Poets Do Pop
{An Umbrella Special Feature}

Luisa A. Igloria

(previously published as Maria Luisa Aguilar-Cariño) is a tenured Associate Professor in the MFA Creative Writing Program and Department of English, Old Dominion University.

Various national and international literary awards include the 2009 Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize for Juan Luna’s Revolver (forthcoming, the University of Notre Dame Press), the 2007 49th Parallel Poetry Prize (selected by Carolyne Wright for the Bellingham Review), and the 2007 James Hearst Poetry Prize (selected by former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser for the North American Review).

Originally from Baguio City in the Philippines, Luisa is also an eleven-time recipient of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in three genres (poetry, nonfiction, and short fiction) and its Hall of Fame distinction. She has published nine other books including Encanto  (Anvil, 2004), In the Garden of the Three Islands (Moyer Bell/Asphodel, 1995), and Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005).

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Fear Factor

The green, pointy-eared sage says, Fear leads to hatred, hatred leads
to suffering
. If this is true, what do we make of the sun-tanned
and spandex-clad, brought face to face with a giant

mason jar of animal guts which they must cram
into their own? In the vague afterwards, helpings of cow brain await,
cheese-like in consistency. This brings on moans, cheers,

or sotto voce retching from the sidelines.
Other tortures lie ahead—blindfolded, step into a cubicle
aswarm with roaches; swim in a vat of jellyfish and slugs.

Hey, no guts, no glory; no pain, no gain, in this case a quarter of a million
plus taxes, the logic reversed so suffering signs on the dotted line
for the right to stumble from one obstacle to another. I glimpse

its prepped and powdered face, contorted
in a hand mirror, lips mottled pink as the forty-seven sausages
a reigning champion stuffed into her gullet in under one minute.

In the garden maze outside Takeshi’s Castle, gladiators dressed
as giant playing cards careen into the topiary while a tower clock
bongs the always half-life between labor and its promised reward,

between circumstance and debt. Let go, intone the monks sitting lotus
elsewhere in their cool stone temple. Let it all go, let the wind and rain
wash the painful debris of struggle into the earth.

Let the mouth that has so feverishly chewed to loosen flesh
from gristle, drop the bone some careless god
placed there like a goad, and scream.


E-mail to the Tender Committee
of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation

Having received weekly requests from you and the parties
you claim to represent, finally I am impelled to a response—
perhaps not the kind you hoped to receive, but to divulge
my bank information would reveal the true state of its
inadequacy. Though I’ve held a steady job for fifteen years
and don’t exactly live from paycheck to paycheck,

it’s embarrassing to confess I have no savings to speak of,
no emergency funds, no way to manage a growing
mountain of debts. And what of medical expenses,
should anything unforeseen happen, God or Allah
or the Great Goddess forbid? I understand
how hard it is for the marginal to claim their place,

a share of the world’s fat which the rich
and famous wear so lightly, as if it were only
money. Even if you are indeed Mohammed Abacha,
eldest son of the late president of Nigeria, falsely accused
of murder and thrown into jail; or Prince Lobo of Lagos,
under house arrest in a suburb outside Amsterdam,

I detect a sympathy for the underdog. You seem
the type who’d recognize the Little Match Girl,
staring into shining windows, watching others try on
new sable coats and cut and feed themselves
cubes of meat while a fire devours logs of aromatic
wood in the hearth. Perhaps you’d chafe her hands

and lead her inside, sit her by the fire, give her a bite,
a tiny sip of wine. Why else would you have sought
my help all year, calling me your dear friend, your most
trusted partner, though I hardly know who you are?
Last night I read your most recent message,
unable to sleep from thinking of how to cover

tuition for my son’s last year in college. He is
very bright, but a middle class income can only get one
so far. I considered your offer: who would not swoon
at the figures you’ve quoted? What mortal would not
be tempted by the prospect of twelve to sixty-three million
dollars stacked in crisp, neat beds, waiting for the right hand

to spirit them out of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Holland,
or some Swiss account, I forget which one—or twenty
per cent of that sum, which is what you say you’ll pay
the person who steps forward as your beneficiary,
your long-lost, newfound next-of-kin? Even if I wanted to,
I would not know how to begin to make a claim,

since the trail of names and identities has become
so confusing. All I have is a vague sense of complication,
of narratives hitchhiking the globe in search of the elusive
happy ending. I wish you well, for in the end don’t we all
desire a prize—a truth, a state beyond what we can see,
if not some earthly reward for all our troubles?

Whoever you are—whether you view the sunrise
from a room overlooking a canal and a foreign city’s
blue and white roofs; whether you alone survived
that fire on Tijani street or returned from a holiday
in Lome to find your entire family perished in a car
accident along the Karra-Sokode expressway—

from my own window I’ve heard the wind’s voice,
sifting and sighing across the empty veld.