At Mosquito Bay
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.