Barbara Cully is the author of Desire Reclining (Penguin, 2003), The New Intimacy
(Penguin, 1997), which won the National Poetry Series Open Competition, and
Shoreline Series (Kore Press, 1997). She has received fellowships from the Arizona
Commission on the Arts and has been Writer-in-Residence for the YMCA Writer's
Voice. She has taught at the Prague Summer Writers' Program and currently
teaches in the Department of English at the University of Arizona.
Excerpts from your exile, my-
By the way we give ourselves to half the world,
the heart knows its compatriot.
Within its chambers, a rough sea or effulgence
on the eve of departure
small chance amid the boulders
as the pulse begins to trill.
If I or my sister - if you or your mother,
if I could but never - give up this storm
for our dinner -
The solace of ripe oranges,
or a bloody fisher in an apron,
the solace of a doubt cast darkly.
Every dog bark a pistol,
unto the salt breeze its whistle,
the moon either huge or a cloud among the wharves.
Sitting on the words (small craft amid the shallows)
beyond all decision
always I must lose you again.
Fireworks on the beach - or "in the cards"?
Children erupting like ballerinas in the sand.
A few miles north our country
readies for war.
In my sickbed you administer.
At the sink I expire.
The day you hit the tiles crying,
I was awake and you - solid gone.
Remote in this desert, I was with you
when your father went into his death bed and returned.
What message for us from him in that
mechanical delirium and gratefulness?
A difficult future we have been spared for this:
I know you and you know me from the pain of today.
The hours will bend back on themselves,
and we'll walk the beach you imagined for us in old age.
My old age, coming first, searching your eyes,
as your youth, lingering, shielded mine.
(My sister came as an apparition in her uniform,
dragging her two Pekingese on a leash):
You were there - next to me in the garden, picking
our ripened oranges.
I had almost cremated our scroll of images - dazzling,
a yellow home vaporized in one hundred degrees and wafting.
In the adobe alcove, la Virgen:
her visage gray and bleached but not distorted.
I asked the roses about this thing cutting me off
from every trace of you - then
I asked you.
If confronting the wall, you choose
another shape: all of them squares
or creek stones.
If with your back to the great sail of dust on the wind:
the moon with its clock face, fainter
than your heart.
If beyond the rock stubble, a green
lizard like a dart, stayed
in the sunflash of the driest clearing:
Without its sounds
time signifies nothing.
Glide forward in the dark, my gondola,
one evening out of many.
The moonlit splendor of polished stones and poppies on the bank:
mounds of eels and rigging far behind you.
(A blue-black tangle in the water, deeper still.)
A fisher as a butcher in an apron and our song, red
as the doors that close close behind you.
Joined so intently.
The big-horned sheep in the Catalinas
repeating their footholds from cliff to cliff
have no days more angled nor sharper
than the crevice, serpentine, between us.
No screech of an owl, no talons prying us apart -
the unrelenting blue sky building.
In air so dry the solar heat hurts right through it,
a spider's rope leads me to the trail crest where
I do not leave a mark.
The lavender-washed sky;
daylight erased in a woosh;
the desert dove last to try its wings tonight
in a mountain-choked puddle of sun.
Ochre rays aloft.
Their slow weave
through the palo verdes - gnarled
among the houses, emitting a little warmth -
where the distant freeway hums
in the pastel hour of the urban barrio.
and another shrine is erected - another saint
the color of slate
poised to deliver
breath-thin hopes on flaming hooves.
With shears do I cut away a face?
The last curve in the about-to-be buried scroll,
the last vestige of a backward-glancing look
at a desert garden enclosed forever?
Tonight a frost descends . . . so I'll cover the bougainvillea.
At the base of the scorched lemon,
the shells of my far off beach surface
in the mud of every November.
The succulent that spreads its rose
disks - winter or spring;
the path where walkers hover
on night's dark current - tugging
their leashed jackals: briefly,
the dogs and owners breathless
and free of home.
Tonight there is much
that you might recognize:
a yellow house, where tomatoes flare and burn
and a violet sun refuses to fade.
Beyond our eyes, shielded now,
two or more ribbons of smoke
spiral and cross,
and time passes.
. . . so be it. Sounds of buses
mingled with the bees
needling the penstemon.
painted on a scrim of eucalyptus bark
dance brightly in the sunset.
Even the preserved tarantula
in its domed stasis of resin
does its duty shining:
the loose stack of pages
in a life that seems so vast.
Note: This poem is after Eugenio Montale's "Mottetti" in Le Occasioni.
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