1. Home
  2. Poems & Poets
  3. Browse Poems
  4. Grafik by Juan Felipe Herrera

Related Poem Content Details

for Tomás Mendoza-Harrell & Lauro Flores

I cut / / / / /

I multiply everyday images. I apply an aluminum point.
To the landscape.
To the sentence.
To the photo.
To the figure.
To the word.

And suddenly, with a slight tremor of eyes, vertebrae and fingers, I
destroy everything that exists.

Through the years, I’ve rebuilt the cells, uncovered the signs of the cold,
immaculate, academic vestibules and of the dead lips and histories in the
metropolitan streets.

My surgery is criminal.

No one has been able to identify the skeletons, the remains, the thousand
scattered nerves of personages I’ve gathered in order to bring this figure
back to life. The scars are numberless and invisible.

Who would suspect a grafik artist?
Who would suspect this gray table as a chamber of murders?
   —The pencil sleeping with its yellow blanket and rubber crown.
   —A magazine of memories, smiling women, men’s suits and watches like
      drops, like science.
   —Tubes of smothered ink sounding like small seas pounding a universe of   
   —A photo of a Chamula woman looking through these windows toward
      the Mission.
   —Watercolors: French Ultramarine, Emerald Green and Windsor Violet.
   —Matches thin friends identical soldiers with their red helmets thinking.
   —Dictionaries in Portuguese, Spanish and German, white pages beasts
      nobody hears moaning.
   —The priest lantern praying with its head pointing toward the floor in   
      front of a fierce wall.
   —Solemn archives organized by syllables, breaths, laughs and love with X.
   —A book about an artist: The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera, printed in New
      York where they listen to the wind falling from the tallest building.

And the X-acto knives. Triangular. The beautiful blades / / / / /

Every night cars cruise the streets of 24th and Mission. A woman from San   
José drives a blue Chevy with smoked windows. Estela. She has reddish   
hair. Tight brows and dark eyes desiring everything but this street that   
ends in eight blocks: Potrero Avenue. She’ll have to turn. But she won’t.   
She won’t go back to the home of twenty years and her father who pretends   
to play Santa by Agustín Lara on his old guitar and the mother organizing a   
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ meeting. Estela will leave the car parked between   
Harrison Street and Alabama in San Francisco. She’ll walk aimlessly in the   
warmth of the produce stores, into St. Peter’s church, by the Galería de la   
Raza, China Books, the bakery at La Victoria. She’ll walk in the night with   
her eyes burning, seeing him laughing, the young man in his black box   
apartment, laughing, laughing, laughing like a little man.

The little man laughs. It’s an apartment of marriage and fists. The   
wife-beater laughs in his easy chair. Next to his bed he sees the anxious   
note. He focuses on the signature with the E broken in three places.

He looks at the stained and unmade sheets, the dull curtains, the crushed   
cigarettes and the ashes. The black-and-white television announces a sale   
of living room furniture. With his can of beer he observes. Smokes. Thinks.

Within a week or two they’ll take his cousin to San Quentin prison, again.   
The last time he saw him he was a gardener at a college.

He imagines Estela coming home. He imagines and drinks calmly. Makes the   
bed. Turns off the television and turns on the fm. He amuses himself in   
that space or cube floating above the city.
Estela walks north on the Avenue.

P / O / T / R / E / R / O

Grafiks require precise knives.

      On that day
      When you came to bathe me
      I sweated that stink
      That only the anesthetized
      Can sweat.

      You sponged my skin
      Cleaned my hair and
      Seeming to ignore
      My stunned and shriveled genitals
      You nonetheless bathed them . . .
               —michael ramsey-pérez

Randi finds himself in a hospital in Los Angeles or maybe further south, in   
San Diego. I think his parents are from Arizona. He’s very ill. He’s in a room   
with a red sign hanging from the doorknob.

I / S / O / L / A / T / I / O / N

His liver is bloated, skin yellowed, hair long and greasy. Weakness   
consumes him night after night. He can’t speak, tires easily. But he can   
hear. He hears the white heels of the doctors and nurses running to the   
rooms of the dying. He hears footsteps fluttering like doves over the floor   
or like the leaves of fever falling from the roof of hell.

It’s eleven o’clock at night. He hears the abandoned man in room 200 fall   
out of bed attempting to drink a glass of water. He hears the IV tubes   
bursting, the sweet plasma spinning between the walls, the bag slipping to   
the floor and splattering through the night’s open screens.

The man screams. Vomits blood and ulcers. Gets tangled up in sheets and   
transparent plastic veins. After half an hour doves fly in. The leaves fall.   

After a few days a black man enters room 199. An orderly. He cleans his   
body with a warm sponge. His hands run slowly down the yellowed back,   
the belly and fragile shoulders of Randi. Dark birds fly over a forgotten   
landscape. Randi looks at his mother rubbing his chest with alcohol to   
quiet the cough before he sleeps. He turns his face. Imagines his one-room   
house, a trailer his father made out of an old car. They’re on a little ranch   
at the outskirts of an unknown town. The mountains reflect the afternoon’s   
coppery heat. From afar you can see birds crossing above the saguaros and   
the sky.

The last time I saw Randi was at San Francisco City College. He had just   
turned in all his papers so he could drop out at midterm. He didn’t want to   
go on with it. It was a farce.

Like when he was invited to read poetry near the Galería de La Raza in the   
Mission District. He never showed up. Took 18th instead of 24th Street.   
Some Latinos beat him up. They noticed a homosexual air about him.

Lies do not exist, only the grafik.
This figure has no scars / / / / /

       When I had you they didn’t give
       me anything. I grabbed onto the
       washbasin until I thought I’d die
       they did that then. They strapped . . .
            —alma luz villanueva

Eva (circa 1946), the doctor says they have to operate. Your pelvis is too   
narrow. The child can’t be born. It will come out in pieces. Eva. They’ll have   
to operate.

He says he’ll give you morphine for the stitches afterwards. Even if you   
scream, Eva, it’ll be alright. Even if the nurses ignore you, laugh at you as   
they see your bluish mouth open, your sleepwalker’s eyes, your hands   
scratching against the metal bed or the air or memories. For one long   
second they’ll study your womb in bandages stains clouds raindrops suns   
and rouge shadows and rage over the coffin hidden by 10 centimeters of   
vertical stitching. Eva. You’ll hemorrhage 29 days later while washing   
clothes over a tin basin.

Eva. The doctor is smiling. Have faith in him. He says everything is fine.   
I’ve signed the papers. Everything is arranged, girl.

   —The pencil wakes
   —The sheet tightens, the rubber vibrates
   —The magazine fades
   —The watch is speechless

Someone has erased all the E’s from all the pages; small empty rectangles   
remain. The ink runs searching for asylum.

   —Emerald green is the color of jagged grass
   diluted in great bottles of tears, spit and
   alcohol. It’s rain for a hell of cells. They burn
   and burn and burn.

S / I / E / B / R / E / N / N / E / N

Diego, you touch up a colossal worker with too-sad eyes, wearing a faded   
blue cotton shirt. His eyes are swollen. The worker wants to see, but his   
eyes don’t count anymore, just his hands.
They fly.

They untangle above new machines toward the future. Touching the   
atmosphere. The fingers touch the 17th of February, 1981.

The National Guard enters the province of Las Cabañas in El Salvador. They   
trap the area, cutting off all the roads out for the campesinos. Bombs fall.   
The mountains explode rocks, roots and water. An iron shell splinter rips   
into the throats of grandfathers and little girls. The initials U S A sweat.

They sweat through the paint of the Guardia helicopters swooping down   
over the huts and fields of corn.

Seven thousand begin to run toward the Río Lempa. 15km and then the wide   
river. 15km and then maybe refuge in the jungles of Honduras. Only
6kms    a pregnant young woman disappears
5kms    the Guardia captured her along with the others
4kms    they rip off her clothes
4kms    soldiers in masculine green stained uniforms circle her
4kms    they tie her arms and legs
3kms    the bayonet penetrates

2kms    it etches an x of red tears over the furious womb
6kms    the proud soldier throws down his weapon
12kms   sinks his right hand
9kms    rips out the fetus with the fingernails of his hot fingers
13kms   lifts it up like a torch
1km      opening his mouth the soldier screams
15kms   One less communist in El Salvador!

They reach the river. They jump in the water. Suddenly, from the Honduran   
side other helicopters and machine guns appear. The wind surrenders. The   
afternoon weakens.

The giant worker’s machinery shrieks on the tiny corner of the page: Plate   
number 113. It’s your self-portrait that you painted on the wall of the   
San Francisco Art Institute.

Few blades have been needed / / / / /

This time. I used a few blades to fill the canvas with its dramatis   
personae, landscapes and scenes that have been held back and kept secret;   
a figure dealt out in different boxes toward different destinies. No one   
has been able to figure out what happened on this table. But it’s time to   
turn off the black lamp.

If the ask me, I’ll do the only thing I can. I’ll show them everything   
I have; the only thing that counts:

potrero/////   ////// /////   /////   //////      /// ////      ///   //potrero
uuuuuuuuuuuuuuXuuuuuuu   uuuuuuuuuuuu uuuu   uuuu uuuuuuuu   
gre – ngre – ngre – ngre – ngre – ngre – ngre – ngre – ngre – ng   
- - - - - - - - - -+ - - - - - = = = = = = =+ = = = =+ - = - - - - - -   

“Grafik” from Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems by Juan Felipe Herrera. Copyright © 2008 Juan Felipe Herrera. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press. This material is protected from unauthorized downloading and distribution.
Source: Half of the World in Light (The University of Arizona Press, 2008)

Related Poem Content Details

Other Information