into the lizard’s eyes. Lilvia Soto

Spread the love

into the lizard’s eyes



Por Lilvia Soto



For María del Carmen Saen-de-Casas



(Poema nominado para un Pushcart Prize).



When they were expelled from Paradise, Adam and Eve moved to

Africa, not Paris.

Sometime later, when their children had gone out into the world,

writing was invented.

In Iraq, not Texas.

—Eduardo Galeano, “Some Forgotten Truths”[i]


I touch the glasses I brought
from across the ocean,
choose the one with the blue-shadowed

white blossoms
that fits just right in my drowsy hand.


As the sun rises over the pecan groves,

in my adobe house in Casas Grandes,

within walking distance
of the rammed-earth buildings


more than a thousand years ago
by the original settlers of Paquimé,
I rub the last dream off my eyes
and touch the gold-rimmed tea glass

I bought in El Albaicín,
Granada’s Moorish quarter.


Looking out at the autumn sky,

yellow grass, naked trees,
I stare at the lizard
that comes every morning

to gaze at me as I drink my coffee

and prepare for the day’s writing.

The steaming milk with espresso

warms my hand,

and I touch, across the window pane,

the lizard’s pulsating belly,
feel its beating heart,
its tiny, powerful, beating heart

that vibrates her elongated body

and brings her to my window
to start my writing ritual.
As we stare at each other,
her amber gaze stirs old memories.


The sun sets over Sierra Nevada

while in a whitewashed building

along the Darro River,
I sit on a large embroidered cushion

on the floor of a teashop

around a small marquetry table,

holding a shimmering glass,
sipping sweet Alhambra Dreams,

savoring honey-dripping pastries,

listening to Carmen tell Anna,

Jennette, Duke, the young Americans

studying with us in Seville,

about the Alhambra’s Nasrid architecture,

the ceiling of Salon of Ambassadors
that represents the seven heavens
of Muslim cosmogony,

the Patio of the Lions,
the fountains and terraced gardens,
the pomegranate trees,
the jasmine fragrance,
the stories of Zoraya’s doomed love,
of the thirty-two massacred Abencerrajes,

of Napoleon’s attempt
to blow up the red fortress,
of the spot, el Suspiro del Moro,
where the last Moorish king cried
the loss of his Al-Andalus kingdom.


Sitting in one of the cafés
in the portals around
Jardín del Centenario,

half-listening to Mate and Aída

talk about the changes Coyoacán

has experienced through the years,

I look across and see
the palace of the Spanish conqueror

who tortured the last Aztec king,

and hear the blind organ-grinder

playing María Bonita,

the same Agustín Lara tune
I used to hear
sitting on my bedroom floor,
peeking through the blinds
at the old man winding his hurdy-gurdy

on the corner of our apartment building

on Marsella Street.


I drop a coin in his bucket
and make my way through the alleys

formed by the book-fair stalls
in the center of the plaza,
stroll through the rows of tables

laden with new and used books,

sheet music, magazines,
language programs,
CDs of classical music,
love ballads, political protest songs,

indigenous instruments,
poems read by their authors,
sung by others.
I touch old favorites,
El arco y la lira, El llano en llamas,

Visión de los vencidos,
Elogio de la sombra,
El silencio de la luna,
Los versos del capitán,
leaf through new ones,

touch the pages,
some still uncut, some crumbling,

look at the old photos,
the handwriting
of letters and manuscripts,
run my fingertips over the faces,
the words, the white spaces,

Soul-Braille of the lover of poetry,

hear the melodies, the rhythms,
the breath,
hear the breath of my favorite poets.


I touch their breaths and their voices,

and my heart shrinks
remembering the ones I will not hear,

the ones I will not touch,

the voices silenced by the bombs

that killed and injured dozens
and destroyed the ancient buildings

of Al-Mutannabi Street,

the historic center
of intellectual and literary life

in the cradle of my civilization,

and I say my civilization
for what I love is mine,

even if I have not seen it,
and now, never will.

Of course, those bombs
aimed at the love of the word,
at the word of protest
and the syllables of love,
exploded first,
not in the street of The Poet,
but in the hollow heart of the bomber.

I hear the explosions,
and I touch the flames,
the smoke, the soot, the ashes.

I hear the explosions,
and I smell the blood,
I smell the red blood spurting

and the black ink running

down the booksellers’ row

towards the Tigris.


I hear the explosions,
and I touch the grief
for the dozens killed and injured,

for the evil that stokes

a sick man’s hunger for destruction.

I touch the grief
for the attacks on our civilization.


I hear the explosions,
and I touch the fear
of the intellectuals and the writers
forced underground,
exiled from al-Shabandar Café,
from Al-Arabia Bookshop,
from the Modern Bookstore,
from the Renaissance Bookstore,
from their meandering alley
of dilapidated Ottoman buildings,
exiled from their Friday rituals
of buying books,
discussing politics, reading poetry,

drinking their sweet tea
from shimmering glasses,
smoking their sweet-smelling tobacco

from silver, crystal, gilded or colored glass

hubble bubble pipes
through the silver mouthpiece they carry

in their pockets,
in case someone has defiled
the amber mouthpiece
with his lips.


I hear the explosions,
and I touch the anger
of the writers and intellectuals

who wander the world
exiled from their booksellers’ row,

from their writers’ sanctuary,
from their traditions,
from their book-loving culture.


I touch the gold-rimmed tea glasses,

the ornate, antique pipes
with their amber mouthpieces,
the sorrow,

the ashes,

the silence.
I touch the silence and the fear.


And, then, on a smoldering

Roman August morning,
when breathing becomes difficult

and clay bakes on the sidewalk,

I touch hope.


Across a Vatican glass case,
I touch the triangular shaped symbols

made by a stylus on wet clay
that was later baked into a rose-colored

inscribed and sealed envelope
for a dark grey cuneiform tablet
from the Old-Babylonian Period,
circa 1700 B.C.
I touch a pink tablet,
Number IV of the Poem of Erra
from the New Babylonian Period,
circa 629-539 B.C.
I touch a grey cylinder
divided into three columns
celebrating the reconstruction
of the Temple of the god Lugal-Marda.
It dates from the New-Babylonian Period,

reign of Nabuchadnezar II,
circa 605-562 B.C.
I touch a legal document
from the Ur II Period,
circa 2100-2004 B.C.


I touch mankind’s first writing,

invented in Iraq
over five thousand years ago,

and I know that no bomb

will ever destroy
man’s need to leave a written record

of his sorrows, of his loves,
of his triumphs and losses,
of his enduring struggle
to construct a world of respect,

respect for humans,
for the clearest manifestation

of the human.


Back in my adobe house,
near the rammed-earth city

more than a thousand years ago,

for reasons we don’t understand

because their builders left us

no written history,
Eduardo Galeano reminds me,
from Montevideo,
via a Buenos Aires internet journal,[ii]

that a few centuries
after the invention of proto-cuneiform

in Mesopotamia,
mankind’s first love poem was written,

in Sumerian, by Enheduanna,

daughter of Sargon, King of Akkad,

and high priestess of Nanna,
the moon god.


Her poem of a night of passion

between Innana, goddess of Love,

Sexuality, and Fertility,
and the shepherd Dumuzi,

was written on wet clay.

Her hymns to the goddess
are the first poems written
in the first person
and signed by a poet conscious
of her relationship to the goddess.

Looking into the lizard’s eyes,

watching her soft, pulsating belly,

I touch faith,

faith that in Mesopotamia,

Uruguay, Tenochtitlán,
or Texas,
in the end will be the word,
the human word of lament,
the human howl of injured justice,

the weeping of sorrow,

the cry of desolation,
the whisper of compassion,

the invocation of the truth,

the proffering of forgiveness,

the melody of love,
even if it has to be scratched

on scorched earth.


[i]  “Algunas verdades olvidadas.”

[ii] Gaceta Literaria Virtual, octubre 2008. Dirección Norma Segades.





Lilvia Soto nació en Nuevo Casas Grandes, emigró a Estados Unidos a los 15 años, reside en Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tiene un doctorado en lengua y literatura hispánica de Stonybrook University en Long Island, Nueva York. Ha enseñado literatura y creación literaria en Harvard y en otras universidades norteamericanas. Fue cofundadora y directora de La Casa Latina: The University of Pennsylvania Center for Hispanic Excellence. Fue directora residente de un programa de estudios en el extranjero de las universidades Cornell, Michigan y Pennsylvania en Sevilla, España.

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