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Spring/Summer 2002, Volume 19.3

Poetry

 

Virgil SuárezPhoto of Virgil Suarez.


Virgil Suárez was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1962, has lived in the United States since 1974, and is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Florida State University. He is the author of four novels as well as four collections of poetry. His memoirs,
Spared Angola: Memories of a Cuban-American and Childhood and Café Nostalgia: Writings from the Hyphen, chronicle his life of exile in both Cuba and the United States. His essays, stories, poems, and translations have appeared in TriQuarterly, Poetry London, Parnassus, Poetry Wales, Imago, Field, Cimarron, and many others.


Trabalenguas

I knew a red-haired girl
once who could tie a cherry
stem in her mouth.

Once she finished, the knot
perched on her lips, a broken
promise. She spoke Arabic,

Spanish, Chinese, her father'd
been a diplomat. When she drank
she liked to lean back and roll

her "Rs" as in "erre con erre
cigarro, erre con erre barril,
rapido pasán los carros

por las lineas del ferrocarril."
Tongue twisters like barbed wire,
a finger in her mouth, then pop

a million ash-colored birds aflutter.
When she stared at me I could
feel her words rumbling

through, a distant thunder, blush
blue, even through the years she's
been gone, this woman of fire

words, queen of trabalenguas

 

Gossamer Cosmos

How many thermometers did I break open
     on my mother's dining room table to watch
        the mercury run between the cracks, globules
of magic that melded and fused into each other,

or escaped from under the push of my finger-
     tips, this silver-flash radiance of a chemical
          years later I heard poisoned men in Japan
through fish they ate. Everything kills us.

What doesn't do it fast, does it slowly, as if
     a magician in front of you is tugging out lengths
          of gossamer scarves, a rainbow of them
that keeps flowing, spilling as he pulls and yanks.

I remember those days in the early 1960s in Cuba,
     burnt into my mind like some sepia filter, a boy
          in funny-looking shorts, mother-sewn, scalloped
hair cut my father called malanguita. How many

things did I not break, or ruin in my grasp? Once
     I stuck my head between the wrought iron bars
          of the front gate, and Manuel, my father's
friend and neighbor, had to saw one off to free me.

Then there was the electric meter with its circular,
     rotating dial I thought was a train, its black
          interspersed ticks freight of another life,
my life of imagination. I stood away afternoons

there by the back fence and spent hours watching
     that dial whirl like the moon. Once, too, I whistled
          and set the chickens aflutter. My grandmother
peeked her head out of her bedroom window—

she asked what I was doing. I told her I was riding
     on a train into the Arabian desert, where camels
          stampeded down sandy slopes to disappear in mist.
I was a child of seven then. As a man I believe

in magic, still, the way I will get up and walk out
     into my garden to find gossamer spiders busied
          themselves through the night, built these webs
between leaves of grass. Tiny tents they have left

on the trail for me to find, links back to my origins.

 

Recitative of Jackson Pollock's Love Affair with Gravity

When the paint brush becomes a lasso,
   paint forms vectors stampeding across
a canvas strewn on a hard floor, rock-
   solid surfaces beckoned to him, drips

coiled and whipped away from his fingers,
   these lightning bolts of color, splashed
and spawned in layers, spirochetes,
   paramecium specks in a vortex of time

and sensibility. Some say he was possessed
   by demons, and surely, these baptisms
in paint and stroke made a saint of him—
   Who submerges, comes clean. Who loses

concentration, plummets deeper in hell.
   The cigarette dangling in the corner of his
mouth would sometime burn near his lips,
   a reminder of how much time he'd swallowed.

The canvas at his feet writhed, wrinkled,
   stretched into infinity—a whirlwind of paint
splashed and dripped reds, blues, blacks—
   these colors of possession, a demon cut free.


La Frontera y La Distancia/The Border and the Distance

          Aqui donde where if you split a rock,
a black bird will emerge, its wings iridescent indigo,
moist from the hatching, a train track crosses the land,
a serpent which divides the earth into two: on that side,
a golf course designed by some famous, not-yet-dead
gringo golfer, and on this one a shanty town of card
board and tin houses sloped like bad teeth
          on the valley-mouth of this region.

          The children play in the river, they swim
like fish, their skin growing razor-sharp scales. Over
time they have learned to stay under when the border
patrol comes through. When the coast is clear,
they emerge and cross the tracks, leaving a trail of wet
tracks. They have learned to follow those blackened
birds they raise from the rocks. In this heat, the children
harvest the rocks by pricking a finger with a cactus needle
and letting the smooth stones drink their blood-water.

          At night the rocks glow like lava. This is the sign
of living rocks. Some say they hear the children singing
like those birds in the distance. The ones that have learned
          to cross all borders.

 

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