R.A. Villanueva Pt. 1 #writetoday

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


Tarfia Faizullah asks, Do you think it’s possible to stop writing about the past?

R.A. Villanueva answers, No. And if we’re really honest with ourselves as writers, I don’t think we really want to stop remembering—to Eternal Sunshine our way around the aftermaths that matter.

Perhaps the reality is that the past makes and mars us in ways we can neither control nor anticipate. Better to find some “ceremony of words to patch the havoc” than to live as amnesiacs. Better to dive into the wreck than try to forget the sinking.



We were well down the ventral axis 

          when Fr. Luke noticed. Our cuts 

steady through the skin, our scalpels 

          already through the thin give 

of the sternum. With each bullfrog 

          pinned to its block and double- 

pithed by nail, he had by then 

          talked us clean through the lungs, 

past a three-chambered heart couched 

          in tissue and vascular dye. We must 

have been deeper among the viscera 

          when he heard us laughing, 

not at the swarm of black eggs 

          spilling from the oviducts to 

slime the cuffs of our blazers, 

          but at a phallus, jury-rigged from 

foil and rubber bands hanging off the crucifix, 

          hovering above a chart of light- 

independent reactions. This was nothing 

          like the boys lowing through recitation 

their antiphon for the layman whose wife 

          we heard was trampled by livestock 

over Trimester break. Nothing at all 

          like Sr. Mary being made to face 

the bathhouse scene from Spartacus in slow- 

          motion or her freshmen rewinding again 

and again stock films of chariot drivers pitched 

          from their mounts, dragged 

to their ends only to float backwards, 

          hands bound up once more 

in the reins. The Dean of Men confessed 

          he knew of no prayer or demerit 

that could redeem such disgrace, 

          could conceive of no greater sin 

against the Corpus. Transgressors, all of you, 

          he said and closed the door behind him, 

refusing to look at us or the thing 

          which seemed to shimmer and twitch 

with each frog’s reflex kick against our forceps. 

          He held us there far beyond 

the last bell, waiting for just one among us 

          to want forgiveness or for a single boy 

to take back this mockery of the body 

          our Lord had made.

Originally published in AGNI, #70


R.A. Villanueva is the author of Reliquaria, winner of the 2013 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. A founding editor ofTongue: A Journal of Writing & Art, he lives in Brooklyn.