jueves, 19 de abril de 2018

Protea lepidocarpodendron (Black-Bearded Protea)

Each outsized bloom’s a cup on the cusp
of inflorescence, flowers

held at bay: half fist, half swan’s
folded wing, each a downy clutch

of quills dampered by cream bracts
tipped a burgundy-black tattooing

fading as my father’s did from
recognition—18, shore-leave drunk, goading

shipmates, still he chose the smallest in the book
of offerings, what best to shrink

away from: his bicep mucked a flowering
he couldn’t name. To define

that day’s place is to again dissolve
in fog so thick its milky smoke

stains, breathing in; even my hands
clouded with descent that robbed

all direction but the bite of jagged cliffs
knived over sea, trail a question

I failed to answer to until late
afternoon’s clearing threaded me back

to a now abandoned lot, everything
missing where I’d

stupidly stashed it: car lock
you cracked, tires you slashed I

drove to the rims, that metallic rattle on gravel
the tin can-clatter ghost tailing me

of the day I cast off my own name
just to slip free of my father’s.

In its first painting, only the bloom’s
complete, that single specimen

Bauer, at eighteenth century’s end, detailed
down to the beaked

outer bracts, leaves and stem left a faintly
penciled gray. Unfinished

as what I’ve failed
to picture beyond descending mist

steeled in a bivalve of silver light, my purse’s
compact mirror: your face,

your appraising eye I
can’t catch as you sort camera

from lip balm, passport from lunch sack
you’ve eaten my peanut butter

sandwich from even before you test the flashlight’s
narrow beam, twisting its blue fashioned best

to betray blood’s spattered trail to the night-
vision red pitched to illumine

charts that constellate what’s missing
from Cape Town’s drained sky, what sundown disappears

with the flats you came up from—tin houses bogged
beyond the bright city grid that bleeds

even your unelectrified sky blank
as my pocket notebook you stack with the packet

of tissues, nail file, hairbrush: play,
I imagine, for your youngest.

Truth? Even my photographs fog as much as flower
what I sought that day, what Linnaeus christened

to preserve his own good name, hedging
uncertainty, species he knew solely through his period’s

penchant for florilegia, not by the dissection
of his own touch. Elusive he clouded

allusive: Protea for Proteus, for that mythic
shape-shifting, not

for knowledge, future that men kept holding
him down to. To be no one

in a country that doesn’t care to know you
is one version of home. Out of range

but for one quartered second’s
connection, a single text lit the cell

I held exploratory, morphed
aggressive, stomach liver bone brain

Dad—message I must only have read
as fragments, as crouched against

the road’s view, you must have been deep
in your own best work just then: crowbar,

knife in hand. That undocumented
night, as I braided my hair back in tangle

for the photographs that would restore me
to name and place, as I watched

from my hotel window two friendly battleships
nose into False Bay, the harbor sundowning

to a shimmer of refracted light that would spill
the dusk streets with crew-cut boys razored

toward the end days of youth, did you
picture me? Did you see

them, Protea lepidocarpodendron, that rare stand
only lost I finally found—bush

after bush, every flower head’s pearly grail
inked to what survives the poverty

of night’s slow burn: near exhausted coals
rinsed in morning to rescue what still

might warm, the crumbling black bits
at the heart. Was it you who patted them

into cakes, soft fists mapped to the tracks
in your palms a day’s winter sun

would harden? So tenuous the hold
of some Proteas, to dig the foundation

for a single house could erase them forever
from this earth. But the face you stole

was paper, not bone, and whatever limit
stamped my book, my father’s urging stay

left me to witness what I’d crossed
a world for, what I barely saw

though all I did for weeks was look:
that spectacle, spring. In one gold-

shrouded view, desiccation
and bloom; desert dunes morphed

to meadows, Namaqualand daisies’ fringed wheels
and succulents I could distinguish

only by scale: some larger than my outstretched hand,
some less than the tip of my thumb, as if

what had shifted was only the matter
of perspective, as white sand deepened

to red fields at dusk—shattered stone starred
by innumerable black eyes lashed electric

white, neon blue, magenta bright as the King
Protea, your nation’s flower

rayed across every rand in that roll surely
you pocketed first.

Truth? I made it back
for goodbye, and what I can’t let go

is what I can’t know:
how what’s held

so long as seed can suddenly
riot into bloom; how what’s stared directly down

still eludes. And that second charge to the Cape Town
McDonald’s, the last to blink through

before my card cancelled: who you went back for
to feed, your confederates, or

your children. But truth’s what we tell
when no one’s listening, and lacking

more than the most rudimentary vocabulary
for anatomy, or grace, hunger’s all

I’m holding you to: brain, heart, bone.

Fotos de la red                                                        -----

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