Published on Academy of American Poets (

The Tinajera Notebook

                      for C

                                               Through my torso, the smooth
                           diffusion of aguas ardientes.  Another
            shot.  Dawn.  

                                               Fan whir covers distant

                         rooster crow, dog bark cuts through fan whir.

            That the world has you in its time?  Is that what

                                                                              she said?  Meaning I too

                                     drank from the glass on the night stand, swallowing

                         the spider before I knew
                                                              I'd seen it?


             girls in heels and 

                         communion dresses

                                                            cross the window, their necks

                                                                                     bent shyly down.  

                                   Glancing at my watch, I turn back
                                                            to the hechicera, her face ashen, whirled

                                                  with lines.  You still haven’t told me

                         if she’ll recover, I say.

                                                  You have the eyes of—, she

                         repeats twice, not finding the word.  Then,

                                                                                          De donde viene?

*   *   *

So the present

hoses itself out.  And with it—

Sitting in the lobby of the clinic,

its walls painted

like children's rooms with starfish

and trains and jungle birds

and the children shuttling back and forth, the nurse

calling their name and a few words

in English or Spanish, the children

taking their mother's

or father's hand,

trailing the nurse past

a registration desk, down

the hall, the sequence of closed doors,

toward the one door open.  Radiance inside.  Bald

children wearing hats, and a bald baby in a mother's arms, and

here in the lobby, where I wait for you

to be X-rayed, 

some stranger whose exhaustion

can’t be fathomed, begins to snore.  If this

is the world and its time, as irrevocably it is,

when I step out into sunlit air

suffused with sausage smoke and bus exhaust,

with its relentless ads

for liquor and underwear

where am I then?

*   *   *

Quien es?  First words

of Hamlet. Last

of Billy the Kid.

Who is it on her knees in the Tepito market

screaming for money, naked to the waist,

operatic, arms raised to expose

double mastectomy scars?

Who is the traga-años, swallower

of years, selling me lottery tickets

in a tortilleria, a wrinkled

Mazatec in a red

t-shirt with the words Fresh

Fruit Delicious across her chest.  

And who was it the surgeons narcotized

before excising a chunk of muscle and cancerous

flesh over my shoulder

blade and grafting the hollow

with a sheet of my own skin the breadth

of a paperback, assuring me later

the wound would fill in with blood and 

flux so now, 

twenty years later, this salsa de chile de arbol

makes my scar throb?


From Core Samples of the World, published by New Directions. Copyright © 2011 by Forrest Gander. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.


Forrest Gander

Forrest Gander is the author of several poetry collections, including Be With (New Directions, 2018), winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. He currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. 

Date Published: 2011-01-01

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