What I gave you, Apollonian man, was the standard of love, fits of tears with an estranged nightingale.
_ _ —Federico García Lorca, “Your Childhood in Mention”
Like an albino Apollo, the stable boy I loved
one summer is digging my horse’s grave
all afternoon in the woods behind the orchard,
shirtless and short of breath; the sun wringing
clouds from the three o’clock sky; the scars
from his father’s riding crop branching across
his back like the tangled script of a riddle I
refused to answer. His face—a maze of tears,
anonymous now, as the rooms of a ruined palace
where the walls are hung with the laws of conquered
empires and servants distill arak in the kitchen,
whispering about the sultan’s fatal condition.
Imagine my pale boy on his knees in a straw hat,
the first fist of dirt tossed onto the shrouded horse.
Imagine a river throbbing through the ravine below—
marrow of bone, sap of tree—and flowers, not
funereal, but lavender and jasmine, the sky speckled
with the cries of migrating swallows. A Moorish wind
wiping us clean, wiping the cypress trees clean, until
there is no such thing as man or woman. Just sweat
and the astringent smell of lemons. Two boys
with wildflowers behind their ears; the tangled flag
of a fallen nation—my tongue on his pearled shoulder,
an Act of Contrition.
Kara Candito is the author of Spectator (University of Utah Press, 2014), winner of the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize, and Taste of Cherry (University of Nebraska Press, 2009), winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. She is associate professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville. (updated 10/2016)