Joel M. Toledo




If you want to understand where the cicadas have gone,

            you have to pry the exoskeletons off of the trunk;

            you have to look at that cut running down its hollow belly.

You have to learn brittleness and brevity. You have

            to put the remains on the ground and wait it out.

            To sit beneath the tree and let leaves cover them up.

            To allow roots and water to decide whether to keep them

            or carry them away.

And when they do disappear, you have to close your eyes

            and let go of that sense.

You have to keep still and retain your silence.

You have to let time do as it pleases and stick to the task

            at hand. Never flinch; you have to be calm

            until the labor is over and the sounds return.

You have to bury your entire body into the ground

            and start waking.




Because Here They All Want to Forget



Proust and Wittgenstein, I’m now convinced,

will have gone to hell. That is, if Art


weren’t willful enough against all dogma.

I was about to say my skin betrays me


this late afternoon, amid foreign faces, new

signs. But I realise beneath all colors are


the waiting bones, a whiteness that

will outlast all facades and my wanting


mind. Maybe this is why this urgency

exists. No beauty is useless and there is,


in me, this need to devour all

disarray and put it back in order


as in that beginning—long ago—before

memory (a word I now distrust). Why


am I so guarded? I want to let loose

onto the world all my recklessness. I


want to come across a language so strange,

I can speak it. Within the body are wings


but it will take ages for someone to wrench

them out of the skeleton. So I will continue


wearing my heart out and say things as they

are: nǐ hǎo, hola, ciao, kumusta? Hey,


evening; we both won’t last too long, but

here’s a word you will never own: day.



(Whether that made you smile or frown,

I can only imagine. I was no witness.)


Trauma can endure a lifetime, can

straitjacket the affected


and become the perfect excuse for

not remembering. The room is dark and


there are no windows. Time allows for

this complacence. Lunatic be memory! I


said I distrust it, yes, but that does not

mean something did not occur. I do not


understand indifference; that’s a conscious

thing. But look at tragedy in the face


and tolerate it: you will never ever

forget. That’s supposed to be recovery,


a nine-letter word like September

or an eleven-letter one like firefighter.


Voice tends to stay numb, to shield itself

from pain. And that’s artificial. Rise,


that other voice says. Jung knew what was

going on: ‘Whoever looks inside, awakes.’


It’s either you peel the skin off the onion

or gaze at the exposed bones. The latter


is preferable; you will end up with

more of something than nothing.




Things That Vanish in the Process


Kids in the playground. Sun

that pushed out of their bodies


an assortment of glee. A river’s

nakedness. Kites.

This suspicion that decay is a way


to ripen some sadness in the leaves:

the same leaving that snaps

twigs and allows for litter, copper.


The throat. A vigorous descent

of shadow, which is also severance.


Narrative. Song.

(A love.)


Even that sickness called Consumption.

Much less everything. But not the tree,

never it, no matter how