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The Island

ISSUE:  Winter 1978
para Claribel Alegria

In Deya, she tells me, when the mist
rises out of the rocks it comes
so close to her hands she could
tear it to pieces like bread.
She holds her drink and motions
with one hand to describe it.
What she would do with
so many baskets of bread.
Cubes of ice touch in her
vodka, we both hear the hour
clanging in a tower hidden
by trees. We do not count how many.

Mi prieta, Asturias called her,
my dark little one. Neruda
used the word negrita and it is
true: her eyes, her hair.
Both violent, as black
as certain mornings have been
for the last fourteen years.
She wears a white cotton dress.
Tiny mirrors have been stitched
to it—when I look for myself
in her, I see the same face
over and over.

I have the fatty eyelids
of a Slavic factory girl,
the pale hair of mixed blood.
Although Che has said
I have lived my life in the heart
of the beast, I have never heard
it pounding. When I have seen
an animal, I have never reached
for a knife. It is like
Americans to say it is only a bear
looking for something to eat
in the garbage.

But we are not unalike. When we
look at someone, we are seeing
someone else. When we listen,
we hear something taking place
in the past. When I talk to her,
I know what I will be saying
twenty years from now. She watches
me as if she never went into exile.


Last summer she returned
to Salvador again, it had been
ten years since Ashes of Izalco
was burned in a public place.
Ten years without bushes
of coffee, since her eyes
crossed the finca like black
scattering birds.
It was simple. She was
there to embrace her mother.
As she walked through her village
the sight of her opened its windows.
It was simple. She had come
to flesh out the memory of a poet
whose body was never found.
Had it changed? It was different.
In Salvador nothing ever is changed.


Deya? A cluster of the teeth,
the bones of the world, greener
than Corsica. In your language
you have no word for it. I can’t
help you. I am safe here. I have
everything I could want. In the morning
I watch the peak of the Teix
stick its knife into the clouds.
To my country I ship poetry
instead of bread, so I cut through
nothing. I give nothing. So
you see I have nothing, according
to myself.

Deya has seven different colored
shawls of wind. The sky holds them
out to her, helps her into them.
I am xaloc, a wind
from the southwest, as far away
as my country and there is nothing
to help me in or out of it.


It is late. The tiny mirrors
fill with the wind’s blood.
Our chairs creak like carts
loaded with fruit.
She draws on her cigarette
to light her face for me:

Carolina do you know how long
it takes any one voice
to reach others?


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