SEASON OF THE DEAD
1. Vergilian Fortunes
from the Aeneid
Weeping I left my native coast,
my harbor, the skull-bare plain
where once stood Troy.
Deep into exile I was thrust, I,
my companions, my son,
my household gods, the gods
of all my people, destiny’s refuse,
flotsam all in waves we sowed
with friends. And every day
was hardship at our elbow,
each narrow ship an agony,
each groan of wind and rigging
a new curse, until at last
we threw our bodies to dry earth.
The only crop we had that year was death.
2. Bay of Slaughter
St. Augustine, Florida
To faith the world leaves little room:
that moon without a need for proof
beyond two moonlit eyes
fixing it there, this empty beach,
these clumsy ghosts that crab
without knowing they endure.
There are other signs, no doubt,
for those less weary or less sure:
a steel-blade cut of sea on land, a cross
of embers on a dune
that has known tragedy, where men
have fed men into a grave,
into a name that still holds sway
over these waters.
There is a moral here, and there’s not.
And we, French Huguenots
and our Castilian keepers,
what else were we to make
of the oracles of marsh and sky,
the self-sure omen of the tides,
other than the world was as it should be
which can’t know what it means
to let go and rise as if at sea,
to be hungry so long memory is hunger?
3. For an Enemy Pilot
Joystick forward, rudder right,
his fall is still and upward
from darkness into a brief light –
quilt of coral-cloud and flak,
shell-burst of machinery,
water stitched to a horizon
by a broken thread of smoke.
In walrus-tusk, whale jaw,
in the pages of parched books
sweetly bitter as old ginger,
in gowns dyed with lime and ash,
the world has its aftermath:
Crabs burrowed his ribcage,
currents eased his bones
under silt and sand. The sea
has no obligation to be kind—
it fulfills its duties well,
it carries on, it holds no memory.
This poem started as 3 separate pieces written between 1994 and 1996(?). They were so thematically linked that it became clear they worked best as a single unit. The poem was published in the New England Review, Fall 1998 issue.
The poem is, perhaps surprisingly, a very personal one for me. Besides the obvious reference to exile (I left Cuba at age 13), it also touches upon a great deal of loss in terms of dreams and aspirations of mine during this period. It’s sort of a mourning piece. Of course, my losses are nothing compared to those of the people in the poem. This implied comparison, perhaps, was meant to offer myself consolation.
But it’s about a lot more. The seeming inevitability of violence and suffering in the world is one of my inevitable themes (read: obsessions).