Read the introduction by guest editor Dana Levin.

 


 

Who is the Most Important Person in Your Life:
Your Mother, Your Mother, Your Mother

 

Out of need, I believed she loved me. Of course she loved me, of course
she loved me, selfish with assumption, her son. Until one day, mi madre

told me a story, when I was old enough, but not too old, at a time
when one is not yet filled with hate. She said, may la Santísima Madre

forgive me, but in those first days, before you even had a name
& the neighbors called you Walter, after our street ¡ay madre!

what an ugly name, that in those first days, a darkness flung her
away from herself, a nube gris come on a wind. Todo le valía madre.

Pinning my washed diapers on the line, my breath culled from my lungs
with a hook—She yanked me by the ankles—hijo de tu jodida madre

in her head, "by the rivers of Babylon, happy is she who seizes your infants,"
& dashed me against the chain-link fence, like dust from a tarp (en la madre),

the smattering of soaked cloth on river rock. Post-postpartum, she rushed
to her neighbor's: left me in my fleshy pulp, once more—: amor de madre.

"If I forget, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth," like a spade
in thick clay; fists in vice behind my back, y que me partan bien la madre.

I used to believe blindly she loved me. Now I know the scriptured truth,
chapter & verse: favorite, youngest born, the right hand son, un desmadre.

 


 

Valentine in Two Parts

 

I.

He worked in a nursery, but went home
to a house painted green. Doves came

to nest in soil pots; garden snakes
ate the eggs. There was the occasional lump

of pink mice piled atop the hard dog food, right
before the mother dashed away, a newborn

in her mouth (the rest served up to the dog).
It was in his yard that I first saw guilt flash,

echolalic, upon the inward eye
like mustard smeared on a shirt.

All those dandelions looked at first
like spilt sunshine. Taken in

like a breath without thought.
To sigh is to step on a flower;

to flower is to open wide.
What I remember best is this:

a kind of valentine;
where the calla stamen should be

a fountain pen
shoved in the throat of a lily.

II.

The jay's territorial quarrel
is not a sonnet.

After an afternoon of rain,
it stops. The afternoon, I mean,

because the rain goes on,
until we awaken, Easter lilies in mud.

The birds are asleep and the flowers
unbedded. No need to correct the stems

as we walk the yard. He turns and I thumb
his mouth in the dark, the isosceles triangle

of his upper lip, cleft chin. A space left
for difference, meaning where corruptions are,

as certain tulip breeds grow feather-fringed
or break like a wine glass because of a virus.

It's strange what can be beautiful
to the human eye—a bullet hole

punched clean through—

 


 

Heart Conceit

 

As a boxer's punch begins in his feet,
my defeat begins when you unlace

my boot straps, as if each foot were a gift
and you didn't want to rip the paper. As if

my mother made me this
body for you, not me. I slipped the knot

of my mother-tether more than twenty
rings ago, and I do feel duped, feel left

with that nameless zero since. I do
and I do and I do,

if you manage to toss a dime into my heart chalice—
if your dart can pin my center, if you can rope me

in the ring-toss, or gun-stun my lucky duck. It's skill
that fillets the chicken into the chicken dinner

winner! Winner, maybe your practiced hands
could take my foot and find a rose

budding in the warped, white pucker of a plantar
wart. Celebrate each morning with our body-made

confetti—rustled up from dandruff, from agitated
dermatitis. Let's let fallout fall! Can't a calla lily be

the occasion for a calla lily? I want to be the opal
miner that mines your opal. Now, a ruby. Now,

harden your carbon to diamond. Facet your eyes
in bold-framed glasses, Urkle-like, my jeweler's loupe,

to magnify the magnificent otherwise missed. 
The veining on the back of your hand is rising

beautifully, like the veins on a leaf. Own it.
Don't be ashamed to wear your gray hair

like tinsel or inlay. I will lick down
your cowlick and be your cow, 

if you will be the milkweed
to my monarch—be the fig queen

who rips out her own wings
gnawing a path

to my chamber.

 


 

El Italiano

 

My Mexican mother never let me know
who my father was, just that he
was an Italian man. That's where my nose
comes from, my boot shaped nose,
nostrils bigger than a pinto bean.

So that as children when my brother
shoved a penny up his nose, it stayed,
& when my other brother shoved
a crayon up his nose, the tip
broke off & also stayed.

But when I, el italiano, shoved four pinto beans
into my flaring holes & spoke, out
they rolled—oracle bone—sortilege
of olive pits—pebbles  from a traveler's shoe,
upturned—cast out—divining runes that said:

this rod is of a different bush,
as my mother slapped me across the face.

 


 

Dress Rehearsal

Pity, is that your best
corpse pose? Practice

being less
myocardial, less

cordial, it's not
a formal you

attend. The sack
piled at your feet

is for you—see the fit!
You died. Didn't you

hear? It's a pity.
You died! And no one told you:

breath is just a brisk
formality. Now dissipate

every last particle
of animal

heat, let it rise
like a barrel fire,

ash after ash.
We rehearse

lesser moments,
dinners, toasts, so

why not rehearse
your hearse ride?

Be more—
bridal

with composure.
Wear, in death, aplomb

like a plum-shade
lipstick. Steel

yourself & lift
the glass—

deliver the silver
to the mouth,

before the speech:
clingclingcling

 

 


Benjamin Garcia, a CantoMundo fellow, completed his MFA at Cornell University. His work has appeared in PANK, The Collagist, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. He works as a Community Health Specialist providing HIV/STD prevention education to at-risk communities throughout New York's Finger Lakes region.

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