In the Poet's Spotlight for
January 2007: Luisa A. Igloria
This month's Spotlight also features the
poems of Natalie Diaz, one of Luisa Igloria's
outstanding poetry students.
as Maria Luisa Aguilar-Cariño) is an Associate Professor in the MFA
Creative Writing Program and Department of English at Old Dominion
University in Norfolk, Virginia. Her work has appeared in numerous
anthologies and journals, including Poetry, Crab Orchard Review, The
Missouri Review, Poetry East, Smartish Pace, The Asian Pacific American
Journal, and TriQuarterly. Various national and
international literary awards include the 2006 Richard Peterson Poetry
Prize (Crab Orchard Review); the 2006 Stephen Dunn Award for
Poetry; Finalist for the 2005 George Bogin Memorial Award for Poetry
(Poetry Society of America); the 2004 Fugue Poetry Prize; a 2003 partial
fellowship to the Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg; two
Pushcart Prize nominations; and the 1998 George Kent Award for Poetry.
Originally from Baguio City in the Philippines, Luisa is an eleven-time
recipient of the Philippines’ highest literary distinction: the Carlos
Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in three genres (poetry,
nonfiction, and short fiction). She has published nine books
including ENCANTO (Anvil, 2004), IN THE GARDEN OF THE THREE ISLANDS
(Moyer Bell/Asphodel, 1995), and most recently TRILL & MORDENT (WordTech
Editions, fall 2005; Runner-up, 2004 Editions Prize).
Index of Igloria's Poems: Scroll down or click on Poem Title
STUDENT SHARING IGLORIA'S SPOTLIGHT
student of Luisa Igloria, was born and raised in the Fort
Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. After receiving her B.A.
degree, she played professional basketball in Austria, Turkey, Sweden,
Portugal, and Spain. She is currently pursuing her MFA degree in poetry
and fiction at Old Dominion University. Her work has been published or
is forthcoming in the North American Review (Honorable
Mention--The James Hearst Poetry Prize), the Southeast Review
(Finalist--Southeast Review Poetry Prize), Pearl Magazine, and
Touchstone. She was also Finalist in the New Letters Fiction
Index of Diaz's Poems: Scroll down or click on Poem Title
of Luisa A. Igloria (below)
From TRILL & MORDENT (WordTech
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Tarantism was an obscure illness which was epidemic
in southern Italy
between the 15th and 17th centuries. It manifested
itself in melancholy
and an overwhelming desire to dance. It was popularly
to be caused by the bite of the tarantula.
I was trying to explain whirling
dervishes in my class the other week,
how what they do is like hurling
the body across a chasm, in hopes
they can leave it behind. Feverish, jerking
spasms work to loosen the ropes
for the ascent to rapture. Perhaps the attendant clattering
in the ears is the sound of the bones grown limber;
of stays, hooks-and-eyes snapped asunder. Describing
what “Stairway to Heaven” meant in a radio interview,
Robert Plant sounded more like a mystic than the aging
lead singer of Led Zeppelin: “We sought a new
relationship to nature”— to be lifted away from this composting
life. Sometimes the world seems like a giant spider and we,
the victims lightly garlanded across its abdomen, ticking
blindly till a voice calls out our number. I wonder,
even at curtains wouldn’t it be better to go dancing,
lips and eyes flashing like the gypsy couple drawn on the border
of my old John Thompson Exercises for the Pianoforte? I imagine
furiously to the rhythms of the Tarantella, a dance said to cure
of the tarantula’s deadly sting. I imagine the dampness spreading
down their napes, the film of oil glistening across their foreheads,
their lips as they cross the threshold— the poison leaching
from bodies overcome with so much melancholy and desire. No one’s above
affliction. Even my mother feels ill when she can’t go ballroom
with her friends, widows in their seventies dressed in silk and
escorted by handsome young instructors, each one carrying
a briefcase stuffed with CDs and music cassettes: salsa, swing,
rhumba and tango, somewhere in there perhaps even those sad fados
that sound like the lament of lost doves. All of them, I think,
must be named Paloma. I’m sure by the end of the night they sit
like me in the shadow of a balcony or by a window, stung by the radiant
of the moon, by the ccuu-ccuu-rruu-ccuu-ccuu echoing through the
stung by love and hurt and the knowledge that there’s no hope for any of
in Poetry East, spring 2005)
Back to Igloria's Index
IN THE BLOOD
…everything is transformed.
Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, Elements of Chemistry (1789)
Durable blood, color of rust and desolation;
medium of occult exchanges
and pacts— Blood is thicker than water, my mother
used to say, by which she meant instinct
is related to chemistry. You quicken to what answers
to the warm parts of darkness; memory of womb or cocoon,
arms that take you in. Reading a book on subtle
anatomies, I stop at a page that illustrates
the numbered and magnified viscera of butterflies.
Their wings are uncurtained filaments,
parts of the elastic skeleton exposed as pulleys
that work to ground and also to release. Nearly
weightless, true vagabonds borrowing passage
on any wind. And yet they home in and cluster a season
together to sleep, drifts thick as pelt or forest
cover, pulsing color in the shade. You’d walk
through them as through an echo chamber of collective
breathing. You’d envy their domestic nesting and
their gorgeous flight; it’s in the blood. In the end, no diagram
exists for instruction on the body’s mysteries—
Where does the old blood go? Why is plasma clear
amber and the rest, vivid and opaque,
like paint? What elements, bound,
allow for ecstasy: invasion of the sluggish blood,
a flush across the cheeks? The earliest
transfusions were from animals, in the belief
they were more innocent. Human blood was thought corrupted
by debauchery. I read about the madman Arthur Coga,
first to receive a blood donation in the theatre
of the Royal Society. The year was 1667, the experiment
recorded in the annals of medicine and surgery. Having discovered
how the lancet cuts along the vein and not across, they used
a set of silver quills jutting from the carotid artery of a sheep,
to his arm. The documents state that afterwards, the patient
was well and merry,
and drank a glass or two of Canary… his pulse being stronger
than before. They took him round the coffee-houses, toasting his
Eventually he fevered and died but there are drawings, engravings
from that time. The marriage of science and art, and the autopsy—
to see into oneself— yields the brilliant illustration. Now we
how the heart beats; that blood must match with blood, to cause
effective chemistry. The leech can only drink so much; stupefied,
it peels off like a drunk and never even registers the wonder.
in Smartish Pace, May 2004)
Back to Igloria's Index
after Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s “Death of the Virgin”
Death may have taken its time coming,
lending a slip of pallor to the clay, idling
among the stones and furrows in the orchard,
wringing the towel with the body’s water
and effluvia into the pewter basin—It’s still here,
in this room where the light tenders its departure,
a weight that causes Magdalen to double over.
Her coiled braids make me want to sob, her dress
the moldering tint of peaches in summer, her nape
caught in the last rays of sun falling from a high window.
Grown men with balding pates and pilgrims’ beards
stand under a canopy, leathered red muted with sienna,
that Caravaggio paints as an inverted triangle
suspended from the ceiling. They know
whose death they grieve, who were themselves
expelled from out of that first small paradise
between their mothers’ ovaries. And so
they weep open-mouthed or into their hands,
forgetting shame. John the Younger
can barely hold up his head. The body
in death, so difficult to behold—
the seamed bodice (also red) drawn tight
over the liver’s cloudy ampules and perforated
kidneys. Her peasant’s feet, unshod and
bloated with edema. Here is the brown and careworn face,
the tangle of hair and its brittle halo, the thickened arms
outstretched along the plank, exhausted fingers—
Fingers still shapely like my mother’s, many years ago
when she held me before a camera after Sunday mass,
smoothed her skirt of cotton voile and tossed
her veil and rope of hair behind one shoulder
—so young, so unafraid of what it meant
to have conceived her child out of wedlock.
~ for Cresencia Rillera Florendo
(The 2006 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize, Crab
From the 2007 Her Mark Calendar and Datebook
WomanMade Gallery, Chicago (http://www.womanmade.org)
What is to be worthy or un-
worthy of another? If there
is fever, there is also work,
a woman wrote in a book
I read. She recollected
a story and the gift
of an apple to a famous painter:
he set it down on a tabletop
and looked at it for days,
the way its red burned
wilder than a berry or the feathers
on a bird of spring.
Against the window or yet again
arranged beside a yellow handful
of lemons, and still he would not touch
nor eat. Is this then a parable
about virtue, how at the end of suffering
there is the consolation of art?
Cixous says she prefers another method—
to bite into the fruit and open her mouth
to its compact cache of sweetness.
The work is to build
memory of apple back by seed,
by flower and spiral, when not
even its core remains; to teach how the eye
might cleave to the picture no matter how
it’s shaded with the ink of loss.
Back to Igloria's Index
Sharing the Spotlight: Poems of Natalie Diaz (below)
Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan-
Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian
Angels don't come to the reservation.
Bats, maybe. Or owls, boxy mottled things;
coyotes too. They all mean the same thing—
death. But angels? No way. And death
eats angels, I guess, because I haven't seen
fly through this valley ever.
Gabriel? Never heard of him. Know a guy named
He came through here one pow-wow and stayed,
Indian. Sure he had wings,
jail bird that he was. He flies around in
stolen cars. Wherever he stops,
kids grow like gourds from women's bellies.
Like I said, no Indian I've ever heard of has
ever been or seen an angel.
Maybe in a Christmas pageant or something.
Nazarene Church holds one every December,
organized by Pastor John's wife. It's no
Pastor John's son is the angel. Everyone knows
angels are white.
Quit bothering with angels, I say, they’re no
good for Indians.
Remember what happened last time
some white god came floating across the ocean.
Truth is, there may be angels, but if there
up there, living on clouds or sitting in
castles across the sea wearing
velvet robes and golden wings, drinking
whiskey from silver cups,
we're better off if they stay rich and fat and
exactly where they are—in their own
distant heavens and worlds.
You better hope you never see angels on the
rez. If you do, they'll be marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they've
mapped out for us.
Back to Diaz's Index
Of Course She Looked Back
You would have, too.
From that distance the city
fit in the palm of her hand
like she owned it.
She could’ve blown the whole thing—
markets, dancehalls, hookah bars—
sent the city and its hundred harems
tumbling across the desert
like a kiss. She had to look back.
When she did, what did she see?
Pigeons trembling like debris
above ruined rooftops. Towers
swaying. Women in dresses
strewn along burnt-out streets
like broken red bells.
The noise was something else.
Dogs wept. Roosters howled.
Children sang songs of despair.
Guitars fed the dancing blaze.
Her husband uttered Keep going.
Whispered Stay the course, or
Forget about it. She couldn’t.
Now a blooming garden of fire
the city burst to flame after flame
like fruit in an orange orchard.
Someone thirsty asked for water.
Someone scared asked to pray.
Her daughters, or the angel
maybe. She wondered
had she unplugged the coffee pot?
The iron? Was the oven off?
She meant to look away.
Long dark legs of smoke opened
to the sky. She meant to look
away, but the sting in her eyes
held her there.
Back to Diaz's Index
Don’t Mention Flowers When
With My Brother Reach Uncomfortable Silences
Forgive me, distant
wars, for bringing flowers home.
~ Wislawa Szymborska
In the Kashmir Mountains,
my brother shot many men,
blew skulls from brown skins,
dyed white desert sand crimson.
Were there flowers there? I asked.
This is what he told me:
In a village, many men
wrapped a woman in a sheet.
She didn't struggle.
Her bare feet dragged in the dirt.
They laid her in the road
and stoned her.
The first man was her father.
He threw two stones in a row.
Her brother had filled his pockets
with stones on the way there.
The crowd was a hive
of disturbed bees. The volley
of stones against her body
drowned out her moans.
Blood burst through the sheet
like a patch of violets,
a hundred roses in bloom.
Back to Diaz's Index
The Girl From Yu Mountain
Bamboo, slender and lime ripe, shoots straight, hard and up from cobalt
hand-painted vases like prison bars
cutting you into halves, fracturing the world until you forget which
side is caged
which side is free, you suffocate and breathe, gasping for answers that
like flowers too weed to bloom, leaving you to part the stalks
see see but you never do
in the jeweled box behind your eyes you can,
inside you are a baby, your head a round jade bead, heavy, smooth
you cry when the red egg is rolled on your crown, you cry when you are
when you are sleepy,
stopping only when your mother folds you to her breasts where you grow
suckling on jasmine and candied ginger,
you learn to speak orange-flavored words that sting your tongue
shi shi your mother says, rocking her body in rhythm you mistake
for heart beat;
pulls of thick skin, shiny scars, remember the German Shepherd that bit
your ear, shredding your throat like rice paper
the spot on your elbow, a fall you never rose from, still peppered with
on your twelfth birthday a priest brought you the purple twelve-speed
bike you wanted
the death of your father came the day before, unwrapped and ribbonless,
them both with unmoving lips and eyes
trembling inside like a broken-winged bird, you listened for your
instead she fell to the bed, you nodded your head and pressed your
face to her
now flat and empty, yellow and hard like a callous, you heard no song in
you shut your eyes for the first time like tiny bronze shields, lychee
filling the garden beyond the stretch of stone wall
yes yes you said, because you knew—
Who is there now to lift their shirt to you? To recognize the salt in
your tired breath
and pluck the leathery fruit from the place where hearts were meant
Who will speak the words across your eyelids shh shh?
—I can only write.
Back to Diaz's Index
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