where they find what look like bones
inside a piece of Chinese pottery, or an ideogram for Help!
They follow a trail of clues to an abandoned farmhouse—
Who knew there was a family held in there, maybe 
without papers; “illegals” forced to forge rare blue-
and-white designs on vases and china that would be sold
to unsuspecting collectors?  People are always saying things
like “It was right under your nose” or “In the plain
light of day.” I want to know, though, why father thought
we’d gone missing; if he thought we’d skipped town. 
What exactly went through his mind that he had to call
the police? When they shone a flashlight at my aunt’s
face and mine and said Excuse me Ma’am, are you 
the sister of Attorney Aguilar, and is that girl his 
daughter? I wish she’d said something like No,
I’m Princess Urduja and this is my lady-in-waiting
and the entertainment in this town is terrible! They went
into the theatre lobby to make a phone call (this was
in the days before mobile devices), then came out
clearly suppressing their laughter. One of them had
a nose like a misshapen carrot, and the other had
a face as porous as a dry pomelo. If there were 
Instagram or Snapchat then, I might’ve taken a photo
for my feed, to caption LOL busted! But it was the sixties;
the world seemed very different then, not like something
out of “Law & Order, SVU” where everyone could be a rapist 
or pimp or serial killer, whether or not they’re related 
to you. But come to think of it, evil isn’t original to our
time; what am I thinking? When I was in first grade,
a classmate’s mother had gone missing; a few
days later, they found her body hacked to pieces: 
stuffed into a cardboard box, then shoved under a bed.
I heard the story from my parents: something about
a business partner, a debt, an attempt to collect. 
My aunt refused the offer of a ride from the cops.
She hailed a cab, talking all the way home about John
Wayne in “The Green Berets” which we’d seen at noon;
and about Paul and his friends in “All Quiet on the Western 
Front,” who knew nothing of life except what they’d given
of it to war. Perhaps, she was thinking Can’t a grown woman, 
newly widowed, use up what remains of her life however
she sees fit? At the door, my father, waiting, said her name:
Sofia! Turning to me she smiled and said, Go to bed, it’s late.
 
 

Apology/Not Apology

 
"A Duke University professor who warned
Chinese students against communicating
in their native language and urged them
to speak English instead has stepped down
as the head of a master's program and
apologized after her emails sparked outrage
on campus and on social media. . . .
In her message sent to students on Sunday,

Megan Neely wrote: "I deeply regret the hurt
my email has caused. It was not my intention.
Moving forward, it is my sincerest wish
that every student in the Master of
Biostatistics program is successful
in all of their endeavors."
~ CNN, 29 January 2019
 
 
 
You are good 
at nanoparticle 
physics, you are 
good at institute
        of technology.

You learn to skillfully
lift pipettes of potential 
biohazards to your lips and 
at the very last moment
        let go. 

Enter your findings
in our ledgers: left
to right, top to bottom,
while the egg timers tick
        quietly on formica.

You are a rapid fire
calculator evolved from
abacus pre-software so now 
let us teach you how
        to properly roll

your Rs. Sorry not 
sorry. You might feel bad, 
but understand I am good-
intentioned and you 
        so lucky 

to be second author 
on nearly a dozen 
papers now! The break 
room has a microwave 
        cover to keep 

complex oils 
of lunches from drifting 
into the lab atmosphere,
and a potted plant 
for absorbing quiet
        conversation.

These are the articles 
a and the; insert them
to clarify such a beautiful
polymer of universal 
        language. Comma,

comma, semicolon, colon.
At home you can speak, but
here this is how you land
the big grant. The grade.
This is
         about the job. 




 

Timbre

 
You build a life: plant a hedge
         or a fence, shore up the stonework
that runs around the house. Under all
         of this, what they call foundation
What is it that trembles the wood
         when trucks and buses run over 
the road? Before you wake 
         in the morning, before you fall
asleep: the sounds of your father 
         shuffling through rooms, testing
doors and windows, checking the locks.  



 

In response to Via Negativa: Handshook.

Landscape, with Mountain Road and Stories of Defection

~ "The project [to build Kennon Road- the Benguet Road] began in 1903 
and opened for travel on January 29, 1905. It was originally called
the Benguet Road and later renamed in honor of its builder, Col. Lyman
Walter Vere Kennon of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."

To carve a road winding 5,000 feet upward onto faces
of limestone and clay would bring you to your knees.

Convoys of laborers, soldiers on swaying scaffolds
deployed to bring the mountain range to its knees.

Any war's a big temp agency: jobs from artillery 
loader to bootblack for generals while on your knees.

In between skirmishes, fanning away mosquitoes.
Relentless heat, rolling trousers up to the knees. 

In the camps, fights as children chanted Chinese-
Japanese-Filipino-Negro.
A boiling up, from the knees. 

The story of "Tanabata's Wife" is set against this time. Foreigners
settled in the foothills, tending to cabbage farms on their knees.

It's said "Buffalo Soldiers" defected, wanting to stay behind in
the cool green hills. If found they were to be beheaded on their knees.

The story circulates about Private David Fagen, who joined Aguinaldo to fight
American soldiers--- All the colored ones, they wanted brought to their knees.

1899: an Indianapolis newspaper calls for "Negroes to quit claiming kindred with
every black face from Hannibal down. Hannibal was no Negro, nor was Aguinaldo."   

Back in the mainland, Twain wrote To the Person Sitting in Darkness, in which
he cut down the lie of the "Blessings of Civilization," bringing it to its knees. 

Some stories say Fagen wasn't subdued, nor beheaded; that he'd lived
further north, raised a family, grown old. Kept both his head and knees.  


Makers

"I make you a box of darkness with a bird in its heart."
~ Terrance Hayes


Car and computer parts, a third
        of all firearms that wind up in
the hands of your hunters and school
        shooters. Buddha's yellow hand,
buddha's green apple lying at the bottom
        of the bin because none of you know
how to eat them. In factories, workers young  
        as sixteen bevel the edges of your
new smartphones. And in sweatshops, we
        push collar folds quick under
mechanized sewing needles. Who remembers 
        which plants make the indigo dye,
which the yellow? Our mothers taught us cool,
        clear water for the rinse. Winking
seed-pearls distract from the pains
        of our long labor. Sometimes
the labels include our names. Sometimes,
        we embroider a letter or cry for help.

My relationship

to food is nothing
you'd consider basic
spiced with soy
fish sauce sriracha
vinegar & pink
peppercorns

to vegetables is wild 
abundance in the backyard,  
green coils of sayote
vines, rampant runners 
of sweet potato
& frilled bean

to pain is Sister
Trinitas saying hold out
your fingers & you
should be glad you're not
in purgatory yet as I wait
for the ruler to descend  
 
to love is I didn't know
it's not the end
when there are children
it's not the end when you lose
a house but it's the end when he
asks you to give up yourself


Given

The past is a dream wracked by fevers 
and unknown blistering pains, a second

name you are given to confuse the gods
so generous with gifts of sickness

and delirium. Camphor oil and vapors
in the green room, steam from a kettle.

House lizards free-fall from the ceiling
to kiss the floor. Secrets wrap around

your forearm like bangles, thin and 
swappable. Who gave you that ring,

that missal, that musical chain?
Am I yours, am I yours, am I truly

yours?
You went from one to the other
around the circle of kin. They were 

too busy braiding each other's hair
or picking seeds out of their teeth.

They rolled and stacked tiles of ivory
on tables, sweeping and gathering.



 
 

Landscaping

~ Norfolk Botanical Gardens

Yesterday it was calving
    of glaciers. Today, it is
the arms of sick starfish
    melting into pools of jelly
on the beach. Sea urchins
   have eaten a giant banquet
of kelp in warm ocean water.
   I wonder how many people
ate of the largest and most
   expensive bluefin tuna
purchased after the new year
   in Japan. When we went
for a walk we saw a white
   wading bird out at the end
of the dock. Behind the bank,
   a row of loblolly pines; 
crabapple, horsetail, white oak.
   Bulbs waking in the ground
too early in season, a disc
   of brittle ice sealing
the surface of a bamboo well.
   We can't tell what month
and in what year we'll meet
   our end and step onto that
raked pathway to the gods.
   See how the sunlight breaks
into shadows scattered on stone;
   how the mouths of orchids open
in their beds, remembering rain. 
   
   

Tenure

What occasions the particular flare
of memory as I open my mouth
to the dentist's scraping, the rough
sound of the handheld electric burr
and calculus pulling plaque deposits 
off hard-to-reach back teeth? Of all
things, I think about the total
number of years I've been married
(counting the first time), and how
it now exceeds the number of years 
I've worked at my current job. In either 
case, tenure's precarious: something 
arrived at through daily calibrations 
of teaching, research, service. 
Ideally, each must feed into and not 
crowd out the other. What of love? 
Ideally, the heart and the head 
and the hands do their thing in concert. 
And though the premature display 
of valentine hearts and candy in drug-
stores sing every variation of two, 
the labor going into any kind of work
still singularly comes from you. How 
and what do you have to shoulder 
every day? What makes it even  
possible to carry what we do?