Nó, Actually, Soy Salvadoreño

“EL Sal-va-doh-RE-AN Salva-doh-RAN, Salva-DOH-RÍ-an,”
los mui-muis, we don’t even know what
to call ourselves. How to eat
a pupusa: ¿fork & knife? or
¿open it up & treat it like a taco? but
then, we’re betraying our nationalistic (read:
anti-black, anti-indigenous) impulse
to not mix with anyone else. ¿& what’s
with jalapeños in the curtido,
cipotes? ¿With using spicy “salsa”
instead of salsa de tomate? There’s too many
“restaurantes,” one side of the menu: Mexican,
the other, platos típicos. Typically
I want to order the ensalada, but then
they bring me an actual salad.
I say: cóman miercoles, they
want to charge me extra for harina de arroz. Extra
por los nueagados. There’s
nowhere I’d rather be most
than in Abuelita’s kitchen, watching her
throw bay leaves, tomatoes, garlic, orégano
into the blender, then chicharrón,
helping her sell to everyone that knows
she made the best pupusas
from 1985 to 2004. By then,
Salvadoreños became “Hermanos Lejanos,”
we traded Colón for Washingtón. By then,
Los Hermanos Flores looked for new singers
every time they returned from Los Yunaited
to San Salvador. Stay, no se vayan,
es-tei, no sean dundos, was all
those Salvadoreños could say.
We didn’t listen & came here
only to be called Mexican or Puerto Rican,
depending on the coast. We had to fight
for our better horchata, not
the lazy whiter one with only rice. & when
we didn’t want to fight
we tried to blend, speak more “Mexican,”
more ira, more popote, more
no pos guao. ¡Nó, majes!
¡No se me hagan dundos,
ponganse trucha vos!
When anyone wants to call you: Mexican.
You can just say: Nó,
actually, andáte a la M—
racista cara de nacionalista.

Let Me Try Again

I could bore you with the sunset, the way water tasted
     after so many days without it, 
                                                     the trees,
the breed of dogs, but I can’t say 
                                                    there were forty people
when we found the ranch with the thin white man, 
           his dogs, 
                          and his shotgun. 

Until this 5 a.m. I couldn’t remember
                           there were only five, 
or seven people—

We’d separated by the paloverdes.
      We, meaning: 
                             four people. Not forty. 
The rest. . . 
     I don’t know. 
                            They weren’t there 
when the thin white man 
                                         let us drink from a hose
while pointing his shotgun. 
                                             In pocho Spanish he told us
si correr perros atacar.
                                      If run dogs trained attack.

When La Migra arrived, an officer 
     who probably called himself Hispanic at best,

not Mejicano like we called him, said 
                                                      buenas noches
     and gave us pan dulce y chocolate. 

Procedure says he should’ve taken us 
     back to the station, 

checked our fingerprints, 
                                             etcétera. 

He must’ve remembered his family 
      over the border, 

or the border coming over them, 
     because he drove us to the border 

and told us 
     next time, rest at least five days, 

don’t trust anyone calling themselves coyotes, 
      bring more tortillas, sardines, Alhambra. 

He knew we would try again 
      and again,
                       like everyone does.  

Deportation Letter

                      for my cousin Julia Zetino

The words Notice to Appear flap like a monarch trapped in a puddle.
Translation: ten years in a cell cold enough to be named Hielera.
If not that, a plane with chains locked to her legs. My aunt swam across
the Río Bravo twice to see her second daughter born in Greenbrae.
¿Why can’t my sister come here? asks the one who speaks English.
The monarch’s beaten, but it won’t listen. Since nothing’s wasted,
it might get eaten, it will nourish ants already gathering.

      *
It was a hill like this. I was tired. I couldn’t keep running and fell. If it wasn’t for
the women who went back to pick me up from the shore, I wouldn’t be here.

      *
Somewhere along here there’s a bridge. A cactus-pear bridge, red
like: the dirtiest sunset, Gila monster hiding, leftover sardines in tin.
¿The hibiscus sprouting? ¿Bougainvillea? One daughter wakes
and sees them and the volcano, and fire flowers through her window.
She’s never seen the bridge her mom isn’t afraid of.

      *
My aunt, twenty-five years selling pupusas near that pier, ten and counting
cleaning houses, baking bread, anything in Larkspur. Most people
in La Herradura haven’t seen their parents. Her daughter Julia, over there.
Here, her daughter Adriana takes the bus to school every day.

      *
The first try we were already in that van and La Migra was chasing us. The driver
said he was going to stop, we should open the doors and run. There were a lot of trucks.
Sirens. Men through the speakers. I got to a bush and hid. One dog found me.
He didn’t bite. He just stood next to me till one gringo handcuffed me.

      *
This beach, these hills, are pretty. It looks like La Puntilla, except it’s cold.
I wish Julia was here. Javier, take a picture of Adriana and me. I’ll send it to Julia.

      *
It’s complicated. Mamá me dejaste, decí que vas a regresar, I said, at night
on that same bed you sleep in now. Same bed next to the window
from which you see the lemons, the custard apples, the bean fields,
then the volcano. I’m sorry none of us ever saw you draw butterflies
like we see Adriana draw them, with the caption: “the butterflies
were going to save the world from tornado. And did.”

Citizenship

it was clear they were hungry
with their carts empty the clothes inside their empty hands

they were hungry because their hands
were empty their hands in trashcans

the trashcans on the street
the asphalt street on the red dirt the dirt taxpayers pay for

up to that invisible line visible thick white paint
visible booths visible with the fence starting from the booths

booth road booth road booth road office building then the fence
fence fence fence

it started from a corner with an iron pole
always an iron pole at the beginning

those men those women could walk between booths
say hi to white or brown officers no problem

the problem I think were carts belts jackets
we didn’t have any

or maybe not the problem
our skin sunburned all of us spoke Spanish

we didn’t know how they had ended up that way
on that side

we didn’t know how we had ended up here
we didn’t know but we understood why they walk

the opposite direction to buy food on this side
this side we all know is hunger

Related Poems

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

La Mano

For the more than 60,000 children from Central America who cross the border unaccompanied.
With lines from Maya Angelou and Richard Wilbur

Arcing above our apartment building,
          above the rousing city and green skirts
of the San Salvador volcano, a flock
          of wild parakeets comes to roost
outside our window; my nine-month son
          rests his head on my chest and all I want
is to draw the curtains, but he’s coughed
          all night and now his breathing
is slow, near sleep, though his eyes snap open
          with each squawk. I imagine the parakeets
preening their emerald feathers, joyful in their ceremony
          of clacks and trills. They are not musing
the capriciousness of nature as I am; they don’t know
          five thirty am, only that the sun has tinged
the mountainsides gold and that this alcove echoes
          their welcome beautifully. The wild parakeets tap
at the windowpane and my son stirs,
          raises his sleep-etched face to mine.
Together we slip past the curtain and discover
          seven green parakeets, perhaps a little smaller,
their feathers scruffier than I had envisioned.
          Two squabble over a prime niche and the stronger
one comes towards the glass, wings unfurled,
          fat tongue thrusting from his open beak. I want
to unlatch the window and sprinkle seed, lure them
          to perch on our shoulders and arms, anything
to make them stay longer. Instead, my son, rooted in
          the things unknown but longed for still—
greets them with the slap of an open palm to the windowpane,
          and in a clapping of wings
they leap from the narrow corridor at once, a raucus fleeing,
          with headlong and unanimous consent,
a disappearing stain, a distant murmuration
          swallowed from sight.

Intimacy in Discourse: A Comedy in Three Movements

MOVEMENT ONE

Stick Man steps back
containing multitudes
of hues. “Ta-da!” he mouths,
since he’s mostly
narrow bands
of diffused colors,
a rainbow, faded,
except for the saturated,
tender-looking red
square for a heart
and the sore ball
of his left foot
supporting the tilt.
Not to mention the display
of acid green
on the crown of his head
and wrist, signaling
the mind-body connection.
The histrionics
in the perfect tension
between dexter and sinister.
Welcome to showbiz.

MOVEMENT TWO

This binary roadblock here
demands that you back off
to keep on contemplating it.
It fancies itself a zebra
standing on diamond-patterned stilts
for camouflage’s sake
and fastens itself to an equally
ornamented attachment
as if to hide from its handlers.

Forget it, it’s not interested
in establishing any rapport with you.

Blame it on instinct; it knows
how coveted equids are in the North
American private sector.

MOVEMENT THREE

Here’s your morality tale,
an optical conundrum/psychoactive puzzle:
the dominant lines lock,
while the areas they delimit contain
other lines within,
of the faint, disjointed variety.

Like interconnected
people and the basic story lines they each cling to
to remind themselves of themselves.
Yes, this is redundant.

In this picture, both
types of lines compete
for your attention, so that the eyes’
only resting spot
is a central area where color
has enough room to settle.

That old positing of linear
thought patterns versus the dispersal
of feelings and their counter-
tendency to ground.

In the source language disparate,
pronounced dis-pah-rah-teh, is nonsense.
Place an accent on the wrong
syllable and it becomes “shoot yourself.”
Let’s not overthink this.