breathe for George Floyd we
breathe for compassion we
do not know what that is we
another black man holy we
gone now George Floyd we
Ahmaud running street endless we
America scream & love we
do not know what love is we
breathe George Floyd flames we
next to you on a sp halt cho ke we
knee Am Am
e ri c a w e
after Idra Novey
On a dirt road
On a drive to el campo
You found a batey
I cut the cane
We sucked on a stalk
You gave me your arms
I swam in the river
We locked the door
Then the lights went out
And the radio played
You fingered the pesos
I walked to the beach
We fried the fish
You ate the mango
I jumped in the water
We bought the flowers
Then the migrants came
And you bartered for more
Then the sirens blared
And they were carried away
But we didn’t stop them
Then the ocean swept
And the palm trees sagged
They were foreigners
We were foreigners
And we lived there
I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.
translated by Urayoán Noel
Walking is a process in ruins,
a dead history.
You inhabit the ruin and you find
a coin here and there rolling on the ground.
Men without eyes are threshing away time
in Santurce’s surviving businesses.
It makes you want to cry
or sneak into the yards and pluck the fruits
of so many inhabitable houses
with boarded-up windows and doors.
The city is full of homeless people.
The city is full of poor immigrants dreaming of the United States.
Perhaps leaving and coming back makes you a foreigner.
There’s so much you don’t know about Puerto Rico now.
You begin discovering it by walking.
De Barrio Obrero a La Quince
Caminar es un proceso en ruinas,
Habitas la ruina y encuentras
una que otra moneda rodando por el piso.
Hombres sin ojos desgranan tiempo
en los negocios que sobreviven en Santurce.
Da ganas de llorar
o de meterse al patio y arrancarle frutas
a tanta casa habitable
con las puertas y ventanas clausuradas.
La ciudad llena de personas sin hogar.
La ciudad llena de inmigrantes pobres que sueñan con Estados Unidos.
Irse y volver acaso te vuelve un extranjero.
Desconoces ahora tanto a Puerto Rico.
Caminando se empieza a descubrirlo.
for Paul Otremba
Six in all, to be exact. I know it was a Tuesday
or Wednesday because the museum closes early
on those days. I almost wrote something
about the light being late—; the “late light”
is what I almost said, and you know how we
poets go on and on about the light and
the wind and the dark, but that day the dark was still
far away swimming in the Pacific, and we had
45 minutes to find Goya’s “Still Life with Bream”
before the doors closed. I’ve now forgotten
three times the word Golden in the title of that painting
—and I wish I could ask what you think
that means. I see that color most often
these days when the cold, wet light of morning
soaks my son’s curls and his already light
brown hair takes on the flash of fish fins
in moonlight. I read somewhere
that Goya never titled this painting,
or the other eleven still lifes, so it’s just
as well because I like the Spanish title better.
“Doradas” is simple, doesn’t point
out the obvious. Lately, I’ve been saying
dorado so often in the song I sing
to my son, “O sol, sol, dorado sol
no te escondes...” I felt lost
that day in the museum, but you knew
where we were going having been there
so many times. The canvas was so small
at 17 x 24 inches. I stood before it
lost in its beach of green sand and
that silver surf cut with pink.
I stared while you circled the room
like a curious cat. I took a step back,
and then with your hands in your pockets
you said, No matter where we stand,
there’s always one fish staring at us.
As a new father, I am now that pyramid
of fish; my body is all eyes and eyes.
Some of them watch for you in the west
where the lion sun yawns and shakes off
its sleep before it purrs, and hungry,
dives deep in the deep of the deep.
Gettysburg National Military Park
Motorcycles and white tour vans speed
between behemoth granite shafts, shove
my body by their force, leave me roadside
and wandering fields. Little is funny
when you’re Chicana and walking
a Civil War site not meant for walking.
Regardless, I ask park rangers and guides
for stories on Mexicans soldiers,
receive shrugs. No evidence in statues
or statistics. In the cemetery, not one
Spanish name. I’m alone in the wine shop.
It’s the same in the post office, the market,
the antique shop with KKK books on display.
In the peach orchard, I prepare a séance,
sit cross-legged in grass, and hold
a smoky quartz to the setting sun.
I invite the unseen to speak. So many dead,
it’s said Confederates were left to rot.
In war, not all bodies are returned home
nor graves marked. I Google “Mexicans
in the Civil War” and uncover layers
to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
and Cinco de Mayo. This is how I meet
ancestors for the first time, heroes
this country decorates in clownish sombreros
and fake mustaches, dishonors for fighting
European empire on shared American land
Power & Money dictate can’t be shared.
Years before this, carrying water gallons
up an Arizona mountain ridge to replenish
supplies in a pass known as “Dead Man’s,”
I wrote messages on bottles to the living,
scanned Sonoran canyons for the lost,
and knew too many would not be found.
A black Sharpie Virgen drawn on hot plastic
became a prayer: may the next officer halt
before cracking her face beneath his boot,
spilling life on to dirt. No, nothing’s funny
when you’re brown in a country you’re taught
isn’t yours, your dead don’t count.
The soft harp of snowfall plucking through
my pine trees lulls me to peace, yet I still
hear the bongo of thunderstorms rapping
the rooftop of my queer childhood, dancing
to the clouds’ rage, raining away my sorrows.
Though snow melts silently into the gurgles
of my creek, my grandmother’s voice remains
frozen in my ears, still calling me a sissy, yet
praising me as her best friend. Even though
I marvel over spring’s abracadabra each time
my lilac blooms appear, I still disappear back
into the magic of summer nights on the porch,
the moon lighting up my grandfather’s stories
about his lost Cuba, his words carried away
with the smoke of his tabaco and the scent
of his jasmine tree flowering the night with
its tiny, perfumed stars. Despite the daystars
peeking behind the lavender clouds swaddling
mountain peaks in my window at sunset, I still
rise to the sun of my youth over the sea, after
a night’s sleep on a bed of sand, dreaming or
dreading who I would, or wouldn’t become.
Though I grew courageous enough to marry
a man who can only love me in his English:
darling, sweetheart, honey, I love him back
more in my Spanish whispered in his ears as
he sleeps: amorcito, tesoro, ceilo. After all
the meatloafs and apple pies we’ve baked
in our kitchen, I still sit down to the memory
of my mother’s table, savoring the loss of her
onion-smothered vaca frita and creamy flan.
No matter how tastefully my throw pillows
perfectly match my chic rugs and the stylish
art on my walls, it all falls apart sometimes,
just as I do, until I remember to be the boy
I was, always should be, playing alone with
his Legos in the family room, still enchanted
by the joy of his sheer self and his creations:
perfect or not, beautiful or not, immortal or
as mortal as the plentiful life I’ve made here,
although I keep living with my father dying
in our old house, his head cradled in my hand
for a sip of tea and a kiss on his forehead—
our last goodbye in the home that still lives
within this home where I live on to die, too.
Mayagüez, Puerto Rico 1856
I. The First Horse
Cholera swarmed unseen through the water, lurking in wells and fountains,
squirming in garbage and excrement, infinitesimal worms drilling the intestines,
till all the water and salt would pour from the body, till the body became a worm,
shriveling and writhing, a slug in salt, till the skin burned blue as flame, the skin
of the peasant and the skin of the slave gone blue, the skin in the slave barracks blue,
the skin of ten thousand slaves blue. The Blue Death, face hidden in a bandanna,
dug graves with the gravediggers, who fell into holes they shoveled for the dead.
The doctors died too, seeing the signs in the mirror, the hand with the razor shaking.
II. The Second Horse
Doctor Betances stepped off the boat, back from Paris, the humidity of the plague
glistening in his beard. He saw the stepmother who fed him sink into a mound
of dirt, her body empty as the husk of a locust in drought.He toweled off his hands.
In the quarantine tents there was laudanum by the bitter spoonful, the lemonade
and broth; in the dim of the kerosene lamps there was the compress cool against
the forehead, the elixir of the bark from the cinchona tree. For peasants and slaves
moaning to their gods, the doctor prescribed chilled champagne to soothe the belly.
For the commander of the Spanish garrison, there was silence bitter as the spoon.
III. The Third Horse
At every hacienda, at every plantation, as the bodies of slaves rolled one by one
into ditches all hipbones and ribs, drained of water and salt, stripped of names,
Doctor Betances commanded the torch for the barracks where the bodies would
tangle together, stacked up as if they never left the ship that sailed from Africa,
kept awake by the ravenous worms of the plague feasting upon them. Watching
the blue flames blacken the wood, the doctor and the slaves saw another plague
burning away, the plague of manacles scraping the skin from hands that cut
the cane, the plague of the collar with four spikes for the runaways brought back.
IV. The Fourth Horse
The pestilence of the masters, stirred by spoons into the coffee of the world,
spread first at the marketplace, at auction, the coins passing from hand to hand.
So Doctor Betances began, at church, with twenty-five pesos in pieces of eight,
pirate coins dropped into the hands of slaves to drop into the hands of masters,
buying their own infants at the baptismal font. The secret society of abolitionists
shoved rowboats full of runaways off the docks in the bluest hour of the blue night,
off to islands without masters. Even the doctor would strangle in the executioner’s
garrote, spittle in his beard, if the soldiers on watch woke up from the opiate of empire.
V. The Fifth Horse
The governor circled his name in the name of empire, so Doctor Betances
sailed away to exile, the island drowning in his sight, but a vision stung
his eyes like salt in the wind: in the world after the plague, no more
plague of manacles; after the pestilence, no more pestilence of masters;
after the cemeteries of cholera, no more collar of spikes or executioners.
In his eye burned the blue of the rebel flag and the rising of his island.
The legend calls him the doctor who exhausted five horses, sleepless
as he chased invisible armies into the night. Listen for the horses.
*To read this poem in its intended format, please click here from your laptop or desktop.
but love does not, Menelle Sebastien.
Of all the afflictions
all the sums & paradoxes,
& gravitons that add up
to more minus
I promise that love
is often as inconsiderate as it is just
because actual love,
is a wave function
that isn’t restricted
in any one place
at one time.
No, love must
be a superposition
with a measurement problem,
but don’t worry,
I won’t get into alternative
realities & how a single judgement
from one can so easily
she’s sizing up— & yet,
when experts speak of capturing
vastness at such a small scale,
I can only see the passenger
flitting into living
& every blue whale
sinking into the great
& all the threats each are facing,
all these gigantic things
within the size
of a subatomic being
that is the proton,
which is not fundamental
ought to be—
& maybe it does all
to a single hush.
Like how we try to escape
what makes us human by trying
to make sense of what made us
when I think on the proton,
I only observe love
in which we bias & sway & touch
But like I said,
I won’t get into it
like the quark’s fate
& all the possible quantum trickery
lying in wait.
I don’t believe hope dies
just because old measurements got it
wrong & there are no secret lives
between protons & muons
that cause the former to change
silencing all the music
that drives us
rather than discovery.
Maybe just thank
since, for now, there’s an answer,
even if it feels like a dead end—
because I’d bet everything,
that at least something began
over this: jounce,
butterfly & cower ::
over & oeuvre,
each other’s spoils,
Coming out isn’t the same as coming to America
except for the welcome parade
put on by ghosts like your granduncle Roy
who came to New York from Panamá in the 50s
and was never heard of again
and by the beautiful gays who died of AIDS in the 80s
whose cases your mother studied
in nursing school. She sent you to the US to become
an “American” and you worry
she’ll blame this country
for making you a “marica,”
a “Mary,” like it might have made your uncle Roy.
The words “America” and “marica” are so similar!
Exchange a few vowels
and turn anyone born in this country
queer. I used to watch Queer as Folk as a kid
and dream of sashaying away
the names bullies called me in high school
for being Black but not black enough, or the kind of black they saw on TV:
black-ish, negro claro, cueco.
It was a predominately white school,
the kind of white the Spanish brought to this continent
when they cozened my ancestors from Africa.
There was no welcome parade for my ancestors back then
so, they made their own procession, called it “carnaval”
and fully loaded the streets with egungun costumes,
holy batá drum rhythms, shouting and screaming in tongues,
and booty dancing in the spirit.
I don’t want to disappear in New York City,
lost in a drag of straightness.
So instead, I proceed
to introduce my mother to my first boyfriend
after I’ve moved her to Texas
and helped make her a citizen.
Living is trafficking through ghosts in a constant march
toward a better life, welcoming the next in line.
Thriving is wining the perreo to soca on the
Noah’s Arc pride parade float, like you’re
the femme bottom in an early aughts gay TV show.
Surviving is (cross-)dressing as an American marica,
until you’re a ‘merica or a ‘murica
and your ancestors see
you’re the king-queen of Mardi Gras,
purple scepter, crown, and krewe.
Outside, an abandoned mattress sags with rain
and the driveway turns all sludge when I remember
I could’ve died eight years ago, in a bed
smaller than the one I share with a new lover
who just this morning found another grey hair in my afro,
and before resettling the wiry curl with the others,
kissed the freckle on my forehead.
I admit, I don’t know a love that doesn’t
destroy. Last night while we slept,
a mouse drowned in the rice pot
I left soaking in the sink. I tried
to make a metaphor out of this, the way
he took the mouse to the edge of the lake in the yard,
released it to a deeper grave. It was
an anniversary, just my lover
taking a dead thing away, taking it
somewhere I couldn’t see.
after Wisława Szymborska
In my dreams,
I lasso a wild steer on the first try.
I chauffeur Picasso
To meet up with Dali—
None of us is happy about this summit.
After licking my fingertips,
I play guitar masterfully.
I use index cards to make sense
Of the universe.
I discover my childhood cat in the neighbor’s tree—
So that’s where you’ve been, you little rascal.
I beg the alligator, por favor,
To make a snap judgement,
Will it be my leg or my arm?
Picture me swimming with dolphins.
Picture me with these dolphins
Sitting in lawn chairs.
I’m full of gratitude—
The lightbulb comes on
When the refrigerator door is opened.
Yes, I’m the scientist who solved laryngitis—
Now all of us howl at our own pleasure.
I get to throw a trophy from a moving car.
When I park my car,
I’m awarded another trophy—
Someone above is giving me a second chance.
I’m watching an old movie in one corner
of my laptop and in another the shadows
nesting in your neck, the flickering frequencies
of your sweater, and remember the Jack Nicholson
tagline in that movie we almost watched then decided
against fearing the little taser of misogyny:
You make me want to be a better person. Sometimes
the only thing I want is to say marry me
even though we both think marriage is archaic and weird
or at least for us. It’s not marry me I want to say
but rather weld with me like a net we also sit in.
Oh FaceTime face and shadow neck and the almost synced
sound of our shared watching. You have a list of things
that are going to be the death of you,
and so do I, which we cover in our debriefings.
All of this is to say that distance makes my heart go farther
into the terrain of heartfelt and I love it: how ordinarily
classifiable it is like feeling literal figurative butterflies
in your stomach. The good being fundamental.
Surprising love can happen at any part of one’s life
like the pixels deciding when to flicker into bursts.
I tap-tap-tap the window, while my mother smiles and mouths,
Tranquila. I tap-tap the glass, my mother a fish I’m trying to summon.
I tap until a border agent says: Stop. Until a border agent
shows me the gun on her belt. My childhood was caught
on video border agents deleted every three months.
I thought myself a movie star blowing kisses at the children
selling chiclets on the bridge. My cruelty from the backseat window
caught on video—proof I am an American. The drug sniffing
dogs snap their teeth at my mother detained for her thick accent,
a warp in her green card. My mother who mouths, Tranquila.
My mother’s fingers dark towers on a screen for the Bioten scan.
Isn’t it fun? says the border agent. The state takes a picture
of my mother’s left ear. Isn’t it fun? I tap-tap-tap the glass
and imagine it shatters into shiny marbles. A marble like the one
I have in my pocket, the one I squeeze so hard I hope to reach
its blue swirls. Blue swirls I wish were water I could bring to my mother
in a glass to be near her. Friends, Americans, countrymen lend me your ears!
But only the border agent replies, Do you know the pledge of allegiance?
She points to a flag pinned on a wall. I do, so I stand and pledge to the country
that says it loves me so much, it loves me so much it wants to take
my mother far away from me. Far away, to the place they keep
all the other mothers to sleep on rubber mats and drink from rubber hoses.
Don’t worry, says the border agent, we will take good care of your mommy.
My mother mouths, Tranquila. Her teeth, two rows of gold I could pawn
for something shiny, something shiny like the border agent’s gun.
Friends, Americans, countrymen lend me your ears, so I can hear
my mother through bulletproof glass, so I can hear her over the roar
of American cars crossing this dead river by the wave of an agent’s pale hand.
hw s th flyng thng splld?
ll th sft lttrs hv blwn ff
tchr tlls stry
frst mnfst dstny
th bffl wr hntd nd skltns stckd
th ntv ppl wr pshd n slghtrd
tk wht th y cn s
thn crps plntd nd plntd nd plntd nd plntd
thn dry nd ht nd dry nd cld nd dry nd ht
thn rbbts nd rbbts nd rbbts
thn mn clbbd ll th rbbts
pld nd lghd
ll th ppl thrstd nd th lnd crckd
brd jst lft bfr snrs nd snst
thn nsts mpty
wht hppnd t brd?
brd sys n brnchs t prch nd crps cllps nd hrvsts nd n wrms s hngry
brd sys spk sky spk
ll thngs trnd psdwn
thn blw wy
nd trnds nd hrrcns nd wrs nd dss
nd nthng lvng
dd brd knw?
brd knw trd t spk
brd ndd wtr
I used to dream of living here. I hike
a trail I know that at the end opens
to glorious views of the city I did
live in once, when men my age kept dying
while I learned how to diagnose AIDS.
Some dreams don’t come true, and some dreams become
nightmares. Across a field that smells of sage,
a few horses loiter. I want to think
that they forgive me, since they’re noble creatures.
They stamp and snort, reminding me they know
nothing of forgiveness. I used to dream
that someday I’d escape to San Francisco,
when I was still in high school and I knew.
Tall and muscled, the horses are like the jocks
on the football team who beat me once, as if pain
teaches truth and they knew I had to learn.
I used to dream I was as white as them,
that I could slam my locker closed and not
think of jail. Some nightmares come true,
like when my uncle got arrested for
cocaine. My family never talked about it,
which made me realize they could also feel shame.
That’s when I started dreaming I could be
a doctor someday, that I could get away,
prescribe myself a new life. Right now, as
the city comes into view, I think of those
animals and hope they got what they deserved.
The city stretches out its arms, its two bridges
to Oakland, to Stockton, to San Rafael,
to Vallejo; places I could have been from
but wasn’t. It looks just as it did
all those years ago. Yet I know it’s changed
because so many of us died, like Rico,
who took me up here for the first time.
We kicked a soccer ball around and smoked
a joint. I think we talked about our dreams,
but who can remember dreams. I look out
and the sun like your hand on my face
is warm, and for a moment I think this is
glorious, this is what forgiveness feels like.
For every unexpected illness that required medical insurance,
every second-trimester miscarriage, every chaos unemployment
caused, every looming eviction, every arrest warrant gone
unanswered, the women in my family made promesas to plaster
cast statues worshipped in overcrowded apartments with rum
poured over linoleum, nine-day candles coughing black soot
until the wick surrendered, Florida water perfuming doorways
and the backs of necks.
Promesas: barters/contracts with a God they didn’t vow to
change for but always appeased/ bowls of fruit/ paper bags filled
with coconut candy and caserolas de ajiaco/ left at busy intersections,
an oak tree in High bridge park, the doorway of the 34th precinct,
and when mar pacifico and rompe saraguey refused to grow on
Washington Heights windowsills, the youngest became part of
Unsullied and unaware: cousin Mari pissed about having to dress
in green and red for twenty-one days to keep Tío Pablo out of jail/
Luisito scratching at an anklet made of braided corn silk to help
Tía Lorna find a new job/ and my hair not to be cut until Papi’s
tumor was removed.
Gathered in tight buns or sectioned pigtails, falling long past my
waist when asymmetrical bobs were in fashion, unaware my crown
had the necessary coercion to dislodge a mass from a colon, I grabbed
my older brother’s clippers, ran thirsty blades across my right temple
to the back of my ear, massaged the softness that emerged as strands
surrendered on bathroom tiles. My desire to mimic freestyle icons,
whose albums my cousins and I scratched on old record players,
wagered against Papi’s large intestine.
My unsteady hand: a fist
in the face of God.
(after Graciela Iturbide’s 1979 photograph)
My warm morning skin bristles
in the jungle hut’s frigid shower
as shrill chirps trill
off my inner ear’s high-hat.
What tropical bird lurks
outside this screen-less window?
I imagine lime green wings,
a feathered turquoise face,
but when its squeak rattles
into a hiss that creeps
behind me like a shadow, I turn
to stare straight into the onyx
eye of an iguana, iridescent
crown gleaming down
on my miserable wet head, tail
coiling the shower pole, tongue reach-
ing for my splashed shoulder.
I slink back, leave dirt in the bends
of elbows and knees, relinquish
a chance to feel eyes licked
into the back of my head. I am not
la Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas
donning her Zapotec headdress
of protruding limbs about to leap,
folded faces, triple chins. Not
Iturbide’s pebble squint refusing to blink
as it latches onto the queen of Juchitán
so far away, yet so near to where I stand
dripping on this poured concrete floor.
It’s true that I’m im-
patient under affliction. So?
Most of what the dead can
do is difficult to carry. As for
gender I can’t explain it
any more than a poem: there
was an instinct, I followed
it. A song. A bell. I saw
deer tracks in the snow. Little
split hearts beckoned me
across the lawn. My body
bucked me, fond of me.
Here is how you bear this flourish.
Bud, I’m buckling to blossoms now.
“EL Sal-va-doh-RE-AN Salva-doh-RAN, Salva-DOH-RÍ-an,”
los mui-muis, we don’t even know what
to call ourselves. How to eat
a pupusa: ¿fork & knife? or
¿open it up & treat it like a taco? but
then, we’re betraying our nationalistic (read:
anti-black, anti-indigenous) impulse
to not mix with anyone else. ¿& what’s
with jalapeños in the curtido,
cipotes? ¿With using spicy “salsa”
instead of salsa de tomate? There’s too many
“restaurantes,” one side of the menu: Mexican,
the other, platos típicos. Typically
I want to order the ensalada, but then
they bring me an actual salad.
I say: cóman miercoles, they
want to charge me extra for harina de arroz. Extra
por los nueagados. There’s
nowhere I’d rather be most
than in Abuelita’s kitchen, watching her
throw bay leaves, tomatoes, garlic, orégano
into the blender, then chicharrón,
helping her sell to everyone that knows
she made the best pupusas
from 1985 to 2004. By then,
Salvadoreños became “Hermanos Lejanos,”
we traded Colón for Washingtón. By then,
Los Hermanos Flores looked for new singers
every time they returned from Los Yunaited
to San Salvador. Stay, no se vayan,
es-tei, no sean dundos, was all
those Salvadoreños could say.
We didn’t listen & came here
only to be called Mexican or Puerto Rican,
depending on the coast. We had to fight
for our better horchata, not
the lazy whiter one with only rice. & when
we didn’t want to fight
we tried to blend, speak more “Mexican,”
more ira, more popote, more
no pos guao. ¡Nó, majes!
¡No se me hagan dundos,
ponganse trucha vos!
When anyone wants to call you: Mexican.
You can just say: Nó,
actually, andáte a la M—
racista cara de nacionalista.
after Gala Mukomolova’s “On the Brighton Beach Boardwalk”
Families roll on toward summer, its feral freedom, ocean waves
beckon every sibling like schools of skipjack leaping together to
catch the sun on their silver scales. Bundles of beach umbrellas
waiting to be raised high & planted for their temporary kingdoms.
Trucks bobbing with oranges, station wagons bouncing with
babies in the back. Lovers fight in the red gleam of a rover or
swerve in the sweat of a frolick behind the wheel. A highway
stretch of to & fro, bodies raucous & guzzling. So many dreams
leaking from gas tanks, the oil drip of wasted want. A congested
uproar of miles in waiting. So many exits missed. What-could-
have-beens, just beyond the turnpike. Dead ends. Concrete &
My aunt, a tree cutting herself down & me with, turns to me from
the front seat, says, some of us didn’t get the looks in the family, right?
You know how it is. My silence hits the lane markers, all we hear is
bumpbumpbump. All I hear is my tías telling each other, you are
beautiful, mija, but wear a hat so you don’t get too dark. All I hear is a
world saying brownbrownbrown a little too much & I am furiously
stuffing my mouth with plantain chips crunching centuries
between my teeth, my lungs a bouquet catching a windfall of
particles unseen. So much ugly
I tug on my seatbelt to breathe a little easier, flicking all the dead
ends off me. A cement barrier, the road of my throat. No one says
anything, the words filling the car like murky green lake water after
a tumble off the road. I imagine the doors stuck in the pressure of
the plunge, my drowned body floating to the surface not pretty
enough to salvage & burn. I spread to the shoals, a seasoned meal
in undertow, delicious, at least, to the fish. I am the fish, feral &
But I am flopped against the window, a pane dusty with estival
judgment. I roll it down, gills gasping for air, my face a drum of
highway breath, the 65 mph hot wind on my cheek reminding me
I am a body on an irreplaceable planet. Don’t take everything so
seriously, I hear. Roll the window up, dear, it really is too loud.
The whirring internal machine, its gears
grinding not to a halt but to a pace that emits
a low hum, a steady and almost imperceptible
hum: the Greeks would not have seen it this way.
Simply put, it was a result of black bile,
the small fruit of the gall bladder perched
under the liver somehow over-ripened
and then becoming fetid. So the ancients
would have us believe. But the overly-emotional
and contrarian Romans saw it as a kind of mourning
for one’s self. I trust the ancients but I have never
given any of this credence because I cannot understand
how one does this, mourn one’s self.
Down by the shoreline—the Pacific
wrestling with far more important
philosophical issues—I recall the English notion
of it being a wistfulness, something John Donne
wore successfully as a fashion statement.
But how does one wear wistfulness well
unless one is a true believer?
The humors within me are unbalanced,
and I doubt they were ever really in balance
to begin with, ever in that rare but beautiful
thing the scientists call equilibrium.
My gall bladder squeezes and wrenches,
or so I imagine. I am wistful and morose
and I am certain black bile is streaming
through my body as I walk beside this seashore.
The small birds scrambling away from the advancing
surf; the sun climbing overhead shortening shadows;
the sound of the waves hushing the cries of gulls:
I have no idea where any of this ends up.
To be balanced, to be without either
peaks or troughs: do tell me what that is like…
This contemplating, this mulling over, often leads
to a moment a few weeks from now,
the one in which everything suddenly shines
with clarity, where my fingers race to put down
the words, my fingers so quick on the keyboard
it will seem like a god-damned miracle.