The Lives of the Alchemists
The great labor was always to efface oneself,
Reappear as something completely different:
The pillow of a young woman in love,
A ball of lint pretending to be a spider.
Black boredoms of rainy country nights
Thumbing the writings of illustrious adepts
Offering advice on how to proceed with the transmutation
Of a figment of time into eternity.
The true master, one of them counseled,
Needs a hundred years to perfect his art.
In the meantime, the small arcana of the frying pan,
The smell of olive oil and garlic wafting
From room to empty room, the black cat
Rubbing herself against your bare leg
While you shuffle toward the distant light
And the tinkle of glasses in the kitchen.
My mother sang opera all day long.
She made beds, shucked peas
And swore that not even death
Could change her heart’s devotion.
Her voice was like a police siren.
Her voice was like soft evening rain.
In the shed, the rabbits trembled,
The rooster looked admiringly at her.
Days of ecstasy, anguish, silence.
A year of long black dresses,
A year of white handkerchiefs,
Crumpled and strewn on the floor.
Once we took a walk in the cemetary.
The leafless old trees terrified me,
And so did her hands clenched into fists
As her chin rose higher and higher.
Grocers and mailmen ran from her
As from a sleepwalker
Who came after them in broad daylight,
Asking for the news of her lost love.