Two poems by R. A. Villanueva

Two poems from Reliquaria

Mine will be a beautiful service


When you bury me, fold
my arms, neat

over the plateau
of a double-breasted suit,

the angle of the lapel
matching my now

permanent expression.
Pressed, chemical

I will look content,
but confused

as when you watched me turn
in my sleep, dreaming:

                of a Golgotha
in beeswax, a coffin

for swallows, a toothless augur
reading the flights and cries

of owls. You
will hear the cadence

of my voice, the snapping
oblique of my laugh. Among the votives

and canticles, you will trace,
with the tips of your thumbs,

lines of demarcation
between the fallow of my scalp

and the dunes of my forehead.
Quiet, you will paste

stray hairs back
into their place.

2. Memento Mori

All sod and taproot now, all bulb
and tuber and stemshoot        Mulch throb,
lush with worms and slugs—we are never worth
more than this

Thrum of the earth, clatter-bulge of cicada shells
along a coffin’s hinges         Teak and scented cedar
flushed with compost                       An elegy
of rot, this counterfeit reliquary

                 If you each day clutch
our pillows, press them to your face, pray
to take in some atom of me all
into the hollows of your chest, yes

I promise my ghost will find you
should you want someone else to love
After this, Loving Kindness and Asanga flew
for Phebus Etienne

These church gates are locked, like yesterday,
            and so I have not yet prayed
for you the right way, knelt in your memory, offered
            intentions or lit chapel candles in your name.

When John told me, I was an avenue away,
            reading on a gallery wall about Asanga,
who wanted Loving Kindness to meet him in a cave, who waited
            and waited to talk enlightenment over Assam tea.

On that painted cotton, he wears a halo of mineral malachite,
            is clothed in a dye of ground cinnabar, is flanked by the story
of his life. This is what I know now about the upper-right corner,
            where a miniature Asanga flies

with the found bodhisattva and both float buoyant without need
            for pinion feathers or ailerons, where they are weightless,
steering towards paradise with just their robes and arms:
            Loving Kindness and Asanga flew to the Tushita heaven.

It is what I was trying to understand before I took John’s call
            and he asked if I had heard about your passing
days ago, alone in your apartment, most likely from a collapse
            of the heart. It is what happens after Asanga lifts

Loving Kindness up and carries him through town on his back,
            the townspeople blind, as always, to the beatitudes among them.

R. A. Villanueva is the author of Reliquaria (U. Nebraska Press, 2014), winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. New writing is forthcoming in The Wolf and American Poetry Review. A founding editor of Tongue: A Journal of Writing & Art, he lives in Brooklyn and London.
Twitter: @caesura