Elegy for the Orange
I peeled you on hot summer days,
let your skin fall on my lap.
Through you I shed my own skin,
shed myself for this new life in Los Angeles.
Your juice became my childhood nectar.
In California, you flourished in all seasons.
You were my light in the morning.
At night, you glimmered in the distance,
burned bright like a street lamp.
When I reached for you, I reached for the sun
that shined down on us as we stood around you,
waiting for the day to end, for the sun to set,
so my skin could cool, my eyes could rest.
I hold you as Apá offered triangles of you
spread out like a kaleidoscope on a plate.
When I blinked my eyes, you shifted shapes
in my head, my mind became dizzy.
You were my salvation. I exchanged you for
currency. Dollar bills handed to a little girl whose
hair curled at the ends, wore a pink headband,
and woke up in the middle of the night, wondered
where she was, forgot where she had come from.
Your fragrance followed me into schoolyards
where kids laughed at me for being seen with you
on the street corner. During lunch, I hid you
in the dark corners of my lunch bag.
I know I won’t be your last survivor.
I see them every day at the entrance of the 110
Freeway, the man who holds you up
like a barbell. The woman who slices you into
small squares, mixes you into a fruit medley.
The couple that stands outside Jons Market,
presses you, pours you into clear cups,
turns your drops into dreams.
I Never Wanted
-from the voice of Apá
Nunca quise to take them out there
to sell on the streets. To see my children
grow up like this. Only one boy, six girls.
To protect them from men’s stares,
men ready to snatch them away.
Nunca quise to stand here for hours,
the sun beats down, unable to leave
the fruit stand. After a while my body
no longer fills itself with fruit,
the nectar becomes forbidden.
Nunca quise to return to the car wash,
my hands peel like moist paper from
the harsh soap bubbles. My hands
when I sleep are restless, they move
in circles as if wiping windows.
Nunca quise to paint houses,
my children look at me when I run out
with the gun, think I have gone to shoot
the guy that refused to pay. Their faces
show fear. In the distance, a storm forms.
Nunca quise to work in the fields,
my hands have a permanent red sheen
from the strawberries. Men shiver in
corners when the immigration police
approach. I walk the streets of Fresno,
lost, see a mirage of my children.
Nunca quise to go back. I would have
gone insane to go back to a country
that holds the memories of my past in
its breath, and releases them in the night
in dreams that awaken the dead,
summon the ghosts of my ancestors.
An Altar for My Father
One day, I will build an altar for you.
I’ll place shelled peanuts because they were your favorite.
The stems of roses because you never liked the petals,
but green you loved, the dirt you loved, earth you loved.
I’ll bottle it for you, this earth, pack some up from
the places closest to you. First, I’ll go to San Martín de
Bolaños, Jalisco, where you were born, and fill my pockets
with soil from the highest point where you used to take
the livestock to graze the pasture, where you once fell off
a tree, where your mother’s grave is found. On the way
back, somewhere between Mexico and the United States,
I’ll stomp my feet, let the dirt rise, catch the dust
into mason jars. I’ll drive to Fresno, where you
worked as a farmworker, steal fistfuls of field.
I’ll stop at the race tracks, where you gambled, kneel
down, run my fingers along the ground, gather some
for luck. Last, I’ll end up at home, where you died
that August morning, as Amá and Yenni read Bible
passages while you drifted; Corinthians 13, “Love is
patient, love is kind.” Psalm 23, “Through the valley
of the shadow of death.” I’ll go outside, seize handfuls
of land from where the cacti grow, where Amá buried
the yellow canary, the dark pants, and white t-shirt
you passed away in. I will bring all this back to you,
to your altar. This will be my offering. The only way
I know how to bring you peace. I’ll add the dirt
I have collected to the stems of roses, boxes
with bits of grass, a jewelry box filled with rocks,
and if possible a piece of blue sky.