Ask anyone who knows
the whereabouts of Luisa Porto
to please notify her residence
at 48 Santos Oleos Street.
Immediately advise
her poor sick mother
for many years a cripple
now beside herself with grief.

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 reporter
a passing stranger, salesclerk, 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.

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, hard working, proper.
She left to do some shopping at the corner market
and never came back.

She had so little money in her pocket.
(Find Luisa.)
She’s not the type to come home late.
(Find Luisa.)
She didn’t have any boyfriend.
(Find her, find her.)
It’s unbearable without her.

If in the meantime you can’t find her
don’t just give up looking;
with persistence and faith, God will reward you,
you’re bound to spot her 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 shed 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
or 9,
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 regret
would prove her lot in life;
that her only daughter, as sweet as she was nearsighted
would vanish without explanation.

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.

Don’t try to tell me that Luisa committed suicide.
The holy fire of faith
burned within her soul
devoted to God and the Blessed Mother of our little Lord Jesus.
She would never take her life.
You’ve got to find her.
She could hardly be the victim of a disaster
if the police know nothing
and the press is uninformed.
The child lives for the consolation of her crippled mother
bearing witness to the absolute triumph of maternal love
Christian piety
filial duty.

And no insinuations regarding her virtue:
she did not, I repeat, did not have a boyfriend.
Something extraordinary will turn out to have happened
an earthquake or the advent of a king;
the streets must have changed directions
for her to take so long; it’s dark!
But I know she’ll come back, either by herself
or led by a generous hand,
looking sheepish and tender
as a song.

At any hour of the day or night
whoever finds her, please advise Santos Oleos Street.
There’s no telephone
only an old housekeeper you can give your message to
and she’ll take care of the rest.

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

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—
looms motionless
caught in the heart of that invisible star

This Issue

December 5, 1985