« Elisa Gabbert | Contents | Jenny Sadre-Orafai »

Oliver de la Paz


This excerpt of epistolary pieces are part of a longer sequence from a manuscript-in-progress.  I started writing the poems as an exercise with other Kundiman fellows.  We wrote poems on postcards and sent them to each other in the mail.  I kept addressing mine to “Dear Empire.”  Soon, I had written 30 of these “Dear Empire” epistolary pieces.  I noticed there were recurring motifs in the poems, so through revision I emphasized the resonances.  The poems now are very different from the originals.  They imply a greater narrative more than they had when they were merely poems sent through the mail. 



Dear Empire,


These are your meadows.  We idle, poised like spring

foxglove.  The gunpowder black tea steeping in the broth

unfurls in a bouquet of mint.


The artist’s son is in the clearing netting Monarchs.  Both are

blossoms rivaling the sky’s hue. 


The net has a snag that pinches the otherwise silken mesh. 

We have lost our sense of direction. 


The glacial ice is not filling the rivers, despite the sudden

heat and insects.  The corpses in the lake have not brought

the water to capacity and the striations in the stones are

dumb to us.  There are no more flowers beyond this point. 



Dear Empire,


These are your monuments.  Far from shore, the ships are

anchored.  The idling motors are no accident.  There are no

accidents here.


I used to live by the sea.  There were monoliths on the shore. 

Hard currencies of sand dollars brought us to an

understanding.  To a predicament.  Wave by wave, faces

erode—into what?


My memory is sutured.  The gaps of the seams fill with salt. 

The chiton bodies clicking together sound like marching. 

Like gathering in a square. 



Dear Empire,


These are your nights.  The bats are delicious pirouettes

against the moon.  We are elemental in the dark.  We are out

of our skins with our mouths pressed to the ground.


They catch bread we’ve thrown to the tree branches and they

fall to us with their old faces.  My breath is a foot upon my

throat as I feel their movement. 


The skirl of insects covers our trespass. 


Meanwhile, there are no mysteries left between us … only

the susurrus wings.  Meanwhile there are only furred bodies

hurtling through the constellations.



Dear Empire,


These are your orders.  What time shall I prepare?  Shall I be



The control you exert over time has me at zero hour.  A null-

time.  Only the slow drift of a shadow from point A to point

B instructs me.  Schemes hatch without minds. 


Loaves pass from hands to birds.  The sudden strike of a

beak on a bare palm.  



Dear Empire,


These are your pastures.  Spring brings us goats but no fresh

grass for grazing.  Thus, they eat our shirts.  We are made

nude to the sudden downpours. 


The lapwings wade far from us.  We are clearly a spectacle—

no shelter for us.  Thus we are rendered.


There is a distant purr of electrical wire and the wading

pond is filled with the bodies of water fowl.  There are no

sounds but the hum and bells at the throats of the goats.


The once-thick bramble has been nibbled to spines. 


We dare not cross the field.  We dare not wander. 



Dear Empire,


These are your plains.  The ranges are laden with snow.  All

night the horses leave tracks which are covered by drifts like



I am trying to get this message to you but night is a sealed

envelope.  I am trying to reach you but the passes are lost

and the one star in the sky bites hard into my shoulder.


The freeze is upon us.  As I step on the horses jerk their head

back as if to snap their treelike nerves awake.  


We are not beyond your jurisdiction.  Just in its alcove, soft

and muzzle-cold. 



Dear Empire,

These are your processions.  Your most famous general

wanted to attend the funeral of your most famous artist. 

Having painted your portrait with a gun to his head, he 

certainly caught the curve of the occipital bone and the

crease under gunman’s eye socket.  But it was nothing



Regardless, though, whomever they bury today would have

a future that could not offer roses.  The children playing

with a tattered curtain from his studio run in great velvet

arcs about the churchyard.   


There is no urn for ashes.  We cannot eat the cake because

the frosting is a private color.

« Elisa Gabbert | Contents | Jenny Sadre-Orafai »