Since 1996 Volume XXIII





José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of seven chapbooks as well as the collections Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press), Small Fires (FutureCycle Press), and Until We Are Level Again (Mongrel Empire Press), which was named a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Prairie Schooner, The Windward Review, and The Bind. He also works as an editor for Right Hand Pointing and Airlie Press and runs the Instagram poetry project poetryamanoHe is an assistant professor at Suffolk University where he serves as editor-in-chief of Salamander.  https://thefridayinfluence.wordpress.com/


La Llorona at the Border

It is not children she wishes to steal but time,
not a river but distance holds her reflection,
her black hair the sky, tears on her face streaming
into each other, roads on a map that keeps
unfolding. It was not her child she buried that day,
that day that keeps occurring every time
her story’s told, not a coffin she stamped
down into the dirt, but a heart. She marked
the spot with her braid, chopped and tied it to
a cross made of twigs, vowed to grow it all back.
Now, her screams scare children, multiply
the shadows in their rooms, become gossip,
like: I heard she doesn’t just steal kids,
she drowns them, drowns herself every night.
Not a child but a man on the other side
of a river, a man smuggled between milk crates,
sleeping on the concrete floor of where
he has found work, falling asleep each night
to the same dream, his knees knocking against
his chest, the faces of others seen in flashes
of streetlamps, his tongue drying to a paper
he has written his name too quickly on. 
Not a child but belt buckles left behind,
trucks that rattle like cages, frayed and faded
baseball caps, boots of stretched and hardened
skin. Not a child she keeps searching for
each night she walks, not a river but distance
keeps unfolding her reflection across
a horizon that keeps shifting with each step
she takes towards a border barring nowhere.

—appears in the book by the author, Small Fires.

Tantalus in Matamoros

Before he died, my mother took me 
to see my father in prison. 
After saying hello, 
I was hushed and kept aside. 

What words he spoke and cried over, 
what forgivenesses
he asked – I reach for them 
and pull back different words each time.

With this memory, I grow 
thin, less and less of me 
stoops, trying to drink of
these waters. When they recede,

the story of a man left to longing
returns, to be told in human breath.

—appears in the book by the author, Until We Are Level Again 


On Chartres Street, I admire the Living Statues.
At every word called out to them, I check
the lines of their faces to see if they have changed.
This one in gold is good, is most like stone
and seems to never hear what’s being said.
His glow is like the glow I had around me,
instead of a street, a fire on a ranch,
instead of camera flash, a flashed command:
Habla ingles. This was after midnight,
when the adults had drunk enough and started singing.
The other kids would push me and a girl
close to the fire and tease: Habla ingles,
ella quiere. Shoulder to shoulder with her –
I must’ve know her name, but that word
was not important then, that word held still
so others could be summoned – I couldn’t see
her face. Laughter broke as the crowd called out:
Dí novia, dí amor, dí boda y flores.
Their laughter was the sound of expectation,
a sound like the coursing of a fountain,
which is the sound of water made to move
and fall and fall over itself, a sound
I heard again when older and alone
with a girl who had just finished asking
for me to speak in Spanish: Say something
beautiful – her name, how we met, her love
of being in the room as I spoke to family –
all of it fell as I focused on the glow
of the candle I had lit for her, having
learned how to set the mood from watching
movies where this kind of thing would never
stop the hero, a hero who would have
done more than just sit there silent, my face
unmoving – I had hardened it to stone,
waited until she walked away, as the crowds
here walk away, but didn’t know what would
happen after, how stone comes back to life –
I never learned to collect my heart like the hat
left at the feet of this man so good
at playing stone, laid out for anyone
to drop what they can spare.

—appears in the book by the author, Small Fires

Meditation on the Seconds

My childhood was dust motes seen only in light
I had to come upon: the leaves outside
on summer afternoons, thick light turning
     on the wind: on the way to her eye,

my mother’s liner brush, a waiting dab
of light at the edge of so much dark:
Corpus Christi Bay seen from the highest
     curve of the expressway at night,

headed towards what I knew then as home
after having been in Mexico
visiting what my family once knew
     as home, the lights on the water

sparks and glints that left me dark unto
myself. I felt I was only real in moments
of passing light, and had but seconds of
     a life – the lone streetlamp

in the park, the fireflies’ to and fro – that dust 
is made of so much falling gone unnoticed –
the train’s spotlight fixed across the tracks –
     little seen of what’s ahead. 

—appears in the book by the author, Small Fires.

          Small Fires

the stories of a new world end like this
my grandfather’s house at the edge of a landfill

my mouth dry for hours on the road
I knew we were close when traffic split, my mother’s knuckles white

my grandfather with his hat in his hands
posing for a photograph

the stories of the conquistadores end like this
my grandfather’s gold tooth showing when he smiled, hat in his hands

the turn from highway to gravel, to mud, to where we had to park, 
walk the rest of the way

my grandfather’s house, 
the grackles, brushstrokes leaving a painting

dust thick on the truck my mother had bought him, 
the tv, the fence she helped build

the train tracks we knelt in between and played games
the stories of the Aztecs end like this

newspapers where dead children keep appearing, 
black and white on the front page

they looked asleep in the backseat, 
they would find their stomachs cut, filled with cocaine

my grandfather’s house, the rats ruminating in the sun
the stories of Santa Ana and Pancho Villa end like this

the mesquite trees, the sap dark, the hours I had to look at it
my grandfather’s house of cardboard and wood scraps

my grandfather’s hair slicked in waves of ash, hat in his hands
the stories of the narcocorridos end like this

a cracked egg in another boy’s hand 
the beginning of a beak, of an eye opening

stories, not ballads, 

my grandfather who beat his daughter 
and now was dying in clothes she bought for him

my grandfather’s house, 
the flies, thick words stumbling off the page

stories, not heroes, 

my grandfather’s house in the rain, I asked, 
got slapped for it, would it sink or sail away

the mesquite trees we broke twigs from 
to feed small fires at night

stories, not sacrifice, 

my grandfather’s prayers 
to a ceiling with holes in it

the canals dividing the neighborhood, 
the stories of the dead

stories, not conquest, 

trains on the tracks, only at night, only in dreams, 
each car a house never lived in, passing on

we would talk for hours, 
until our faces and hands and words were covered in ash

stories, not a new world, 
a world made new from what was here

my grandfather’s house of rain, 
when he died, the rain died too

stories I have to tell, 
my mouth, the road, his hat in his hands

---—appears in the book by the author, Small Fires

All poems are Copyright © Jose Araguz

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