Orlando Ricardo Menes

in memory of hart crane

Far from the wilds of python roots and those air plants

like the monstrous octopi that doomed the galleons,

Hart straggles into his little garden by the sea

and falls under the spell of mimosas to find a parchment leaf,

clusia rosea, to inscribe the words roiling in his mind,

as castaways once scrawled their prayers—perhaps a new poem

about the Cuba that makes his body sweat with desire

or fear or both in those sweltering nights beneath the mosquito net.

What had brought the poet to this island, anyway?

To live cheaply and have plenty of time to write?

Perhaps something much more Romantic, sexy, like dreaming

of sailor boys with cinnamon breath and peachy skin

who fuck him singing sea chanteys in jasmine fog

thick as clotted cream? Or that molasses sunset

that jolted him to think of New England’s emerald hills

rather than this island, so much the bastard girl

of a failed empire and the concubine of chaos,

bewitching with her Circean smells of Spanish rose

and African lily and that to stay whole and sane

a full-blooded American must flee those vapors and hues

that mire a civilized mind with a wantonness

impervious to any reason or decorous discipline,

as if an English garden were mobbed by marabú weeds.

So treasonous are the tropics, he’d heard a Dutch ensign

say in a sawdust bar by the wharf of sighs,

that any man of sense should avoid this island’s

womanly seas fuming the shore with the spume

of love betrayed not so much as in a man but a child,

a boy too young to understand the volatile heart,

and Hart then remembered his own mother, whose affections

could go from warm to scalding in an instant

as these inconstant waters of a tropics too close to the sun,

and he felt trapped as never before in memories

of possession in a house ruled by his mother’s moods

that no alcohol could assuage or poem trick to art.

Orlando Ricardo Menes is an NEA Fellow and the author of seven poetry collections, including The Gospel of Wildflowers & Weeds. He is a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.
Originally published:
September 18, 2023


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