“Sea Level”, “Mexicali” and “Risen Again”

Sea Level

I’ve lost most names for things from girlhood
early womanhood   can’t name the mother
of the man I used to sleep with   in her house
she made us nopales   prickly pear   scraped
the sticky cactus innards into a pan
made Spanish rice & fried beans   & his father
had a wooden leg   drove a garbage truck
I remember my lover’s name so that much
is still true   Anthony & I watched prison
break movies   had sex in his parents’ backyard
house   behind his sister’s   a little house
two rooms   a bath   a cramped kitchen
that   for the few months I nearly lived there
the man I didn’t love calling me his
Heina   smelled of garlic & onion   I’ve gone
below sea level   I’m aching
the prison break of our bodies
Now on the balcony   a child’s tea set
of brightly colored tin   The trees
are blooming   again   I didn’t use condoms
with that man   out of prison only months
before I met him   I tell my husband
years too late   seeking what   absolution
facile in the face   of my dysfunction
I wanted babies that bad   I could have given
him anything   My love burns he says
He doesn’t mean to hurt me   The far road
I’ve sculled to the end   two hundred feet below
a distant ocean   below the tall white sugar-
beet plant   its sign a line high above marking sea level
a roadmap for how deep   I keep
weighing the mistakes I’ve made   I’ve built
a house of sugar cubes   one cube for every
miscalculation   what’s hidden in my
underwear drawer   beneath the outdated potpourri
my mother taught me to keep there   as if occasional
thongs should smell of patchouli
& the sugar castle grew   filled the kitchen
heart of the house   it lifted the roof   when it rained
the sugar melted like Eucharist on the tongue
I was drowning in sweetness


I crossed over
for cumbia for tequila

& holy water, fearful
serpent, my feathered scales

like marigolds
altar-spilled like sugar in a sideshow

only there was no circus, no
last act & I can’t tell a story without

breaking. Border crosser,
rosary holder,

communion starched of want,
bread stale in the mouth,

one woman held out the heavy
basket of her hands,

turnpike bloody.
I was young & slipping

into splatter, taco cart of cilantro
& lime. Border crossing women—

we’ve been no fence
& empty hinges.

Risen Again

Anything can be a time machine.
For us it was the elms grown crooked
into each other, knobby-rooted
& shooting nine-stories into the sky.
I named one Risen Again
for how it branched down into dirt
then up again, snakelike, hiding places
for me & the others. But it transported only me—
& Nieve. We could disappear
into its corkscrewed trunk & be two
places at once for I’d found a way to split
myself. What the grownups didn’t know:
enough to dredge the river
cemetery where we’d play hide & seek
& never find. Enough to send us
where they no longer existed.
But the boy the color of an oak casket who
guarded me in the tree’s clearing so I could cross
would no more make it to adulthood
than any of us. I knew that about him
& loved him anyway. What did it feel like, splitting?
Like ice pops against summer heat
bare feet scalding asphalt & eggs dropping
on sidewalk to test a theory. We fried
ourselves like sizzling pork fat plucked
from the comal & dipped in chile.
We held our whole bodies like a tree
after anyone had tried to chop it down.
A time machine can be anything
can be one’s own body. I used to catch rattlers
in the foothills for five bucks a snake.
I’d leash each snake’s neck so it couldn’t strike
then pinch between gloved fingers into a bag
for the exotic animal collector next door.
Splitting felt like that like that, like catching
but also getting caught. Whichever way I twisted
felt like shedding skin felt too tight.
Whichever way I turned felt like out.