He looked to be in his early 60s: compact build, a designer baseball cap tight on his head, beard close-cropped, clutching a smartphone in his right hand. It was eight in the morning, we were in line at Whole Foods, and the guy was wearing sunglasses.
Not sleepwalking, but waking still,
with my hand on a gun, and the gun
in a mouth, and the mouth
on the face of a man on his knees.
Autumn of ’89, and I’m standing
in a section 8 apartment parking lot,
pistol cocked, and staring down
at this man, then up into the mug
of an old woman staring, watering
the single sad flower to the left
of her stoop, the flower also staring,
That must be the saddest piña colada in the world, I thought as I walked by Barrachina, the restaurant famous for being the birthplace of the Caribbean drink. This was a few months after Hurricane María destroyed everything we knew, and Old San Juan, an epicenter of tourism in Puerto Rico, was still without power. No one was drinking piña coladas. No one remembered that this place was the world’s idea of paradise. A lush, tropical island in the Caribbean with a landscape that offers all shades of green, blue, orange, red, pink, yellow, and purple. White sand and turquoise waters, ripe fruits, and a breeze that smells fresh and salty as the sea or deep and powerful as the soil. The sun is warm all year long, and the tropical humidity just makes it all feel more sensual.
And after we officially gained entry into the Brotherhood of Bad Motherfuckers, what could our mothers do but lose sleep, wake into prayer, prepare herbs & apples, cursive the names of our enemies on loose leaf, & let their names dust in the sunlight.
Now everything is clean, rezoned & paved, tenements abandoned like whack parties, what is left for us to do but summon bullies from their graves & liberate ourselves from influence.
A flash of light—
out of the corner of my eye. Fireflies, the thought flicks on—and dies.
Outside, the night air slaps my face
like a sheet of ice. Tufts of grass
crackle underfoot, porcupines
crawling up my spine.
The power goes out at night.
The house grows colder, its walls
begin to shiver, and we, its organs,
organize. My little son arrives
at my bedside, breathless,
in an inflatable boat.
We go to the window and search for signs.
Disorder everywhere: suitcases
strewn all over lawns, baby carriages
spilling bottles and toys, towers
of books toppling in the driveways. But the sky’s
perfectly ordered, still. In my chest I grope
for a moral law. And I find—
beating powerfully—a starfish.
Oksana Maksymchuk‘s writing has appeared in Words Without Borders, Poetry International, Modern Poetry in Translation, Los Angeles Review of Books,New Orleans Review, Salamander, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. She won first place in the 2004 Richmond Lattimore and 2014 Joseph Brodsky / Stephen Spender translation competitions and received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Most recently, she co-edited the anthology Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine. Maksymchuk teaches philosophy at the University of Arkansas.
Se acabaron las promesas, / decían nuestros carteles. [The promises have run out, / our signs said.]
So many perfectly good words have been ruined: Promise. Paradise. Free. Even: Like. Love. Friend. We know that the task of the poet is to renovate ruined words, to make language livable again. To make sure the mouth doesn’t hang off its hinges. To make sure the flame of the tongue stays lit in the storm of speech. But what happens when the poet tires of her labor? In English, this word for work is the same as the word for what a woman must do to push a baby out of her body and into the world. Mara Pastor’s new book of poems, Falsa heladería (False Ice Cream Shop) emerges from a double exhaustion and takes a big breath—then lets loose a current of sound—from the other side.
Natal Promise, Natal Debt: On the Recent Poetry of Mara Pastor