You are on page 1of 96

elsewhere held and lingered

elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 1 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 2 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

elsewhere held and lingered


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 3 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

elsewhere held and lingered
© 2008 by Conchitina Cruz
2nd Printing, 2010

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced

in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

A CIP record for this book is available from the National Library of the Philippines.

Published by HIGH CHAIR

Quezon City, Philippines

High Chair is a nonprofit small press. We publish our poems and those of others
we believe in, and initiate projects that promote poetry in general.

ISBN 978-971-93304-5-5

Cover art by Delilah Aguilar/Photographed by Bubuy Balangue and Adam David

Cover design by Adam David
Layout by Oliver Ortega


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 4 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the editors of the following publications in which these
poems, sometimes in slightly different versions, first appeared: High Chair: “The Marriage,”
“This Hand”; At Home in Unhomeliness: “Address to the body in the room” (“Let the music
appease the unnerved skin”), “Swivel”; Philippines Free Press: “Pull yourself together,” “Where
were you all this time?” (“Look, you say, the world is itself again”).

This book would not have been completed without the time spent at the Villa Serbelloni in
Bellagio, Italy. Sincere gratitude to the Rockefeller Foundation for the generous support.

elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 5 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 6 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM


The Marriage 5
It should be enough 7
What now, my love? 9
C O N T E N T S Quiet 10
A sensible life 11
If you could do this for me 12
Strange habit 13
Send me to the moon 14


Multiple choice 19


Address to the body in the room 25

Fiction 26
Swivel 28
Address to the body in the room 30
Finger exercise 31


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 7 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

Errand 33
A red dress 34
A sensible life 35


This hand 39
I’ll be seeing you 41
There are worse things 42
From “Versions of delay” 43
Inventory of a year 44
A sensible life 52
One for my baby, and one more for the road 53
Pull yourself together 54
Marginalia 56
From “Versions of elsewhere” 62

A sensible life 65
Cry me a river 66
Errand 67
Domestic life 68


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 8 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

Detour 70
From the notebook of substitutions 71
Peripheral vision 72
Where were you all this time? 74
It’s good to see you out in the sun 75
Where were you all this time? 76


Index of last lines 79


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 9 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 10 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

elsewhere held and lingered

elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 1 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 2 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 3 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 4 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

The Marriage

Talk to me, she says, and ten years later,

he walks to the edge of the bed
where she sits, drying her hair. The cat takes over the single
puddle of sunlight in the room,
a blot on all the useless remedies:
the neighbor lining his fence with broken glass means
the clerk counting pencils in a corner means well—
the man who offers her a ride home and buys her a drink
means well.
What if she could turn to him
and not wait
to be touched? and leave the instance
eternity is in love with the productions of time, the plot of
the lasting, the sleep of nostalgia, the romantic mechanism
of tense. He walks to the edge—
she dries her hair, the drops fall to the floor,
the cat pulls itself into a corner, the diligent facts
ushering themselves in
like cause and effect, the years all in a row.
His footsteps clear,
perishable. What if when did it begin? didn’t exist, the frame

elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 5 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

ripped out, each kiss, each word, a hand on a knee, a voice on a
machine, a trace of fingertips on a ledge, every morning light every strand
bereft of technicalities—
He walks to the edge of the bed
and his footsteps are audible
and she turns to him—despite—she has waited long enough

—thirty seconds to dry her hair, thirty seconds to end a life.

elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 6 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

It should be enough

It should be enough to wake

from the dream and find
the doors still opening
into the wrong rooms,
the keys still hanging
like tongues
from keyholes, the staircase still
leading nowhere, the shelves
still infested
with indecipherable titles. It should be
enough, the eyes
in photographs restless,
the birds tugging themselves
off the surface
of teacups, the curtains poised
for migration, the roaches gone
to the neighbors.
And still, we insist
on staying, flicking the switches
on and off
in the dark,
heating the leftover rice.

elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 7 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

Stay we must,
nodding our heads,
our fingerprints
on every object, our signatures
on every page.

elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 8 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

W h a t n o w, m y l o v e ?

Between this page and that, a photograph she took

of their shadows, grazing a glass door—whose door and where
are they? Around them: daylight. Behind them,
the alien composition: manicured lawn, topiaries.
Through the gaps in the bushes—certainly,
light—probably, stone, rising
from the ground in the shape
of a lion about to pounce
on its prey—then iron lamppost,
a rusty gate. What else—a bakery, its cakes on display?
A path to a harbor, a body of water,
a continent, a row of birds perched
on an electric cable, a hand silencing
the view from a window.
What else—past the missing anatomies,
what more but shadows—
what now in place of—
past the edge
where the words sit—that she be constantly
and immediately accessible—in the book slammed shut, returned
to its place on the shelf,
the fortress of spines—

elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 9 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM


You arrive at the scene—a man and a woman standing in the middle
of a crowded market. He is saying something to her, one hand barely
touching her elbow, the other,
gesturing. She is toying with her pendant, a thimble
on a leather string.
There is a before and an after,
of course—a canopied bed left
disheveled, a door, later, ajar—
they must be heading elsewhere—the desert heat
must want for a decision. The volume low, their mouths
emptied, wordless, without
arc. Why must they walk now—
stall of mirrors, vendor of carpets
behind them? Why edge their way
out—unlike you, remote in hand,
his arm draped over your waist:
image of tenderness—the bed and your bodies
upon it: image or rest and true—the characters weaving
their way toward consequence
while you remain—mere reflection on the screen—
unmoved, unmoving,
surface, ornament.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 10 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

A sensible life

The cat strikes another elegant pose.

It could’ve swallowed a roach whole,
it could be taunted by the clock’s
ticking, it might want for nothing—
the options leveled by its stillness,
cold and condescending.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 11 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

If you could do this for me

Almost there, he says, and you wait at the table

in the café about to close, wait with your bag
slung over your shoulder, wait by
the locked door and the flipped sign, begin
to calculate the time it would take to walk down
the street equipped
with the usual maladies—the tepid light,
the staple drunks, and you—converting the night
into a replica of true, the look on his face
as he approaches replaced
by his own, only
it is years ago, only it is the face of the first
of your few lovers—or the mayor in the yellowing poster—
or the cigarette vendor who hands you your change—the ritual
a street stretched out
before you like any other street that promises
to ruin you but won’t or doesn’t bother.
What took you so long? you ask
when he arrives, looking at his face,
but your tone has grown so weary,
you are no longer asking a question.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 12 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

Strange habit

The year they built the flyover on the highway

the school bus took, each day was a study in light
diminishing: first, sunlight uninterrupted—later,
sunlight through the grid
of metal, flanking the arms and pivots
of cranes—later, what sunlight?—the sky
concrete, the highway a permanent
glitch in vision—plaid on the skirt, words in the book
gone. And me,
inside the bus, each day,
looking up—strange habit—
the moment there is nothing to see.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 13 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

Send me to the moon

I have no time for seeming,

said the poet to his mistress, in summer heat,
in distress, on his knees, to impress,
say I to you now, my one
and one again, beyond question, this moment,
my shaky fact and sweeping statement,
the sting of your wandering eye gone
in a blink, the stink of your sin dismissed
in a split-second, no longer pissed, no longer dissed by my friends—this heart
sought and bought, this mind blundered
and plundered of reason.
What to mend in this season, swell heaven, my body swells
in the theory of your touch,
my crotch restless and rootless without the thrill
of your skill,
ever faithful, ever loyal
to none and all, every fall a road to get back on
again. After all, who wants to remain
unsullied, my precious umlaut and ampersand,
my limbs curling in letters yet to be written
with you, who wouldn’t melt in the face
of your face, unkempt—Why attempt to leave you be,
a missed opportunity?
If I may, dear player,


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 14 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

my favorite bullshitter, let me say
steer clear of those women, proud in their heels,
their store-bought feminism, and love me
instead, mousy-haired and well-read,
able to read genre for your sake,
able to take slasher in your company.
Lay down your arms where I can
stay in them and send me to the moon, forget the freaks
we ran away from one afternoon by the library, the guard whistling in the hall,
the howl and swagger and the fall—
Haven’t we all made that jump? Haven’t we all heard
the plunk, the mere grunt of you,
the mere spunk of you, reeking of musk
while teaching me physics, crawling down the road piss drunk
at 3 am, plastered and master
to none, pushing my head down in cars all over town—
Don’t we all stoop and deliver?
And so, what now, hopping from bed to bed, all red with rage,
the age of the wine on the label tossed
in the wastebasket, the taste
of it all, the last of it all, the pale madness of this song,
my thong tugged at again
by your wandering fingers, still smelling of
another sweet wonder—Don’t we all


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 15 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

have another? Where are my fangs?
Where are my pangs of guilt for my sins, where the wince
in the eternal threat of end, how mend the night’s
idiosyncrasy, the spittoon in the fantasy
of ordinary life, your wife,
my darling nonbeliever, my unwarranted claim.
What fame do I have now, possessing you
in these words,
the lie almost triumphant, ecstatic,
unrepentant. Sweet fever, sweet being,
lie down with me now,
in the middle of this heat, this summer,
now that, now long ago, when we were mad,
we said yes, we were convinced,
never mind what happened since.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 16 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM



elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 17 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 18 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

Multiple choice

a. maybe yesterday, or the month before
b. right this minute, if only the unscheduled visit
c. it might be, would have, has been for quite some time

a. in the car, when she was ten, her bathing suit wet under her shirt
b. in the unused room, bare, save for a mosquito net and a reading chair
c. in the cafeteria, provided there was enough light

a. yes—or no, according to her erratic sense of smell
b. of course, according to the poet’s rich vocabulary for certainty
c. if so, according to the pitiful graffiti

a. the lack, like waking with an unexplained gap between the teeth
b. what pain, the words all familiar, the syntax askew
c. absence, minus the blindfold, still

a. did it begin shortly after she took the elevator to the basement
b. did it begin when he fucked her against the piss-stained wall
c. did it begin without want, the conduct unbecoming


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 19 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

a. because the book was turned to the page with the error
b. because the book was left with no note of apology
c. because the book was kept in the bedside drawer

a. granted, the inevitable boredom that befalls
b. dispensing with the fanfare and charming indecision
c. why voice past argument why fervent or pressed to the ground

a. because he found her sentences heavy on nouns rather than verbs
b. because he fucked her with blood abloom, the bruises flowering
c. because he wanted nothing else, nothing more than, none

a. silent, on the matter of condoms in her purse
b. silent, on the matter of attention to upholstery
c. silent, on the matter of mysterious quotes

a. “If you could only stop thinking of infidelity as a phase,
b. “What he meant by ‘their quiet expression of attachment’
c. “I didn’t mean to interrupt—


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 20 11/19/2010 2:07:55 AM

a. with a breakdown of bone: scapula, clavicle, sternum
b. with the mechanism that let me dream you alive
c. with my aversion to hints of faith in horoscopes

a. she walked naked across the room without asking
b. she walked naked and without the slightest clue
c. she walked naked into the other woman’s closet

a. in light of Tuesday’s unlikely events—
b. in light of the inconvenient matter of conscience
c. in light of her own laughter, sweet retrieval

a. ask her to fill in the blank
b. ask her to read the display as warning
c. ask her not to say, not now or ever

a. despite that, look at how the stitched heart—
b. because of, look at how the cowering heart—
c. why never, why ever—what heart—


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 21 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 22 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM



elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 23 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 24 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

Address to the body in the room

What do you become when the dress is pulled

over your head the blindfold cast over your eyes
palm sealing mouth shut the anchors
tossed out the parts
set adrift one moment acquainted
with hand
tongue one moment marked
by nails
teeth now touched now untouched
what do you become
without censorship
of light your speech
suspended your mind
perched between
one vowel and next if you
are gesture without guilt if you are
message without residence
query sentence
last word the stuttering coherence
what do you become when
you step out—


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 25 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM


You can see her from where you lie

in the dark—the woman, once you, in the flesh—
with her coffee and a novel in the usual haunt—
now, an excuse, the routine of her
sturdy—disguising your absence in it—
the narrative steady—unfolding
while you lie
in the dark, in a room
that ignores the flamboyant light
of the afternoon, the punishing heat of it,
the arrogant truth of it—your hand against the curtain as
she slides her fingers down
the page, locking herself inside
the novel, taking it personally as if
she were brokenhearted—the protagonist gone missing
is her age, and the detective
is in danger of falling in love with her,
as such things go—
fortunately, the coffee shop is packed—
the noise yanking her out
of her narcissism—
fortunately, the dark permits you to imagine
her clearly, sipping her coffee,
keeping the acceptable plot


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 26 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

of your life alive while you lie
in this heat, your lover asleep
beside you instead of
with her—the woman he called earlier
about a headache he needs to sleep off—
and yes—he is asleep—yes, the day unravels
as it should—yes—you know where you are
and where you’re not or at least
it takes only a moment for you
to remind yourself.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 27 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM


The mouth in secluded places. The tongue and its conclusions.

Say, your body like no other. Say, your body removed from simile.

Early evening. The room, undivided by light.

The mind drawn out of its coherence.

To slip into a dream without edge. To dedicate the ode to the surface.

Say, the body in this bed not its absence in another.

The blooming bruise of a cigarette approaching your mouth.

Meanwhile, idle talk, the compulsive incisions.

Meanwhile, the inconsequential tales of childhood.

A strand of light from under the door, its consequences.

The fine line between table and wall.

Between the hand asleep on your thigh and the cigarette ash on the floor.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 28 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

Your finger in secluded places. Your ear pressed against the sternum.

To hear the pulse, murmuring, dearest.

To mock the mind for thinking in terms of.

Midnight. The roads abloom with streetlamps.

Say, this on my knee, a scar from childhood.

One arm outstretched, hailing a cab. A cigarette tossed out the window.

Each moment, the compulsive incisions: the wished-for hand, the wishing it away.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 29 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

Address to the body in the room

Let the music appease the unnerved skin, the skin about to squander its secrets.
Let it seal the pores shut. Let the brooding notes instruct.
You are here. Your hair still
aswarm with digressions—midday heat, gate unnumbered and ajar,
limbs of trees. Let them slip off the strands.
Let them break into pieces indistinguishable from
the monosyllables on the floor.
There. On your neck, the litany of quick breaths.
There, the wayward commute from your tongue
to your stomach. You are here.
Dismantle the hours, the vowels,
the tangled paths. Discard the fingers that elsewhere
held and lingered,
the shorthand of saliva and sweat, discard the mouth
that elsewhere browsed and took in and swallowed—
Dissolve the day that led to this instant lodged in your throat.
You are here.
Compose yourself accordingly.
And dance with the one you married.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 30 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

Finger exercise

Hail Mary, full of grace, let me trace

from this bead to the next a leap back
to my girlhood grace, a reprieve
from the wreckage of wed and wont,
from carnal to candor, from wanton to won’t.
Each bead a retreat
to inert, the red of my high school skirt
not aflame, not a placard for reckless,
not a prelude to shame, the rest of me underneath
at rest,
untainted, though bored
beyond belief, not blameless but wired
for easy relief. Oh Lord of my pre-tumescent bliss,
is with you the way,
the way out of this? Is this the way out of
days tedious and bare,
this flickering flavor, this feverish fare?
Merciful maiden, of my perilous state kept abreast,
what am I among women when I bless
the fruit of my sin, the longed-for lie,
the bind I’m in? What is my womb but empty
save for each coupling’s supply
of waste and want and wallow and why?
Holy Mary, the fact is, at this rate,


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 31 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

I’ve no use for your habit
to contemplate, I have no more
to lose, not my fortified self
or my sensible youth, the truth long gone and in its stead,
Mother of God, a catalogue of regrets.
Pray for this sinner, pleading, teeming,
pray for me, seething, stalling, scheming,
not hail, not full, not grace, not blessed
not fruit for picking, not cleansed by the leap from one bead to the next,
not converted upon every hour’s death.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 32 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM


Your shoes need fixing, you holler,

and out you go—a quick stop at the repair shop
and then the no-name bar,
the corner table where he waits—
the digression you live for—
your life, in sum—
one beer, one bit of news, one finger tapping
a code on your knee,
one look on your way out and by the end
of the hour you’re home,
you holler—shoes repaired and shiny,
the anecdote of the bike almost knocking you to the ground
hilarious, and who would notice
your stammering pulse,
the errant trace of water in your eye?


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 33 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

A red dress

Nor rust, she says to me in the mirror.

Not cinnamon, or, god forbid, fulvous.
Not quite ruby or cherry, maybe carmine, maybe crimson.
Vermilion, I say, and I put the word on.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 34 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

A sensible life

The reflex of its paw—restrain, release—

until the mouse graduates from object
of humor to object of boredom and into
the cat’s mouth it goes—flesh, tooth, and
bone—then lick, then curl, then doze.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 35 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 36 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM



elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 37 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 38 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

This hand

Any given night can be an emblem of beauty. Take the white of the tablecloth against the blue of
the walls, the full moon unscathed by the grid of the window, the song in the air faint but intact,
the lyrics discernible, despite the dumb clatter of cutlery on plates, the persistent static of talk from
table to table.1 He is talking about the new bridge,2 the one he’d heard was about to be built, and
so she stares at the paper napkin on the table, its creases smoothed out, his pen dragged across
it, the view of the city from the window turned skeletal on the sheet, the streets numbered and
tamed, the buildings few, summarized. She follows his hand3 as it draws the bridge, engaged in its
purposeful telling: two points and a line drawn to connect them, the shortest distance from here
to there.4 One line and the relief it promises, the simplified routes of buses and jeeps, the roads
breathing easy. His eyes on her. It is her turn to talk. They are waiting for dinner to arrive and how
difficult can it be to turn this night into something other than itself, to slip her hand in his and take
a walk in the clarity of the sketch between them, to ask him to lead her through street after street
on the map and wonder out loud, will the bridge run parallel to the train line? What does it matter that

Take the catalogue of stains on the sheets, her cry a rip in the silence, the smoke rising from his mouth
like a tilde, the line of beauty that recurs between the lines in the illuminated book.
All she can think of is the newness of her lover. New, the faint whistling as he talks, the photographs he
takes of her in bed. New, the dangerous way he sinks his teeth into her shoulder, how the ice feels against
the bruise, his soothing laughter. New, the vocabulary of their conversation, the multiple terms* for animal,
What fits in his palm: the concave of her waist, the length of her foot as he draws it to his chest. The
whole of her cheek, the one time he hit her. Do that again and we’re through.
From the jackstone dropped in the garden to the purse misplaced in the airport. From the message left
unread to the finger on the button. From the year they fucked on the top bunk in his dorm to the night she
stepped into another room,** the mat unfurled on the floor, the bathroom down the hall.

New also, his unapologetic disinterest in wanting only her, but his willingness, nonetheless, to perform the
necessary gestures.
Says the poet whose vision she trusts: I cannot consider death as anything but a removing from one room to another.
Should she prefer the slightness of death or the magnitude of the room?


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 39 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

she can find no reason to love the idea of the new bridge, no reason to remember the new routes
in a part of the city she never visits?5 Yes, he says, the bridge and the train line will run side by side,
and he is visibly pleased that she asked the question, and his pleasure is a window she looks out
of as if she were riding the train and seeing the flashing lights of cars on the bridge, or driving on
the bridge and seeing the train, brightly lit and packed with passengers, zoom past her.6 Ensconced
in a napkin on a table, the city becomes an image of delight,7 the delight now discernible on their
faces, and while waiting for dinner to arrive, they are a couple again, their presence at this moment
not a distraction from the night’s parts,8 their bodies leaning toward each other as they pore over
the sheet and roam the streets he knows by heart. One song in the air, at fever pitch,9 one train,
one bridge. These are enough for the moment, her hand kneading his as she points to a square and
says, remind me again, which building is this?

The dresser mirror, a bulletin of mixed signals. Says the painter, in her clumsy script: A point enlivens the
white space around it. A line from a story turned epigraph, now instruction: At times it [is] necessary to grant the
name of love to something less than love.
Out of the well of random facts collected in high school, she comes to the impossible convergence of
parallel lines: the room she sleeps in with her lover, theirs and theirs only; this night she shares with her
husband, theirs and theirs only.
The dresser mirror again, bearing the poet’s cherished vocabulary: eternal delight. If only the words could
remain unscathed despite heroine’s lines: My love for H— resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a source of little
visible delight, but necessary.
Her secret parts kept adrift, stashed away in the room, in the shelf, in the margins of the illuminated
The song in the air, well-loved, reminds her of another, a song that carries with it a particular afternoon,
sweet yet laced with a grief she won’t discard but would rather not revisit. And so she prefers to listen to
this one, a step removed from that other song, the one that houses within its lines a sorry afternoon.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 40 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

I’ll be seeing you

The last cigarette smoked, the dress slipped on,

and they are ready to ease into the world
outside—the sidewalk, where they stand,
watching midnight unfold
on the street.
He keeps her entertained with a story
of his day, careful
to omit the part he spends
with the woman he is with
and she is grateful for the courtesy, for the evening
that felt like the city
fell off the map or the room
fell out of the city, the reckless affection, the spell of
devotion, grateful to be
put back in place now that time
is up—a cab finally pulls over,
its door opened—I’ll be seeing you—
they look at each other
at last, the words almost
like a promise
never to come back.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 41 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

There are worse things

He’s at it again, she says to me in the mirror.

The bastard, she says, tossing the ring in her purse.
I mouth a name and she raises her eyebrows.
Fucking slut, I say, and I put my gloss on.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 42 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

F r o m “ Ve r s i o n s o f d e l a y ”

The figure in the other bed astir and you

with your finger to your lips the page out
of a migraine the aura to the left minus
wall minus clock minus highway past
composure and so I am putting on
my lashes but where are my eyes I am
putting on my shirt but where is my chest
I am putting on my undies but always
the wrong pair please speed up now I am
asking myself please speed up now
look at face open mouth say words


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 43 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

Inventory of a year

If I may be so forward, her invitation began, as if it were necessary to assume the voice of a nineteenth-
century-novel heroine to ask what she was about to ask, as if the remoteness would in any way camouflage
the single-mindedness of her request, as if the infidelity were a study to be conducted to test a hypothesis,
as if it would turn the act of spreading her legs for him right then into a civilized gesture, as if she were
to lift the layers of her petticoat and bury the secret there, swallow it whole, compose for it a beginning,
middle, and end.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 44 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

Under such circumstances, it didn’t seem too much to ask. There were varieties of under furnished with
their own set of charms: elevator music, small talk, the passing shadow of a bird on the bedroom wall. The
house equipped with its feverish machines, tirelessly humming. Note also the economy of under : the clerk
collecting paper clips in his drawer, money changing hands.
She told him the same story as they lay on the floor, and he could barely breathe, so hearty was his
laughter. I could get along with your husband, you know.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 45 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

The city could also be drawn as the simplest of constellations: one room, one bar, one newspaper stand,
one dreary theater. In other, more primal words: fuck, drink, smoke, watch. He noted that the best views
were always drawn from erratic vantage points: cracked mirrors, dust-stained windows, the lone cathedral
in the mountain trapped in fog, the jeep recklessly changing lanes. Lying on the floor again, she noted the
haphazard pile under the bed, two shirts, sunglasses, a sleek pair of heels. You don’t have to, she said, smiling,
pulling the heels out, placing them beside the row of his shoes.
Her hair grew long* because, given the increasing amount of work at the office, there was simply no time
to make the trip to the salon.

The growing of her hair a suggestion** similar to the lingerie her husband occasionally buys for her, a size
bigger, without fail. I look at you and see the body it should become.
The suggestion tepidly made to him, who refuses to ask*** for anything.
The obvious fiction**** being, not asking is in fact not asking.
Her hair grew long because, given the increasing amount of work at the office, there was simply no time
to make the trip to the salon.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 46 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

The key lies not merely in conviction, but in the seamless interlocking of the most trivial components
accompanied by a tinge of the unusual to produce, never catastrophe, but simply a bit of a problem. Why
you are late for dinner, why you put on the pair of earrings inherited from your grandmother, why you
hitched a ride home, why you waited until dawn—with the right spin, the right wind in the air, these are,
naturally, easy questions. It seems logical, then, for him to delight in puns, to derive amusement from the
misheard, misspelled, mispronounced. That he let her in on this secret and said he loved her in one breath*
did not at all puzzle him, a firm believer in the flattery of equal over other.
The compulsion didn’t trouble her at all, but she wanted it to be out of plain curiosity—the woman’s
dress size, her intellectual capacity, her choice to use or disregard proper spelling and syntax when sending
messages, her taste in books or celebrity. She tested her composure in imaginary encounters—the genteel
manner with which she would say hello, the extent to which she could cultivate sincerity.

He believed in the democracy of leaving both women** the same messages, sending the same flowers,
delivering the same jokes, impressing the same songs upon their mouths, taking them on the same bed, the
same sheets. From the encyclopedia of useless information: the same buttons on the phone spell lips and
kiss, cried and brief.
And why would she, the lucky one, fully aware of such duplicability, or at least, bright enough to detect
its implication, like the droning of the fridge in an empty kitchen, why should she feel otherwise, then?
Walking home with her husband with a casual account of her day at hand, why should she harbor such
feelings toward his account of the conspiracy of the city in preventing him from reaching her, his faulty
execution of a strategy they share?


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 47 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

It was the most fun they’d each had in years, following the smell of each other down the rabbit hole
and into the room where all the sexual positions were different, unlikely to please yet delightfully proving
otherwise, where the water by the bed never wanted for slivers of ice, where the soup tasted like it had basil
in it, picked from the pot by the window, the pot they bought from a stall along the highway that brought
with it a lively discussion of saffron and anise and cumin and the extravagant vocabulary for spice, the
window framing the heft of a mountain they said they would climb and did.
It was necessary to employ her facility for nonchalance, also applied to the cab driver* who wanted
to know, after the kiss good night and the disappearance of his figure on the rearview mirror, why her
husband wasn’t joining her wherever she was going at an ungodly hour. It was her little indulgence, telling
him her husband was busy, he had work to do, and besides, it was a night out with just the girls.**
Or so she dreams. Only to wake and find them painfully still, painfully unchanged. Sooner murder an infant
in its cradle than nurse unacted desires. Should trust be invested in the poet whose wife admitted to the lack of
his company, seeing that he was always in paradise?
Should he account for the first time he considers, watching her mumble and sigh in her sleep, the
possibility of not waking her?
The image so predictable that if one were to follow it beyond the frame, it would inevitably generate
toothbrushes by the sink, shared invitations piling up in the wastebasket, the cheesy parade of framed
photographs from trips.
It could hardly be compared to their habit of coming up with lewd acronyms for imaginary cause-
oriented groups.
Which reminds him of the story about the kimono and bare feet, the rainy night and the glow of the
computer screen, the lesson in the use of chopsticks and what came after.***
The coded inscriptions in books collectively bought, the cheap theater tickets filling up his wallet, the
incident in high school he swore he would never tell anyone about, the accident-that-could’ve-been-a-
catastrophe, averted by her affinity for old and fashionable men: You’re quite lovely, his father said to her.
From the marginalia of platitudes, i.e., wishful thinking: It goes without saying that in the hierarchy of a
page, the margins are in the periphery. It goes without saying that a digression is a glitch on the sheet, easily
reparable with one stroke of correction fluid. It goes without saying that a secret thrives in the absence of
record. A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, she sings.

The waitress regularly committed the same mistake, the tiny window of opportunity for correction always
lapsing: so efficient was she in the about face to get them another round of beer, to turn the music down,
to address her need for a light.
It was her little indulgence, the taste for ceremony despite, or probably because it would go unnoticed: the
calculated number of steps to the front door, a house lit by lamps, the ring retired in its box.
The waitress, just about done with her shift, slides another dish of peanuts down the beer-stained


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 48 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

Down the circuitous slide of the age of consent, the arrival at a consensual concession.* Never mind
the argument’s confusing pronouns, not to mention the hazards, admittedly minor: the movie seen twice,
the story told twice, dinner eaten, and then, another. Never mind the tricky matter of protection. It could be
funny, I suppose. It was ridiculously funny, she thought, the matter of her laughter in his company, punishable
by law.
18 The novel offers a practical comparison to analyze the pursuit of depth without end: When a pebble falls
down the well, it is gratifying to hear the eventual plunk. If, however, the pebble only slips into darkness and vanishes without
a sound, the effect is disquieting.
19 Funnier still, the evolving expertise in the simultaneous, the ultimate cosmopolitan skill. In the thriving
theater of non-sequiturs: a smashing success, a cheap trick.

The question, never asked: —


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 49 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

Suppose she could stay the night. Suppose she could keep her shoes off, keep his shirt on, keep her hair
down. Suppose he could turn in his bed and turn again, to make space for her.
Suppose multiple choice actually meant, choose.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 50 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

From the city of disappearances, she salvages the feel of his eyes on her, one souvenir.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 51 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

A sensible life

The bed—unmade—
the nerves—astir—
the sorry quiet—
the cat’s purr.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 52 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

O n e f o r m y b a b y, a n d o n e m o r e f o r t h e r o a d

A toast to the night of the infamous first fuck,

and every fuck that came after,
every fuck like a first,
every cum, every curse—
a toast to a year’s worth of earthly
delights, the bountiful sum of a banquet
of lies. Should we toast
to the buckets of beer to our name,
our neighborhood waitress, sweet host
to our shame? Should we toast
to our lovers, their failures unsung—her nagging
devotion, his blind nonchalance?
Here’s to you and me
and what we’ve become,
to the year of nothing broken and nothing undone—
to filth—to appetite—to all in between—
the year of pornography,
drivel, and scream. Here’s to a pair
of bullshitters—another year on the sly—
Here’s to our fabulous, infamous secret life.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 53 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

Pull yourself together

The first beer over, she drifts away from the party, makes her way to the kitchen
to see if he would watch her.
The question simple, finite—yes or no.
The body her gauge—unreliable and full of conviction,
oblivious to his gaze on her back so taut
the room becomes setting, divides into foreground
and background—She gets to the kitchen, pronounces the question
he a guest among other guests, she a wife among other wives.
The room pulls itself together. The party behind her clicks into place.
The error still sweet,
still known to her as fact—an instant to put her body to rest in
before plot proves it wrong,
the look she gives him
in return saying yes as she hands him a beer—yes, a rip in the air,
thick with smoke and drunken
laughter—yes, a delay
in the script from the kitchen and back
to the couch—yes,
a flaw to stay misplaced in, evening after
evening, month after month—
her footsteps on his street,
her bare feet on his rug, his words against her shoulder, her secrets in
his ear, his lamplight forming her shadow.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 54 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

Each night,
her proper end—the right room, the right bed. The mullioned panes fracture the view
of the city,
the sheet of light on the bed, the parts of her still stranded
in the invisible hours.
Pull yourself together, she says, wanting back in
the party, the instant before yes,
the body still singular and paired,
only to want back out—to begin, and begin
She gets up to get a beer, and he—as she hoped he would—follows.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 55 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM


If the dress
becomes a
then check
the mirror
for absence.

If the kiss
supplies a
secret, then
set it among
the spoons
in the sink,


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 56 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

If the dream
ends with the
tattoo of a
bird on one
finger, then
mark the tree,
with wings.

If others had not been foolish, then we should be so.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 57 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

[not question marks

mere strands of hair]

[not a trail of second thoughts

cigarette ash]


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 58 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

If the book
is shut,

If the book
is flat on
its back,

If the pages


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 59 11/19/2010 2:07:56 AM

If the singing
haunts, then
pronounce it

the doorbell
in sleep

the songs
from another

If others had not been foolish, then we should be so.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 60 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

If the
in the
on the
spit out


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 61 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

F r o m “ Ve r s i o n s o f e l s e wh e r e ”

Not lost altogether, only as if you were in another room, not away
but a way into the dream, a way out of the seams that hold it
together, it seems the tapping of the branches on the glass say
live now leave now live now leave now the leaves agreeing or
not, the shutters up, shut up now says the rose, the rows of breath,
the riddle an epigram, an epigraph, an epithet, an epitaph,
the want wanting, nothing ever enough, never enough said when
we talk it is always as if you are in another room


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 62 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM



elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 63 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 64 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

A sensible life

The cat is nowhere to be found.

The cat is in the house, somewhere.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 65 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

Cry me a river

We are doing crosswords again, cracking jokes, passing time

between one fuck and the next.
Things without remedy should be without regard—good advice
disregarded, and so I say to you, sweet moment
of weakness—We could get along.

The highway out there, polysyllabic and possible—
(why listen why not listen why lie why not lie why laughter why not laughter)

Your tone, weary.
And then, of course, my cultivated sincerity.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 66 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM


Instead, you are standing in the middle of an empty room.

The woman says, the neighbors mostly keep to themselves.

She says, you don’t need to walk far to get a ride.

Consider the appeal of the view. The cat looking out, the cables at eye level.
Consider the word appeal: attraction, urgent request.

The woman says, we never have problems with water. Your eyes on the floor.
With a little polish, she says, it should be like new.

Instead, you imagine the lamp in this room, its absence in another.
Consider the subtraction of after: aftertaste, afterthought.

More than enough space for one, she says.

Enough, you think. If only, compliment. If only, command.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 67 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

Domestic life

You wake up and the view outside
your window is obscured
by his shadow, the one in bed
with you no longer in bed with you,
looking out, making a decision.

You wake up, the bed breathes despite,
the visible world becomes the dreary
alternative, your feet on the cold floor,
the roach you killed last night
in the wastebasket, the stain still there,
by your slippers.

You wake up. It is time.
You wake up. No time left.
You time yourself in waking,
take time from the mattress
to the bathroom door.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 68 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

You wake up.
Whose face is it now
that sits in your mind
and looks at you?


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 69 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM


It was the apartment she’d lived in

when they first got together, the one
with three roommates with three different majors,
the bed her father had bought for her
the one they first slept in, bolting the door
so the roommates would have to knock
to be let in. They drove past the apartment,
its gate still makeshift, one window still broken,
the diners around it still seedy, their walls
still the color of beer and piss. They drove
down the street on the way to a play,
in a neighborhood they’d had no reason
to be in years, and still, he knew its detours
and side streets, his driving mindless
and quiet. They sat in the car, the dead air
between them, yet she loved how he knew
where to go, how he thought about
her roommates, old friends she’d lost,
the ones she lived with for a year. Where in the world
are they? he wondered aloud, reciting their names.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 70 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

F r o m t h e c o l l e c t o r ’s n o t e b o o k o f s u b s t i t u t i o n s

Say grief: things that wander with the intention to return

Say maybe: things that entertain the possibility of always

Say afterthought: things that haunt rather than invade

Say souvenir: not erasure, but palimpsest

Say disappear : letter, sans serif, white, umlaut

Say collateral: not risk, mere substitution

Say document: proof and signpost

Say never : things that breathe easy elsewhere


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 71 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

Peripheral vision

By that time, the bar would be closed,

the old stools in disarray by the door
left ajar.

By then, another picket on the streets,

another miscalculated bloodbath.
The jeeps would stop running, and wouldn’t.

The credits would roll. The names misspelled—

mangled out of spite? poor eyesight? dullness
thinly veiled? The background music steady,
as in every scene, where something has to hold.

Your no to my embarrassing monument of yes.

The soul of sweet delight can never be defil’d.

By the time, that the poet lied

would be a fact. The granite chipped away
to a block’s worth of ashes, the plane aloft,
alighting, the fiction of time zones granted,
the palimpsest adjourned: one city
seeping, and seeping through.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 72 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

Begin. Arm outstretched, hailing a cab.

Begin, I say, again.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 73 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

Where were you all this time?

Look, you say, the world is itself again,

the gate behind you nothing but gate, the roots
of trees disrupting the sidewalk nothing
but roots, the old chapel just what it is,
not the chapel across the bus terminal,
the terminal on the corner of the street,
the street’s other end marked by a gate
you push past to get to a yard,
a door, a hallway, a room
with its curtains drawn, a man,
waiting for you. When it is finally over,
the man you walk away from
no longer your lover, the world is itself
again, tidy and literal, your body
where it is, not beside, not away from,
not on its way to, your words
what they are, I’m running a few errands,
I’m working late, not tethered to
the secret no longer
a secret, the life no longer a life.
Look at the world, you cry,
as you cross the street,
and sunlight floods over your face,
and you give yourself up to its eagerness,
and you can barely breathe.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 74 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

I t ’s g o o d t o s e e y o u o u t i n t h e s u n

She wants to know why we haven’t stopped by in a while—

the old waitress from the old hole-in-the-wall, buying fruit beside me
at the fruit stand. I pick out an orange and say, it’s good to see you
out in the sun. I put the orange back and say, we’re not—
anymore. I’d forgotten about her and that bar where you and I
were a fact: sweet waitress—one pale, one light—
the moment we walked in the door, dear waitress,
always an extra dish of peanuts with our order. I smile
as I correct this error—the one person who knew us,
the waitress who got it right: I say you aren’t in my life.
She pats my arm as I stare at the bananas and pears,
tells me how sorry, how sorry she is to hear that.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 75 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

Where were you all this time?

The knob turned, the door shut, the keys left on the table.
The books still snug in their shelves, the cat still asleep where it wants to,
and he, reading, on his side of the bed. The book removed, the page marked,
her body slipped in place. The fit good enough, true enough,
almost as if she had never been away.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 76 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM



elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 77 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 78 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

Index of last lines

among the clutter in the kitchen, there were two things to retire. 56

another glass, another field, another turnstile. 39

as if the nervous habit could enunciate the gravity of the ungodly hour. 131

as usual, the weather, shameless in its display of heat and light. 142

because her every okay had behind it an also, an only. 87

beside carried no weight, not red beside blue, not line beside curve. 21

Compose the sentence—the sentience—to put the secret back in place. 64

Despite this, the taste of possession lingered in his mouth. 4

epicenter, the aggrieved. 11

everything counts as etcetera. 189

grant the necessary contradictions. 130

He never retracted the invitation, never altered its name. 22


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 79 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

her cheek pressed against the cushion. 17

I am always pressing my cheek against the cushion.” 163

if you could choose, this minute, to unlock the door. 90

imagine a life where I didn’t love you most.” 78

“It is already the case.” 200

It was as if no one had ever been there. 159

kitchen, the traffic crawled, the river heaved, the temperature rose and fell. 45

of course, mere platitudes. 167

of course, the gesture was nothing but a euphemism. 88

of which the promise could barely serve as a euphemism. 29

Say lineaments, say gratified, say wife. 31

screw him again and again, and I wouldn’t feel a thing.” 103


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 80 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

She remembered the bridge, telling the story. 111

She remembered the story then, on the bridge. 10

sleep now, and shake off the dream. 90

that spell undo, align, awake. 79

the hypothetical child’s hypothetical name— 193

the evening was well on its way. 55

the luck or misfortune of peripheral vision. 21

the word that can fill in for faith. 116

when he entered the room, there she was. 199

you admire the trace of devotion, slithering past. 72

You crawl your way back to the center of the page. 180


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 81 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 82 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

Conchitina Cruz is the author of Disappear (High Chair, 2004)
and Dark Hours (UP Press, 2005), which won the National
Book Award for Poetry in 2006. A recipient of Fulbright and
Rockefeller Foundation grants, she teaches creative writing
and literature at the University of the Philippines in Diliman,
where she is an associate of the Institute of Creative Writing.


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 83 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 84 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 85 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM


elsewhere_inside_111910.indd 86 11/19/2010 2:07:57 AM

You might also like