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Renée Gregorio: California Poets Part 6, Four Poems

Renée Gregorio

October 18th, 2023

California Poets: Part VI

Renée Gregorio

Four Poems


Among a profusion of wild thyme and rosemary, miniature wildflowers, purple iris, roses, and tiny hot pink daisies, Rita Battita’s mailbox. Beyond, the Tyrrhenian Sea, an unspeakable aquamarine. Light shoots through water’s ebb and flow to the sea-bottom stones. In the air, the high-pitched grating of a saw and the sense of something needing to be shed.

A small road sweeps around the base of the island. White houses shuttered in cobalt. One older woman dressed in black blouse, skirt and shoes walks through the streets alone at siesta. All is quiet save her footfall, some birdsong, the occasional boat puttering by. No car motors interrupt the silence.

At the seaside bar, a foaming glass of Nastro Azzuro birra Siciliana brings on the desire to sleep. So it must be time for an espresso! Later when asked when to pay, the waitress says Whenever you want, with a shake of her head, a lifting of her shoulders. This attitude is everywhere: whatever you say to me, no matter how badly you botch our language or speak Spanish rather than Italian—no matter—you are here, I am here, me dica, just tell me what you need—I’ll help you. This spirit is reflected back in these waters, in the eyes and faces of Rita Battita, the waitress, the unnamed woman in black.

Maréttimo means sea-thyme. The Greeks named the island Hiera, sacred place. Among boulders and steep cliffs dropping toward the sea, you walk holding on to rosemary bushes for balance. The land is as much scent as ground. It’s a place to loosen, feel uncorked, full of grace. It is here that the desire to write rises. In this quiet clarity of acceptance, I match my blood to the sea.


Dawn and dusk exist simultaneously in a village called Acteál where a white flag with thick blue letters spells PAZ, where a monument erected at the village entrance is named the pillar of shame. María invites us into the church, a thick-planked wooden hut with a roof of tin, to tell us her story. She welcomes us into the humble building, her face’s brightness cut off prematurely, like a fruit beaten from its place on a tree before it ripens. Forty-five of her people were murdered here by the paramilitary— parents, sisters, brothers, uncles and aunts among the massacred. Soy soltera; I am alone, she says, as her eyes become enlarged, wet. She points to the bullet holes in the tin roof, to the virgin in her glass box on the altar whose body is still slumped over. Sunlight blasts through each hole, hitting the chest of the fallen virgin with a circle of golden light. As María’s voice shakes, every hole elicits a coin of light that lands on the dirt floor, circles of light that mark each shot heard that day nearly ten years ago. And they were only praying there.


I make a cup of coffee. Outside my window, nothing’s burning except a strip of light across the burnished field caused by the sun’s rising.

I drink the cup of coffee, while on the world’s other side a child reaches toward a packet on the ground, thinking it is food.

Here it is the milky way that stretches clear across the entire sky above the house, huge arc of condensed stars.

What streaks across night sky is only a shooting star.

Once, in a village in Laos, a helicopter flew over my head. A villager, startled, said: That’s what it sounded like when the Americans were here. The sorrow I felt ran wider

than the spirit of welcome in that man’s arms. Now we add our dead to the three million Vietnamese, to the rooms piled with the bodies of the east Timorese, to those at the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan.

I live in a house, intact, made of earth. The only sounds: dogbark and wingbeat. This kind of silence fills my body as rain fills the arroyos, makes rivers live again.

The shadow of geese flying overhead fell down over my view out the kitchen window and the shadow made me duck, even though I was inside.


And did I go to the ends of the earth with you?

I did.

And did we ride north on highway 47 to the Palace of Padmanabhapuram and touch the carved breasts of the gatekeepers outside Saraswati’s chamber?

Oh, yes.

And did we ride on nine trains, sometimes clear through the night, and did we learn from strangers that we’d met them before somewhere along a road, a river, a path, another journey in another lifetime, perhaps?

It is written, yes.

And did we stand in the halls of worship for the Jains, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Catholics, and did you dip your fingers in the clam shell filled with holy water and did I press my ear against the musical pillar made of granite and touch its liquid song?

Together, all of this.

And did the boy on the crowded bus slide his body over to make room for yours as the elder, not mine as the woman?

Yes, and we laughed.

And did we eat idlis, dosas, sambar and coconut chutney till we didn’t want them anymore?

Yes, but now it’s hard to believe we were once sated.

And did we watch men and women pulling tiny silver fish off the nets and into buckets for selling while the snakes writhed on the sand nearby, trying to find their way back to water?

We were afraid of swimming.

And did the priest turn the mirror toward our faces so we could see the god within? And did we see it? And are we whole?

We were bathed with seeing.

And did we understand there’s no good or bad, big or small, only what is?

Sometimes we did.

And could we answer the temple guard’s question—–“For what purpose do you come here?”—put to us aggressively then, with calm now?

Perhaps our presence would hold the answer.

And did we eat enough prawns biryani, fish curry, Keralan parotta and fig and honey ice cream?


And did we occupy different skins in the sea air? Did we make love like the ice cream, like the giant prawns—familiar in concept, but not in magnitude and sweetness?

Yes, we met each other as travelers first, husband and wife second.

And did the early monsoon rains clarify us?

Of course, we were washed clean.

And did we stand mesmerized by the mustard yellow house near the town’s deep and ancient well, taking in the sound of a man practicing violin in the front room, the one most open to the street, how solitary and public he was, did we take this in?

It made us want to change the world.

And were we happy where things are never straightforward?

And did we go far into nothing to know everything?

And did our bodies become eyes?

Author Bio:

Renée Gregorio’s poetry is informed equally by the stillness, expansiveness and landscape of northern New Mexico as it is by her wide-ranging travels to places such as Cuba, Bali, Italy, Japan, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and India. Her published collections include The Skins of Possible Lives, The Storm That Tames Us, Drenched, Water Shed, Snow Falling on Snow, and Abyss & Bridge. Other collaborative books are Love & Death: Greatest Hits (with Joan Logghe & Miriam Sagan) and Unmasking the Fire, Road to the Cloud’s House and Pa’Siempre: Cuba Poems (with John Brandi).


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