Cyrus Cassells

Rumors And Exits

(in homage to Lorca’s three great tragedies)


I. Elegy for a Womb

           after Yerma


Like the bonfire-red roar

that came for Joan of Arc,

my heart’s christening voices insist

a woman is not a woman

but a vessel—her womb 

a meticulous greenhouse,

her breasts, consoling

pitchers of milk—


But I have no power to bear

a firstborn son,

a male to tackle the fields

beside his instilling father,

or a dutiful daughter

to mend the threadbare cottons 

beside me in the dooryard,

no energy to annul

the witchy crone’s evil advice:

Yerma, if you want to be 

a busy mother so much,

by deepening night’s cover,

take a lover—

no trace of will to deter

these single-minded hands encircling 

Juan’s despicable throat,

as the storm-jostled bough breaks

and the lullaby cradle falls

when my trap-door husband confesses:


I never wanted a child!


II. The Jail-Break Groom

         after Blood Wedding


I should have been armed and ready 

for ambush, Leo,  for the prospect 

you might snap and disrupt 

the ranch house ceremony

of your oldest friend

(“Why isn’t he the best man?”),

primed for the gossip you’ve been stalking me

in your compact blue Cooper—


What was the point of you 

hightailing it to the emerald headlands, 

the upscale city, 

to skirt a scandal,

if you refuse to honor my blunt command

to stay the hell away?


But let’s just pretend

the presiding moon is the sniper,

the lone assassin, the undreamed-of

guest at this festive wedding banquet—


It’s all around me, 

my wolfish hunger for a normal life—

in the fussed-over arrangements,

the humdrum rings, the tumult

of heartfelt applause and wedding sighs—


When the clock strikes a desultory eleven,

and my jowly uncle at last declines

his umpteenth morsel,

I kiss my charmingly tipsy,

dying-to-please bride

on her mitigating cheek,

like a current-day quisling, and slip away 

from the uproarious feast,

the clumsy jokes, and customary gossip,    

for a necessary smoke.


After the last calming puff, 

I close my eyes and recall

the joyous, muscled, 

murder-to-resist weight of you, 

your jeans’ refractory zipper,

your medaled gymnast’s grip

manacling my left hand—


When I open my eyes,

you’re saddled before me, 

and I discover, to my surprise and delight,

you’ve ditched your surreptitious Cooper

in favor of a country steed!


Remember I was the one 

who taught you in the treehouse

how to the kiss the pretty girls.

I swear, Julio, now that we’ve coupled

in secret, as grown men,

did you think you could settle

for anything else?


All at once, there’s the thunder crack

of your come with me, Sir Taurus,

and as I climb up onto your winsome,

getaway Arabian,

like a just-born acrobat

(or a willing accomplice!)

the taste of wedding cake 

leaves me straightaway,

and the familiar faces of beloved guests

scatter like broadcast grains of rice—


I mean to live.


III. My Mother’s Cane

after The House of Bernarda Alba


Singsong beauty in slipshod white, 

on-the-loose willow-the-wisp,

with her pastime of apocryphal pearls

and pipe-dream amethysts.

My cracked porcelain grandmother

(“Let me hurry to the palms 

at Bethlehem’s gate”),

is my razor-severe mother’s 

lunatic hand mirror, her daft 

lookalike and unshakeable shadow—


She is and isn’t easy to dismiss

(“The tiny ant is in his doorway”):

demented crone, crowned 

with tangled-as-seaweed hair,

who spends her given days 

craving the shoreline,

consigned to an inglorious shed or corral,

in the thrall of an invisible, 

devoted lover:


Lord, how fitting for a shuttered house, 

brimming with dreaming,

intensely vying sisters,

bickering, biting as a mistral

(“Needle and thread for women,

whip and mule for men”),

avid-to-embrace virgins, 

pining for a single suitor!


And what a suitor! Pepe,

all six foot five of him,

with his frank biceps and prodigal

cascade of fur,          

El Romano’s moon-drenched locks

brushing my startled nipples 

and defenseless navel,

his unerring duelist’s volley 

of sumptuous, utterly lawless kisses—


You see, I’m the can-do rival

of my dull-as-a-dustbin sister.

Indeed, having “borrowed” her fiancé,

a lark-shy virgin no more,

I’ve already burned down

my mother’s airless mausoleum

of enforced piety and decorum,

so that in my restless,

freedom-seeking mind now,

I swear the house is only 

a seared field, a palimpsest—


O for the life of a guileless jester,

a ferris-wheel fool or tart truth-teller—

O my lovely, peripheral star,

my addled grandmother

(“Can’t a little lamb be a child?”), 

you’re the one unbound soul 

still capable of probity, of pinpointing 

the iron-handed cruelty and waste 

of this cloistered house of spinsters—


But I’m shrouded in impeding lace 

and funereal black crêpe,

condemned to eight years of mourning

for my evermore distant father,

with only Pepe’s strapping body, 

his sinews and galvanizing strength

as a getaway course,

as staunch ammunition 

against my nemesis Bernarda,

my brusque Cerberus of a mother, 

with her unremitting lust

for rectitude; its emblem

her dead-sure, peremptory cane:


So help me, tuneless singer, 

my mooncalf Maria Josefa,

I, Adela, with my unmonitored 

dreams and unbridled body,

the youngest and bravest 

of your five hindered granddaughters, 

have a plan, yes I do, 

to break that despot’s cane—


Cyrus Cassells is the 2021 Texas State Artist-Poet Laureate. Among his honors: a Guggenheim fellowship, the National Poetry Series, a Lambda Literary Award, a Lannan Literary Award, two NEA grants, a Pushcart Prize, and the William Carlos Williams Award. His 2018 volume, The Gospel according to Wild Indigo, was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. Still Life with Children: Selected Poems of Francesc Parcerisas, translated from the Catalan, was awarded the Texas Institute of Letters’ Soeurette Diehl Fraser Award for Best Translated Book of 2018 and 2019. He was nominated for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism for his film and television reviews in The Washington Spectator. His eighth book, The World That the Shooter Left Us, will be published by Four Way Books in March 2022.