The silence that was neither Spanish
was my prayer.
—Luis Alberto Urrea
Last night I dreamt I was Pancho Villa—
ragged, bandoliered, reckless.
I dreamt my poetry at the end of a pistol,
felt it kick nearly out of my hand.
But this morning I awoke again
white and assimilated into these cobwebs
of my half-self. When did I forget
my mother? Sometimes Spanish
syllables creak like wobbly shopping cart
wheels, I have to lean against accent,
fill myself with verbs: necesitar, hablar, poder.
Half, medio, milkweed,
Carlos Gringo, Carlos Murphy.
part Kentucky hillbilly,
I’ve angloed my way
through this life—
nunca pensando en
I dreamed again last night
I was Pancho Villa. Only this time
I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish.
I could understand what the men
were asking me, but to blurt orders
in English would have stretched my neck.
So I kept quiet, austere. I kept a rifle
in my hand. I’ve taken it as a sign.
When I was fourteen,
I lost my brand-new Timex
in the waist-high surf of Pismo Beach.
I couldn’t feel it missing from my wrist
until I was in my uncle’s Volvo,
my shorts still soaking, my lips caked white.
The sand in my hair, the sand in my shoes—
the very real estate of Madera, where
during the revolution, no train or telegraph
passed for months. The business
lumbering on, turning trees
to the fabric of living.
After the war, they sent query
to Juárez, they needed the hour, the day,
the month, the year they hadn’t noticed.
I’m awake early, half-dreams of last night’s rain & a dirty porch pull me
from the sheets. En la madrugada, a broom is a necessary instrument.
The swish of straw against concrete, a whisper, a prayer. Shoulders
cantilever, wrists rigid, hands in pliable tension—in this motion there is
My great-grandmother swept her porch, the way she did every morning.
From the burnished Sonoran dawn, a stranger approached. She watched
him, always sweeping. The man was young, in his early thirties maybe,
beaten, ragged. His face crusted with blood, filthy. The man appealed to
her, “Señora, por favor, ayúdeme,” he said. She stopped sweeping &
looked at him. “Me siguen los federales,” he said. She looked on him with
pity & brought him into her home. She must have thought of her
daughters, she must have thought of consequence. She put the man in a
bed, went back outside to sweep. The federales arrived shortly after, five
on horseback armed & angry. “Señora,” they asked, “have you seen a
stranger this morning?” She stopped sweeping, told them she had not.
They asked if anyone was in the house. “No one,” she told them, “only my
sick uncle.” They left without incident or investigation.
Night fell. She cleaned the man’s wounds, gave him clothes, listened to
his stories of revolution. She told him, “Whether the revolution or the
government, I lose chickens all the same.” She handed him a plate of
arroz con pollo. He rested for two days. She gave him the few centavos
she had & he left amidst the desert night.
Years later, the man returned to her house—with a gift that no one can
remember—to thank her for his life.
This time it’s turning
across the metallic blue
Mariachi gone mad
in the back seat.
This is cruising
you come down
to chrome avenue,
where it’s all
manos y moda?
Me and you, pendejo.
We’ll pick up Hi-Tone,
all fingers and hair,
that little guitarrista.
No te mortifiques,
Ride shotgun with me.
Pégame un grito.”
Chale. I’ve got work to do, homes.
I’m dreamsick now. Staying asleep past
noon. Desvelado. Headache-fog
when I’m awake, even keeping down
milk is hard. Images, sounds, curdle thick
in my ears, my eyes. Levántate.
¿Qué horas son?
I dream Villa’s first murder. The other
man on horseback, his jefe’s son. An argument
at the crossroads. A girl, Pancho’s sister.
Something forced—a point, a pistol. A sharp
report, blue-black smoke. Fear, alarm—the smell
of guilt, like bad masa, taints tastes, turns on Pancho.
Running now, like before but worse. Three days
into las montañas. Marcado por vida.
In a dream of brown skin, I’m lost
in black, black hair, dark nipples,
a face I’ve never known. A kiss
so difficult I moan. My face
wet with her—princess, mujer—irrecoverable.
Only impression across
sleep-soaked lips, only an ache
and a dark, dark scent.
Barbed wire fence runs down the axis
of a heart. River rides in canyon
dreams—a revolution in water.
I am a kiss, confessed by tongues that will not pronounce me.