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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Etter

R. A. Villanueva's Reliquaria (U. Nebraska, 2014)

Some favourite passages from this lush first collection:

I kneel

beside priests burning camphor

upon the ghats, brace this eldest son

for what he must break with his hands

and the sight of his father's soul

freed from the fabric of his skull.

end of 'Sacrum'

...and the birds

with nowhere to alight,

all falling from the sky

with little sound,

their hearts damp

fireworks going off

in their chests.


His father's voice

a black ship

sealed with pitch.

from 'Telemachy'

If we let them, soon all we'll have

left are anthems, this looping montage of

eagles and bugles and smoke. Remembering--

I need you to know--takes names, faces ghosts.

from 'Aftermaths'

But what can we offer save

for harvests of rust, black kites, signs

of the cross? Each morning the gulf

between promise and wound flares like

a ghost limb, a tunnel filling

slowly with salt water and krill.

from 'In the dead of winter we'

To settle here atop the trench floor

is to kick up grackles from their perches,

to run headlong into rooks on the tor

and to watch their wings overcome the sky.

from 'Drifting toward the bottom,

Jacques Piccard recalls the sky'

Light refracts, breaks

the great fish into a shiver of parts.

Cast in this sunset thickened

by the glass, two of the children compare

sketches: her shark devours a diving bell

whole. His night swimmer stares

straight up into a whitewater throat.

end of 'Vanitas'

We--cast into this pall, this tenebrae,

bound up by throat's clot, hair's shock, eye's seizure,

sweat's canker--are not different.


How can it be these gods we love call

me to bleed prone on my sheets? Douse duty

with wine's headiness, your jasmine taste?


We--twist, collision,

torch and scabbard--pawn our breaths in this place--

this dark--perfumed with cedar, wreathed in gauze.


You, bare of laurels, and me--memory

gone of my hair soft, sweet with hyacinth--

never loved, choked in his necklace of hands.


We will translate before they

say they cannot make sense of it.

from 'Invocation'

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