On a low sloping hillside in early December—
where? Tennessee? New Jersey?—we lay back
after a long walk. You went on about something,
maybe politics—I’d stopped listening.
We were inside a circle, tall trunks of bare oak, maple,
the sky above us shot through with dark limbs.
Whatever pain your not loving me, I can’t say now,
left behind so long ago. But indigo sky,
fan of naked trees—their shapes cut a pattern
for bleak joy. However alone, I find the imprint
still holding, sky setting off dark branches, trees
arching on the cold canopy of winter.
When You Ask About Your Native Country
for my daughter
First we’ll describe Asunción: slow-moving and luminous hot then hotter, the sun shining even when it rains. Hibiscus, bougainvillea bloom in alleys, canopies of lapachos lines the streets. Butterflies the size of small birds rise & fall among the flowers. In the Rio Paraguay there are silver fish with teeth like razors. Then we’ll praise the mestizo beauty of the people & how even the men love children. Clerks and taxi drivers scooped you up, a waiter danced you in the air: la luna, la luna. We never locked the door & walked safely after midnight. Everyone speaks Guarani as well as Spanish. Only later, we’ll reveal how the Guarani are all but gone. Sidewalks are tiled, but by the river people live in cardboard boxes. Young men in uniforms guard the banks with Uzis. Strangers stopped us on the street: “Keep the baby in so her skin won’t darken.” Finally, the thirty years of Stroessner, who sheltered Mengele, Somoza. We’ll introduce Paraguay by the degrees. Let you love your native country before you fear it.
Picnic in Stone
We stopped for lunch, a bare schoolyard,
a wooden table exposed to summer sun.
I can’t remember where we were going,
even the state we were in–
just a blank highway, little insular towns,
then the school, a paved ball court,
a dusty oval of track, absence of trees.
We took out a slice of fruit, a heap
of brown cookies, bottle of lemonade.
I can’t remember who was with me.
My mother, another troubled excursion?
A past lover, a failing affair? Only how
it was bleak beside the stone bleachers
where we held twin halves of a ham
sandwich, lettuce wilting at the edges.
Memory’s an old dog running off-trail.
Now it returns with a torn scarf,
one rank sock: these ragged pieces–
strained cheer, the taste of peaches,
yellowjackets working crooked little limbs
across a curl of green melon.