Poems by RODNEY GOMEZ
When it rains the water
raises the dead
street long enough
to let the wheels
find the divots of neglect.
That is why I walked
barefoot to your lintel:
everything built skews
away from us and toward
the gray light of wealth.
Whether it is cold
or the stucco hot,
I will remind you to be afraid.
I am trying to tell you
neither the road nor the river
can carry the house.
If I sang I was sinful, I was animal. Stole sips from circumscribed fountains. I said murcielago, my knuckles drew a ruler. I said San Judas, my arm was viced. Survived by christening the bruise a train track. Headed south and underground. To no nation and back to a nation that was mine.
Teachers preached manifest. Borders drawn with grenade sophistication. The hill where we washed clothes on a slab of wooden ribs belonged to theft. A hurricane swept its hand over it. We rode the washtub like a skiff. Just because you’ve never heard of it doesn’t mean it isn’t history.
My family had a deed. Also vapor. The hurricane was a lawyer. What is a right? A bludgeon. What do I accomplish with timber and nails? A pew for my own funeral.
If I remember where the babies were delivered I breathe my own umbilicus. My speech unseams the sky to disgorge the city that should have been. I become acolyte to the school of subterranean rights. There I learn I am more magnanimous than a cage.
A goat bathes carelessly in a free river. Green-bellied kiskadees dive bomb free air. There is so much suffering. Unlike the map, it is wedded to joy.
In the early days of my apprenticeship I was taught not to question how the map is a reflection of someone’s body. When the body spoke the map calcified into its final shape. To understand the map you made pilgrimage to the one who drew it. To change the map required an offering I was not willing to give. I made my own map scrawled out of a beat-up bandana I’d brought with me from the old labor. Discount ink glistened over every crease. I placed the map on a wall at my first charette, crooning about how it reflected my home and the homes of others who were nettled in fields of previous maps. Everyone walked by without acknowledging what I had done. Near dusk, when most people had left the building, I heard the purr of bus doors opening outside. A woman hobbled in carrying her jute bag. She approached the map, pulled it from its tacks, studied it against her own wrinkled skin, then walked away. I felt, for the first time, that someone had unpuzzled me.
Tableau with Cataclysmic Deductible, Maskless Parents, and TikTok Rx
Tonight we rush you to the stand-alone ER.
It is storming and I have no recollection
of the roads we took to appear at the porte cochere.
I feel rock-headed when the charge nurse discovers
you have only a slight fever and not the inferno
we thought we’d confirmed with three thermometers.
I blame it on lack of sleep, the nursery rhyme
boutique you’ve reduced our house to.
Tonight the waiting room quakes in the predawn
sulk of maskless parents who discover their children
are not clones of themselves and susceptible to illness.
One of them tells me she heard there’s a new disease
floating around that escaped from a government lab.
She tells me to follow a chiropractor on TikTok
who sells an effective recipe for virucide.
As effective as prayer? But I know the answer:
no wish or conspiracy can mend a broken ulna.
Nineteen children have been shot in Uvalde.
Our imaginations ended long before theirs.
Rodney Gomez’s most recent collection is Arsenal with Praise Song (Orison Books, 2021), recipient of the Helen C. Smith Memorial Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. His work has appeared in Poetry, New England Review, The Gettysburg Review, Denver Quarterly, Poetry Daily, and other journals. His current project is supported by an Academy of American Poets Poet Laureate Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship, a Yale Mellon Arts & Practitioner Fellowship, and a De Groot Foundation grant. He is a member of the Macondo Writers Workshop and served as the 2020-2021 McAllen, Texas Poet Laureate.