Gabrielle Piedad Ponce received her M.F.A. from The Johns Hopkins University, where she is currently a doctoral
candidate in Romance Languages & Literatures. Her work has most recently appeared in Shenandoah.
S.S. Office Before Crossing from the Black Forest into Switzerland
The bureau mirror shows his six day beard,
wind-burned face, ghosts of muscle
spasms in his shoulders, a hydrogen tablet—
precious as a pearl laid in the jewelry bowl.
He slips his hands, not quite middle age,
still tender, lightly dusted with blond hair,
into his worn black leather gloves, then stalls:
he flutters dark wings from his wrists across the mirror.
The room is high altitude chill and he,
bare-chested, shivers. He takes a breath,
with great care retrieves the nail-sized pill.
The ceiling lamp casts an orange glow over him.
The unsuspecting innkeeper is in bed.
The other patrons, if there any, are quiet now.
He raises his left arm straight in the air.
The mirror shows the tattoo like a hieroglyph.
The gothic BA reads more like sheet music,
blue-print demarcations, an Eastern numbers system.
In the other story he’s told himself along
the rugged mountain trek to keep from giving up,
he’s wounded nobly in battle, gurneyed
to a make-shift hospital, chaotic in the field.
Just when they think they’ll lose him,
he raises his left arm to show the nurse AB.
They pump him full of pints of blood
and when he wakes the Führer’s sent a ribbon.
He drops a ball of spit into his covered palm.
The tablet fizzes, cloudy as cyanide.
He stops, opens the window.
What if the physician-on-the-run was wrong?
What if this isn’t mercy?
Coughing, he presses the fizzing tablet to his skin.
The faint scent of cindered flesh rises to his nose.
He can hardly stand the pain, throws up in the waste bin.
Hours later, he wakes, gathers himself, dusts his sooty flesh.
The pinking scar, soft as a wax seal,
marks in that intimate spot—
the place the tattoo was and now is not.
Gabriela Mistral in Ancón
Exhaled like so many staggered breaths
eased out in downward-dog at dawn,
the fog, in lily gusts, escapes the ocean’s depths.
A tapestry of white is sown,
then hung outside the latticed window.
Here at six a.m., the Pacific’s
soft hiccups are spun like sheep wool.
A portiere is drawn over the day.
Draped in clammy steam, the world goes rummaging.
A soft mid-summer dream
wakes the poet from her rest.
She yawns and stretches, muscles rippling,
folds her frame in mimic of the tide
that rolls like linens in the wind.
She looks outside, I am alone, she says—
free as a body washed into the sea.
No nightingale, no skylark,
no mockingbird alight upon the city
walls in song. She curves an arc.
Her arm, held port de bras, is steady.
The world is silent. Hushed by vaporous fog,
the clamor, din, the common revery
go unannounced. The femme de chambre’s water bucket
splash is drowned like bottled messages.
Just then the world begins to grow
inside the sea-sent mushroom cloud.
The quiet is a gift, she knows.
The dream within her temporary shroud
is boundless as a morning to a mayfly.
All drowsy numbness held at bay
until the afternoon when the world’s kaleidoscope
goes turning in the sun.
In one more hour the dogs will sound
with vigor from their rooftop kingdoms,
the city swell will penetrate, the sun unbound
will wake the paperboy, summon
street vendors from their sleep.
But for right now the sea has swept
its gorgeous wing around her,
cleared the air—