from "Apocalipsixtlán" [5. Signs of the End of the World]

- 1970-

The right path. The phrase echoes in our heads
     as we travel west, away from the crack in the earth.
There is no way around it. Some say it connects
     Tierra del Fuego to the North Pole and cuts deep
down to the core—a wound that lets the heat escape
     each minute of the day. When all of the Américas
became a desert, dividing coast from coast, those
     caught in the middle either sunk into the crevice
or sunk into despair. The right path. That’s what
     Those Who Came Before tried to sell us before hell

rose from the bowels of the planet to burn the air
     in every lung. When the animals began to flee
and the birds headed east, we should have guessed
     the doom had come upon us then. But the right path
was not to panic but to study these changes, discuss
    policy, hold town meetings—negotiate. Catastrophe
was just another balloon to deflate. By the time
     the ground beneath our feet began to shake, it
were already too late to save our cities, which had
     turned to liquid we couldn’t drink. Next came thirst.

What comedy to witness humans think they’re
     in control of anything. The new collectives with
the old were just as tired and useless as the past.
     Their lifetime of mistake and misdirection was what
had killed us. Why repeat the leadership? Why
     allow the yesterday to roll its ancient wheels
into the present? Oh preachers of pretense, we
     silenced you. Oh teachers of nonsense, we erased
you. The future is ours, you all said, and the future
     arrived, bleak and black, but with much less room

to move around. A future without windows or doors,
     and one ugly hole in the ground that offers no escape.
What future is this? We asked. And Those Who Came
     Before simply shrugged their shoulders and shook
their heads. When the gas discharged from the opening
     we smelled the answer—sour odor of crimes against
the land and the centuries of death that had been buried
     there. Out flew centuries of damage and buried bodies
to hover above us like magpies shrieking: The crack
     in the earth, it is us. The crack in the earth, it is ours.

More by Rigoberto González

Gila

It's no curse
        dragging my belly across
                the steaming sand all day.
        I'm as thick as a callus
                that has shorn off its leg.

If you find me I can explain
        the trail made by a single limb.

                I am not a ghost.
Do not be afraid.

Though there are ghosts here—
        they strip down to wind
                or slump against rock to evaporate.

        Sometimes I crawl beneath the shedding,
backing up into the flesh pit for shade.
        Praise the final moisture of the mouth, its crown
                of teeth that sparkles with silver or gold.

I make a throne of the body
        until it begins to decay.

                And then I'll toss the frock—
death by hunger, death by heat—
        off the pimples of my skin.

        Don't you dare come into my kingdom,
peasant, without paying respect on your knees!

        What generous act did I commit
in my previous life, that I should be
                rewarded with this paradise:

a garden in which every tree that takes root here
        drops its fruit eye-level to me.

The Ghosts of Ludlow, 1914-2014

A century of silence is violence.

*

That winter a blizzard, a cold that crawled over
            the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and covered

                 the foothills with a crust of ice.
                        Everything whitened into bone.     

            The clothesline snapped like a branch.
                        A warning shot can be understood in

any language. The entrance to the coalmine dropped
            open like the mouth of a skull without eyeholes.  
           

            Mining folk felt safest underground.
                 The pits were for protection from the chill

that had stretched into the spring. The pits
            were for protection from the wind that kept the walls

                 of each tent shivering all night.
                        The pits were for protection.

*

And somehow the kettle still sang,
            its burst of steam a prized distraction

                 inside the deadness of the tent.
                        In the moment it was the thing

            with most life. It filled the small space
                 with breath—an exhale so far away

from the hour it would take
            the first bullet in its lung.

*

            The horses crushed the quiet.
                 Their nostrils flared and suddenly

                        they looked quite human
                                  in their rage. One foot sunk its hoof
                                               
                 into the face of a doll—an act
                        so cruel it had to have been deliberate.

            The baby limbs stretched out in shock.
                        No mouth, no throat—no sound.

                                    The horse shook its tail like a shrug.

*

Few things gathered the bodies
            in the camp—a game of baseball,

                        a marriage, a christening, a strike.
                                    And war, which darkened the light

            in the tents, shadow upon shadow.
                        The soldiers first, then the smoke,

                                    and then the fall of
                                                a smothering sky.

                          The pits, so womb-like, a refuge
                                    for the lambs while the wolf

            devoured the tents, so sheep-like in their
                        whiteness, so sheep-like in their bleating.

*

            The pits were for protection.

*

One evening the cook was making stew
            in the cauldron. A witch’s brew, said

                        the children who dared themselves
                                    to come near enough to toss

                        a pebble of coal in the pot.
                                    The rocks bounced off the bellies

            of both cauldron and cook. The man cursed,
                        which only made the children giggle.

                                    He chased them with the spoon.
                                                It made them laugh some more.

                        To teach a lesson, he grabbed a rabbit
                                    by the ears. It kicked and splashed as he

            submerged it under boiling water.
                        He trapped it with the lid.

                                    The children screamed in terror,
                                                imagining the bunny swimming

                        through the scalding soup
                                    only to reach scalding metal.

*

            Grief for a dead child sounds the same
                        in Greek or Italian or Spanish. Grief

                                    for eleven children has no language,
                                                only numbness—

*

                                                            it hardens even the land.
 
                                                Fires dissipated. Battles ended.
                                                            The miners rolled their stories up

                                    and left the town of Ludlow, 100 years
                                                empty except for an abandoned row

                        of shacks. Near the baseball diamond, a
                                    memorial as neglected as the playing field.

            A memorial rings hollow—it’s for the solace
                        of the living. To reach the dead

                                    walk toward the structures still standing,
                                                their windows still looking in.

                        Listen closely for the ghost of a woman
                                    tucking into bed the ghost of her son.

            Lean in. That blank sound you hear?
                        The weight of the ghost of her kiss

as it passes through his head—
            the collapse of absence into absence.        

from "A Brief History of Fathers Searching for Their Sons" [5. Portrait of a Father After His Son’s Memorial Service]

There’s a man who sits on a bench
waiting for a train, though the trains
arrive and depart and the man remains
seated, the heaviness of resignation on

his face. As evening falls the light flickers
awake in the waiting room and a moth
begins to flutter in and out of sight
until it rests finally on the white bulb

above his head. All things come to calm
this way—even the trains. The cycles
of grinding metal stretch out into yawns—
each iron wheel a flower folding its petals in.

Night concludes its hymn. The man rises but
hesitates to leave this station of his cross.