The Caves of Camuy

Martín Espada
Poet, Essayist, Editor & Translator

The Caves of Camuy

            for Katherine Gilbert-Espada

In the sleep of hysterectomy,

deep in the well where anesthesia

dropped you like a bucket

banging and spinning to oblivion,

you saw the old poet again.

You named your son for him,

Clemente for Clemente, but now

there would be no more sons or daughters,

your tide of blood burned away like the drought

at the end of the world, so you summoned this apparition

back from the place where mountains tend his grave

in secret, hoarding the stone marked Clemente Soto VĂ©lez.

The poet spoke a hieroglyphic tongue, yet you read

the pictures carved in air, understood the words he said:

 

Gather good brushes and good paper,

collect your colors and your rags.

Paint the caves of the river Camuy.

Paint the faces chanting in stone before the wind

presses a finger against their lips.

Paint the dripstone, flowstone, rimstone, limestone.

Paint the caverns where conquistadores and geologists

went mad hearing the echo of  waterfalls they could never find.

Paint the blue crabs escaping your footsteps.

Paint the trilobites waking up hungry after millions of years.

Paint the bats fleeing the flashlight with panicky wings.

Paint my face  squinting in the flashlight,

amazing the discoverers who swore they were first.

Paint my skin smooth again, like a boy

who leaps from the rock to the river.

Paint my white hair streaming in the chamber

they call the Hall of White Maidens.

Paint my black eyes hunting in the dark.

Paint so I can walk from the cemetery

to sit at the window of the house

where I was born a hundred years ago,

contemplating the Puerto Rican parakeet

extinct everywhere but the tree by my window.

 

Gather good brushes and good paper,

and the creatures in the caves will stir:

singers in the circle of the first maracas,

conquerors and geologists flinging their helmets,

crabs, bats, trilobites, parakeets, poets with white hair spilling,

your sons and daughters pouring from the mouth of the world.

 

from The Republic of Poetry

 

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