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.
savage bush between the oceans,
from pole to pole you balanced
your verdant treasure, your lushness.
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
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.
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.
capital of aquatic syllables,
patriarchal progenitor, you’re
the secret eternity
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.
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.
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.
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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