It is Monday and I am not thinking of myself. My son, asleep in his stroller, the dark conifers holding nothing but their scent. I’m walking him to the place where loggers have cleared thirty acres, leaving only ash and stripped tree limbs. The light now comes to the places once dark—and now wildflowers where once the moss grew thick and complete. The flame of something around the corner and I’m thinking of the wild tiger lilies that line this gravel road below my house, how they clump together, their stems bent down from the weight of their flowers. How mouth-like they are, and how their speechlessness makes the road quieter. Each flower is a surprise, like the flaming tip of cigarettes in the dark. I think that the road cannot contain all these mouths, though there are mythologies held in check by the tongue. Like the story my father told me about his father in war time, and how his own father forced him, with the threat of a beating, to go under the house for a cigarette from a Japanese foot soldier bunkered down. I can see my father’s small trembling hand, outstretched to this man whose face is mud-caked, smelling slightly of fire and lubricant for his rifle. The smoke from the soldier’s own cigarette takes the shape of the underside of the house and I imagine my father can hear his own father above him pacing. But this road now, is free of smoke. The logging trucks have taken off for the night and the tree remnants have smoldered into nothing but charcoal. The wreck of everything is a vacuum, so too the wreck of a village after war or the floor boards above a son’s head in fear of his own father. Here, though, there is nothing to fear. The wheels of the stroller on gravel is the only sound and the idleness of the excavation trucks harkens to someone asleep in the uneasy dark. No, I am not thinking of myself. I’m thinking of an agreement my father must have made with himself years ago when the houses were burning into bright bouquets in the nighttime. How, perhaps he swore he would not beat his own son while somewhere in the afterlife his own father smokes and paces. Perhaps there are no flowers in that place. Perhaps the lone soldier through with hiding, crawled out after the guns had stopped and dusted himself off, the sun striking his face with its unreasonable light. I’m thinking of my son, asleep, and of the wild tiger lilies. How frail they are in the new light. Why they come. Why they spring up, unannounced as suddenly as the promises we make with ourselves when we are young.
When I look at it, it’s simple, really. I hated life there. September, once filled with animal deaths and toughened hay. And the smells of Fall were boiled down beets and potatoes or the farmhands’ breeches smeared with oil and diesel as they rode into town, dusty and pissed. The radio station split time between metal and Tejano, and the only action happened on Friday nights where the high school football team gave everyone a chance at forgiveness. The town left no room for novelty or change. The sheriff knew everyone’s son and despite that, we’d cruise up and down the avenues, switching between brake and gearshift. We’d fight and spit chew into Big Gulp cups and have our hearts broken nightly. In that town I learned to fire a shotgun at nine and wring a chicken’s neck with one hand by twirling the bird and whipping it straight like a towel. But I loved the place once. Everything was blonde and cracked and the irrigation ditches stretched to the end of the earth. You could ride on a bicycle and see clearly, the outline of every leaf or catch on the streets, each word of a neighbor’s argument. Nothing could happen there and if I willed it, the place would have me slipping over its rocks into the river with the sugar plant’s steam or signing papers at a storefront army desk, buttoned up with medallions and a crew cut, eyeing the next recruits. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I could be anywhere, staring at a hunk of asphalt or listening to the clap of billiard balls against each other in a bar and hear my name. Indifference now? Some. I shook loose, but that isn’t the whole story. The fact is I’m still in love. And when I wake up, I watch my son yawn and my mind turns his upswept hair into cornstalks at the edge of a field. Stillness is an acre, and his body idles, deep like heavy machinery. I want to take him back there, to the small town of my youth and hold the book of wildflowers open for him, and look. I want him to know the colors of horses, to run with a cattail in his hand and watch as its seeds fly weightless as though nothing mattered, as though the little things we tell ourselves about our pasts stay there, rising slightly and just out of reach.
If given a horse, a palomino, I’d ride the high dunes to meet you at sunrise. If there were no horse, only shoes and sand, I’d start with the left foot and with the right, I’d drag a path for you to follow. The yellow storms would not pursue because the law between us is holy. If there was water and no desert, I’d sail for each celestial cluster perched in the spiritus nebulae— the planetary bodies, blemishes of your skin. And if there were no compass, I’d steer by shadow. I’d light a kerosene soaked arrow and fire into the sky. I’d watch the parabola of flame defy the worldly dark in the tongue of what must be the end of paradise. And if there were no paradise, then I’d be the horse. I’d bolt as though the stables were on fire and you, you would hold the bridle . . . you would ride.
We hold ourselves in contemptuous sleep. The light covers us with little tongues, making us conscious of bed sheet texture.
Wearing the evening’s chime around our waists as we turn, we are aware of ourselves— music strikes in day time from our throats.
Our bodies coax a story sunrise cannot disrupt as we pass from shade when morning calls, thinking only of scents
from orange blossoms, low brush and flowers . . . trembling citrus— these are sepulcher-white moments.
Asking for a respite from ourselves and hearing nothing but grinding teeth we choose to stay asleep. In the low dream
dawning, the moon disintegrates into a fingernail. The sea washes up a cowrie shell holding narratives:
who we were when we mused, kissing mouths. We turn and are broken by our body’s rising and breathing.
The hour of dawn holds us still. We mute our breaths and read into the pearled inlay of sea shells and half-open blooms from dream.
Eyelids clench facing the sun and we fade. Our skins warmed away from dormancy gleam, star-like and far. We are gathered
back into the things of this world and turn away from the sore-red sun, moved to deny who we will be when we are awakened.
Originally published in From the Fishouse
Urged, I chose to celebrate the body with rocks and stilettos. I’ve hollowed the tips of my bullets. I’ve poisoned the mouthwash.
Look at these hands—at the heart, they’re contemplating God. God, they think, can drop a branch without warning.
Spare me your sympathy, dearest. Spare me the discretion of an overdone murder or the secret of the sinister man you’ve willed me.
What good is it to be overdone without the rest of the story? What good will you be with your hands behind your back and your legs bound as in predestination?
Think—rain. Think—a man in a black shirt at the back of the bus. There are eyelids at work here. Dearest . . Dearest.
Let drive the rock you’ve sharpened to fury. Let fly the blade to my suspect body. I suspect everything will thank me for this.
So thanks. Again, thanks.
Originally published in Painted Bride Quarterly
The geese are a dark purple as they pass over the lake. There are too many crystals glinting in the early sun which blind the fliers but not enough to throw them.
The arms of the formation remind you of a schoolmate who was born with a deformed left hand, the thumb and small finger stretched outward with three missing middle digits.
You are frightened by this memory as one who happens upon a machinery accident.
The shadows of the flock burn their arrows over the ground in their haze and yours.
The winter comes. The early memory of the child with the hand plows past the horizon. The grasses along the lake will grow frantic and freeze. Soon you will wake me and tell me the story of the geese, how they sounded like small voices in a storm.
Originally published in Siren
They last long for Fidelito who is not of this earth. With its alphabets and loose-leaf, sheets of construction paper, oranges, blues, lunch boxes, crepe-paper, paper maché, the teacher talk and rasp of chalk, long division, multiplication, pronunciation, spelling and quelled hungers at lunch hour, the recesses of chase the girls/boys, catch-as-catch-can, freeze tag, war with rubber balls and big red welts the size of baseballs, war with a deck of cards, war of pencil breaking, or tether ball, kick ball, being goof balls in back near the coat racks, learning to cuss and whistle at the same time, saying Jesus, Mary, Joseph, holy, holy, holy . . . Lord, the girls who dare each other to kiss Fidelito, as he sits in the corner, dazed, watching birds in the frozen light.
Originally published in Third Coast
Fidelito at his school desk, secretly folds paper into a gift. The steady scale of Fidelito’s fingernail as it glides down paper to make a new edge, the sound when bathers kneel in shallows.
Fidelito stifles the crinkle as the beak he makes bends in thirst. It wants to drink like the school children in their rows who press their backs to wooden desks, and bend their necks the way swans do, watching themselves drift away.
Now the folded bird wants to fly. It beats its white heart in Fidelito’s restless hands.
A chalk scrawled alphabet creeps like peeling wallpaper.
Something spoken goes unheard the way a crooked line in a signature spells boredom or a note tucked under the body of an origami dove reads desire. Messages sail into air and Fidelito with his right hand cupped to his ear moves forward into that sound. He hopes to catch that one dry voice in a choir of something small enough to sit in his palm.
By holding his right arm by the wrist. And so Domingo shaves, straight-razor in the right hand, his boy Fidelito at his side, the fog of the mirror settling into the harbor, and the left hand gripping tight around the right wrist. He feels as if he holds a rope to secure himself from floating away, as if he holds the arm of someone fallen overboard.
The faucet’s slurred talk: a hair the drain could not swallow, the sounds of a wet-deck’s sway as sea-storms rock iron ships like empty plastic cups in the wind.
Fidelito’s father, his eyes filled with boats and sailors boots steadies himself by spreading his feet wide like the stance of a man guarding a door, like a man whose balance is turned by wave-crest and spume at the hull side. The blade’s prow cuts through the Pacific, past the mountains of his face like a tiller, like the furrow of his boy’s forehead in surprise when Domingo cuts himself and the water in the sink blossoms.
Published originally in the Crab Orchard Review