A Passover letter to my son
Chag sameach!

Luisa Igloria's "Trill and Mordent"

Over at Via Negativa, Dave Bonta is reviewing and blogging a book or chapbook of poems each day during April. For those who have more modest readerly ambitions, he's offering the Via Negativa Poetry Month Book Club, and invites the blogosphere to join him in reading, reviewing, and discussing four books of poems. During the third week of April, Dave and the others who are taking part in this collaborative conversation are writing about Luisia A. Igloria's Trill and Mordent. (Here's his review.)

I first encountered Luisa's poetry at Via Negativa, actually; that's where Luisa posts frequent poems arising out of / in response to Dave's "morning porch" entries. (Here's the link to all of Luisa's posts; here's one I especially like, Between, in response to A mourning dove skimming the treetops....) So I was pretty excited at the prospect of picking up one of her books to read in full.

I am the face
that floats beneath the water of itself,
that counts the passing stars and braches
overhead, wanting to attend to their beauty
before their waning, wanting to forestall
the eventual farewell for as long as the world
grants pardon.

--"If the Poem Were Glass"

These are rich poems, heavy with imagery like ripe summer fruit. Some of these are long poems -- like the one I just excerpted, above -- which challenge my focus...but even when my eye skims down the page I can't help stopping, repeatedly caught by images and phrases that grab me and won't let go.

One of my favorites begins with a young sailor showing the narrator around a ship. We see instruments, masts, captain's wheel, polished wood, and then:

In the galley, long loaves of bread
rise and are baked in the fire,
cooling soon like islands under a mantle
of shimmering vapor...
                          ...I think of the old
galleons setting forth with their hoard
of gold and silver, their panniers
and creels of curry, cinnamon, hemp.

-- "Cuauhtemoc"

Igloria describes the "far-seeing faith of the ones / at the helm" as darkness "lowers its sails" over the landscape. And then at the end of the poem, the beat of steel drums, flatbread filled with meat and tabasco "as hot as a world on fire."

Several poems in this collection too evoke the siren song of journeying and landscapes far foreign to both my Texas roots and my New England life:

He wakes one morning
with songs of sea-gypsies curling into his ear;

in his mind, the smell of pineapples grown
ripe in the sun, a plantation of green tufts crowning

the wilderness that once was his life.

-- "South"

And other poems travel the more-contained landscape of the interpersonal world, lovers, parents and children, our responsibilities for and to each other:

Father, I brought a basin of lukewarm
water and a towel with which to wash
your feet. I coaxed the dry cotton socks

over the raised pink swellings around each
ankle and felt the weight of your regret
rest briefly in each palm.

-- Tree of Watchfulness

Several of my favorite poems from this collection fit into that latter category -- poems which traverse the interpersonal landscape. In one, a couple sits at a restaurant -- Igloria gives us all the details: checkered tablecloth, salt and pepper shakers -- and the man talks about what it felt like to go under for surgery ("one moment he was awke, then sliding / under a token of ether; a subway coin that rolled / beneath a closed grating...") The poem marvels that no one in that room thinks about the reality that they're all going to die. Though we are. And the hospital chaplain in me remembers that we never know what sorrows, physical or emotional, lurk beneath the faces of the people we meet:

Ah, what the body with its hundred hurts
and hidden pouches could make
us believe: as though we could stumble
from life to life with nothing

more than stitches radiating
like secret halos under the skin, every wound
a rusty box through which the heart, gullible
coin we're ready to swallow again and again --
is always poised in offering, or about to disappear.


This is beautiful stuff, and powerful -- for me as a reader, at least. I'm so glad that the regular poems Luisa is posting at Via Negativa gave me the inclination to pick up this collection; I'm so glad that I'll be able to continue reading her work at Dave's blog in days to come.