Virgil Suarez


In Sunday school we used them to make a crucifix.
One clothespin at a time. We got them from the nun
who ran the school, in a shoe box marked with a cross,

the smell of codfish oil in the box, the metal springs
strewn like silver minnows between the cardboard
and the wooden pieces. We used glue, beads, buttons,

mine had Christ made up with toothpicks and matches,
a red button for the head. The nun, Sister Nola, liked
mine she said, very much, and she took me up to show

her mother, who lived upstairs, and as we walked up
the dark and winding creaking stairs, a ring on her hand
made a tapping sound each time she held the banister

on our way up. I thought of my classmates still making
their crosses out of the clothespins, gluing, placing
their own ornaments on their crucifixes. Sister Nola

opened and door to a room, guided me inside, sat me
down and she walked away into another room. I sat
and stared at the dusty, worn furniture. Everywhere

the musty brown of old age, sadness. I heard her speak
to another person, and I thought of her mother, bed-
ridden, a sack of bones on a bed. I heard laughter, or

was it coughing? The clearing of phlegm in a throat.
When Sister Nola returned, she was naked. She stood
in front of me. I saw her pale skin, the rivers of blue

veins on her waxen breasts, the dark nipples. Suddenly,
I could have fainted, but I sat there and looked at her
long enough to see a red halo form around her head,

I thought of the button I had used for Christ's head
on my crucifix. She held it in one hand, burning there,
a glow so bright I thought the sun had swallowed us both.


Long after Christopher Columbus returned to Spain,
at first triumphant, then a big-time loser, the colony

suffered great losses. The story goes that Hatuey,
Chief of the Siboneyes, after much insurrection,

captured and tied to the stake, asked if given the choice
between heaven or hell, whether he'd accept the white

man's heaven, and that he asked if the Spanish
would be there too, in this heaven, and the friar said

yes, that they would. Hatuey looked out beyond
where the waves crashed against rocks, peered at stars

one final time, memories of verdant palm trees,
the flight of the parrots, fish roasting, cassava . . .

He said that he'd much rather burn in hell, and so burn
he did. Now in Florida we have Hatuey beer. College

students drink it by the case, get drunk and careless.
Some drive off highways in their pickup trucks, others

jump off staircases, or shoot themselves with shotguns.
Nobody wants to blame anyone of anything. How

when you look into Florida waters long enough you get
dizzy, some deep gut sensation telling you you've been

there dead before, born again into the heat of this oblivion.


Last night my wife and I couldn't sleep. I fell asleep
early, but then woke up when I felt her get up
and go downstairs. I looked at darkness, breathing,
hearing the iron gallop of a heart against my pillow.

She opened the kitchen door, walked out into the patio,
sat on the porch swing I broke days earlier, my weight--
the fact my weight took its toll on the chain and hook--
She sat alone there in the bright yellow of bug lights,

picked at her fingernails, lit a cigarette. I could see
all this from the space between us. I thought of our
children, our girls, asleep in their own room, the dog
curled with Alex. I thought of the blueness of distance,

how many times I've stood on boats in Florida waters,
looked south toward that island of my youth, a blur
now, how eyes water by staring into the horizon, opal,
mother-of-pearl haze, enough to get you dizzy.

An owl cried in the night. It caught an animal, a rabbit?
Plucked a squirrel out of its nest, and the screeching
kept me up. This mauling. What gets ground up
in time, some call melancholia. I call it remembrance.

Virgil Suarez is a professor of creative writing at Florida State University, and lives in Tallahassee. He recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in poetry, and a fellowship from the Florida State Arts Council. His poems have recently appeared in such journals as Blue Mesa Review, The Chariton Review, Sow's Ear Review, Cimarron, Crazy Horse, and Puerto del Sol, as well as many other journals, both in the United States and internationally.



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