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Poetry by Catharine Savage Brosman

At Los Gallos

This is the house that Mabel built-with Antonio,
still a Taos Indian but renamed Tony, and his Lujan
written with an h, as if she could not quite consent
to the primitive mind, though she sought it, running
from the heights of culture-Tuscany, New York-
and wealth that had provided friends, salons, a villa
done to her design, a Renaissance perfection. Three
adobe rooms opening to a portal, thick cottonwoods-

great gold, tawny beasts in fall-the Acequia Madre
running through corn, walls dense as dream, Mabel
herself robed in a native weaving: I imagine it now
as she first saw it, close to the earth, ancient enough.
Again, she became idea, drawing outlines in the sand
with a stick, gathering sage and mud for the latillas
in the ceilings, buying massive vigas and sienna tiles,
letting the spirit move her as she moved her world

in a strange harmony, looking out on Taos Mountain.
There's her solarium, its windows turned four ways,
wisely, like owl's eyes; and the bath, the glassy panels
Lawrence painted, letting in the sun; and Willa Cather
wrote in this small bedroom by the gallery; and here,
O'Keeffe resided, meditating on the Sangre de Cristos,
her head inhabited by flowers, cattle skulls, and cross.
Ah, Mabel! Unlike you, I cannot leave an architect,

nor give up a Tuscan villa, nor marry an artist merely
to use him to get to New Mexico, divorcing him later
for a Tewa Indian; nor is the mountain now so wise-
its eyes unseeing where we do not see. Not the house,
not even its prismatic light, can cure us, but the mind,
holding the vision fast: it preens itself, a bird of indigo
emerging from the ashes, winging upwards, calling out
with hieratic voice and flashing blue among the clouds.


In the Virgin Islands

I: Arriving

Roads in St. Thomas form a spider web, a giant
pretzel, rather, over-yeasted and irregular,
its center near Four Corners, where we'll stay
a week at the Viette estate. Jessie's come
to meet us at the airport in her Jeep, with Reggie
driving. It feels hot, all right, and moist-

a steam bath, like New Orleans. Hibiscus,
oleanders, palm trees, and a lazy pace-
it's all familiar. But the airport is the only flat spot
on the island, which still thinks itself,
apparently, as a volcano. We rise at once, hit
hairpin curves, turn steeply, watch the roads

entangle with each other, then skein off.
It's left-side drive here, and we'll never
learn the routes: the maps are just approximate,
the numbers change or disappear.
I lean into a bend, feel branches brush the glass,
look up to catch a triangle of sky, look down

into a gully and a glimpse of rooftops, tiled
in red or blue. Discoursing on the weather,
Reggie claims it's been a tease all week-with haze
and showers in the mountains, St. John's
misty to the east, Tortola showing rarely,
and St. Croix invisible. All right: we'll not expect

a view, although the sky deceives us brilliantly.
Beyond a knot of roller-coaster roads,
we're on a jungle track, with jolts and gear-box
grindings; past a gate, another turn or so-
and suddenly we're parking at a platform
like a ferry landing, leading to the garden

and the house, which ride the cresting waves
of foliage, with palms and Norfolk Island pines
as masts. Ah, look between the trees!
Unblanched, without a veil or wisp of cloud,
the Carribean Sea, as if at hand-a dazzling
mantle of blue moirČ silk, with hems of turquoise,

green, aquamarine, and islet fasteners. We get
our luggage, take a few steps, and voilý:
there's the Atlantic, shimmering, a deeper
indigo. Did the day repent, knowing our visions
before we came? It's almost pain-the water's
body as if purposed for the moving mind.

II: In Jessie's Garden

Two hundred acres, with one hundred fifty kinds
of flowers, trees, and shrubbery; a single gardener,
her Reggie, calm, devoted, climbing up and down
the mountainside as if he were its lord-this might
be paradise. What curious birds are those that flash
among the foliage? What insects, crawling beasts;

what bursts of fire in the flamboyants-yellow, red-
the allamanda, scarlet bougainvillea; what desires
that shake the royal palms, or premises of death?
There in the chalices of a bromeliad, as new buds
open, rain dissolves the scattered ashes of a friend,
memorialized in green; and here is angel's trumpet,

ivory-pale, its fatal blossoms turning to the earth
in mourning. Jessie lives in exile, beyond tears,
remembering her daughters-fragile laughter, passing
grass-her husband stricken in the rose beds, calling
out for her above the blue illumination of the sea.
It would be better to be dead, she murmurs, gazing

out along the verdant terraces-to be a stone, or dust,
or frond of traveler's palm, which bends and sighs
and tatters in the wind-except for thinking those
who cannot think themselves, but wait, suspended
in their nothingness, on light and memory, and listen
as she draws them back toward being with her breath.

III: Reggie

Reggie wears two hats. Today-it's Sunday morning-
he has taken off his broad-brimmed gardener's
straw, and picks instead an old and shapeless
cotton thing, to drive us, as chauffeur,
to church in town. The Danes who settled here
bestowed their faith, their names, their architecture:

one imagines Luther as amazed from heaven
by the richly timbered vault, the formal rite,
the gothic windows opened onto palm trees tossing
in the wind as if the Spirit had descended
into them-bemused to hear the choir, dark as coal,
intone a Reformation hymn, then change

into a Caribbean band with shouts of "Hallelujah!"
and steel drums. Reggie, though, remains outside,
watching the Jeep or resting in the shade:
when pressed, he says that he believes in God,
but left the practice of his family, all dead
now, on Tortola-that communing in the trees,

the sun and rain, is good enough. I think of John
the Baptist in the wilderness, of bees and olive groves,
and wells where Christ athirst reposed,
and then Gethsemane-and how one dawn
an angel pointed in an empty tomb to bands of cloth
discarded on the stone, and Mary Magdalene,

distraught, supposed she saw the gardener,
a simple man of no pretensions, standing there alone;
and then she recognized her friend, and ran
to tell the others, who assumed that she was mad
with grief-announcing Eden reconciled
and green, the perishable body radiant, the earth reborn.

IV: Leaving

It's been too short; I'd like to draw out time
like a bungee cord and feel the island shouldering
the sky, or see its contours sway again
below the trees, at evening, when the sun
hoists scarlet sails and ploughs the ocean's edge,
turning up brass-or watch the bay, mercurial

with moonlight. But beauty here is merciless,
a sphinx, and will not travel. Well, these memories
are mine, at least, and portable. We've visited
St. John, had enchiladas there at dockside,
bathed in seven colors at Trunk Bay; we've written
postcards, sketched, and gone to Mountaintop,

the high point of St. Thomas, mooring Jessie's view;
with the tourists from the cruise ships,
we've combed the narrow streets to shop for jewels-
blue, green, amethyst, the water's eye;
we've ordered cocktails on the Hotel 1820 terrace,
and had dinner chez HervČ, next door,

as the old part of the city leaned into the darkness,
its lanterns bright as allamanda blooms.
We've talked with Reggie, gone to Megan's Bay,
the Legislature and the Frederick Church,
and lived a bit out of the world-the sort of interval
that makes one look up suddenly at the rest,

the thick quotidian, a sluggard thought slipping
into shadow. Things lie lightly now,
my gaze just glancing off, or glistening a moment,
spray on wings, as we depart; but the valences
have changed in us, a grave commotion
grounding passage, weighting the furtive world.

 

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