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Oliver de la Paz

Oliver de la Paz

Aubade with a Heel of Bread, a Heart, and the Devil

After rain sputters to an end and there is nothing
but pulse—

After venous smells fill the room

like the firing of a gun. After steam and lullaby
of early-morning cock a doodle doo, I think

my name twenty-five times, a dulcet song
in time to the tune of the dog brushing his side

against the fence, and know it’s the hour of naming
my ghosts. In the time it takes for the curtain

edges to define, I will mistake a heel of bread for a lung
and the Devil will dance off the knife-edge

jabbed into the crust. I will be a phantom
tattoo and the bone-rattle of ice in the trees. I will darken

and harvest, and you will know me
by the starlings and the killdeer and the crow.

But for now what the hell do I know? For now
I farewell the evening. Farewell cigarette and bourbon.

Farewell my devil with your blue torch. Here I am,
the vena cava, the septum, the shunt.

Widening Aubade

And now the filigree of your wrist as it catches the dawning
moves beyond the room into the alleyways.

The man pricing a quarter rind of a melon pauses, light
ricocheting from his eye into a ball court across the way.

And in the arc of the orb's flight
from a child's hand into the hoop, the leather rotates,

representing the ever and the now beyond all sunlit rooms,
beyond the fade and the double-clutch which we often do when waking

to a new century, asking what we once were called in childhoods,
ever and now, for the suddenly and always that we wait

whole lifetimes for. And we ask for this despite the way cities
dressed in light slowly groan into the morning the way we do.

Dare your wrist become vulnerable like the stems of snow peas
snapped in the wind and the mornings will have succeeded

but to what purpose? Live out your colors to what end?
The scent of a halved melon is as remarkable as this. So too,

the thud of a basketball on the sidewalk released and gathered
and released again. There are quiet flowing eyelashes and ears,

bare to the suckling of an infant on a breast. There are whole moments
riddling to things coming to irrelevance . . . the body

lighter in its repose, the hush of a ball through a basket.


Somewhere, the moon reflects off the horns of an ox.

The horns are two shells in conversation, listening yet never hearing
a word you've said. But why should we speculate about other worlds

having not outlasted this one? The ox pulls a trundle through the dim
town and the men smoke and gossip about their debts and their women.

There is nothing special about this, only it is the evening of a funeral
and the ox pulls the casket of a woman who once sang beautifully in church.

The men watch the cart go by, accompanied by their wives brusquely
fanning themselves and the children at their sides, and in an instant,

the decrescendo of talk revises what I once told you was unremarkable.
Gold earrings reflect light from the vigil and the woman's body

becomes a tawny reed. It's as if she's captured the change in tone
or the ring of the bell for Sunday prayer.

The procession will go on until our evening here, a continent away.
Our bodies will be white things in the sun. We will say anything

to each other. Perhaps kiss and touch and kiss again.
And perhaps we will forget the felonies we charge one another

in our waking and our breathing.


Elsewhere, the ocean swells and men who had been fishing

descend off their wooden crosses where they had perched
like little gods. The tides rise to the ledge of their pedestals

brushing their feet. They are blessed men. Whetted by enough fish,
they pray and praise each other. Later today, the ocean

will destroy their homes but they do not know this, for love.
There is only the mercy of fat white fish and the sleep of the villages

where their children arrange themselves in perfect triangles
around a fire, dreaming of picking white meat off bone.

Waste deep, they wade back to shore carrying their food in the cloth
of their headdresses now soiled with scales. Slowly, they foot their way

over the rocks and sand, reaching a still point. From there, they look back
at the ocean and thank it. It is a small thing, giving thanks at the end

of a long day. And here we are. Beginning with the dawn. It is September
and the slight change in leaf color gives me grief, which is also small.

The air is colder and I have no fish to bring to you. Praise does not come
easily from my lips, and worse, I see nothing as provocative as ocean swell

from here, fixed as I am on the horizon. I only mention this
because if it were to rain today you would choose to stay in bed.

You would listen to my breathing and think of the migration of birds
or the ease of men wading in the ocean. You would lay on your side and watch

my smallness grow smaller as the hazy sunlight erased my shoulder lightly
with a glance.


It is September and the crystals have begun to form on the windows.
Earlier, you brought the heavy blankets out from the closet

and packaged yourself into a crisp bundle between them, sealing off
all the cracks cold could reach. Wrapped as you are, you are prepared

to hatch if the sun crossed your face, the only part of you exposed.
Here and now, the last of the summer spiders have crossed into our realm

and I was about to kill them all last night with a shoe, but you stopped me.
If in your sleep, they were to fall out of their webs, widening in the corner of our room,

I would take them in my hands to the window because it is your urging.
I would cradle them past the ruins of this poem to face the morning. Or,

I would nudge you from your sleep and tell you of the far places light reaches
when we are not awake. Those sunlit mornings of simple gestures

are what keeps us sometimes. If I were to wake you, would you be readied
to live in a world where everything important is small?

Where the growing nest of the moment couldn't possibly save us?

Concerning the Strawberry

I’ve told you everything about the fields
except one thing, and it is something

I had spared you from because it is a hard thing
to hear. In June, there are strawberries—

strawberries and the fingers of workers
reddened by bruised fruit. And when the hands

get a hold of this color, sticky and sweet
with a metallic smell, they wipe them

on their pants. Sometimes
their thighs stiffen from the juice

and sometimes fruit flies swarm
these men, their bodies a slow-walking feast.

Of course, June is a hot month
and when their skin touches the cotton

of their clothing, the heat makes
a syrup they carry home after many hours

bending and plucking. And when they are home
with the few garments they own, the men wash

in a wooden basin, the clothes that had soaked
the field into each fiber. It is the color

that is the hard part. It doesn’t come off
no matter how long and hard the men scrub

with pumice stones and soap. They rub
the stones into cloth so long

the skins of their hands peel back
making even more red. Listen,

the months are long and the strawberry
stays with you. It will cover your bed

and it will speckle your dreams. Listen,
friend, for it will hold you

in its sweet liquor, its savage heart
plump and thrumming.