Rhodora Penaranda



Diamonds in watery mounds ─this patchwork

of ponds, salt-stacked, pearl-tipped hillocks, and carved

like a checkerboard.  Nothing seems to churn,

flower flutter and insect hum muted

in the sticky ambergris air, wind sealing

our exchange:  Salt is between us.  


But ankle-deep in the bracken wash, the water-

beat of long-legged striders rattle the reeds

alive.  The sniper cries of shorebirds startle

the whirligig beetles' dives.  Boats return

in high-five bumps over on the quay, their nets

silver in the sun, air wet with the stink


of smelt and brine. This churning, scavenging,

burrowing down, or shooting out into the sky—

a society of animals converging

in orbit of these satellites of salts—

salt stars holding forth in a sea swirl of small lives.

For haven't we taken the sea with us,


flood and ebb across our worlds' transcending

phases, barnacles in blood, body's savor

and heat?  Sometimes body, sometimes air, two

inconstant ions meet in a stand-down

of differences. In the heat-mist of noon,

a salt worker bends to pick up a brick


of salt, as once a Mahatma scooped a crust

on the beach to defy his lords. You think

you hear, in this floating chessboard of salt clouds,

a call—bids him, "Hail, the Deliverer!"


They peer from their hats, their parasols, jostle

on the streets, on housetops. Scramble on buckled

bamboo poles for a view.   They chat on tiers

of fences packed shoulder to shoulder that feet

have nowhere to go, limbs nowhere to move,

arms to arms, head to head—every impulse

passed  from body to body,  all differences

become irrelevant. A watchful god

over his watchful crowd, an assembly

of believers bearing witness in the gritty

dawn, awaiting to discharge itself of evil. 

Over the converging crowd crystals, through

the regiment of drummers, the rhythm spreads

of steps added to advancing steps, and priests


                                          in their ascribed canonicals unfurl

the Church banners embroidered in black and gold.

And drawing unto their breath like bread, Christ's

holy words—two natives—young men crouching

in the corner of an open cart, grasping

for once, for the last time their life in the full

context of  the physical, and beyond,

and growing smaller with each measured step

to the center, the same steps they once so proudly

climbed.  And the sun rose, the metal noose is fitted

on the first, and the crank turned, breaking his

vertebrae. The crowd held its freedom to breathe,

as though allowing for the infinite

dilution of the suddenness of death,


the violence of grief, until he broke

this communion with a singular opposing

gesture—the twitch of his naked feet.  A priest

raises his crucifix, a doctor waits

in the gallows, the Chinaman's meat buns

mingle with the steam of death in the air.

Carriages roll in, children nibble

their fresh-baked breads.  From the still cowering

eyes of the lone man in the cart, he cannot

decide, even as a luminous expanse

begins to enter him, or a moment

is made clearer, intimate before him,

whether the cry of "Hats off" from the crowd

resembles for him the sorrowful lament


                                          of  the assembled choir of the blessed—  

or the salutary ribaldry of

spectators prolonging  their ritual play

of terror on a mouse before it is devoured.

Some of Rhodora Penaranda's poems have appeared in Cutthroat: Journal of the Arts, Westerly Magazine, The Penwood Review, and Diverse Voices Quarterly among others.  Rhodora is presently at work on a libretto in collaboration with music composer Bayani Mendoza de Leon.  She lives in the Hudson Valley in New York.



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