from Return to Tetaroba

light that day | bright | & the air hot | & meeting bones
of those I would never know en the panteón
speaking Sinaloan Spanish | which has always
been the accent I’ve understood most
despite hearing it least in my life

sígueme he sd | follow me
we must walk | roads unpaved lined
with stones & dust | so much dust
| polvo | of airborne bones &
saguaro ancestors watching us
their shadows trailing us |
as sr Nalo led us past a dried
creek & just over a small hill
& there | a house with no doors
& there attached to this home
the walls of another | walls covered
in hot black plastic | secured with rope
there | the walls of Francisco’s home
what was left of Francisco’s home
now a storage space for another family’s home
aquí el vivió | sr Nalo sd | he lived here |
Rosario after decades of waiting | left this home
& lived with her children | Francisco’s children
from his first family | closer to the center
of el rancho Tetaroba | how los Alvarez
of Arizona dwindled to less people
over one hundred years &
how los Alvarez of Tetaroba
increased & lived in all parts of Mexico
touch these walls | de color colorado
they were the same yr grandfather felt
you feel the heat | they breathe hot

touch these walls | paredes en la frente y la mente
they were the same yr grandfather felt
you feel the heat | they breathe hot
I pocketed a piece of this wall
& later when drunk | way drunk after
getting to know mis primos better
over chelas | I stumbled into the hotel
hot tears in my eyes | dad I sd |
I kept this for you | for all of us
but always for you to keep him
& to remember | always remember
what he did |

| climbing down the drainage of red
rock | sweet minted plants |
Robert | my father | father of five
all born in Arizona | Robert
stops to catch his breath then rips
bamboo from root | clouded
red dust clumps dropping |
this is where he was born
& now we know why | now
we know why & now we can see why

Related Poems

Of the Threads that Connect the Stars

Did you ever see stars?  asked my father with a cackle. He was not
speaking of the heavens, but the white flash in his head when a fist burst
between his eyes. In Brooklyn, this would cause men and boys to slap
the table with glee; this might be the only heavenly light we'd ever see.

I never saw stars. The sky in Brooklyn was a tide of smoke rolling over us
from the factory across the avenue, the mattresses burning in the junkyard,
the ruins where squatters would sleep, the riots of 1966 that kept me
locked in my room like a suspect. My father talked truce on the streets.

My son can see the stars through the tall barrel of a telescope.
He names the galaxies with the numbers and letters of astronomy.
I cannot see what he sees in the telescope, no matter how many eyes I shut.
I understand a smoking mattress better than the language of galaxies.

My father saw stars. My son sees stars. The earth rolls beneath
our feet. We lurch ahead, and one day we have walked this far.

How to Dismantle a Heart

My mother used to say the heart makes music, but I've never found the keys. Maybe it's the way I was brought into the world: dragged across a river in the night's quiet breathing, trampling through trash and tired runaways as if tearing a window's curtains. We were barred from entry but repeatedly returned, each time becoming a darker part of a tunnel or a truck bed. The sky was so still the stars flickered like carbide lamps. We told time through the landmarks of the dead like cataphiles—the warren of a little girl’s murder, the wolf’s irrigation pipe. When you see enough unwinding, beating is replaced by the safety of wings. This isn't goodness. The voiceless are never neutral. Bones sway to elegy. Ebony burrows into the earth as a refugee. I grew up, eventually, but the sun was like a cliff with a false bottom: you'd drop and come out the top again. Enough carcasses draped over the dry brush. Enough water towers empty as busted rattles. When you're a child, the heart has a stiff neck and demands to be played. Later, it limps. Before my knees could begin to ache, I crawled to the levee looking for a broken string. Some wayward zil. I stretched my heart over a manhole and drummed it with broken pliers. It wouldn’t even quaver. It snapped back into a seed, dry and shriveled and blank.

Father’s Memory of a Mexican Mining Camp

Softly, it always began softly.
Then slowly swelled to a wail.
Men’s voices. Maybe seven of them
up on the hill behind the house.

A breeze through the window
stirred the curtains like clouds.
I was five, or six. Around midnight
it would start—such a doleful sound.

They were drinking. It was Saturday
and the mines were closed. Their song
would wake me—their longing.
It was a language I knew,

though I couldn’t make out the words.
But the music—that was theirs.
Some ancient secret. A string of notes
piecing together who they once were.

My twin brother slept soundly.
I was alone with this mystery.
It haunts me even now, this lament
to their gods. If flowers were songs—

if the marigold sang, it would mourn
like this. I imagine them still
sitting on a dark hill chanting
their dirge. Some nights I wake—

I hear them. I don’t remember
my dreams, so I dutifully make
my way to the window.
All I see are clouds and mist.