Thought Poem for Victor Martinez (Undelivered)

Juan Felipe Herrera - 1948-

You said:

What you wrote (at this moment—here)
was being written by someone somewhere else
at the same time (this is the question) some
country some town on stilts—in a broken
concentration bus or a polished make-believe desk
a cheap jungled-up clinic an empty one no supplies
for the sickly aged children deep

in the
rain soaked burnt tree forest slapped together hut
smoked with holiness with festered branches
and malaria strings just maybe a promotor school
that short snout bus that takes us to a new arrangement
you said that

would you be writing that there
would you be living that there
why would you care to write that there in that
in that message without a message that
hunger known as life stuff where every damp speckle
and mud twig is the shout mouth hunger and that fulfillment
i do not know—
knowledge let us call it that right now
what else

could it be could it be that this gut water
inside burning its alphabet incomplete
calling for something you and i have
bread is it bread is it ink is it simply placement
the empty yellowing floor office

across from my 15th floor
as I tiptoe into the edge of it all tomorrow
i read at the university i stand up and read
someone else is standing up and reading
someone else is tiptoeing in a circle a palaver
a crossing station in Talisman en route to
Guatemala halted halfway by soldados a variety
a synonym where life splits and fissions
mind sequence pattern—reproduction silence

you move your arm and put
letters down on paper you move your lips
as you (but you are not here—are you—anymore)

spell it as you drink it as you breathe it from that
second galaxy (ah yes)
halfway down as I

breathe it up half ways up as she ambles
with an ancient rifle (the kind sold to Indians)
through the shadow greenness mildew heat selva
in that

human landscape spiraling no one knows
 

More by Juan Felipe Herrera

tomorrow I leave to El Paso, Texas

see my brother-in-law with a styled shirt

in spite of his cancer below 

then a small dinner in the evening the next day

no one knows except I may be on the road

Mesquite where my father settled in '31

forty-five minutes west then a left you go in

sister Sarita waits for me on Abby Street

after decades in separate families we just met 

now I hear the clock snap I swipe an ant

time to walk my dogs five blocks and back

a different route to soothe the mind

it is the same one but I am hopeful

Everyday We Get More Illegal

Yet the peach tree 
still rises
& falls with fruit & without
birds eat it the sparrows fight
our desert       
 
            burns with trash & drug
it also breathes & sprouts
vines & maguey
 
laws pass laws with scientific walls
detention cells   husband
                           with the son
                        the wife &
the daughter who
married a citizen   
they stay behind broken slashed
 
un-powdered in the apartment to
deal out the day
             & the puzzles
another law then   another
Mexican
          Indian
                      spirit exile
 
 
migration                     sky
the grass is mowed then blown
by a machine  sidewalks are empty
clean & the Red Shouldered Hawk
peers
down  — from
an abandoned wooden dome
                       an empty field
 
it is all in-between the light
every day this     changes a little
 
yesterday homeless &
w/o papers                  Alberto
left for Denver a Greyhound bus he said
where they don’t check you
 
walking working
under the silver darkness
            walking   working
with our mind
our life
 

You & I Belong in This Kitchen

longtime hermano Bob          tells me
one of the monks in brown directs us to the deep sink
made of two sinks the hose & the silver table where all 
the spoons & metal tongs are clean
wait at the entrance for directions the monk gave me
but he is in there & points me to another sink
made of two sinks & a silver table where all 
the spoons & metal tongs are clean
scrub off the rice burned at the bottom 
there it is clinging to the sides of the steel
outside working the hole in the earth
three monks in brown stir the blackish pots boiling
four mouths of mud cakes for the new lunar year
the dragon the people the monastery the mountains
one monk stands staring into the nothing
no thoughts around him 
the other monk descends through the scaly fog two
children angle an exploded tree limb back & forth
so the sparks play with them      to the left 
the meditation hall is curved & faces Escondido 
down below where my father drove his army truck
& pulled our trailer to a stop on Lincoln Road in ‘54
I watered spidered corn & noticed the deportations
little friends gone the land left to ice alone
lunch is served we go to the line the spoons
and the speckled tongs await by the brown rice
white rice eggplant kim chee & a grey shade pot
pour the seaweed soup we go with our tray & sit 
the mud cakes are ribboned in red & gold & green 
there is a way to do this 
it requires listening & seeing &
silence           silence the bell rings
longtime hermano Bob & I      at the parking lot
we leave brown cloth                           brown cloth
naked spoons      naked pots
steam         rises from the sink &      the view
the view with no one           in front or     in back

Related Poems

A Supermarket in California

   What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I
walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-
conscious looking at the full moon.
   In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the
neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
   What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping
at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in
the tomatoes!—and you, García Lorca, what were you doing
down by the watermelons?

   I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking
among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
   I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork
chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
   I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following
you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
   We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary
fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and
never passing the cashier.

   Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in a hour.
Which way does your beard point tonight?
    (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the 
supermarket and feel absurd.)
   Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add
shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely.
   Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue
automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
   Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what
America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you
got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear
on the black waters of Lethe?

—Berkeley, 1955