Oct/Nov 2000 Poetry

Four Poems

by Radames Ortiz



On West Main, near a church
my dad decides to be straight with me.

"You get real tired of the same meat,
of the same stinking bed."

His eyes are dim gray,
his mouth twisting sadness by butter knives.

From Mexico City to Chicago,
he tuned-up old trucks, changed tires,
traced electrical shorts:
the process of making due.

"You were a mistake but I stayed."

Flies crawl his arm,
the sun flares behind trees,
and I stare deep into stream
of glass yawning in angled light.

He says goodbye;
"Ya no pedo. Ya no pedo."

I step out, dust dances in gold waves,
the engine roars thick as metal,

and along the curb, I kick cans
under clouds giving up
and trees pointing to a new home.


Rough Traveling

Lupe and I skip eighth period
and we hide beneath shacks, waiting for the bell to ring.
Mr. Duncan never looks for us.
We cut across football fields, jump over barbwire
fences, our bodies brown and strong,
chests heaving like red balloons.

Laughing, we smash bottles against walls
of the old tire factory. Echoes of glass and
victory ring throughout the sky. We are
brothers who want out, a place of our own.
We talk nonsense: Metallica and quinceaneras,
green valleys across the border, Erica’s breasts,
staring at us.

A train horn bursts into our chests,
pounding our cheeks, our ears detecting opportunity.
We run out to the tracks, eager to greet
the iron bull that stampedes through streets.
Like cowboys, we wait for the perfect moment,
grins cutting across faces, the whiteness
of palms becoming red. We wait.
"Ya! Lo agarramos!?" Lupe’s mouth, a trumpet of war.

Charging the train, placing our feet
on platforms, dangling from bars,
we ride through the neighborhood like birds,
past the amazed crowd that line the streets
like blurred photographs in rain.
We blow kisses to mamasitas who wear
red-skirts and blue-eye shadow.
Eyes closed, I dream of an endless
train ride, taking us deep into the horizon
until Lupe and I are no more.



Through dusty window shields
and blazing heat
I see the weather-rotted faces
of working men and women
look down as they pass by

Weary of the nightclub district
I roam el central
where calloused hands grab firm asses
and brimming cups of cheap beer
rest on wooden bar stools

Dry, starless, the night
wedges into cracks of brick wall
as buses spew smoldering exhaust
into neon liquor sky

I’ve given myself to the freeway,
to the long cement snake that sheds
its gray skin on streets
and stubble grass

Wandering carelessly,
pasando alfalfa fields
and Baytown refineries that
breathe steam, fogging
window panes of houses
near ditch banks y streetlights

Hooded sweatshirt, wide-bottomed jeans
long haired and unshaven,
I skim through unknown cities
for a mask,
innocent and golden

I lose myself in
rain-gutted side roads
where dreams of Hollywood
and hand rolled cigarettes are locked
into soil of sweaty palms
of bar managers and fast-talking pimps

who promise children like me,
all over the world, that light gleams
at the end of a curving road

that one day the sky will turn blue
like crystal mountains in Tampico
and families reunite
consoling, talking
like friends never separated


Saturday Night

Another 4 a.m. and we
litter Rudy’s driveway with
beer cans, cigarette butts,
and plastic baggies. In the
June night we form a
semi-circle and lean against
Shorty’s Impala. We talk
not of baseball or cars
but of girls we’ve screwed,
niggas we’ve jumped,
tampons we’ve stuck on
neighborhood doors. Caught
between a passing jet and
Black Sabbath blasting garage
walls, we acknowledge that
things aren’t so bad, that our
lives aren’t falling apart. And
after several joints we drop
the attitude and become
children of the alleys once more.
Chests heaving, faces wet, we
engage in piggy-back wars
on moist grass, howling into the early
morning. And for a moment, in
the glory of our muscles, we return
to the summer of our childhoods
where we promised to remain
together despite our aging skin
and the growing chinga in our lives.


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