Read an Excerpt
By Lorna Dee Cervantes
Wings PressCopyright © 2013 Wings Press, for Lorna Dee Cervantes
All rights reserved.
best thought, you had taught
me — a river runs through it,
the foot of the soul standing
stubbornly in the freeze, all
the shards of ice crumpling up
the banks, what survives
in the ignorance. Play it away.
Be ceremony. Be a lit candle
to what blows you. Outside,
the sun gives a favorite present,
mountain nests in ironic meadows,
otter takes off her shoes, the small
hands of her feet reaching, reaching; still,
far away people are dying. Crisp
one dollar bills fold another life.
You taught me to care in the moment,
carve day into light, or something,
moving in the west that doesn't destroy
us. Look again, in the coming summer,
the cruelest month alive still eats up
the hours. Regret is an uneven hand,
a rough palm at the cheek — tender
and calloused. I drink another glass
of water, turn on the tap
for what grows, for you,
for what lasts, for the last
and the first found thought of you.
The End of the World As We Know It
happens on the dot of an "I", in each
patter of a millipede's feet, in every beat
of a hummingbird's heart. I see the field
frozen to steel, feel the frost split
the single blade, favor the awakening
of a fern frond, feel for the hungry tongue
awaiting the forever ripening. I go out
into the woods, mark my way with a yellow
ribbon, scatter the crumbs of love longing
to get back home. Remembering to close
the door behind me, I breathe in the smell
of my name in the wind, succumb to something
smaller than myself. Feel my way back
to the grinding — my metal
to the pedal, that awful rowing towards God.
How to Get A Car Wash
Take a five dollar bill, fold it,
throw it away. Take a penny,
scold it, make it pay and then
spend it. Take a chance, hold it
to your heart, blow on it, send it
to a friend. Take a moment, extol
it, breathe fire into its face.
Face it. Then forget it.
All the ways the highways go,
drive them in a silver sedan.
Ride past the grandmother with the palsied
gait, the old man shuffler by the wooden crate,
the child holding a blue balloon waiting
by the grate. Forget them. Remember
passion. Remember where you put your keys.
Recall registers ringing on Christmas eve.
Record voices and shrill sounds
still ringing in the leaden ear.
Then pay the master, play the slave,
fill up on tanks of rage and rest.
Gun the engines of your folly. Flee
towards the second best, the third eye,
the favored relative, the sullen child
cheered by snow. Feel your way
back to the second crossing. And, there
by the fresh grave in the mirror,
open the hoses, shine the chromey cheeks,
polish the head — and care.
White Walls Are Great For Poetry
Chuy came late or not at all.
He pissed off the principal and pulled
the hair of the pretty chola by the cholla.
He dissed his homework, fed the chinchilla
barbeque Doritos until it died after excreting
a brilliant orange mound of dust. He jabbed
the janitor in the face with his pencil
then furrowed the brow of the brow-beaten
teacher. All the classics passed
him by. All the books with spines
he let fly. He broke the headlights
of the head cheerleader's car then
sling-shot the lights in the parking lot.
He stole all the hotdogs from the cafeteria
then ate all the strawberry popsicles
too. And afterwards, he picked up
a pen, and followed his fate, he
scrambled up to the scribble
letting long vowels and longing
go chomping at the gate, his open
hand, his heart in a great O
of wonder. Oh, white walls are great
He was the friendliest fire
you'll ever meet, the burning brow,
hawk-like — eagle-eyed and splendid,
black wings opening when he looked at you;
you, stunning in the view. He had a vein
constricted at the temple, a single throb
pulse of rage before he hit you.
The most beautiful man you'll ever meet,
full of I love yous and honey, the stick
and sweet spoil of summer sweating off
that brow. He'll need you. He'll time you,
ride you 'til it hurts. Be a word
he doesn't speak, a turn of phrase
in French, something foreign to this land,
the red dirt that birthed him — first son
of a lost civilized tribe. He was the most
too good to be true you'd ever seen
and then you vanished
under a lump on your head the size
of an apricot, plum-colored, plush.
Just you, first. First Nation
penalty. He was the friendliest
fire you had ever smoked. He was
the quickest burn in an underground forest
of men. He was the timber, a tender fire,
and going down in flames.
Our Ways, Our Whys
Why does the season fly off
the handle? Why do the trees
resist the birds, the passive
passing of autumn, the migratory
monarchs? Why does the single
stand of oak still long
for the acorn? Why does the milk
sour and lie?
Our ways wind across the valley
of our lost loves, the beaten paths
pour into rivers of rain. The ways
of children hurt us, often. The why
of willful folly, the why of sinful
golly still hovering over pursed lips.
Why does the winter hold us
to the fire and then let go?
You hold a hand, forgetting to let go
of the heart. You see a flower
still holding to the petal and
blow it off. Your fingers, a ring
of fate — then, take it off.
The Milk That Does Not Lie
Between fever and fewer
she lay there, faceless
and defaced, she lay there
expressing less, needing more
than a handle to hold her,
wanting more than a crank to
start her, a locked chest,
a box of hope or sorrow's key:
the latch that would unhook her.
He held his own, the vanished skyline
over the ridge of memory. Her hair
brushing the softness from his face
as he looked at her, unseeing.
Defacing as she lay there. Heaven,
a fatal flaw, a missed exit,
'Twas an ornery wind
blew in that summer sadness,
that twisted the trees and the lumps
in the hearts — all those hearts thumping
that day, that train-blasted winded
day the levee didn't hold. Hold on!
was the rains' echo, and its past,
the summary of scattered pages,
jackets sog-strewn and bogged down
in the comprehension of it. Incomprehensible.
All etched into history: the upside
down non-survivors strung up on the crossing.
You look out there, that sad somewhere
cresting, that homesake sinking
it in. I'm beginning again, and truth
is all they have to say, the trailer
bound, high-mark lifted souls in shatters,
these shackles of survival hanging on
a phone call, FEMA, the men in charge
while memories mold and families hunger
and the old just can't take any more.
Will you take this loaf of bread?
Would you trade this big screen
for a loaf of time? Would you shoot it
in the air for them to come to you, give water
to the baby who does not cry again?
Just to say — I'm here. Come out and save me.
Sweet Sugar On Brown Dresses
Memphis Minnie stole the show
twangin' and wailing on her electric guitar,
making the trains sing through the blood of the dancers,
their sewing machines stitching brown uniforms into souls
through their steps, the dance taking the hand of sorrow
for a spin. She would plan the great escape, Sojourner
searchin' for her truth — all gussied up and settling
for a six-string happiness. Next train to Clarksville.
It's a long walk home. I been there: taxi ride crosstown
with the Pakistani driver who was born there. "Sure,"
he said, "Chicago paper just ran a big spread." Her stance,
her grinning gold, the accents of her indigenous brows
even near death, a face and the paralyzed hands folded
on the porch in Memphis. Another photograph. Another
of home, far from the stockyards, the killing pens, the
Laws. It was not that "my man done left me," that pleading
through the night, it was that "I hate to see that evening sun
go down" when The Law had the right to arrest you,
an "unaccompanied Negress," rape you, beat you, sterilize you,
and abort your child when the sun go down....
In the icy dawn, black fascism rides,
the black boot to the dream, the handcuff
to the groin, the indigenous gate
locked shut to the immigrant fate.
Every eyeway sees: the mirrored shades,
the ominous way power's slender wire remains.
This is my country, a country between us, a hard
wired pride in history, in the way we were, and will
be — ever free, the ability to stop this: the burning
van, the raping man, an icy waiting child in Greeley.
Blind Desert Snakes
Across the immigrant road, wisps of ice
knot and unknot sinews of light and water,
water the parched mouths crave. The voiceless
snakes of a voiceless race wage across the desert
landscapes. An empty field waits for the wake.
Blind desert snakes, the sinuous ghosts of the ones
gone down unreel: the young man left behind, the wan
girl taken and raped. The scratched out eyes of freedom
shrivel at the weight. Dignity's dried arroyos
wait for the spring of our change. Give it. ¡Justicia!
You married a wetback,
my mother would say. Remembering that
startles the migrant starlings into battle
against the annihilation of autumns past.
In a hurricane season they come, hands
that know how to pick up sticks, legs
that remember the walk. Perhaps empathy
has played out her part. Maybe the vast breadbasket
of summer revved the tornado over Wichita's heart.
What we remember remembers us, these threats
of delay and departure, that stalling at the altar, that settling
at the table of despair. Where is the medicine
for the condition of injustice? What line
do I sign the treaty that gets you off —
the boot at the neck, the hand on the pistol,
the wretched signature of discovery
and compiling interest? I take this
as I am: a country of error,
a willing sacrifice, repair.
See the buzzards over Boulder
today. Dead hot. Earthquake weather
if it'd been on the coast. Circling
calculation. What station the next
body lay? The birds bunch above the quad
over the head of an upturned Dalton.
Trumbo's all handed, all heart mission.
The bay of sky opening to the merchant ships,
the clouds, the few skiffs of passion
still lingering around the campus. Jesse,
dead but not yet buried, laid out today,
his boyish laugh laid to rest — un sueño
in a glass of remembrance. The promise
of spring heavy as the odor of a hung-over
senior. All the misconceptions loaded
in a carafe of courage. These bold plans
now a kitchen of grief, the feasting
yet to come. And a single contract
is signed with a pledge of loyalty
and a drink to that. As the buzzards
of Boulder move up for a closer inspection
in this season of suicide and falling grades,
a full-blown something laid to nest
beside the roadside — a ring of caps,
a circle of camps.
Moonlight In Vermont
lit up the fire of rebellion,
you, in your woody wagon
that hadn't been washed since 1972.
"This car runs on alcohol, drugs and
guns" a fingerprint in the grime declared at the border.
Someone's published fate hung in the error
and the going on — despite. In spite of the crime
you hunkered down downtown, hungry and angry
at the "Reich Likes Ike" button on the wall of your past,
the latenight telephone calls to the dead dad
who routinely tied you down to a red desk until you
got the grammar right, the argument
that came to blows between a son and his
father — there in that paper stack room,
that chamber of the heart's interrogation — the placement
of the period, in or out of the brackets
of a saying, telling, that multiple embrace of the notice.
I notice this particular season, same light
of a particular night in Vermont, passing through
with you and your "illegal alien" bride
going home to a place you'd never been,
never seen, among the placid cows I dread;
still inside a pen and the razor of the keys
and truth on that old Olympia, the constant pecking
order, the link and chain. The drive.
So many damaged souls,
the many souls of the Maya
now reduced to one mumbling
into eternity past. The simple
street scene, the reek. No one
to wash. No one to watch.
The many, stupefied into spectacle
on a San Francisco street — far from love.
Alone, together, they gather on the corner,
line the center: wild ivy on a sideways tower.
Escaped from themselves, they lie
against the hardened offices, guttered
and guttural against the elements
of an elemental losing. Touch them.
Give them a cent. Re-center them
with sleep. The stark reruns unwind
indefinitely. Stalling. Stalling
at the testimonial chalice — a witness,
a leathered bound book, a trial:
this person. Here.
Excerpted from Sueño by Lorna Dee Cervantes. Copyright © 2013 Wings Press, for Lorna Dee Cervantes. Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
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