The Iguanas Skitter Through the Cemetery by the Sea


Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico

The iguanas slither from the branches of trees splintered by the hurricanes.
The iguanas crawl from the cracks in the ground split by the earthquakes.
The iguanas rise from brown floodwaters that carry bridges to their doom.
The iguanas multiply through the night of blackouts in hospitals and morgues.
The iguanas burrow beneath roads to bury their eggs in the lungs of cities. 
The iguanas slap their clawed feet as they churn the earth of the farmer’s field.
Iguanas rip the rough skin of mango; iguanas rip banana; iguanas rip papaya.

The iguanas skitter through the cemetery by the sea, tails snapping when 
they disappear between the crosses, sunning themselves on the walls, 
hiding in the crevices of crypts where families still cling to each other 
beneath the weathered stone. The iguanas stare stupefied at the bust 
of a mustachioed poet who died after the bacteria feasted on his heart.
The iguanas know nothing of José de Diego, his songs of the guaraguao
and the pitirre, the hawk fleeing from the two-ounce kingbird, the slash
of claws to save her young still blind in the nest. The poet’s hawk is long
and dark with imperial wings, the poet’s kingbird an arrow through the neck.

An iguana warms his belly on the flat stone that says Pedro Albizu Campos. 
The iguanas know nothing of Albizu: the lawyer and the canecutters’ strike, 
the crowd listening in the rain, cane stalks in their heads igniting like torches. 
The iguanas learn nothing from El Maestro, his staccato tongue on the radio 
splitting the ground under the boots of the military governor, collapsing 
the courthouses and flagpole of empire. The iguanas keep vigil at the tomb,
burial stone white as the stone of seditious conspiracy that buried him, stone face 
of thirty years’ incarceration, subversive tongue gone to stone after the stroke.
The iguanas forget the thousands in black sweeping his coffin to the edge of the sea.

The green of the iguanas in the cemetery is the green of soldiers in uniform.
The green of the iguanas in the cemetery is the green of felt at the casinos.
The green of the iguanas in the cemetery is the green of cash on cruise ships.
The green of the iguanas in the cemetery is the green stacked in steel vaults.
The green of the iguanas in the cemetery is the green of lawn after lawn hidden 
by gates, the green of mangoes in a bowl on the table of the absentee landlords. 

In the movies on the drive-in screens and Saturday matinees of the Cold War, 
iguanas played the dinosaurs, horns glued to their snouts, frills pasted to their
heads, thrashing in close-up struggle with other iguanas over The Lost World.
The dead eyes of the iguanas, keeping vigil over the city of the dead, will never 
see the asteroid of their extinction, the earth melting to suck their bones into 
whirlpools of mud, the wave sweeping them to sea, the flight of the poet’s kingbird.

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Published: September 11, 2023