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Calling the White Donkey
I called the white donkey that hurt my left shoulder
the last time it appeared, ramming me
with its ivory head, cracking my back
to relieve me of worry and hope.
I called the white donkey,
surprised at the sound of my voice.
I was scared, wondering if the white head
would give me its donkey brain,
snowy matter dripping into my ears
like the horse of the first man who fell off,
the mind of the donkey teaching me about
desire, the moan, white hair
on the back of my head that warns me.
I called the donkey.
It came slowly toward me,
huge ears shaking with growing fury,
the smell of its breath turning the air white,
a greed wanting to bite into the white apple
I have carried in my throat since I was a boy.
I faced the donkey, watched
its gait become a shuffle of possession,
shaking its head as it stopped to
root its dirty hooves in the ground.
I stepped back and clicked my fingers.
It would not come closer, its snort
commanding I listen as it farted.
I walked away and did not know it was I
who yearned for labor of the ass.
It came so close before letting me know
the animal I summoned couldn't remove
the white scar from my heart,
a blind life I lived for good.
* * *
Under the Freeway in El Paso
I hearstreets light up
with secret weeping,
wish I could really hear it,
be given the owl
and the route of veins
pulsing under the freeway
where the house of my birth
stands and decays.
Strangers have lived there
for the last thirty-eight years.
I have wanted to knock on the door
and breathe inside the house.
Someone wants me
to disguise myself as a street,
a traffic signal or a dark alley,
the imploded house across
from the last residence
of the ghost who follows me inside.
Someone wants me to thrive,
surpass the disappearance
of my father, my dead grandfathers,
my missing uncle, my cousins
who won't speak to me because
I come from the house of candles,
the room of saints, the wall of glowing
crucifixes that break the arms
of those who don't believe,
who curse the smoke
and blow it toward me,
the blankets I found inside
shattered rooms under
the freshly built freeway.
I went crazy with hope there,
restless as the prisoner
who fell down the hill,
impaled himself on yucca
and the turnpike of America,
the pointed staff of the priest.
I am the man who ate
the catacombs of honey,
raised my lips to the wiping hands
that took care of me inside the house,
gave me sweetness of prayer,
the stranger waiting for my return,
so he could light the candles
that didn't melt in the years of the passenger.
* * *
Here is the confessor
with his metal cross
pressed to his forehead,
throat of pure voices
stumbling over prayer.
How he wishes he could
grasp the rosary,
root the beads into smoke
under enormous church floors,
roll them into marbles
the size of his testicles,
as they fold under him,
trying to disappear from the cold.
He stands from genuflection
like a silent dancer.
Take a candle.
Take a mouth not making sound.
A mouth of night that
hasn't answered in years.
When the dead nun rises
out of the confessional,
take your memory of her.
She is the first-grade teacher
who beat you years ago,
blood running down your forehead
as a trickle the priest forgot to bless.
Sit in the middle
of the empty, black church.
Smell the air of sinners
and those who don't cry.
Then, in a voice that doesn't lie,
a voice with a dust of holy water
bless the ghost, bless the water.
* * *
Suddenly, I Remember the Place
Loud thunder of the white guitar decides how far
we recall the danger of telling too many tales
to the black hand of the draped saint,
the statue in the garden overgrown with dry roses,
salt cedars, the deep grotto of spreading leaves.
Visiting loyal worshipers not knowing the saint
in the grotto has been covered for years
actually a woman condemned to die in the sun
for having too much strengththe mistaken figure
of a male saint buried under her, worms
and rotting earth strong under the statue.
The sanctuary with the shriveled mummy in the glass
belongs to the Franciscans who never came out
when we visited, a walled-in shrine in a neighborhood
that hid the secret of petrified stone and shells,
angry brothers hooded in brown cloth, the ropes
around their waists tighter than the black branches
that hovered over my head when I let go of my mother's
hand to get a good look at the face of the mummy.
I don't recall how long it looked back at me,
before it disintegrated into the nightmare I have
several times a year. My mother insisted I come see
the grotto for myself, wanting me to pay for my sins
of hitting my sisters, lying to her, hiding behind
the house when my father searched for me,
his leather belt blistering my back with the same
bony peaks I saw on the shrouded saint.
Loud thunder of the white guitar
on my tattooed hand, a pattern I bought from
a gum wrapper to print on my wrist, pretend
I could run from the thick vines of the saint
terror and the guilt of boys among the circle
of hooded men asking for gifts, an exposed genital
from the punished youth who belonged
to the blind gathering of the faithful.
The boy never questioned the grotto, never asked
why the sky turned black each time they visited
the suffocating armpit of incense, glass,
black hoods, sandaled feet, and the red eyes
of the monk who took the boy with a cold hand,
stood him before the enclosed body, forced him
to confess beyond the dimensions of shattered glass.
* * *
Vista Across a Tree
Start with the secret source of those
who taught you how to write and sing.
Despair over the unreachable extension
of things you were told you could possess.
Continue with the flag of doubt
over the fields of finely cut grass moving
into memory of a cold, stone floor,
the overburdened arms of the cottonwood.
Vista with crosses and people entering the arches,
overpowering smoke of incense from troubled altars.
When you leave the church each time,
you inherit a piece of paper to write on.
You do not know it.
You never carry the pages with you.
They are hidden in the well where your cousin Fell
and drowned, a puzzle of bones and candy skulls
of the holiday intended to make fun
of the crying wolves, the beekeepers,
mounds of masa turning yellow on the table,
their puffy nipples of salt oozing onto plates of tomatoes
cut to please you, feed you as a son of the kitchen,
stinging taste of mescal heaving your broken stomach
as the one who shared his tongue
with men who could not stay quiet.
Share this with those who taught you.
They have written their books of greed, books of knives,
books of bandannas and torn jeans, the list
of women's names they kept.
Let them have their books.
You have one and it is turning yellow.
Keep the mask of asking on the back of your head.
You don't have to wear it on your face
until laughter abolishes masks.
They don't exist.
They are coloring books for the dead.
If a trail of ants outside your house condemns you,
rid yourself of every pitcher of water.
Friends without water.
Vista of a tree fallen in the lightning strike.
The code of clay breaks in the library.
It is missing pieces you stole when you began
your vocabularies, set down words on paper
from churches you hated to enter.
Your friend's mother lived in the barrios of El Paso,
a singer and guitarist with heat in her stomach,
sharpness of her breasts that enveloped her sons,
tossed them into the blinding coil of the desert,
so they could wipe the dust off their blackened feet.
Fingerprints flashing in your eyes
during the rare July storm.
If you could explain this to your friends,
you would not be friends.
If they ask you about guacamole on lettuce leaves,
tell them the salad comes from two kinds of greed.
If they show you their poems of doubt,
announce the letters to the code of clay
given to you by your mother.
It is the myth of the dying coyote
poisoned by the naughty boys, lies
of the hungry wanting what you left on your plate,
the leather strap across your back,
vista of the tree in the hands
of the father with the belt
who has nothing to do with this.
* * *
Cabatothe art of tying sticks together with brown
twine to make a secret symbol only the maker knows.
I tie eight sticks together, make sure
they look like the first star that fell at my feet.
The brown twine is tight, finished,
wound around the middle of the long,
smooth bamboo sticks.
It is not a star, but a falling diamond,
the closest pyramid that rose near
San Luis Potosí where my grandmother was born.
I make my cabato.
It has sixteen points resembling the cage of sorrows,
two feet long at its widest point,
a twisted wreath for those who want me
to tell them what it means.
I twirl my cabato in my hands,
a bamboo forest eliminated when
the first people found my grandmother,
gave her the will to live, letting members
of her family they didn't, kill, flee.
I hang my cabato on the wall, stiff vine
of what I always wanted to make.
The sticks remain.
The mutated star will dry into the wall
until the day I die.
I touch my cabato.
No one knows what I think
when I make sure the twine is secure,
the geometrical cross I have made a part
of the same tool invented by the first man
who tied anything together.