Inspired by the Cantico Espirituel of St. John of the Cross.

Icon of St. John of the Cross

Juan de Yepes was born in 1542 in Spain into a family of “conversos,” Catholics who had been forced to convert from Judaism. As a monk, Juan took the name Juan de la Cruz and was persecuted by fellow Carmelites for his adherence to the reforms instituted by his beloved St. Teresa of Avila. Imprisoned by his clerical enemies, Juan wrote poems of a highly erotic nature, including his Cantico Espiritual. Later, he published lengthy explications of the erotic poetry in which he explained away each phrase as a reference to a spiritual love. In his Cantico, Juan professes that the Esposa represents the soul and the Esposo, Christ. I take a different view.

My gracioso
has passed through many groves
like a deer pursued by weekend bowhunters.
I run after him calling and calling.

I seem to be climbing toward the snowline.
I ask my oldest companions:
Did you see him?
Do I seem pitiful?

Seeking other opportunities, I wait in bus terminals.
I watch the circling of birds near the ceiling.
I fill my pockets with small pieces of paper.
I declare nothing to the ticket agent.

Under my boots the snow breaks like glass.
I find shreds of your purple dress
gleaming like amethysts
in the dark branches behind the parking lot
of the mountain climbers.
I know that together we have had three daughters.

Describe your own presence.
Can you do it?
No? I thought not.
Therefore, I cannot be cured of your love.

In the glass of water beside me
your face begins
to resemble a rainbow.
I am the one starting to float away.

Flowery sheets enclose our bed.
A brass lion prowls the bookcase.
My gold earrings are in the ashtray.
We are both wrapped in sheets
and the windows are missing many panes of glass.

I feel like a warm breeze, my paloma,
touching your ears in the Carolina evening.
The air around us smells of our love.
A single meal, of good bread and red wine,
restores us to our senses.

In the interior bodega
I drank too much of your wine.
It tasted of iron. I knew nothing.
Thinking that you were lost forever,
I zigzagged, searching every otero and vega.

No one appears in these mountains.
No one pursues the little foxes.
Do you really graze, my love, with cattle
and munch bitter greens?

Although I am transparent,
please do not disparage me
I do not always have any inside.
Sometimes, I have no perspective at all.

When you admire me,
I am amazed, imprinted by your eyes.
That you adore me
turns me into something other than a woman.

Sea turtles hatch, crawl into the surf
seeking mates in the deep waters.
I live in solitude,
wounded and bloody as an ocean mammal, punctured by nails and arrows.

Taste my salt, mi vida, and my water.
Follow me into the lagoons filled with sea-grass.
My beloved companions cast off their silver robes
and swim toward unknown islands.