by Cecilia Woloch
ESPERANZA, VIEQUES (SMALL ISLAND OF HOPE)
Those nights, all night, the roosters crowed; music poured from the little houses on the hillsides into the streets, spilled through the window we left open over our bed in the hope of a breeze. We’d finally drift off at dawn to the soft clack-clack of tiny frogs. I could feel your breath against my shoulder, then, your skin warm against my skin. I’d turn, in my sleep, lay my head on your chest, forgetting your name and my own name, dreaming the passageways had been twisted into a maze to slow us down. Most days, when we woke, the wild palomino had slipped with her foal through the broken fence to graze on the yellow grass in our yard. I’d lie in bed, listening to your voice as you spoke quietly to the horses, the swish of the broom as you swept the porch. Afternoons, we walked hand-in-hand the long dirt road toward the beach. Once, a man along the way stood with his long machete drawn and offered us mango—one tender slice he sliced in two and held out, sweet, in his open palm. The sea was clear where we waded in; the sun slanting gently into that blue. By evening, the bay was full of stars and we swam through that glittering, as through jewels. Jewels fell from my arms when I lifted my arms; jewels fell from your face when you laughed. We made wings of feathery, sparkling light in the liquid darkness and dove again. Who was not young in that water, or loved? Who was not dying and being born?
PLACE DE la REPUBLIQUE
If I have nothing, I must have wanted this: childlessness, homelessness, restlessness. Not to be anyone’s wife but the wind’s, wearing the breeze like a velvet gown. So that when a man who is nearly a stranger kisses my hands, I turn quickly to go. I rush past a beggar who calls me Madame, and a small rat that scurries across my path. I have neither anything to wish for, here, nor anything to fear. The night puts its breath inside my mouth. I count the children asleep in a doorway—four little heads peeking out from under the blanket, mother and father at either end—and think, if they woke, they’d not know my footsteps from the clatter of coins in a cup. So how have I spent my gifts, after all, the love I’ve been given and given again? Which comes to nothing. A fine mist dissolving; a city I might have lived in once.
FOR KIM, AT 3 A.M.
We think we'll recover from them, but we won't. Those men who made us not girls anymore. The lover swinging a baseball bat. The husband waving a shotgun, drunk. We say we've healed from the damage they've done, each wound a blessing stitched with light, but we're not so angelic as that—or I'm not. Sometimes I want blood in that bastard’s mouth. I think: How stupid to love a brute. How stupid to have thought, my fault, when the doors slammed, the windows shook. And you, on your knees in the snow, begging, No and no and no. No matter how far we say we've come, we haven’t outrun their leering ghosts. I could give you, as talisman, now, a shard of bone, his broken tooth; you could give me the bullets you buried in sugar to make sure he wouldn’t shoot. We could bury this: blood-root; that thug who made you wail. We could stitch and stitch our skin and still the light pours out of us. Ragged. The way you sobbed. The way he dragged you by your long hair in your nightgown through the snow.
Cecilia Woloch is the author of six collections of poems, most recently Earth (Two Sylvias Press 2015), as well as a novel, Sur la Route (Quale Press 2015). She has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a Pushcart Prize. Based in Los Angeles, she teaches throughout the U.S. and around the world.