Poems by Tedi López Mills

A Riddle

Now they kill them:
see the corpse
bloated in the ditch.
Now they banish them from the city:
see them running towards the tollbooth
hands intruding
in their shabby pockets.
Now they tempt them with commerce:
the virtual machinery
behind the world,
panting like a primordial motor
annihilated by the long and wispy
haze that hides the sun
with its snowy mask.
Now they whip them
with litanies of justice:
ancient and shattered by the snapping jaw
whose feverish bone
couldn’t wait to bite,
finally coming to rest in the light
rancor of its dust.
Now they silence them
with an unknown eloquence:
the sorcerer with his mouth full would do nothing,
would say nothing about the language
leaking from his eyeteeth
like a trobar clus
invented by the palate,
somewhere between yesterday’s brief phrase
and prayer’s most distant clause.
Now they stab them with epithets
in each airy pause:
“King of Haloes,”
“Soul’s Goblin,”
“Master of Goodness and Beauty.”
Now they exhaust them
with opaque ideals:
shadowy mirrors
lacking the sturdy tin frame
and the face enveloped by its gesture.
Now they heap them with prizes:
for a people’s honor,
for the obstacle course,
for dubious morality.

Now they hunt them and call for them
and sometimes break them at dawn
while they walk this field,
find a quiet place to hide,
pretending along with their fellows
as they always have,
no turbulence,
the thicket still in spite of the animals
fluently crossing the wasteland
as if it were an extension of their skins.
And then comes the worst,
comes the daily forecast,
its bread, its circus,
then generations and generations.

Theologies

Today I read
some lines about the gods
written in 1978
………….(also the year
………….of the first test-tube baby),
and the author maintains
that the gods
(he does not say which,
but I see them as Greek, Roman,
or primitive effigies,
disappearing elm, hot coal,
enduring nightingale,
incense mingled with bone)
inhabit us simply
like another blood,
floating and traveling
………….ankle to heart,
hip to shoulder,
………….knee until at last
they reach the brain,
………….its dura mater, its pia mater,
………….Rolandic fissure,
………….Sylvian sulcus,
and who knows what lobe,
the hemisphere for what function,
maybe logic, memory
or that brief nucleus of person
………….(that thinks or invents me,
………….yet Platonically remembers me)
and impose their limits or their laws
somewhere in the dark zone
where they will forever be intuited
………….–their gilded light,
their tall, perplexed rocks,
………….their rite of ash and fistfuls of air–
as something that has happened before,
but never quite the same
as what we already know.

I ask myself, then, if I believe.
Once I had a strangely coarse
and momentary vision:
………….on a stretch of road,
at a stoplight,
………….gas station at an almost
hostile angle behind the window,
………….and I in the car, watching.
In that instant
I suddenly felt,
………….with ballast and rift,
that a god existed.
It never happened again,
which proves nothing,
except that the manifestation
may not have been for me
but for someone else nearby,
one of those others
blessed with moral magic,
good by instinct,
………….all judgment given over
………….to a wellspring of codes,
no sin without its faint
share of tolerance
………….(I have known them myself
………….and still I doubt).

But if it’s true, that presence
………….that I felt so briefly,
although simultaneous
………….with the world and all its parts,
why does it seem like something
………….that just happened to me one day,
almost a private moment,
when the number of gods no longer matters,
………….many or one,
nor where…………………outside or in.

Untitled

In memoriam
Joan Audrey Mills
(December 13, 1925-August 3, 2000)

Stately, tall and lovely tender…
Ezra Pound

………….About your life,
the simplest years,
………….your small, gold-rimmed
silhouette
………….beneath the limited refuge
of two or three orange trees
………….at the edge of a pen-and-ink Anaheim
I glimpsed in your script
………….before ever setting foot there;

or later on,
………….your lean profile against the low wall,
in the red-dirt yard,
………….dry pebbles,
powdered brick,
………….approaching the exit
through the creaking door
………….I pushed open
long afterward
………….with the slightest touch of my palm;

or about the permissible garden of narcissus,
………….pansy, honeysuckle,
beyond the white fence,
………….branches of a bent tree
before my eyes,
………….lawn to one side
and air above balanced
………….like a voice in the glinting sun,
I think now.

………….And sometimes
in the mixed gleam
………….of the day and its objects,
when I reenact the bilingual colloquy
………….that your hand held with its shadow
always in another language,
………….two turns for every word,
and I hear orange, let’s say, slow on your tongue,

………….in the next instant,
like life’s mirror image,
………….the three syllables of naranja appear
and behind, like a snake,
………….the native and sometimes
almost implausible trace
………….of a huacal less heaped
with fruit in my memory
………….than its counterpart,
the trusty crate
………….that I saw at your feet
as a plain fact,
………….wood and nails.

But what does it matter;
………….I’m talking about myself again
and that’s not what I want.
………….So I come back
to your life and ask:
………….knowing myself, do I know you?
It would seem not, although I can
………….enumerate certain places,
certain objects
………….or, sometimes, visions:
a farm that unfolds
………….with the sound of barking dogs,
natural noises
………….of tractor and neighbor,
horses in the field,
………….geometry of straw,
leaves whipping
………….the windowpane,
earthquake stamping like a hare,
………….and a wildfire dragged
toward the mountain
………….by the relentless wind
that summer.

………….What am I saying?
The list grows more tenuous
………….or more abstract
as the hours progress:
………….the violated silk,
for example,
………….is an act of time
or secret of the locked
………….coffer;
the weakened,
………….fleshless vein
is a reaction of space
………….diminished by that dockyard
so close to the window
………….where I lean out
and rain falls
………….as if erasing the trail
of another retreating season
………….from the asphalt.

Now I hear what I see:
………….approaching your image,
I make my own.
………….Someone is still there.
How many words more?
………….If we dissolve the double knot
of your laughter and your silence,
………….what remains?
Black water, impact,
………….muscular percussion,
curtailed peace,
………….the rest of the afternoon
without you, although your name,
………….your age, your origins
were repeated so many times
………….that in the end, among the posts
on the road to the mortuary,
………….the cold wire that pinched my fingers
by exhaustion or accident
………….sounded like the Baroque
strings in your room
………….when you were still there.

Error

so error enters in
through the worldly absence of
divine order or thrives
on human will down below
where the weak point
hardens on the rock
and something nonexistent is known
long-ago devil or chimera
most beloved replicas
of air or spirit
a mouth in the sky enough
to define the foothills or the summit
one postulate for distance
and another for perspective
here within the star
the implausible planet
with so much light for doubt
that one must ask
why does knowing almost nothing
seem like knowing it all
or to be less Eleatic
why is error
also a creation
as clear at times
as that cow reticent in the barrens
shrinking in the heat
where at least the coldness of its tongue
would be necessary
and not the obtuse image
of a religion born from bones
some god’s hunger on this ship of ribs
or one more simile boat overturned in enormous stubble
the sea’s skin the hull brought forth by the swell and nothing:
ignorance passing into metaphor
until maybe at last to know is not to dream

Water
(Divertimento)

the last waters
the shadow waters
waters of heel and ice
waters fixed in the riverbed above
luminous waters edged by
stalks and reeds
waters nearly annulled by the dike
or splintering into flame along the curve

where are they
scattering back
within the landscape
where a simple bird
passes through the diagrammed cloud
nothing essential however
not crow or eagle or even buzzard
barely one wing as a token
of unresolved flight over the mountain

where are they
careening through the gully
with the useless snake of their remains
wet crust on the grass
repeated pool in the foundations
where are the waters that I call waters
the days that I can do more
than think of them

Bios

Tedi López Mills

Tedi López Mills was born in Mexico City in 1959. She studied philosophy at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and literature at the Sorbonne. She has published ten books of poetry, several of which have received national prizes in Mexico: Cinco estaciones, Un lugar ajeno, Segunda persona (Premio Nacional de Poesía Efraín Huerta), Glosas, Horas, Luz por aire y agua, Un jardín, cinco noches (y otros poemas), Contracorriente (Premio Nacional de Literatura José Fuentes Mares), Parafrasear, and Muerte en la rúa Augusta (Premio Xavier Villaurrutia). Her other honors include a 1994 Young Artists grant from the Fondo Nacional para las Culturas y las Artes, a 1995 translation fellowship from the U.S./Mexico Fund for Culture, and, in 1998, the prestigious inaugural poetry grant awarded by the Octavio Paz Foundation. She has translated into Spanish the work of numerous American, English, and French poets and, very recently, Anne Carsons’s Autobiography of Red. A selection of her poems, While Light is Built, translated by Wendy Burk, was published by Kore Press. López Mills has been a member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores since 2009.

Wendy Burk

Wendy Burk is the author of two poetry chapbooks, The Place Names the Place Named and The Deer, and the translator of Tedi López Mills's While Light is Built and the forthcoming Arcadia in Chacahua (Bonnefant Press). The translations here are drawn from her manuscript of the selected poems of López Mills in translation, 1994-2008.

"Adivinanza." Copyright (c) Tedi López Mills, 2000. All others copyright (c) Tedi López Mills, 2002. English translation copyright (c) Wendy Burk, 2011.