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TALLAHASSEE MANDALA

There they are, the monks in their crimson
     robes, surgical masks over their noses and mouths
so that their breath doesn't blow the steady
     stream of powdered colored paint, their eyes
like bright lanterns on the banks of eternity's
     river, luminous, incandescent. How easy
to mistake the sound of the chokpurs for cicadas,
     this raspy language of vibration against gold
and silver funnels, flashy ice cream cones.
     A constant singing from the tall grass beyond
a meadow where mocking birds sing to showdown.
     The paint trickles out the chokpur's tip, a steady
flow, a line you can follow to the hear of the lotus–
     There's truth in this as there is in any art. Buddha
looking on from his altar, enshrined in candles,
     silk, ripe fruit offerings. The plumes of incense
rise ceiling ward, egrets feathers, a swan . . .
     Flanked by two brass tungchens, the altar vibrates
with this own rainbow of greens, blues, yellows.
     The monks take turns standing up to stretch, work
the kinks out of their spines. They bow each time.
     In their hands they can still feel the rippling
from scratching the chokpur into singing their paint.
     This is the third day and the mandala is underway.
Six monks skilled in patience. A trickle of powder
     paint. Soon it will all go into the river. Nothing
stays the same, the paint says. The great lesson
     being that everything in life changes, ebbs, shifts…
If you close your eyes now you can feel the flow tugging.





CHEVY IMPALA NOCTURNE

Whatever happened to those nights? Of working hard
at selling ladies' shoes, bent over to fit them just right,

a quick sneak-peek up their smooth thighs, pantyhose,
panties, then a quick dinner break, then back to slip-ons,

pumps, heels, ah, the elegance of leather, then later,
I'd shower, comb my hair, put on the jeans and shirts,

Converse, and go off to Wilshire Boulevard to cruise
from East L.A. to Hollywood and Sunset. We drove

stuck in traffic, everybody cruising, the vatos in low
riders, impressing the rucas with lift and drop, jumping,

and the one night when we picked up a car full of girls
in a Chevy Impala, the driver said it was her brother's

carrucha, but she could drive it because he was doing time
in Chino, and the burgundy velvet covered interior,

all those tassels and pompons, and my friends and I
sat in the backseat, three guys and three women in that

chariot-Chevy, a Boris Vallejo painting reproduced
on the hood, an Aztec Princess with an eagle on her

extended arms, feathers on fire, a pyramid in the back-
ground, and they drove us into the night to the observatory,

high above the city lights, to make-out lane, and we sat
there and smoked pot and drank Boones Farm Ticklepink,

high, we fondled around, six pairs of everything, dizzy
with the smell of perfume, mascara and make up smeared

on our fresh-pressed shirts—what would we say to our
mothers?—drunker and higher still—all the lights strung

up bellow us, a perpetual fiesta, and we were comets
that night, burning a path through—what happened

to all those nights, and days? What broke in us then
could never break again? Or so it seemed, but we wait,

wait for that magic Chevy Impala to fly us home.





A SERPENT HALVED WORLD,
TRAIN RIDE FROM EL PASO TO LOS ANGELES

Here where the snake coils itself
into the ground by the warm water
of the Rio Grande, the earth splits
into two halves, one imperfect and jagged,
the other vast and ripe in its greenness.

On this side of the border, the conductor
announces that to the right is the brand
new Lee Trevino golf course, designed
by the famous golfer himself. The rails
aren't smooth here around the tail end

where metal biting metal screeches
like a rattler warning of how close
we've come to the shanty towns
on the other side of
Mexico. Blue hills
pockmarked with cardboard and tin,

trash heaps that attract halos of buzzards
and crows—if you opened the window
now you'd get stupefied by the rictus
of dead things, garbage, a clash between
rot and honeysuckle coming over green slopes

on the other side. A group of children,
some naked, wade in the shallows of oil-
slicked banks, play on truck tire inner tubes.
They wave the train by. The engineer pulls
the chain that makes the whistle blow,

as though mocking all those who could not
escape this world of halves, this monster intent
on devouring pieces of its own flesh, rattling
through on its own ancient, petrified bones.





INTERVIEW WITH BEN CHAPMAN, A HONOLULU REAL ESTATE EXECUTIVE,
WHO HAS A CONVERSATION-STOPPING ANSWER TO THE TRIVIA QUESTION:
“WHO PLAYED ‘THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON’?”

Since the Gillman had no dialogue, how did you communicate?

    body language, how the body contorts     a snake coiling the Saharan sand
        held my breath       burst of bubbles tickled my nostrils      gill green, ha

How did it feel to be in the suit in the Florida sun?

    twice I fainted     dreams of sauteed scallops with marjoram    dill and olive oil
        in Mexico they eat pumpkin flowers in tacos     sticky like sex

Did you think the movie would ever be as popular?

    mangroves tangled in shadows    an echo of wind sifted through     caves
        a darkness of swallows skybound     bats?     A return to roost

How were the stunts? Did you do them yourself?

    The out-of-water shots were all mine        a scratching of nails on wood
        hard to move the gills                 my lips painted bright red     hibiscus
            blooming in sunshine                     eyes like bees               water buzzing

What about the "Beauty and the Beast" theme of the movie?

    does it matter how lips kiss?      This eternal rapture      electric slap-zap
        longing is like being underwater, after all          this "otherworldliness"
            feel to everything, the prickle of a starfish      sliminess of tentacles

Did it help being 6' 5"?

    from the bottom of a lagoon, the sky is verdigris     crown of kelp       seaweed
        dorsal fins work better      wiggle/turn      zippered suit opens
               lets cool water in                   slip-slides        amphibians rule!





WHAT MANNER OF LOVE IS THIS

I come to this penumbra-filled alley way
in East Los Angeles to meet the man who can
save me, wisdom in his cracked lips, hope
in his gnarled hands. He holds a tattered book,
his fingers like rope, and says: "Repent, carnal,
the revolution is at hand!" Aqui mismo,
someone has spray-painted on the wall.
This is a dream, I think. This blind man
who claims to have betrayed Jesus like Judas
did back when. We have all failed ourselves
in one way or another. How long has it been
since he's bathed, felt warm water trickle
down his limbs, rejoiced in getting this city
grime off his flesh? Right there by the doorway
of his makeshift cardboard and wood church,
he calls out for converts, for those left behind.
This is his providence, his confessional of wood.
Before you can come clean and resurrect, you
must think of God. If I've come this far to meet
this savior, there's no need to look further.
At that very moment, the old man reaches out
and embraces me, his boiled-egg breath an assault,
his stink upon me. I walk down, already anointed.





CAFASSO ENTERES DEATH ROW AT STARK

For those awaiting execution,
the stain on the walls gathered
slowly, the way mercury runs

toward itself and makes a whole,
a conflagration of light and dark
splotches, cracks, scratch-marks,

and the barber saw him appear
in the mirror, sitting among
the men, frail in his forty-ninth

year of life, his eyes incandescent
like some sort of movie-alien—
The prisoners didn't know why

he'd chosen this place to reappear,
except that at night inmates felt hands
caress their scalps, as though a dove

had settled upon them to nest,
a warmth upon their chest and loins.
By morning, when the lights faded

and flickered, everyone knew
another had taken his eternal walk
toward radiant light, and redemption.


                   © Virgil Suárez


Virgil Suárez was born in Havana, Cuba in 1962. At the age of twelve he arrived in the United States. He received an MFA from Louisiana State University in 1987. He is the author of two new poetry collections, Palm Crows (University of Arizona Press) and Banyan (LSU Press). This year Guide to the Blue Tongue, his sixth collection of poetry, will be published by the University of Illinois Press. He is the co-editor of the anthologies American Diaspora: Poetry of Displacement and Like Thunder: Poetry of Violence in America, both published by the University of Iowa Press. His work continues to be featured in international and national literary magazines and journals. He divides his time between Key Biscayne and Tallahassee where he lives with his wife and daughters and teaches at The Florida State University.