Cartagena | Edward Perlman

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1.

We jerked to our last stop, dead tired.
The train from Bogota that shook
our bones carried goats. You inquired
about a scenic overlook.
Don’t you remember? A gun fired
outside the station; you said “what
the hell was that?” What then transpired
shocked us. First we saw a mutt
dragging its bleeding rump, a hard
first sight. Nobody stopped to help
or even watch. The station guard
stepped in front of you and said
perdoname. A piercing whelp
followed his shot; the dog lay dead.

2.

After afternoon’s heat
a woman with a veiled eye
took her evening seat
upon her balcony.
Across the square the church bell tolled:
Ad te levavi animam meam.
A new moon chased away the vesper light;
we welcomed night’s relief from too much sight.
Rum drunk, we slept with angels
bright as novena candles,
and dreamed of Spanish galleons
sailing the seas of heaven.

3.

The whitewashed Hotel de los Angeles
looked out across a citrus scented square
where leather leaves of ancient trees rattled
like dry bones come alive with wind-blown breath,
a brittle company. Arcaded walks
and turned-wood balconies displayed the weight
of settling years. Inside, the lobby floor’s
waxed chevron alternated black and red,
the natural hues of local hardwood trees,
and water splashed from terra cotta lips
of Neptune astride a seahorse riding through
a courtyard fountain. What we came to see
we saw in dazzling clarity: our room
had a view. We watched the rising sun
plate ancient domes of empire, set ablaze
the San Felipe ramparts, and singe the air.
We’d heard about the searing light for years.
And wind. Remember how it made us mad
at night, whistling down high-walled narrow streets,
screeching through the convent’s speechless cloister,
berating all our talk as vain excess?

Edward Perlman teaches in the M.A. in Writing program at Johns Hopkins University. He is the publisher and senior editor of Entasis Press (entasispress.com), an independent literary press publishing poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. He has been an associate artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida where he studied with Anthony Hecht. The Washington DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the NEA awarded him an artist fellowship grant for his poetry, and his essays and poetry have appeared in various journals.

7 comments

  1. Sheryl

    “Leather leaves of ancient trees rattled like dry bones come alive.” “Water splashed from terra cotta lips..” “The train from Bogota that shook our bones carried goats.” Beautiful imagery. I had a graduate professor who once taught me the importance of strong imagery and strong verbs – reading this poem really drove home his lessons.

  2. “Rum drunk, we slept with angels
    bright as novena candles,
    and dreamed of Spanish galleons
    sailing the seas of heaven.”

    I feel like this was written directly to me. Bravo, Ed!

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