Skinnin' The Pachuco

I'm just happy to be here.

Month: April, 2016

29/30: THE BRICKS WE KISS WITH

If my mouth has a roof, then my tongue is a one story house. If my tongue is a one story house, then I must’ve built this house from the ground up. Must’ve poured wet cement like saliva each time I stepped on a stage. Must’ve been my way of building a home with the sheen of spit shining between the gap in my two front teeth, my two strongest bones. But this tongue is a soft home built in the long heat.

When I was young, my voice must’ve churned pieces of earth with water, and nothing or no one told me I was becoming stronger than concrete just by speaking. No, my tongue is not a hard house. But even silence can turn a soft home violent. I’ve seen silence become broken glass, a window smashed without reason. I want to speak without destroying. Even still, my hands have sometimes been hammers, even if my teeth refuse to be nails. Never in my life laid a foundation with my own two hands. Only spoke and spoke and spoke.

But let me tell you what I know about construction, about the Mexican men who stand on the skeletons they build, drinking cold beer in the afternoon, soon saying goodbye to the empires they’ve built. Kings of Creation. The sweat of their pride shining like the spit off my lips when my tongue lifts. And for a moment, their hot hands are not hammers, just hands, and their hands simply hold a cold promise like smoke in the lungs of the sky. Thinking of what I’ve held, I know

I’ve never laid a foundation, but I trust in the structures that refuse to sway. I know of the proud bodies we cling to, the flesh we confuse for walls that refuse to crumble, and how Mexican women were refuges for me as a boy, teaching me how to secure, how to stay, how to feed everything but the hurt. Sometimes, my mother would dig her teeth into my skin until I could see the imprint. My grandma too. The love in their mouth building a home in my bones, laying a foundation with each time she’d say, You are mine. Don’t you get it? My tongue is a home

I have inherited. The imprint, the scar tissue, the lessons—these are the bricks they lick their lips with, and this is the beginning of my tongue’s existence. A house I didn’t even mean to build. I must’ve learned to pour cement because I was searching for more, because there is always room for more, even if we have to build it back from scratch.

I take it all back. I am done with destroying, done with escaping, done with defiance. Because if my tongue is a house, then what are words, after all, but guests? And if words are guests, then all of this empty space makes sense. I’m not alone. I’m just waiting. Building suspense. The emptiness has a purpose. I am remembering all the guests I’ve let in, both those who did not want to stay, and all the ones that did. After all—

aren’t the names of our stories our favorite words anyway? This house is not meant for me. What I’ve confused for emptiness is just a room for you, precious guests. Here, take my breath. Here is my bed, a place to rest your head.

My tongue is a house, and at night, all the words are asleep. Sometimes, eight, or ten to a bed. Their feet opposite their heads, like me as a boy crowding in with my brothers and cousins, our little tongues little houses that were built with kisses and bricks. My tongue is a home, which means, I finally finished what I started. You, all my guests, are family. Come, come, come inside. The pleasure is mine. Meanwhile,

Outside, in the springtime silence, my friend Michael, opens his tongue like a house, separates his hair with his hands like a curtain letting light in, when he tells me of his travels in India, the places he’s been, the people that fed him, the houses he entered with invitation, the stories he stepped into, and when he was through, he looked at me, and whispered — In India, they told me, the guest is God. And isn’t it just like God, to take your breath with a word?

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28/30: I REMEMBER

I never ran faster
than when running home from the bus stop,
my unstoppable brown legs
reaching for the ground like rain dropping,
the cascade of my my bent knees and flat feet
led me down the street and like the mouth of a river—
you can trace my tongue and find every beginning.

In elementary school, when we lived close enough to
take the bus from school to home, I remember very well
waiting in line, my tiny body melting in the heat like
the ice cream cone I would hopefully eat if I caught
the ice cream truck in my neighborhood with just
enough change in my pocket. The rarity of money never
sparing me from what I want.

I remember standing there, unafraid of the ride home,
because I always had a book to read.
Yes, I was the kid who read books on the bus
following the aftermath of another school day
where rule after rule, my bus mates and I were told what to do,
and now, it was my choice.

In the in-between, from now and then,
from home and here, I would unzip my backpack
like a present I am gifting myself,
and would search for the earmarked page
I bent merely hours earlier so I wouldn’t forget where I’ve been.

On the bus, nothing is louder than the ruckus of adolescence
pouring out from children, their smoldering throats,
loud as a forest fire carrying smoke and me quiet as ash.
I mean, we’re talking mostly madness, and all of it,
the chaos, the voices, the bus driver’s directions misdirected
like a broken compass. I knew where I was going.
There, back row, window seat, sunlight so I can see.
I sat, hands fit perfectly beneath the body of work I have just opened.

In my head, it was so quiet, I would step into myself
like an empty room, door unlocked with plenty of space
to hear myself think. How lovely it felt,
to turn on one voice in my head then turn off the rest?

I think then, I could have never imagined the quiet
without the chaos of sound crashing into me, my small body
with my bowl cut hair, as I sat next to the window,
where the best sunlight could be seen, where the darkness
would find me reading a book aloud, my proud mouth
alight with sound, round as the sun and the moon, round
as the whole world, and I didn’t know if anyone ever heard
me unfold a story on my lips, the sentences I kept repeating
until I knew what each word meant. I know the echoes
we create do not always say our name. But,
language meant so much to me, that when I read my books
on the bus, I did not worry about what was next,
could think less of the empty house I was running to
once off the bus, where I would eventually arrive by myself,
searching through the stacked shelves of my head,
shifting words in and out of my then growing mouth.
Yes, I am still a river running on like sentences too long to finish.
Yes, all my brothers are still elsewhere and out there
Yes, I am all alone with voices I cannot help but call my own.
No, I refuse to to give in to helplessness.
Yes, I wish this was a sustainable system of living.
Nowadays, the chaos is less cryptic.
But the story still isn’t finished.

27/30: spoliation, then resurrection

I’m standing on the balcony of a high rise, 21 stories, high. The sun licks my face like bright smoke I try to chase, but when I begin, my brain spins in typical fashion, and I become a boy in my head, again, remembering my dad’s childhood home, one story, high, ceilings low, eventually, bulldozed to the ground years after my grandpa passed. Gas had snuck through the walls like a ghost wearing perfume, and it destroyed every room.

Picture this: a ghost house with a screen door, porch swing, and one million pair of saintly eyes not watching, but staring, at you like you’re trying to get into heaven, but you’re only seven. The Virgin hangs above the door, her eyes pour out like a river,

But walk through the door. Ignore the gods. It is the first door on the left.
Inside, a bald man with big hands holds a guitar and a cigarette. His essence was cinematic. He’s like a Mexican BFG, his love big, friendly, and giant.

When his memory went dark, his mind became an exploding star, erratic but catastrophically hilarious. Fact: He laughed at his own jokes. Fact: I do too! The ritual of our greeting went exactly like this: “Hey Grandpa!”, and he’d ask, “How’s ya ugly daddy?” And I never ever had a come back. His laughter billowed out the room like a ballad built with smoke, then he’d flick his guitar with his right wrist, ash his smoke, his unforgetful finger tips moving quick, much like my hands when I wrote this, and

The funny thing is, all my life, my mother looked at me and remarked, “Oh lord—you look just like your father.” And it is remarkable, how she sees the same face of the same boy who gave her her first-French kiss on the dance floor when no one was looking, the same face that faced my grandfather in the front room, with my grandma in the kitchen, stacking tortillas higher than the skyscrapers in front of me.

I remember watching her dig her hands into a bucket of flour, which I always mistook for a bucket of paint. I remember the tortilla beginning from nothing, a blank canvas becoming nourishment, and if I really think about it, she really was an artist, pounding tortillas with her fists until they looked like different phases of the moon painted against the comal sky, and I imagine, in this ghost house, my ghost grandfather, the two of us in this phantom room and me—finally ready with my comeback: “How’s my daddy’s ugly daddy?” HA! And he would erupt again, his laughter howling out the house, back into the universe.

Yes, this poem is about returning, about the indestructible ghosts inside of us, the tortillas I confused for the moon, how faces are places we return to, my grandfather’s spirit, rising high inside of me. I am learning my breath is the last thing this earth will ever inherit. I am learning how to rebuild from the blueprint in my blood. Oh, did I mention, his name was Jesús?

26/30: WHILE SHOPPING AT H-E-B

A little boy walks by the orange juice,
proceeds to shout “Dad! We NEED Orange Juice.”
A little boy walks up to me while
I confirm the integrity of the eggs,
his small voice grows beanstalk raises to my ears,
his face at my knees asking,
Are you a stranger?
I look at him, grab my eggs,
whispering back without a crack,
Yes.

Let me enjoy the mystery
I’m disappearing into the bread aisle
where everything rises, turning sharply
to look for candles, I nearly hit an older man
and I apologize, say,

Sorry Sir, I was coming in hot.

He apologizes back, adds in,
I was like that when I was your age,
I lose my breath at his sincerity,
the ever fond reminisce happening
in aisle six. But before I leave,
I say to him,

Well then, I’m in good company.

Then I abscond onto the olive oil,
soil of my growing appetite,
my absolute delight, the effortless
sweep of the wrist when I’m
cooking with rhythm,
and what are you
but another instrument?
look at all I can do with
a bottle of you?
Parts of you needing me,
me needing you, yes,
this constant need
to invite others in
has become such a gift.

When preparing to examine the apples,
an employee grabs each spoiled, rotten
apple and tosses it away, and I think
how hard of a job that can be.
Who is to say what is unworthy?
But he moves with confidence,
rubbing his hands across the
jazz apples, honey crisp, pink lady,
gala, granny smith, and he is making
my life so easy, it’s lovely. I’m so tired
of picking over the dead, of losing before
I even begin, and I am more thankful
for him than I’ve been of myself.
What’s with this strange history of mystery?
After I’m done marveling, I ask of him,
Are you tossing out all the bad apples?
He doesn’t say a word, just keeps tossing apples
and I think this has something to say about
the invisible work most people do,
the kind of effortless
that took so much effort
to perfect. I mean, to me—
this is a miracle, and honestly,
Who am I to deny the gospel
of gathering all the bad apples
which just happens to be
happening in a grocery store?

25/30: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

A word is a soundless bird with no wings
escaping
the tree of your throat, back into the forest’ soundscape,
a pummeled plumage merging
into the natural traffic of the air, invisibly
weaving,
sound into thought. Feathered letters
teaching
Yours truly how to flock symbols into sentences,
acapella fella
Banging his lips like cymbals, & like most instruments,
ignoring the tremble that follows. Listen,
Even a wind chime swoons gentle, until
a crooning feast reaching.
I am learning your favorite sounds
never actually touch the skin,
only whisper against it,
almost a missed kiss,
a bird landing on your chest the same way
words absorb breath.

Listen.

When a word is a soundless bird,
your voice begins to float next to your body,
Sound leaves the ground, letters spin ‘round,
your mouth like a carousel of consequence,
each time you speak, a soundless bird leaves,
shaking the branches
Stuck in the tree of your throat.

I’m learning the root of what I have to say
stayed inside for so long,
it forgot how to sing.
This is me remembering
tracing the root of my pain,

Listen for
the little linguistic caress,
little kiss of my breath.

Didn’t you notice
the bird on your chest?

24/30: HAIBUN FOR SUNDAY

Sunday morning, light pours through the open blinds. Birds with no names play their song for me. The ball of my body unraveling. Still small, but growing. the soft white sheets my mother bought me hold my warm morning skin. Soft feet. Soft light. soft blades spinning above my head, cool air moving. 8am stillness. No sound interrupts the silence. Alarm goes off, but no need to hurry. Changing positions, I pick up my body. The first thing I do is walk through a door, a hallway, another hallway, another door. Outside. The first big breath I take happens slow. Slow enough, I am only focusing on my breath. Invisible movements. From where I stand, green pine trees overshadow the magnolia next to my house. A spider spins a web from a tree to a roof. The web is a line designed with other lines in mind. The alive lines holding onto dead things. Green journal, black pen. I grab both with my hands. A poet spins a poem from his mind. The poem is a web of lines. I write, I write, I write. The language of the living praising the dead. Walking around making sounds in my head. Wind moving the leaves. My blood moving through me. Bells designed to ring at once. Yes, I am a vessel. The depth of what I carry, less scary than before.

The world is a con-
founding web of lines I try
but never avoid. 

23/30:THE SECRET TO SOFTNESS WITH AN APPEARENCE BY YOUR EX-LOVER

What is there to say?
Who here is to be trusted?
The other day,
I bought four avocados
Dinosaur skin,
I used to think to myself.
Before, while still in the store,
with great precision,
I massage my hands across the skin,
measure the mustered force
behind my pressed thumb.
Me, an ordinary produce priest
In the aisle, with my hands,
little blessings performed
for the crowd.
Upon the skin,
the armor of each
green peach told
me to wait before
breaking open
what is enclosed.
[tip: this is the secret to softness.]
Later,
I placed each
in my fridge
Waited. 
Went about the days, pledged patience.
Heard stories of sour brown insides
I wish to unlearn how to say decay.
Still, I thought of the cruel yew trees rooted in me,
all the flowers I forgot to touch.
Decomposition is a sentence
unwriting the end of the story.
When I cut into them,
each spoiled before me.
Dead green darlings—
not a one to call mine.
When my hands
touched the green mush,
the color rusted inside me,
cast a spell over,
reversed
the light’s forceless arrival,
as I feel silent waves
leave behind the color of darkness.
This day of decay
found my hands
like the end of spring,
where I watch the color cave in,
but like all things lost,
Fate had prepared me.
When the color caved in,
I knew then,
it had everything to do
with the eyes of my last lover,
who,
last winter,
who took the song of her eyes with her,
her love, also,
spoiling before me.
The rot,
believe it,
or not—
still caught
in my unwashed hands.

22/30: a poem to the sun written in instagram captions OR Happy Earth Day

This isn’t a song about the moon,
or a bird, but the sun and you.
If you could only hear this moment.
The sun is a cure
Divine medicine.

I am the sun’s shine.

How many times
have I walked beneath a tree,
only to be greeted by
sweet light?
Oh, sunlight of mine,
who is always reaching, knocking
against the dark in me: yes,
this is our reminder to shine.
Yes, I have yet to love the light less.
Where the sunlight sifts through trees,
you’ll find me. I walk outside
to the welcoming air, what a perfect day.
I see the sun flickering over the horizon.
The light is a lesson I continually learn.
Even what trees do to light is wild.
Scary, isn’t it
to scatter upon touch?
Though, it must be lovely:
falling to the ground only
to find nothing missing,
the kiss of morning light.
Goodbye Sun,
the setting,
still surprised by the simplicity
of a moment that makes us stop.
In the summer, a man sits beneath
these trees, finding solace in the shade,
reads aloud to himself, to the world,
to the sun.
I see the gold in the air.
When the sun shines
on all that you do,
what other choice
do you have, but shine too?
I think the light likes me,
as in
I’m rolling solo con el sol.
juntos. I know, I know
Light grows over
my body, so when I say
I shine just by showing up
I’m really saying, look at me:
finally less alone—
all these sparks
for bones.
Now, look at me:
stripping the shadows
from sadness.
I’m lit with so much love,
the darkness
dare not disrupt.
I catch the sun
until my heart runs
with light
Oh, how the light reflects,
grows in every direction.
Again, the sun is a cure.
A setting sun kisses my face
even when I turn back,
when I do not face its face,
even when I am faceless,
when faceless turns me nameless—
I reach for it,
store the light in my cheeks.
You should watch me speak,
you should watch me
bad mouth doubt,
you should see
how I dismantle
the dark
between my teeth,
you should see
what light can do
for you and you
and you and you.

21/30: ADVICE FROM A STICKY NOTE IN MY ROOM

You haven’t failed at love
You haven’t succeeded, either.

20/30: JOY SHUFFLES, PAIN REPEATS

Watch me create a moment.
Lonely vibrations jumping
out the bag of my bones.
Home alone as karaoke king,
my magic
stays unknown.
Rhythm is an invitation,
but
the breathing pattern of my lungs
stays undisclosed,
& all I know is
joy, like air, is unavoidable.
both carve their own space
both fill the space they make,
emptiness giving me shape,
Elation shaking my hips
French-kissing the chorus
I’m breaking all the rules.
Give me joy, give me pain.
Suffering is a slow song
everyone wants to shuffle gone.
Don’t make me the DJ.

Inside of me, a need for
suffering
repeats, repeats, repeats.
On my birthday, my shirt says
SAD SONGS, because
sad songs are my weakness,
because pain is a place too,
not unlike a dance floor, or
my forehead spinning,
skin vicious wood splitting
sweat leaps off me,
like light jumping
off disco balls,
the need to shine
craws through
the dark room of my past,
also a dance floor,
where each body
orbits like an heirloom,
beating hearts for tennis shoes,
walking through
unavoidable echoes
where hopeless is
the opposite of rhythm,
something that throws
you off by letting something
else in.
What if,
what if joy and pain
are both unavoidable
crescendos?
What if
emptiness is a shape-shifter?
Can I still kiss suffering
with a smile on my face?
I’m breaking all the rules.