A Few Things Are Explained To Me

       for Daniel; after Pablo

It was five o’clock when paper handkerchiefs descended
over the ocean’s surge—
              one ocean varnished by oil in the morning, fish under the surge’s blades.

My country, you whimpered under fog. I awoke to the tender
sound of seashells on the radio.

I knelt by myself and listened. Your flat skeleton, large skeleton,
would group at your back.
Come, you murmured over canned goods. Come. I will tell you
everything—

clay seeps onto roots, roots drawn by salt, roots crowned
by trees. The cords unravel from the flesh of trees, unravel
by the storm shutters. Come.

See the roads brim with red poppy, roads tracked
by green serpents
                                                                       ((a la víbora, víbora / de la mar, de la mar)) 

I tendered nine eggs before the ignorant lion 
of exile, who nodded.

At five in the morning, everything seemed to be made of lime—

one torso shrouded by magnolia, one torso under vulgar peal 
of grey morgues, and the fish.

Related Poems

when you tie rope and ribbon

for oscar lópez rivera

you make two knots
so that years and names
can climb up or down

uniting thick and thin threads
simplicities and opacities
tense and resolved dialectics

your eyes are closed fists
that guide your hands
so the ribbon may last centuries
or until we have no need
to unleash forces
or unarm states


cuando amarras soga y cinta

para oscar lópez rivera

creas dos nudos
para que puedan subir o bajar
años y nombres

uniendo hebras gruesas y finas
simplicidades y opacidades
dialécticas tensas y resueltas

tus ojos son puños cerrados
que guían tus manos
para que la cinta dure siglos
o hasta que no haya necesidad
de desatar fuerzas
y desarmar estados

No Longer Ode

                                                                      para mi abuela en la isla


A hurricane destroyed your sense of home 
and all you wanted was to pack your bags 
in dead of night, still waving mental flags, 
forgetting the nation is a syndrome. 
All that’s left of the sea in you is foam, 
the coastline's broken voice and all its crags. 
You hear the governor admit some snags 
were hit, nada, mere blips in the biome, 
nothing that private equity can’t fix 
once speculators pour into San Juan 
to harvest the bad seed of an idea. 
She tells you Santa Clara in ’56 
had nothing on the brutal San Ciprián, 
and yes, your abuela’s named María.

Thoughts of Katrina and the Superdome, 
el Caribe mapped with blood and sandbags, 
displaced, diasporic, Spanglish hashtags, 
a phantom tab you keep on Google Chrome, 
days of hunger and dreams of honeycomb. 
Are souls reborn or worn thin like old rags? 
The locust tree still stands although it sags, 
austere sharks sequence the island’s genome 
and parrots squawk survival politics 
whose only power grid is the damp dawn. 
There is no other way, no panacea. 
Throw stuff at empire’s walls and see what sticks 
or tear down the walls you were standing on? 
Why don’t you run that question by María?

Beyond the indigenous chromosome, 
your gut genealogy’s in chains and gags, 
paraded through the colonies’ main drags
and left to die. So when you write your tome 
please note: each word must be a catacomb, 
must be a sepulcher and must be a 
cradle in some sort of aporía 
where bodies draw on song as guns are drawn, 
resilient, silent h in huracán. 
Your ache-song booms ashore. Ashé, María.

Nothing But Death

There are cemeteries that are lonely,
graves full of bones that do not make a sound,
the heart moving through a tunnel,
in it darkness, darkness, darkness,
like a shipwreck we die going into ourselves,
as though we were drowning inside our hearts,
as though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.

And there are corpses,
feet made of cold and sticky clay,
death is inside the bones,
like a barking where there are no dogs,
coming out from bells somewhere, from graves somewhere,
growing in the damp air like tears of rain.

Sometimes I see alone
coffins under sail,
embarking with the pale dead, with women that have dead hair,
with bakers who are as white as angels,
and pensive young girls married to notary publics,
caskets sailing up the vertical river of the dead,
the river of dark purple,
moving upstream with sails filled out by the sound of death,
filled by the sound of death which is silence.

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
throat.
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.

I'm not sure, I understand only a little, I can hardly see,
but it seems to me that its singing has the color of damp violets,
of violets that are at home in the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the look death gives is green,
with the penetrating dampness of a violet leaf
and the somber color of embittered winter.

But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
lapping the floor, looking for dead bodies,
death is inside the broom,
the broom is the tongue of death looking for corpses,
it is the needle of death looking for thread.

Death is inside the folding cots:
it spends its life sleeping on the slow mattresses,
in the black blankets, and suddenly breathes out:
it blows out a mournful sound that swells the sheets,
and the beds go sailing toward a port
where death is waiting, dressed like an admiral.