Is it true the most beautiful words can stand for the most terrible things, and only in a minority of instances is there any relationship between a word’s sonic hue and it’s semantic assignment?
Thus poetry amounts to a herding
of arbitrary resonances.
Before language, there is love. Before love, memory, writes Daisy Hernandez. It is the line that made me want to become a writer. In the primary reading, a sequence is established: memory, love, language. In a second reading, where before is taken to mean submission, or witness—as in before the court, before God (the reading I prefer, discovered like a trap door leading somewhere below the first)—something else steps out from the dark. Love stands at the helm of language. Memory bows to love.
Meaning disperses. It’s
my mother, a child
in the back
seat of her father’s car
the week’s corpses
for slaughter. His eyes fixed
on the road her hand held
to car glass like
a starfish the cold
the blue sea move and promise
a framed notion of loss
I was looking out the window of my poem
wondering how to leave. Touching glass: blue night’s
cold border. I had my hands on the meat grinder’s
lever. Whether skin carries its crimes, I come
from butchers. My grandfather tells my mother: I’m the only
butcher in East Boston, in this whole abattoir, with
ten fingers. I’m just like him now. I want
my work to leave me intact, too. I hold
my cleaver steady. I want
to exit the poem whole.
I want to exit the poem whole. Among the theorizations I’ve created to distinguish prose and poetry: prose the branch, poetry the bird; prose the conscious, poetry the subconscious; prose the bone, poetry the marrow; poetry the bone, prose the dog; prose Gabo’s notion of a private life, poetry of his secret life; prose the shampoo, poetry the conditioner; poetry the conditional, prose the conditioned; prose the memorias, poetry the recuerdos; prose the ship, poetry the sea kissing apart its wood. Ask a glass of water why it pities the rain, wrote Terrance Hayes. Did he mean ask prose why it pities poetry?
this poetry, it
to a mother’s pinch
on the shoulder
of a boy, to a warning, to not end
on the shoulder
of a road, slaughtered. We fail to keep
children we tuck our hands over
their eyes in the abbottoir
but they hear the cattle’s yelp.
Where, God, were the limbs
to cover their ears
from the cries.
It is too early. It is too late.
They have risen already, ears kissed against pinewood, to hear
the quiet shipwreck
of our motions through the door.
A shipwreck—naufragio, the most beautiful word in the Spanish language—constitutes the ship’s dispersal into its surroundings. It could signify poor architecture or the ultimate might of weather or the ineluctable bait of entropy. You could take it to represent form succumbing to formlessness. Unless you remember that seawater is more cohesive—more chemically bound—than the boat, which by contrast is constituted of elementally disparate parts. In this reading, something opposite becomes true: naufragio is a demonstration of formlessness surrendering to form.
My grandfather’s apron, a flag;
the hues of massacre he hangs
on the yellow wall. He lies to sleep, surrendered
to form. The gold cross cooling his skin
dewed with blood, pity soaking cotton. He wants
grace, his eyes’ fluttered gaze on the ceiling. Instead he will dream
of cow eyes pleading for mercy. My mother told me
the dreams kept on for decades. In the morning,
when he rises, love will move his hands again
to the cutting board. Then later, to hold his wife’s face
as though to give gravity a break. Beauty is heavy. To give
his fingers tender work a while. How they become new forms
on her cheeks. How in holding something we take on its shape.
I want to exit the poem whole.
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