Lexicon of Exile
Animals seem to fill their skins, trees their bark, rivers
their banks, so beautifully, that we cannot help but see in
their wildness a perfect at-homeness
There is no way I can crank a dial,
scroll back the scenery,
perch sinsontes outside my windows
instead of scrub jays and mockingbirds and linnets.
There is no way the brightly lit film
of childhood’s cerulean sky, fat with meringue clouds,
can play out its reel unbroken by the hypnotist’s snap:
You will not remember this.
There is no way I can make that Pan American plane
fly backward, halt the tanks of the Cuban revolution,
grow old in Güines, smelling the sour blend of rice and milk
fermenting in a pan by the chicken coop.
There is no way I can pull the harsh tongue
from my mouth, replace it with lambent
turquoise on a white sand palate,
the cluck of coconuts high in the arc of the palm trees.
The trees fingering their dresses outside my windows now
are live oak, mock orange, pine, eucalyptus.
Gone are the ciruelas, naranjas agrias,
the mamoncillos with their crisp green shells
concealing the pink tenderness of lips.
Earth’s language is a continuous current,
translating the voices of my early trees along the ground.
I can’t afford not to listen.
They find me islanded in Los Angeles,
surrounded by a moat filled with glare,
and deliver a lost dictionary of delight.
A lingual bridge lowers into my backyard,
where Fuju persimmon beams in late summer
and the fig’s gnarled silver limbs become conduits
for all the ants of the world; where the downy woodpecker
a greeting on the lightpost and the overripe sapotes fall
with a squishy thud; where the lemon, pointillistically studded
with fruit, glows like a celebration; where the loquat drops
yellow vowels and the scrub jays nesting in the lime
chisel them noisily with their hard black beaks
high in the branches, and the red-throated hummingbird—
mistaking me for a flower—suspends just inches from my face,
deciding whether or not to dip into the nectar of my eyes
until I blink, and it sweeps all my questions into the single sky.
From GARDEN OF EXHILE (Sarabande Books, 1999)