March Lit: Two Poems by Michelle Peñaloza

March 5, 2014

Image via amslerPIX on Flickr

These poems are lush and lyrical, infused with the language of music, nature, and myth. While the two poems differ in nature, they each invoke a sense of longing and loss for family -- and nod toward a greater untold history.

-- Karissa Chen, Fiction & Poetry Editor


A child waits upon the sea.
He cannot explain how the water became
an endless field of bamboo,
banana leaves, rolling wild grass and fern.
Only that one night the moon was bright
enough to break his sleep.
Beneath that light, his mother became an ibis;
his father and brother, two tiger shrikes.
Sister, a laughing thrush.
They flew into the moonlight, the sea-reefs’
branches of water,
the unceasing waves of leaves. 

Oarless and alone, the boy
learned the leaves
could power his boat with song.
They sang of creatures of the swamp, of killing
fields and hills of poisoned trees. 

The leaves carried the boy to sanctuary,
where he kept their songs and taught himself to sing.
He sang to ibis, shrike, and thrush,
songs of children who could grow wings, songs
that could conjure galaxies
within the bowls of lotus leaves, become
butterflies in his mouth. He sang to
the infinity he found: billowing grass,
fronds of ferns, the quicksilver of the moon.



Song crossed our threshold after the war—
face veiled, body battered—carried by our Tatay.
Song’s stewards followed, ang Hapón ibinigay:
three wounded pianos, soundboards scarred.
Tatay coaxed keys and tuning pins, nursed
strings and worn dampers to life. Tatay
bade us play, till he wept for our Inay,
then, he lifted Song’s veil and kissed her.
What did we know of that war or his tears?
We only knew what the timber remembered:
Humming hornbeam and carved cariñosa;
love sung low through open window. Here,
within wing-shaped wood, his harana
and toil: her veil, flapping like surrender. 


Michelle Peñaloza

Michelle Peñaloza grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and earned her M.F.A. from the University of Oregon. Her poetry has appeared most recently in TriQuarterly, The Weekly Rumpus, and INCH. She is the recipient of the Miriam McFall Starlin Poetry Award, fellowships from Kundiman, the Richard Hugo House, and Oregon Literary Arts, as well as scholarships from VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation), the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Vermont Studio Center, and the Napa Valley Writers' Conference.