for John

I couldn’t see in this light
even if I wished. The black
grillwork over black, cool upon coal,
kisses me back in an icy press.
Not wanting—anything—but to fall
as the empty trash cans mingle
below with the smell of feral cats.

Flailing moon the color of suds
over this factory of artifice,
moored in the poverty of my untouched
element, downed like a dog
struck by a diesel—one headlamp
flaring before my shadow’s dust
buries its past in a crescent of mirth.

Lost now in this anonymity of barely
knowing you, my body would go
unsearched for in the rubble. Who could
remember my odor, my perfect strangeness
at a glance? Life leaves through the gate
of an ache, where you are, a vanishing
landscape. Do I dare it back?

I don’t know where you go
anymore when you escape
into that vast wilderness
of our legal separation. Your
memory rises from the knocking
pipes, a sudden heat, a blast
of blood. Where does it go?

The galloping horses I hear are not
hooves but my heart kicking in its swollen
stall. But you, you take things as
a letting go, like a beacon that opens
a lens cap to our past. You take off
the dark like this snow-strewn alley,
a radiance, but no light of mine.

Jealous as an abandoned child, I
had no word for father. It floated
in heaven like friend or famine.
It rose like a muscle and punctuated
my dreams, the ones of ruined houses,
of countries like this one where the faces
of whores and the working poor are my own.

You had Irish eyes the color of old
ice. What you lost was first love
and a word for forever, like evergreen,
oceanic, fossil. My bones could grind
themselves to salt and I would still be
this aging woman, this battered lifeline.
History never has been kind to a loser.

What do I see when morning
chops ice into jade? What ring
could I trade now for the freedom
to bleed? What would I remember
of a hearth where the flags
of my silks beat at half mast, where
I studied a sure vocabulary of snow?

I had to leave before I could
hear it: the sound of dishwater
in a steamed house, the singing
of water on white porcelain, cooling
like clots seeping through a wound,
our collision of tensions, a viscous
rendered fat, divorced, releasing.

"Hotel" by Lorna Dee Cervantes, from From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger. Copyright © 1991 by Lorna Dee Cervantes, Used with permission of Arte Público Press,
Source: From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger (1991)
More Poems by Lorna Dee Cervantes