in the absence of hands...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Lorna Dee Cervantes

A un Desconocido

I was looking for your hair,
black as old lava on an island
of white coral. I dreamed it
deserted you and came for me,
wrapped me in its funeral ribbons
and tied me a bow of salt.

Here’s where I put my demise:
desiring fire in a web of tide,
marrying the smell of wet ashes
to the sweet desert of your slate.
My intelligent mammal, male
of my species, twin sun to a world
not of my making, you reduce me
to the syrup of the moon, you boil
my bones in the absence of hands.

Where is your skin, parting me?
Where is the cowlick under your kiss
teasing into purple valleys? Where
are your wings, the imaginary tail
and its exercise? Where would I breed
you? In the neck of my secret heart
where you’ll go to the warmth of me
biting into that bread where crumbs crack
and scatter and feed us our souls;

if only you were a stone I could
throw, if only I could have you.


Cervantes’ language is beautiful in the truest sense of the word. The poetry here is commanding, pure strength: black as old lava on an island of white coral, the sweet desert of your slate, twin sun to a world not of my making, and in the neck of my secret heart. The unusual imagery in the lines evokes myth and ritual, and, above all, longing.

This work holds a certain intensity in tone and in diction, weaving the reader deeper a powerful language structure. The work never loses its physicality, a marked strength in Cervantes’ writing style. Readers of this poem encounter a writer, at once, in control of and in submission to her art. The poem has more than a touch of greatness in it.

The imagined throwing of the stone at the end is such a powerful image of release. Mere thoughts of the act kindle a touch of freedom, of letting go, of distancing all the improbable but longed for acts in one’s life. As in the final thought, if only I could have you. Life in its personal and ideal realm – a world of desire – is such a different landscape from life in the real, filled with its relentless force of day-to-day – such a fierce antagonist – pulling us away from need. Maybe at the poem’s core, there is that fear of lost connections. Or, fear of connections never found.

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