Friday, December 17, 2021

The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer by Wendell Berry

The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer

I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often laughing at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
preparing a comeback, and can I help it?
And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
be resurrected by a piece of cake. ‘Dance,’ they told me,
and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’
I told them, ‘He’s dead.’ And when they told me
‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing every day
in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’
When they asked me would I like to contribute
I said no, and when they had collected
more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had.
When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,
and then went off by myself and did more
than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said
‘go and organize the International Brotherhood
of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing
everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.
Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
I say I don’t know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Privacy by Ada Limón


On the black wet branches of the linden,
still clinging to umber leaves of late fall,
two crows land. They say, “Stop,” and still I want
to make them into something they are not.
Odin’s ravens, the bruja’s eyes. What news
are they bringing of our world to the world
of the gods? It can’t be good. More suffering
all around, more stinging nettles and toxic
blades shoved into the scarred parts of us,
the minor ones underneath the trees. Rain
comes while I’m still standing, a trickle of water
from whatever we believe is beyond the sky.
The crows seem enormous but only because
I am watching them too closely. They do not
care to be seen as symbols. A shake of a wing,
and both of them are gone. There was no message
given, no message I was asked to give, only
their great absence and my sad privacy
returning like the bracing, empty wind
on the black wet branches of the linden.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem by Matthew Olzmann

Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem

So here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why our marriage
might work: Because you wear pink but write poems
about bullets and gravestones. Because you yell
at your keys when you lose them, and laugh,
loudly, at your own jokes. Because you can hold a pistol,
gut a pig. Because you memorize songs, even commercials
from thirty years back and sing them when vacuuming.
You have soft hands. Because when we moved, the contents
of what you packed were written inside the boxes.
Because you think swans are overrated and kind of stupid.
Because you drove me to the train station. You drove me
to Minneapolis. You drove me to Providence.
Because you underline everything you read, and circle
the things you think are important, and put stars next
to the things you think I should think are important,
and write notes in the margins about all the people
you’re mad at and my name almost never appears there.
Because you made that pork recipe you found
in the Frida Kahlo Cookbook. Because when you read
that essay about Rilke, you underlined the whole thing
except the part where Rilke says love means to deny the self
and to be consumed in flames. Because when the lights
are off, the curtains drawn, and an additional sheet is nailed
over the windows, you still believe someone outside
can see you. And one day five summers ago,
when you couldn’t put gas in your car, when your fridge
was so empty—not even leftovers or condiments—
there was a single twenty-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew,
which you paid for with your last damn dime
because you once overheard me say that I liked it.

The Space Heater by Sharon Olds

The Space Heater

On the then-below-zero day, it was on,
near the patients' chair, the old heater
kept by the analyst's couch, at the end,
like the infant's headstone that was added near the foot
of my father's grave. And it was hot, with the almost
laughing satire of a fire's heat,
the little coils like hairs in Hell.
And it was making a group of sick noises—
I wanted the doctor to turn it off
but I couldn't seem to ask, so I just
stared, but it did not budge. The doctor
turned his heavy, soft palm
outward, toward me, inviting me to speak, I
said, "If you're cold-are you cold? But if it's on
for me..." He held his palm out toward me,
I tried to ask, but I only muttered,
but he said, "Of course," as if I had asked,
and he stood up and approached the heater, and then
stood on one foot, and threw himself
toward the wall with one hand, and with the other hand
reached down, behind the couch, to pull
the plug out. I looked away,
I had not known he would have to bend
like that. And I was so moved, that he
would act undignified, to help me,
that I cried, not trying to stop, but as if
the moans made sentences which bore
some human message. If he would cast himself toward the
outlet for me, as if bending with me in my old
shame and horror, then I would rest
on his art-and the heater purred, like a creature
or the familiar of a creature, or the child of a familiar,
the father of a child, the spirit of a father,
the healing of a spirit, the vision of healing,
the heat of vision, the power of heat,
the pleasure of power.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Little Spy in My Bedroom by Yusef Komunyakaa

Little Spy in My Bedroom

What’s that ticking sound
under the red velvet sofa,
breathing a little click-song
stolen from South Africa,
perched on a windowsill
or lost in a coffin drawer
singing a half-pint of good
luck, aping such big emotion?
Whatever it is, it materialized
up here on the second floor,
as if from my head—the silent
timekeeper’s rasping alarm.
I pace around the room, careful
not to trip on the tiger rug,
to search out the mechanical
night song of a small being.
What good can it bring now
in our highly evolved world
of climate change & hunting
death stars to give the names
of hermit kings & outlaws.
Love, have I always listened
with my whole damn body,
18k. tick of a pocket watch?
I rise, gazing into an inlaid box
of hex signs & cheap rings.
Now I hardly hear the faint
noise, yet know it is here.
I cover my eyes with my left
hand to hear the machine
pulse of a careless heart, &
in a patch of early-morning
sunlight I see a black cricket.
Someone kicks off her shoe
before I can think to say, No,
one of us must show mercy.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Second Slaughter by Lucia Perillo

The Second Slaughter

Achilles slays the man who slew his friend, pierces the corpse
behind the heels and drags it
behind his chariot like the cans that trail
a bride and groom. Then he lays out
a banquet for his men, oxen and goats
and pigs and sheep; the soldiers eat
until a greasy moonbeam lights their beards.
The first slaughter is for victory, but the second slaughter is for grief—
in the morning more animals must be killed
for burning with the body of the friend. But Achilles finds
no consolation in the hiss and crackle of their fat;
not even heaving four stallions on the pyre
can lift the ballast of his sorrow.
And here I turn my back on the epic hero—the one who slits
the throats of his friend’s dogs,
killing what the loved one loved
to reverse the polarity of grief. Let him repent
by vanishing from my concern
after he throws the dogs onto the fire.
The singed fur makes the air too difficult to breathe.
When the oil wells of Persia burned I did not weep
until I heard about the birds, the long-legged ones especially
which I imagined to be scarlet, with crests like egrets
and tails like peacocks, covered in tar
weighting the feathers they dragged through black shallows
at the rim of the marsh. But once
I told this to a man who said I was inhuman, for giving animals
my first lament. So now I guard
my inhumanity like the jackal
who appears behind the army base at dusk,
come there for scraps with his head lowered
in a posture that looks like appeasement
though it is not.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Little Box by Vasko Popa

The Little Box

The little box gets her first teeth
And her little length
Little width little emptiness
And all the rest she has
The little box continues growing
The cupboard that she was inside
Is now inside her
And she grows bigger bigger bigger
Now the room is inside her
And the house and the city and the earth
And the world she was in before
The little box remembers her childhood
And by a great longing
She becomes a little box again
Now in the little box
You have the whole world in miniature
You can easily put in a pocket
Easily steal it lose it
Take care of the little box
(translated by Charles Simić)

Friday, December 10, 2021

Visiting San Francisco by Vijay Seshadri

Visiting San Francisco

I wanted to curl up
in the comfortable cosmic melancholy of my past,
in the sadness of my past being passed.
I wanted to tour the museum of my antiquities
and look at the sarcophagi there.
I wanted to wallow like a water buffalo in the cool,
sagacious mud of my past,
so I wrote you and said I’d be in town and could we meet.
But you think my past is your present.
You wouldn’t relent, you wouldn’t agree
to dinner or a cup of coffee or even a bag of peanuts
on a bench in North Beach.
You didn’t want to curl up or tour or wallow with me.
You’re still mad, long after the days
have turned into decades, about the ways I let you down.
The four hundred thousand ways.
Maybe I would be, too.
But people have done worse to me.
I don’t think I’m being grotesque when I tell you
I’ve been flayed and slayed and force-fed anguish.
I’ve been a human cataract
plunging through a noose and going to pieces on the rocks.
I’ve been a seagull tethered to Alcatraz.
What can I say, what more can I say, how much more
vulnerable can I be, to persuade you
now that I’ve persuaded myself?
Why can’t you just let it go?
Well, at least I’m in San Francisco.
San Francisco, where the homeless are most at home—
crouching over their tucker bags under your pollarded trees—
because your beauty is as free to them
as to the domiciled in their
dead-bolt domiciles, your beauty is as free to
the innocent as to the guilty.
The fog has burned off.
In a cheap and windy room on Russian Hill
a man on the run unwraps the bandages
swaddling his new face, his reconstructed face,
and looks in the mirror and sees
the face of Humphrey Bogart. Only here
could such a thing happen.
It was really always you, San Francisco,
time won’t ever darken my love for you,
San Francisco.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Skeletons by Deborah Landau


So whatever’s the opposite of a Buddhist that’s what I am.
Kindhearted, yes, but knee deep in existential gloom,
except when the fog smokes the bridges like this—
like, instead of being afraid we might juice ourselves up,
eh, like, might get kissed again? Dwelling in bones I go straight
through life, a sublime abundance—cherries, dog’s breath, the sun, then
(ouch) & all of us snuffed out. Dear one, what is waiting for us tonight,
nostalgia? the homes of childhood? oblivion? How we hate to go—
Sundays I spend feeling sorry for myself I’ve got a
knack for it I’m morbid, make the worst of any season
exclamation point       yet levity’s a liquor of sorts,
lowers us through life toward the terminus soon
extinguished       darling, the comfort is slight,
tucked in bed we search each other for some alternative—
oh let’s marvel at the world, the stroke and colors of it
now, while breathing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

How to be a son by Omar Sakr

How to be a son

My father was for the longest time
a plastic smile locked under the bed.
Before that, he was whatever came
out of my mother’s mouth. He was I’ll tell you
when you’re older. He was winding smoke,
a secret name. That fucking Turk.
He was foreign word, distant country.
I gave myself up to her hands which also
fathered; they shaped me into flinch.
Into hesitant crouch, expectant bruise.
Into locked door, CIA black site—
my body unknown and denied to any
but the basest men. I said beat my father
into me please, but he couldn’t be found.
And when he was, I wished he remained
lost. He blamed himself for the men I want.
A father can negate any need he thinks
they are the sum of all desires he thinks
absence has a gender. Listen.
You can’t backdate love, it destroys
history, which is all that I have & so
like any man, want to abandon.
In the absence of time I will invent
roses, a lineage beyond geography,
then all manner of gorgeous people
who rove in desert and olive grove,
in wet kingdoms, on the hunt for villages
where a boy can love a boy & still be
called son

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Curl by Diane Seuss


No longer at home in the world
and I imagine
never again at home in the world.
Not in cemeteries of bogs
churning with bullfrogs.
Or outside the old pickle shop.
I once make myself
at home on that street,
and the street after that,
and the boulevard. The avenue.
I don’t need to explain it to you.
It seems wrong
to curl now within the confines
of a poem. You can’t hide f
rom what you made
inside what you made
or so I’m told.

Monday, December 6, 2021

us by Tory Dent


in your arms
it was incredibly often
enough to be 
in your arms
careful as we had to be at times
about the I.V. catheter
in my hand,
or my wrist,
or my forearm
which we placed, consciously,
like a Gamboni vase,
the center of attention,
placed, frail identity
as if our someday-newborn
on your chest—
to be secluded, washed over
in your arms
often enough, it was
in that stillness, the only stillness
amidst the fears which wildly collided
and the complexities
of the illness, all the work
we had yet to do, had just done,
the hope, ridiculous amounts of it
we had to pump
from nothing, really,
short-lived consensus
possibility & experiment
to access
from our pinched and tiny minds
just the idea of hope
make it from scratch, air and water
like manufactured snow
a colossal fatigue
the severe concentration
of that, the repetition of that
lifted for a moment
just above your arms
inevitable, pressuring
it weighed down
but remained above
like a cathedral ceiling,
strangely sheltering
while I held tightly 
while there I could
in your arms
only there, the only stillness
remember the will,
allow the pull, tow against inevitable ebb—
you don't need reasons to live
one reason, blinking in the fog,
organically sweet in muddy dark
incredibly often enough
it is, it was
in your arms

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Jack Johnson Does the Eagle Rock by Cornelius Eady

 Jack Johnson Does the Eagle Rock

Perhaps he left the newspaper stand that morning
dazed, a few pennies lighter.
The illustration of the crippled ocean liner
with the berth he had the money
But not the skin to buy
Engraving itself
On that portion of the mind reserved for
lucky breaks.
Perhaps the newsboy, a figure too small to
bring back,
Actually heard his laugh,
As the S.S. Titanic, sans one prize fighter,
Goes down again all over New York,
Watched his body dance
As his arms lift the ship, now a simple millimeter thick,
above his head
In the bustling air, lift it up
As though it was meant to happen.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Isn’t There Something by Jean Valentine

Isn’t There Something 

Isn’t there something in me
like the dogs I’ve heard at home
who bark all night from hunger? Something
in me like trains leaving,
isn’t there something in me
like a gun? I wanted to be
loud squirrels, around the trees’ feet,
bees, coming back & back
to the wooden porch,
wanting something—and wooden planks,
wanting something. To go back into
a tree?
               I want to go back to you,
who when you were dying said
“There are one or two people you don’t want to
let go of.” Here too, where I don’t let go of you. 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join Me by James Wright

Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join Me

Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone.
I climb a slight rise of grass.
I do not want to disturb the ants
Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Carrying small white petals,
Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them.
I close my eyes for a moment and listen.
The old grasshoppers
Are tired, they leap heavily now,
Their thighs are burdened.
I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make.
Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins
In the maple trees. 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

little prayer by Danez Smith

little prayer

let ruin end here
let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter
let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs
let this be the healing
& if not     let it be

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Wait by Adrienne Rich


In paradise every
the desert wind is rising
third thought
in hell there are no thoughts
is of earth
sand screams against your government
issued tent      hell's noise
in your nostrils      crawl
into your ear-shell
wrap yourself in no-thought
wait     no place for the little lyric
wedding-ring glint the reason why
on earth
they never told you

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Out of Research Into Reveries by Mai Der Vang

Out of Research Into Reveries

                                   Give up      the brain 
        Offer down its clumsy
meditations      its blurred face
                      of fury      its hellbound 
      policies bugged into my throat
        Cough out
that sickled attitude      the ragged shelves
                    downing my ankles      every 
            era of hibernation
It’s all in the performance      the butcher 
      operating on slabs
of my identity      the bereaved dissecting
                      memories of an octopus
                        Lift out      far from of it 
      Careen the elbows      out of murk
                        with wine       taken by
                              the midsummer full 
Constantly stoneward
                        hunting toward heartstill

Monday, November 29, 2021

Oracle by Ari Banias


I was wrong it isn’t
suffering that’s easy pleasure that’s difficult
How is it I have been living this way
holding my piss
a mirror scuffed by distant talk, secretly livid
worried what the dead would think?
Someone greets with only the top half of her head
brown curly hair behind a computer monitor
Today for one second a woman is anyone who has a body
and can’t forget it
The tight loops of the office carpet start to unhook
Some men are women too
the way a mountain is land and a harbor is land and a parking lot
Refuse the difference between sameness and difference
The ocean is on fire
green flame on the neck of a god
who is a pile of rocks
not apologizing for themselves

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Love Poem by Linda Gregerson

Love Poem

Once, my very best darling, the sea
  and the land were all one mass
and the light was confused and hadn’t found
  a place to rest. And, Megan, love,
my sister’s eyes were not yet there to hold it all
  together since she hadn’t yet been born so when
the world dropped out from under us and no one,
  not the on-calls with their CAT scans, not
the sovereign souls who monitor
  the twilit room where newborns come to die
or live, when no one could tell us if you
  would be one of the lucky ones able to
walk and speak and only this, the one
  unstinted blessing fate had given us to
give you was a sister in whose eyes you were
  the sun and moon, it meant we all no matter
what befell us all
  had solid ground.    Pity the part
we think we do on purpose.
When Karen was dying and books had shut
  their doors to her, she could still make out the
puzzle of knit and purl. I’m keeping it simple,
  she said, although the pattern
emerging beneath her fine hands did not
  look simple to me. An
A. A B. An alphabet. And all in the single
  color, milk. The letters distinguished
by only the altered stitchwork so
  the nursery would be beautiful.
Whichever of the children has a baby first,
  she said, she loved
the future, no matter she wouldn’t be there.
Second-born. As fateful as the transit
  to light and air or so you’ve often tried
to teach me I will never properly understand.
  But I know
how the hair at your temples curls in
  summer when the air is moist. As if
she’d been returned to me.
  I must have had some under-the-radar
notion even then when we were children how
  that little looseness threw
my petty masteries in the shade. And so
  the joy of it was lost on me. Till you.
I’m the only person living who
  remembers her childhood curls.

Ghazal (Even the Rain) by Agha Shahid Ali

Ghazal (Even the Rain)

What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain. 
“our glosses / wanting in this world” “Can you remember?”
Anyone! “when we thought / the poets taught” even the rain? 
After we died--That was it!--God left us in the dark.
And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain. 
Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house.
For mixers, my love, you’d poured--what?--even the rain. 
Of this pear-shaped orange’s perfumed twist, I will say:
Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain. 
How did the Enemy love you--with earth? air? and fire?
He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain. 
This is God’s site for a new house of executions?
You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain? 
After the bones--those flowers--this was found in the urn:
The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain. 
What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world?
A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain. 
How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with flames—
to help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain. 
He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves,
he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain. 
New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me—
to make this claim Memory’s brought even the rain. 
They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.

Friday, November 26, 2021

D.O.A. by Tim Dlugos


“You knew who I was
when I walked in the door.
You thought that I was dead.
Well, I am dead. A man
can walk and talk and even
breathe and still be dead.”
Edmond O’Brien is perspiring
and chewing up the scenery
in my favorite film noir,
D.O.A. I can’t stop watching,
can’t stop relating. When I walked down
Columbus to Endicott last night
to pick up Tor’s new novel,
I felt the eyes of every
Puerto Rican teen, crackhead,
yuppie couple focus on my cane
and makeup. “You’re dead,”
they seemed to say in chorus.
Somewhere in a dark bar
years ago, I picked up “luminous
poisoning.” My eyes glowed
as I sipped my drink. After that,
there was no cure, no turning back.
I had to find out what was gnawing
at my gut. The hardest part’s
not even the physical effects:
stumbling like a drunk (Edmond
O’Brien was one of Hollywood’s
most active lushes) through
Forties sets, alternating sweats
and fevers, reptilian spots
on face and scalp. It’s having
to say goodbye like the scene
where soundtrack violins go crazy
as O’Brien gives his last embrace
to his girlfriend-cum-Girl
Friday, Paula, played by Pamela
Britton. They’re filmdom’s least
likely lovers—the squat and jowly
alkie and the homely fundamentally
talentless actress who would hit
the height of her fame as the pillhead-
acting landlady on My Favorite Martian
fifteen years in the future. I don’t have
fifteen years, and neither does Edmond
O’Brien. He has just enough time to tell
Paula how much he loves her, then
to drive off in a convertible
for the showdown with his killer.
I’d like to have a showdown too, if I
could figure out which pistol-packing
brilliantined and ruthless villain
in a hound’s-tooth overcoat took
my life. Lust, addiction, being
in the wrong place at the wrong
time? That’s not the whole
story. Absolute fidelity
to the truth of what I felt, open
to the moment, and in every case
a kind of love: all of the above
brought me to this tottering
self-conscious state—pneumonia,
emaciation, grisly cancer,
no future, heart of gold,
passionate engagement with a great
B film, a glorious summer
afternoon in which to pick up
the ripest plum tomatoes of the year
and prosciutto for the feast I’ll cook
tonight for the man I love,
phone calls from my friends
and a walk to the park, ignoring
stares, to clear my head. A day
like any, like no other. Not so bad
for the dead.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Virginia Is for Lovers by Nicole Sealey

Virginia Is for Lovers

At LaToya’s Pride picnic,
Leonard tells me he and his longtime
love, Pete, broke up.
He says Pete gave him the house
in Virginia. “Great,” I say,
“that’s the least his ass could do.”
I daydream my friend and me
into his new house, sit us in the kitchen
of his three bedroom, two bath
brick colonial outside Hungry Mother Park,
where, legend has it, the Shawnee raided
settlements with the wherewithal
of wild children catching pigeons.
A woman and her androgynous child
escaped, wandering the wilderness,
stuffing their mouths with the bark
of chokecherry root.
Such was the circumstance
under which the woman collapsed.
The child, who could say nothing
except hungry mother, led help
to the mountain where the woman lay,
swelling as wood swells in humid air.
Leonard’s mouth is moving.
Two boys hit a shuttlecock back and forth
across an invisible net.
A toddler struggles to pull her wagon
from a sandbox. “No,” Leonard says,
“It’s not a place where you live.
I got the H In V. H I—”
Before my friend could finish,
and as if he’d been newly ordained,
I took his hands and kissed them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

A Vision of the Garden by James Merrill

A Vision of the Garden

One winter morning as a child
Upon the windowpane’s thin frost I drew
Forehead and eyes and mouth the clear and mild
Features of nobody I knew
And then abstracted looking through
This or that wet transparent line
Beyond beheld a winter garden so
Heavy with snow its hedge of pine
And sun so brilliant on the snow
I breathed my pleasure out onto the chill pane
Only to see its angel fade in mist.
I was a child, I did not know
That what I longed for would resist
Neither what cold lines should my finger trace
On colder grounds before I found anew
In yours the features of that face
Whose words whose looks alone undo
Such frosts I lay me down in love in fear
At how they melt become a blossoming pear
Joy outstretched in our bodies’ place. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Witchgrass by Louise Glück


comes into the world unwelcome
calling disorder, disorder—
If you hate me so much
don’t bother to give me
a name: do you need
one more slur
in your language, another
way to blame
one tribe for everything—
as we both know,
if you worship
one god, you only need
one enemy—
I’m not the enemy.
Only a ruse to ignore
what you see happening
right here in this bed,
a little paradigm
of failure. One of your precious flowers
dies here almost every day
and you can’t rest until
you attack the cause, meaning
whatever is left, whatever
happens to be sturdier
than your personal passion—
It was not meant
to last forever in the real world.
But why admit that, when you can go on
doing what you always do,
mourning and laying blame,
always the two together.
I don’t need your praise
to survive. I was here first,
before you were here, before you
ever planted a garden.
And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
are left, and the sea, and the wide field.
I will constitute the field. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Letter to My Father by Martín Espada

Letter to My Father 
You once said: My reward for this life will be a thousand pounds of dirt
shoveled in my face. You were wrong. You are seven pounds of ashes
in a box, a Puerto Rican flag wrapped around you, next to a red brick
from the house in Utuado where you were born, all crammed together
on my bookshelf. You taught me there is no God, no life after this life,
so I know you are not watching me type this letter over my shoulder.
When I was a boy, you were God. I watched from the seventh floor
of the projects as you walked down into the street to stop a public
execution. A big man caught a small man stealing his car, and everyone
in Brooklyn heard the car alarm wail of the condemned: He’s killing me.
At a word from you, the executioner’s hand slipped from the hair
of the thief. The kid was high, was all you said when you came back to us.
When I was a boy, and you were God, we flew to Puerto Rico. You said:
My grandfather was the mayor of Utuado. His name was Buenaventura.
That means good fortune. I believed in your grandfather’s name.
I heard the tree frogs chanting to each other all night. I saw banana
leaf and elephant palm sprouting from the mountain’s belly. I gnawed
the mango’s pit, and the sweet yellow hair stuck between my teeth.
I said to you: You came from another planet. How did you do it?
You said: Every morning, just before I woke up, I saw the mountains.
Every morning, I see the mountains. In Utuado, three sisters,
all in their seventies, all bedridden, all Pentecostales who only left
the house for church, lay sleeping on mattresses spread across the floor
when the hurricane gutted the mountain the way a butcher slices open
a dangled pig, and a rolling wall of mud buried them, leaving the fourth
sister to stagger into the street, screaming like an unheeded prophet
about the end of the world. In Utuado, a man who cultivated a garden
of aguacate and carambola, feeding the avocado and star fruit to his
nieces from New York, saw the trees in his garden beheaded all at once
like the soldiers of a beaten army, and so hanged himself. In Utuado,
a welder and a handyman rigged a pulley with a shopping cart to ferry
rice and beans across the river where the bridge collapsed, witnessed
the cart swaying above so many hands, then raised a sign that told
the helicopters: Campamento los Olvidados: Camp of the Forgotten.
Los olvidados wait seven hours in line for a government meal of Skittles
and Vienna sausage, or a tarp to cover the bones of a house with no roof,
as the fungus grows on their skin from sleeping on mattresses drenched
with the spit of the hurricane. They drink the brown water, waiting
for microscopic monsters in their bellies to visit plagues upon them.
A nurse says: These people are going to have an epidemic. These people
are going to die. The president flips rolls of paper towels to a crowd
at a church in Guaynabo, Zeus lobbing thunderbolts on the locked ward
of his delusions. Down the block, cousin Ricardo, Bernice’s boy, says
that somebody stole his can of diesel. I heard somebody ask you once
what Puerto Rico needed to be free. And you said: Tres pulgadas
de sangre en la calle: Three inches of blood in the street. Now, three
inches of mud flow through the streets of Utuado, and troops patrol
the town, as if guarding the vein of copper in the ground, as if a shovel
digging graves in the backyard might strike the ore below, as if la brigada
swinging machetes to clear the road might remember the last uprising.
I know you are not God. I have the proof: seven pounds of ashes in a box
on my bookshelf. Gods do not die, and yet I want you to be God again.
Stride from the crowd to seize the president’s arm before another roll
of paper towels sails away. Thunder Spanish obscenities in his face.
Banish him to a roofless rainstorm in Utuado, so he unravels, one soaked
sheet after another, till there is nothing left but his cardboard heart.
I promised myself I would stop talking to you, white box of gray grit.
You were deaf even before you died. Hear my promise now: I will take you
to the mountains, where houses lost like ships at sea rise blue and yellow
from the mud. I will open my hands. I will scatter your ashes in Utuado.