The second poem, “”THE DISAPPEARANCE OF LUISA PORTO”, published 7 years after the phantom girl, takes up a similar theme:
Ask anyone who knows
the whereabouts of Luisa Porto
to please notify her residence
at 48 Santos Oleos Street.
her poor sick mother
for many years a cripple
now beside herself with grief.
The tone of this poem is more urgent, official. The thrid person perspective gives Luisa no agency to speak, emphasizing her disappearance and voicelessness. The use of a specific address creates a sense of documentarian referent…she is not a phantom, not “Maria-who-died”, but a real person:
If you happen to come across
Luisa Porto, age 37, make her
come home, get her to write
or send word where she is.
Ask some amateur reported
a passing stranger, saleclerk, exterminator
anybody at all, from whatever class
even the well-to-do,
to have pity on a worried mother
and bring back her daughter
or at least some news.
Luisa’s tall, thin
dark hair, downy complexion, white teeth
a beauty mark by her left eye
rather nearsighted plainly dressed, glasses.
Disappeared three months ago.
A sickly mother’s appeal.
The mention of class outlines the social position of Luisa, and the plea that her disappearance should matter to everyone. Also, the specificity of description creates the sense that this may be a historical person.
Call upon the charitable people in our city
to assist in a family matter
worthy of special concern.
Luisa’s a good girl, affectionate
religious, hardworking, proper.
She left to do some grocery shopping at the corner market
and never came back.
She had so little money in her pocket.
She’s not the type to come home late.
She didn’t have any boyfriend.
(Find her, find her.)
It’s unbearable without her.
The parenthetical is haunting, establishes the urgency of her absence in a subtextual desperation that will echo throughout the rest of the poem:
If in the meantime you can’t find her,
don’t just give up looking;
with persistance and faith, God will reward you,
you’re bound to spot sooner or later.
Her mother, a poor widow, never loses hope;
remember that Luisa seldom went downtown
so it’s best to start right here in the neighborhood
her closest friend (not counting her mother)
is the seamstress Rita Santana, a frivolous girl
who apparently can she no light on the matter
and limits herself to repeating: i don’t know, I don’t know!
which, to say the least is odd.
So many people disappear, year after year,
in a city like Rio
Luisa Porto may never be found.
Once, in 1898
the chief of police vanished from sight
after stepping out one night to have a look around Rossio Square
and till this very day . . .
Luisa’s mother, at the time a young girl,
read it in the Merchants Daily
and was astonished
the headline printed across her memory.
How could she have guessed that a brief marriage, then widowhood
poverty, paralysis, and regreat
would prove her lot in life;
that her only daughter, as sweet as she was nearsighted,
would vanish without explanation.
The moment when he mentions “Rio” gives this poem a stinging social dimension, particularly in light of the disappearances of many women from central and south american countries.
For the last time, and in the name of God
all-powerful in His goodness and mercy
find the poor girl, the one
called Luisa Porto
the one without a boyfriend.
Forget politics for a moment
set aside materialistic concerns
and devote some time to searching making inquiries, nosing around.
You won’t regret it. There’s no
satisfaction greater than the smile
of a joyous mother
or the inner peace
that comes from simple acts of charity
pure ablution to the soul.
should you decide that the fate of nations is far more important
that we mustn’t waste time on particular griefs;
if you’ve shut your ears to the ringing of the bell
that’s all right, insult Luisa’s mother
turn the page:
God will show compassion for the lost, the forsaken
will minister to the lame, whose limbs
will unbend in the form of a quest.
God himself will say:
find your only daughter, kiss her, and forever hold her to your heart.
Drummond’s ability, throughout his work, to capture “particular griefs” becomes a powerful ethic. The parallel between not looking and turning the page draws poetry itself into the position of ethical witness.
Or perhaps that heavenly favor won’t be needed after all.
Luisa’s mother (all of us are sinners)
would feel unworthy of such grace.
And hope remains, which is itself a gift.
Yes, the stray lambs one day return
or never, or maybe, or always.
And by thinking we understand.
All she wants is her child
who on a distant afternoon, back in Cachoeiro,
had just been born and smelled of milk
colic, and tears.
There’s no need for more description
or this — forgive me — photograph:
vague shadows of a living being
which hardly tell you anything.
No more searching. Silence the radios.
The calm of petals opening
in a blue garden
where hearts are unburdened, and the figure of a virgin
untouched for all time.
And through feeling we comprehend.
There’s no use looking any longer
for my dear daughter Luisa, who
— while I wander through the ashes of the world
with these useless limbs affixed to me, while I suffer
and by suffering I release and reconcile myself
and return to life, and walk —
caught in the heart of that invisible star
The poem is more than vague shadow, is able to capture the particular grief. The ability of the poem to elicit feeling and to comprehend through feeling. Many of Drummond’s ask the reader to “feel” the idea or the subject in order to comprehend (much in the way Whitman’s empathetic “touch” develops intimacy). The poem’s tenor drops when Luisa becomes the speaker’s daughter only present in the looking of the poem itself – a gesture that society has abandoned. The use of the “I” (that whole passage actually) is right out of “Song of Myself” – the use of empathetic suffering as ethic and reconciliation (although of course Whitman would praise the ashes and never conceive of his limbs as useless).
These two poems are haunting when read together. Drummond’s social critique is evident throughout, and his helpless desire for salvation is a register that one can’t escape. This is a dark world in which only the “looking”, the “turning of the page” offers a “return to life” – a return, however, only to “the ashes” and a word as hopeful and empty as “Love.”