At Mosquito Bay

Vieques, 2004

Moth Phenomenon

for Wifredo Lam

Monito Island is no home for castaways who try to cross the rip tides from Cap Haitien.

Oriundo geckos, sooty terns, cactus moths live in a labyrinth of its underground caves.

The lighthouse from a nearby anvil island sometimes blots the midnight sky.

Hot as it gets, far from Mayaguez, hunters come to slaughter the teeming pigs.

Picture a rocky, limestone beach, spotted with kelp, crowded with boobies.

Horse-eye jacks, yellow-head jawfish, garden eels patrol below the coral.

Every sand dune has a gash, where turtles flop to lay their eggs.

Now on the mainland, I eat mofongo, drink rainwater runoff.

On a day of clouds and sharks veering towards the inlet, you arrive.

Moths fix gooey, larval, thorn-like egg-sticks onto prickly pear.

Eaglets eat invasive pests who travel as far as Pensacola Wal-Marts.

Now you are here, by the undersea sheer cliffs and stony coves.

Oh, how love descends in the light of your eyes at the Equator.

Never to leave me again! Never again to fly too close to the sun!

The Bermuda Triangle

Our dreams, desires, all bulk cargo bound for container ports

in Baltimore, Newport News, the Bahamas, straight across

each Sargasso Sea. I'm forty-eight, the sheen

is burnished off my forehead, but still love

calls when it quickens, as does the delicate

light at the cusp of the Earth at 30,000 feet,

world turning inward, backwards, while humans

sleep through half their lives. I've loved this

woman more years than I've lived alone,

the triangle of me and her and world still

baffling mapmakers and geographers.

Looking down through nimbus clouds,

I see cod trawlers lifting on the ten-foot

surge, as a warm convection front moves north.

Any mini-Ice Age is still far off beyond the

laying of my grandson in a grave. He needs

to live his life first (he's not yet born), before

the California wildfires spread, the droughts

descend, an ice cap plunge into currents of

the Gulf Stream. Below, a raft drifts in seas

that harbored an Atlantis, where the USS Poet,

a 500-foot carrier of corn, with a rhumb line

course to Gibraltar, Port Said, sinks beneath

waves without an SOS, down to serpent grass

of the People of the Sea, where transparent

sticky, fragile zooplankton crowd volcano

sub-vents, feeding on carbon-eating plants

and worms of the rock grotto mimic octopus.

I squint and peer to see through the sargassum,

where today there are no disappearances, no foul

pestilence or burning oil slicks, as we arc out

over the turbid waters and on to Puerto Rico.

Bio Bay

On our way to the mangrove swamps we pass a mongoose

in the road and many rock iguanas. Gasoline is siphoned

out of the Jeep we drive, so we wait for the jíbaro police

before continuing. A new moon means Mosquito Bay

will be dancing with dinoflagellates tonight. We paddle

kayaks like Tainos, deep into mangrove root-bound

wilderness, where sea trout and carnivorous snook are

cleaning the bones of a pirogue. Nurse sharks patrol

the shallows where plant pupillae burst and drop

to float the seas for twenty years before they anchor

in some other solid, saltwater silt. Our eyes are peeled

for evening predators, American kestrels or an albatross.

We kayak to the mouth, the Caribbean, some of us silent,

others clotting the blue sky with words that rise above

the tiny croaking tree frogs, out of reach of the talkers,

into thin-lipped clouds of dusk. We beach canoes, pee

in the arbutus, wait for dark to thicken, motionless

at the verge of a continental shelf that drops to

27,000 feet, where creatures unbeknownst to us sleep

vertically in pods, centuries-long, with sawfish teeth

and angler rods lit up. Nacho chips, some idle chit-chat

with the Danes, we stroke back to the center of the bay.

My aging father paddles flush with a son up front,

as if my brother was six and Dad a man with more

years ahead of him than gone. No moon to speak of,

but light pollution from encroaching sub-development

hasn't yet spoiled this no-longer secret meeting place.

Here in the land of night-blooming cactus, all at once

six teens are in the water, effervescing as they move like

manta rays across the pea-sized waves. With each hand

jerk, arm flail, knee-socket swivel, they glow like living

ghosts (one boy shouts out "I'm a human glowstick!"),

vitamin-enriched zooanthellae help turn the bay into a

witches' cauldron of delight. A dozen killifish scoot

like exiled demons pouring out of Eden, a thorny skate

glides by shining like Orion crossing a mid-Spring sky.

I don't know why it's so chilling–but I jump in and

plummet to the eight-foot forest floor. There's no ear-

splitting mid-frequency sonar to deafen sperm whales

out in the channel. Rather a million grass shrimp rivet

away as if they were ripping apart the Lusitania. I stay

below, cease to be me, more like a part of the murky

pantomime, listening to the music of the Pliocene, as

if a cormorant stuck fast in crude oil or truck exhaust

could feed the melting of glaciers till they cover us.

The deep-sea gravity anomalies are sucking me down

to the bottom of the Puerto Rican Trench, to sea-beds

of the shrimp that perish when they finish making love.

El Yunque

We crosshatch through sierra palms to find the road to El Yunque,

switching back down hillsides till we find a pink bodega

selling cane juice and see-through ponchos for the rain.

Three viejos from the Bronx play dominoes, flash teeth

and feed us burgers. I feel so close to home on a jungle road

to nowhere, where the last green parrot twines its nest

with plastic netting. We stop at the rushing Baño Grande

waterfall, a 1930s public works, overgrown with ferns.

As you might expect, despite a sudden, massive, flash-flood

rain, tourists flock from Germany and Spain, who liven

the guided jungle walk with their anti-American hijinks.

The forest ranger has to point out flora and fauna

for all of us, including two dudes from Pocatello who

don't know how to see. Right in front of us–she

whips out a pocket lens–is Lepanthes woodburyana,

an orchid smaller than the pupil of your eye. In bloom,

luxuriating in the rain, it thrives but only here. Todies

flit between bromeliads. Refuge and refugees, just

for an instant, do commune. When sun cracks through,

we sit our Dad on a bench so he can dial a broker in Ohio

to buy commodities. We head up a trail to Mount Britton:

from the peak, looking along a spine of the cordilleras,

we know we've reached the top of an underwater hill.

We lord over the Atlantic, can almost make out Tripoli,

Fez, and Casablanca. We consecrate our visit with a can

of Coco Rico. How rich this world, how bent the spirits

of this mountain, at least for a day when two brothers

and their Dad can walk and talk in the intermittent rain.

At Fajardo

The eye of the lizard cuckoo follows every movement of my fork,

as I crack a bright-red crab and down a Negra Modelo

at Kiosko #2, one of a hundred lemony, paste-blue

snack shops at Luquillo, where coconut palms line

trashed and marble sands, not boarded up or busy

as a catch of mullet is heaved to a pier and doled out

to the wrecked cafes. A burnt-out tug shifts in mud

in the harbor at Fajardo. A foghorn booms, a yellow

hue imbues the far-off mist of Las Cabezas, a mix

of acid rain and sulfur, which some say is payback

for El Grito de Lares, as it rose above the yucca–

white noise in the desert solitaire. Pfizer, Merck,

pharmaceuticals seed the bunch grass countryside.

Green gunk clots an irrigation ditch where I watch

a wild mare drink and stare off into burning hay.

Not a single crop duster flies low. Barber shops

and pastelerias unfurl their roll-down shutters,

sidewalks soft as butter, with sweat drops rising

to the skim-coat surface, where a gecko is soon

to be a fossil. We listen to a German drygoods clerk

who spins a tale about a right whale that swam

the Rio de la Plata to its source. Rain spits down

from clouds as half-clad girls race to a black Carrerra,

as we prepare for a serenade of belching robber frogs.

Hacienda Loma del Sol

Sunrise, five a.m. The world as I know it is nowhere

to be seen. I write in my journal that every muscle

in my body is attuned to the rise of the sun so far

from home, but it isn't so. My ears bear all there is.

I am listening to the first symphony of the world.

Mango birds and vireos play havoc with the quiet,

as the dead walk by to cane fields for a day's work.

My companions, Coco and Blizzard–a scorched,

snow-white cat–pace the length of an Andalusian

banquet hall to keep rats and mongooses at bay.

The men in my life are asleep: mist from the peak

of El Yunque sifts through palm-covered hilltops.

A sudden downpour. I can still make out scars

on the surface of the moon. Women are already

hanging laundry, the smell of Bustelo shifting

across the valley. Boricuas load gas bombas

into a beat-up lorry. The King of Spain and

Empress Josephine no longer haunt fruit stands

along the fish piers. A perky gringo leads horses

out of a jet that's come from Charlottesville.

What, he asks, can he refill it with to take back

to the mainland? Two hundred years of silence

is the answer. The rhythm of timbales, drums,

a hammering on corrugated tin–hammering

on time's immanence. Everywhere and all

at once, impatiens, whose seeds scattered in

from Madagascar, are bursting open in full bloom.

Isla Inútiles

Ibis tide, breadfruit trees, red vetiver, eyetooth of the hammerhead,

singing porpoises, uncut diamonds, a distant, fuming Chimborazo,

and bananaquits. Termitariums, water spouts, fog cascades,

firefly milk, all of the things that flood the mind when

it's breathing, just as the radiolarian ooze and slime

comprise the bed of all creation. A brief rain shower.

We board a ketch to sail to Cayo Lobos and Icacos,

called by the Spanish useless islands, as they harbor

no ginger, tobacco, magnesium, sugar cane, or kale.

We head out for the Rock of No Return, a sirens' lair,

bottomless sink holes where snorkelers from Osaka

blink without their scuba masks and drink rum

mojitas in the heat. I'm telling Ingrid, second mate,

of how in Coetzee's books despair is turned to grace.

She says she crushed her spine in a bike crash

near Santurce, driver blinded by a spoon of crack,

and only wants to study the open ocean hot zone,

its underworld names and choreography. Flippered,

John jumps in to swim with triggerfish, blue tang,

around our bleached reef. We walk a desolate beach

patrolled by Affinpinschers, toe our way through

coral till we spook a barracuda. Back aboard, we dodge

all talk of wreckage of the sea, try to repair damage

done at home–by merely sitting in the sun–two

middle-aged iguanodons, picturing nubile manatees,

thinking to quench our thirst when we reach Fajardo.


Picture a land of cedars, pineapple, and flamboyán.

Deserted, pristine beaches, dried-out moray eels,

punctured Thermos coolers for crooks who come

to stash their Cuban links, their Rolexes and cash,

where smugglers wade to shore with pints of rum,

and abandoned cookout shacks serve for anyone

who’ll clean the grill fire pits, gut their fish filet

to smoke and cook for motorcades of islanders.

On a public bus, cousins spar like fighting cocks,

with names like Hector, Paris, Helen, and Achille.

We stop for a midday break, flayed out along

white sands where Aimé Césaire wrote poems

in the name of negritude. Loiza, a cacique, queen

of these land-grant territories for liberated slaves,

mestizos, and maroons, still hums in trade winds

along the vine-dark roads and goat paths in this

undiscovered world. A dugout fleet launched

here to meet Columbus with papayas, machetes.

Rabbit bones, cats' blood, remnants of voodoo,

have left a ring of ash along the driftwood dunes.

We see signature wounds of soldiers from Iraq,

hobbling on asphalt without a place to sleep.

They wander roads as if they were in Baghdad,

Fallujah, or Kirkuk, their brains cooked by crazed,

Yoruba god-sent pigeon messengers. An underground

river snakes from San Juan to Humacao, a haven

for traffickers of smut. Mosquitoes, locusts, hordes

of bee-eaters in the swamp. It's St. James Day,

when a hundred people–from Barbados, Senegal,

the Dutch Antilles, and Loisaida–will speak

with a single voice. A choir of car horns

honks to the beat of congas and a plena dance.

Baskets full of blue crab pones and banana

pulp pasteles reappear, a fire on the beach

is a beacon to all of those who've passed to

other lives. I stand on a bridge of flowers

to watch the bonfires, to see a Ceiba tree

flicker with the image of holy Santiago,

sap trickling down its trunk as if it was tears.


The story starts with children in a pasture, tripping

on an unexploded mine. Cloudburst dumps

a drenching rain that's soaked with blood.

Thunder cracks the sky above a crag that's

heaved from the sea in spumes of volcanic ash,

lakes and stones carved by the hand of Ogun.

Are there jade deposits beneath Green Beach?

Abandoned bunkers are cold to a spider's touch:

army half-tracks rust into the hills of karst,

beyond a ring of Stonehenge boulders that

mark a fossil graveyard, of Indian dog-deities

buried curled as if in wombs. Cheeseburger

joints stink up every Malecón in Esperanza,

but there is no theatre or bowling alley here.

Blacksmiths fashion angels into iron grates.

Ospreys sail above where fighter pilots flew.

Jackals come to carve out spoils the Navy's left:

the worship of a thorny crucifix is replaced by

casino chips and condominiums. Fishing boats

strayed into missile range are blown to bits.

Grackles are cracking berries in the mangroves

and women sunbathe topless at Blue Beach.

Catacombs lead all the way to Machu Picchu,

and the land, Vieques, begins to regain its voice.

Roosevelt Roads

Across the straits from Vieques, a boy of eighteen arrives

from oilfields of New Jersey, a United States Marine,

in shock at a first trip away from home, he’s suddenly

swimming in caves of the red fruit bat. In spit-shined

boots and army camouflage, he’s cowed to silence

not by a shit-faced sergeant but his own bewilderment

at black flies, heat, the roaring of the jets, a destroyer

with a gash the size of a silo. He arrives the year

the base is opened, with one war done, the Caribbean

theater is thought to be the future site of Armageddon.

Ships pass easily through the Panama Canal, every

lock and dam is on his mind. His green eyes light up

when the camp commander comes to the mess hall

with his teenaged daughter. In less than a month

Dad's got his arm around her waist at a cotillion ball.

His job is to secure perimeters around dry docks

where search-and-rescue squads refuel. After hours,

he sails his sailboat Snipe to Ensenada Honda, or out

to Punta Algodones, careful to avoid unexploded

ordnance near an archipelago of orange millipedes.

He sleeps with his eyes cocked open nights and half

expects the preening coquís to be underwater frogmen.

Sixty years later he returns with two of his boys,

after living another life as a doctor in Connecticut.

We blackshoes get in to the decommissioned base–

not a soul stirs but two MPs–it looks like Hurricane

Hugo blew through, taking all but the underbrush.

Iguanas bask on the crack-rimmed roads, and dogs

forage where once the imperial U.S. army supped.

The era of naval warfare has passed, this closing

was the end of the Battle of Vieques, land returned

to its native people for the turn of the millennium

and for an end to global terror. Prisoners

at Guantanamo are five hundred miles away. Guy-

wires with rat-catchers abound, and, brand-new

housing is tenantless along the hilly waterfront.

Dad, in tears, finds the bunkhouse where he slept

those post-war years and dreamed he'd be a man

to chart the seven seas, tearing at walls of greed

and usury, helping townsfolk meet phantom fears

of aging, infidelity, ugliness, and ire. No longer

staring in mirrors wonderingly, my father asks

Sergeant Diez about his own plans and dreams.

He says he wants to live so long, like you, Sir,

like the sun-burnt men of Okinawa, who at 92

can squat for hours on rice terraces, speaking

with gravity and grace. Dad agrees, it would be

the best, for his children, too, all who pass from

the years of action to the years of contemplation.

We fly back home together, two of us, to snow

and cold of March in Hartford, warming our feet

in a hybrid before we get it idling and drive home.

© 2005