Poetry

“Return” – Carolyn Forché

For Josephine Crum

Upon my return to America, Josephine:
the iced drinks and paper umbrellas, clean
toilets and Los Angeles palm trees moving
like lean women, I was afraid more than
I had been, even of motels so much so
that for months every tire blow-out
was final, every strange car near the house
kept watch and I strained even to remember
things impossible to forget. You took
my stories apart for hours, sitting
on your sofa with your legs under you
and fifty years in your face.
So you know
now, you said, what kind of money
is involved and that campesinos knife
one another and you know you should
not trust anyone and so you find a few
people you will trust. You know the mix
of machetes with whiskey, the slip of the tongue
that costs hundreds of deaths.
You’ve seen the pits where men and women
are kept the few days it takes without
food and water. You’ve heard the cocktail
conversation on which their release depends.
So you’ve come to understand why
men and women of food will read
torture reports with fascination.

Such things as water pumps
and co-op farms are of little importance
and take years.
It is not Che Guevara, this struggle.
Camillo Torres is dead. Victor Jara
was rounded up with the others, and José
Martí is a landing strip for planes
from Miami to Cuba. Go try on
Americans your long, dull story
of corruption, but better to give
them what they want: Lil Milagro Ramirez,
who after years of confinement did not
know what year it was, how she walked
with help and was forced to shit in public.
Tell them about the razor, the live wire,
dry ice and concrete, grey rats and above all
who fucked her, how many times and when.
Tell them about retaliation: José lying
on the flat bed truck, waving his stumps
in your face, his hands cut off by his
captors and thrown to the many acres
of cotton, lost, still, and holding
the last few lumps of leeched earth.
Tell them of José in his last few hours
and later how, many months later,
a labor leader was cut to pieces and buried.
Tell them how his friends found
the soldiers and made them dig him up
and ask forgiveness of the corpse, once
it was assembled again on the ground
like a man. As for the cars, of course
they watch you and for this don’t flatter
yourself. We are all watched. We are
all assembled.

Josephine, I tell you
I have not rested, not since I drove
those streets with a gun in my lap,
not since all manner of speaking has
failed and the remnant of my life
continues onward. I go mad, for example,
in the Safeway, at the many heads
of lettuce, papayas and sugar, pineapples
and coffee, especially the coffee.
And when I speak with American men,
there is some absence of recognition:
their constant Scotch and fine white
hands, many hours of business, penises,
hardened by motor inns and a faint
resemblance to their wives. I cannot
keep going. I remember the American
attaché in that country: his tanks
of fish, his clicking pen, his rapt
devotion to reports. His wife wrote
his reports. She said as much as she
gathered him each day from the embassy
compound, that she was tired of covering
up, sick of his drinking and the loss
of his last promotion. She was a woman
who flew her own plane, stalling out
after four martinis to taxi on an empty
field in the campo and to those men
and women announce she was there to help.
She flew where she pleased in that country
with her drunken kindness, while Marines
in white gloves were assigned to protect
her husband. It was difficult work, what
with the suspicion on the ride in smaller
countries that gringos die like other men.
I cannot, Josephine, talk to them.

And so, you say, you’ve learned a little
about starvation: a child like a supper scrap
filling with worms, many children strung
together, as if they were cut from paper
and all in a delicate chain. And that people
who rescue physicists, lawyers and poets
lie in their beds at night with reports
of mice introduced into women, of men
whose testicles are crushed like eggs.
That they cup their own parts
with their bedsheets and move themselves
slowly, imagining bracelets affixing
their wrists to a wall where the naked
are pinned, where the naked are tied open
and left to the hands of those who erase
what they touch. We are all erased
by them, and no longer resemble decent
men. We no longer have the hearts,
the strength, the lives of women.
Your problem is not your life as it is
in America, not that your hands, as you
tell me, are tied to do something. It is
that you were born to an island of greed
and grace where you have this sense
of yourself as apart from others. It is
not your right to feel powerless. Better
people than you were powerless.
You have not returned to your country,
but to a life you never left.
1980


(Written as published from The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forché.)

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Poetry

“Publication is the Auction” – Emily Dickinson

Publication – is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man –
Poverty – be justifying
For so foul a thing

Possibly – but We – would rather
From Our Garret go
White – unto the White Creator –
Than invest – Our Snow –

Thought belong to Him who gave it –
Then – to Him Who bear
It’s Corporeal illustration – sell
The Royal Air –

In the Parcel – Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Grace –
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price –

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Poetry

“On Cold Days Like This” – Kevin Pilkington

I hear a cape flapping over
my head, convinced this time
it’s Superman. When I look up
to greet him, it turns out to be
the flag over the doors of the Second
Avenue Post Office. The wind
is so strong I notice it lost a star
and wonder if maybe Utah is now
floating over New Jersey.

The traffic is heavy as cheesecake
and sounds like the Basie horn
section tuning up before a gig.
A guy walks over with a cigarette
in his mouth and asks if I got
a light. As I search my pockets
I notice his boots and cowboy
hat and figure he must be from
the West Side. I can’t find any–
consider the torch I’d been carrying
around for my ex but remember I put
it out a few days ago, tell him sorry.

And she was the same woman
who told me if we ever broke up
I’d be lost without her. Before
I got involved again, I made sure
to know every section of the city
until I knew it like the back
of my hand or when most of Second
Avenue ran down my index finger
towards my wrist. On cold days
like this, I can warm up my hands
and at least thirty blocks by simply
putting on my gloves.

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Poetry

“Cattails” – Nikky Finney

One woman drives across five states just to see her. The woman being driven to has no idea anyone’s headed her way. The driving woman crosses three bridges & seven lakes just to get to her door. She stops along the highway, wades into the soggy ground, cuts down coral-eyed cattails, carries them to her car as if they might be sherbet orange, long-stemmed, Confederate roses, sheared for Sherman himself. For two days she drives toward the woman in Kentucky, sleeping in rest areas with her seat lowered all the way back, doors locked. When she reaches the state line it’s misting. The tired pedal-to-the-metal woman finally calls ahead. I’m here, she says. Who’s this? The woman being driven to, who has never checked her oil, asks. The driving woman reminds her of the recent writing workshop where they shared love for all things out-of-doors and lyrical. Come, have lunch with me, the driving woman invites. They eat spinach salads with different kinds of dressing. They talk about driving, the third thing they both love and how fast clouds can change from state line to state line. The didn’t-know-she-was-coming woman stares at she who has just arrived. She tries to read the mighty spinach leaves in her bowl, privately marveling at the driving woman’s muscled spontaneity. She can hardly believe this almost stranger has made it across five states just to have lunch with her. She wonders where this mad driving woman will sleep tonight. She is of two driving minds. One convertible. One hardtop. The driving woman shows her pictures of her children. Beautiful, the other does not say. Before long words run out of petrol. The woman who is home, but without pictures of her own, announces she must go. The driving woman frets & flames, May I walk you to your car? They walk. The driver changes two lanes in third gear, fast. The trunk opens. The Mario Andretti look-alike fills the other woman’s arms with sable-sheared cattails. Five feet high & badly in need of sunlight & proudly stolen from across five states. The woman with no children of her own pulls their twenty pounds in close, resting them over her Peter-Panning heart. Her lungs empty out, then fill, then fill again with the surge of birth & surprise. For two years, until their velvet bodies begin (and end) to fall to pieces, every time the driven-to woman passes the bouquet of them, there, in the vase by the front door, she is reminded of what falling in love, without permission, smells like. Each time she reaches for her keys, she recalls what you must be willing to turn into for love: spiny oyster mushroom, damson, salt marsh, cedar, creosote, new bud of pomegranate, Aegean sage blue sea, fig, blueberry, marigold, leaf fall, fogs eye, dusty miller, thief-of-the-night.

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