Rome

One day I will see you.
One day I will connect the dots,
the constellation of decisions,
paintings I can’t forget,
moments of déjà vu,
songs that won’t let me sleep,
that make up the continuum
of my life finally leading me
to your cobbled streets.
One day I will deftly put my thumb
over your pulse and listen to
the marching and the drumbeat
from old wars that made you
who you are and shaped your story,
even the outlying voices that
protested your dark surrenders.
To love you properly, not just on paper.
To feel your sensuous syllables
on my tongue and tease
the etymology of every nuance.
Catch the ghost embers
of your past lives on fire.
To drink the Aegean breezes
that gather in front of your
temples and basilicas
and seek, in person,
the poetry of your goddesses
and try to be worthy with my own.
To weep at your sunsets.
To trace the contours
of your twilight haze and
be able to recognize your face
in photographs, from every angle.

Notre Dame Cathedral is on Fire

and I’m thinking about my
Francophile friends for whom
seeing that icon up close
had been a personal milestone.
They have come far
from the hot, muggy nights
at a cybercafe in Ermita,
agonizing over a high school
paper on Claude Frollo,
to dressing to the nines
and proposing to a girlfriend
at the grand lobby
of a Singapore theater,
still high on the encore
of “Do you Hear the People Sing?”,
to finally getting that Schengen Visa
on their green passport
so they could set foot at the place
that began all that stirring,
all that passion.
I still have the postcards they
sent me, pushpinned to my half-
heartedly maintained vision board.

I also remembered to feel sorry
for myself for not having made it
to Paris yet at age 35, broke
and still not having the prospect
of travel on the horizon.
Does this mean I missed my chance?
There is a scar, a blotted out
paragraph where a dream used to be.

Finally I say a prayer for the
locals and the faithfuls,
for whom this tragedy, I’m sure,
is an infinitely sharper knife,
the aftermath an infinitely
larger wound to heal from.
More than the setting of novels,
but a backdrop of lives, home
of flesh-and-blood memories
now in danger of being erased.

Mes condoléances.

Bus through Dubuque, IA

This is the road that folds
the latitude of night
into brave passages
through fields of stirring,
the keen awareness of hurtling
through time, or whatever
stands in for time when
clocks are immaterial,
routine is far away, with
vestiges of the day eddying
on the shores of the never
been before, the perhaps
never will again.
Like confessing a savored sin,
the pleasure and the sinning
repeating in the telling,
where the starting point
is what you know and
the destination is what will be
left after the truth settles
in the ensuing silence,
next to elusive sleep.
Here is the town that is more
symbol of transition than place;
that was the glance that is
more a milestone:
you’ve come this far,
said the shadowed grazing green
counting all the ways what you
remember isn’t really what
had been. But still enough.
These are not the colors
I’ve seen before, back when
being lost meant believing
something larger lay past
the next hill, when being found
meant not needing to be
witnessed, except maybe by
my own words.
They had been enough.
This is the darkness of 1 a.m.
where the piercing of headlights
feels like a dance solo,
language of movement from
the memory of a hundred hours
rehearsing, flesh hypnosis,
grace flanked by danger
not carrying over the threshold,
just negotiating the miles
like an aleph,
like something delicate

Across Louisville

Friday 2011, Chicago
Razor slices of red-tinted winter sky through the blinds, like verses of a waning fire. The snow still falls unabated. You can tell by the unbreaking silence.

Saturday 0231, Indiana to Kentucky via the Kennedy Bridge
Crossed the Ohio River at 2:20 a.m. There was a parallel bridge, stayed by cables, a serene glow of powder-blue light over the dark surface of the water. I thought of Königsberg. In Euler’s resolution of the problem, that was the moment we switched the light on.

Saturday 1148, downtown Louisville
Snowflakes the size of petals. Bringing the air to life like a dance of conciliatory words undone from a lingering burden. How flawed everything is, and how new.

Saturday 1934, Kentucky to Indiana via the Lincoln Bridge
The winter night is so opaque the naked sky feels like a tunnel, and going through an actual tunnel feels like dawn breaking.

Sunday 0811, road to Cincinnati
The fog held each subsequent mile, like a reverence. The road is a long, winding aisle in a quiet cathedral; the morning a religion, down to the acoustics of us, brushing against the verdant pews.

Pilgrim for a Day

I left you in Michigan
in the doting hush of tree shadows,
the network of U-turns along 8 Mile
and what’s left of the songs
after we’ve sung the parts that we know.

I left you in the wake of a shared dream
as shades of beckoning green
shuffled awake
to sounds of passed torches
flames igniting more flames
clad in uniform with billowing sleeves
fortified with tears of testimony
home-cooked meals
and homegrown faith
in full bloom
clink of glasses and sterling silver
laughter at roadside overlooking
some nondescript mountain
carved now with stories
of lost mothers and
found sons
and a search that never ends
like blood between generations
and an abstract path to salvation
as tangible as a sleepless night
paved with anointed verses
and a verdant culture where
we have pitched our tents
to light up the darkness
with our unwavering voices.

I left you in Michigan
with the footsteps my truth
has been shedding since my arrival
like torn feathers, except more sacred
so eager to leave my mark
so willing to give my heart
to the road that keeps unraveling
even as we sleep.

.
* * *
For Sis. Toni Rose Valenzuela
Sterling Heights / Detroit / Grand Rapids, MI

Sacred Message, Rough Translation

(Montara Beach, California)

I stood there,
on the thin ribbon of chance
where the road ended,
looking down

at the sea
as it nursed a mood
of spectacular fury

the possibility of falling
replacing my heartbeat

being
and being acutely
aware of my purest form:
part search,
part leap of faith,
part averted suicide

a pilgrim
knees trembling, trying
to stand inside the whirlwind
of a miracle that
keeps on happening

a witness
and a living prayer
to nature’s awesome power

This is God, I heard
the words lifting
where the horizon is far
and the life-and-death-wide
divide from the great rocks
wave crash
and fate, bone-white
is larger than
the enduring story

core of creation
and understanding within
that authoritative
thesis of chaos

This is worship,
me weeping
and lost

reveling in my post-truth,
post-apocalyptic
irrelevance

not
sitting in a box
of the well-rehearsed
and synchronized,
black and white lines
nitpicking verses from a Book
and being afraid
of the questions
scribbled on the margins

Second Wanderlust

I have blindly loved places
as if they have souls,
lain with a bridge in the night
with its rivets of fire and
once allowed a skyscraper
to stroke my inner twilight,
dealt with latitudes and longitudes
like the axioms of their virtues

and it’s not beneath my heart
to love from afar,
to be casual with distance
and devoted to understanding
the muses that sustain their suns
even before I touch them

to read like lonely love letters
the photographs of places
clothed in seasons
and adorned with people
who paint the walls with emotion
and history and abstract
renditions of what it might
be like to see them naked
and much closer

to map out countrysides wrought
in whispers and eclectic boroughs
among fiery nerve endings
that commute passengers
from surviving to thriving
and back again

to try on street slang like tattoos
and dangers in the inner cities
like piercings on my
consciousness’ erogenous zones

to live vicariously within
delicate urban ecosystems
weaving the pangs of longing
into the woolly fabric of
whatever belonging
might mean

until there become places that
I visit for the first time
feeling like a coming home
or a long overdue return

until sleeping is just
switching places with strangers
for the chance to be a voyeur
into my own passion,
my absence and my hunger

until arrivals and departures
are indistinguishable, and
airports and train stations
are the moments I get reborn

until, finally, it reciprocates:
people to me become places,
and the world becomes I,
allowing me
a vivid taste of my own soul
and to hear again the calling
of my own name
for the first time

until the mere opening of doors
feels like both a tearing apart
and a rescue

Art Installation, Steel and Natural Light

With my side
pressed against the painfully
blissful soft gold of its sunrise,
I hum.
A sinuous tone
in lithe pursuit of messages
left for my soul to find
on corners of these Bay Area streets
by generations of California dreamers.
They knew someone like me
would come along. I become
a sieve for moments, for the letters
summer writes for the sea,
for the music made by headlights
splintering into vectors and vices
as they pierce the rolling fog.
The city stood silhouetted against
the blank canvas of
my open invitation to love.
Before I set foot on it,
it was only an imaginary place
in my mind, its name
a hallowed shrine to an aesthetic,
a shape-shifting ideal that paralleled
the evolution of my desires.
It turned out to be nothing like
my doll house Instagram visions.
This is a performance piece,
asymmetrical, hungry and gloriously
incomplete, reverberating
to a pounding heartbeat
reminiscent of the day when
I felt longing for the first time,
or when that same longing
let loose all my words
on the day it decided for me
that holding my peace
would never be enough.

Slow Dancing with San Francisco

I didn’t have much time
so I went straight to its heart
beyond the postcard perfection
and the collective sway of
waking dreams along the bridge
and into the faded shutters
of the old Victorian houses lined up
on imperfectly sloped sidewalks
and places where tarnished
elegance rose with hunched
shoulders in the dusty midday sun

and I didn’t mind
exposing all my past wounds
on every mile of shoreline
and rattling off stories that involved
narrowly escaped perdition,
casual mentions of betrayal
from both ends and falling
from cliffs of ungoverned passion,
not because it’s what I thought
it would like to hear,
but because it spoke in terms
of loving on the edge,
of an identity maneuvering
around a blueness that permeates
the bundled-up subconscious
and a desert that lays itself down
as a reminder that half of you
must end in order for the other
half to begin

and I opened myself
to let it touch me
with its dozen different
gestures paraphrasing solitude
like a wise woman who understands
that independence never
comes without a price
and the startling cold that blows
from the ocean during the night
stripping my skin of sunburn and
my muscles of their burdens of flight
crooning like migratory birds
of a lost love

and in the end, aren’t we all cities
nestled in lonely valleys, seduced
into staying by the beautiful view,
wearing handpicked colors
to draw attention to our inner
architectural marvels
and trying so hard on a daily basis
to carve a life and thrive
among cruel deserts and make do
with the patches of green that living
has to offer?

On the Banks of the Rubicon at Dawn

And if we never see the world

if we never slow dance with the sky
or sweet talk with the clouds
or get intimate with a virgin sea

if we never get carried
by bullet trains to places
that will rewrite this life
for our weary eyes

if we never find
our storybook adventure
or lay our heads
in the cashmere of twilight
with ephemeral diamonds

if we never share a table
with fame and fortune
to get drunk off liquid temptations
and bottles of expensive sin

if we never change the course
of history, or touch
the hearts of millions

if we miss the chance
to write our names on walls
where we will be remembered

may we be wise enough to see
that the love we found
has always been enough
to feed our dreams
and our sense of wonder

that inside it we have a kingdom
and the wind blows like
satin mysteries over the miles
of our inner journeys
where we have traveled far
and seen plenty

that we are worthy

that here,
we did something that measures up
to the prestige of ancient
civilizations we never witnessed
and the glamour of foreign
languages we never spoke

that our choices to drop
our anchors at this shore,
to build a home and over the years
keep repainting these same walls
so we could hope to feel new,
have all been rewarded by voices
and footsteps and little handprints
of postcard-worthy moments

that over this old familiar horizon
we have seen sunrises and constellations
each different from the one before
each beautiful

that what’s outside
of the universe we’ve created
may be lovely, but
it can be sung with
a few well-chosen verses
and vicariously lived
in quiet contentment
through the words and lenses
of those who walked
a different path from ours,

without regret

and with my hand
clasped in yours