The Fifth Dream: Bullets and Deserts and Borders

A man is walking toward me.
He is alone.
He has been walking through the desert.
He has been walking for days.
He has been walking for years.
His lips are dry
and cracking
like a piece of spent soil.
I can see his open wounds.
His eyes are dark
as a Tanzanian night.

He discovers I have been watching
though he has long ceased to care
what others see. I ask him
his name, ask him what
has brought him here, ask
him to name
his angers and his loves.
                        He opens his mouth
to speak—
but just as his words hit
the air, a bullet
pierces his heart.

                        I do not know
the country
of this man’s birth. I only know
that he is from
the desert. He has the worn
look of despair
that only rainless days can give.
That is all I know.
He might have been born
in Jerusalem. He might have been
born in Egypt. He might
have been the direct descendant
of a pharaoh. His name
might have been Ptolemy.
His name might have been
Moses. Or Jesus.
Or Muhammad.
He might have been a prophet.
He might have been a common thief.
He might have been a terrorist
or he might have been just
another man destined
to be worn down
by the ceaseless, callous storms.
He might have come
from a country called Afghanistan.
He might have been from Mexico.

He might have been
looking for a well.
His dreams were made of water.
His lips touching
water—yes—
that is what he was dreaming.

I can still hear the sound of the bullet.

*

The man reappears.
It does not matter
that I do not want him
in my dreams. He is
searching through the rubble
of what was once his house.
There are no tears on his
face. His lips still yearn
for water.

*

I wake. I begin to believe
that the man has escaped
from Auschwitz. Perhaps he sinned
against the Nazis or because
he was a collaborator or because
he was Jewish
or because he loved another man.
He has come
to the desert looking
for a place he can call home.
I fall asleep trying
to give the man a name.

*

The man is now
walking toward a city
that is no longer there.

*

I am the man.
I see clearly. I am
awake now.
It is me. It has taken me
a long time to know this.
I am a Palestinian.
I am an Israeli.
I am a Mexican.
I am an American.
I am a busboy in a tall building
that is about to collapse.
I am attending a Seder and I am
tasting my last bitter
herb. I am a boy who has learned
all his prayers. I am bowing
toward Mecca in a house
whose roof will soon collapse
on my small frame.
I am a servant. I shine shoes
and wash the feet
of the rich. I am an illegal.
I am a Mexican who hates all Americans.
I am an American who hates all Mexicans.
I am a Palestinian who hates all Israelis.
I am an Israeli who hates all Palestinians.
I am a Palestinian Jew who hates himself.

I am dying of all this knowledge.
I am dying of thirst.
I am a river that will never know water again.
I am becoming dust.

*

I am walking toward my home.
Mexico City? Washington?
Mecca? Jerusalem?
I don’t know. I don’t know.

*

I am walking in the desert.

I see that I am reaching a border.

A bullet is piercing my heart.

Confessions: My Father, Hummingbirds, and Frantz Fanon

Every effort is made to bring the colonised person to admit
the inferiority of his culture...

—Frantz Fanon
And there are days when storms hover
Over my house, their brooding just this side of rage, 
An open hand about to slap a face. You won't believe me

When I tell you it is not personal. It isn't. It only feels
That way because the face is yours. So what if it is the only
Face you've got? Listen, a storm will grab the first thing 
In its path, a Persian cat, a sixth grade boy on his way home 
From school, an old woman watering her roses, a black
Man running down a street (late to a dinner with his wife), 
A white guy buying cigarettes at the corner store. A storm
Will grab a young woman trying to escape her boyfriend, 
A garbage can, a Mexican busboy with no papers, you. 
We are all collateral damage for someone's beautiful
Ideology, all of us inanimate in the face of the onslaught. 
My father had the biggest hands I've ever seen. He never
Wore a wedding ring. Somehow, it would have looked lost, 
Misplaced on his thick worker's hands that were, to me, 
As large as Africa. There have been a good many storms
In Africa over the centuries. One was called colonialism 
(Though I confess to loving Tarzan as a boy).

In my thirties,  
I read a book by Frantz Fanon. I fell in love
With the storms in his book even though they broke 
My heart and made me want to scream. What good
Is screaming? Even a bad actress in a horror flick
Can do that. In my twenties, I had fallen in love
With the storms in the essays of James Baldwin. 
They were like perfect poems. His friends called
Him Jimmy. People didn't think he was beautiful. 
Oh God, but he was. He could make a hand that was
Slapping you into something that was loving, loving you. 
He could make rage sound elegant. Have you ever
Read "Stranger in the Village?" How would you like
To feel like a fucking storm every time someone looked
At you? 

One time I was 
At a party. Some guy asked me: What are you, anyway?
I downed my beer. Mexican I said. Really he said, Do
You play soccer? No I said but I drink Tequila. He smiled
At me, That's cool. I smiled back So what are you?
What do you think I am he said. An asshole I said. People
Hate you when you're right. Especially if you're Mexican.
And every time I leave town, I pray that people will stop
Repeating You're from El Paso with that same tone
Of voice they use when they see a rat running across
Their living rooms, interrupting their second glass
Of scotch. My father's dead (Though sometimes I wake
And swear he has never been more alive—especially when
I see him staring back at me as I shave in the morning). 
Even though I understand something about hating a man
I have never really understood the logic of slavery.
What do I know? I don't particularly like the idea of cheap
Labor. I don't like guns. And I don't even believe
White men are superior. Do you? I wanted to be
St. Francis. I took this ambition very seriously. Instead
I wound up becoming a middle-aged man who dreams
Storms where all the animals wind up dead. It scares
Me to think I have this dream inside me. Still, 
I love dogs—even mean ones. I could forgive
A dog that bit me. But if a man bit me, that would be
Another story. I have made my peace with cats.
I am especially in love with hummingbirds (though 
They're as mean as roosters in a cock fight). Have 
You ever seen the storms in the eyes of men who
Were betting on a cock fight?

Last night, there was hail, thunder, 
A tornado touching down in the desert—though I was
Away and was not a first hand witness. I was in another
Place, listening to the waves of the ocean crash against
The shore. Sometimes I think the sea is angry. Who
Can blame it? There are a million things to be angry
About. Have you noticed that some people don't give
A damn and just keep on shopping? Doesn't that make you
Angry? A storm is like God. You don't have to see it
To believe—sometimes you just have to place
Your faith in it. When my father walked into a room
It felt like that. Like the crashing waves. You know, 
Like a storm. This is the truth of the matter: I am
The son of a storm. Look, every one has to be the son
Of something. The thing to do when you are caught
In the middle of a storm is to abandon your car, 
Keep quiet. Pray. Wait. Tell that to the men 
Who were sleeping on the Arizona when
The Japanese dropped their bombs. War is the worst 
Kind of storm. The truth is I have never met a breathing
Human being who did not have at least one scar
On his body. Bombs and bullets do more than leave
A permanent mark on the skin. I have never liked
The expression they were out for blood.  

There are days
When there are so many storms hovering around
My house that I cannot even see the blue in the sky. 
My father loved the sky. He was trying to memorize
The clouds before he died. I confess to being 
Jealous of the sky. 

On Sunday Mornings
I picture Frantz Fanon as an old man. He is looking up
At the pure African sky. He is trying to imagine how it appeared
Before the white men came. I don't want to dream all the dead
Animals we have made extinct. I want to dream a sky
Full of hummingbirds. I would like to die in such a storm.