Letter to Jed from Niebla

I’ll write you about being a stranger, as I am also
a stranger to traveling without you, and so a stranger
to writing you letters. Below this cliff-side road
(unnamed), you can see Niebla’s black sand beach
and the Chilean Ocean being thrown over it like a bedspread
then being pulled back and thrown again. Only a tourist
would note all the strays barking as I pass them,
or barking around the bend because one barked
when I passed them. I’m new to this relationship
between dogs and passersby—a kind of crowd-sourcing—
which allows the couple who choose the bench
facing the volcano to simultaneously become masters
of a loyal hound for an hour, while the dog, a Lassie-sized
mongrel cobbled from various canine vernacular
has their feet to lay at until they leave. I hear that in Santiago
strays lie about or wander so ubiquitously
the most beloved wear sweaters knitted for them,
and the death of a particular long lived mascot
made the daily papers—so only a tourist would find
currency for a letter in the brown and black
long-hair I called Chubby, big and as at home beneath
our outdoor cafe table in Pucón as Renoir’s pet
in Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children
hanging in the Metropolitan. I keep thinking I see him
all over town, and then in the next—my observations
threatening to elbow the present into thematic
material, like this. But what help is there for it?
Even an anti-opportunist might note that the houses
in this spare neighborhood also appear collaged
from disparate parts, like many design styles were played
on shuffle, a sudden triangular window or half a wall
painted pink, which I read as Live and let live;
perhaps also why at Valdivia’s waterfront market
the sidewalk row of fishmongers is flanked daily
by Pepe, a massive, only mildly attentive, sea lion
who sways in place as if three men cohabiting
a punching bag were moving in different directions
within it, now and then daubing his chin with a rubbery
flipper-hand—like industrial black gloves of the car washer,
quite stretched; perhaps also why the brown hawks
I cannot find in the guidebooks but see everywhere
go un-gawked at, pecking the ground like robins
or routinely pacing house gutters. Do travelers in our city
research the sparrows? I could be from The Borrowers
where mice-sized people living in the walls of an English manor
steal things—a bare sewing spool from upstairs
for a table in their parlor under the floor—so I’ll mention
that alongside this road actual blossoming calla lilies
flash their white candles with yellow flames
in among the ground cover, making it look as though
a florist, in May, spilled from a moving truck,
while species we know only as anemic potted plants
on office desks throughout the mid-Atlantic states
avenge themselves here, towering over me
as trees, their red bottlebrush flowers big enough
to clean barrels, and bushes of yellow broom
blaze so massively it looks like all the forsythia
of America has been condensed to much better affect.
Just now the barking has stopped for a moment
(at night it’s like crickets), then one far stray ignites another
and another. Their tide ebbs, and from a hidden window
a rock drummer’s practiced declension—rhythm
falling down the stairs to ignite a bomb at the bottom—
rolls out to me, our generation’s call to passion,
which can find us anywhere. The cliff-side, winding streets
of the long-married need no names, either, so I
follow them, and think of you. I keep thinking of you.

 

 

 

Jessica Greenbaum is a writer and social worker living in Brooklyn. The author of The Two Yvonnes, and Inventing Difficulty, she teaches inside and outside academia, as well as through private workshops (www.poemsincommunity.org), and is the poetry editor for a “poetry haggadah” that will be published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 2019.

 

 

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