Sunday, November 1, 1992


        Trabaja el mar en mi silencio.  —Neruda

The card you sent from Neruda's study in Valparaiso,
sat three months unread in my mailbox,
signed:…a long way from anywhere.
We couldn't get much farther apart—I must confess,
in a Vienna café, I also composed a card to you in my head.
(What would Freud have made of invisible ink on invisible paper?)
In Budapest, seeking a common idiom, a Rumanian poet
and I try to communicate in a handful of languages—
English, Magyar, Rumanian; the few German words I know,
absorbed one summer 20 years ago, break the ice
until we find a common yezik, or tongue—Russian;
we make apologies in the language of the oppressor.
It seems I always have the wrong tongue in my mouth.

You, red-diaper baby, who never learned to speak
of the self-imposed oppression, once asked,
Would you go underground with me if it came to that?
At the border between San Ysidro and Tijuana,
the red trolley, a flag to tease the bull. Toreador y tragaluz.
I didn't feel the sting of the banderias lodged in my neck,
nor see the angry blood escape the prison of my skin.
La verdad es comun como las piedras del mar.
The menorah, in the dust like a weapon.

A rare sunny afternoon in Amsterdam, a city of refugees—
Language rides the dust motes. We babble in tongues.
The North African, Seidhu and I only have Russian in common.
Moniel, his lover, speaks to him in French.
He drinks beer when his torture scars are hurting him,
Moniel explains to me in English. He is a man living in exile.
She and Vins argue over the role of women in Genesis
—a German edition—in Dutch. Missing the point,
Seidhu quotes passages from the Koran en françois.
I am spared the dogma of the Koran, but not of Islam.
I want a beer, Seidhu asks Vins's permission, I am some man's property;
the Sahara fills this room with the politics of sand.
The phone rings; he slips into Arabic, and something more tribal.
Asylum. I can see the indigo scars where they beat him,
his maw, a square hole devouring the light. Jópa!
The room can't contain so many languages
nor the batillion of beer bottles at the ready. Moniel and I
don't speak of the invisible scars of women.

To the Chilean poet who knows only español y italiano,
I speak a curious pastiche of Russian and Spanish;
transient verbs cross borders without passports or visas.
Some well-meaning friend gives me your latest book,
where I am reduced to the impersonal non-sequitor–you–
not tu, nor the formal usted. Who is nursing revenge
unto the next generation? Did the mountains rise slowly,
the words spill purlblind on the pages of Santiago?
Should I mention–after all these years—
the combination lock on my pack is still set to your birthdate?

Behind these sea walls, the hard labor of my solitude.
Yes, we are a long way from anywhere, cannot escape
the truth, common as the stones of the sea, the raised the wall.
The shofar horn sent the stones tumbling down.
victoriously back into the sea.