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On the approaches to her 100th birthday
the long stretch of peasant light
that guided her from Asturias to Havana
to Chicago to Miami,
split into a hundred cackles of delight,
as Mariachis on the 5 PM talk show
turned to her to wave and flirt
and beg her to let them play a song for her,
any song, Cielito Lindo or El Rey,
and she waved back and said, No No,
I won’t let you in, though let me think about
the one with the big-bellied guitar, No No,
not even him, not today, O my that they should
want an old woman like me, No No I won’t
give you the key to the house.

You’ll just have to sing from out there,
from the tamarind streets of my youth
where my light used to hum
past the lace of carnations
entwined in clouds of cigar
along columned porches by the sea,
and is walking dancing so sprightly now,
yes yes, so sprightly,
and will never return to me.

[First appeared in The Fiddlehead, No. 227, Spring 2006.]



Double its species norm, or thrice,
a great egret combs my slow garden,
neck and head the very fraud of reed
in the willow wind, picking off
the dozed lizard and the rock-still toad.

The size of a woman, or of the shadow
common specimen cast on freeway slopes
or the medians of turgid avenues.
It reigns, the golden beaked and eye,
ignoring the longanimous postman
and me quiet in my dead car
holding the wheel two-handed
as if desire might steer the beast
of awe to make a home on my lawn
and ground the miracle.

Among liriope and bougainvillea
and bird of paradise, prey
in frozen hues among the brotherly shades
hope in their way, too,
the white scythe has reached his plenty,
or that his eye might fail, or
the muscled branch of his leg might crack.

Scared into a jeweled tightness,
they get their wish at mine's expense,
and the bird saunters toward the neighbor's
cream caladiums and a blush
of blue plumbago. His neck crooked
into the outline of an ear. But hunger
has no music, only craft.

[First appeared in Mid-American Review, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2006.]



Bruno came up to the girl at the bar
and she was already talking halfway
out of one side of her mouth while, he knew it,
looking at him with one eye at least through the smoke
she dropped everywhere from the chatted cigarette
and the pointed nails, and he knew it was all falling
in place, the look, the lights, the small moves he was
making toward her, the glance this way and that,
and when she said ham on rye to the waiter
he jumped in talking about samurai figuring
that was her thing, her lust right out of history,
dazed her a bit but she kept up her order ignoring
in that flirtatious opposite-of-what-I-really-want
kind of way his prize prey always gave him
despite his more and more on the sword, the layered
steel and the funny knobs of hair that meant all sorts
of things to heroes from back then and look simply
weird to her, no doubt, right? he asked, but I know
better, ham on rye came right by him and he stared
at it as she began to munch it trying harder to ignore
him, and then he finally broke down, Know
all about ham and rye, breed the pig, plough the field,
know all I need to know to get to that chewing.

[First appeared in Ploughshares, Vol. 30, No.1, Spring 2004. Included in 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, ed. Billy Collins, New York: Random House, 2005.]



They are the flood's fingerprints--the lizard
scurrying across a wall, the fly's buzz gelled
in hover, the spider's hairline drift,
the vulture and the albatross and all
the kited wings, all the living things
that bring the sea's unleaden habits
to air and land. Their floated
masteries would a normal practice be
had the rains endured and the whirling
arks never keeled. It is no accident
that when men fled the dense quotidian
to rub the empty stars, they wombed
their weight in freedoms
of untroubled space. Suit bubbled,
tubed to air and duty, they bowed
to the mosquito lighting on a pond,
the mantis and the jay. They homaged
the bat's pendulum and the ant's intact dive
from canopies where serpent and monkey
mirror each other's coil and hold.
The flood, maligned in murderous tales,
was not at all about a hated world.
It was and is a call to disregard the plumb,
as do the dancer's silken veil, the flag
folding like kelp in the just breeze,
the balloons of heat and helium.
Behold the hummingbird who will not forget
water's freedom in a falling world.
It did not have to lift toward emptiness
a moon away from its kind,
and ponder continent and season
in spun blurs eclipsed by a gloved thumb
to understand the stillness of journey.

[First appeared in Writing the Future: Progress and Evolution, ed. David Rothenberg and Wandee J. Pryor. Terra Nova Book. Cambridge, Massachuseets & London: The MIT Press, 2004.]



After Bruegel

Not all the birds think the kernels
above the stick-propped board
are the gift of heaven. Some spy
and dawdle on the barren twigs
the season has knitted.
Like melted cages, the branches cannot hold
yet the ambition is there.
As in the ice that so wants to burst
into warmth and drown
the paunchy mother with her wrapped child,
the skaters swinging sticks, the ambling villagers--
all caught in the hungers, minutes, and pennies.

And the bundling snow too wants its kill,
to take these talky mammals down
like the thin wolf or the late born fawn.
All the forces of the wild will not shear
the species that hides in skins and houses.
Indeed, they've brunt down
nature's clock and storage
and war on borrowed soil. By mine
and net they balance the world
into purpose. And now a clever one

props a board up, drops corn and waits
for the birds to lose the fear
that brought them through the sun
green talon and claw. To fall
now under blight's sagacious shadow
in this parody of shelter, this house
the kind master must have built just for them--
the artless few who stayed the acrid season.

Was it wrong to hope for dropped petals of food
and a slice of roof to warm the ground?
And wrong to take the string that arcs
in the bitten gusts for the summer rope
a blur of children jump through?
Who but the safe dark starling
staring at the loose finches and sparrows
cradling into the trap could damn
their needs? Did he not scoff
at the scarecrow to crown his beak with corn
when all the harvester could do was hope
he'd had his fill? Starling's kin holds the string,
the brother featherless wing that shuts the trap.
The grim window is nature, too.

[First appeared in TriQuarterly, No.117, Fall 2003.]



After Bruegel

From and toward the bitter white
they trudge, down the breasted slope
to the angled squares of roofs
and the green banners of stiff ponds
dotted with skaters. The hunters
are like the bonfire at the inn's door,
of that proud element, and not the fluid
cracked by season or the air that lets
a scissors of a bird turn and dip.

Where is the earth? The gaunt dogs sniff for it,
the trees are anchored in it, absent beneath
the fallen season that has skirted and drowned
the tired ground. All that fruit and grain,
all the trembling shades. This is the time
to shut away and let men find the world
without it. Let them think they feel
the ground beneath the anvil of boot.
They know the brown black trees
are its ripped streamers.

Finally, hulked and gunned, and ready
for tavern and whore, they swell to know
they are earth. But in the coughed vapors,
they are the air too. In sweat, piss and spittle,
the water. All four elements reel within them--
beast but master.

And something else, not the shot soul
but what the baked village so daintily speaks.
The dwellers gather, yet they dot distances
that cannot reduce mountain or the flood grey
of sky. Even the village is too small to be noticed
by the soaring bird. Yet what else returns home
marked by its choice of bloods? What else can live
by a hugged prayer or count the small change of hope?
What else can draw blazes from the snow
or dance upon the diamond ponds?

[First appeared in TriQuarterly, Spring/Summer 2006, number 125.]



For one mile of it or thereabouts a pelican
flew beside us, glided exactly above
the concrete wall of the bridge, barely
a feather or muscle moving, exact
as a line thrown on the page of the world
with a ruler. From a quarter mile back
I saw the bird lift syrup slow, then suddenly
aright itself and take to an invisible
track four feet or so above the barrier,
and I knew I would have to brake a bit, and more
as we got closer, to cruise along his glide
in that joy exclusive to parallels.
Never mind that we were coming home
from a honeymoon, and that any dicethrow
of weather, bloom, sand, cloud, any dicethrow
spoke utterly of harmonies. Never mind love.
We, axle-bound and land-held, got to glide
along with Icarus, red striped chest, grey and white,
thick as purpose, as if designed for nothing
if not for this trajectory, this one flight
to escort the poetry of coincidences.

[First appeared in New England Review, Vol. 21, No. 4, Fall 2000.]



Count on the storm to steel the waves,
tin their shimmer and heave. The electric
cracks sheen the air, particle its vapors,
and the wind that’s coming has already
moved the sea, miles off. Shoreside,
we sense the sea has breathed in and readies.
Now, oiled by the hovering cobalt,
it simply rolls within itself like grain
in a sack a pair of fists is about to take
from dock to hold. Will throw the sack
on his shoulder, sweat will varnish his back,
and muscles will shift his flesh while the grain
finds its hourglass rules in the burlap dark.
We know the world’s been held aloft
in punishment, and drowned in punishment.
But who carries it and why, to make of waves
a granary, of turquoise mirror a shroud?

[First appeared in Ploughshares, Vol. 32, No. 4,Winter 2006-07.]

The following three poems are from the series Cangrejo or Crab.

Some were written in Spanish and converted into English texts, others were composed in English first. All three poems first appeared, in both languages, in Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas (Americas Society, New York, NY), No.67, Fall 2003.


Langosta no podía creerlo, floridana
y a pura antena: Cangrejo a la orilla del mar

como una moneda. Y esas tenazas, se decía
Langosta a sí misma, y ese carapacho.

Ya no me río más de la ballena
embelezada por los aviones que se pierden en nubes.

Ya la entiendo. Hay hombres en el mundo de arriba
que nos secuestran el alma, se decía Langosta.

A todas éstas, Cangrejo nunca se enteró,
aunque Langosta cambió para siempre.

Dejó de ser arisca y precavida. Sorprendió a Pulpo
agazapado con un diálogo cordial. Deslumbró

a Estrella de Mar con una ofrenda de amistad.
Qué suave la música de la Anémone, se decía Langosta,

no hay rumbo para el veneno en su vaivén.
Y a la sombra burbujeante con cara de vidrio

que la cogió con una mano al final de un largo
y destellante brazo, empezó a hablarle de amor.

Es como una tenaza, se decía Langosta. Es una tenaza.
Más bella que la de Cangrejo. Y está conmigo.



Lobster couldn't believe it, Floridian
and with nothing but antennae: Crab at the shore

like a coin. And those claws, Lobster said
to herself, and that shell.

Never again will I laugh at Whale
enthralled with planes losing themselves in clouds.

Now I understand her. There are men in the world above
that kidnap our souls, said Lobster to herself.

All the while, Crab knew nothing
although he had changed Lobster for life.

She stopped being angry and bitter. She surprised
lurking Octopus with a cordial exchange.

She dazzled Starfish with offerings of friendship.
How soft the music of Anemone, Lobster would hum

to herself. There is no path for venom in its swaying.
And to the bubbling shadow with the face of glass

that took her inside a hand at the end of a long and shining
arm, Lobster began speaking of love.

It is like a claw, Lobster said to herself. It is a claw.
More beautiful than those of Crab. And this one is with me.



para Cristina Rebull

Cada vez que viene ese tipo con el aparato
me escondo en la arena. Realmente, no es peligroso.

Me perturban esa vara larga que termina
en un disco de metal y ese par de orejeras.

Escucha metales. Tuve la buena suerte, la de siempre,
un día de quedarme tranquilo aquí abajo esperando

a que pasara, pero no. Se paró casi encima de mí.
Y pasa que pasa el dichoso disco. Trikitrikitrikitriki.

La aguja del monitor parecía una sardina acechada.
Y fue entonces que se agachó y empezó a escarbar,

y me encuentra. Sólo me dió una vuelta y me lanzó a un lado.
Caí, como siempre, al revés. Y pude verlo, al revés,

sacando un anillo de la arena donde yo estaba.
Qué contento se puso, pero le duró poco. Miró bien

el anillo y no era nada. Lo volvió a tirar en la arena.
Siguió por todo lo largo de la playa, como sesgando trigo.



for Cristina Rebull

Every time that man comes with that machine
I hide in the sand. In truth, he isn't dangerous.

But I am perturbed by the long rod that ends
on a metal disk and those earpieces.

He listens to metals. One day I had the good luck,
as usual, of keeping still beneath the sand, waiting

for him to pass. But no. He stopped directly over me.
Relentlessly passing the accursed disk. Trikitrikitrikitriki.

The monitor needle jumped like a hunted sardine.
Suddenly he bent over and began to dig, and he finds me.

He gave me one turn and threw me aside. As always, I fell
on my back. And I could see him upside down,

taking a ring out of the sand where I was hiding.
He was so happy, but it didn't last. Looked at it carefully

and it turned out to be nothing. Threw it back into the sand
and kept walking the length the beach, as if mowing wheat.



Acaso no estoy carapachado contra toda
contingencia? Tomen su tilo, su poesía relajante.

Si viene el huracán, a nadar, y a encontrarse
despues en otra playa, la cual, sin duda

será algo así como ésta. Desierto entre dos vidas.
Yo soy vida también, pero tiendo a descontarme

porque, seamos sinceros, me dejo deslumbrar
por el dale que dale del mar, y el me importa poco

de la tierra. La arena es mía por otra condición,
salta y cae, viene de uno y se parece al otro.

Y que será de ella cuando pase el huracán?
Lo que sea. Habrá otro sitio, será mío, donde me pongan.



Am I not shelled against all contingencies?
Drink your calm tea, your poetry at rest.

If the hurricane comes, I'll swim and find myself
later on another beach which, no doubt, will be just

like this one. Desert between two lives. I too am life,
but I tend to lose myself because--let's be honest

about this--I allow myself to be seduced by the blow by blow
of the sea and the couldn't care less of the land.

Sand is mine by another condition. It leaps and falls,
comes from one world but resembles the other. And what will become

of her when the hurricane passes? There will be
another place, mine too, wherever it is they finally put me.

© Copyright 2015 Ricardo Pau-Llosa. All rights reserved Ricardo Pau-Llosa. All work within this site unless otherwise noted ™
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