The Ghosts of Ludlow, 1914-2014

- 1970-

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.        

More by Rigoberto González

La Pelona as Birdwoman [excerpt]

Tonight
I dared to crawl
beneath the sheets

to be nailed down
around me,
waiting for my lover, she

who enters
without knocking, she
who will unstitch

my every seam
along my thigh,
my side, my armpit.

She who carves
a heart out of the heart
and drops it

down her throat.
Sweet surrender this
slow death in sleep

as I dream
the love-making
is autopsy. How else

will I be hers
completely? Be her
treasure box I said:

a trove of pearls
and stones, the ding
of coins cascading

through her fingers.
The bird over her shoulder
not a parrot, but an owl

to be my mirror
when I close my eyes
and shape a moon-white

bowl out of my face
where she can wash
the hooks of her caress.

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.

things that shine in the night

—from "The Bordercrosser's Pillowbook"

Fulgencio's silver crown—when he snores
the moon, coin of Judas, glaring
at the smaller metals we call stars
my buckle
the tips of my boots
the stones in my kidneys
an earring
a tear on the cheek
the forked paths of a zipper
the blade of the pocketknife triggering open
the blade of the pocketknife seducing the orange
the blade of the pocketknife salivating
the blade of the pocketknife
the word México
the word migra