Sometimes you defy it,
I am not that, watching a stranger
cry like a dog when she thinks she’s alone
at the kitchen window, hands forgotten
under the running tap.
The curtains blow out, flap the other side of the sill.
In you one hole fills another,
stacked like cups.
You remember your hands.
Connie Voisine’s third book of poems centers on the border between the United States and Mexico, celebrating the stunning, severe desert landscape found there. This setting marks the occasion as well for Voisine to explore themes of splitting and friction in both human and political contexts. Whose space is this border, she asks, and what voice can possibly tell the story of this place?
In a wry, elegiac mode, the poems of Calle Florista take us both to the edge of our country and the edge of our faith in art and the world. This is mature work, offering us poems that oscillate between the articulation of complex, private sensibilities and the directness of a poet cracking the private self open—and making it vulnerable to the wider world.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Connie Voisine
University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2015 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
Don't you remember
our little house on Calle Florista,
the calle with lots of flowers?
There weren't flowers so much as
cats, at least a hundred, lounging in the neighbor's yard
while the bushes roiled with kittens.
They weren't kittens so much as
pecan trees and weeds of the nightshade family,
unwatered except on irrigation days
when the whole neighborhood stood up to its knees in water.
And the water was not water so much as
gravel, and the Calle was not a street, but more
a bunch of rocks lined up in a particular way.
And the "Florista" started last year. The maps
still say Iris Lane.
There were no irises so much as one fat Shar-Pei,
the guard dog to Chinese kings, said the uncle next door
as Sassy yowled in the yard.
Sassy was not a guard dog so much as
not very smart,
though Tio was kind of kingly
sitting in his minivan with a Keystone Light.
What did I do all day?
The boy hit my car with a stick.
His sister stood in the plastic swimming pool.
When would the pecans drop? Tio was waiting.
It wasn't so much waiting as the kids and Tio
worrying about the occasional helicopter
and the dog and the cats, who were not cats at all
And me in that little house, writing about
our street, which changed every day
subtly and in complicated ways.
But for you it was most different —
you were the one who didn't exist,
except as someone
who did not live on Calle Florista.
As Well As You Can
Every morning my feet, deaf and dumb,
gird themselves, provide.
They take me to the river
and back regardless of the world
and its current condition,
my pain, etc.
Is the sky pink?
Who knows? Is there any way around
the symbolic? Silence.
Is that edible? Hmm?
But what about living in darkness,
as they so calmly do?
What about the lumpen sadness of all shoes?
And all day that gravel of socket and bone,
that heel like an adze?
They are not like you or me.
is a miracle: run, stub, trip,
skip the last step, scratch again
under blankets at night.
The Internal State of Texas
This much is known:
It's large and largely dry.
It's been called terrarium-like by experts.
At first, I felt it slowly growing
the requisite cactus and coast.
I wrote letters to the president,
but he vacationed inside me for months at a time.
I can't say Galveston was anything
other than sweet heat and water,
though Dallas was a bitch until I passed it.
It was the fighter jets that got better and better.
They came to appreciate me, too.
In those fabulous formations they swooned
curlicues on those bluest skies,
burning elaborate fuels like there was no tomorrow.
the streets of downtown
are quite dirty and packed with people
He was photographed
inside me, with chainsaw,
concerned about longhorns.
I wanted something
even though the dollar stores simmered
like hens on their nests of cleaning supplies,
spatulas, and hair ties.
I had wanted something, I don't know,
prettier for myself by this age.
Meanwhile, men unscrolled miles
of Scotchgarded fencing.
Esequiel Hernández was actually shot
herding goats, and Krispy Kremes
blindsided everyone. But I was younger then,
before the daring, handsome surgeon
who wore cowboy boots,
before the long convalescence
and all that doctorly handholding.
We Are Crossing Soon
It was hot. We wandered on the pavement.
We knew that soon we would get there.
We thought we were prepared — one says goodbye
and looks for a knife and a proper comb,
and while doing so avoids a crying person.
Soon we would get there, or not soon, but
we would, the bridge not too crowded, the agents
distracted, and the water would not be too wet.
The desert weeping manna in the cool morning will provide.
The streets of El Paso will provide.
We surfed on the ocean and kissed blond girls named Melissa
with each other, astride the dumpsters
behind the TV factory. We were not smooth,
and we wouldn't like living alone, wondering what our
mothers were doing at that moment. At that moment
our mothers were sewing small pieces of old clothes.
Certainly we would arrive the way birds arrive, not through
maps and memory, but some other dark
knowledge, though we knew some would drop
dead from the sky. We had cousins. We smoked cigarettes
whenever we could and the avenues yawned, flustered
with feet — it was so hot — and beyond lay the river
in its cement trough, the highway, the fields
of onions. We shined your shoes with a vigor
unexplained by democracy, our boots crooked
but shining, then your shoes were shining,
spotless down the dusty streets, the quarters
in our hands were shining like a teakettle we would own.
Rules for Drought
Don't worry about which fork —
the river is too sandy for dining.
The dust will never behave.
We ask you to refrain from bathing at peak hours.
Try this prickly pear. It helps.
Don't forget the spine of a cactus
comes from a special place
called the areole.
Sink into our particular kind of battle,
which is composed simply of waiting.
Tell time by the change in pitch
of painful light, or the depth of
Lucky is for the other people.
Bats, which we store by the cloudful,
are the only mammals that fly.
What Is True Is You're Not Here
I lie beneath the stars
and think of you
while the imperious night
rearranges the birds.
But it's dangerous business,
all this personifying.
The night doesn't need
that kind of help,
and the birds are insulted
by my presumptions.
I wonder what you are doing
right now. Over there
it's so different, with grass and rain
and rocks that have learned
to speak in a language we understand.
Boots, they say,
On a rainy day,
you might do something quiet —
eat some dinner
then go to bed.
Here in the desert
I find myself counting the warts
on a moon so bright I could read
my watch if I had one, and soon
I'm telling that old fart
the prickly pear lurking near my foot
Knock it off. Don't even try.
Week after week
gnarling up by the patio —
I can only imagine what he's up to.
What's true is what's in front of me:
headlights across the wall of oleanders,
the roadside cross
adorned with plastic flowers
to remind the world someone loved has died.
The truth is the birds are not angry and
the cactus doesn't want to touch me.
The moon is made only of moon.
The patio can shrug its loneliness off,
or rather, the patio is just
with dirt on every side.
What's the word for suffer?
between curbside and truculent
in the humid entries of the
city, between metal rails,
dirt shoulder, bleached stones.
The sun is high should be easy,
ask the Wells Fargo building,
and trees have grown sore
might be behind the nursing home.
Where would one find narrow?
without? to mourn? It's not
golf course or velvet painting.
It's somewhere else, near
immobile and shorn,
which have been rescheduled due to
rain. How would you find vigil
and beautiful mouth, those two
last seen by the side of the highway.
Can anybody tell me the word
for sacrifice is near? What about love
and the twins every morning and
rocks under my feet?
Here the minimalist sky.
Here antelope (pronghorns) and the burnt, high-plains grasses
bound to the edge of the compound, the edge of town,
the edge of, the edge of.
Here glints polish the air to gold.
The antelopes and the few stunted trees
dream about Jonah in the belly of the sky.
Let's have nothing
but gold — it's so pleasing.
One night a man took out an accordion.
So loud, the instrument in this night, and so many
romantic waltzes that I wept just
outside the fire's circle of light.
I knew a lot, once.
Wasn't Naturalism about to happen?
And really, the French and the English,
why should they quit — a battle here, one there,
and their navies refulgent?
And that man, saying such things:
"the night is the very experience of the there is."
Once I knew
that pastries could have a thousand leaves.
The bishop wore a fabulous hat,
and forks and knives
were polished monthly to meditate
in their velvet boxes.
Here the sky represents nothing
but blue, and we go along
inventing new ways of dying:
by the cutting off of hands,
of hair, death by one dirty blanket, and
death by walking.
Death by six pine nuts, by bloody
sunset, by obscure mirage.
I admit that I believe ideas exist regardless
Why worry about it?
Any idea has at least one limb that will whip a soul
into a factory of feeling,
where passion becomes clearer,
like a beautiful television
being made right now inside the factory.
It's hard to separate from feeling.
Maybe the soul isn't a fussy eater —
still, it is ravenous
and expensive, like a defensive lineman.
A hammer is only as strong as the hand
who finds it, and God is pure idea
when it comes to football.
Weary, God puts passion in the toolbox
so the lineman can work the world
into one big factory. Watch how the soul
turns on the TV and everything gives in
Was it on Market Street? George Street? Or on the plain grid where
your house is now?
The book's perfume lifted as you touched it: must, dead clover,
Your flesh became silk, limpid, luminous.
You say nothing about it
but the airport speaks for you —
a whoosh that shakes the fruit trees, clotheslines quiver
and speak too, while a cat groans in painful heat.
The wine of your calling burns the nose first, then tongue, throat.
The bone of your calling slipped from an angel who asked
difficult questions of your skin.
(It was saying yes.)
You were told you would never die, that it would be
The robins were called God's birds since they ate nothing.
They fell from your hands and flew into the folds of the wind.
The book opened more, like a pomegranate,
bloody bursts and the grit of seed.
We are not sorry
for the waterfall that drowned you, your eyes
cut out and served
on a plate to a despot, not for the cave
or the wheel, your
way to heaven.
We are not sorry for the
clothes we sew you from the sofa-cushion extras,
to adorn your hems, for the black
pennies we leave in a cup at your feet,
and the medallions of what ails us — a pair of ears,
a leg, an evil sprite — pinned to every
inch of cloth.
We are a little sorry for the time we painted you
in the blue and orange
of the Mets — but hey, we all need
benediction. Warmer nights,
up the one hundred steps,
we, the weary, climb
holding tight to the railings, sweat drips
alms into our coffee cups
with blue sketches of the Parthenon
around and around them,
and we begin to ask questions
we are sorry for
later: How could you
pray for more pain? Why didn't you
just kill yourself?
Look at us, was it worth it?
The cat wants to be a strong thing, a hand, a tree.
The girl wants to be a pirate in a tree.
The tree wants to be the pond with its face of shining.
The pond wants to be the sun that dumps its sugar on the grass.
The grass wants to be the foot, its sole, its heel.
The foot wants to be the brain who always gets to choose.
The brain wants to be the feet dumb in their shoes.
The shoe wants to be the buckle that the girl shines with a cloth.
The buckle wants to be the magpie lifting what shines.
The magpie wants to be the egg in the nest touching its brother.
The egg wants to be the feather.
The feather wants to be the mite, devouring its plume.
Excerpted from Calle Florista by Connie Voisine. Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsAcknowledgments
As Well As You Can
The Internal State of Texas
We Are Crossing Soon
Rules for Drought
What Is True Is You’re Not Here
I admit that I believe ideas exist regardless
You Will Come to Me across the Desert
Midnight in the House
This World and That One
After the First Road
Two Years in That City
Psalm to Whoever Is Responsible
A world’s too little for thy tent, a grave too big for me
Prayer of the St. of the Hottest Night in Las Cruces
To the Crickets Which Sing in Unison
Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?
The Altar by George Herbert
Spanish Language in Mexico, 1993
In the Shade
Unfinished Letter to Death
The Self after Modernism