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.

Related Poems

Personal History

The world’s largest Confederate monument
was too big to perceive on my earliest trips to the park.
Unlike my parents, I was not an immigrant

but learned, in speech and writing, to represent.
Picnicking at the foot and sometimes peak
of the world’s largest Confederate monument,

we raised our Cokes to the first Georgian president.
His daughter was nine like me, but Jimmy Carter,
unlike my father, was not an immigrant.

Teachers and tour guides stressed the achievement
of turning three vertical granite acres into art.
Since no one called it a Confederate monument,

it remained invisible, like outdated wallpaper meant
long ago to be stripped. Nothing at Stone Mountain Park
echoed my ancestry, but it’s normal for immigrants

not to see themselves in landmarks. On summer nights,
fireworks and laser shows obscured, with sparks,
the world’s largest Confederate monument.
Our story began when my parents arrived as immigrants. 

 

A Pain That Is Not Private

There is a time and place in the world for abstraction. When my mother left Puerto Rico for the first time, the year was 1968. Against my unknowing. We hesitate to say what intimacy is and whether or not we have it. I keep trying / to teach my students that / stream-of-consciousness is / this, not that / this / activity fails. We know it does because each of us leaves the room / feeling like barbed wire— snarling behind the barricade (because) at some point, we stopped feeling (like language could say). So we went without while some others embraced. Notice (after the emptiness) : a pain that is not private. In other words, focus not on the object, but rather, the light that bounces off of that object. Perforated. Estranged. Esa luz. Tómatela. Under that light° I felt my body try / to hold on (to the knot inside) your right hand; when did it become a fist? Remind me what it is again / what it is that you wish / to share (with others) >> when you’re on stage…
 
                                  °That light, this pain (what never translates).

Catechism for the Missing

     “Snow where the horse impresses itself / is solitude, a gallop of grief.” —Miguel Hernández

What use is a language
that lacks a name for hazard?

When wheat brays in an alley.

Where do you go
if you aren’t born
an adoration?

If you start the book
of brutality
you will never finish,

knowing how many
teeth go missing
every year.

A trapped animal
will tell you

how each chrysalis
necessarily entombs

a liberating force.

When water hisses in a barrel.

How many excuses
for the absence
of footprints about the body?

Even the desert
has a language

capable of uncovering
the ontology of the castaway.

Around the ocotillo,
around the narthex and dumpster,

each mouth exhales
a shrine.