Luisa A. Igloria

It’s fall, season of the apple— iconic
fruit of this America, mounds of excess
littering the grounds of orchards
from want of migrant hands to pick
the harvest clean: their red the banner
of every girl or woman who tips her head up
to the knowledge of her power— which means
she can see the way things work in the world,
and chooses not to be shamed any longer
for calling it. For what did the hissing
in the leaves tell her that she didn’t
already know, or the laughter behind
closed doors when she ran, groping
her way out? Don’t pretend you don’t
know what I want,
said every snake
in the grass. Survival means no one
dies, but someone is forced to take
the fall: the smallest bird, the lowest
fruit— though the fruit isn’t to blame
for its sheen, nor the star for marking
the place where its light was last seen.

I wanted to have a retinue, to be
married, to do. I wanted a house

and some kind of picket fence.
A knife, one of several, in a block.

A plate of crystal with facets cut
into its cheeks. Be careful what

you wish— a button undone
can lead to more buttons than

your fingers can undo. An eggshell
dome cracks under the soft

weight of a spoon. Is there a double
yolk inside that guesthouse for two?

I practiced signing a new name
until it learned me by heart. I shucked

it off but somewhere, there are books
and things stamped with that shape.

I am always trying to make my way

to that clearing where the gods

hewn from wood sit patiently

watching over their stores of grain—

They fix me with a look I can feel

no matter how far I still am

from that goal: by the shiver

that runs down my spine I know the light

cupped by each tree late in the day

is beaten almost to its thinnest;

a sheet that ripples, numen in each

dent and vein. And I am draped

in the cloth of everything woven before

my time: syllables issue from my lips

in sleep, whose meanings I ache for

all the hours I’m awake. Take me

in your arms, I beg of the unseen.

They only stroke my cheek the same

way I was nudged as a child, made

to keep up on a path whose end

kept vanishing in the just up ahead.

In old photographs, the formal
subject is often always posed:
holding an open parasol, standing
midway on a staircase or with one
foot on the running board of a car.
One could say, a favorite subtext
is certainty: everything finding
its place in the world, everything
pressed into service for a theme:
pulchritude, or coming of age;
and after, the ceremonies of coupling
and aging. The baby in its christening
smock, doll-like in the tiny casket.
The hero coming back bemedalled
after war: one arm in a sling,
one trouser leg hiding the shadow
of an exploded limb. Flowers
or a fake trellis in the background:
as if the figures were mere adornment
to the true subject which is time.

and the houses of stone. But where

is the history of wood, the language

of vines and fronds that weave into

crevices where no nails or beams

can go; manifesto of the trellis

around which tendrils vine into

the indistinguishable? You are

as enamored of space that allows itself

to be held, as by that which is always

spiraling away in a column of smoke or some

other fleeting signature. Of the past

and the future, where you are is either

consequence or precondition. But

you want to insist it is both: how

the skin of one touches the belly

of the other, how there is a mouth

on the nape, a finger on the pulse,

a coin spinning in the sun to pave

the water in the basin with copper;

a break in the roof that lets in

rain, through which the light is also

an artifice that practices gathering.

Mother cleaned the spare room, changed
the sheets, put the best folded towels
on the bed, mopped the bathroom tiles

in preparation for father’s cousin
the congressman bringing his querida,
his Korean mistress, to our home.

He’d agreed we’d house her for the week
or until primo’s wife cooled off and stopped
accosting hotel managers in town or waiting

for a lobby ambush. Like an act in a soap
opera: the furtiveness, the nighttime visits
during which mother was curt with father

(not more, as she valued her sense
of good breeding)— inferring that
what went down with one

could very well be her fate.
Her friend the engineer’s wife caused
a scandal just weeks before: crazed,

running into the foam in her nightgown
with her husband’s gun and threatening
to kill herself unless he left

his whores. I learned querida
means dearest one, darling; but like
the tiny loop and flourish in the Q

it also meant the female you lusted
after outside the circle that signified
your marriage. This one had skin

like porcelain, a tiny waist, hair long
and dark held in place by one gold barette.
How old was she? Before she was taken away,

mother had softened, but only
toward her. They’d talk in lowered voices,
dunk cookies in their tea. She took the other

woman’s measure, promised she’d sew her
a proper dress: simple sheath, jewel neck-
line; no zippers, only hooks and eyes.

The viral video shows a white woman speaking up
for two hispanic women being harassed by another
white woman at a grocery store for chatting

in Spanish in the cereal aisle. No you don’t,
she says forcefully, marching after her
and taking out her phone to call the police.

The other woman sputters something about respect,
which she demands but ironically can’t give to other
humans just because they don’t look or sound

like her. And It’s my country, as if this whole
continent had a picket fence winding around it,
a gated driveway, a two-car garage: one book

for family and friends and another for the help—
one really meaning separate, apart, not unified.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

The lab tech asks me
to make a fist after she swabs
the inside of my arm, tightening
the tourniquet.

When the needle goes
in and the blood rises, she asks
if I’ve made arrangements for
a living will, an advance

directive. I can’t think
of what to say to the dark
swirl of viscous liquid pouring
as if without effort from me

into the glass vials, to
the fold of gauze pressed
on the site and covered with
a band-aid. What do we do

with things that move
forward despite anything?
From Middle to Old
English: willen, wollen;

meaning to will, to choose,
to wish. As in to be seized
by the desire for morning light,
wood smells, cold salt air.

It takes a while
before the eye feels
comfortable
navigating the streets
in a once familiar
and now foreign city—

It wants to take in
landmark after landmark
based on emotional vibrations
set off by certain signs or
whether the sea
can be glimpsed
from a lookout point.

Other than that, each junction
is its own destination: stops
on the way that vendors try
to make bearable with offerings
of hot peanuts or boiled eggs,
or the sweet-charred smell of corn.

A friend buys every single item
lifted to the grimy bus
window— isn’t that the point,
he says. Like church
pilgrimages made in Lent:
when the faithful touch
their lips to every statue
that might warm to life.

meaning a bird and its young,
low in the underbrush. Meaning

to tremble in the face
of the oncoming. And miniature

speckled worlds, boiled
and packed six to a narrow

plastic bag knotted at one end,
salt rolled in a bit of torn

newsprint tucked at the top,
like a secret. Children hawk

them to passengers boarding
buses for the humid city—

They eat them without noticing
how easily the shells crack

and peel off like a rind; how each
one can then be swallowed whole.