Nina Forsythe

The Other Shore

At the end of the journey,
there was a garden
with tangerines ripening;
there were transparent butterflies
and a bird with an enormous tail
hiding among the oval leaves.
Orange flowers dropped
like overripe apples
into water the color of rust.

In the streets of the village
children were playing
with hoops and strings,
braiding their bodies into ropes,
crying the bright cries of children.

It was evening,
and groans percolated up
the throats of doves in the eaves.
Mothers and fathers, friends
were sitting by doorways
watching the children
and reweaving the past,
working the stubborn knots.

They invited me in;
the floor was strewn
with insect wings, swirling,
I swear, like fragments of smoke.

They offered me food and drink.
There was something like rice,
something like bread,
fish and greens;
there was salt and sweet
and something bitter.

Then I went home,
or maybe I dreamed of home.
There was the house
I was raised in.
There were some red berries
on a bush and some
bright stones in the dirt.
I heard the sound of
something like a saw,
something like weeping.
Birds and children
played in the wet streets.
Apples were dropping
like overripe dreams
onto the braided grass.
Mothers and fathers,
friends, broke words
like bread, shared
the salt, the sweet,
the bitter.

The Miners of Huanuco

We emerge from the earth
like demons doing
the bidding of their
dark master. Indeed,
our eyes float ghost-like
in our blackened faces,
but we are too tired
to do much mischief.
Our heads droop
over our potatoes,
hungry as we are.

Some speak of strikes
or sabotage,
but that’s just grumbling;
we have no leader,
no one with ideas
and energy.

And as for the dark master,
we’ve never seen him
around here,
but they say he wears white
with a gold sash
or a business suit.

Dinner with Neruda

He invited me because
of my poem about
the avocado,
so I was eager to learn
how he liked my pun
on advocate,
but mostly I wanted
not to embarrass myself
in front of the rhapsodizer
of the onion and fried potato,
the chronicler of salt.

I hoped for a simple meal,
not too many ingredients
trailing their individual
histories, blending flavors
I’d need to unbraid
to properly praise.

The wine was purple,
and as we lifted it to our lips
I murmured, “Night-colored
wine…lascivious velvet”
and tasted my desire
to impress.
Salud y pesetas!
I opened my eyes
just in time to see
Pablo swallowing.

In came Matilde
with a platter of sea bass
on a bed of rice with onions,
peppers, and tomatoes,
throwing me into a confusion
of anticipation: the sweet,
tender flesh bringing news
of cold ocean depths
to my lips; “red viscera”
of the murdered tomatoes;
those “luminous flasks,”
the onions; pep–
was there an ode to peppers?
The elemental peppers,
the elemental rice, oh,
the elemental salt, “dust
of the sea,” the singing salt!

I looked around for the potatoes
but there were none.
Pablo was massaging
Matilde’s derriere
as she handed me
a heaping plate.
“Gracias. Muy–uh–muy

Across from me, Pablo
was tucking in with knife and fork.
He raised his head and I watched
the down elevator in his throat.
“Mmm,” he hummed, “mmm,”
and I decided against
reciting my poem
about cheese.

Nostalgia Loca

Entonces, here we are
suffering from the cold
and a weepy nostalgia
for la patria.
The way your eyes welled right up
when I hummed Nicaragua, Nicaragüita
I knew the offer of a nacatamal
would almost have you kissing me
on both cheeks.

because even your sentimental
tears didn’t blind you
to my indio skin and features.
Even here,
Nicaragua can’t love us both.
Back there, I’d be working
in your kitchen and
doing your laundry,
while you spent the afternoon
getting your nails shaped and choosing
the most expressive shade of red lacquer.
Is that what you’re nostalgic for, doña?

And me, what do I miss?
The language that had a thousand ways
to slap me down?
The two rooms I shared
with my mother and five siblings
that flooded every rainy season?
My girlfriends
dropping out of school to become
maids, sell water, have babies?

Yet Nicaragua, Nicaragüita,
if sung to the end, would have us both
weeping like borrachos
for the banana groves and coffee farms,
volcanoes, fiestas, frutas frescas,
for pinolillo and the little green chocoyos—
the whole damn dirty beautiful backward
poetic patria—ay mama!

But we won’t sing.
At most we’ll ask,
“Which pueblo are you from?
How long have you lived here?
Will you ever go back?”
And then we’ll turn away
shivering with cold
and nostalgia loca.

© Nina Forsythe

Nina Forsythe has an MFA from Bennington. Her poems, translations, and reviews have appeared in Nimrod, 5 AM, Chiron Review, Taproot, Puerto del Sol, and the anthology Knocking on the Door, and elsewhere. She is a four-time winner of the Backbone Mountain Review Poetry Prize. She lives in Frostburg, Maryland, where she hosts a monthly Coffee with a Writer at Frostburg State University, teaches Arts in the Schools, and edits dissertations.

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