Conjunctions:11

Two Poems
Narrative of the Vision of Our Lady of Armeiro

The photograph of our Lady of Armeiro has been placed 
against a model ship which does not leave this desk. 
It may be a criminal undertaking to try to speak 
about the blindness of this Lady looking up from the mud. 
And great care needs exercising in attempting narrative. 
Thus: one night, the elements came together and danced: 
fire melted ice, ice passed water, water fell down a mountain 
taking the color of mud. Mud killed several thousand people: 
drowned people outright, swept them away, miles downstream, 
or left them stranded on treetops, rooftops, cloudtops, 
or in the sun’s arms, nursed there by invisible powers. 
The live had time to contemplate the disastrous blindness 
of man the wolf of man who could have warned them beforehand. 
But for one victim: fate kept a special largesse in store. 
Our Lady of Armeiro was small, very young, mildly pretty, 
with some black in her blood, some brown, some white, 
and the raven hair for which her continent is renowned. 
She was in no way distinguished from other ladies her age, 
in no way a special candidate as “ancilla domini.” 
From the world’s birth, however, every time elements danced, 
it had been noticed they required a special sacrifice.
Our Lady of Armeiro must attempt to change the color 
of this deluge which has blanketed the world like suffering. 
She has bled gold, copper, rubies in the mud, but it has 
not changed color. Every liquid of her body in the mud, 
but it has not changed consistency: it still hugs, sucks, 
suffocates whatever lies in its path. The hand in the 
photograph is white and wrinkled: you have seen such hands 
when lying too long in a bath. An ancient woman’s hand. 
The other is underwater, invisible. The part of the arm 
we can see, upper torso and neck, face itself: brown. 
At some point, later than photographs, they must have gone 
white. The eyes are either resolved in blindness, or turned, 
swollen beyond peace, toward her left—where she looks 
at the right hand of whatever power lords it over this scene. 
Let us say, for our purpose here, that she is 
blind already with the blindness of someone who is hearing 
the dead’s voices far more clearly than heard in life. 
Which is what, in the theory this work proposes, 
we do when words come up into the soul 
to settle it. We know the paradox of sainted blindness: 
it is perceived even in the blindness of the ordinary blind— 
that extra sensitivity to sound as if by compensation. 
And not just earthly sounds but sounds we might describe, 
to stretch a point, as super-natural. Our Lady 
has a vision “at this point in time.” She is not “having 
a good day” nor, indeed, “having a good life.” Perhaps 
she never has had, nor was destined to have? 
The substance of the vision is that we are not 
living in the true, aboriginal, archeological time 
and are not, in fact, living in true space either. 
This is something we have here which was once true time 
and space, but now no longer so. We have imposed on things 
our mental grids, first and foremost: time and space. 
Divining this to be a fault, we have then declared 
that, in the truth of it, all ours is relative 
whereas the absolute: it has no time/no space! 
Survive as best we can with this dichotomy, perpetually 
trying to get ourselves out of our time into the “timeless.” 
But the true time flows out there unimpeded, just alongside 
our world, the true space, likewise, stretches, boundless, 
over the universe—but it does stretch, 
it does not vanish in some “no space,” “not this/not that,” 
some “neither/nor” our teachers sell us. 
Take our Lady. The photograph, perhaps the first in her life, 
is unnecessarily restrictive, shows only parts of dying, 
a portion of her pond, the litter round her. 
Concrete edges (of what?); burlaps (coffee?); a white shroud (?) 
resting on a spar; a patch of red (blood?, a gas can maybe?) 
All round the photo, stretches Armeiro’s catastrophe. 
The further out, the greater the life around our Lady becomes, 
the smaller she seems, rounded by ocean, in which she perishes. 
Finally, she is like a shrivelled nut in the palm of a hand 
so large, no eye down here can compass it. We say “hand.” 
Stubbornly, we cling to images of saving grace. Even her face 
looks up in hope, with the blind eyes: not bent over the chin, 
broken, resigned: even the media said “brave face on death.” 
Is she seeing, as the old republics saw, in times of hope, 
a better future for her populace? Or, if not that ambitious, 
for her own kind of offspring? Is she looking up (as taught 
to do by countless images) at powers have just announced 
the earth’s salvation? The greatness of this icon: impossible 
to guess. But we were saying that the elements down here 
had demanded an exclusive sacrifice, as they were used to do 
from immemorial times. The volcano held her. With deep roots 
in the encircling land, all around Armeiro, the giant held her 
pinned to the ground under vast waves of lava. 
Together with the voices of the dead, their hands held her; 
their arms locked round her legs; whole lineages; families; 
all of Armeiro’s dead, since things began, around the ankles. 
In her dream, she saw what they had wished and never secured; 
what they had asked for and never been granted, including 
the song of her thirty-third grandfather upriver, who had been 
a poet and had asked that his song be allowed in this age. 
We know you, Juan Valdez. You are the man with coffee beans, 
serape, horse, and false mustaches (waxed), dispensing 
the product number one of your country to the world’s 
gringos. Such a poet swims in the blind eyes of our Lady! 
It occurs to us: tears are for those who still hope for hope. 
It is not possible, decently, to cry for you, Lady of Armeiro. 
The miracle of your blind eyes in the picture before us 
is that you have added a drop to the sum of the great world 
and the ocean of suffering there is not one jot diminished. 
Have we ever known of any death so measured and so rigorous? 



 



Narrative of the Men and Women Who Became Stars

First looked in November, trusted hearsay 
for the cold about us made our eyes water 
and our ears buzz: that blur, 
that minute seed, way up among the Pleiades, 
might be our object. Soon reached March 
and, following instructions in the newspapers, 
witnessed, just before dawn, the star distinctly 
within its trailing hair, low, unmistakable. 
But the brightest viewing would come in April. And here 
is mystery: got up, often, at the right hour, 
in fact, at a variety of times to saturate the chance, 
climbed backside of the house up our steep hill 
and stood a little like a prophet tempted 
by worlds about my head in utter clarity. There, 
above the Sangres, the object should have been—but 
was not. After a bunch of days, with clouds to boot 
making the sky at best a chancy business, wavered. 
And here, nothing has differed much from most 
of life: in that the chosen, worked for long and hard, 
has, taken all in all and for the most part, failed 
to make its due appearance. When self is, then other is; 
when self is not, there is no other. And the great way 
pours its beneficient milk out of star clusters, 
out of broad avenues in the sky’s center 
which divide the generous breast from the sterile pap. 
The great way is silent and impassive, among the galaxies, 
completely surrounded by motion in all things but itself still. 
We rise every morning, and for twenty-four hours inclusive 
shift things around from one place to another. 
Initiate transformation which will end up by coaxing 
a thing out of its spot into another. Our law is 
change—not the stars’ changes as they move along 
the measureless axis dividing all known things, 
but the small changes we pick out of will’s pockets 
and slide into the hungry slots of human life. 
And from this lours all our misery. 
Thinking back: it is possible, this 
stillness: not to move when the world does not, 
not to act when action does not fire of itself 
like bird off branch, in flight before it springs, 
but has to be extracted, laboriously, out of our brains 
as if to stage a sacrifice for bitter gods? That 
very Republic, discussed so often, is, in essence, 
the Republic of calm in which love naturally flowers 
at the end of an immeasurable cultivation: the plant, 
sculpted out of its roots in darkness, nurtured, 
through all its foliations, colorful explosions, 
then, unfolding upward into the sky, becoming as star. 
It is also Republic of all republics, everywhere, always: 
in that everything happens there at the same instant— 
we’re all alive together, or dead in her, exactly. 
Think what it would mean to be the god of such a system 
and have all of that, millenially, alpha to omega, 
inside one’s belly: quiet, pregnant, pacific, 
motionless like the great ocean that we do not see 
bathing the stars but governs all our actions primordially 
among the pulls and tractions of the universe. Therefore, 
it is possible, it may be—that we do not have to mourn 
those we have lost in attempting apartments in space, 
who were blown into fire like molten glass, 
flowers of fire, high above ocean one hopeful morning, 
and all through faults in love, in listening attention. 
Because in any event they would have become starts in dying 
at any time that their death was naturally decreed 
[in the sense of a fruit, mature, falling off the bough]. 
But we, in our pride, had to put them there, to give them 
names among the moons of a ferocious planet, instead of letting 
them find their settled ordinations among stars. 
[But it would have been hard on us, given “national honor”, 
to let them do that by themselves, for the good reason 
that we’d have had no record: would not have known 
their true location, where to look for them in the sky, 
at the right or wrong time, where to write them down 
in the books of remembrance, as befits “the heroes of 
the greatest nation.”] Alas, the quiet Republic is no nation, 
divided against other nations, at constant war, whether 
for now or in some future endlessly predicted, 
but a completeness beyond our understanding which is 
peace. Let the mind then not rage, not stammer 
with violent disappointment at the phenomenon unseen— 
enough the star has passed, woven its passage through 
the lovers’ lanes of the great way; enough it has 
inscribed itself in history: having arrived, 
having gone out on such and such a day. Do we not know 
that history is platitude, la grande misère du tout, 
that the star is always passing, its passages forever 
within the scope of record—and that, at any moment, 
we can look up at the sky and find them inscribed there, 
lodged deep within the mirror of the divine imagination? 

Nathaniel Tarn is the author of Selected Poems (Wesleyan) and The Embattled Lyric (Stanford).