*Image: “Dancers By the Sea” by Allison Merriweather, 9″ x 12″ Oil on Paper
Luisa A. Igloria
How many worlds could fit into a leather pouch, strung
through cord and looped around the waist? Wood
or ivory, horn or bone–antlers and hooves,
miniature wings and fins, even the tiny pulleys
that hoist these breakable joints. The smell
of trees is sharp from the balcony. I love
to slide open windows, doors; to open things
with lids. When my nose bled nearly every day
for a year, the elders broke an egg into water;
they cast rice grains to read upon its membrane,
then wove me a secret name. They thatched
its syllables to fleece, embroidered it on all
the towels. Like a novice, I wore its jangly shape
on my stick arms and legs. I read today of how
a name can be a kind of homework in this life—
for instance, the Buddha saying “Sakyadhita.”
If I had known, I might have listened harder
for the creaking of doves’ wings.
After last night’s rain, the snow fits
each dip and hummock more tightly:
an old garment I can’t bear to give away—
worn smooth, softer now, but shrunk in the wash.
In the meadow, one bent head of grass, frail
as a woman approaching the long afternoon
of her years.
I used to watch my narrow-
waisted mother sit on the edge of the bed
after her bath, and count the rosary
beads down her spine.
Mystery, what is this image
you have brought, thin as a wafer
slipped through the window’s hinge?
She says: I am old,
I am a woman living
alone in a house of two floors,
four rooms, seven beds.
A cloud of scent
surrounded her after her bath:
nimbus of talcum, her own signature
of breath as she leaned to kiss me.
Let us praise, they said. And so we should:
Let us praise the wood that was saved
from the house, and the stones that we used
for the new kitchen floor. Let us praise
the walls which leaked with the fury
of hurricanes yet kept us dry
where we huddled in the middle of the room.
Let us praise the wildness of the garden
which gave us mint to fragrance our hands,
and branches from which to hang wet clothes.
Let us praise the nights that were strung
with curfews, and the hiding places
that we found in them for fugitives
and friends. Let us praise the ones
who left, even of their own volition;
and the hearts that must have suffered
from the myriad difficulties of choice.
Let us praise how we witnessed a rash
of flowers open one by one along the broken
fence, even as the sea or heaving earth
took those we loved. And let us praise
the clapper and the hollow gong both pain
and joy have made of our insides, how
forever we will swing this way in the wind.
Tiny seed, tintoria
shiny as if from a vat
of paint— which minor
have you fallen out of
just so I can twirl you
between finger and thumb,
string you on a linen cord
as talisman? Your one
dark eye is smaller
than the orb of phosphor
that coats a match, even
after it strikes a surface,
bursts into flame, then
dwindles into a hard
stub of ash.
(Manunggul Cave, Palawan; late Neolithic)
Someone is loosing the rope
that tethered our boat
to the pier. Here we are, easing
forward into the fog, into the cold
that seems to have gotten colder.
We’ll pass the shuttered town,
we’ll slip into the currents
blue with the ink of unborn stars.
We’ll love them no less, no more,
even as the water swirls, changing
from jade to milk. The world we enter
then leave is round as the bowl of our
desires, and here the word for horizon
is the same as faithfulness: invisible
rudder our hands have always held,
even as now we cross our arms
across our chests, preparing
to travel farther, deeper.
Sea of Dreams
The ferryman came and whispered
in my ear, asking if I would like
to visit that town I might not ever
see again but in my dreams—
I said Is that your first question?
I knew no one could gain passage
without a token— And he laughed,
pointing to the grey hollow between
his shoulders, saying Come, sister;
in the trees the leaves are lit up just
like lanterns, and your face is a tarot
that still points all ways but one.