June 3, 2016

Two Poems by Dominic J. Scopa: "Seventh Birthday" and "Photo of an Excavated Grave."

Domenic J. Scopa is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. His poetry and translations have been featured in Poetry Quarterly, Reed Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, and others.

Seventh Birthday

What I remember is a worker falling
toward driveway asphalt,
muscular like my father,
paint can hurling from his grip
that loosened as the ladder lost
its footing on uneven earth.

What I remember
is the smooth arc cerulean made
and the way its spill formed
an almost-question mark
as if to mock the importance of celebration.

Someday I’ll return to the place
depicted by my memory, overgrown
with carpetweed and hedges,
and abandoned,
and through the chipped cerulean
I’ll find the little closet
with my rumpled clothes,
and sit down, drinking nothing but
the musky air by the window,
and wait for him to finish
dressing, one pant leg, then the other,
and wait
until the atmosphere of the room
takes back the oxygen in the dawn,
and wait,
until each wrinkled crease
in the sweaters and khakis
is as smooth as childhood,
          and wait⎯
At a certain time, that closet,
that room, that house,
will turn completely into sunlight.

I’ll pull my pants down
and listen for the faint zipper
on blue jeans, and…
the chance of maybe not this time
          is already gone⎯
fickle, oblivious, a hummingbird
launching off its branch
for another tree⎯
my hand hurrying to strip the T-shirt,
          to get there,
that moment of undoing.

The roar of the worker’s howl,
and the complete uncertainty of cerulean,
as it curves and shimmers in the light,
and the inexplicable candor
          which my babysitter
made his presence known,
then wiped his body with a rag⎯
are one⎯
the birthday, the nowhere, the nothing⎯
the perfectly baked cake
and the spilt paint’s sprawl.

Photo of an Excavated Grave
Time Magazine, Guatemala, 1998

man kneels
           by the grave,
looking down.
His elbows relaxing
on his bare thighs.
He is wearing
only ripped khaki shorts
and a stained white tank-top
that doesn’t cover up his beer belly…
They hardly comfort his flesh,
which fails with tears.
And his face, illuminated
by festive candles that fence the grave,
is silent like any photo⎯
like the stark, bare bottom
of an airplane cruising overhead,
blinking its crucifix of strobes,
though there are no airports
          for hundreds of miles.

I can only imagine
the abundance of lime trees
          that border the field,
their ripe fruit⎯little traffic lights
at crossings⎯which seemed
to signal go to whomever
ordered the extermination of the village.
When families visit
they must see the same green,
bright and flagrant,
in the rare spots of saw-grass
breaking through the soil, there,
          where their relatives
have been forced to sleep.
Usually the bones aren’t found.
The land never cares
who tends for it, or why.

Does the man think of farmland,
of tilled rows ready
to be seeded?⎯
But, he’s not much more than twenty,
too young to own a farm,
too young to search
until the Guatemalan ground
gives back his family.

He never stirs, never moves.
And now it’s too late for him.
No one, surely not me,
flipping through the glossy pages
          of this magazine,
full sunlight flooding through
winter-shut windows,
understands why he’s kept on
kneeling there for twenty years⎯
Alone, half his body
almost cut out from the photo.

~ Dominic J. Scopa

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