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“We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have, our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”—Henry James

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Author's Note: I'm indebted to Renée Gregorio whose poem “Whatever Is” suggested the form for “Architecture of an Instant.”
John Brandi John Brandi


After Li ch-ing-Chao

The river disappears into haze,
a wet brush swells with oxide and pearl.

How to paint the taste of fine rain
or the small of your back through prismed silk?

Over and over point the tip.
One after another tear sheets from the pad.

In twilight, beyond the open door
a slippery path glistens.

Far below the trail twists.
Hill after hill recedes into mist.

The lamp grows dim, the wind
beats steady on the shutters.

My hand shakes
as it traces your outline on the page.

The wine has spilled, the brush is too far
and I am too close to see.


From the Balcony

Wooden bells echo over terraced fields.
A farmer returns home, closing mud water gates
with his bare foot.

Your face is cool in the candle's extinguished smoke.
A breeze ripples the mosquito net,
adds flowers to your hair.

My body is a blade of light
in your sway. Everything exists,
nothing exists.

The ship is burning, your new dress
crumpled on deck.

In the dark a baby cries
pans rattle, the rice fulcrum
is pounding.

Why muffle our cries
888 why check the rudder
with heaven so near?


Architecture of an Instant

Not the broken muffler
on the road to San Mateo, but the green heat
of the girl giving directions.

Not the bruise
of an iguana's bite, but blood
on the bride's sheet at dawn.

Not the Virgin of Sorrows
pierced by swords, but the shrine
to Quetzacoatl buried beneath her.

Not the smoking volcano
on the 5 o'clock news, but the bull on fire
inside the man with a knife.

Not the mouth at the railing
waiting for communion, but the sound
of a pig outside the door squealing.

Not the sun from polished marble
but dust in the corner
of the beggar's eye.

Not a full moon serenade
but lovemaking
to a chainsaw at noon.

Not the traveller's checks
left on the bus, but the broken clock
in the station where he waits.

Not the view from the stone fortress
but the black daisy between
the jaguar's teeth.

Not the priest blessing a parrot
but the cat waiting its turn
in a cage.

Not the moonlit waves
but the lights of the ambulance
on the water.

Not the couple on the bench kissing
but a child's balloon floating
just above them.

Not Jesus hanging
from his altar, but a dolphin leaping
under the southern cross.

Not what is missing
when the tide is in, or what is there
when the water's out

But who we are
in the sound of the dream
when we wake after sleep.

—Sierra Oaxaca, 2000