I have photos on old film
of the rainforest in Borneo,
the orangutans with their rusty fur
suspended in trees,
eating leaves and the spicy durian fruit
that smells like custard and crushed garlic,
building nests above parasitic Rafflesia
with their giant brown, red, orange and white flowers,
smelling like rotten meat,
devoid of leaves,
surrounded by orchids, ferns, and trees
that rise to umbrella the floor of the thick forest.
I have pictures of the pig-tailed macaque
and a hornbill on a fig tree
and a leech latched to my ankle to suck.
I have pictures of the swathes of peat forest
slashed and burned to make room for palm,
its bunches of red berries big as wombs,
its fan-like branches pushing the sun
back into the sky.
I will take this film home with me.
I will find someone who can develop it
with an old machine,
a remnant in this digital world,
and I will hang the pictures on my wall.
But I am in the airport,
and the uniformed men at security
dismantle my luggage.
They tell me I have no rights here.
They tell me that where there are borders,
there is only law.
But they let me take the palm berries.
I will crush them and drink their oil.
The conveyer eats my bags like a black tongue.
They swing wands across my body as I stand,
hands raised, with my jeans and T-shirt
of the Balinese barong and its red head of a lion,
and they pull from my luggage my keys,
my shadow puppet, my sarong
green and blue with a labyrinth of boxes
filled with crystal designs,
with fractal forms like stars,
those constellations of the Southern hemisphere
that I don’t know how to map.
They take my film.
I hold my breath.
They give it back.
At home I peddle my pictures
where people eat the saturated fat
of chips and fries and ice cream.
At home I lie under the hips of foreign men
and I drink mountain spring water,
transparent as glass.
I think of the black river in the mangrove forest,
how dark the water was,
how we paused in the tiny, green canoe
where the Dyak muscled at the bow,
I steered at the stern,
and I dunked my hand in the dark water,
and the water curled away from it,
and my hand disappeared.
Where the war was yesterday
in the town tucked in the Alps,
they gathered mushrooms in the wild woods
and my grandmother grew thin with lupus
as she did the Russian soldier’s laundry,
the one who said he would take her daughter
home with him and raise her in Moscow.
They slaughtered the skinny roosters for dinner
and cultivated small gardens of cabbage and potatoes
and shared their cigarettes with the soldiers,
fingers yellow and broken teeth
and groschen spent on flour for spaetzle
but there was no sugar for strudel.
The father tailored the soldiers’ clothes,
replaced missing golden buttons with ones of wood,
and the mother frail and dying,
he with four children and fathering bastards.
He would have to find a new wife.
There, where my mother learned to walk on cobblestone
and collect the elderberry flowers her mother fried in batter.
There, nestled in mountains that would bury her mother,
after the war,
after they ironed the soldiers’ clothes
and her father gazed at the sky
where mushrooms grew,
their scent of earth and wood descending, dampening the air,
and moss began to grow on the stucco walls of their tiny home,
and it rained crumbled mushrooms,
the spores of their gills staining the cobblestone streets
and catching on the soldiers’ lapels,
while the Austrians huddled in their houses and built fires.
They ate mushrooms for breakfast, lunch, dinner,
those dirty white sponges that grew out of shadows,
and they began to speak foreign words
and soon could not understand their own songs,
when edelweiss had grown on their tongues
and the mountains had sighed the meals they gathered
and mothers had given birth
only to lose their sons in battles,
only to empty their wombs into holes left by roots
they had revered,
those perfect blond children with eyes of lapis,
and they knew now they had been wrong,
but now the mushrooms were too many to gather,
the air damp and fog blanketing the mountains,
and the trees lay naked with the roots dying,
roots yanked out and left to the autumn light.
The coyote is fulvus, amber-colored,
with sea-green eyes.
It burrows in the plains
and brings the kill of prairie dogs
into its dens to feed its pups.
It eats our cats, stalks our dogs.
They do not like the coyotes,
who howl and yip and whine
and bring fire to the plains
as flat as the palms of their hands.
Some people were fireflies.
They lived in a hollow space
where the spruce tree rose like a citadel.
The coyote could not enter
until he gave the children cedar berries
black, blue, yellow, the fourth all colors,
and he strung them around their necks.
So they gave them their fire,
and his bushy tail burned,
and he raced around the world.
He burned the cedar and pine,
and he gave away fire to everyone
with his zigzag motion,
his tremendous yaw,
and he brought to the wild plains his dance.
The coyote makes people angry
for his slinking, stealth,
furtive trot and burning secret.
They haze him with bullets.
They write reports about him.
They paste posters warning us
to watch our backs.
We stumble over sage bushes
and walk miles in search of hot springs,
where fire grumbles into water,
and we clumsily strap light into wires
and mire ourselves in straight lines,
and the grids and latitudes are tight
around the earth like a collar strapped
to the leash of our mind.
The coyote’s coat blends
with autumn prairie grasses,
and we search for that bead of all color
that we dropped in the holes
we dug for our graves,
and the fire that got away
lives in the wild footprints,
in the ashes the coyote left behind,
and the wind and the weight of the sky
and the chanting, gnawing rain
washes them away,
and we cannot trace our path
back to the hollow space
where the spruce tree rose like a citadel;
we cannot find our way back home.
We drive inland on the dusty road
in the jungle of Cozumel to San Gervasio.
I want to see the temple of Ixchel,
to bring to her gray weathered limestone
my blue topaz jewel entwined with a crystal snake,
that color I saw on the jewelfish at the reef,
those juvenile damselfish with fins
yellow as sun when they grow.
I am carrying an empty water bottle
and I am thirsty.
The light hurts my eyes,
my pupils refusing to shrink,
open windows to that solar smite,
and I am old but still blue
like a crystal bruise, darting behind coral.
I am the daughter of America.
I plant our flag at the dangling feet
of the black crucifix in the shrine
marking water from shore.
At his feet kneel two disciples in brown robes,
and the candle has lost its wick.
I drink margaritas and wear rubber fins
and I am always hungry.
I am the child crying for my child,
Busco a mi hija, sus huesos en el cenote,
agua verde como los ojos de las serpientes.
I search for my daughter
but her bones mingle
in the green cenote of her eyes,
like the sugar and tequila on my tongue.
We have to leave the car and walk.
The dense air sits on my shoulders
as I walk on another dusty road to Ixchel
with her serpent headdress and jaguar claws.
I wear my blue topaz on my chest
above my empty breasts to the temple
I am not allowed to climb.
Finally the ruin stands before me like an old crone,
its stone weathered and smooth and crumbled,
its jagged steps like teeth.
That stone had been painted with murals
depicting the sea and snakes swallowing heads
and feathers and wings emerging from their tails.
That stone knew rain
and the breath of women giving birth
like the pelting of its water
and the small, dark feet climbing.
That stone knew the day
my priest sent me to hell
and my father shrunk from his father’s belt
and the day my daughter grew breasts
and moved to foreign lands.
When we drive away,
the topaz stone burns my chest
and the black seats of our car
have drunk the heat,
and we sit in its dark capsule,
black as the scavenger gackles
that prefer the gardens to the jungles,
with a blue sheen on their bellies,
those thin black birds
that steal food from our hands
and whistle at dawn.