The Mechanics of Men

I have never been the most mechanically inclined of men.
           Wrenches, screwdrivers, or shovels
have never made nice with me. In the shipyard,

I worked alone, in the dark, deep in
           the bilges of frigates. For two months,
I hooked a torch to an oxygen tank with a green line and pulled a red

hose through bulkheads to gas. The brass tool
           hissed like an ostrich
when it fed on metal. That day, my flame cut

permanent deck fittings; the loops fell like bright oranges;
           I ripened the rusty metal. I knew
that this was a job to baby-sit me, a job they gave to bad burners,

beginners playing with their tools: who pretended their brass torches
           were trumpets, and that gulls in the bay were tables
of distracted diners. When my father was a boy, his father loaded him

and his siblings in the car and dropped them off downtown
           so my grandfather could get drunk and my
grandmother could pretend he wasn’t drinking again. When I was a boy,

I enjoyed watching my father dig; with dirt between his palms, he spun
           the shovel before he dug. As I grew, I tried
to stay away from work, even when he paid me. I stayed away from him too.

I never understood how he could work around so much grass. For him,
           life was work. For him, everything was hard. For me,
it was not hard. He stalked my mother a long time after their divorce.

He never understood she was not sod to be laid, or a sprinkler to be
           attached to a pvc pipe seven inches in the ground.
That pregnant at fifteen was too soon. Neither of us is the most

mechanical of men, yet we still pride ourselves on how we fashion our tools.
           I wake up shivering and crying in an empty bed,
 the afternoon light entering and leaving an empty bottle of wine near

an emptier glass—or roll over and try, and fail, to remember a woman's
           name, which never really gets old, just uncouth
to say so, and feel fixed. To feel fixed is to feel a mechanical spirit, to feel love,

or at least to play at paste for an evening, to make believe she will never leave me,
           as life almost did when I cut the green hose, and was
lonely and shaking that day on the deck of the destroyer, looking into the

green water, and wondered what would be written on my tomb:
           "Killed by oxygen was this unmechanical man."
In that moment close to death, I only wanted my own lungs. I didn’t regret

returning home and sleeping on my father’s couch. And that summer, I returned
           to each of the women of my past and bedded
them all, trying to reheat our want. I don't regret that– drinking wine

and making love, or writing poems and making love, of wanting to stay
           but nonetheless leaving. I don't regret returning
with Said and Spivak, with Weil and Augustine, of telling my father

"All sins are an attempt to fill voids," or rebuilding my grandfather's
           house with Hopkins in my head
as I ripped the tar and shingles off the old roof with a shovel.

And I am not mad for being the second favorite son,
           Esau turned inside out. Can't regret saying
that summer, I was, in fact, already, a bigger and better man

than my father because I understood more. I didn't mind he
           favored my younger brother, who knew less
than him. I favored my brother's way of living, of skating

in the park and smoking weed while I studied and wondered for us all.
           How ridiculous I was that summer for us all;
for not attempting to rebuild any of his love that summer, at all.

More by David Tomas Martinez

A Kiss

And sometimes it is

                                                       that we lose,

          and sometimes

it is just lips. When I was

                           a child, I would ask my mother
to tuck me

                             in, wrap me tight in blankets,

            make me into a burrito.

                           Sometimes I would wait in bed,

pressing my body stiff, like a board,

mind like a feather, silly— setting the scene


                        to be seen.

                                          So I could be wrapped.

                                              So I could be kissed.

And what

                                  I miss most,

is being            made                                 again.


I must
          not succeed.

                      Success is the mind-killer.

           is the little-death
           that brings total

obliteration. I will face

                                 my success. I will

permit it to pass

                       over me and through

me. And when it has
                                                past, I will

turn the inner

                      to see

its path. Where

the success has        gone there will be

                      Only I will remain. 

from Forgetting Willie James Jones


It's not water to wine to swallow harm,
though many of us have,

and changing the name
of Ozark Street to Willie Jones Street,
won't resuscitate,

won't expose how the sun roars across rows of faces
at the funeral for a seventeen-year-old-boy,

won't stop the double slapping
of the screen door against a frame,
causing a grandmother, by habit, to yell out, Willie.

It can't deafen the trophies in a dead teenager's room.
That day in '94 I felt strong.

I walked down the street with nickel bags of weed
in the belt loops of my Dickies,

and a bandana strung from my pocket.

That's when I thought trouble could be run from,
could be avoided by never sitting
with your back to the door
or near a window.

I swore by long days and strutted along a rusted past,
shook dice and smoked with the boys

that posted on the corners:
and men cruising in coupes, men built so big
they took up both seats,
I rode with them that summer.

That was the season death walked alongside us all,
wagging its haunches and twisting its collared neck
at a bird glittering along a branch.

Willie was shot in that heat,
with a stolen pistol,
in the front yard of a party.

It poked a hole
no bigger than a pebble
in his body.

The shooters came from my high school:
we sometimes smoked in the bungalow
bathrooms during lunch.

A few weeks before Willie got shot,
Maurice had been killed—

An awning after rain,
Maurice and Willie
sagged from the weight.

Some say it is better
to be carried by six
than judged by twelve.

Some say the summer of '94
in Southeast San Diego
was just another summer.