Vinni Marie D'Ambrosio, Ph.D.
by Vinni Marie D'Ambrosio, in Pivot
The Blue-Ringed Tower in El Centro, CA
for Linda Lopez McAlister
I left for El Centro
in the month of January, when
the gulls were chunking eels
in Sheepshead Bay.
The first hours in the deep
Imperial Valley stood brilliant
on corundum, emery, quartz.
I awoke the second day
to an adobe garden, was enchanted
by wrought-iron and roses
and the smooth trunk
of a palo verde. Soon
a hummingbird struck
the lush midair near a vine,
and with a yellow whirr scraped the space,
chopped out a niche,
flailed it wide enough
to vacuum-pack a small wooden saint
or (a later thought
when love had somewhat
to be filled with the half-million poor
in nearby Mexicali
who were pinched dry by chollas
and might be held for an instant
in the hummingbird's hollow
as a nest-egg for a poem.
On my daily drive to Calexico,
I passed a broad tower
a hundred feet high,
banded near the top
with a blue painted ribbon.
The lower desert was drawing me,
but I resisted the dry immersion.
The turquoise-ringed tower
on one sleepy trip
became the knuckle
of a Mexican cacique
exiled in anger nine
foreign miles from home.
I gorged on the neighborhood's carne asada
cooked over fire in the fiery afternoon
in the tough shapes of iguana,
and I licked at beer
salty as the mineral world.
The tower then was a bride's thumb, dreamily
belted by dust and blue satin.
In the season when tons of carrots
were hauled from the Valley, and the sky
very dark, cattle feedlots silent,
I fought a minor earthquake,
noting at dawn
the long watery gleams
on the patio
at the pool's narrow end.
Whoever was it told me -
sotto voce -
that the tower was a cauldron,
that it burned elements
to remake deserts?
I saw a startling power
(speeding home one night)
as its blue-bricked fist
stretched towards a comet.
Wearing thick sneakers
as advised by the postcards in arcaded shops
I went down into the desert
the week it was "a carpet of bloom."
Although two or three spines ▸
pierced rubber and skin,
among whispered hisses
I hopped and pulled them out,
and my first gray coyote
flashed over the carpet
like the shadow of a moment's tree.
As for the tower, it wasn't a tower,
but a vat,
the biggest in the Valley;
through irrigant pipes it rained
on the fields,
and the owners of the nitrate plant
had hung the bracelet on it.
At Easter break, in Mexicali,
a beggar sang Canción Mixteca,
blind, grazed thin by the half-million:
"¡Qué lejos estoy del suelo donde he nacido!"
("How far the place where I was born!")
I bought the blue song,
and some stone rings for my mother and sister,
and a multiflowered tin-framed mirror.
Then I learned, at last, that high in the air
the robin's-egg circle
had been painted precisely at sea level.
And on the daily drive to Calexico
that blue bangle was a miracle,
caught on a post that was nailed deep
as my Datsun in the Valley,
a sapphire hoop
waiting to sail
straight east or south or west,
through caves below the mountains,
till it came to a perfect
skim on open water, always,
now, touching the foam
and never scooping so much as a drop
of the Baja Bay or Mexican Gulf
or Mediterranean or Indian Seas,
faithful to its path,
a delicate performance.
Copyright © 2008 by Vinni Marie D'Ambrosio
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