our fathers tell of their wars:

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
 
of living among 
the ghosts of
their dying;

             of frogs 
             they scooped out of ditches
             and made sing in their bellies.

vines stretched along
ruined fences where dirt
was betrothed to clay.

             what of their papers?
             did they have gold teeth or rings
             to trade for rice or fish?

of those returned:
one of them becomes a barber.
one of them slits animals open

             to look for their missing hearts.
             one of them sits by the sea
             folding his hands into roofs

or a wedding veil. one 
imagines immortality as an island 
of ants patched on hot asphalt—
  
              god tries to read 
              their letters but can't
              unlock the code.

I read the body’s discourse in every creature:

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

the way it lists or limps,
the way it holds itself upright
or folds in half along some
hidden hinge.
The odors it exudes,
like fruit ripening in the dark
or in the depths of a paper bag.
Every hair tells of its sorrow.
Every broken nail and which side
its hair is parted: of the unrelenting
stories of war.  It shuts the door
and latches the windows
before it comes to nuzzle
at the softening light.
It doesn’t want others to see
how it sheds mottled skin—
how difficult it is to leave itself
behind in order to sit
simply and without
need for further apology.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Interpreter.

Understudy

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
      Sick too many days and nights, in
and out of hospitals before her seventh
      birthday: so after taking counsel, 
the women in the household lit their candles,
      poured their oil and blessed 
waters into a bowl. Chanting around the bed,
      they fashioned for her another name:
disfigured, unmusical, difficult to pronounce.
      This name limped with her through
the house, embroidered its odd syllables 
      on her towel and pillowcase.  
And the gods, confused, finally left through
      the open windows to find some fairer
child on whom to lavish their dark affections. 
 

Binhi*

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Silene stenophylla


It took 32,000 years for you to thaw
from the ice shelves at Duvanny Yar,

for you to flower again out of the fruit
and its seed. Narrow-leaved campion, awake

now from your long fossil sleep, at what point
did you give up counting the bars that built up

layer by layer in the cell that housed you?
Each of your white petals is clear-edged,  

as if a stencil lifted up in reverse, 
washed with the simple color of certain 

stone houses in villages by the sea. 
The ice couldn't kill you, nor the more 

terrifying frost of darkness. I don't know 
how long I could hold myself still, or quiet 

the boil in my cells; if I could outlive 
the solitude that I know can protect one 

from the onslaughts of weather and every
kind of unknowing. Even in sleep, my body

gives itself away with its little spasms,
its miasma of dreams. I close my eyes

in one country, then row in the blurry
current toward the island shape of another. 

It's always there, half-hidden in the jambolan-
tinted distance, though the world rocks like

a cradle on the back of a tortoise, 
its delicate roots clawing the air.

***

Binhi (Tagalog/Filipino) - seed

ILIW

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
To estrange; to take the once- 
familiar and see how circumstance

bevels it, throws it in a different
light. At noon, the fountain pours 

its brightness one shade cooler. All 
the pigeons flock there, and in that

other time, children who heard it 
calling their name. I lean my cheek

against the window glass— how thin
the broken distance between here, now, 

and those years before everything 
we touched left a smudge on the world.  

Greetings from the next life

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
“Greetings from my next life in which I am a professional 
Pokémon player.” - Matthew Salesses, 
10 July 2020, Twitter @salesses



Do you ever wonder about the boy
      who fell into the gorilla pit 
at the Brookfield Zoo in 1996,
      and was picked up and cradled by 
the female gorilla Binti Jua?
      The unnamed boy spent four days 
in the hospital with injuries to his face
      and head, but none of the newspaper 
articles suggest that he didn't survive.
      He must be in his 20s now: past the legal 
age to drink, to vote for the first time. 
      Did he spend most afternoons of his youth 
at the library, reading through the stacks 
      but avoiding the shelves of National 
Geographic and Field & Stream?  
      Does he have an adventurous side,
one that admires the Turkish 
      paraglider who rigged a whole 
living room set— red upholstered 
      couch, side table with lamp, TV 
stand— so he could sail over the sea
      at Ölüdeniz while clicking the remote
and eating a bag of chips? Some of us
      take a wrong turn in an unfamiliar town 
or get into some stupid scrape like 
      shoplifting mascara at the drugstore.
Some of us, trying to outrun a red
      light, won't see the semi coming. 
Meanwhile in another country, children  
      just walking home from school get caught 
in the violent crossfire in the war on drugs—
      which proves that the real animals
are never the ones in a cage. In such cases, 
      when the identity of the killer is unknown,
the family puts a yellow chick and some grain 
      on the coffin's glass so it might peck 
at the conscience of the guilty one. I want them
      to shed copious tears on the casket,
to make the spirit return soon for vengeance.
        


Resurgence

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
A saucerful of warmed coconut oil, green
eucalyptus leaves steeped in bath water:

threshold you have to pass, stepping out
of the country of illness and back into

the ordinary world. Before that, the looped,
confusing paths of fever delirium. Hours

during which the parched throat can only
utter the sounds of one terrible syllable. 

Someone needs to crack an egg into a bowl 
of water to see which way the bloody eye 

is pointing, which cloud sinks to the bottom 
to never rise again. Someone needs to be 

saved from the fishbone cutting unknown 
names on the walls of their throat. 

Should you dream of every tooth in your mouth 
falling like citadels into sand, you must wait   

for however long it takes the water to clear. 
You must lie on your bed like a panel of gauze,  

like a rib of interlaced fern. Let the light 
which has touched everything including darkness

enter without resistance and search you again.

Koan: What is the Sound of Silent Screaming?

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
- "Japan's theme parks have banned screaming
because screaming spreads coronavirus. 
'Please scream inside your heart.'" 

Each day I waver between toast or no toast, 
rice or a careful salad, shower or a quick 
sponge bath. The animal of my various longings 
is the same shy creature unsure of how to speak 
its love language so it might be understood. 
Some days are me in the middle of drying my hair;
then something trips and I have to go downstairs 
to open the circuit breaker box. A colleague
told me her aunt went in for minor surgery 
which was successful, but died after catching 
the coronavirus while in the hospital— 
which makes me even more fearful of ever 
seeing again the people I love who live 
on the other side of the world. When I can't 
sleep I think sometimes of starting 
to bundle up things I would like 
my children to have when I die: handwoven 
textiles brought back from the last trip 
I made to my hometown, woven baskets 
with no real use except to remind me 
of the smoky fragrance of reeds 
pulled tight and close by hands sure 
at what they do. Instead of gold 
or diamonds, I have a few beads threaded 
with horsehair, dangling from thin wafers 
of mother-of-pearl: for I have always been 
the fool carrying only a burlap sack 
into the world, believing that shadows 
will fall away from a jaunty step, convinced 
the snarling dog won't snap its chains 
at the first chance and lunge at my neck.
Zero is the number on its jersey—meaning
everything to gain, or everything to lose.
But isn't that the same thing? Whether you
scream into the wind in the middle of the park
or in the depths of your secret labyrinth, 
someone else is driving the chariot 
or turning the wheel. Lovers kiss in delirium 
at the edge of a cliff. The wanderer keeps 
walking toward the mountain; orange flames 
in his lantern flicker like tongues
desperate to break free of a mouth.

  
 

You Can’t Talk To Us Like That

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
~ after Kathleen Graber


America, I've got a touch of cabin fever too 
& wish I could go to a favorite restaurant again,
walk down a short flight of steps into the cool
brick-lined interior of what used to be a speak-
easy. Wouldn't it be great to order a dozen each 
of the local oyster varieties, some bread 
& butter, a nice pull of something bubbly. 
We'd sing happy birthday or happy anniversary 
while clinking glasses & taking group pictures. 
But what if there's a man at a nearby table 
whose hatred boils over at the sight of anyone—
but especially brown people like us—having 
the gumption to reach for a little joy 
during this time of sickness & despair, 
which sometimes feels worse than death? 
America, he thinks we cannot be in the same
room with him. So we get video rolling. We 
ask him to repeat the hateful obscenities 
he's hurled our way, so he can be held
accountable & shown out of the building. 
We hold our ground, America. After all 
the years our kind broke their backs 
& your hard soil to bring fruit & grain 
to your table just so you can put a clean 
white cloth & a crystal service on it; 
after graveyard shifts during which
our kind daily tend to your sick 
& dying: we have the right to be here
& the wages are overdue.      
 

The Anthropologist’s Wife

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
"...We are resting now with about twenty-five bronze
figures squatted around us. These Igorot are quite
repulsive at times. You should see them eat—
they fill their mouths as full as they can stuff 
them. One of the men who have been carrying me 
is a sight to behold....He would create a sensation
anywhere in the United States." 
~ Maud Huntley Jenks, Death Stalks 
the Philippine Wilds: Letters 
of Maud (Huntley) Jenks 


 
She sits with a pamphlet in her hand

and calls it reading. We are to follow

her lead and take turns making 

these sounds.

              Today I am first. Yesterday 

I cleaned her floor with a rag and a basin 

of water. Sunday she made a face and told 

my brother to take me to the river 

where he was to scrub me 

                          with a bar of soap. 

She checks our hair and ears and clucks

at the sight of our bare feet. We know

the sounds in the forests around 

our homes: tree frogs 

                       and owls, anitos 
 
watching over us. The mumbaki taught us 

we may gather firewood in the muyong, 

but not hunt wild animals there.  

When we cut down a tree, 

                         first we are to say 

its name. She has our names confused, and so

she and her people give us new 

names in their tongue.  

My friends and I, we don't

                            correct her.

It is better that we keep our true names

to ourselves— should we fall like trees,

still we'll keep the first things 

we were given at birth.