One of my favorite poems, written in 1984, when I was 34 years old.
I am crushed like paper on which a child has drawn a picture of her father
in red crayola.
I am blown through strange neighborhoods
where windows growl with fierce flowers.
Stunned by blow after blow, I have gone down on my good knee.
Friends walked away from me
because I was foaming at the mouth
wandering through streets, terrified of water.
But in time I lifted my face and saw the moon sitting in a pin oak tree
drawing water up into its white corona.
sharp blades of grass falling from my chest
helped by invisible hands
and by an angel with a thick scar across his nose
who sat by me on the bus from Ft. Stockton to El Paso.
It is to him I speak now:
I don’t remember your name.
Your Mother came from Mexico by night
when the moon was a finger nail bitten to the quick.
She gave birth to you squatting by a drain pipe on the American side
her hair still wet from the river
her white blouse stained red by the river.
Pulling you out with her own hands like Moses was from the river
she gave you something you could not throw away
though you tried to in alleys, with your arm full of needles.
Going to high-school in El Paso you were stabbed thirteen times
by the brothers of a girl whose eyes were black as two cups of coffee
whose kisses were gulps of border wine.
Sitting with me on the bus
wearing a Mexican wedding shirt of virgin acrylic
you were talking about knife and bullet wounds and about El Senor.
You lifted the tail of your shirt, slowly, as a bride would lift her veil
to show me your scars.
By bus light I counted them
while the sky spread out like two wings of a black bird
hunting the desert for something ready to be
Water drawn out of stones by the moon
collected on the antlers of deer and antelope roaming dry river beds.
A million spines of cactus pointed to a million different stars
while I counted those scars
and I felt my own wounds burned closed by a fire you built in my heart.
In light given off by your face, I felt my own face composed and graceful as a fist
full of peonies.
In the seat behind us a woman was talking about her monkey
how when she was away from home he wouldn’t eat his peanuts
or run his little comb through his hair.
In front, an old man in shorts and polo shirt with a penguin on the pocket
told how in the 1920’s
he had picked up Walt Disney hitch hiking
and carried him for the first time into the city of Angels.
You were laughing beside me.
You said in Viet Nam you were hit by shrapnel
and lost the bridge of your nose.
But the Virgin came in a dream, walking on the crescent of a black moon
to tell you, you wouldn’t die.
Back in El Paso you whipped those brothers
married the girl
learned to beat the dents out of car bodies and paint them new.
But after your son was born your wife dyed her hair the color of flames
and hung a hat over the face of the Virgin.
You came home early from work and found her naked with a man.
He jumped out a window while you stood there like a pin oak
broken by lightning!
She took drugs and lived with men who beat your son.
You had to learn to see her walking in the streets with the arms of strangers
around her waist like shadows
and not scream, not pull a knife!
Finally you forgave her and went back to work.
Now the moon pours over you like the Jordan River.
You sing a new song, a happy song, your son high on your shoulders
the streets at dawn opening to each other
calling out each others’ names
laughing, shouting, honking like geese!