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Two Poems, by Rigoberto González

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.

 

Tostón

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.
 

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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.

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