I will water the plants

“…drinking it all in but
never filling, never filled…”

“This,” Luisa Igloria

I will water the plants when I get home, the nasturtiums’ quivering nonsensical tendrils, the fragrant thyme and globe basil, I will water them when I get home. I will care for these littlest things like I used to tend the altars, cutting wicks and wiping dust with absurd meticulous faithful care. I will water the plants. I will attend to them and drink meaning from my attentions like drinking life from the sun. I will put away the laundry which I washed and dried and folded with the unshakeable conviction that doing so made this day a better day. I will water the plants and put away the laundry and clear the paperwork from the kitchen table. I will do all this. I will slip into the not-cool-enough sheets under my grandmother’s quilt and I will not think about the hour–one or two or three–when sleep might crack like a fragile ornament. I will lay down full with the small tasks of the day counted up like marbles in a sack hanging heavy in my pocket. I will not think about watering the plants again tomorrow, I will only think about their undaunted yearning growth and I will draw a parallel from that and fill with it. I will water the plants when I get home.

“This” is in Luisa Igloria’s latest chapbook, Night Willow, published by Phoenicia.

the quiet

“…you become the sound.” ~Luisa Igloria, “Liminal”

I strip the bed, put on the summer blanket and quilt; the overwrought, anxious-to-please smell of household cleaner still rises from the corners. The sink is empty and the drying rack full, the desks cleared, the herbs watered. It is night and I am alone, pictures gazing down or averting faces from this solitary industry. How quiet a pair of rooms becomes in the puddling afternoon, how much quieter following night’s seeping tide when houses curl upon themselves like mollusks. I hold this two-bedroom-plus-kitchen-and-bath to my ear and hear the rushing of my blood, rushing like the traffic on Massachusetts Avenue, rushing like thoughts in the estuaries of minutes. I could do laundry all night or scrub the bathtub or unpack the last boxes, but nothing can hold back the salty, pungent fingerlets of quiet. You will press me against the sheets, flutter the curtains, give me back dreams speaking in voices made strange by distance. I will wake in the morning–will my breath remember me, will my spirit be returned back from the rooms’ shell, caverns echoing and empty? Will I remember the outbound journey on the ruffled waters, the sly unmooring of self the quiet night accomplished? Or will I forget, as I sometimes want to, and become something simple and untinged by loss, or loneliness, or the ordinary greatness required to live on the shores of this unborn and unrelenting sea?

Three, with photograph

Lotus leaf and water1

 

1.

Faith coined to burn us out

Julia Cohen, Practice by Fire and Doubt

Stillness. A cold hand in your chest at the fraying edge of day. A hand plunged then splayed, unearthly chill, between your hot organs and prickled naked skin. Raking over and over your faith, fragile as ribs.

Faith is a body, faith is a currency, bought and sold, exchanged for goods, lost in a pocket, rubbed to disfigurement, buried under ash for centuries then rediscovered, an artifact, by a curious scholar in a brimmed hat with a bandana over her mouth, which is round as an O under the thin mass-produced cloth. Faith is fondled, faith is cheapened, faith matures too early and dies too soon, burned out on endless nights of endless prayers and votives and palpitating catechisms.

Always with this, before it and with it and after it: stillness. Cold and glassy-quiet, thick like liquid silver. No assurance of salvation on its far side, no steady insistence of right and wrong. It might be a fire burning black-on-black, void of utterable language. It moves like an ocean meeting itself coming and going.

 

2.

and we’ve been taught
the mouth of the world opens

Luisa A. Igloria, That everything has a use beyond its given life

Solar flares. A dancer, arms outreached, waist wilting
elegantly; an empty socket in the hip’s girdle.

A religion of want. Of labial vowels, liturgies
of awful truths. Heterodox canticles measured out
by decay. Withered stems releasing their burdens
to an unseen world.

Heliospheres of joy, antiphons of silence. Nuclei,
negative space. Cenotaph and matrix. The single line
reaching everywhere.

A bridge. A cathedral’s ribbed vault.
The splaying knuckles of my hand.
A curtain, parted.

 

3.

We must risk delight.

Jack Gilbert, A Brief for the Defense

Because delight is a little white boat
Because risk is a splintered seat
Because delight is a glistening applause
Because risk is a wind in the leaves
Because delight is the small flame
in the altar of the eyes
Because risk is the god of our beating breath
Because delight is the yellow star of a crocus
Because risk is the radius of winter
Because delight is a name I know
Because risk is a body I love

 

 

Image courtesy of DS

each thing called up dissolves

And what is prayer

but a way to teach—

Luisa A. Igloria, Solar

Each thing called up slowly dissolves, like foam. A word testifies, then silences itself. Something in me rends like wet paper tearing, and then prayer spills all over like a tide.

Years of lighting candles in the dark with the sharp sulfur of matches pinching my nose. Agony is only a story I tell myself. Salvation circumscribes the globe of my heart like a horizon. What lies beyond is a sea of light falling into dark falling into light. Prayer never lifted me in ecstasy. Living did that.

tithe

And it will not grow
any leaner, any fatter, any
kinder, any darker from the tithe
of your particular suffering—

Luisa A. Igloria, Excuse Slip

Bad night, nightmares, the wind sniffing under the eaves indifferent to my disquiet; the cold hand clasped late in the morning in a drafty vestibule, the bread broken, the body given and remembrance made but never, it seems, quite enough. I asked her the word for the problem of evil in the world and she said theodicy and the law student said I thought that just meant the word of God and we sat there uncertain and stilled. The tithe of suffering is paid in silence, which grows without gaining and retreats without lessening, ever, in gravity. Scars show pale against pale skin, the snow is only a shade lighter than the sky today. The afternoon hours stretch pregnant as the abyss, tithe paid but answers as yet unfound, ungiven.

new year’s resolutions: sing

I heard it in my mind, sing. That one syllable. It was command and plea.

Shadow and light, cemetery walk

I didn’t sleep well for several nights. The days were full of dreaming, and sleep felt so empty afterward. Over brunch, I told a friend he was Homer, witnessing through art. What you do is bring the intangible into the material world, help us connect with ourselves I said but didn’t feel like I made any sense, sleep-deprived and strung out on coffee. He told me about the man whose apartment had been flooded then looted after Sandy out on Coney Island. The man asked him to photograph his few remaining momentos then told him, You saved my life with that camera. The photographer talked about the shock of the destruction, how it looked like the outskirts of Katmandu or the villages of Bhutan, no electricity, the stores empty, shorn of goods, people who were already pushed to the edge of the city now pushed to the edge of the American mind. Out of sight: so he made photographs.

I walked in the cemetery today, among the dead, their headstones, their tombs. In Memoriam writ again and again, a litany. Both command and plea.

Sidewalk and sticks, cemetery walk

Among the brave and honored dead was something I heard somewhere once. I can’t remember who whispered that refrain. In the cemetery, fresh flags were staked in the muddy, winter-tattered ground. Is that song enough? A young man, barely 18, a patch reading Perez on his Army uniform, sat behind me on the plane. He talked with his seat mates about being deployed to Afghanistan soon and I wanted to cry. When we deplaned, I leaned over, whispered, Come home safe. Oh child.

But what (oh what) about dishonor, the shame the living must bear for the dead who, in life, we did not honor but ignored, abused, turned away from? Here I mean rape, the violence we term domestic as if it were something categorically, rather than simply relationally, different than other forms of violence. War violence is so obvious, it is brutal and overwhelming and we shy away. Violence, called domestic, is too close and intimate, and we shut our eyes, unwilling to see. Women are given as loot, so much prized flesh, all through the Iliad. Rhetorical question: what should I think of Homer’s heroes and brave warriors now? Bravery, what an irony, what a slip of the tongue. What a mean and vicious barb in this already-wounded flesh.

Shadow and light, cemetery walk 2

Skin cracks in winter’s dry cold. Physician, heal thyself? The teacher said at our informal meeting How can we expect to heal the wounds of Afghanistan or Iraq if we aren’t willing to help heal our neighbors? We nodded, knowing we couldn’t imagine what sacrifice would be required of us but committing nonetheless. Submit, obey! cry the gods again and again. And we do, never certain which god now commands, whose prophet now pleads.

Reflected light off of a black desk

I sing in the empty house, sing on the sidewalks when I go along them alone. I used to hum in seminary and my sisters would smile and say You must be in a good mood and I would have to disabuse them of the romance and say:

No. I sing to relieve the pain.