JULIO CESAR VILLEGAS | Three Poems
& the horse-archers watched as I tried to tame the wild.
calculations of sleepless steps bent on becoming imprint:
because to speak my verse is to decipher my movements,
and if the stray arrow orients itself to my binding of skin,
let the wound tear and flow with pages, stanzas, chapters,
remembering the libraries burned at the passing of elders.
I am more than a meek inheritance of ash and condolence.
I wish to know the names of all of the provinces, the fruits,
the sensation of metamorphosis— devoid of all its amnesia,
and I wish to locate my friends still fearful of the sunlight.
whispering our sonnets into the wings of messenger birds,
crafters of nocturnal postal systems, we smuggled a verse,
night by night, uncertain of the lawless return of the hawk,
until the words were to form blood vessels, manifest breath,
deciphering the dialects of diurnal destitutions— and walk.
my words will walk with me as I identify a forgotten body.
they will watch over my shoulder as I utter a child’s name.
listen closely to the pronunciation: it’s a subtle coordinate.
there’s a basket of fading maps hidden within our names.
in what language, through which ancestor, are they read?
to which gods do we sacrifice? how many horses offered?
must we domesticate the wind in order to hear ourselves?
I wish to hear the sound of my words walking beside me.
there is life beyond this province: libraries without name,
the feathers of an executed hawk raining across the dawn,
with each of the shadows casting imprints upon the land,
mimicking footsteps, meter, and the trampling of distance;
I want to shout my name into the wild and be remembered.
there is no more time for calculations. a mare coughs ash.
only on thursdays do we whisper hymnals of planetary devastation pinpointing forthcoming raptures and determining the shape of thunder if it were to ever grow limbs
and roam along the streets only on thursdays do we burn poems in the orchards and use the ashes to cross our foreheads for from dust to dust we are conjured and to ash we shall return and from the interring of verses the ground becomes fertile for stanzas to grow branches only on thursdays do we become shipwrecked seafarers the abandoners of cargo
shackled to our causes embraced to one another as we shout the directions of a compass off an angled sinking mast only on thursdays do we tear the calendars only on thursdays do we revel and thrash and recite antiquated monologues in Quechua while standing upon that stage we’ve come to now know as the world the congregation of faces and footsteps nooses in the form of ties wisdom in the form of waiting only on thursdays do we count the remaining days of our lives only on thursdays do we dispel notions of mortality because once a page speaks we have derived the formula for god for immortality the petroglyph that remains indelible parented into this life through ash and thunder only on thursdays do we shout from the citadels and drink from the Tigris let the waters of the fertile crescent dawn civilizations within us only on thursdays will some say that we are too young to feel the earth turning too young to know of the rituals of those who first drew across the caves leaving their instructions and remembrances upon this canvas of time yet it is only on thursdays where age no longer exists and it is no longer required to whisper only on thursdays do we bend shadows into the forms of obelisks and broken smiles the monuments to ourselves which can never be taken away and let the dying bolts of the final gods scatter into the hills never to mark our throats with the sense of regret we are here to speak and we are here to shout the stories once kept hidden to ourselves on every other day except for thursday for only on thursdays
are we still promised the folding of a year into days
half-elegy of the Migrant Caravan
does the kingdom of heaven only speak english?
& do the angels run their own detention centers?
aquí en esta vida, lo único que tengo es fe. amor, lo único que tengo es la esperanza— the faith that our arms can become bridges cutting across the torrents of angered water. the water that would rather drown us. choke us until the lungs forget their purpose. beads para rezar y sabanas para combatir la noche: don’t even dream of stars if you were not born beneath one. the body of your brother washed ashore. his final handprint can never be erased. and if he is only remembered as a body, if we are only remembered as bodies, it is far better to not even speak of us in front of the angels.
what do they fear that we have not yet seen? do they fear murdered journalists? civilians? or do they fear another heritage just as proud? do they fear crops forgetting to grow? hunger? do they fear a relative leaving? never to return? the sound of rifles? bone cracked through flesh? skin splintered in the memory of crucifixions? shipwrecks? hangings? tears within the pews? do they fear philosophies forced into revision? 8,000 new entries into the Book of Humanity? do they fear sickle-scarred smiles? skin? eyes? reflections they stripped away from the mirrors? tienen miedo a la presencia de las otras idiomas?
this is the ancestral practice of the mass exodus. measured footsteps towards the north— el norte es donde vamos. north of a starving child’s cry. north of the churches no longer worth robbing. north of the slit throats. north of my own sanity. success is sacrilegious anywhere beyond el norte.
take all that you have never known. escuchame: nunca tengas miedo a lo que no puedes entender. tienes el San Romero. tienes la memoria nuestra. tenemos una profecía carved into the wall of fate that I want you to speak about beyond the border. remember that the dust beneath us was once alive. whether with or without me: speak to the angels.
is it true that they write nightmares from boredom? I can no longer distinguish nightmares from life. how much money do they need to give us salvation? the cost of a conscience turning upon its instincts. will they interrogate us if we don’t have any visas? it was of my belief that all souls are worth saving. but are there souls that are worth more than others? that is an answer to be answered in another lifetime. and how is the significance of a lifetime measured? through the number of nights unafraid of tomorrow. but isn’t to fear tomorrow also to fear a blessing? a blessing is heaven and hell both casting their dice. and what are the odds that the angels speak english?
and what are the odds of the proudest of patriarchs fearing their slumbers tonight? what will they see? the ashened tree of life coiled around their throats? thorns surging, fibonacci spirals across the wrists? broken wails of the body: is this caravan worth it? estoy preguntando en serio. quiero que me mires— is this caravan worth it? do you believe in promises? if it didn’t rain this year, do you believe in the next? solemn incantations once the wind stills. God’s breath blanketing an unpromised horizon. men waking up: denouncing all trees, spitting thorns from their jaws, and begging for forgiveness. this is no one’s burden. the hourglass affects the souls of all pilgrims equally.
the clothes on your back will be your Sunday clothes. the clothes on your back will serve as your country. the clothes on your back will bond with your skin.
the clothes on your back will tally your tribulations. the clothes on your back will recite your convictions. the clothes on your back will become our only home. the clothes on your back will genuflect at the border. the clothes on your back will be stained with prophecy. the clothes on your back will be worn on every Sunday. the clothes on your back will be able to speak english. the clothes on your back will knot into a ceiba’s roots. the clothes on your back will know of kingdom come. the clothes on your back will.
& when we get there: believe that there will be a feast. a celebration of impossibilities. estoy hablando de todo: pupusas, sopas de olla, de caracol, curtidos, quesadillas, arroz con frijoles, maíz, aguacate, y mango. ¿entiendes? vamos a conocer la música natural. y que vamos a bailar. with a rhythm indecipherable throughout all generations. to possess such skin is to possess the memory of survival. I want you to imagine the day where we can eat together. this hunger is only a part of the process. all is temporary: starvation, barbed wire, soldiers, & cages, the dichotomy of hurt and healing. the practice of nomadic cartography. realignment of the longitudes in order to decipher North. el norte. the uncertain Eden. teeth gnash to taste the fruit.
while the bones of the body erode in the fields of crops that no other souls wish to toil in. hold a daguerreotype to the sun and find yourself behind the filtered light— hours of work that have built up & divided your family: tables with greater food and lesser gratitude. the accent which marked you as damned: erased from the children. and you have to live life making religions from betrayal because it is the only way for a promise to become true. the mechanics & maids & fieldworkers & custodians & bussers & operators & family names long-forgotten & the servants of the public who are wished dead in private, the backbones of economies— all within the memory of parents trying to understand the internalization of borders.
where was the concerned world when we crossed Veracruz? siblings turning upon one another, abducted, turned ransom. where was the concerned world when we crossed Veracruz? the 8,000 entries now altered by the removal of 100 tongues. where was the concerned world when we crossed Veracruz? upon the very trail of faith haunted by the galleon’s shadow. where was the concerned world when we crossed ourselves? grasping inherited rosaries, corroded pendants and amulets, widowed from all solace, marching through the battlefields with only calloused palms bent on forgetting their stigmata? where were you? & where were the journalists? & the poets? & the demonstrators? & the outcries of the northern angels? the pages of 100 manuscripts torn as we march upon the ink.
I had another dream. it entered my spirit with rabid tendrils: children burning effigies beneath autumnal crescent moons. they professed the deconstruction of time as the fires raged, impaling the carcasses of eagles with their shards of mirror. esto es la vida tuya, canta con nosotros they kept repeating in their chorus of calamity. they danced upon wild obsidian, and the blood, becoming a basin beneath us, began to speak: no tengas miedo. las temporadas saben cuando vas a llegar. after its proclamation, the blood boils into vapors, a cloud— silhouettes of the Yucatán Peninsula imprinted upon the sky. esto es la vida tuya, canta con nosotros the effigies whisper. esto es la vida tuya, canta con nosotros as I weep in silence, esto es la vida tuya, canta con nosotros the children begged.
yet we can only show fear once the eyelids become closed. twisted & burdened spines becoming rigid upon daybreak. we’re almost there. practice your salutations to the angels. look them in the eyes: tell them that you once knew home. así no— trátalo otra vez. your skull is to only face el norte. relax your shoulder blades. y ahora, steady your breathing. por favor— trátalo otra vez! you cannot risk any mistakes! que carajo no puedes entender! para llorando! look ahead! you will say your name with pride, but not too much of it, because no one shall be prouder than the angels of heaven. they dictate the placement of souls, influencing Saint Peter
to cast the final verdict on the worth of a migrant’s journey. slit your own tongue if you have to. ahora: trátalo otra vez.
the sonogram of a child I will never meet is in my pocket. to where will I write my letters if the addresses vanished? are my ancestors proud of me? am I worth remembering? is my accent clear enough? have I hid most of the scars? will the months be forgiving to us if we become failures? I’m scared of meeting the angels. will they ask for visas? do you believe that heaven & hell are both equally cold? I’m sorry for crying. I’m really trying to understand this. I’m trying to understand how salvation is a selective act. my lips are hidden beneath my collar. I have a message. when the angels speak to me, and they ask for my name, I will tell them that my name is far more than only one. me llamo Managua, Tegucigalpa, voy por San Salvador,
soy las Ciudades de Panamá, Guatemala, y de México. I am the cathedral and consciousness of the caravan navegando la muerte para encontrar una vida mejor where our crops will yield and our fratricides cease y quiero que me entiendas pero tengo miedo a usted, of the words I cannot say, of being deemed as sinful. asesinos. cuerpos sin causas. nombres sin presencia. this is the first of many tides to shift heaven’s shores. esto es el camino de amarrando alas a mis promesas. my words are the archives of my people’s sacrifices. soy el espejo del pueblo. y si hoy es el último día— baptize my final verses in mercury and rosewater. hay una sonrisa entre las sombras. Pregunto a Dios:
does the kingdom of heaven only speak english? & were your angels the ones who built this detention center?
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, raised in Essex County, New Jersey, Poetry Reader for Muzzle Magazine, and recipient of the 2017 Atlantis Award for Poetry, Julio Cesar Villegas is the writer that your abuelos warned you about. His scriptures can be found or are forthcoming in PANK, Rigorous Mag, Subprimal Poetry Art, Grist, Into The Void, Waccamaw, Bare Fiction, as well as the inescapable mouth of the abyss. Puerto Rico Se Levanta.
Follow Julio's tweets from the abyss at @VforVillegas