translated by robert hass
Under the evening moon
is stripped to the waist.
Slade was pulling minnows out of the dry river
the day we met. Puddles, more or less, was what
was left. But what could live wanted to and tried,
treading narrow circles, a glide of brittle ﬁns.
He wore those rubber boots, though the sun was
an anvil, and very little wet; he smiled, I remember
that, his nickel smile right at me, his ﬁngers
letting fall the small ﬁsh muscles into a bag ﬁlled
with yellow tap. I didn’t ask his name, or what
it was he thought he was doing, but we talked,
I listened as he taught me to relax the hand just enough.
They can smell, he said, the oils our pores release
when we tense to catch. You have to believe it,
he said. You don’t mean any harm.
I went into one room and then I went into another.
I was in a room inside a room.
There I felt safe.
for Judith Radstone
Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I’ll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,
resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.
She’s beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.
I dust her shoulders with a rabbit’s foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.
Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head…. Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way
she always does…. And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.
I work a lot and live far less than I could,
but the moon is beautiful and there are
blue stars . . . . I live the chaste song of my heart.
—Garcia Lorca to Emilia Llanos Medinor,
November 25, 1920
The moon is in doubt
over whether to be
a man or a woman.
There’ve been rumors,
all manner of allegations,
bold claims and public lies:
He’s belligerent. She’s in a funk.
When he fades, the world teeters.
When she burgeons, crime blossoms.
O how the operatic impulse wavers!
Dip deep, my darling, into the blank pool.
Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave
your house or apartment. Go out into the world.
It’s all right to carry a notebook but a cheap
one is best, with pages the color of weak tea
and on the front a kitten or a space ship.
Avoid any enclosed space where more than
three people are wearing turtlenecks. Beware
any snow-covered chalet with deer tracks
across the muffled tennis courts.
Not surprisingly, libraries are a good place to write.
And the perfect place in a library is near an aisle
where a child a year or two old is playing as his
mother browses the ranks of the dead.
Often he will pull books from the bottom shelf.
The title, the author’s name, the brooding photo
on the flap mean nothing. Red book on black, gray
book on brown, he builds a tower. And the higher
it gets, the wider he grins.
You who asked for advice, listen: When the tower
falls, be like that child. Laugh so loud everybody
in the world frowns and says, “Shhhh.”
Then start again.
I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.