Lament of Submerged Persons

Mudslide in Rio de Janeiro state . . . : in the early hours of Saturday, following two days of heavy downpour. A boulder slid down a slope and hit a group of houses in the city of Niterói.

Volunteers joined rescuers in silence so that any survivors could be heard.

                       —BBC News, November 11, 2018

It's as if the marrow of the earth mistook us
for part of itself, our limbs its own settling

form, like we have sunk into chairs and taken as us
our tight-tucked legs, our bellies. Or known the settling

head of our daughter to sternum as an uncleaved us,
one sleeping self inside a woken self. The settling

mud around, its heave, seems simple now: is softening us
into dense dark shape, and we are settling

our gauges too: voice from volume, sediment, shadow, us
from the spaces we lived. Silence settling

who we thought we were, was us,
into this all-consuming lack. Nothing settling

a choke around the circumference of light, drawing us
in. We no longer know if our eyes are open, only settling:

(where our daughter sank her pillow—her hair—and us
somewhere too), though we're yielding there to this, settling

aphotic loss, how we once lived what we could bear: us,
her, no more. Now there is weight so true, a settling

so whole, we could die in its lightness: it exiles us
to formless terror—no blanket, no bed, but settling.

If we could remember that once a throat was us
inside a body. Only: here, or here, inside this settling,

a hint of shade, almost like memory: the sound of us. 
If we could just know again our mouths. We 

could part the earth with our voices, ask to be heard.

More by Sasha Pimentel

Golden Shovel: at the Lake’s Shore, I Sit with His Sister, Resting

                       Lost softness softly makes a trap for us.
                                                —Gwendolyn Brooks

Michael’s skin splinters below the water’s line, his navel and all murky and lost
like a city from my old life, or that scarf I’d loved, the softness

with which we sink into what disappears, and the country of his groin and knees so softly
already blackened. His sister snores below my hands. Her mouth makes

tadpoles. Her breath wet from chemotherapy, I’ve massaged her a- 
sleep. Her shoulders swell their small tides. The air burns leaves. I want to want to trap

her sighs, dividing the stillness, in glass, to a Mason jar: breath like smoke against a window—: for
this man halved by water. But we sit in sun and grit, watch the waves which lose us.

Touched by Dusk, We Know Better Ourselves

You map my cheeks in gelatinous dark, your torso  
floating, a forgotten moon, and a violin

crosses the sheets while you kiss me your mouth 
of castanets. I believed once my uncles lived

in trees, from the encyclopedia I’d carried
to my father, The Philippines, the Ilongot hunting

from a branch, my father’s chin in shadows. I try 
to tell you about distance, though my body

unstitches, fruit of your shoulder lit by the patio 
lamp, grass of you sticky with dew, and all

our unlit places folding, one
into another. By dead night: my face in the pillow,

your knuckles in my hair, my father whipping my 
back. How to lift pain from desire, the word

safety from safe, me, and the wind 
chatters down gutters, rumoring

rain. I graze your stubble, lose my edges mouthing your 
name. To love what we can no longer

distinguish, we paddle the other’s darkness, whisper 
the bed, cry the dying violet hour; you twist

your hands of hard birches, and we peel into 
our shadows, the losing of our names.

My Father’s Family Fasts the Slaughter to Feast the Arrival of His Bride

Ilocos, Phillippines

What did she permit him to see, my mother, the first time
he brought her to the ocean—the goat, hungry—mewling
in the distance while my mother shrugged her shirtsleeve 
down, her shoulder fragile in new day? Or was it her wrist 
which implied the unfreckling of her forearm? The susurrus 
of flycatchers . . . softened bleats of starving. A hawk is circling 
closer. What do we see when we see? I can see my mother,
but never my father. His shadow darkens her arm. Her breast

sinks to a curve we three know—, and there’s enough time 
for hair to come loose, the popping of a button. A rat reveals 
himself in the corner the way a woman tenses in and out
of light—: and my mother is coming to that point of breath- 
lessness, humidity speckling her birdwing clavicles—
and the goat’s hooves rustle—: above mud, before harm.

Related Poems

Children Walk on Chairs to Cross a Flooded Schoolyard

Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines
(based on the photo by Noel Celis)

Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton mangle
of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume
it’s holding something back. In this country,
it’s the season of greedy gods
and the several hundred cathedrals
worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages
like this one, where a girl is likely to know
the name of the man who built
every chair in her school by hand,
six of which are now arranged
into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates
can cross their flooded schoolyard.
Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,
the girls brown and bare-toed
in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.
They hover like bells that can choose
to withhold their one clear, true
bronze note, until all this nonsense
of wind and drizzle dies down.
One boy even reaches forward
into the dark sudden pool below
toward someone we can’t see, and
at the same time, without looking, seems
to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl 
behind him. I want the children
ferried quickly across so they can get back
to slapping one another on the neck
and cheating each other at checkers.
I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe
in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like
to be in America, to kneel beside
a six-year-old, to slide my left hand
beneath his back and my right under his knees, 
and then carry him up a long flight of stairs
to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,
the little ridges of the spine
with my palm, the tiny smooth stone
of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted
a sleeping body so slight I thought
the whole catastrophic world could fall away.
I forget how disaster works, how it can turn
a child back into glistening butterfish
or finches. And then they’ll just do
what they do, which is teach the rest of us
how to move with such natural gravity.
Look at these two girls, center frame,
who hold out their arms
as if they’re finally remembering
they were made for other altitudes.
I love them for the peculiar joy
of returning to earth. Not an ounce
of impatience. This simple thrill
of touching ground. 
 

from "Apocalipsixtlán" [12. A Second Crack in the Earth]

The pond of bones begins to rattle. Even Mother’s
     throne collapses, her body disassembles. The ground
turns to quicksand as it trembles and swallows
     every socket, every thorn, every pebble. In a single
gulp the bed beneath the Smaller Ones swirls down
     a funnel. The earth has groaned like this before.
We know what to expect though it doesn’t help
     us guess which plate will lift its crust and which
will crumble. The dust is blinding. It separates us
     as we scramble. Unknowingly, some of us run

right into the opening and plummet. We hear
     no screams. We hear no cough though we see us
spitting ink—the gas unleashed has cooked our
     lungs. Slowly the collective gathers in the shadow
of the clouds. We must guide our shattered spirits
     to a shelter before the mists release their acid.
In our ears the ringing doesn’t stop. It will take
     a week and some of us will get the sickness—that
rabid urge to kill and tear apart what’s whole.
     We fear no second crack. We fear another purge.

We wrap our arms around our bodies, swaying back
     and forth—we’re motherless cradles, candle stubs
whose flames have melted down to callus. We are
     silent but for the piercing shrill inside our heads.
Cocooned in misery, we might have missed this
     spark of light entirely, but there it is, lifting heavy
chins from chests: a firefly—an actual firefly,
     beautiful bug from our fantasy game, a reality
here among the detritus of the world, rising from
     its dregs, a flicker, a flash, a wink of vital breath.

We try to catch the little star but it eludes our grasp.
     We let it be, it comes to rest upon a knee. Dare we
ask if this means the planet now spins in opposite
     direction? Does it begin to mend its ruptures, unclog
its river paths? The firefly fades but its ghost remains.
     No more dreams, no more questions. Sleep, tiny hope,
we do not know what threats or sorrows we’ll
     encounter next. Tomorrow is a story for those who
make it through the present chronicle—uncertainty,
     scarcity—we the ephemeral have inherited this earth.

Once the World Was Perfect

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.