The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2023

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FEB 2023 Issue

five from Provocations

Provocation 2
Spoleto, Italy

I ate rabbit last night for the first time the chefs braised the meat in white wine and paired it with potatoes
I wondered if they boiled it there was rain in the midafternoon and it delayed my stroll underneath
grapevines I walked about the villa inside searching for signs that proved Napoleon had stayed here once
as I had been told earlier maybe it’s why I feel sick why I’ve felt hunted and watched for three days since
I arrived though green land brilliance means I can count olives on tree branches mornings are for
meditation afternoons offer a talk on sonic colonization the frequencies we produce can be stolen after we
are dead and uploaded we are living through an ongoing theft sound kidnapping bones our past placed
inside glass where an alarm is set or access locked behind a paywall even some artifacts are stored in
forgotten rooms in basements this is the west’s history continuous crimes they try to call us the other and
demand we pay to see our cultural memories robbed excavated unearthed sites of sacred importance like
that serpentine mask found in Teotihuacan only to be ordered and inventoried then undergo a reconfigured

we have not been eradicated

this rhetoric                                                            this root[ed]ness
a caucaphony provokes me
we are intangible imaginations that can never be materialized
claimed or extorted
we are not temporary symphonies of noise but auditory
the afterlife       the hereafter
let us name and introduce
collective of ghosts that accompany us everywhere we go

Provocation 7
Spoleto, Italy

light illuminates my sleeping body.
next door there is weeping,

only a thin wall contains your melancholy.
there is no belonging—we are alone

quarantined inside our rooms,
I pray you quit howling. let me bring you

honey, for the frayed
way the sun moves on the horizon.

I’ll take dishes downstairs. You ask if I smell
your longing. I cannot. N95 hides air crowded

with metallics. What are we? I am not a cartographer
or even a clinician. I am afraid

but not of your virus.
I fear categories and inventories. A return

to normal. Words that are lawless
in our imaginations. I set a cup

filled with raw honey by the closed
opening of your room.

For a moment I set my hand to the cold
stone between us. If I am quiet

I can still hear you coughing.
They say it’s liberation, but I don’t believe it.

Provocation 9

Do you remember the pond where we used to fish?
Do you remember the big catfish that could be caught and frozen to fry another day?
Do you remember how to butcher venison perfectly so all the meat fits inside the freezer?
When my father was a child, his mother would receive surplus once a week from the government. She
prepared grits in a hundred different ways, at home and in the hospital kitchen where she worked. Now
my dad won’t eat them.
Do you remember how I named el chivo the first day we met in the backyard where he ate grass and
weeds and never differentiated food the way I do. I’ve never tasted goat not after I saw his carcass swing
from the rafter of Grandpa’s garage, already peeled and ready to stew.
Do you remember the way I bawl after I read about floods because I know Death
rides those waters, same as a plague that waves through the air and across
lands that had names before Europeans came? Now we have parking lots, 7-11s, prisons, fences.
Do you remember that we will make tiny, delicious meals of conquistadors yet?

Provocation 11


What will you find in our cellular memory?
First let us define our terms
What is memory?
How do we recognize a cell, in this context?
Where is the memory?
located inside the body
memories are part of a market economy, strategies to make us forget
replaced without exception by highways or Space X in Boca Chica


I found a monarch butterfly, motionless, on the pavement of my driveway
dominated by the morning dew, I thought it dead
til wings twitch in epic form,
and to answer the question, cellular memory isn’t just stored in the brain
it also beats in the heart
a relayed impulse                 calling us away


antelope horns green pleurisy root whorled swamp purple ditches thickets plateaus meadows prairies
stream banks ponds grasslands wet dry patches fields pastures roadsides loamy soil clay dirt common
monarchs eat milkweed cardiac glycoside compounds absorb toxins predators remember poison wings
chrysalises cardenolide memory cells movement umbels coma disperse migrate


every morning flowers wither fear
I want to remember more

purple milkweed then, reaching out from an adjunct pond

smothering the surface with blooms

here I repeat the part about how memories live in tributaries

where do you feel love pulse in your body?
grief is easy enough to access, it’s everywhere
screams rather easily, traps itself in an arm or collarbone
sometimes I spit it out of my mouth – but there is
always more, endlessly streaming – broadcast of neurons
map the ringing in the heart, the head, the stomach
is it mine? or a trigger from another generation?

how do I know what belongs?

last week I read that genomes can be souvenirs of a past that isn’t ours
what footprints did our ghosts make         inside our bodies
so that we may smell an aroma and not be soothed

are my organs now just cities of ancestors that I must rebuild?

look at the monarch that flew past me, coming or going, searching for milkweed
forgotten economics of time

the driveway still wet, now empty, I retreat back into the house

Provocation 5
Spoleto, Italy

what happened when the plague came?
we drank Campari in plastic cups beneath a sky‘s membrane,
planned constellations as evidence there are aliens.
stars plummet in between our exquisite silence,
travel wildly through our cortex,
the rise and fall of your chest as you inhale then exhale. I can
hear your heart
will we be
while we dream
of Mars?
can’t we unproductively listen
to rain—or heavenly bodies collapsing—
while we run out of hours?


mónica teresa ortiz

mónica teresa ortiz is a poet and interdisciplinary artist born and raised in the rural Panhandle of Texas. mónica has been a visiting researcher with the Center for Arts, Design, and Social Research in 2022. Their writing has appeared in Fence, Scalawag, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hyperallergic, and Split This Rock!, among others.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2023

All Issues