Mamí thinks she can whisper, but she can’t. We all hear her when she asks Papí how we’re going to eat tomorrow. We’re not venados. We can’t eat flowers forever. Díos proveerá, Papí sings like he’s drunk. Díos proveerá. And Mamí faints asleep nibbling his canto. Sharper than my belly is my guilt for these big hands. Arturito is sucking his thumb raw. Rabbits scavenge and disappear into the dark. If I had the strength, I’d grab them by the ears and smash their skulls into rocks. Papí is gone. I know better than to ask any questions. I blink and the stars scramble in the sky. We are no wise men. Our Salvador is no Bethlehem. I am so light I float and bob at the stars like a little fish. They taste like Navidad, the peppermint candy canes I eat in pieces to make last longer. I watch me rise until I break the surface. Until their hooks burn my lips together. Out of the water. Out of the sky.
Back on earth, someone is crying or fire is crackling. The shack is torched or something else is on fire. Mira lo que hizo tu Papi. There is smoke, and it burns my eyes awake. Mamí and a knife. Papí glistening. A sour smell. His chest dripping. And there is fish. Fish and. Fish and. Fish. Cut from the water. Sizzling over the fire. Dios proveerá, Papí says, and I laugh at the joke. The lie of misery is that we can never be saved. We ate the fish, and I was not full. I found something stronger than hunger. A hellbent wick burning wicked in Papí’s eye. A small net of fish split between eleven.
Tía Morena, 13, El Salvador, 1980
Willy Palomo is the son of two immigrants from El Salvador. His poems and book reviews can be found in the pages of Vinyl, Waxwing, Muzzle, The Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the United States, and more. For more info, visit www.palomopoemas.com. Willy's poetry appears on NationalPoetryMonth.ca