Rigorous
Volume Five, Issue 1



Guia Nocon


Casting

Part 1: Map

To navigate, moths fly by the moon. They often become lost. Wayward wings chasing artificial lights blindly into windows. Dull, dumb in the effort, they don’t realize the persistence of glass.

I heard a beautiful story that women once cycled with the moon. When I’m on my moon and it’s just a silver sickle in the sky, I say, I’m lost, too. Lost without the benefit of wings or candle-fire.

When monarchs fly from north to south, they do not return. A whole new generation of butterflies journey back. No matter how much scientists disguise the tree, the butterflies keep coming back to the same one.

Once, I got into my car and it wouldn’t start. The one that would was a row and two cars over. Yesterday, I forgot where I was born. Today, I forgot what I was here for.

Tomorrow, I’m going to follow the moon to the ocean and wonder why she won’t take me back.


Part 2: Speak Violent

A child mimics speaking. Any movement of the mouth resembling speech. During choir practice, the child mouths watermelon watermelon watermelon not knowing what it means. Only that it’s okay. That it’s passing. Bare the teeth. Groan. The lower lip lifting upward. Sliding back. The child takes a breath. Utter something. Anything. Just one. But the breath falls, back of the throat, choking. The child gathers its shoulders. There is a ball between the shoulder blades. Pushing inwards. Making it hard to swallow. Struggling. Stubborn with last efforts against pain. The pain that wishes it to speak.

A child mimics a vessel. Waiting. Allowing others to fill. To take up residence in the mouth. To swarm and make full. They yell inside and the child struggles to hear an echo. Hoping the echoes will remain. Trapped in the barren cave now swollen. There to be used. A relay. A gasp from the pressure. The pressure of the void. The pain of it swelling. The pain of not saying. The lack of utterance.


Part 3: Crisis

May I write words more naked than flesh,
Stronger than bone, more resilient than
Sinew, sensitive than nerve.

                                       -Sappho

Removed from me now,
this undoubtedly, will come
claiming me with violence, later.

Yet, unrealized,
             immensity of the event, in the writing:

The attempt of words to realize
what I haven’t touched upon, what I can’t
get close to, frustration.
Lack of necessary language
to make it still. Stop it dead in its tracks.
Declension unknown, unseen.

A rock, white as a knuckle,
sits in the stomach
waiting to be terribly upset. Waiting
to unravel the spool of my life,
tangling the threads
so they’ll never comb out.

For now, keep this rock
nestled in the stomach: a
good luck token, a worry doll
tucked under a pillow.
Whisper, tip toe, lull it like a child—as
if it meant nothing, a feather-weight matter:
             brief (a kiss on the cheek of someone you maybe love)
             fleeting (a hand at the parting)
as if it won’t rankle in the memory until death.




Oscillate

             for Charles Olson and the Black Mountain Poets

His cries rise and the three older boys laugh.
They yell down at him,
the child, wrapped in an eggshell blanket,
bundled on the ground.

The child struggling to rise,
and they,
taking turns twisting the hammock—
spinning him off—
taking turns bullying the child.

His cries keep rising,
and I, sitting,
in this soft-yellow kitchen
of our winter-frigid, boxcar house,
breathe, just enough not to drown out their voices
echoing in the front yard.

The war continues.
Their mother calls from across the street,
opening her front door, yelling—

and another mother,
a neighbor from our first house in Folsom
(where rats scurried over the flea market furniture
at night when all the lights had gone out).
I was only 10 years old.
She shouted, "It's dinnertime!" at 3pm
from her front door,
summoning her two ashamed sons inside
so they couldn't play with the colored girls
across the street.

The same war continues.
Lucidity, in this moment
"is an on and off thing.”
I watch these children strive against each other
as that mother strove against my little sister and I,

in a way, strove against my father.
When he inquired about our early return
into the rat house,
we claimed to be tired.
To protect him the way he protected us, we denied
the soft scratch of rodents
on our blankets at night,
believing we heard the creaks of antiquity,
not the persistent shriek of poverty.

The cries rise out in the yard,
and I, straining,
hear whispers,
low, from those days
when my brother, picking us up from school,
didn’t want to be seen with his sisters,
would walk three blocks ahead.
She and I, struggling
to keep up,
taking that with us into adulthood.

All these things rise before me—
the child's blanket rolling on the ground
a mother’s voice calling to another in the past
a dilapidated house that made a father shiver in bed during midsummer,
feeling as if he had failed his children
the way we gathered mistletoe for the boys, leaving them on their
doorstep as the mother watched fearful from within—
any of these stories
speak of what it is to be
"stormed or quieted by our own things.”
A blinking
that confounds as it illuminates,
clouds fluttering over a full moon,
bringing company shadowed in the night.




Love Like Rice

“Tell me about love,
Mama.”
I used to say.

It’s been a long time.

Remember the swish of rice
across the circular woven sifter?
Tssst
shhh
tssst
shhh.


And how the bad ones would fall through the cracks
making ping ping noises on the sides of the tin bucket?

I asked if that was love.
The bad ones seemed to rejoice at the beautiful sound they made
because they were no good in the end to eat.

You only told me to stop talking and shake harder.
Rice needed to be cooked that night for dinner.

Remember
the sound of silk against nylon?
Bag black and bulging
from the weight of your pleated skirts,
black high heels,
and blouses?

You said you were leaving because you loved us.
Was that love, Mama?

Sh sh sh sh.
I knew it.
The sound of your slippers on the hardwood floor.
When you lifted the covers,
I was afraid.
I thought the cockroaches would crawl under the sheets
and bite, leaving swelling lumps on my arms.

You always came back, Mama.

Remember
when you combed my hair,
singing Phantom of the Opera in my ear?
So quiet,
you would tug on my hair if I sang the wrong verse.

That felt like love to me, Mama.

It’s been a long time.
Tell me about love now.
It’s not the sound of sorting rice, is it?
There are no farmers around here
shouting, waving gaily, from a stinking countryside gutter,
“Mabuhay! Mabuhay!”
Did you live like they told you to, Mama?
They had so much faith didn’t they?

When you put that needle to your veins,
is that what you meant by love?
Because Daddy did it,
was it out of love then, too?

Tell me about love, Mama.
It’s been a long time.

When he put his fist to your face
and called you a bitch,
was that love?

I don’t understand.
You said there are all kinds of love.
What kind is that?

Remember
how Kuya put welts on my back
with the metal end of suspenders?
There were blue and yellow race cars on them.

I cried. You told me that he just played roughly
because he forgot I wasn’t a boy,
but he still loved me.
So I kissed him on the cheek and said,
“I forgive you, Kuya.”
I felt like the red on his cheeks was love, Mama.

You said boys had a special kind of love,
a strong love.

I’m still not sure I heard you right
because your lip was swollen
from the bowl that was thrown.
“Daddy slipped,”
you said.

A strong love, Mama?
I don’t think I believe in that kind of love anymore.

We haven’t sang to Phantom of the Opera in a long time.
Since we came to America,
you haven’t left us.
You’re afraid you won’t come back.
Isn’t that right, Mama?
I think that’s love.

So let all the light collect on the rice in your hands.
Does it keep you warm?
Does it make you smile?

Mama, you’ll be laughing so loud
that the house will shake with sound.

Shhhh,
I hear you
even if you don’t sing anymore.

Oh, Mama,
when you smile,
it is like a song.
I can hear it now.
Yes, I can hear it now.
Your love is the sorting rice kind, Mama.
You even love the bad ones.




Story

             for Cesar Vallejo

When the day and the daylight
have dropped out,
when I have let it go by
unseen,
there is a moment
looking for me in its hand,
finding me, every minute,
in worn down, brown leather shoes.
Does it know that I am going
backwards,
deceived into forward thinking,
running foolish into night?
There is a heart buried
in Philam,
in Capitola—next to the foot shower,
in Prague—where a maimed woman,
             with hair the color of lightning
             sang opera,
in every kitchen I've ever danced in.

I know there is a person composed
of my rocking muscles, creaking
against bone,
to whom I fuse
when I gallop, jagged
but it is not home.
I see inside the skin—her life
and the things that comprise it—spreads
like cancer,
like spilled ink
across breasts, knees, thighs—tight,
like suffocation. Blooming.

I know the road,
but my feet have escaped me.
I know the feeling of things
when they recede into distance.
How the blood flows, waving
tiny white flags of light
in veins.
Fulmars, winging into soft tissue.
The moment so small
it is already disintegrating
into dust, but our bodies will remain
for a while yet.




Tarantella

             for Jack Gilbert

Swirling behind my back, working
to wield the knife,
I assign random images
to all the emotions
so that I can have a past.
Everything making such an impression
that events leave no trace.

O, but my 16th year, how I wish you had lasted.
That the little sister, speaking in tongues,
could dance in the kitchen forever.
Yearning for her to be here
can take all morning.

And my drunk mother? Her slow scheming,
stewing suicide. Would I make that real?
The gentle father would have lasted if it were up to me.
But it is his violence jostling for space.
The awe of it coloring my childhood.
But, yet, he fades into a singularity and relinquishes.

I remember the love that wouldn’t succumb.
The crucifying lust lasting. Never the names.
Santa Cruz remains. Grey seabirds wheeling up
and out of me. The early-morning cocktails.
Getting into Jennifer’s bed and staying there past noon.
The chrome and beryl ocean swallowing every
feeling, stretching them thin until they become
just salt on our skin long after the sun
has left the shore.

Our eyes treacherous in their slow
descent, a meandering
Geryon-flight, in the carmine
glow of the Red Room. Were those bodies
ripping up and down Pacific Street?
Wounded beasts emerging at
last call? No, it was standing on sand
and broken glass, 6:27 in the morning,

smelling of Old Crow and feeling pure
that I’m sure of.

Sometimes, I still hear the bright, coaxing
whistle of the Davenport train. Sometimes,
I feel the weight of all those summers
and loves we fought for like crusades,
how their persistence makes them real.

The plain nakedness of Meghan at 2 p.m. in Capitola
remains in me forever. Her heart a porch and me
sitting all day waiting for screen doors to swing.

All these memories running through my house, leaving
windows open, letting the cold in,
and never saying goodbye. My mouth snatching
at all of it, body aching to be full. The soul
grasping for immortality and all I can do
is lie in my fire-hazard backyard, mouth gaping
to the sky to taste all the dry years inside of me.



Guia Nocon: “I studied poetry at the University of California, Santa Cruz. After spending most of my adult life in San Francisco and Oakland, I currently travel around the United States, working and writing on the road.

“My work has appeared in the web blog, Be About It Press; Mt. Hood Community College's journal, Perceptions; and Garbanzo Literary Journal out of Ohio.”




Top of Page

Table of Contents






Visit our Facebook page          Visit us on Twitter


editors AT rigorous DASH mag DOT com
webmaster AT rigorous DASH mag DOT com