On December 19, 1980
Alaíde Foppa went to buy flowers.
Sixty-six years old.
In a cellar, in a bloody cell, in Guatemala,
by the hands of thugs.
I walk by Alaíde’s sweet house in Tepoztlán
refuge from city noise and endless sorrow
Mario, husband of decades, killed
in Guatemala by a car
two sons, Mario and Juan Pablo,
Guatemalan guerillas, dead
Silvia, belovéd hija, hiding in Cuba
Laura and Julio, safe in an unquiet life
Alaída’s house is closed.
White cotton curtains cross the fastened windows,
embroidered flowers near the sills.
Past the locked iron gate, leaves blow in corners
of the patio, brown on the stones
Now and then, someone, thinking of Alaída, tosses
a message through the patterned bars
Thirty years ago I write a poem, lift it to the wind,
through the barred gate. Dust now.
Alaíde loved the light of Italian art
and the music of Italian words.
Teacher, translator, scholar,
for almost half a century, she put words on paper
justice equality honor
No body. No grave. Not a strand of hair.
Only paper reminds us
of her beauty, her courage
but a century after she was born, her words,
written down, are read.
sienna, Tuscany’s earth, moved to galleries
Remembered, like Joe Hill, she’s alive as you or me.
Not one eighth of a millimeter
for prairies of quarks and muons
to find themselves locked in atomic attachment
Not one eighth of an millimeter
from you, I am
imprudent enough to fill galactic silences
across the frozen black topography
to grace the electrons of our nucleus
Not a molecule struck by lightning
not one breath inhaled
then released into planetary atmosphere
not the thickness of thread is
Only the length of that thread
to the necessary
Nothing between us
but this hour
Breath of Mercy
Hard edged cold slides in
ribs rigid, pleural sacs hold iced shards of air
lungs freeze from inside out
white fingernails roll over
round reddened fingers
on fire with cold
burning cold runs through each phalanx of fingers and toes
lodges in stiff knuckles immovable
in frozen jackets of useless ligaments
rime of sleep wraps tight
sparkles of crimson, cobalt, citrine
warm the last slivers of fading, euphoric mind
Knock your elbow against the edge of the door,
the funny bone sends a thrill of shock
right to your brain.
On this hot morning
our eyes knock.
In that instant
every bone funny
every muscle laughing
every hair breathless.
In the aftershock keep touching
that electric pain
lean against the doorframe
until our hearts can move again.
At St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Ireland
On the funerary cover, drapery
shining black and beautiful,
centuries of parishioners have yielded to its tactile seduction
and left a polished ghost of their passing caresses.
Flesh and bones consumed by decades ticking on,
century yielding to millennia,
and none of these lords and their few ladies
noticing at all.
My hand trails the looping folds of medieval Irish limestone,
polished deep perfect black,
a shade thinner, more black now than before I came.
And I, too, am a shade thinner,
a microscopic layer of fingertips left on this lady’s robe
clothing her eternity,
not mine yet.
At St Mullins
high above the river, the stone walls, the belfry,
condominium-ed nests crowd higher in flapping air
noisy thousands bank, wheel, shift to port then starboard, circle furiously
dusk meeting of the parliament of crows
Ghost Along the Tracks
Rough-cut stones ragged in roofless granite walls,
heaped on what was once the floor
Where windows were,
perfect rectangles of the mason’s craft look in
The room once low-roofed, dark, enclosed,
now illuminated by refractive rolling mist,
every standing stone silvered in waves
Trees, rosy blooming rowan-ash, reclaim their place
amidst the grasses, lupines, wild barley, verbena
nourished by grounded clouds
Morning fog lifted its wet weight
And left the red twig
Shining in remembrance.
The clouds, in a prism of
Rush to the sea.
An insect passes almost
Lost in the litter of last summer.
On the verge of a pond, grass glimmers with rime.
Thin ice cracks in tatters as the temperature rises a few degrees.
Early cold sunlight seeps across the eastern plain
And lends its energy to the half-frozen water.
New mists vaporize in a minute
Like crushed diamonds
Rising on the still silent air
Awakening the loons.
For Love of Red
Red silk wet on pine needles.
Maple and sumac glimmer red against the road
neither red as the red wool blanket
in my blue room.
In the night silence
the house hums darkly
wood creaks with memory of its tree life
refrigerator defrosts itself around ice cream
some small invisible creature scratches at the screen,
curls against the still warm wall
soft snores, shifting sheets
everyone sleeps in the dark
over the page
one bulb burns
word after word, one sheet after another.
At Santa Maria Del Mar, Barcelona
Body of light
bends sharp on the shallow steps
lies prone on the cold beautiful stone
curls up the wall
climbs the arch of heaven
Up past the atmosphere
Steaming breath and steaming coast
Meet the streaming foggy sky.
Rough edged clouds
Remember the cold sea
Where they were born.
The sky is suddenly blue
Above the pitching,
stretching ocean of cloud,
Glowing clean in the high afternoon light,
That you have to squint
Or turn away for just a moment.
Ahead, banks, piles,
mountains of air
Holding all the ocean’s blue
And the tangerine-gold edges of evening.
Maybe it will rain again tomorrow.
moves long green bamboo leaves
across old black bark
an inky brush in the Spanish air.
This almost tropical grass
bending to the ground
is cousin to upright bright Korean stalks.