Sharif El Gammal-Ortiz


Puerto Rico

The Caribbean filters through my head. Sun stroked

at a variance with valence, I remain still…

A drunken boat now surfaces a petroglyph—

no, this won’t do. Nonsense breeds nonsense. Perhaps if

I described how some giant, simian hand—thumb

appended, whole—pinched earth’s surface, and fathomed it

falling from the sky like something biblical,

making the ground swell now, here in Puerto Rico,

I could, in lines as taut as they are metrical,

begin the story of a re-alignment, spun

out of peripheries coming into focus

freighted by the violence of my head-shakes, like thoughts

deep as molars cusped, like cerebellums sounding

developing dyslexia: a thing forever

precocious, mutably symmetric, dramatic,

syllabic to the point of me depending on

my finding sound geometry in a language

incurable in its use of proper English,

I, who have written about a dead brain knowing

all the while about my mind’s malleability,

now breathe into my lungs the sea’s immensity,

and from this rhythm driven by a nothingness

momentously digressive in its grandeur I,

by the shoreline picking earwax out of one ear

now another, here begin: I pour my right hand

into my left and make running water movements

feeling the ocean floor in the palm of my hand.

Concatenated coral, jagged and fissured,

karmic and crooked-looking down to every last

predicated particle, grants me symbol’d speech.

I pronounce words like Piñones and terruño

and, with a more human than simian tongue, pull

an English tashkil out of an ocean’s tilde

till my tongue tenses in perfect ñ denseness.

The sounds which it emits feel arthritic—and, when

standing where they’re most likely to burn—aortic,

apodal and apical. Inoculated

with a feeling of horizon, an ocean freight

liner appears before me, and my footprints, eyes

multiplying out of a solipsistic joke,

appear reminiscent of the desert sidewinder

convincing me all history is Vichian.

To this viper nestled in my mouth an ñ

I, repeating what I’ve said an octave higher,

spiral as I’m struck conscious by the thought that night

is falling—turn color as I’m dosed with pigment

after pigment as I watch, standing on a beach,

conceivable as earth, a sky’s azure ferment.

To resurface a drunken boat, to feel one wet filament

hold a mountain range together, to pronounce ñ

kun fa’yakoon, and thus regain my use of speech,

to breathe in through my trachea that selfsame wind

which now applies its breath upon my frontal lobe

and turns my tongue, rolling, into a Möbius strip,

or, to simply feel the ocean’s breeze on a beach

somewhere stranded on an island’s coastline: Puerto

Rico, how mutably horizontal, how much

like myth, how long adrift above the ocean floor

nimbus of a thousand-sided periphery,

island of a most blinding Caribbean sun

human in concentration, simian in pull,

before I fathom myself falling from the sky

creating something of a people’s avatar

ñ in likeness, somewhat drunken, stilled in skull;

before I surface making water edge. Water

a petroglyph handed to me in my palm’s hull.

Self-portrait as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson

Were I given the choice to be a pair of twins

I would be the most famous pair on planet Earth.

Mary-Kate (the generic image) is never,

The concept (Ashley) is always, a judgment.

When I am made putative by what a twin is

In its physical aspect and by what a twin can mean

As an ergonomic thing, I am better positioned

To discover both in relation to who I am: one squared

Self equidistant to meaning. Mary-Kate finding

The WKW in awkward, awkward, is Ashley saying,

“Earth is a one hundred percent hard hat work site.

No hat. No work. No Earth.”  When Ashley believes

All neurobiologists who study the nervous systems

Of jellyfish are bellybuttons, Mary-Kate is having

A primitive British fantasy inside a sperm whale’s

Blowhole—I translate: my heart normally beats

Without the help of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen,

But they can alter or stop its beating if they choose.




Sharif El Gammal-Ortiz has been published in The Acentos Review, Tonguas, and Sargasso. He lives in the Bronx and spends his time traveling between New York and Puerto Rico.


August 2010