Rigorous
Volume One, Issue 3



Iris Orpi


The Physics of Shadows

It arrived
the way sunshine breaks
through lace curtains:
not as a testament
to the strength of one
or a critique of the assumed
infallibility of the other,
but as a moment
when the walls became less
symbols of imposition
and seemed to acquire
some soulful transliteration.
Discernment takes more
than the recognition of patterns,
although it needs it.
It’s separating distance
from intensity,
knowing that each can
exist without the other, and
that both are subject to faults.
Sometimes the light falters,
the heart trips on the threshold.
Self-forgiveness, then,
is part of the larger image,
of the method of the faltering,
if you will.
Tracing circles,
mandalas of interrupted light,
with petals made of teardrops
and edges that try
to mimic perfection.
And the house receives it,
because the inside welcomes
all sources of illumination.
The windows are covered,
not as an argument against
that need, but because it goes
with the rest of the things,
besides the light,
that it had accepted.

A room filling with imperfect
understanding,
the rest of me, arriving.
The lace paraphrasing the sun.
The moment putting up no
resistance to the blur
of coming hours that are
designed to contradict it.




Springtime in the South Side

The sky is a stray bullet
and the buses are late

night in broad daylight
a witness
an accomplice
about to stand trial
or slaughtered,
whichever comes first,
whoever gets their hands
on whom first

eight-legged non sequiturs
and ad hominems
with fangs
spill out of the open
mouths of mourning

emotions a dime a dozen

weather beaten vigilance
pauses at the shrine
of rebirth:

fierceness
bruised magnolia
violent wind choking
on cuss words
and the body count that
restarts each weekend

it’s getting warmer again
in Chicago, drawing out
the taste for blood
Pied Piper with
concealed carry and
trigger finger itch
stretching the meaning
of the word
brother
until it snaps

it makes the sound of
deep fried chicken bones
and gravestones

mementos
dance with pieces of trash
from the blissful haunts
along 79th and down
the blocks of Chatham
and Auburn Gresham
and get stranded in some
emaciated lawn
of a home where elephants
in rooms whisper the names
of the recently lost

or where
mothers harboring monsters
cover the stench of denial
with dollar Febreze and
stuff their desecrated wombs
with fistfuls of silence




Rain Hypnosis

as if the afternoon were
climbing onto a high shelf
where people call the stars
by their names

as if emotions were satellites
that revolve around the sounds
we make when we thirst,
when we crave

as if we are hemispheres
of painted deserts
and trees that feel pain

as if it only rains
because there is a part
of sincerity that’s been
too long silent, and it needs
water to remember language

as if shadows kiss

as if the sky is incomplete

as if we are not here
but dreaming
of hearing that rhythm

(what if it’s actually
the voice of love
calling)

as if we are made of glass
and covered in storied streets
and our meaning is stitched
in footprints




The Nautical Miles to Home

We grew up reading the ocean,
ancestral wisdom on a
consciousness of blue

we were taught to gauge depths,
to carry a conversation with
drowning; we’d all recognize
that line if we saw it.

We are a generation for whom
harbor was a starting point.
We were mentored by endlessness,
by the virtues of sandcastles,
by stories of epic battles
fought on shores

our childhoods were winding
alamat retellings that defined
romance as a beautiful,
extraordinary creature raised by
the ordinary fishing villagefolk,
as perfect pearls farmed by
old women in scapulars to make
the gods get drunk like mortals.

Archipelagic soul,
I taste the foam along the
curves of your time-swept edges.
I am lulled by
the rhapsody of waves.




A View of the Sun from Underwater

And, having drowned once before,
I’ve retold those final moments
as different stories with the same ending

once, as a cautionary tale
about how not to swallow words
to the point where there is
too little room for air

how the heart is always the first
to go in, and the body
inevitably follows

how there are places too deep
nobody can reach you
or reason with you

sometimes as images of grace
and lungs expanding into oceans
as an aria overwhelms your senses
you are unable to tell inside from out
or distinguish a pounding heartbeat
from a cresting wave, or wonder
which is the greater
proof of life

and again as a closed circle,
of death being a mirror
and how you can lose a single thing
and feel as if you were trapped
in a burning house and watching
everything you’ve known get rewritten
before the flames came for you

and, having once before
brokered a treaty between
merely existing and being
acutely aware of the nebula
that awakens every time
I break the surface,
I’ve taught myself to dance
on a tightrope to the sun,
to recognize that lives
are constellations and love
is the sky if the sky never
learned how to swim,
and to know when to be still
as the season of inundation
tries to find its way in.




Abstract Sky in #8f3d4b

The shell of light unfastens
from the wavering end
of the day’s chaos,
the colors of dusk
burning on the rooftops,
pontificating
on things not said
and things broken by repetition,
bruised from the lynching
of opinions,
smothered by digital noise

clothed in red, the sky
and everything under it
painted in defiance for the way
we are expected to end,
to fold into nightfall
restless and covered
in judgement and debris
of the fast emptying vessel
of light




At the Seams

spring arrives the way
dawn arrives,
only hungrier.

there’s something to it
like the chaos of childbirth:
despair, pain,
purging, cleansing,
untouched corners and
the change that touches them.
water everywhere,
light that hesitates.
a pulling away,
two seasons,
two hemispheres of consciousness,

two curses.
pauses.
hopes mixed with blood.




Nimbus Theater

The sky ruptured
in a deafening instant
boom of non-negotiable darkness
like an abrupt gesture of cruelty

a stutter?
a master stroke of honesty?

an explosion of dust
on a startled blackbird
jerked to flight,
and the noise that startled it

so long and so prolonged,
the nursing of this storm,
the humid heat like a knotted fist
holding life itself
hostage

the way it refused to breathe
or let breathe, or release

and nobody saw
how close the sky was,
only felt it
bearing down on the horizon
thin line between surrender
and soul

an ending that would
trigger so many pent up things
with the full weight of knowing,
because otherwise, believing
has no room to wiggle in
that airless space,
that unyielding grip

and it all went tumbling out,
limbs flailing in the chaos
dirty laundry, all
and sense of time
turned upside down




Broken Mirror

I probably won’t be able to ask
you the question without
disrespecting my own past,
so I won’t ask you

I won’t ask, for instance
what it is about that flame
that makes you unbuckle from
the safety of your own better
judgement, lie to your family
and take the late night train
towards the same place you
had needed to be rescued from,
the same man who had put you
out in the street in the middle
of an Indiana blizzard,
the same man who had sent you
to the ER with a broken face,
and for what, just so you
could embrace again and again
the possibility of burning

I won’t ask either what you
could be seeing that all of us
who love you might be missing,
as you sit among roomfuls of
shadows where you are obviously
not welcome, as you sleep through
the loud voices of his detrimental
devotion, that convinces you each
dawn to stay another day, to think
that it’s OK to let your child
see you being treated so low,
to cut off from your soul
all the things you’ve worked for

You won’t hear from my lips
that I sincerely want to know
how far you think you can take this
before you’ve exchanged all
the treasures of your being
for what, a hungry silence by his
side, a handful of scrap affection,
and some cheap reminders of
how he used to make you feel

and how much you think
his promises are worth
on the darkest hour when
your choices start emptying
their bullets and make
target practice of the collage
of your dreams on the walls

and do you love yourself
and what you think that means


Iris Orpi "I am a Filipina writer living in Chicago, IL. I am the author of the novel The Espresso Effect (2010) and the book of compiled poems Cognac for the Soul (2012). My work has appeared in over two dozen online and print publications all over Asia, Europe and North America. I am also an Honorable Mention for the Contemporary American Poetry Prize, given by Chicago Poetry Press, in 2014."




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