Ode to Barcelona
I left you too soon, Barcelona,
your stone hillside of petulant angels,
your iron tatted balconies, your cinnamon
haze, your spires & cannons & crypts.
The sudden flame of bougainvillea,
mouthy and righteous. Everything: a dare,
a whim, a hemline whipping & brambled.
I wanted to dance with you, Barcelona,
your candles gone liquid, your blue
twilight under lace, your tavern wine,
your velvet skirts combed humid
with summer, your red mouth lit
with saffron & clove, that mesmerizing,
crooked eye tooth when you laugh.
I wanted to eat with you, Barcelona,
tapas & cava & mocha. Your city side,
a broken dragon husked and draped
to a whip blue sea. At the open window,
a sequin catching on a rim so fine it wails.
Olive. Torta. Cuttlefish. Aubergine.
Truffle. Lentil. Artichoke. Prawn & fig.
I wanted to walk with you, Barcelona,
past your mosaic curbs of grouted confetti,
your spiral-shell walls of sea-whisper,
your Roman stanchions of blood & pig & sweat.
In your marketplaces, candy-bright wares,
beggars & pickpockets, splays of dawn
colored lilies razored against fortress walls.
And, I wanted to feel you, Barcelona,
your bedsheets, and your tambourine moon,
your flamenco tide rattling hulls & shutters,
your wolf & leather scented wind, your hot
stars sliding into grottos, the way the harbor
pivots, lights the column line of date palms,
and opens the soft, willing throats of doves.
Ebola Outbreak Traced Back to Bats in a Hollow Tree
Meliandou, Guinea, Africa
A fairytale trunk, bent and gothic,
root-buttressed, with a mouth like a cave
beckoning the village children inside.
It was called mallow, bombax, kapok,
once alive with seasons of flower and fruit
splitting into silky thistle, before it went hollow,
husked the cloud of bats that broke every
dusk with hunger. A familiar infestation,
both. After all, the bats were quite tasty
in a spicy soup with ginger, hot peppers,
& coconut cream. The tree, a graying
sarcophagus that purred like rain if you
pressed your ear against it. Its dark honeyed
buzz, irresistible to even the smallest children,
who crawled in while their mothers washed
the family linens in the nearby river. Oz.
Or what was left of the bad witch’s flying
monkeys—pendulant mole faces hugged
in leathery sleeves. Shirk & writhe: ripples twitching
in uncomfortable circumferences. Don’t breathe
it in, someone might have said. That marrow
of yawns hissing of an endless sleep. Echo-
location means feeling your way through
the dark. Don’t touch, someone might have
told them, sharing myths of bats tangled in hair,
or becoming vampires, leaving behind nothing
but small bites on the throat, a simple taste for blood.
The Cats of Crete
An island is no place for a cat.
Its swaying trees too bent to labyrinth
into means and mode over city squares,
out to outskirts that don’t exist
in seamlessness, one county line
rolling open into another.
There is only a boundary of tumult
and sea-hiss, a rock where ripples die,
a wicking salt sheen to be tongued
away from everything, and who knows
if cats can even see the color blue,
discern its striations: sea, mountain, sky.
Some say life originated here on Crete,
a mammalian inception, cell bumping cell
into an abacus of hunger, the first thread
of tabby’s spooling stripe, pigment of
calico unbraided into orange, black, & cream.
Millions of mornings later, the same sun,
the same sprawling ache of burgeoning
civilization. Olive trees & smoke. Mullet
flailing in nets. Purple blossoms tumbling
wide-mouthed and blind over stone walls,
where the cats are curled like fossils
in ancient niches and grottos, a fish
or bird ribbed inside each twitching dream,
so close to our fingers we can almost stroke
the geography of their wild, startled bones.
Floating Past the Orange House in Amalfi
I’d take that one
perched singularly between
of ocean & cypress & stone.
As a girl, hadn’t I drawn mountains
by tracing my splayed fingers
across notebook paper,
a geography overstated
in its remoteness,
like the way I’d seen islands
in that inkblot test, a sense of isolation
noted in the margins
by the assessor in his wide tie
and moccasins, but not loneliness,
I would have told him, not loneliness.
From that distance, nothing
could surprise me,
at the door of the orange house,
I mean. No guest arriving
without me having time
to drop a splay of lilies
into a blue vase, light the candles,
stir the simmering sauce,
let the butter soften for the bread.
There would be a dog or two,
of course, that would wake
and sniff the salt air,
stretch a sigh from their limbs.
And I’d grow a garden—
plum tomatoes, rosemary, fragile leaves
of arugula, a trellis of pearling grapes.
From that distance, nothing
but orange walls changing color in the light,
news that would arrive civilly rolled in paper,
or on a postcard of foreign stamps.
From that distance, nothing,
but clouds, cool & damp,
nosing at the lace curtains.
A featherbed. A fireplace.
A tree bent with Rubenesque lemons.
From that distance, nothing
wounded or loose, hungry or thronging
but the cool blue industry of the sea.
The Fish of Genoa
Astonished, is how they died,
one orange eye upright,
sound as a cat’s.
The flutter of salt
and seaweed on their tongues,
if they’d had tongues
on which to choke or flail,
and howl into the spaceless space
a last word between them,
the final sheen-on-sheen
spasm of grief or ecstasy.
They are beautiful.
Small rainbowed forgivenesses.
So, this is what dying looks like—
the day’s dull hungry hum
in your portion of a slow motion sky,
snagged in a sudden terrible tat of current,
a broken water skin, the volumetric inverse
of an ocean you can’t contain
inside your primitive cells,
and so you tumble, slide, affix
your silver flopping tail to the light.
St. Paul de Vence
Bougainvillea could be another word
for medieval ghostings—
motet of magenta, plainchant of purple,
it’s everywhere— raucous notes
eclipsing palette-knifed stone.
France smells like linen & eau de civilized
Tuesday afternoons, shop girls in pomade
& rosewater, parchment corners folded
to flag a certain lyric. In this town,
spigots spill cold with piped mountain brooks,
and Chagall lies patiently reverent,
anchored in his grave beneath small stones
of purveyors & pilgrims
who’ve placed them there,
who’ve climbed with their living eyes
these vines & arches,
those shutters hinged wide to slopes
of cypress and clay tile roofs,
the blue horizon of sea.
Every time our guide says hamlet,
it sounds like omelet, and I think
of fissuring shell, the essence of
tumble & fray purposed on the tip of a fork—
I’ll go left & you go right,
we are tourists on a scavenger hunt:
sundial, braided garlic, macaroon,
clay pot of lavender, iron bell, olive tree,
lace curtain, and rosé. A cat with sunflower
gold eyes lazes in the gothic fretwork
of shadow & sun, and ignores the artless
offerings of our hands.
The Path in Athens
Looking up, we marvel
at the shattered labyrinth
of the Acropolis, all teeth and rib—
dinosauric relics unpuzzled into
blueprint, myth, weather, & war.
After all, this was someone else’s
civilization, an elaborate lantern
of friezes and fluted colonnades
meant to a house a girl-flame—
warrior goddess long gone home
to her owls, every pick and chisel
swinging from a dead man’s hands.
Jesus in his time would have
called this place old. Don’t pocket
anything. It’s bad luck, you see.
Even the smallest sliver can bring
about the evil eye. Nothing but poisonous
oleander thrives in the graveled soil.
That teeming city encircling us
from every angle, distilled to
these perfect ruins, to this pilgrimage
just as massive and seamless, where
tourists with our sandaled feet
have polished the marble patches
on the incline into a slippery
and crude monument of awe.