Three Minutes with Mingus

When I read of poets & their lives,
  son of a milkman & seamstress, raised
in a whistle-stop town or village, a child
  who spent his after-school hours deep
in the pages of a library book, I want to go
  back to my childhood, back to the war,
rescue that boy under the bed, listening
  to what bullets can do to a man, take him 
out of the homeland, enroll him in school,
  his class-size ten, unfold the fables 
of the sea, a Spanish galleon slamming up 
  & down the high waters. This is why
I write poems, why I prefer solitude 
  when I listen to your lazy sound 
of brass on the phonograph. You give 
  language to black roosters & fossil bones, 
break down phrases between the LA River
  & the yellow taxi cabs of New York.
I picture you in Watts, the 240-pound
  wrath of a bass player building up steam,
woodshedding for the strictly segregated
  hood, those who seek a tiny shot of God,
digging through hard pan, the hammer’s
  grunt & blow. I need a gutbucket of gospel, 
the flat land of cotton to catch all those 
  Chinese acrobats bubbling inside your head. 
When I think of the day I will no longer 
  hold a pencil within my hand or glance 
upon the spines of my books, I hear 
  Picasso’s Guernica in your half-choked 
cries, a gray workhorse lost in a fire’s 
  spiraling notes, a shrieking tenor sax 
for the woman falling out of a burning house. 
  I want to tell you if I wrote like you pick 
& pat in Blues and Roots, I would understand 
  the caravel of my childhood, loose
without oars or sails, rolling on the swells
  of a distant sea. That’s all I got, Mr. Mingus.
I give you the archaeology of my words,
  every painstaking sound I utter when I come
to the end of a line, especially the stressed
  beats of a tiny country I lost long ago.

More by William Archila

Bury This Pig

Behind the cornfield, we scaled the mountainside
            looking for a foothold among the crags,

rooting out weeds, trampling on trash,
            the trek as if it were a holy crusade:

bodies armored, mounted on horses,
            banners fluttering in the air.

Then one morning, we stumbled upon the thing,
            dead, cramped in a ditch, covered in ants,

trotters grimy, a purple snout of flies
            and not a dollop of blood,

but a thick piece of hide, cradling
            about fifty pounds of hog.

Someone said, "Kush! Kush!"
            as if to awaken the thing.

I thought about the carcass, blood-slick,
            staggering into the room,

grumbling and drowning as if deep in the mud,
            eyes buckled in fear,

bones breaking down to the ground, open
            to the chop and tear of human hands:

pork and lard, forefeet, fatback cut into slabs,
            an organ fattened and butchered.

It continued for weeks, a few of us
            meeting in the afternoons

just to look at the steaming belly, maggots
            stealing the gray of the brain,

each time, one more barefoot boy
            probing the eye socket with a stick.

Some of us came back armed
            with picks and bars, shovels dusty in our hands,

 until the ground groaned with war.
            The sky fell and cracked the earth.

 How was I to know
            they would be hooked, hacked,

snouts smashed on the wall,
            their bodies corkscrews on the floor?

 How was I to know
            I would bury this pig, rock after rock?


Saturn’s Country

S for salt, for 
spoiling crops. S 
for worse or
no choice other 
than exodus or 
a territorial discourse.
S for stretched out
in a morgue, plastic 
bags like garbage 
you discard.  S 
for stinking hog, 
onions, frenetic 
maggots laying 
their baggage. S 
for still you're flesh, 
meat butchered, bootlegged
in the marketplace. S 
some might say
you're gas sloshed 
from a tank. Others 
that first blue 
God doused 
on a tarp, hated it
and left it to rot, or 
you’re that sound 
he loved so much, 
smaller than a 
cricket song.
S for scalp, for the soiled 
search of your god. S 
for complete 
utter darkness. S 
for success 
out of the carcass.
S for sloth, for 
sickle, for a solar system
beyond sable
incarceration. S 
for ES which is S
which is señor of a 
thousand choruses. 
S for savior, for
scavengers and sculptors
you throw out 
of the temple. S 
for so much white- 
noise pressure
even the cardinal 
won't canonize you.
No, not that bird, not 
that pontiff, nor your 
arsenal. S for still 
to this day in your
belly, in the dive 
of your mouth.

El Mozote

The photograph leads you to coarse lines 
crooked along weathered grains 
of a wooden tablet, probably painted

by a carpenter or wood cutter; 
loops around the bowl whitewashed –
the color of clarity. Anacleta, 
 
Amílcar, Macario. Characters branded 
for a monument of wood & rock.
The morning the deer roamed 
 
the thick of the woods, panels 
of the sky capsized; the stare innocent, 
the cut unclean. The bar, the stem, 
 
the height. Cayetano, Candelaria, 
Concepcion built like a house. 
The sacristy burned 

the way wood changes to fire. 
Out of rubble fire. Femurs 
afire. Like Milton's Late Massacre
 
they’re outdated to the jury, robbed 
of their own eyes, yet everything 
is archived in the clouds. Doroteo, 
 
Filomena, Facundo. Each name 
a chamber, a chapel, fragment of a line
like an off-rhyme or a shotgun blast. 

The only movement is the movement 
of the monument. The contour, 
the black metal. You turn the page

and the family rises. No arch, no thistle, 
the town remained denuded of its residents,
many years the very picture lost in the hills. 
 
Stunning, the number of shoes, 
tricycles mangled. The absence 
of the physical grace, the cadence 
 
of a well-tuned body. The bending 
& brushing. Insects, vessel-like roots 
reaching for foliage; Zoila, Clicerio, 
 
Olayo. Lines of a child. A minefield.