Rigorous
Volume Two, Issue 1



Luisa A. Igloria


A Reparation

          in every mind a box
          they call God
                    ~ D. Bonta

There were some things I often didn’t have
words or explanations for, till after the fact
of their experiencing. For instance,

learning forms of the passive-aggressive:
that kind of maneuvering which rendered me
at once cold and hot, which made me second

guess if not outright believe I must
have been the one at fault, said or done
the wrong thing, not known enough

to hold my place or keep the peace—
which meant, not raised a voice to demur,
to contradict, to question whatever

verdict or decision. How else explain the cold
shoulder, the silent disregard of conciliatory
gestures? Reading a tract on transcendental

meditation, I came upon this principle:
Do not oppose a great force; retreat
until it weakens, then advance

with resolution
— something I took
as reassurance about the natural wisdom
of things; how, given time, their

logic would surface to defeat
all counterfeit versions the truth.
And so it was, if nothing else, stunning

to find that he interpreted the same
in terms of a kind of extremism: he
was the great force never to be

opposed, especially when he’d flown
into one of his rages. Among the choice
parables held up during such times:

how he did not like the way
a former girlfriend dressed (a tad
too provocative for his taste) and so

he followed her to the pool hall where
she’d gone to play a round with friends;
and without preamble, stripped her

of her V-neck blouse, neck to waist.
Even now I feel the slap of more than cold air.
I’m surprised I can bring myself to write

of this for the first time, in retrospect—
Perhaps it is the intervening years,
the gifts of age and distance,

the need to give at last an audience
to all the sad wraiths that lay and festered,
airless and unloved, in the dank basement of the mind.




Self Portrait, Reconstructed with Heirloom Beads

Cold in the threaded mist of early morning,
in the mountains more than thirty years ago: a trip
made with a former lover ostensibly to photograph

the locals so I could render them afterwards
in portrait pencil sketches. We rented a room
with an adjacent toilet and bath: tall

metal drum of water; a ladle and small plastic pail.
Of course the underlying presumption had everything to do
with sex, so he was irritated when the first night

did not yield what he’d expected. Downstairs, in the morning,
waiting to walk down the path to a local cafeteria, I held
myself very still then slowly stretched an arm out, clump

of torn daffodils in my fingers offered to deer that had come
in the night to forage in the yard beside the inn. They moved
closer, the doe more skittish than her fawn—

their fear overcome perhaps by some measure
of adaptation to jean-clad tourists there in droves
to hike the trails and visit citrus groves, climb

hand over hand down ropes to peer into the water-slicked
innards of an underground cave. And I was so young then,
not yet familiar with the currents of my own desires—

Rough, untested edges of a self that knew only
it wanted to live somewhere else yet tried to hide
how terrified it was of its own clumsiness

and worldly ignorance. After breakfast,
when the proprietor asked if we’d like to see
her hidden trove of heirloom beads,

we followed her upstairs to her living
quarters, where she lifted from a chest
padlocked jewel cases and shook

strand after strand of strung carnelians,
smoky agates, beads cloud-milky, yellow
as the yolks of eggs or black-striped reds

that smelled as dusky as the earth. Handed down
from ancestors, they held the worth of cattle
or rooms of metal-worked jars— dowries

she might have saved for children instead of sold
to antique shops, had they not wanted to go
somewhere else too, away from there,

to reinvent themselves as engineers or doctors
after university. I wanted to sketch them, lay
bands of brilliant color beside each other

and beside the bleached starkness of coiled
snakebone, another ornament the women
traditionally wore in their hair. As I took

photographs, the woman asked if I might like
to pose for a picture in the manner of native women
in the old days: plaited hair, wrap skirt; nothing

except beads around my neck, massed
artfully and arranged upon my breasts. I knew
about the portraits of Masferré, those girls

with regal foreheads and nubile breasts
balancing tiers of clay pots on their dark heads,
rippled tattoos visible at the edges of brass

bracelets and boar’s tooth amulets. And yet,
I am a bit ashamed to admit in recollection,
I refused— concerned about modesty,

blushing at the thought of being peeled back
to only this layer of skin. If I knew then what I
know now, which is of course to say I realize

a self is so much more than the sum of its molting
skins, more than an idea of remainders after
what one thinks has been given and spent

or taken away— I might have said yes; I might
have proof the future held forgiving shapes— seed
after seed to perforate at the center of each stone.




Material

It’s telling, the things
we return to: what’s in those parts
where the looping frame hiccups to a stop,
shudders, tries again but only gains vertigo

and not momentum. For instance, those figures
in the shadow play that chased each other around
the garden or the breakfast table, making javelins
of the heavy silverware, shattering a glass

butter dish, then crumpling to the floor
in a torrent of tears. The man slams a door
on the way out, declaring he never wants
to come back; and the woman with the shape

of a growing moon pressed into her body
goes from house to house, pleading, knocking.
Or the way the light looked that evening,
temperatures plummeting but no snowfall yet

when the medical transport came to take
the girl, and all there was for several
days was the silence of not knowing—
This is the thick sludge, the slurry

to work through year after year. Holidays
bring them into uncomfortable focus, or provide
the opportunity to throw them into a raging
bonfire. In either case, the threads make

a patterned braid, the lines draw such
a familiar circle in the dirt. And you must
step in, bow formally to the shape that crouches
in wait, and which you always wind up wrestling.




Hortus conclusus
[Enclosed garden; after Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ “The Enclosure;” oil pastel on paper]

          Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee ~ Song of Songs

Ours used to be the second house on right
from the top of the street, after De Castro’s Sand
and Gravel and truck yard. There was an enclosure:
high fence of grey cemented cinderblock, a metal gate
painted green that shut with deadbolts from the inside,

two lamps we turned on at dusk and kept
ablaze throughout the night to discourage thieves—
In better days there used to be soft, even carpeting
of grass on either side; a few rose bushes, poinsettias,
clumps of comfrey and yerba buena bordering the porch;

profusion of bougainvillea climbing up
the siding. There was no spring, no sealed-up
fountain, no emblematic cistern overgrown by moss:
only a rusted tank we waited twice or thrice a week
to fill, when it was the neighborhood’s turn for water

rationing. There was no tree that fruited of foreign
apple or of pear, encircled by wrought iron or bright
barbs of wire. No totem patrolled this garden,
invisible by day or sleekly silvered by night,
nor came to lay its head upon my lap.

Thus we came and went, watchful and watched,
trying to read each other’s gestures as if stitched
in code, upon a tapestry. I’d tested the locks,
grown restive, found that even when I stayed
out later after school, I’d merely ring

the doorbell and they’d let me in—
even the man who’d brought me back and came
to staying on for supper. Mouths met after, in damp,
furtive groping— as moths aimed their felted bodies
at porch lights and fell, stunned upon impact.

When the family came to formally ask for my hand
in marriage, I don’t recall the words actually
mentioned. My parents seemed resigned, as if the un-
mentionable must have been breached; and the only
way to make it right was set a date, reserve the church,

begin to list the ones who’d come to sponsor and to witness.
If they had asked, I could’ve told them an animal still laid
its gleaming brow and spiral of questions on the fleece
bedspread; but in time, even a silver overlay thins,
loosens from its bonds of underlying metal.




To mother, to father—

Time thin as pain, or thick in patches like skin
refusing to slough off: I’m asked why the need

to always write about the past, return to “my issues”
when doing so involves the memories too of daughters,

creates potential to layer other hurts upon the ones
they’ve had to bear with so much difficulty from childhood

into their becoming, even as adults— especially when the past
I conjure shows the sad diminishment of figures, including mine,

when held against ideals. I suppose there are alternatives—
to put these back in cold storage, never speak of them again

and not in public, not even puzzle them in poems to find
at least some helpful metaphor through which to view

what obviously can’t be undone in the literal sense
of things. But perhaps I am tired of having had to carry

my own abandonment and raft of unanswerables, plus take
every beating times two: one for me and one for the absent

parent who never really tried in the aftermath to build
a bridge of his own to each individual child. I listened

to their every screaming rage and bent my head, hid
my hot tears while trying to provide for every plea,

request, demand; while never stopping to believe
in the selves that were essential in them— I still do,

and always will. Perhaps I don’t feel anymore that it is my
responsibility to color in or resurrect a clearer outline

for a man I once tried to build a life with, but that we
haven’t seen nor heard from in more than two decades;

I can’t, and don’t know how. And yet I know archetypes
loom so much larger, are so much older than we are:

they lie beneath each simple noun, conjugate into verbs
that bear the whiff of smoke or musk, the taste of milk.




YOLO

On the second to the last day of my visit,
my octogenarian mother comes to my hotel room
bearing two slightly dented cardboard boxes.
From the tissue folds of one, she pulls out

shoes bought from the market or the mall—
one of those places overrun with cheap goods
from China, screaming Fashionista! or New Trend!
For you,
she says, displaying a pair of hi-

top sneakers. She dangles them under the light,
presumably so I might better admire layer
on layer of ruffled yellow gold lace applied
where there should have been serviceable

canvas— You can wear this going to the grocery;
or even when you garden.
I look at her but there is
no trace of irony in her voice: she is completely serious.
Too bright, not my taste (the unvoiced Are you kidding me?)—

my spluttering protests that she dismisses with a gnarled
wave of the hand, at least two fingers adorned with a gem-
encrusted ring. Their sparkle (costume? real? I cannot tell)
cuts the air as she continues with her campaign: Try, try!

And I must oblige her as I did throughout my girlhood,
all those times I let her dress me in frocks she’d sewn
by hand, lace-edged socks and matching shoes she picked out
when we went to Gregg’s and she spent a good hour or more

trying calfskin pumps or buckled T-straps, admiring
how three-inch heels set off her shapely calves.
Regarding the hi-tops: they fit, if a little snugly
at the toe. Justified, I hold my ground, saying

they wouldn’t allow room for socks. Miffed, she drops them
back into their box, saying she bought them for herself first,
anyway. The last word is still hers. I sigh, bracing for
the contents of the second box, which now she opens

triumphantly: Maybe this one! It’s a pair of deep
pink ballerina flats, fake microsuede, each with a tuft
or pompom resembling an uncombed head or sea
anemone. Before I slip my feet into them

I already know these are the ones I’ll need to pack
in my luggage: a kind of truce though there has been
no real conflict waged, as if my place in the cosmic order
can now be reinstated even if it was never taken away.

There’s one more surprise: YOLO, she says, You Only
Live Once
— And it comes out so fast I’m not sure
that I’ve heard right. But she says it again, she urges
me to wear them on my feet now, this instant— as if

to wait another second would drain them of their vivid
hue, as if the hesitation might line each flimsy sole
with leaden weights and going, I’d never again feel
borne by something other than an earth-bound current.


Luisa A. Igloria: "My recent publications include the chapbooks Haori (Tea & Tattered Pages Press, 2017) and Check & Balance (Moria Press/Locofo Chaps, 2017)."




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