Vegetation

            After Neruda

 

To unnumbered nameless lands

wind dived down from other dominions,

trailing celestial threads of rain;

and the god of the impregnated altars

restored the lives and the flowers.

 

In the fecundity, time grew vast.

 

The jacaranda uplifted its spume

of transmarine splendors.

The araucaria with its bristling lances

was pure magnitude against the snow,

the primordial mahogany tree

distilled blood from its crowning cup,

and to the south of the larch pines,

the thunder tree, the red tree,

the spiny tree, the mother tree,

the vermillion ceiba, the gum tree,

were earthly volume and sound,

were terrestrial entities.

A new aroma was propagated,

passing through the earth’s

interstices, converting its breath

to smoke and fragrance:

wild tobacco lifted

its rosebush of imaginary air.

Like a spear tipped

with fire, corn appeared, and its stature

was threshed and grew anew,

disseminating its flour; the dead

were held beneath its roots,

and then, from its cradle, it witnessed

the emergence of the vegetal gods.

Wrinkle and extension, the seed

of the wind was dispersed

over the feathers of the cordillera,

dense radiance of germinal stalks,

sightless dawn suckled

by the earthly unguents

of relentless rain-drenched latitudes,

of enshrouded fountainous nights,

of whispering cisterns of morning.

And even so, over the llanos,

like planetary plates,

beneath a fresh pueblo of stars,

the ombu tree, lord of the grasslands, detained

the susurrous flight of the open air

and mounted the pampa, subduing it

with its bridle of reins and roots.

 

Arboreal America,

savage bush between the oceans,

from pole to pole you balanced

your verdant treasure, your lushness.

Night germinated

in cities of sacred seedpods,

in sonorous timbers,

extensive leafage that covered

the germinal stone, the early births.

Green uterus, seminal American

savannah, overladen bodega,

a branch was born, like an island,

a leaf took the shape of the sword,

a flower was lightning storm and tentacled medusa,

a cluster rounded off its outline,

a root dropped into the tenebrous depth.

 

 

The Rivers Approach

 

I:

 

Lover of rivers, lover attacked

by turquoise water, transparent droplets—

it’s like a tree of veins, your specter

of a somber goddess who bites apples,

only then to wake up naked;

you were tattooed by the rivers,

and in the soaked heights your head

filled the world with fresh drops of dew.

You shook the water in your belt.

You were shaped of springs

and lakes glittered in your brow.

From your maternal thickness you gathered

the liquid like vital tears,

and you scratched the riverbeds of sand

all across the planetary night,

traversing rough and dilated rocks

on the path, breaking apart

the entire geology of salt,

cutting down forests of compact walls,

parting the muscles of quartz.

 

II: Orinoco

 

Orinoco, let me be on your shores

that hourless hour,

let me go naked, as then,

and enter your baptismal darkness.

Orinoco of scarlet water,

let me plunge my hands so they may return

to your maternity, to your course,

river of races, homeland of roots,

your broad burbling sound, your savage lamina

comes from where I come, from the poor

and haughty solitude, from a secret

like a stream of blood, from a silent

mother of clay.

 

III: Amazon

 

Amazon,

capital of aquatic syllables,

patriarchal progenitor, you’re

the secret eternity

of fecundation;

like birds, rivers rush to you, covered

by conflagration-colored pistils,

the great felled trunks fill you with pueblos of perfume,

the moon can neither watch nor measure you.

You’re charged with green sperm

like a nuptial tree, you’re silvered

in savage springtime;

you’re reddened by timbers,

blue between the moons of the stones,

wrapped in ferruginous vapor,

slow as the passage of a planet.

 

IV: Tequendama

 

Tequendama, do you remember

your lone passage, unwitnessed

along the heights, your thread

of solitudes, slender willfulness,

celestial line, arrow of platinum;

do you remember, step by step,

opening walls of gold

to the point of tumbling from the sky into

the terrifying theater of empty stone?

 

V: Bío Bío

 

But speak to me, Bío Bío,

yours are the words that slide off

my tongue, where you extended

your language, your nocturnal song

mingled with the rain and the foliage.

You, without whom no one would notice a child,

sang to me of the dawning

of the earth, the power

of your peaceful reign, the hatchet buried

with a quiver of shattered arrows,

all that the leaves of the cinnamon laurel

have been telling you for a thousand years;

then I saw you give yourself to the sea

dividing into mouths and breasts,

broad and florid, murmuring

a history the color of blood.

 

 

Some Beasts

            After Neruda

 

It was the twilight of the iguana.

 

From its iridescent crest

its tongue like a dart

plunged into the vegetation;

the monastic anteater treaded

through the jungle on melodious feet.

The guanaco, thin as oxygen

in the wide brown heights,

went walking in his golden boots,

while the llama widened its innocent

eyes on the delicacy

of the dew-pebbled world.

The monkeys were braiding

an unendingly erotic thread

along the high banks of the dawn,

pulling down walls of pollen

and startling the violet flight

of the butterflies of Muzo.

It was the night of the alligators,

the pure and swarming night

of snouts jutting out of the slime,

and from the somnolent swamps,

an opaque clamor of scale armor

returning to its terrestrial origin.

 

The jaguar touches the leaves

with its phosphorescent absence;

the puma running in the branches

like a predatory fire, while burning

in him are the alcoholic

eyes of the jungle.

Badgers scratch the feet

of the river, sniff out the nest

whose palpitating delight
they’ll attack with scarlet teeth.

 

And in the depths of the great water,

like the encircling ring of the earth,

lies the gigantic anaconda

covered with ceremonial clay-paint,

devouring and religious.

 

by Stephen Massimilla

 

Stephen Massimilla is a poet, critic, professor, and painter. His newest (co-authored) book, Cooking with the Muse, is just out from Tupelo Press. His recent book, The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat, was a selection of the Stephen F. Austin University Press Prize contest. He has also received the Bordighera Poetry Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday (CUNY); the Grolier Prize for Later on Aiaia; a Van Rensselaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch; an Academy of American Poets Prize; and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. His volume Almost a Second Thought was runner-up for the Salmon Run National Poetry Book Award, selected by X.J. Kennedy. Massimilla has recent work in AGNI, American Literary Review, Barrow Street, Bellingham Review, Chelsea, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Fiction Fix, Harpur Palate, The Literary Review, Marlboro Review, Paterson Literary Review, Poet Lore, Posit, Provincetown Arts, RHINO Poetry, The Southern Poetry Review, Tampa Review, and many other journals and anthologies. He holds an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University and teaches literary modernism, among other subjects, at Columbia University and the New School.

 

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