Little Break from Recoleta Cemetery

Beaten by heat and by florid death, we stumble
through Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Pilar,
half-blind, avoiding the looming outlines
of curtains, statues, worship's furniture

as we lurch to the pew where we avoid
the question: why return to Recoleta each year?
Inner city to Buenos Aires' best-connected dead—
No one we know is buried here.

And it's always an almost tropical enero near noon,
with altars losing bricks while epitaphs go black
and roses open rhodochrosite, while we regret
the family we still haven't seen—briefly close and living—

trying to silence our footfalls, to hush
the abrupt thud of the knee rest
as we cool in the pews, but then a voice: ¿De los estados?
Been through the cemetery yet?

The stranger's sudden, named Jorge, up today
from Tierra del Fuego—Ushuaia, far south—
and you clear your throat to indicate—what?—
the quiet, polite code from which his mouth

strays, though it closes around Jorge, lips chiseled
after Fuego. How can it be, in the gloom and the hush,
that his voice whispers insistent but not from him,
that now his stories emerge as all voices vanish,

that finally what remains is an unsettled, insistent din—
where did his stories go? Could it be that the statues
eat his words, holding them like wafers
on thick plaster tongues, which share their edges

with throats, with teeth and palates and vocal cords beyond—
all filled to the blur of a statue's anatomy, which must
petrify all it takes in. Outside, voices rise:
wind, tamboril, human—although the song's words are lost

to the street's roar—the edges of verse already blurred
by their abundance and by their pass through wall
and window and stained glass, back into air where Jorge
whispers the lot with a voice on loan—he tells it all—

each murmur another's secret, a disappearance shown,
—all cities are cemeteries—this stranger's complaint,
there—can you taste it?—between lips, your own,
swallowed by the sad, solid mouths of demon and saint,

the virgins, the passions, pietàs, and wraiths—
they lack echo and hollow, they cannot dissolve,
except in their cracks, which whisper their famine—
and even from those they take in, they take in.