The Wind Has Stopped, the Desert Listens
And yet, I have no sadder story to offer
than the wind’s. The wind just whispered
the names of the dead, but I wrote
them down on the sand. The sand
already knows those who perished
and doesn’t want to mourn them again.
The wind, so compassionate, whisked
those names away. Though in its
haste, it snatched my own right out
of my mouth. My poor tongue went
numb, as if it too had been severed
from my body. I puckered my lips
to comfort it with a kiss. I have had
much practice over the years, soothing
it when expressing pain, calming it down
before causing more harm. Perhaps
its stunned silence is not such a bad
development. Not in this landscape,
which is much larger than all our
names twitching together like a nest
of mice. If I had traveled to the sea,
I might never have been heard. If I
had hiked up the mountain, never
been seen. So I walked to the desert,
where any movement is an occasion
worth noticing. For lack of speech,
I dig my feet as I step forward, but
this solemn narrative is so familiar
that it will blend in with the dry sage
and chaparral, the faint hint of its
survival going up in scented smoke
in the healer’s hands. When my foot
snaps a twig, I cringe as if I had
broken bone. These are not the tales
I want to leave behind. In the desert,
apology and complaint sound the same.
Therefore, I will tender neither.
When my sweat makes viscid trails
on my cheeks, I rub them clean. Oh
sticky fingers, help me hold on tighter
to this glorious palo verde. Let me climb
those gray boulders without slipping
into the void of their cold shadows.
I know about a man who went missing
here. I didn’t realize it until now,
as I stand on rock looking around,
that I have come in search of him.
Perhaps it was his name torn away
from me. Or rather, I cried it out
to the air so many times, the wind
pulled it apart like a cactus flower.
I’m so sorry, dear friend. I’m weak
and lonely. I can only think about
myself and how I’ve taken your place
on this hot day. A jumpy creature stirs
in the brush and I’m reminded of
my heart those evenings we embraced
in bed. The curtains billowed like sails
and I became convinced, for one brief
moment, that we were adrift, unmoored
from my family’s judgments. How you
threatened them for keeping us
apart. How your tears became
emblazoned on my chest. They still
burn like welts and I have followed
them here like a sailor guided home
by looking at the map of stars. Yes,
I remember now, how my father
tossed your shoes out the window,
how their mouths widened in shock,
how the desert received them as it
welcomes any wanderer or castaway.
You must have suspected all along
I wouldn’t join you. You held
out your hand and I cowered, hare
trembling in its den. Your hand
so empty and pale like the dead
Opossums on the road we pitied
and prepared for burial. When
did you know I would betray you?
The night you asked me to stand
naked next to you as your body
sang to the full beaver moon?
I pretended to be sleeping, afraid
to be found with my lover—a man
who could shatter, not with the stones
of my father’s disgust, but with a touch
withheld. Mine. My love, I let you go.
I watched you plunge into the vast
horizon until you melted in the light.
I didn’t deserve to keep anything
that was yours. Not your caresses,
not the memory of your breath
against my face, not even your name.
There. My task is finished. I surrender
my story, part shame, part grief,
in exchange for forgiveness. What
has been spoken here has gone quiet.
I’ll retreat to the place for those who age
with regret and die alone. Farewell,
my love, I have kept you my secret
for thirty-five years. Today, I set us both free.
And then you open your sleepy eyes one morning
to discover that half a century has gone by.
That you left your beloved mother thirty-eight years behind,
your father fourteen. You don’t remember ever wearing
the white gown of virginity because someone
stole it long before you knew such a gown existed.
Yet you won’t forget about the theft because, since
then, every man who touches you walks away with
something. You keep a small clay pot next to the bed.
It will fit inside the space in your chest once you lose
the last chip of your heart. That’s the golden rule
of the body: whatever you keep inside is breakable.
You stopped trying to glue your youth back together
because that which has shattered remains shattered,
and, besides, it’s not a pretty picture anyhow.
Neither are most of the days that followed.
The saving grace is that no one’s left to pressure you
to clean yourself up. You have grown and now
you’re growing old. What’s worth the hassle to mend
if you can’t wear it again? What’s the point
of regret when every eyewitness to your mistakes
has died? You stay in bed because you have no one
to feed. This doesn’t bring you sorrow. The silence
in the room is neither haunting or daunting.
The floor collects the cells of your skin and no one
else’s. You’re breathing in only yourself in the dust.
Again, this doesn’t sadden you one bit. Perhaps
you used up the last drops of grief after you lost
your children. When you die, you’re the last piece
of evidence that your parents ever lived. And you?
What proof that you were once loved? Slowly
you rise and walk from one room to another
and both rooms scarcely notice the difference.
You are, dear friend, officially a tostón that fifty-cent¢
Mexican coin, half a peso, relic of the past, purveyor
of the simple pleasures of your childhood—paletita
de dulce sabor mango, canica ojo de dragón,
galletita de mantequilla, cacahuate japonés.
Moctezuma’s profile is engraved on this silver
moon, he always facing away from the sea,
looking back at the ruins of Tenochtitlán, not
with anguish or disdain, but with a dignified gaze
that says, What is done is done. No use crying
over what can never change. Or what is gone.
Rigoberto González is the author of eighteen books of poetry and prose, including Abuela in Shadow, Abuela in Light, Autobiography of My Hungers, Black Blossoms, Crossing Vines, Men Without Bliss, Red-Inked Retablos, So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks, The Book of Ruin, Unpeopled Eden, What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth: A Memoir of Brotherhood, and Pivotal Voices, Era of Transition: Toward a 21st Century Poetics. His awards include Lannan, Guggenheim, NEA, NYFA, and USA Rolón fellowships, the PEN/Voelcker Award, the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America. A critic-at-large for The LA Times and contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine, he is the series editor for the Camino del Sol Latinx Literary Series at the University of Arizona Press. Currently, he’s Distinguished Professor of English and the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey.