The beginnings of this collection emerged as early as 2003 when my mother took me and my sister on a trip to Croatia. I'd known very little about her side of the family and knew next to nothing about the country itself - and I'd never been abroad outside of a couple trips to visit family in Canada.
I won't lie - I was a bit apprehensive. Though I'd moved around a good bit growing up, I would not have considered myself to have travelled - and what little I did know of Croatia came from coverage of the Bosnian-Serbian conflict from the 1990s and the bits and pieces my parents had mentioned about it under the label of 'communist Yugoslavia'.
I knew nothing of the beauty and isolation of Ist Island or the somber cry of the Zadar Sea Organ. I did not know the bucolic tranquility of the Dalmatian island chain or the stunning architecture of the mainland - places like Diocletian's palace that spanned all the way back to the Roman Empire. I'd never seen houses, lived in, standing next to war-time rubble.
The intermingling of history and the present, the way the people carried their ancestry in their jaw was so different from what I'd consider now to be my relatively rootless identity. I had little connection to place - and so connecting to this place fascinated me.
From there, gradual poems started to emerge - and though it would be a full 18 years before the collection appeared on paper, I knew I had begun something important to me - and I hope that others will find value in reading it.
A candle in hand, my cousin Jenko spots me
perched on the flat edge of the tomb lid
pressing parchment against the stone
against the wind with the flat of my palm
to make a rubbing of the Cyrillic
on the graves at dusk.
Jenko in vestments came to light his candle
on the plot he will one day share
with his late brother above the bones of their father,
there, on the stone; his name already etched
under Tomislav, under Tomislav,
wives stacked on wives, husband's on fathers;
families that dug their own mass graves.
On the mainland, they still stumble
across such sepulchres in out of the way places
that become the only way we should look
because we should not abide dusty corners
to live unswept in our souls
because orchards wither on a mountainside
and a village without children
in the streets is still more than interstellar medium.
This type of place knows
how much deeper the land than wide,
that the dust of a parent's bones
should cradle their child's
so when the resurrection comes
mother already holds son in loving arms;
so when the cold wind's cessation
coins a silence
and the blood moon rises off the mountain
to vomit hollow light onto the orchards
the figs don't wither on the vine
and every root knows
no amount of living
teaches respite to the night.
Nothing is just itself when shadow
falls upon it, graves
the shadows of the dirt exhumed.
Their seeds dribble from our mouths
into our velvet lined selves
where they thirst among all our softness
as scorpions scurry from holes
among the stones
to await the dust of more bones
to grow like clay in the mist.
- from The Goats Have Taken Over the Barracks
originally appeared in Cimarron Review.
She beats the mattress on her porch with a chair leg despite her age and despite the heat.
It has not rained on the palms for quite some time so her roof has not leaked,
yet she knows the clouds that billow from the diamond quilting of the bed
are not the dust and sand that settled onto the flower petals and the tile.
For five years, she touched nothing of his room, didn't sweep the fingernails
from under the armoir or vacuum the hairs out of the rug. She even left
his toothbrush and razor by the sink in their little blue cup. They say
that slept on long enough a mattress contains several pounds of dead skin,
but she knows it's just a myth, knows that these types of memory
are little more than noon shadows, but she still saved this for last,
waiting for the salt to rust the rails of the garage door, for the little lizards
to find each and every tiny hole through the siding,
for the summer storms to blow the shingles loose enough,
that she simply needed someone to fix things. For repair.
The big palm in the corner of the yard hasn't had a green frond for seasons,
and she's even stopped asking the sweet young neighbor to mow the Bermuda grass.
Yes, now she has no choice but to beat a haze that she hopes will almost
shape his ghost from his old bed. Out on the porch,
she holds a wet rag up to her nose with her left hand and each blow jolts
through her bones like she awakens again and again and again.
- from The Goats Have Taken Over the Barracks