Names for This

You Lightning-Flasher, Shirt-Raiser,
lack-of-control Power Blinker,
toss the trees around like wet cotton candy,
they’re drunk marionettes, Power Cutter,
Bed Rumbler. The night is a black-eye disco,
and you’re a violent drunk, Night Storm. Drenching
dreams, nowhere to go but right on top of us,
roof Slam-Dancer, Sky-Splitter Night Light,
Gutter-Defier, Waterfall-Caller tumbling down window panes,
Door-Groper, a puddle on the tile.
The nosleepers are listening to you,
Tomorrow-Maker, Midnight Rumbler.
Sharp clouds and nosleep,
yer no quitter, Kid, Mountain Bowler,
cement puddles, and a mud romance.

The clock blinking 12:00 in fear of You.

Nombres para esto

Tú Destellarayos, Levantacamisas,
Parpadeador neumático sincontrol,
zarandea los árboles como algodón de azúcar húmedo,
son títeres borrachos, Cortador de Poder,
Retumbacamas. La noche es un disco ojinegro,
Y tú eres un borracho violento, Tormenta Nocturna. Sueños
empapantes, ningún lugar a dónde ir salvo encima de nosotros,
Slambailador de techo, Luz Nocturna Cortacielos,
Desafíalcantarilla, Llamacascadas Tumbando paneles de ventanas,
Tientapuertas, un charco en la losa.
Los nodurmientes te están escuchando,
Hacedor de Mañanas, Retumbador de Mediasnoches.
Nubes afiladas y nodormir,
Tú nunca renuncias, chico, Lanzamontañas,
Charcos de cemento, y un amorío de lodo.

El reloj parpadea las 12:00 temiéndote.

Trad. de Alfredo Villegas Montejo

Arnold Duncan Doesn’t Live Here

I, the teacher with the twisted imaginationsay
draw yourself finding a treasure chest
just like Arnold Duncan.

And they, the students, eyes burning with kidfire,
flash bright teeth and smiles across their brown faces.
They know who Arnold Duncan is,

that old gringo with the beard from the story
we’re reading, another English story for English class
from our English textbook. And they know the story, but you,

you do not know the story. So, for
those of you not in Mr. Logan’s 4th Grade
English class, get this straight:

One. It was a sunny morning.
Two. Arnold Duncan went fishing.
Three. Arnold Duncan caught a treasure chest.

Four. Inside the chest were gold coins.
Doubloons is the vocabulary word.
And so my kids, these kids, they draw.

On the first page, dawn blooms an immense
sun, rising from the ocean like an Atlantis of fire,
just offshore from an imaginary place called San Francisco.

Second page, an ungainly man appears,
with a bright pink face and short arms. He
goes fishing in a boat the size of a skateboard.

Third page, Duncan’s fishing hook weaves
through the fishes, whales, turtles, dolphins and mermaids
until it snags itself on a brown chest of doubloons.

Last page. Duncan sits on the shore like an old man
finding out what he wants to be when he grows up,
too late. Spanish gold dripping through his fingers,

and his granddaughter sitting on his lap. Her head
is lopsided, her face is pink, and I, the teacher,
say very good. I think your drawings are beautiful,

beautiful like mermaids. Now, show me
your last drawing, the one in which you find
the treasure instead of Arnold Duncan.

And these kids, one after another, they unfold
their little illustrated books to show me their imaginations,
where they fill their small Mexican hands with Spanish doubloons.

Except inside, in these drawings, I don’t see my students.
Drawn inside, I don’t see their outsides. I see their imaginations,
I see how they see themselves and they’ve drawn

themselves with blond hair and pink skin,
brown hair and peach skin, light hair
and light eyes, rose cheeks and blue eyes,

every combination except ink black hair
and deep olive dark skin. Who are these
kids in these drawings? I ask,

Frida, who did you draw?

It’s me, teacher, says Frida Itzel, smiling
at me with all of her nine years, her strong,
wide face smooth and open.

Something inside me seems to pull too tight.
My beautiful students have disguised themselves,
they’ve hidden themselves from themselves,

a gone-wrong game of hide and seek.
They’re too young to see the danger,
too young to recognize their misrecognition.

My nine-year-olds draw themselves
to match the kids on the TV that
make the laughtrack laugh back.

My moreno students draw themselves
to match the kids in the cartoons, whose
dubbed voices speak Spanish through white faces.

These grinning innocents reimagine
themselves with the help of Hollywood,
see themselves in cities that are ununderstandable

jumbles that don’t look like home. And when
my students find treasure chests, they’re not
filled with pesos, or even with doubloons,

but with green dollars, they draw North
American loot. And I realize that my students
lack the colored pencils to draw themselves correctly.

And I realize that my students spend
half of their school day in my English class,
and the other half learning everything else,

because that is how their parents imagine
a better future for them. And I realize that
this school hired me because I look like

what an English speaker should look like,
and they see English as the hook to catch all
opportunity. I realize that the people

who write movies write sitcoms write laws
are the same people who write textbooks
and Arnold Duncan is just another textbook story.

My class of twenty-two kids stares at me.
And I realize that this teacher has got the
assignment all wrong. I should’ve said

people like Arnold Duncan can go fishing
and find a fortune, but that’s never going
to happen to you, Frida. You have to

imagine yourself from the inside out,
not the outside in, and disbelieve the TV
when it says that it knows who you are.

Fortunes that last are not made of doubloons,
dollars, or even pesos. They are made of a mind
that allows you to imagine all of the mermaids

in the ocean and all of the possibilities under
the sun. Look for other colored pencils, draw,
never stop drawing, and smile when you look in the mirror.

Arnold Duncan can keep
his treasure, because you
Frida, querida, you are your own.

Tell Me You’ll Never See Her Again

Her breath—
the one she’ll remember, word-triggered by his
short, unexpected reply, fewer syllables than she
would’ve liked. No.

That breath—
too loud in the theatre.
Everyone’s necks twist
around like old wood,
eyebrows compacted,
everyone’s tongue
either a question mark
or an exclamation

A breath—
unable to fly,
pushed out of the nest
of her mouth, falling.
His hand, a five-word
consolation left unsaid,
kept to himself.

Unbreathing now,
all eyes. A moment
like a swinging axe.
Lungs waiting,
blood slowing.
She stands, moves
to the aisle, walks,
leaves. Dark in the
theatre, flickering
faces. Dark outside,
trees left naked.

She doesn’t
breathe again
until she can be
sure of where the
air will come from.
And where
it will go.

Fair Warning (Yonder Dinosaurs Cometh)

The dinosaurs didn’t die
out. They went underground
and waited for you mammals
to build them palaces.
They sent the birds
to spy on your hubris.
It was a dinosaur who
leaked to human science
that it is possible to burn
their dead bodies as oil. 
The dinosaurs giveth
and the dinosaurs yanketh
it all back. They have colonized
the imaginations of the young
boys and increasingly the girls’.
The dinosaurs are masters
of irony. It was their idea
to make plastic toys
of themselves. Plastic is
of course made of oil.
Toys of course occupy the
children’s’ hands. The 
dinosaurs teach the children
to cheat on government tests.
They survive on lost socks,
banana peels and our ignorance.
They survive underground.
Don’t you understand, you
sweaty, hairy monkey?
It’s the dinosaurs who are
responsible for global warming!
They’re heating up this terrarium
for their impending return.
Environmentalism is a distraction.

Terrorism is a distraction.
Your monkey sex life 
is a distraction. That’s
why the birds look at you
they way they do! And still
you feed them birdseed, 
you ignorant bipeds.
Of course they’re pretty.
So are swords, you
devolved sack of warm blood!
Don’t believe the paleontologist
propaganda. Our museums are filled
with lies. Our museums 
are filled with pro-dinosaur
bullshit! Our pathetic poetry
ignores their teeth. The 
boogeyman is a dinosaur, stupid
human children! It’s a dino
that’s been sucking your goats,
you rancher, you meat farmer,
you chupacabra-fearing suckfool!
I cannot believe your amusement
at this! Of course there are no
dinosaurs in the bible, you 
fundamentalist fucks! Dinosaurs wrote
the bible! To distract us!
A great literary sleight-of-hand,
not putting themselves in
their own book! The spaceships
are our only hope! To the
stars, monkeys! To the stars,
monkeys! This jungle is theirs!

Precaución (cuando los dinosaurios vuelvan)
Logan Phillips Versión de Javier Raya

Los dinosarurios no se extinguieron.
Se fueron bajo tierra a esperar que ustedes,
mamíferos, les construyesen palacios.
Enviaron a las aves para espiar vuestro orgullo.
Fue un dinosaurio quien informó a los científicos
que es posible hacer arder sus cadáveres como combustible.
Los dinosaurios os dieron y los dinosaurios
lo tomarán todo de vosotros. Han colonizado
la imaginación de los niños y cada vez más
la de las niñas. Los dinosaurios son maestros
de la ironía. Fue idea suya hacer juguetes de
plástico de sí mismos. El plástico, por supuesto,
está hecho de petróleo. Los juguetes, por supuesto,
están en las manos de los niños. Los dinosaurios
enseñan a los niños a hacer trampa en los exámenes.
Sobreviven entre calcetines perdidos, las cáscaras
de plátano y nuestra ignorancia. Sobreviven bajo tierra.
¿¡No lo entienden, oh simios peludos y sudorosos!?
¡Los dinosaurios son responsables del calentamiento global!
Están calentando el terrario para su inminente retorno.
El ambientalismo es una distracción.
El terrorismo es una distracción.
Vuestra vida sexual de simios es una distracción.
Es por eso que los pájaros nos miran del modo en que lo hacen.
¡Y con todo les dáis de comer semillas, bípedos ignorantes!
Por supuesto que son hermosos, como las espadas,
oh involucionado saco de sangre caliente.
No creas en la propaganda de los paleontólogos.
Nuestros museos están llenos de mentiras.
¡Nuestros museos están llenos de mierda pro-dinosaurio!
Nuestra patética poesía ignora sus colmillos. 
El coco es un dinosaurio, estúpido niñito humano. 
Es un dinosaurio el que se ha chupado tus cabras,
ranchero, ganadero, ¡asqueroso alabador de chupacabras!
¡No puedo creer que se estén riendo de estas cosas!
¡Por supuesto que no hay dinosaurios en la biblia,
fundamentalistas de mierda!
¡Los dinosaurios escribieron la biblia!
¡Para distraernos!
¡Qué Gran acierto literario no incluirse a sí mismos en su propio libro!
¡Las naves espaciales son nuestra única esperanza!
¡A las estrellas, simios!
¡A las estrellas, simios! 
Esta jungla les pertenece a ellos.

Arizona Freeway Sunrise

The grasses are always dancing in the median,
headbangers, seed sowers, dry spines twisting.
Freeway flowers face early decapitation—
guillotine tirewind, lit by skyfire:
here the sun is literally a star,
made of beaten copper, sharp, imperfect.
As the star pulls itself up again, 
the sky goes streaked, the improbable
pattern of yellow-red, vivid. 
The radio stations are just murmurs in the static.
The cities hide behind the horizons.
The tires break grass necks.
The flowers throw themselves
like colorful, suicidal philanthropists
into the eastbound, into the westbound.
Saguaro shadows are twirling sundials
on the clock face of burning sand,
they tick, they spin, they speak
until they’re spoken to, torn down,
paved over, left in piles, sold.
The rush, the hush, 
the hiss of wind and the
immutable silence of light. 
The piston explosions,
the cellphone syllables.
Two realities in the same moment.
Two landscapes that never touch.
Arizona freeway sunrise.
A breeze blowing through barbwire.

Amanecer en carretera de Arizona

Los pastos siempre bailan en el camellón,
de atrás para adelante, esparcen la semilla, sus secas espigas se tuercen.
Las flores de carretera enfrentan temprana decapitación;
viento-guillotina de llantas, iluminadas por el fuego del cielo:

aquí el sol es literalmente una estrella
hecha de cobre forjado, puntiaguda, imperfecta.
Mientras la estrella se levanta de nuevo,
bandas cruzan el cielo, el improbable
patrón de amarillo-rojo, intenso.
Las estaciones de radio sólo son murmullos en la estática.
Las ciudades se esconden detrás de los horizontes.
Las llantas rompen cuellos del césped.
Las flores se arrojan
como coloridos y suicidas filántropos
hacia el este, hacia el oeste.
Las sombras de los saguaros son manecillas
que giran sobre el cuadrante de la arena hirviente,
hacen tictac, giran, hablan hasta que se les habla,
derribados, asfaltados, apilados, vendidos.
La prisa, la calma, el silbar del viento y el silencio
inalterable de la luz. Las explosiones de pistones,
las sílabas de celulares.
Dos realidades en un mismo instante.
Dos paisajes que jamas se tocan.
Amanecer en carretera de Arizona.
Una brisa silbando entre alambre de púas.

Trad. de J. Emilio Rodríguez

The old man rides an old bicycle

The old man rides an old bicycle in slow rhythm along the bay, on his way home to his wife after watching the technicolor sunset on the old dock. "¿De qué año es su bicicleta?" I ask him as he peddles by me. "Tiene 50 años," he says, smiling as he stops the bike next to me.

"¿Es un tipo Schwinn?" I ask, being into this type of thing.

"No, se llama Super Rex," he tells me, and pulls out of the breast pocket of his half-open cotton shirt the ancient registration card, which is paperclipped to his carné de identidad. "El gobierno me dio este papel pero como no saben escribir bien pusieron 'suder res.'" We laugh.

He asks me where I'm from. "Oh!," his eyes flush with emotion as he folds up his thick glasses. "I lived for five years there! In New York! Nineteen Fifty Five until Nineteen Sixty. But I think, not because I'm Cuban, that here, Cienfuegos, has the most beautiful sunsets in the world."

"Looked pretty good to me," I tell him.

"How do you like Cuba?"

"Me facina," I say, smiling.

"The same for me in New York," he smiles too. "I love my country," he says the words slowly, as if describing an ache, "but this situation here... it's not good. I stay against my will because I love my country. But this system doesn't work."

"I agree with you," I tell him. I realize he only has the courage to say these things because we are speaking in broken English. By this time we've stopped walking and we're leaning close to each other. He starts laughing.

"I must go," he says, "my wife is waiting for me. It was a pleasure to talk to you and practice my broken English."

"For me too. Tell your wife I say hello and take care."

"Ok, goodbye."

The Cuban Writers' Union


Some writers working for the state
have clandestine dreams of smuggling
out a manuscript to the presses
of the capitalist world.

Others just rearrange the same adjectives
around the words revolución and Fidel
because Customs has long forbidden the importation
of new words into Cuba,

so the remaining writers
are like everyone else in this country,
making do, shuffling the same broken puzzle pieces,
searching for new endings.

The writers here are just like the men
who sit on the sidewalks behind dirty wooden stands, injecting
new aerosol breath into old disposable lighters
and the womens’ fine hands in the relojería,
fixing old watches with skill,
then searching for the hour
to set the watches by, the hour
that this country lost long ago.


On the edges of this living city there are piles
upon piles of all the abandoned thoughts,
dirty and wet, buzzing with flies,
putrid in the tropical sun.

And there are coasts
where the government allows no one to swim
because there too they have dumped all the aborted
ideas of the island, coasts
where the waves mumble unintelligible promise
and people stop on the seawalk to gaze at the hollow horizon.
Sometimes the weight of their unintended sighs
is enough to push the cool breeze back out to sea.

Here for every kilo of true creativity
the streets are polluted with a hundred liters of tears.
Maybe it’s no wonder that the bookshops
read like the dictator’s personal library
and all the true writers sit in buildings
about to collapse, trying to inject new breath
onto thin sheets of cheap paper, while others
have stopped writing altogether, and spend
their days folding their quota of paper into airplanes
which they bring down to the shore
and toss into the sea, hoping they’ll catch
the warm propulsion
of an entire nation sighing.

The world has gotten so small
that now there’s no more room
in the oceans for so many bottles
containing the words of so many trapped peoples.
The few boats that do manage to leave
set sail to the deafening sound of shattering glass
and sinking letters. No more messages, no bottles.
Here in Cuba all the writers know better than to trust
the sea, they study the sky, trying to guess the hour
and the best flight plans for paper airplanes.

Todos Santos, Presentes


Three hours of chicken bus, blasting
radio, excessive horn, half pavement, half
dirt, half sky, blue diesel thunderclouds
hanging over my head, guitar between
my knees, trash thrown out the window,
climbing out of Huehue shitsville, seventy
people in a school bus, three to a seat,
ropa típica, bright pants, sleeping heads
swaying, smiling children, dirty diapers,
drunks stumbling in front of the grill
with lost eyes, more horn, silver teeth,
bicycles faster than busses, walls made
out of stacked rocks and yucca, sheep
and slingshot children, mercado sábado,
broken accelerator, broke down bus,
mumbled prayers, start again.

Dicen que nadie es profeta en su propia
tierra. Che, Emiliano and Jesus have each
earned the right to have their faces made
into stickers and stuck at the front of the
colectivo bus.