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

           than this?

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,
          forever burning.

Finalist, the Poetry International Prize 2022
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