after C. P. Cavafy

You tell me: I’m going to another country,
another city, another body.
Perhaps my heart will stay uncertain,
and I will destroy my history but I am leaving.
Even if on every street, I find the ruins of our bodies,
I’ll roam like a restless soul anyway.

I tell you: you won’t find a new country,
new city, new body. You’ll return to roam
the same ruins, same streets, same quartiere,
return to complain in the same room
of the same house, return to the memory of our intertwined bodies.
You will always end up in Roma: I will always remain in you.
And maybe late, you’ll see, that what you destroyed
is worth more than all the worlds you wasted your time in.

Granada Sings Whitman

By the river Genil
lovers sing what belongs to the water,
a shoemaker sings the dream he had,
his helper the dream he didn't,
a man sings to the woman
on the broken mattress,
death at midday sings,
on the banks of the Darro
a blind thief
collecting golden poplars sings,
and so does the crevice of quivers,
the saints flaming in la Sierra
and the men rehearsing a country.
They know nothing stays,
but when Whitman sings—
they allow his voice
to take them apart.

Holy Cosmos

We’ve been told space
is like two dark lips colliding

like science fiction
it outlines a small cosmos

where fear hides in a glow
where negative space

becomes a place for wishing
a constellation of hazy tunes

of faint sharp vowels
a glossary of meteors

a telescope to god
a cold bright white

maybe distance damages us
maybe Jupiter

will suddenly surprise us
with a notion of holiness

but instead an old planet
takes over all the space

and we are reminded
of the traces of fire

in our gaze
defining our infidelities

Accepting Heaven at Great Basin

When you doubt the world
look at the undivided darkness

look at Wheeler Peak
cliffs like suspended prayers

contemplate the cerulean
the gleaming limestone

the frozen shades
the wildflowers

look at the bristlecone pine
a labyrinth to winding wonders

listen to the caves
sing silently

remember the smell of sagebrush
after a thunderstorm

that Lexington Arch
is a bridge of questions

in the solitude of dreams
that here

distances disturb desire
to deliver a collision of breaths

the desert echoes
in this dark night sky

stars reveal the way
a heart can light a world.

Related Poems

From a Woman of a Distant Land

1

   In this country, we do not bury the dead. We enclose them like dolls in glass cases and decorate our houses with them.
   People, especially the cultivated ones from old families, live surrounded by multitudes of dignified dead. Our living rooms and parlors, even our dining rooms and our bedrooms, are filled with our ancestors in glass cases. When the rooms become too full, we use the cases for furniture.
   On top of where my twenty-five-year-old great-grandmother lies, beautiful and buried in flowers, we line up the evening soup bowls.

2

   We do not sing in chorus. When four people gather, we weave together four different melodies. This is what we call a relationship. Such encounters are always a sort of entanglement. When these entanglements come loose, we scatter in four directions, sometimes with relief, sometimes at wit's end.

3

   I wrote that we scatter in four directions, but I did not mean that we merely return home, scattering from one another like rays of light radiating from a single source.
   When there is no more need to be together, we scatter in four different directions, but none of us ever breaks the horizon with our tread.
   Because people are afraid at the thought of their feet leaving the earth, we turn around one step before reaching the horizon. After thirty years, those faces we wished to see never again enter our fields of vision.

4

   In this country, everyone fears midday. In the daytime, the dead are too dead. Bathed in the sharp view of the sun, our skin crawls, and we shudder.
   When the nights, vast and deaf, vast and blind, descend with size great enough to fill the distances between us, we remove our corsets and breathe with relief. When we lie down to sleep at the bottom of the darkness, we are nearly as content as the corpses around us.

5

   The sight of fresh new leaves scares us. Who is to say that those small buds raising their faces upon the branches are not our own nipples? Who is to say that the soft, double blades of grass stretching from the wet earth are not the slightly parted lips of a boy?

6

   In the springtime, when green begins to invade our world, there is no place for us to take refuge outside, and so we hide in the deepest, darkest recesses of our houses. Sometimes we crane our necks from where we hide between our dead brothers, and we gaze at the green hemisphere swelling before our eyes. We are troubled by many fevers; we live with thermometers tucked under our arms.
   Do you know what it means to be a woman, especially to be a woman in this country, during the spring?
   When I was fifteen, becoming a woman frightened me. When I was eighteen, being a woman struck me as loathsome. Now, how old am I? I have become too much of a woman. I can no longer return to being human; that age is gone forever. My head is small, my neck long, and my hair terribly heavy.

7

   We can smile extremely well. So affable are our smiles that they are always mistaken for the real thing. Nonetheless, if by some chance our smiles should go awry, we fall into a terrible state. Our jaws slacken, and our faces disintegrate into so many parts.
   When this happens, we cover our faces with our handkerchiefs and withdraw. Shutting ourseleves alone in a room, we wait quietly until our natural grimace returns.

8

   During our meals, sometimes a black, glistening insect will dart diagonally across the table. People know perfectly well where this giant insect comes from. When it dashes between the salad and the loaf of bread, people fall silent for a moment, then continue as if nothing had happened.
   The insect has no name. That is because nobody has ever dared talk about it.

9

   Three times each day, all of the big buildings sound sirens. The elementary schools, theaters, and even the police stations raise a long wail like that of a chained beast suffering from terrible tedium.
   No matter where one is in this country, one cannot escape this sound—not even if one is making love, not even if one peering into the depths of a telescope.
   Yes, there are many telescopes in this country. There is always a splendid telescope at each major intersection in town. People here like to see things outside of their own country. Every day many people, while looking through the lens of one of these telescopes, are struck by stray cars and killed.

10

   When the faint aroma of the tide wafts upon the wind into town, people remember that this country lies by the sea. This sea, however, is not there for us to navigate; it is there to shut us in. The waves are not there to carry us; they continue their eternal movement so we will give up all hope.
   Like the waves that roll slowly from the shore, we sigh heavily. We throw our heads back, then hang them in resignation. We crumple to the ground, our skirts fanning over the dunes...

11

   Ignorant of all this, trading ships laden with unknown products, move into the harbor. People speak in unknown languages; unknown faces appear and disappear. Ah, how many times have I closed my eyes and covered my ears against the wail of the sirens while sending my heart from the harbor on board one of those ships?

This City

could use more seraphs.
Anything with wings, really—

a falcon, a swallowtail.
Ravenous for marvels, I slit open
a chrysalis. Inside,
no caterpillar mid-morph.
Only its ghost in a horror of cells.
I pinch the luminous mash
of imaginal discs
and shudder, imagining
the mechanics of disintegration.
The wormy larva—whole,
then whorled. A wonder
it did not die. Even now,
smeared against my skin, it beams

like the angel in the tomb
prepared to proclaim a rising.

When You Meet the Roma at the River

your face translates
            for river and ever
translates your fate

sign her your sins
            and ever forgiver
sings she your sins

pay her your pay
            for debtors endeavor
to spit in the river

your sins will be
            and severed forever
spat into river

unlike the river
            a mirror reflecting
its framing forever

your sins will be
            just spit in the river
you’ll probably live