for father and son

Jesús José Medrano went away
no more motel rooms to clean
he asked my dad to take his place

when Dad cried and looked the other way
the mortician closed the coffin on the body
Jesús José Medrano went away

He wore his best gray suit that day
hovered slowly above the family
he asked my dad to take his place

My father marched the casket to the grave
the relatives cried in the out-loud dream
Jesús José Medrano went away

My grandfather, farmworker among grapes,
measured a man tying vines in his teens
he asked my dad to take his place

Como un hombre, he would say
my father’s tears never seen
Jesús José Medrano went away
he asked my dad to take his place

More by Michael Luis Medrano

Poem for My Tío One Week After His Release

Tonight I have not the backbone
nor the breath
to ask what it was like to live,
I mean really live
inside that cavity of muscle and concrete
carving out your days.

I could not even begin
to stomach the anxiety of a jailhouse minute,
of being locked in a cell-block
where eyelids are chiseled stares—
faces from neighborhoods that blur
with names like Héctor, Juan,
or any other homeboy you wouldn’t recognize
because he was marked.

Tonight there are no mad-dog stares,
only hard embraces from friends,
relatives you’ve done time with.
Tonight the moon is still an accusing lamp
over Fresno Street, your cousin is the man
at the corner bumming dollars for beer,
and your mother is reciting the rosary
in an empty room,
meditating on beads of smoke.

Tío, nothing has changed.
The city keeps growing and growing,
and our gente keep owing and owing…
your nephew is till a poet
who fails at his craft:

I have not the backbone

                                            nor the breath

to ask what it was like to live…

The City Outside My Ear

A Minnesota poet
who writes in a plethora of ice
asks me what the shape
of a poem written in the hot dust
of the valley would look
and sound like. I tell him
it is all dust, even in the city
outside my ear—
my bedroom window rattling
when gunshots pop, when the cops
in metallic cars screech through
barrio streets, when a miniature man
is swallowed by the lake of shadows
and the streaming lights of the helicopter
night.