Lateral Waters – a poem by Caroline Streff and Ray Ball

Lateral Waters

The Dominicans’ library is frigid. I’m the only student not shivering, the hairs on my arms standing up ecstatically to greet the currents of false wind from the air conditioner. The two librarians—parish grand-dames—who occupy the desk eye me curiously, confused perhaps that I would linger after my companion was ejected for wearing shorts deemed too short for piety. My backpack is penned up behind the desk, its greedy mouth zipped shut to prevent it from gobbling up precious texts. Three days earlier, I had discovered this place quite by accident, crouching over an offering of doves and squash left at the cathedral’s doors. Our Lady of Regla and Yamaya, joint patronesses of ocean currents, brushed shoulders in the vaulted space above the altar, so it seemed only right that I go in to see what other syncretic crossroads were inside. And I found Guillén, Loynaz, and other revolutionaries dancing a celebratory troika in the corridor to the watery courtyard. And I have returned each day since. The ancient computer in front of me hums as it retrieves friendly titles. Its yellowed tower wavers with the tread of data bytes up its narrow staircase of circuits. After three hours of careful transcription and translation, I beg the librarians to save my books and walk out into the courtyard, overlooking the garden I never feel permission to linger in. The shadow of a cleric in a grey robe passes from the corner of my eye and into the past. It has rained since I disappeared. I ignore the covered walkway, instead dragging my feet to slow my progress down the stairs, into the brief well of tropical plants.

Fronds softened by rain
Frutabomba glisten
Tithes of bright yellow

I am back to my apartment within minutes. A plate of sliced mango arrives in my hand. I sip cold water through a purifying straw. Later, the sky splits its belly. The woman carrying her bucket of cleaning supplies vanishes from the street like foam off flattened beer. On the balconies, children arrive and multiply like tadpoles. I reach out my hand to be integrated into the curtain of water. Behind me, the power goes out. A young man in the adjoining balcony asks my nationality. “American,” I reply, before saying, haltingly, I look over again, but he has already gone back inside. My hand, moisturized by humidity after the northern desert winters, glows under a flash of lightning.

…………………………………………………………………………The yeasting island
…………………………………………………………………………Softening my rind of scales.
…………………………………………………………………………I emerge in ripples.

 

 

Caroline Streff is a recent graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage. She has been pursuing poetry in earnest for the past year and a half, investigating themes of family, ecology, and space. Her work has recently appeared in Alaska Women Speak, Anchorage Press, and Human/Kind Journal. She has been nominated for Best of the Net.

Ray Ball grew up in a house full of snakes. She is a history professor and an editor at Alaska Women Speak. Her chapbook Tithe of Salt came out with Louisiana Literature Press in the spring of 2019, and she has received nominations for Pushcart and Best of the Net. Ray has recent publications in descant, Gingerbread House, and Psaltery & Lyre. You can find her in the classroom, in the archives, or on Twitter @ProfessorBall.

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