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THE LIGHT OF LATE AFTERNOON touching everything—my hands, my face, the wings of birds—illuminating edges of clouds—the kitchen a bottle of light, pale green filling with sound—the woman playing piano in a room down the hall—everything clean until the boy, the girl, the husband come home—I’m on my knees in the light scrubbing the floor—my hands glow, cells trembling, body swollen with sound, heart stunned, and suddenly wounded—notes so fast and low they pulse down the hall through the floor rising from me—

I am forbidden to touch the piano—except to dust, unless to polish—but here it is, tremors of light, voices shimmering—she can’t stop birds or clouds, light becoming sound, outside coming in, sound becoming body—




My father waits behind hedges at the back of the house—he’s been persuaded not to knock at the door, not to rush or distract me—I feel him now, hot in the blue Dodge, windows closed, radio throbbing—he’s been warned not to let his music pulse into the house—those guitars, those voices—my brother Benito’s body quivers with sound—tendons struck, bones buzzing—syncopations jolt his heart—he’s hot, he’s hungry—Benito strapped in the back, diaper damp, fist shoved hard against his teeth to keep from wailing—

My father cares nothing for the woman’s peace, her time, the light, her piano, this hour—he’s been severing limbs since dawn, hacking bone, slicing muscle—nine hours splattered in blood—he hosed himself down at work, but he carries the smell on his breath, in his mind, in his hair, on his fingers—everywhere he goes, the bodies of animals, the chests he cleaved, God, his own chest open, ribs split wide, bowels untangling—he saw heads in a heap, three men cutting tongues, slabs of tongue tossed on a table—what he wants now is a dark room, water so hot it burns, a sound fierce and fast enough to scorch memory—




Bodies waver at the edge of the woods, deer waiting till dusk to surge into the woman’s yard, strip the roses—those heads, those blossoms—soon to be the flesh of deer, dark dreams of themselves, animals leaping—


Clouds swell, and in this loss of light, shapes become human, men dressed as deer, hands raised above their heads, fingers curved to cast the shadows of antlers—women with glittering eyes, owls carrying children—they ran, they flew—days and years, hundreds of miles—hot wind cracked their skin, their bones broke, their blood congealed—they fell down dead in a ditch, drank dirt and swallowed—they crawled to the Rio Bravo—whirling silt, sweet water—half humans so thirsty they believed they could drink the river and walk—now here they are—they almost made it—


I know them—I see them everywhere—picking jalapeños and pecans, hauling trash, washing windows—I see them mowing lawns, tanks of gasoline strapped to their backs—they spark and spin, burst to flame, explode in your mind, in your yard as you watch them—




I know it is a mistake to call the light tender, but not wrong now to feel its indiscriminate love touching my mouth, the bones of my ears, my heart, my fingers—I remember clouds opened, and the music stopped—the long shadows of pine spread across the lawn—five crows walked between them—I slipped out of the house and into the car, kissed my father’s face, pulled my brother’s fingers from his mouth—


They wanted none of me, nothing kind, nothing human—and then we were driving home, dusk, almost home, fifteen miles—I turned the radio off, tried to find the woman’s music, follow notes down my spine, remember sound through my pelvis—


If it’s true what they say—so much space between cells, so much space inside atoms—why can’t the spaces of me slip through glass, fast as light, slip through metal—




I know it’s possible—a girl stabbed in the heart
doesn’t die—a baby dropped five floors doesn’t
shatter—somebody wants them to die, but no, they
won’t—no, they didn’t—


The skin of a sixteen-year-old girl regenerates every twenty-two days—down the throat, through the colon—inside and out, so little difference—continuous, miraculous, my skin protecting even now the open wounds of a burned child—


Weeks or days—soon enough his body will reject mine—but now, tonight, as the drugged boy drifts through dreams he won’t remember—birds falling from the sky, howling dogs, fur on fire—tonight, the collagen of my skin fuses into the scraped-clean, scoured pits where once there was blood and muscle—




Now we are
one, now we
are quiet—
in the dream
we share I am
bandages to
reveal our
body, veins
visible, skin
new and fine
as the skin
of a fetus—



You read about us in the paper: Boy Torched by Bike Thieves, Girl Killed in Crash Donates Organs—thirty-seven days and hundreds of miles between us, but here we are, safe and still, becoming one, the same body—



I surrendered all I knew—heart and lungs, discs of vertebrae, the dark secret of my spleen, unscarred skin—corneas, pancreas, the delicate bones of my ears, my impossible love, all I had to give—kidneys, liver, veins, cartilage—I offered the gloriously pliable tissue of my thighs, a song moving through the spaces between cells, consciousness unstrung, bowels unspooled—continuous, miraculous, the bodies I am tonight, uncontained by multitudes—



As a child not so long ago I found the skull of a fox, femur, pelvis—skin of a black snake—ribcage of a feral cat, bones of a bird’s wing nested inside it—




I remember dusk darkening the spaces between trees, a murmuration of birds—a funnel, a storm—thousands of bodies flying as one—starlings swooping low over a fallow field, black earth cleaved—the smell of dirt, my father’s window open wide, cold wind rushing through us—I remember my brother’s whimper and wailing cry, unbuckling my seatbelt to turn and soothe him—

My father swerved into the left lane but didn’t pass the car beside us—I saw you, a man alone, I remember how long we stared, some kind of terrible love, dark birds whirling between us—my father said, Let him cry, buckle your belt, leave him




I was afraid of my father—spatters of blood on his boots, pigs crying in a kill pit—their flesh, their fat, their long bodies—their miraculous minds—afraid to imagine soft ears, curled tails—pink skin and dark eyes—their curious gaze, before and after—

                                      Shush, it’s okay, we’re okay, almost home now


Afraid to disobey, yes, but I did not turn from you or my brother—shush, Benito, no—my brother sobbed so hard my chest hurt, and you read my lips, or heard me—




Impossible I know, but I still believe you saw everything inside, you knew us as dusk became dark, as birds vanished—my father hit the gas hard—angry with you or me or the baby or the pig—the birds, the field, the smell of dirt, the dead, the shadows between trees—you fell far behind, and I thought, there, it’s done, I’ve lost you

Benito only sputtered now, too tired to wail, and I did begin to turn in time to see blue light fill the car—but not in time to sit, pull the strap tight, snap the buckle—




You see us on the nightly news—seven-car crash caused by two girls cranked on Benzedrine, numb with tequila—wind whipping their hair, half sisters in flight, a game of truth or dare, the silver Lexus stolen from their father—wailing into the wind, runaway children blasting down the wrong side of the road, eighty miles per hour—

You know me, the one lifted in a helicopter—alive, yes, but very critical—meaning my head slammed into the roof before my body flew into the windshield, meaning ejected as the car rolled, flung into the ditch as the door popped open—

Anika Vela, the name withheld, unknown, unspoken—pending notification of relatives—my mother and three sisters, my cousins, my uncle—my blind grandmother who swam the Rio Bravo with my father no bigger than Benito clinging to her back, who saw her own sister swept away, swirling down the murky river—my grandmother who had to choose sister or son, who swam hard to the other shore, who let her go, who did not save her—Marielena who chose my father and me, the beating heart against her skin, the ones unborn, the lives imagined—

No, not Anika, not possible

Marielena didn’t survive for this, to bury me before her—




You won’t see them on the news—my mother, my father—in a small room with one window where they have been told, where a doctor has carefully articulated the damage to the skull, the brain, the stem, the cortex—where he has explained the fixed eye, dilation of the pupil, the ventilator they use to keep the body oxygenated, the medications without which my blood pressure will plunge, my heart stutter and fail—




Now the man is gone and God here is my father’s reflection in dark glass—one terrible blind eye, the face dissolved—he is pounding his head on the glass and it hurts or it must hurt, but he can’t stop—

As a child my mother prayed to see the face of God—now, face to face, Tereza Vela turns the light off—

The sun will rise and go down, the flesh be cleaved, the body opened—human hands will hold the human heart—the lungs, the liver—meteors will pummel the earth, cold rain pound the desert—the body of one will be many—ditches will flood and spill, rivers surge and roil—some of the bodies will swirl in silt, some gasp and breathe, some swim to shore—




And my father will lie
in the dark, listening
to blood, listening to water—
hearing the heart, the rain,
the stem, the cortex—
Mateo Vela will go out
in the light to hold the rib,
to touch the pelvis—
to be one, to be nothing—
to disappear
with the disappeared—
breath and dirt, skin
of the snake, skull
of the rabbit—



There are things you see but can’t believe—flames in the street, flames whirling toward your house in the shape of a child—


(( and a woman wearing a mask is stitching the cornea to your eye with sutures finer than the hair of a baby ))


You are wrapping the burning boy in a blanket, pulling the hose straight to spray the body with water—


(( and a man dressed as a doctor is slipping bones in your ear, a kidney in your pelvis ))


You hear howling dogs and you open your eyes in the dark to see what you don’t see—birds falling from the sky, your burned hand, the scorched blanket—


Sometimes you are afraid of the heart, the vagus nerve cut, the heart beating too fast always—last summer, waiting for the heart, you almost died of a bee sting—in January, the flu—in March, pneumonia—your lungs filled, your kidneys failed—you died and returned—your swollen, failing heart fluttering inside you—


(( and the woman wearing a mask whispers a needle into your vein: shush, it’s okay, we’re okay, almost home now ))




You are asleep and awake, fully conscious, eyes closed but able to see through closed eyelids, and a girl with long dark hair is opening your body with the sharp blades of her hands—the one whose face you never dared imagine is singing her way through your bones, speaking your name to the dark as she sews the bodies of trembling birds into your trembling body—

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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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