by Emily Portillo
I. There seems to be more of it since she showed up.
I’ve noticed because I always keep an eye on it.
Great photographers say to follow the light and for years
I have done my best. I have apprenticed myself to light,
to the way it moves through the world. Soars when it can,
bends when it must, knows when to reach and when
to embrace the limitations of fingers. I’ve tried to mimic this
easy grace, but I am a small and clumsy thing.
A child in too-large heels, arms outstretched,
chasing after her mother’s steady, naked feet.
II. Once, there were women who licked the glow.
Painted constellations of radium across their cheeks
until they shone like watch faces.
Flitted vibrant through the nights,
alight and alive and laughing until their jaws
fell off. This is not beautiful
or a metaphor, but it is true and so,
it matters. Truth: some of the women
would coat their teeth, their mouths turned spotlights,
gleaming. Truth: when she smiles, everything is brighter.
III. Scientists say that human bioluminescence
serves no evolutionary purpose and I can forgive them this
failure of imagination. After all, they haven’t seen
the glimmer of my love in the dark. There is a radiance
coiled in each of her freckles. When she sleeps,
the moonshine curls soft into her skin like delicate ribbons
of sea sparkle. People wander coastlines, scanning the tides,
hoping for even a glimpse of the type of wonder
that lies beside me at night. How could I possibly resist
a lighthouse woman? What greater purpose for the subtle shimmer
IV. In photography, the eye becomes a student of shadow. Learns
the intricate dance of it. The way it plays, grows, hardens,
exhales. The eye retraces the shadow’s steps. Finds the place
where it is tethered, notes the style of the knot. Teaches the hands
to be patient, gentle. To only capture that which they intend to keep.
To be sure that this is the warmth and contrast, the moment,
the muse they’ve been searching for. Remember, the eye says,
the larger and closer the light source, the softer the light.
This great glowing in my chest, her presence in my bones:
the tenderest parts of me.
V. My atoms have only so many evenings left as me,
so I take solace in the longevity of ordinary things.
Grudges, with their pernicious burning. August,
the Perseids meteors, their brilliant tails above my head,
burning. In 2012, discovered behind a wall in the basement
of a landmark L.A. restaurant, hidden in the dust and darkness
since the Great Depression, a neon light
still burning. I am almost 31 and not made
of noble gas and glass and so 77 more years
is longer than I can hope for. More blaze,
more burn than this body can muster. But this love? This love,
Finalist, the Poetry International Prize 2022