Monday, February 28, 2011

Poet As Public Citizen: Toi Derricotte

The final of our three talks from AWP, here are Toi Derricotte's remarks from Undivided: Poet as Public Citizen.

Details about the events can be found here.

Remarks, Poet as Public Citizen, AWP, February 2011

Toi Derricotte

I’m interested in talking about trauma and poetry; both personal and historical trauma.
I’m going to start with a poem by Lucille Clifton
About a week ago, during the 10 minute break in my evening Intro to Creative Writing class, I went to the women’s bathroom and in a stall in the newly refurbished bathroom, on the third floor of the cathedral of learning, written in really permanent ink on slick marble, there were these lines of a poem:
Won’t you celebrate
With me
That everyday something
Has tried to kill me
And has failed.
It wasn’t exactly delineated the way Lucille’s poem is in the book, but for me, that made it even more amazing, because it said to me that the woman hadn’t copied the poem, that she had written it from her heart—(I’m pretty certain it was a woman, but you can’t be sure!). It meant that she carried those last four lines with her through her life like a prayer, or a note about when the revolt will begin passed from one slave to another.
Messages, graffiti, are common on bathroom walls, of course, but believe me, not on the walls of the bathrooms in the cathedral of learning at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. I have never ever seen anything written on another bathroom wall there . . . And, yet, having a poem written on a bathroom wall of an academic institution, especially a poem by Lucille Clifton, was intriguing. First of all, the person had written that poem behind closed doors, in a place where only certain people would see it, and at a certain time, when they were in the most humble position, vulnerable, kind of naked; I think the person who brought Lucille into that secret place knew that she is still dangerous, that she could get you into trouble.
What would Lucille have said about her poem being written there?
Lucille often said she wanted the respect of her peers. It was the thing she wished in her last interview in the current Writer’s Chronicle. I have heard her say it before. She had to know she was one of the most loved and popular poets in the world. Maybe this is exaggerated but someone told me that 20,000 people attended her reading at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, and she had been a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for years. And, yet, still, I think she smelled an old truth: that the poetry in the anthologies of the 20th century was not written by poets who looked like her, and they did not contain poems about the subjects that she was writing about. Every time she received one of those big awards, she was more than thrilled, she was shocked. It was as if she couldn’t believe it, that this good thing that she wanted so badly was coming to her.
She told me this story. When her first book was published, her stair step children, six, were following behind her at the mall, she looked in the bookstore window and saw one of the first copies of her book, finally published! She ran into the bookstore and grabbed the first salesperson pointing excitedly at the window, “that’s my book!” she exclaimed to the woman. The woman looked at her with the level gaze, and, without too much thought, said to her, “no it isn’t”. Lucille said that for a moment she believed her.
Lucille has told us in her poems that she’s faced it all, the death of her beloved and only husband, the loss of two of her children, cancer for many years, medical intervention, kidney replacement, dialysis, that along with the early years of poverty, racism, she lived with it all. In the poem Mercy she spells out the sexual molestation by her father when she was a young girl.
My students don’t want to believe it. Don’t want to read it. When they read Push by Sapphire they say that can’t happen, no mother would ever protect the rapist, no father would ever rape his baby daughter. And then when some woman in the class points out that 50 percent of women are the victims of some kind of physical abuse, they shut up and it begins to sink in.
Lucille’s poem doesn’t address any large identifiable social issue; however, she couldn’t be more of an example of a poet as public citizen. Often personal trauma holds within it historical trauma passed down from previous generations that didn’t get and couldn’t be resolved at the time it was experienced. I have said that we learn the painful lessons of history in our parents' bed. We are sent on their mission. Writing personal poetry, in this case, refutes the oppressor inside, the one that is often the worst, and, in so doing, opens up the public space for the freedom and respect that every human being is entitled to. I remember the fighting words of Audre Lorde about personal poetry: shame produces silence and silence keeps everything the same.
Won’t you celebrate with me: to celebrate implies more than endurance and survival; it implies a power that is finally self-authored, self-referential, not defined anymore by outside forces. It speaks to everyday victories too, the triumph of getting your coat on on a dreary cold dark Pittsburgh night and going out to your Intro to Creative Writing class.
I am the founder of an organization called Cave Canem whose main purpose is to provide a safe space for the writing of African American poets. Cornelius Eady and I founded CC 16 years ago, where a little group of poets, 24 from all over the country, for the first time, came together to sit in a circle, to meet and to study with other African American poets, many of whom had never read or studied an African American poet in college and grad school, or been in a workshop with another African American poet; in the case of faculty, had never taught another African American poet. At CC there is no particular style that is promoted, no particular subject, it’s not like in the days of Ralph Ellison and Richard wright when you had to choose: are you a poet (indicating “real” poet, that is, you are not writing about race, but writing poems with “universal” themes, or you are a black poet, that is, writing about race. On the first night of each retreat, the now 60 poets sit in a circle and look at each other. They go around the circle and talk about the journey to here, why they came. The tears flow with the stories.
There is an image in my memoir The Black Notebooks, of women who have never talked about what it was like to grow up in the south during the time of Jim Crow laws, uncles and grandfathers whose parents had been alive during slavery who would not go talk about the secrets of slavery and its aftermath. Perhaps the most powerful weapon at times is the one that no one knows about, one that cannot even be found. The CC opening circle is a symbol; it says we are not a hierarchy, there is no up and down, we are all necessary and equally important. And, in the center, is this powerful held space, this opening. I truly believe that, finally, those that couldn’t speak are speaking. And now there will be nothing that can stop them.
Yesterday I was talking to Ellen Bass and she said: “Isn’t the greatest poem the one that is remembered? You may read a thousand poems, some stunning, brilliant poems, but most you will never think again. I want surreptitiously to take all of my students in the intro to creative writing class into that bathroom to read that poem. Then I want to come back to class and talk about the poet as public citizen.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Poetry of Protest: Wisconsin

Yesterday, Split This Rock received an remarkable e-mail from Verse Wisconsin, an online literary journal based in Madison, WI. In light of the recent protests against Governor Walker's move to eliminate collective bargaining rights (among other things), the editors of Verse Wisconsin have begun publishing poetry in support of the protesters. It's an inspiring display of solidarity and demonstrates that, especially now, poetry can be an integral component of political action.

The text of the email follows:

I wanted to let you know that we started publishing poems about the protests last week at Verse Wisconsin. Currently we have them on our home page,, and on our Facebook page,!/pages/Verse-Wisconsin/141684637141. This was a spontaneous gesture on our part to events--we weren't sure what we would get. We've been amazed & moved by many of the pieces, both visual & text-based--their passion and their intelligence.

The Poet Laureate's position for WI has also been discontinued by Gov. Walker & will go into effect after the current laureate, Bruce Dethlefsen, serves his term. It's a really small thing compared to the larger issues: the threatened loss of bargaining rights, medicaid coverage, huge regressive pay cuts for state employees, and whatever is to come but hasn't yet been revealed. All of these things together point to Walker's war on what Wisconsin stands for as a progressive state, as I'm sure you are well aware.

I got to attend the Split This Rock panel on The Poet As Public Citizen at AWP, a wonderful session. It's in no small way due to being there, that prompted my co-editor & me to try to bring these two things together--the protests and poetry--at Verse Wisconsin, and I'm very grateful for your example.
- A Wisconsin Poet

Be sure to sure to show your support by visiting Verse Wisconsin's website & Facebook page, and if you happen to be in Madison - lend your voice.

Power to the people.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Poem of the Week: Sami Miranda

we is

in conversation with the work of wilfredo valladares and ayo ngozi

we is not the singular

dotted i, black figure against

a white background.

we is the crowd

that moves into this

dance of morning

rituals, this waking

to the rooster crow of a city.

we is the dance

that shakes and rolls

down city streets,

shimmies into markets

for fresh fruit

salsas against traffic.

we is the traffic

rushing past the living

and the dead, forgetting

to write our songs

from images and found objects

and breathe each other's spirits

into chinese medicine bottles

so we can heal

the wounds of our entrances

and exits

we is the song

of migration, sung

from behind the masks

fragile resin, cast from

faces whose eyes must remain

closed so their pasts

do not pour from them,

so their present does not

burn away home.

we is home

where we are pieced together,

a collage on sheet metal,

a photograph behind a mask,

an image

that carries us into

conversation, about

holding a conversation about

a crowing rooster

a ritual,


and medicine

to cure what ails you.

-Sami Miranda

Used by permission.

Sami Miranda is an educator, poet and visual artist who makes his home in Washington, DC. His work has been published in Full Moon on K St, the Chiron Review, D.C Poets Against the War Anthology, and Beltway among others. He has performed at the Kennedy Center, The Smithsonian Museum of American Art, The Arts Club of Washington, GALA Theatre, and other venues. Sami curated the Sabor Sunday reading series in Washington DC, bringing two poets, a trio of musicians and two visual artists into conversation, and is currently working with DC based artists and musicians to create collaborations between the arts. He develops and facilitates interactive poetry workshops for youth and adults and holds an MFA from The Bennington Writing Seminars.

Miranda attended Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

Split This Rock

Poet As Public Citizen: Melissa Tuckey

Continuing our coverage of talks from AWP, here are Melissa Tuckey's remarks from Undivided: Poet as Public Citizen.

Details about the events can be found here.

Introduction and remarks, Poet as Public Citizen, AWP, February 2011
Melissa Tuckey

Welcome to the poet as public citizen panel. I want to start with a poem by the great world poet Mahmoud Darwish.

The Prison Cell—Mahmoud Darwish

It is possible…

It is possible at least sometimes…

It is possible especially now

To ride a horse

Inside a prison cell

And run away…

It is possible for prison walls

To disappear,

For the cell to become a distant land

Without frontiers:

-What did you do with the walls?

-I gave them back to the rocks.

-And what did you do with the ceiling?

-I turned it into a saddle.

-And your chain?

-I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.

He put an end to my dialogue.

He said he didn’t care for poetry,

And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me

In the morning,

He shouted at me:

-Where did all this water come from?

-I brought it from the Nile.

-And the trees?

-From the orchards of Damascus.

-And the music?

-From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad;

He put an end to my dialogue.

He said he didn’t like my poetry,

And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

-Where did this moon come from?

-From the nights of Baghdad.

-And the wine?

-From the vineyards of Algiers.

-And this freedom?

-From the chain you tied me with last night.

The prison guard grew so sad…

He begged me to give him back

His freedom.

Mahmoud Darwish,

translated by Ben Bennani

I share this poem, with Egypt and Tunisia on my mind, as an example of what poetry can do at a time of great transformation and as a reminder that before any change can come—it must be imagined first.

We’re here to celebrate the gifts that poets bring to social change- the naming of injustices, the stealing back of language, amplifying the voices of those without power, engaging multiplicity and complexity in a time of sound bites and corporate propaganda, humanizing the dehumanized, making visible the invisible.

Split This Rock grew out of the Poets Against the War movement and was founded in 2006 by Sarah Browning, myself and a group of local poets in Washington, DC as an opportunity to call poets together from across the country, to speak out against unjust wars and to celebrate poetry of witness and provocation. Our first festival in 2008 brought poets from across the country together share poetry, resources and conversation about critical issues at the intersection of social change and poetry.

At this first festival, we learned about incredible work being done by poets in communities across the nation— teaching poetry in public schools and prisons, working with veterans and victims of war, working with youth, offering workshops to survivors of violence, creating conversations about environmental change, working in homeless shelters and domestic abuse shelters, taking poetry into places where it is needed most. We celebrate the many ways that poets are speaking out, organizing, and engaging with the wider community.

Our third Split This Rock Poetry festival will be in 2012 and we hope you will join us.

Adrienne Rich writes, "The poet today must be twice-born. She must have begun as a poet, she must have understood the suffering of the world as political, and gone through politics, and on the other side of politics she must be reborn again as a poet.” (from What is Found There: Notebooks on Politics and Poetry).

In this panel we’ll be talking about that journey and talking about some of the many ways poets are engaging in the public realm. There is a fear for many poets that politics will somehow taint their poetry. We’re here to assert that social engagement or activism will enrich your view of the world and your poetry.

Our panelists are poets whose aesthetics are socially engaged and whose lives too are socially engaged. I don’t think I’m overstating it to say these are poets whose work as writers, activists, as translators and editors and builders of poetic movements have helped shape American poetry. I’ve asked our panelists to share news with us about their own work in the public realm, and the work of others who are models for this work and to think also about how we might engage and support young poets in this work and to help us think as a community about creative ways of responding to crisis and trauma.

AWP: Reflections of a First Timer

Let me say first that I wasn’t prepared for what I was getting myself into. I had heard the figure “eight thousand” thrown around quite a bit, but I’ve lived in Maine for the past three years, and really had no basis for conceptualizing what that would actually look like. This would have helped:

This is the floor plan for the bookfair section of the conference, each number represents a booth or table. Now, considering that not only are we talking about upwards of 8000 people, we’re talking about 8000 writers, things get a little more intense. I’ve never seen so many literary journals, presses or MFA programs in my life. Universities I’d never heard of (including some from my hometown) have apparently been operating successful journals for years, entirely without my knowledge. I remember picking up a copy of Writer’s Market years ago and thinking that the index of journals had to be a joke- (I mean, with all due respect, who’s ever heard of The Yakima Review?) but apparently, the literary community is secretly extremely diverse.

Once I had dealt with the initial shock of population density, I got to exploring, and made a number of observations:

I count myself fairly experienced in the ways of the hipsters, but the sheer concentration of flannel and Moleskines almost made me quit the trade.

For me, the panels were very much a mixed bag. I found some inspiring and restorative (shameless plug: the "Dream the Dreamers Dreamed"), and others virtually incomprehensible (I won’t name any names). To simplify, I think the difference ended up being energy and passion. The panels which focused on nitty gritty, technical topics tended to be dry and insular, often with panelists reading essays, largely detached from the audience. It’s fitting then, that the other panels, the ones that dealt with larger, more human topics were the counterpoint: engrossing and informative.

Bring water with you if you’re manning a booth- giving the spiel, even for a cause you vigorously support, quickly becomes robotic, and dehydration doesn’t help.

I had heard that the number of panels was overwhelming, but, perhaps being cocky, I trusted in my ability to improvise, and didn’t even look at the schedule ahead of time. Another amateur mistake. Trying to quickly determine which panel sounded the most interesting was virtually impossible, as was showing up on time, which often involved running through the hotel frantically seeking directions from one of the (very helpful) staff members.

Crazy people:
Many people would consider someone who travels hundreds of miles to spend three days listening to essays on the word “very” or “pants” (no joke) crazy, so perhaps what I mean to say is “extra crazy people”. The sort of people who come up to your booth, clearly have no interest in talking to you, and are then surprised when you ask them if they’ve ever heard of Split This Rock. Or, my favorite, the people who have subscribed to your newsletter, but apparently are really angry about it. All things considered though, the crazy folk at AWP were actually very nice, especially compared to the crazies you might encounter anywhere else.

Booth Manning:
Considering that (unless you’re a rogue agent) a large portion of your AWP time will be spent working your organization’s respective booth or table, it make sense to ruminate for a moment. As with the panels, booth work ends up being largely hit or miss. Sometimes working the booth can be great; you get people who are clearly interested in your cause, and are actually eager to learn more - piece of cake. Other times you have the opportunity to introduce someone to your group (in which case the pressure’s on), but I found almost everyone very receptive. The other side of this, of course, is the strange group of people who have no apparent interest in writing in general, much less in your cause, but have somehow ended up in the bowels of the world’s largest bookfair, totally unbeknownst to them. You can spot members of this elite clique from a distance; quickly moving through the crowd, carrying significantly less propaganda than the average AWPer, they remain aloof while masterfully avoiding eye contact. It’s shocking then, when one suddenly deviates and zeroes in on your booth (forgive the crude illustration):

At this moment these people are of a singular purpose, they must see what’s going on at this intriguing table. However, people’s true intentions are revealed upon reaching the booth:

Moochers/hungry folk:
These are the people who either love free merchandise, or just skipped breakfast that morning. They see that you have delicious chocolate and free t-shirts and are willing to feign interest to nab a few of each. I mean no disrespect to this group; the amount of shortbread I lifted from the Beloit Poetry Journal is frankly embarrassing.

The Impulsives:
These folks have no idea why they stopped, and realize it about the same time you do. They generally wander around for a second or two, grab some sticky notes, and split.

Lost people:
Not to be confused with the Impulsives, these people are actually lost and just need a reprieve from the madness. Often winded and wide-eyed when they finally reach you, they’ll often absently nod along with while frantically searching for another safe haven.

Some final thoughts
Looking back, I realize I’ve been a bit hyperbolic- it’s always easier (not to mention more fun) to focus on the outlandish & extreme - but really, the conference was pretty great. Every aspect that could have been overwhelming or negative ended up having a positive flip side. 8000 people? Just that much more energy. Nearly incomprehensible bookfair? Great place to make unexpected connections.

Above all, maybe it’s the idea of solidarity that’s important. Too often writing can be a solitary trade, which is unfortunate, because it’s also a trade which benefits most heavily from collaboration. The mere fact that AWP provides writers with a forum to meet and exchange ideas is incredible. Coming away from AWP I imagine people feel many things: confused, overwhelmed, excited, but hopefully, above all – revitalized. As much as the conference is a place to expand , it’s also a place to solidify, and to reaffirm faith in what you’re doing. In this way, the conference, no matter how crazy, was a remarkable success. I’m getting a little to corny for my own good, so I’ll wrap up while I’m ahead. In closing, bit of advice to future first-timers:
1. Bring water
2. Take a map – (or a nap for that matter)
4. The conference takes place every year- so for God’s sake, don’t worry about not seeing everything

Alright- I hope my fellow AWPers have had an excellent time recouping, and I’ll see you all next year.

Also, this is me (on the right):

And feel free to e-mail me at if you love/hate this post, or just want to rant.

Until next time: Dylan, the unpaid intern.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Split This Rock Showcase at The Intersections Festival!

Hi all- The Intersections Festival is hosting a Split This Rock showcase, this coming Sunday (the 27th) at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. The reading features a diverse group of DC poets, and is looking to be excellent- be sure to check it out! Read on for details.

Join Sarah Browning, Jonathan B. Tucker, Samuel Miranda and Sonya Renee Taylor for a reading that speaks to the power of poetry in our public life. Dedicated to splitting open the injustices in society, the nationally-potent Split This Rock serves and strengthens the community and world by giving voice to the voiceless, naming the unnamable, and reaching across differences to imagine a better world. Witness the diversity and complexity of the human experience, captured in these four powerful voices and feel the call to action. For age 8+

Sunday, Feb 27 at 4:30pm

Lab 2

Tickets $5

Click here to purchase tickets

Map here & here

Poet As Public Citizen: Martín Espada

A few weeks ago, during AWP, Split This Rock hosted two extremely successful panels: The Dream the Dreamers Dreamed: A Tribute to Langston Hughes, and Undivided: Poet as Public Citizen. For those of you who missed the talks, Blog This Rock will be posting the transcripts. First up: Martín Espada.

Details about the events can be found here.

Undivided: The Poet as Public Citizen

(AWP, Washington, DC, February 5, 2011)

Martín Espada

Adrienne Rich, in her essay, “Poetry and Commitment,” writes:

I’ll flash back to 1821: Shelley’s claim, in “the Defence of Poetry” that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.” Piously over-quoted, mostly out of context, it’s taken to suggest that simply by virtue of composing verse, poets exert some exemplary moral power--in a vague, unthreatening way. In fact, in his earlier political essay, “A Philosophic View of Reform,” Shelley had written that “Poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged” etc. The philosophers he was talking about were revolutionary-minded…

And Shelley was, no mistake, out to change the legislation of his time. For him there was no contradiction between poetry, political philosophy, and active confrontation with illegitimate authority…

Shelley saw powerful institutions, not original sin or “human nature,” as the source of human misery. For him, art bore an integral relationship to the “struggle between Revolution and Oppression…”

He did not say: “Poets are the unacknowledged interior decorators of the world.”

By this definition, many of our greatest poets have been unacknowledged legislators. This is what Whitman meant when he said: “I give the sign of democracy.”

Poets should have no trouble identifying with being “unacknowledged.” They grouse about being ignored, about paltry attendance at readings and royalty statements that would cause most novelists to jump off a bridge. Yet poets also contribute to their marginalization by producing hermetic verse and living insular lives, confined to the academy or to circles of other poets, by refusing to embrace their role as unacknowledged legislators.

The only antidote to irrelevancy is relevancy. The British poet Adrian Mitchell famously said: “Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.” Mitchell lived his principles as a pacifist and unacknowledged legislator; in fact, he was declared the “Shadow Poet Laureate” of the UK. In February 2003, he read his anti-war anthem, “To Whom It May Concern,” to a quarter of million people in the streets of London, gathered to protest the pending war in Iraq.

Across the Atlantic, a former Marine and conscientious objector, Sam Hamill, was invited to participate in a Bush White House symposium called, “Poetry and the American Voice.” That symposium was cancelled when word leaked out of Hamill’s plan to collect a batch of anti-war poems and present them, like a bouquet of sorts, to First Lady Laura Bush. Hamill responded by founding an organization called Poets Against the War

Hamill also edited an anthology by that name. In the foreword, he writes:

Can (thousands of) poems inhibit this or any administration planning a war? It is only one step among many. But it is an important step, as each is. We join physicians against the war, teachers against the war, farmers against the war, and others. Poets Against the War helped bring about hundreds of poetry readings and discussions around the world while compiling a document of historic proportion…A government is a government of words, and when those words are used to mislead, to instill fear or to invite silence, it is the duty of every poet to speak fearlessly and clearly…Since most poets write in the same language politicians are given to abuse, in the language of everyday common speech, they must struggle to reveal clarity by way of musical and imagistic expression, and by transparency of emotion.

If phrases like weapons of mass destruction bleed language of its meaning, then poets must reconcile language with meaning and restore the blood to words. World War I poet Wilfred Owen uses the phrase an ecstasy of fumbling to describe the action of fitting on his gas mask before the deadly poison reaches him. Thus, as Gregory Orr observes, Owen takes back “the experience of war from the jabbering propagandists and patriots.”

Consider the state of our nation today, in a plummeting spiral. Could poets do any worse than the legislators? Would poets strip away our constitutional rights in the name of security more vigorously than the lawyers who sit in the House and Senate? Would poets, those perfectionists of the word, so quickly and eagerly resort to corruptions of language like “enhanced interrogation” to describe torture, by way of explaining that some tortures (and torturers) are better than others? Would poets be any less ethical than the politicians who grovel before lobbyists for the insurance and drug companies, triggering a health care crisis without end? Would poets with empty pockets vote repeatedly to pour billions of dollars into one catastrophic war of plunder after another? Should poets leave politics to the Republicans and the Democrats, or should all of us—poets included—grapple with the world?

Poetry humanizes in the face of dehumanization. Poetry frees a voice caught in the collective throat. Last night, three organizations of poets—Split This Rock, Acentos, and Poets Responding to SB 1070—collaborated on an event at the True Reformer Building called “Floricanto in Washington.: A Multi-Cultural Reading in Response to SB 1070.” I took part in this event with more than twenty-five unacknowledged legislators. I’ll read the poem I read last night. The racist backlash against immigrants in this country today triggered in me the memory of an incident from my own life thirty years ago. That’s the basis of the poem. A “corrido” is a Mexican narrative song, and the poem itself is called…

Isabel’s Corrido

Para Isabel

Francisca said: Marry my sister so she can stay in the country.
I had nothing else to do. I was twenty-three and always cold, skidding
in cigarette-coupon boots from lamppost to lamppost through January
in Wisconsin. Francisca and Isabel washed bed sheets at the hotel,
sweating in the humidity of the laundry room, conspiring in Spanish.

I met her the next day. Isabel was nineteen, from a village where the elders
spoke the language of the Aztecs. She would smile whenever the ice pellets
of English clattered around her head. When the justice of the peace said
You may kiss the bride, our lips brushed for the first and only time.
The borrowed ring was too small, jammed into my knuckle.
There were snapshots of the wedding and champagne in plastic cups.

Francisca said: The snapshots will be proof for Immigration.
We heard rumors of the interview: they would ask me the color
of her underwear. They would ask her who rode on top.
We invented answers and rehearsed our lines. We flipped through
Immigration forms at the kitchen table the way other couples
shuffled cards for gin rummy. After every hand, I’d deal again.

Isabel would say: Quiero ver las fotos. She wanted to see the pictures
of a wedding that happened but did not happen, her face inexplicably
happy, me hoisting a green bottle, dizzy after half a cup of champagne.

Francisca said: She can sing corridos, songs of love and revolution
from the land of Zapata. All night Isabel sang corridos in a barroom
where no one understood a word. I was the bouncer and her husband,
so I hushed the squabbling drunks, who blinked like tortoises in the sun.

Her boyfriend and his beer cans never understood why she married me.
Once he kicked the front door down, and the blast shook the house
as if a hand grenade detonated in the hallway. When the cops arrived,
I was the translator, watching the sergeant watching her, the inscrutable
squaw from every Western he had ever seen, bare feet and long black hair.

We lived behind a broken door. We lived in a city hidden from the city.
When her headaches began, no one called a doctor. When she disappeared
for days, no one called the police. When we rehearsed the questions
for Immigration, Isabel would squint and smile. Quiero ver las fotos,
she would say. The interview was canceled, like a play on opening night
shut down when the actors are too drunk to take the stage. After she left,
I found her crayon drawing of a bluebird tacked to the bedroom wall.

I left too, and did not think of Isabel again until the night Francisca called to say:
Your wife is dead
. Something was growing in her brain. I imagined my wife
who was not my wife, who never slept beside me, sleeping in the ground,
wondered if my name was carved into the cross above her head, no epitaph
and no corrido, another ghost in a riot of ghosts evaporating from the skin
of dead Mexicans who staggered for days without water through the desert.

Thirty years ago, a girl from the land of Zapata kissed me once
on the lips and died with my name nailed to hers like a broken door.
I kept a snapshot of the wedding; yesterday it washed ashore on my desk.

There was a conspiracy to commit a crime. This is my confession: I’d do it again.

(Thank you.)