The Fisherwives of Lisbon

Off the commercial
crooked streets
of Lisbon
and its thrifty
lights of life,
a low hum
of busy beings
toil away.
As sails are sewn
and motors disabled,
drifting vessels dock.
Whiffs of fish and fresh
garlic belch up the alleyways,
those serpentine-shaped alleyways,
giving garlic glimpses of
weather-beaten wives
lifting loads of line and ledgers,
dragging the oceanic plunders
down the wooden planks.
The fisherwives of Lisbon
are mermaids shaken
from similar nets
and dropped on dry land.
The port transforms
into a warehouse of wharf-talk.
But the shore-bound sirens persist,
dragging, cutting, icing . . .
wearing seashell necklaces, fish
basket bonnets, swishing
scale-covered skirts
that slog like slimy
glittering tails,
trailing wisps of sea-weed
back to their earthen homes.

 

Stalagmite

At 9am, a call confirms nothing
will ever grow in your belly.

It comes as we wait in a lobby
modeled like a locomotive terminal.

In the gift shop, we wait, quiet,
buy cheap hoodies and drink

warm cups of coffee in Styrofoam
that would kill us in the summer stench

outside. Children scream and laugh
as the adjacent elevator door squeals

open. We are still silent, blasted
from a shot of cold air, young families

emerging content from the caverns below.
We are next—with a family of five,

a herd from Oklahoma with one
pouting teen and a babe that keeps crying.

We hold hands in the dark and try
to marvel at these ancient shapes.

The middle child leads, interrupting
the tour’s talk every stop, while pointing

at the ghostly silhouettes painted
on the cavern walls by light.

He shrieks like a baboon at bats
sound asleep in hidden crevices.

He chirps into the black, burping
between the silent space between us.

And over railings he reaches rock,
rock that will never grow again.

 

Tourism

The street was narrow,
wrapped like a blanket
around the city.
The wind curled itself dry
in the square,
and the buildings were disaligned
like a little girl’s braid.
I didn’t notice Marissa’s body,
a runestone smooth from wear.
We were both bored,
having already seen everything
photographed and cataloged
in books loaned from the library.
And in the lieux de memoire,
we were both liars,
already planning the stories
we would tell when we returned home,
writing fairy tales on postcards
to mom and dad, her sisters
in Sarasota and Pittsburgh.
There was never a moment
we didn’t look at each other
through a wiped lens.

 

In a Dresden Museum

Giant of shadow and light and sweat,
Vermeer glows like from another era
on the walls of a Dresden museum
that looks like a cathedral. He is
misunderstood here, out of place
next to deep Hungarian blues
that could come to life and drown
the yellow lady, the green apples,
the muted instruments, and ruin the letter
that might not ever be read again.

 

How to Fold a Map

Who still needs a map?
Driving up to see you
doesn’t mean I’m moving north
anymore. Nobody reads
legends, and the compass
may appear in analog on some screen
but nobody pays it much mind.

We all know the shape of the earth.
Round, like a ball. One-sided.
The old road maps paint a better picture.
Various sides tucked away
inside each other.
Flat, creased, balled-up.
Nobody really rolls
unless they’re on holiday, perhaps
preparing to scream at some theme park.

We could complain or brag
on where we’ve been,
dream or dread where we’re going,
argue about the meaning of signs.
But we’re all on the same side,
aren’t we?

I’ll worry that I’ve forgotten the map.
You’ll be disappointed
when I want to read it.
We’ll follow the shoreline
until there are no more roads,
and I wish I’d brought the map.
But two people with a map
can still be lost: losing lines
in creases and finding new ones.

Home is a special place.
The same as when we left it.
Even with our different route back.
I’d lecture about how to fold a map.
It might be the same size as before,
but it’s lines will never quite line up the same.
New points lay on new points.

 

Kevin Wisniewski

Kevin Wisniewski

K.A. Wisniewski is a Fellow at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and lecturer of Public History at Stevenson University.  The editor of The Comedy of Dave Chappelle: Critical Essays, his poetry and poetry translations have recently appeared in The Tule Review, Toad Suck Review, basalt, The Chiron Review, Blue Lyra Review, CAIRN, Third Wednesday, Genre, and The Chariton Review, among others. His chapbook Making Faces is forthcoming in the fall. He currently lives in Baltimore, MD, where he manages Roving Eye Press.

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