The Bells of Prague
I never meant to break.
But streetlights dressed her gold.
The curve and curve of her shoulders—
the hum and hive of them,
moonglossed pillory of them—
nearly felled me to my knees.
How can I tell you—the amber of her.
The body of honey—that I took it in my hands.
Oh, City—where hands turned holy—
her city, where my hands went undone—
gone to ravel, to silhouette—to moths at the mercy
of the pale of her hips. Hips that in the early night
to light lit up—to shining sweet electricus,
to luminous and lamp—where ached to drink
I did ‘til drunk.
Where in her rocked the dark Zikmund—
her, by then, a cathedral tower.
One breast, rose window.
One breast, room of alchemists.
Where from her mouth came tolling
the music of yoke and crown,
of waist and sway.
Wanting her was so close to prayer—
I should not—but it was July,
and in a city where desire means, Upstairs
we can break each other open,
the single blessing I had to give was Mouth—
so gave and gave I did.
Every night has a woman for temptation.
Every city has a fable for fruit—
like in the castle gardens, where jackdaws waited
glaze-eyed along the walls for a taste of new—
of figs unsweet yet, yet beryl-bright
enough for wonder.
Not jackdaw, but not different, I—how I destroy myself
on even the least of the sweetest things—
the salt of her burned not long on my tongue,
but like stars.
I never meant to break—but love,
the hymn and bells of her.
Even now, there are nights I climb the narrow stairway
to an apartment at Hradčany Square, where a door opens
to a room and the shadowed fig of her mouth—
split sweet open, and in me ringing.
A Minotaur’s Lament
You are full with river—how could Theseus find no joy in you?
Let me be your dark captain—ferry the blue-green thread
you unraveled from your skein
to lead me through the labyrinth of your body—
Go forward, always
down, you said.
Only a fool would not bless themselves with your mouth,
descend the silvery-blue
zigzagging the shoal of your collarbone
and falling to the shores of your breast,
not drink on the current of jet rushing
sternum to nipple.
I know another name for Holy,
and I have suffered the hot wound of thirst—
I am barefoot and slipped from my shirt—dizzy
with the green-gray ribbons braiding
at your wrists, how each thin stream spills forward
into the bright palm of your hand—
ready to sink the deep channel bending
the dunes of your hips, down
the jetties of your thighs—
and in your hands I am a coming vessel, an empty boat
willing to be helmed, moored, made fast—shackled and filled.
More pilgrimage than wandering, mercy than amaze—
I will follow this wet map of you
along whatever remains of the corridors of my life.
And if you can close your eyes to the Minotaur in me,
to the guilt that prostrates me
with its heavy twist of horns, I can open you—
Go forward, always
down, we will—
to the beauty of a monster’s appetite.
Mujer de sal
They named themselves—We’re angels, they said.
Though their toenails were ragged. Their shoulder blades
no different from her own. When the gang of neighbors
snapped their jaws in the air, threw adobe bricks through
the windows, rang the doorbell until it sparked and smoked,
busted vihuelas and guitarras to knots of splinters and gut
strings against the gate in a choir of desire, maybe she was
the one chasing the mob away with Pancho Villa’s pistol—
a silver Remington with Doreteo Arango scratched at the barrel—
cocking the hammer: chk-chk, chk-chk—maybe she threatened
to call la policía—(but everyone knew better than to call la policía.)
The point is, she never blamed them, the neighbors,
the throng. Who hasn’t ached for an angel beneath them?
To make novena and passion of the body—a mouth full of light
pressed twice to the hands, twice to the feet, flashing
along the rib cage for nine nights. What can we carry
through this burning down life, if not those five wounds,
these five hundred wounds, each like a cross of fire.
Maybe when the angels asked her name, to thank her,
she refused—so they could not call out to her in the night,
demanding to warm their hands in her hair, another blanket,
más tortillas, toilet paper, a cup of something—ron y miel, atole.
She probably heard the angels as they rocked each other to sleep
in the dusty corner. Fire hymns. Apocalypse jokes. Destruction
corridos. Prophecy about a border wall one hundred feet high.
She didn’t know the language but smelled the meaning
in their breaths. Maybe it was her idea to go, to leave it all behind—
the carpets slung over the line, the greasy bowls in the sink,
the waste land of emptied elote cobs, coals cooled to sugar skulls
in the hearth—and in the end, it was her decision to fall back.
When she did, she couldn’t stand the backs of their heads—
the angels’ matted curls, the way they shoved her husband forward
with their pointed rifles like coyotes, water sloshing in the gallon jug,
her daughters’ widening hips, the dirty hems of their dresses.
Why not stop, turn? Not for looking back but to shut her eyes
to the cave of future, a desert riddled with tunnels and ¡La migra!
¡La migra! ¡La migra! ¡Los magos que agrandan hormigas a tigres.
And back-buckling pruning slings that hold women above fields
bursting with colorful roses. The pillar of salt, a prayer answered—
a final blessing, a sting she could learn to love.