Green and Red, Verde y Rojo

for Jacobo Mena

At night, when Beacon Hill
is a private army
of antique gas lamps
glowing in single file,
Jacobo vacuum-cleans
the law office of Adams and Blinn,
established 1856, with the founder's
wire-rimmed Protestant face
still supervising the labor,
a restored photograph in the window.

Jacobo's face
is indio-guatemalteco,
bored as the work,
round as worry,
heavy as waiting.
Guatemala is green and red,
green volcanoes, red birds,
green like rivers in rain,
red like coffee beans at harvest,
the river-green and quetzal bird-red
of his paintings,
perfiles del silencio.

Testimony of death-squad threats
by telephone, shrilled in the dark,
the flash of fear's adrenaline,
and family stolen with the military's greed
for bodies, all recorded by stenographers,
then dismissed:
Guatemala leaves no proof,
and immigration judges are suspicious
only of the witnesses, who stagger and crawl
through America. Asylum denied,
appeal pending.

As he waits, Jacobo paints
in green and red, verde y rojo,
and at night he cleans the office
of Adams and Blinn,
where Guatemala cannot be felt
by the arrogrant handshake of lawyers,
where there is no green or red,
only his shadow blending
with the other shadows in the room,
and all the hours of the night
to picture the executioners.

:: Martin Espada, Trumpets from the Islands of Their Eviction


Swing Low

My sister, wearing a white turban,
sang Swing Low
as we picked up sticks
in early August
in a field my father wanted to plow
for the planting of soy
that would attract quail,
which he would shoot.

My sister and I imagined
trying to eat dead birds
at our father’s table, watching
for the crunch of shot
between our teeth.

We could never stomach
murdered food, food
that had been trapped
on a hot day, like us.
So my sister sang slave songs
even though we knew
it was wrong.

We are not black in my family.
My father is the whitest
among us.

:: Faulkner Fox, in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review #7 (1995)


Cry Room, St. Mark's Church

In the back behind smudged glass we sat
with three other mothers and their kids.
No one was in fact crying. Or reciting
prayers. We could have been looking in

the window of the A & P or K-Mart. I was old
enough not to consider crying an option.
My little sister crawled beneath the kneeler
and fell asleep. I crouched awkward in the pew.

To be caught in the cry room—I wouldn’t hear
the end of it. Everyone stared down the usher
when he came in to shake his collection basket

under our noses. 1963. I’d made my first
communion and begun saving my best lies
for the confessional booth. A room for sins.
A room to cry in. I watched my mother’s head

loll back, snap forward. Why were we there?
Was someone going to bring us yet another
baby to take home? One woman entered late
and sat in the last of the four pews, wedging

herself into the corner to sob uncontrollably.
Other mothers stared out the window
at the muffled mass as if waiting for the good parts.
Mine sighed and yanked us up and out

of there. We walked home in a fluster of spring wind.
I was hungry for a doughnut or two. Glazed,
sticky in the flimsy cardboard box with the see-through
plastic window. Did we stay long enough for it to count?
I asked. My mother carried my sister in one arm

and puffed on a cigarette with the fervor
of the newly-converted. We passed the Powder
Puff hair salon and the boarded up Dairy Queen
and the ill-fated slot-car track and the ditch

they found Larry Jarman in. I didn’t cry then
and I’m not crying now. God—you had to love
the dude. God, not Larry. It might’ve been Larry’s
mother crying in the back. Or Mary Magdalene’s

distant niece. Or the victim of another immaculate
conception. All I know is that I bugged my mother
into a frenzy till she bought the doughnuts
at Oaza bakery near the drive-thru car wash

and threw the box at me and told me to shut up.
My older brothers had lied about going to early
mass. I don’t know where they went, but they wouldn’t
take me with them. My mother believed in miracles

and my sleeping father believed in the almighty dollar
and the nearly almighty cents. I at e two doughnuts
before we got home. The sweet glaze stuck to my lips
and face. I confess to a smile and a taunting boogaloo

on the sidewalk as my brothers raced out the door
to snatch the box. My mother dropped my sister
onto the stoop, then fell to the dead brown grass
and smiled her own wistful boogaloo. You had to love him

or hate him or pretend or believe he didn’t exist. The cry
room stunk with soiled diapers and sweat. The hymnals
had pages ripped out, drooled and doodled on. The truth
was elusive. Why would he want criers in a separate room?

What about a room for laughers? No one laughed
in church. Even when the priest—any priest—tried out
a joke. Are there any good jokes that don’t have a cruelty
to them? Cigarettes weren’t as good as I imagined.

We haunted ourselves in the reflection of the cry room glass.
My tiny grandmother in her tiny room watched “Mass
for Shut-ins” on her tiny TV. She might have been crying,
depending on the pain. She was my second death after Larry.

Nobody explained about Larry till I was old enough
to understand. The church stretched yellow police tape
around our lives like those in fancy stores where you couldn’t
touch a thing. Usually, some kid started bawling, but not that day.

Oh, the sweetness of the glaze,
and how the greed made my mother smile.

:: Jim Daniels, in Green Mountains Review (18:2, 2005)


Emma Waits Out a Spring Snow

We sure had some snow.
So many wrecks, all over
the road, down ditches
and spun out in fields
like cars which had gotten
loose without their drivers.

Didn’t go out ourselves,
only for the mail or to feed
the horses, and Will does that.
All I do is crochet and cook.
Will goes out to feed the cats,
two nice black females. One
meets him right at the door.

Before the snow Will had onions
and lettuce up, and some peas.
Also have tomato plants but
we kept them indoors. Now
the Easter flowers are coming
through. I wonder why I quit
going to church. Been all
of forty years now. Everything

might be froze—it’s all snowed
over. My mother would say that
early planting was like trying
to get ahead of God.

:: Naton Leslie, Emma Saves Her Life (2007)