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
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.
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—
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.
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.
Pity, is that your best
corpse pose? Practice
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
heat, let it rise
like a barrel fire,
ash after ash.
dinners, toasts, so
why not rehearse
your hearse ride?
Wear, in death, aplomb
like a plum-shade
yourself & lift
deliver the silver
to the mouth,
before the speech:
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.