“Moss on a Smooth Rock” is from Un mar en madrugada (A Sea at Dawn), by the Uruguayan poet Silvia Guerra, published in 2018 by Hilos Editora, Buenos Aires, Argentina. The English version of this book is forthcoming from Eulalia Books in 2022.
Guerra’s work is notorious for its complexity, its concreteness of image and abstraction of thought, and its convention-defying syntax, capitalization and punctuation. With a long-standing interest in linguistics and psychology as well as a deep affinity for the natural world, Guerra’s poems go beyond the self in an effort to imagine the world from the standpoint of other beings, living and nonliving. For centuries, humans have assumed a monopoly on consciousness, even arrogantly denying the subjective experience of other mammals. But scientists are at last confirming what any dog or cat owner has always known: animals are not unfeeling automata any more than we are. But while only some creatures are proven to be sentient, can we be so certain that others are not? “How can we be so sure that plants feel no pain?” asks Polish poet Wisława Szymborska. What about rocks? Guerra dares to imagine they are.
“[T]he existence, or non-existence, of a road is a non-copyrightable fact.” —Alexandria Drafting Co. v. Amsterdam (1997)
Twitch of the cartographer’s hand and a street is born, macadam free, a tree-lined absence, paved with nothing but a name. No sidewalks, no chalk, no children’s voices, a fence unlinked from its chains, the cars unmoored, corn left to its rubble, some wandering mailman, a house unbuilt, the bricks unlayed, the mortar unmixed; of the things that hold more things together the cementitious crumbles on this street, the lime breaks from the shale, the shells from their marl and clay. On trap streets the rules of gravity bend, curve to the mountain or fight it, dog leg the impossible angle, ribbon the gulley, shimmer from heat, unspool. Cliff walk, some miracle mile meant only for goats, a meander of cloven hooves, a stitching of strip mines, red earth or white, ground that, once spotted, we call disturbed.
I fell in love and became like those men in Plato’s Republic who heard music for the first time and began singing,
and sang beyond reason, beyond dinner, beyond sleep,
and even died without noticing it, without wavering.
A man in a Chicano Batman shirt got a tattoo of the state of California on his neck. He rode his longboard to the tattoo parlor early in the morning. This was going to be his third tattoo. He also had a tattoo of palm trees on his chest and a skeleton on a surfboard on his calf. He smoked a cigarette as he arrived at the shop.
I remember the first time I saw a vagina on the white pitched walls of an art museum— Columbus, Ohio, mid-afternoon. I was five, maybe six, maybe a few months shy of my grandmother’s cremation, the day after my goldfish, Rosie, jumped down the disposal and my mother ushered me from the kitchen before she turned it on. I remember the curve of my little neck upwards, that lush flesh on display, all swollen and pink. I remember closing my lips to the awe that overcame me, my mother finding my hand to lead me toward the wing of still-lifes, all those porcelain bowls filled with perfect fruit. I’ve studied the metaphors of this womanhood, learned the verses of ‘lady-like’, but I can’t stop staring at the memory. I remember how unnamable was the feeling of the rope that hung the disc swing from my neighbor’s walnut tree as it caught between my legs, the pleasure in that pressure before dinner. I remember lying on the shag green carpet of my bedroom, two days before my bat mitzvah, bleeding onto the towel I’d placed beneath me, the red dress I’d wear at the celebration hung from the door almost as bright a shade as this rite of passage, the first time I realized that most deadly weapons have once been covered in blood.
the inexpressible isn’t that which cannot
be expressed but that which will fall
expressed upon deaf eardrums meet with
sightless eyes centerfolded even
or on the front cover it will escape notice
and upon the face itself remain undetected
because mere expression isn’t all it takes
to be detected to be reasonably considered
expressed to others brothers sisters cousins
or indeed a disinterested passerby
hiding all in plain sight and only the fool thinks
no wait the fool does not even think that
no mystery is gone missing from his equation
a haze of sadness covering what is truly true