Poems by Aleida Rodríguez

Lexicon of Exile






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

                                                           —Scott Russell Sanders 

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)