Wilhem Roentgen aimed radiation at objects,
each holding photons like a dam holds flood.
What spilled over was cast on film, a portrait
of what was lost: a metal sheet, a set of weights,
his wife’s hand—silhouette of her wedding ring.
The history of innovation cycles, a stone wheel
that hones a knife’s edge. Biotech is built small
for warzones, to trace poison in water. Mustard gas
fathered chemo: autopsies of blistered victims
showed tumors lulled into slumber. Wildfires
clear stagnant fields clean—eventually you
hardly remember the earth’s scarred flesh. Still,
I remember cadavers and my reluctant scalpel
baring down onto bone. I remember someone
said, They wanted you to learn, as if permission
could supplant the image of skin peeled out
like an onion. Roentgen saw this muddled
future; he called them X-rays, x for unknown,
but he predicted deformed fingers, twisted bowels,
and hid behind lead. Even his wife, mother
of lobar pneumonia, of excised bullets and clots,
knew her role in this play. At her naked
knuckles, she cried, I have seen my death,
but not once did she pull her hand away.
What remains of my childhood
are the fragmentary visions
of large patios
like an oceanic green mist over the afternoon.
Then, crickets would forge in the wind
their deep music of centuries
and the purple fragrances of Grandmother
always would receive without questions
our return home.
The hammock shivering in the breeze
like the trembling voice of light at dusk,
the unforeseeable future
that would never exist without Mother,
the Tall tales that filled
with their most engaging lunar weight our days
—all those unchangeable things—
were the morning constellations
that we would recognize daily without sadness.
In the tropical days we had no intuition of the winter
nor of autumn, that often returns with pain
in the shadows of this new territory
—like the cold moving through our shivering hands—
that I have learned to accept
in the same way you welcome
the uncertainty of a false and cordial smile.
Those were the days of the solstice
when the wind pushed the smoke from the clay ovens
through the zinc kitchens
and the ancient stone stoves
of the secrets of our barefooted and wise Indian ancestors.
The beautiful, unformed rocks in our hands
that served as detailed toys
seemed to give us the illusion
of fantastic events
that invaded our joyful chants
with infinite color.
It was a life without seasonal pains,
a life without unredeemable time
a life without the somber dark shadows
that have intently translated my life
that slowly move today through my soul.
Todos volvemos al lugar donde nacimos
De mi infancia solo quedan
las visiones fragmentarias
de los patios tendidos
como un naval terciopelo sobre la tarde.
Entonces, los grillos cuajaban sobre el aire
su profunda música de siglos
y las fragancias empurpuradas de la abuela
meciéndose en la noche
siempre recibían sin preguntas nuestra vuelta al hogar.
La hamaca temblando con la brisa,
como la voz trémula del sol en el ocaso;
el futuro imprevisible
que jamás existiría sin la madre;
cargadas de su peso lunar más devorador;
—todas esas cosas inalterables—
eran las constelaciones diurnas que reconocíamos sin tristeza.
Entonces no se intuía el invierno,
ni el otoño que retoña con dolor
entre las sombras de este territorio
—como el frío entre las manos doblegadas—
que hoy he aprendido
de la misma forma en que se acepta
la incertidumbre de una falsa sonrisa.
Eran los días en que el solsticio
acarreaba humaredas polvorientas
por las ventanas de las cocinas de zinc
donde el fogón de barro milenario
el secreto de nuestros ancestros sabios y descalzos.
Las rocas deformes en nuestras manos
la ilusión de eventos fabulosos
que invadían nuestras gargantas de aromas desmedidos.
Era una vida sin dolores estacionales
Vida sin tiempos irredimibles:
Vida sin las puras formas sombrías
que se resbalan hoy lentamente por mi pecho.
translated by Marcela Sulak
Filled were my days with suns.
Filled were my days with love.
When he comes to the door I will open to him
and I will be wet loam.
The balcony of my body is rosemary for him
and he, clusters of vines.
Sometimes, in the darkness, before his sleep,
I hear a grape opening.
Behold, here he arrives at the gate,
he removes the breastplate of his clothing
set with shards from the floor of our house.
He kisses me and permits me
to lay my ribs
in the space between his ribs.
I return to him.
He poeticizes our sated bodies
in the ears of friends.
They hear and are burned
as one who imagines the taste of a lemon.
Then he waves goodbye.
The movement of his hand caresses from afar
all the organs of my body.
He kisses my extended hand,
fingers like the lashes of an eyelid.
He is a man who holds an etrog,
he brings his nose close to smell it.
My beloved who found a woman,
he looked for and found her in himself.
She is beautiful, she is more beautiful than I.
A well is full of lace,
fine lace, my love.
When my hands roll away the rock
the white light spills out.
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
The lies I could tell,
when I was growing up
in a black place,
were just white lies.
I could easily tell the white folks
that we lived uptown,
not in that pink and green
shanty-fled shotgun section
along the tracks. I could act
like my homemade dresses
came straight out the window
of Maison Blanche. I could even
keep quiet, quiet as kept,
like the time a white girl said
(squeezing my hand), Now
we have three of us in this class.
But I paid for it every time
Mama found out.
She laid her hands on me,
then washed out my mouth
with Ivory soap. This
is to purify, she said,
and cleanse your lying tongue.
Believing her, I swallowed suds
thinking they’d work
from the inside out.
To fish from a cloud in the sky
You must find a comfortable spot,
Spend a day looking down
Peer at your ceiling:
Where a light dangles, hook & line
Could be slipping through.
Under the hull of a boat
A fish will see things this way,
Looking up while swimming by —
A wavering pole’s refraction
Catching its eye.
What will you catch?
With what sort of bait?
Take care or you’ll catch yourself,
A fish might say,
As inescapable skeins of shadow
Scatter a net
Over the face of the deep.
I want to go to the other bank
The river water alters the sky’s colour
and alters me
I am in the current
my shadow stands by the river bank
like a tree struck by lightning
I want to go to the other bank
In the trees on the other bank
a solitary startled wood pigeon
flies towards me