Looking back

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By Luisa Igloria

The first time we entered the city,
you said to pay attention to the stones
soaked in afternoon sun; buildings, narrow
gates, boundaries of road roofed by trees.
Their filter of green, rendering light

                  — lighter, more
supernatural than the script of breath
passing through glass or bone

       At that time, our concerns
were limited: how many more times
it would be necessary to make changes
in address, the number of packing crates
and trucks moving in ungainly exodus
away from each brief encampment

Nights, we spoke of that final destination
where surely we were meant to be; later,
the remnants of sighs worked into
my hair, thick as brushstrokes, housing
the slow precipitation of dreams

        Our daughters came
as you alternated between job
interviews and the chance to reveal
your visions—always, large canvasses filled
with loud, unearthly voices from that city
ablaze with something you weren’t sure of yet:
its skyscrapers and spires either crowned
by a halo of grace or torched by flames
that licked angrily at my skirts

But as each girl emerged from her creamy
caul, a veil of luck, you forgot the pictures
of brush fires awhile; danced them in your arms
drowsy, their mouths full of milk

             Who was to know how the roof
              of the dwelling would be rent

Even after we went our separate ways, I
marveled still at the binding chemistry of atom
and spirit, no less than the sweetness of this
old lethargy called flesh which, as others
did, I honored with tongue and hand
and open thighs—a priori, under
blankets and moonlight

I remember it even now,
each pore a flower surrendering
a secret: the astonishing smell of heat
released into air, the pleasurable flash
of lightning that tinted the sky
beneath closed lids

The secret being what we learn later:
that experience is repeatable, how
it overturns raw appetite, proceeds
from simple need to a claim at once
sweeter, more bitter, in the mouth:
an orange rind soaked in the dizzying
but flammable promise of salvation,
something to spread thick on dry
toast and eat, or ignite over the rim
of a footed glass; such heresy—

The span of it gathered
like irrational weeds, a dialect
of babel tongues; so easy to forget
how once they were bent on the spokes
of a common goal, the world reduced
to permanent coherence

           Just as I desired

Now that everything
is almost over and I am only
a white trace, a pillar of unstable
motes composed by that same fitful
sun streaming outside your window—
a voice you hear sometimes in your head—
I will tell you about how I had a form
of vision too

How my tongue was released
to itself as we turned the cover of the
          avenue
des infermeries, advancing up the north
entryway, and a shaft of light glanced off
the drainpipes to splinter upon my
         shoulder:
like a wound, like the finger of a god
foretelling the manner in which
I would be stunned by the world
and broken

How I knew then what I know
now—all that will come to pass,
the perished cities, the number of those
deciding to make their way up the breakable
ladders, including the daughters and sons
they thought were left behind

           See how much strength survives us

In the end, the weighty and
indelible scent of the flower
called compassion, blooming
in one’s side:

                    Its call,
the instruction to look
back at the darker earth
which was its bed, already
filling with the faint imprint
of these limbs, my head—

Montage Vol. 6 • August 2002