Self-Portrait with Weeping Woman

I know why I fell hard for Hecuba—
shins skinned and lips split to blooming lupine
on her throat's rough coat, hurled down the whole length
of disaster—I'm sure I'd grown to know
by then to slacken as a sail against
the current and squall of a woman's woe.
What could I do but chorus my ruddered
howl to hers? When you're a brown girl raised up
near the river, there's always a woman
bereft and bank-wrecked, bloodied and bleating
her insistent lament. Ay Llorona—
every crossing is a tomb and a tune,
a wolf-wail and the moon that turns me to
scratch at the tracks of every mud-dirged girl.

More by Deborah Paredez

Change of Address

Rate your pain the physical
therapist instructs and I am trying
not to do what they say
women do lowballing the number
trying hard not to try so hard
to be the good patient scattered
assurances lining the aisles like
dead petals and me left
holding nothing but what’s been
emptied out obviously I am over-
thinking it when I settle on someplace
in the middle six or seven
times a week I walk past the street
vendor on Broadway and say
nothing while eyeing the same
pom-topped hat the physical
therapist asking me now
for the name of that Chinese place
where I sometimes go asking
for the patient just before me
a street vendor in need
of a cheap massage as I lay
the plain wreckage of my shoulders
in the shallow hollows
the street vendor’s body has left
on the padded table in the center
of the story I sometimes read
to my girl a cap seller sleeps
under a tree’s shade waking
to find the monkeys in the
branches above have plundered
his wares he waves his hands shakes
his fists until his rage makes him
throw his cap to the ground and the
monkeys mimic him and down
float his caps his fury finally
fulsome enough to restore
what he’s lost you’ve got to find
another way to move the physical
therapist modeling for me the poses
to mimic assuring her I won’t move
what’s left of the heavy boxes later
unpacking the last of them I learn
about the woman who once lived
here Charlotte who twisted the cap and shook
out the pills Charlotte who swallowed
and slipped into sleep in her last act
of volition here in this bedroom where
the westward windows go on longing
for dawn and I am trying to move in
a new way to pull the mess of sloughed
hair from the bathtub drain to move
in the space of another's suffering
scrub the caked toothpaste
from the sink make a home
in the space where suffering
may meet its end.

Lightening

for Deborah Johnson (Akua Njeri)

—Composed on the 45th anniversary of Fred Hampton's murder, Chicago IL—

you didn’t look

down or back, spent

the fractured minutes

studying each crease

and curve of the law-

men’s faces

so later you could tell

            how it happened:

how you crossed over
           
            his body, how you kept

your hands up

how you didn't

reach for anything

not your opened robe—

nothing—how they said he's good

            and dead

how you crossed

over the threshold

how you lifted one

and then the other

slippered foot across the ice

            how you kept yourself

from falling—how

your bared belly bore

the revolver’s burrowing snout—

            how   
how   

—how when the baby starts

            to descend, it’s called

lightening though

it feels like a weight

you cannot bear—lightening

            is when you know

it won't be

long before it's over

Hecuba on the Shores of Da Nang, 1965

Again the sea-machines creep from the east,
their Cronus jaws unlatched and pups expelled.
The scene the same. Again. Again. The sand
now boot-lace muck, the rutted shore resigned.
No words will do. Laments will not withstand
this thrashing tide. It's time for snarling beast-
speak. Gnash-rattle. Fracas-snap. Unmuzzled
hell-hound chorus unbound from roughened tongues.
Kynos-sema keen-keen lash-kaak nein grind
then ground and rot and reek and teeth and grief
and gabble ratchet growl: custodian
of woe. It doesn't end. Fleets on the reef,
horizon buckling. To meet what comes
the body cleaves from all that is human.

Related Poems

Grief Work

I have gazed the black flower blooming
her animal eye. Gacela oscura. Negra llorona.

Along the clayen banks I follow her-astonished,
gathering grief’s petals she lets fall like horns.

Why not now go toward the things I love?

Like Jacob’s angel, I touched the garnet of her wrist,
and she knew my name. And I knew hers—
it was Auxocromo, it was Cromóforo, it was Eliza.
It hurtled through me like honeyed-rum.

When the eyes and lips are touched with honey
what is seen and said will never be the same.

Eve took the apple in that ache-opened mouth,
on fire and in pieces, from the knife’s sharp edge.

In the photo her fist presses against the red-gold
geometry of her thigh. Black nylon, black garter,
unsolvable mysterium—I have to close my eyes to see.

Achilles chasing Hektor round the walls of Ilium
three times. How long must I circle
the high gate above her knees?

Again the gods put their large hands in me,
move me, break my heart like a clay jar of wine,
loosen a beast from some darklong depth—

my melancholy is hoofed. I, the terrible beautiful
Lampon, a shining devour-horse tethered
at the bronze manger of her collarbones.

I do my grief work with her body—labor
to make the emerald tigers in her hips leap,
lead them burning green
to drink from the violet jetting her.

We go where there is love, to the river,
on our knees beneath the sweet water.
I pull her under four times
until we are rivered. We are rearranged.

I wash the silk and silt of her from my hands—
now who I come to, I come clean to, I come good to.

Portrait of Atlantis as a Broken Home

              I swim down to 
              look for our four-
              chambered house.
                            The window
              in our room still leaf-
              darkened, its bruiselight
              charged with fault. 

Am I very lonely? 

             I age in reverse until I am as
             small as my child
             body, my chest swollen
             with bright longing

             that the walls will not always
             greet each other 
                           in collapse—

The lord is kind.

             The underworld is lit by half
                          -moon as if to say, none
                          of this is evidence,
                          only decay.

             In the drift, this wreck still looks like a life:
             everything still hanging is relieved
             of its weight like an archer’s arrow
                           suspended in rags 
                           of snow.
             I hunt the me
             that made this heavenless night,

             my young fear circling your
             false beacon, its low
             stars and difficult earth stacked
             immense against
             every fact—

I should be funnier here:

                            Underwater, iron sinks

                                                                            weightless as       

               a kite 

                                     plummeting 

                      through peaks.

It Comes in Every Storm

translated by Mary Crow

And don’t you feel also, perhaps, a stormy sorrow on the skin of time,
like a scar that opens again
there where the sky was uprooted?
And don’t you feel sometimes how that night gathers its tatters into an ominous bird,
that there’s a beating of wings against the roof
like a clash among immense spring leaves struggling
or of hands clapping to summon you to death?
And don’t you feel afterwards someone exiled is crying,
that there’s an ember of a fallen angel on the threshold,
brought suddenly like a beggar by an alien gust of wind?
And don’t you feel, like me, that a house rolling toward the abyss
runs over you with a crash of crockery shattered
       by lightning,
with two empty shells embracing each other for an endless journey,
with a screech of axles suddenly fractured like love’s broken promises?
And don’t you feel then your bed sinking like the nave of a cathedral crushed by the fall of heaven,
and that a thick, heavy water runs over your face till the final judgment?

Again it’s the slime.
Again your heart thrown into the depth of the pool,
prisoner once more among the waves closing a dream.

Lie down as I do in this miserable eternity of one day.
It’s useless to howl.
From these waters the beasts of oblivion don’t drink.


Llega en cada tormenta

¿Y no sientes acaso tú también un dolor tormentoso sobre la piel del tiempo,
como de cicatriz que vuelve a abrirse allí
donde fue descuajado de raíz el cielo?
¿Y no sientes a veces que aquella noche junta sus jirones en un ave agorera,
que hay un batir de alas contra el techo,
como un entrechocar de inmensas hojas de primavera en duelo
o de palmas que llaman a morir?
¿Y no sientes después que el expulsado llora,
que es un rescoldo de ángel caído en el umbral,
aventado de pronto igual que la mendiga por una ráfaga extranjera?
¿Y no sientes conmigo que pasa sobre ti
una casa que rueda hacia el abismo con un chocar de loza trizada por el rayo,
con dos trajes vacíos que se abrazan para un viaje sin fin,
con un chirriar de ejes que se quiebran de pronto como las rotas frases del amor?
¿Y no sientes entonces que tu lecho se hunde como la nave de una catedral arrastrada por la caída de los cielos,
y que un agua viscosa corre sobre tu cara hasta el juicio final?

Es otra vez el légamo.
De nuevo el corazón arrojado en el fondo del estanque,
prisionero de nuevo entra las ondas con que se cierra su sueño.

Tiéndete como yo en esta miserable eternidad de un día.
Es inútil aullar.
De estas aguas no beben las bestias del olvido.