This is Terrorism
News of mass murder
in Charleston, South Carolina
finds me in another country.
I read about another enraged
white man with a gun,
who was protected by cops
with a bullet-proof-vest.
I see towers blink red
on high mountains,
and imagine the police
carefully adjusting the vest.
The value of his life
confirmed by their hands.
And in this moment,
I can only think of Eric Garner
in a police choke hold, saying:
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe
I lay in the dark of my hotel room
reading about the 51 year-old black woman
who pursued Dylann Roof.
How she followed his car,
got close enough to read
to a friend on the phone.
I can’t imagine her bravery
as she pursued a cold blooded killer—
as she held her breath, whispered to herself
breathe, just breathe.
I think about heartbreak,
in plain clothes,
about the media and Roof.
They said he was just a troubled teen,
but they forgot to call him
by his true name:
I want them to yell it:
to unveil this white man.
I want them to say:
he is a thug, he is dangerous.
But I hear nothing
nothing but my own terror,
nothing but my own suspended breath.
(“This Is Terrorism” first appeared in Endeavor, World Stage Press 2017)
We carry addiction in our bones,
beneath flaking layers of skin;
I drink tequila and taste
my abuelo’s sour addiction.
In my esophagus I feel the burn
of chapparo, of hooch,
of bathtub fermentation.
And somehow I am swirling
in the drain
as abuelo mixes and turns water into wine.
I am here on a bar stool,
a glass of merlot glowing in this darkness.
I fill myself with what I know.
I’ve left those dark rooms
just like I left my lover
who hovers in a room filled
with pyramids of beer.
He climbs them, he stammers, he believes
he is a Mayan god. We are all our ancestors
and there is no rock tied to our feet
to drag us to the bottom of the ocean,
but still we do not come up for air.
My uncle’s did not come up for air.
They are blue now, lips encrusted
with all they’ve silenced,
but we peel away—
every sliver of skin
until we have nothing left to bare.
(“Inheritance” first appeared in Endeavor, World Stage Press 2017)
How Women Grieve
Huddled into a cold corner of the shower you whimper,
you howl like a woman who has a burden
of hunger she ignores. You let it drain. The heart in your belly
pulses behind your ears, the place where you hide
everything you are afraid of. The throbbing has been quietly
whispering all the words you fear. And that’s when you
scrub the hardest, your skin the only thing you can really clean.
You wash yourself raw, as if the cells carried
absorbed memories. It is always the surface we polish
but what of insides? The kind that gather like crustaceans
that prey on our linings? That eat what is dead?
Bleach cannot cure us, ammonia cannot blind us,
and shame continues to hide in our eyes.
How can we repair the thing we can never reach?
The grief that grows inside the darkest corner of our guts,
the thing that suffocates us like a pulmonary embolism
that fills our lungs with blood. We drain, and there beneath the ring
is the clog, the filled brass artery, where we dispose
what we want to shed. But it crawls back up
from beneath your feet, returns from the hole
you’ve been digging. You are submerged in water
yet your mouth is dry. Swollen tongue confusion fills you,
the kind only the desert can understand.
You hang onto yourself and you cup your own face
because only you can love you like this.
(“How Women Grieve” first appeared in Endeavor, World Stage Press 2017)
Endeavor: Inglewood Just Another LAX Flight Route
There ain’t no space shuttle cutting through Beverly Hills
but here they’ve chopped our ficus trees for you,
and I yearn for them, their roots ripping through concrete
against the force of this place—a city built on blood
and conquest. Crowds of people gather in our streets
to watch you: a fossil toted across Manchester Avenue.
I watch you too, through this darkness of demolished trunks;
history floats above us thick and white like the KKK—
like our founding fathers. They’ve buried white supremacy
in the archives: No mulattos or negroes allowed. Welcome to Inglewood.
I’ve watched them plunder everything good from this place,
from their seats on the city council,
as inheritors of old money.
Oh, founding fathers, I know your monuments in the cemetery,
white castles and ponds, Mckinley carved into stone.
You will not turn us into ash.
You cannot burn crosses anymore.
Endeavor, why are you really here,
to show us how easily
we can be destroyed?
Men clip electrical lines for you
and for moments at a time, parts of the city go dark
and this is how you really pass,
like rolling black outs that last long enough
to remind us of the darkness that still lives here.
(“Endeavor: Inglewood Just Another LAX Flight Route” first appeared in Endeavor, World Stage Press 2017)
Emptying Your Apartment the Day After Christmas
In memory of Doris Salguero
Kneeling in front of your open refrigerator,
I reach for the wilted lettuce. Its leaves break
against my skin. I place it gently into the trash
bag next to me, hope if I’m careful this will feel
like less of a waste. Your gallon of milk sits next
to three-week old quesadillas still packaged
by your mother from El Salvador. Vapor escapes
the rubber seals of Tupperware, food you
thought you’d have time to eat. Mold extends
onto everything. The trash bag fills, the refrigerator’s
light reflects upon its own emptiness. I carry
this bag of fragments into the garage—linger
in the concrete chill. The door opens against the sun
pressing my shadow onto this soured ground.
(“Emptying Your Apartment the Day after Christmas” first appeared in The Acentos Review in 2010)
The only Apartment in the Building without a Back Door
The architect was asked to cut corners, A fire escape
can go and so can the back door. This place
was not built with us in mind: immigrants trying
to exist in the peril of this city. The architect
might have urged the land owner to explain
the risks of fire to tenants. Perhaps he talked of
survival on the third floor—tell them to huddle together
in the tub, soup bowls and pots in hand, to fight flames,
to cover their faces, and wait for help to arrive. How can
the six of us endure this studio apartment, sleeping
on the floor under sheets? Does the architect worry
at night and in the morning search the news for fires
in the buildings he’s built? Does he know how
many bodies have been found in the ashes of his hands?
(“The only Apartment in the Building without a Back Door” first appeared in Crate Literary Magazine in 2011)
Eating in the Middle of the Night
I press down on the gas-pedal, look into the rear-
view mirror, watch the district lights roll
away. I make the last turn, pull right
onto the green, turn the engine off, listen to it
quiet down. I reach over, open the glove
compartment, fumble through forgotten layers—
underneath I find a rusty steel cross
an heirloom from my grandmother. I keep it
in the car for emergencies.
I can smell the clay oven in my
grandmother’s house. As a child
I watched her prepare dinner,
chase a hen in the open
kitchen. Her hand would curl
perfectly around the hen’s throat,
she’d whirl it like the winning
ticket in lotería until its neck split
in two. She’d tie a piece of
ribbon to the hen’s feet, with care
hang it from a doorknob.
Clenching the cross, I watch
the cows graze as if it were home,
try to hold onto memories. A waking
hunger fills me with fear that America
is making me forget. I lean the cross
against the windshield and stare
into the green land.
Sleepless hunger lingers in the dark
aisles of a Greyhound from D.C. to Chicago.
A Spanish woman, about the age of my abuela,
sits next to me. She rustles with the bags
at her feet, introduces herself through the plastics
static: Me llamo Gloria she says, offering
a hardboiled egg. We eat through the darkness,
pause between bites to trickle chile onto the yolks.
We talk into the middle of the night, how we savor
the company of food on long trips home.
(“Eating in the Middle of the Night” first appeared in The Packing House Review in 2010)
We scale up the hill through next year’s
milpa and the only things buzzing are
the flies. I imagine the sharp sound
of machinery, hear the squeal of a lever
echo, from the fumigation tank my cousin
carries on his back. I am a tourist here;
I trail his soft footprints, mimic where
his steps fall, want to know how I
should tread. He disinfects the harvest
and asks if I know who Karl Marx is.
The sweat on our backs is still like the stream
in the creek below, a path drawn through
the earth. He hauls water on his shoulder
in a cantaro, its round belly pushing into
the base of his neck. We talk about imperialism.
He tells me his dreams: papaya fields and pinos
in rows on the curve of this loma.
I tell him at the root of everything is
colonialism. And he says, if I had a choice,
Estados Unidos o El Salvador, I’d pick this life
again. How did we get to the top so fast?
A land mass floats in the sky and I ask
what it is. He laughs in Spanish and tells me
it’s a mountain peaking through the clouds.
(“Potrero” first appeared in bozalta in 2014)
An Old Indió’s Tango
for Papá Victór
The Indió’s mistress dances in the aroma of roasted agave. Her bottle shaped hips follow the rhythm of ritual. Together they extract the piña, cook in hot rocks, crush it, leave it to ferment.
Day after day his wife grinds maize to feed their nine children: three sons named Victor, three daughters, and three more. He thinks the children are stories he’s heard from people he knows.
A villager stands in the dirt road outside of the Indió’s fabrica calling with news that his wife has collapsed, fallen into a coma, and died.
The Indió’s three youngest children—feeling bereaved—visit him. Divided by a wire fence they stare unsure of their father, his eyes empty as hollow wood. Too incoherent to find the key he hooks his fingers through the barrier between them, tries to remember which three they are.
He stares in a mirror, far back into the cavernous rooms of his mind. Imagines himself in an empty field once a forest, depleted, like the lone tree that survived the fire.
Alone now, his skin hard as clay, stretches over his swollen body. He stands in his underwear baring a crooked smile. His wrinkles gather into the pockets of his face like growth rings.
(“An Old Indió’s Tango” first appeared in Palabra: A Magazine of Chicano and Literary Art)
A Morning en la Casa de Mi Abuelo
My mother cleans her father’s toilet,
in her hand a stale brush
scrubs the concrete floor
of his wash room. Tomorrow
he’ll tell her she will not inherit
this house or the land around it.
Tomorrow it will be her birthday;
he’ll say he has to think
of his sons before his daughters,
who are an afterthought the same
as his wife who always waited
like Hera, pomegranate in hand.
(“A Morning en la Casa de Mi Abuelo” first appeared in bozalta in 2014)