Death of a Mexican and Other Poems*
Manuel Paul López

Winner of the 2006 Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Contest

ISBN 9780971960794

Cover art by Daniel Gibson

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Click here for: manuelpaullopez.blogspot.com

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Spanish trembles beneath my Nine Inch Nails tour shirt
like a beaten mutt,
a crackhead in church,
a funeral for someone who could've been,
the sound of "Aren't you a Mexican?"

My nana used to massage my sluggish tongue with warm hands,
thumbing, pulling, wringing out the Spanish.
It was the antidote, she'd say, for Parkinson's, cancer, and
Tío Chuy's twelve-pack-a-day drinking problem. "Mijo, that's the power
of the Messican: podemos hablar in not one, but two langwajess."

Sometimes in my room, with the door locked, and the blinds drawn,
I'd practice my broke-ass Spanish in the mirror, pretending I was
some suavesito big shot at Dodger stadium, full of rambunctious
Mexican sistas pushing and shoving
to see me, for I was Fernando Valenzuela, or Mil Máscaras,
or Julio César Chávez, or Lou Diamond Phillips, depending on the mood,
either the "Oh Donna"-singing Lou Diamond Phillips in La Bamba,
or the mean-ass, long-haired Lou Diamond Indian dude in Young Guns.

But most of the time I was Luís Miguel,
because if his Spanish rolled out of his mouth like a broken wheelbarrow,
who would care?

I created slack-jawed male jealousies in my fantasies,
their bow-knotted tongues
shaking incomprehensible curses: "Wu wu wuwuwu wu wu..."
"What's that you say," I'd laugh.
"Wu wu wu wuwuwuwuwu..."
"I can't understand you. What? Que!?"
"Wu wu wu wuwuwu..."
"Speak Spanish, goddamit!"
Then I'd show them their strangled tongues in a mirror, and they'd gasp.
But as I observed myself in that same mirror, arms shooting
this way and that way,
with lips chapped and puckered
for the women,
quick as a backhand—SMACK!—I'd hear myself,
words spitting clumsily from my mouth
like a bicycle gone out of control. The mirror made me brown,
almost black, but the language
called me a fake, an Oreo, un gringo sin feria, just another masked wrestler
on Lucha Libre with a day job consorting with the enemy.

My friend Lionel, who lived across the street, never spoke English
to his moms. She insisted it was like a machete slashing through her heart.

"Pregúntame en español, Turi," she'd fire,
but I could only make the shape of a glass with my hands,
because I was thirsty.

I was just a miming Mexican. My nanas and me used
origami of the fingers when we spoke. We threw guttural gestures as
desperate shadows against the walls:

V meant "Peace, Nana, I'm sorry for using your
last pair of panty hose
for my backyard wrestling match with Weecho;"
P, with a few airborne licks of the tongue,
meant "Nana, hurry! I need some money! Paleta-man be coming down
the block, and if I don't hurry, the Negritos at the corner are gonna
buy all the Chaca-Chacas!"

Angel's moms was funny about my lengua's white man's disability.

When she answered the door, she'd say, "Buenos días." And I'd say, "Hola,"
but no more, already taken too far out of myself. But her eyebrows would become
two magnets attempting to yank out the planetas, estrellas, and satélites from my
mouth so she could contact the great shy sol that for some reason slept too comfortably
within the arctic of my gut,
as I stood shivering pale and naked as a white plastic cafeteria spoon,
uncertain of my life,
as I counted each black hair on her head
that grew gray before my eyes.

And with the silence, she'd laugh, taking me in with the warmth of her tone,
like the Our Lady of Guadalupe church bell
bringing everyone home on Sundays.

"Ay, Arturo, you need to learn Spanish," she'd say. "I know Spanish," I'd say. "Listen,
para bailar la bamba!" "That's good, mijo. You're getting it," she'd say, smiling
like a mother who had searched out the one straight hair on the head of a bad child.
Deep down I wanted to speak husky William Faulkner-length sentences to her,
but in Spanish, you know,
thanking her
for being Angel's moms,
for letting him play with me, a pocho with the highest grade in the highest
English class each year, telling her in long, rolling phrases that the love I felt for her
sprouted like the Imperial Valley cotton fields across my chest each time she laughed
lovingly when I said I couldn't understand;
I wanted to speak to her in the language of my grandmothers, mis abuelitas,
to tell her this, to explain to her that she was like a second mother to me,
and what better weapon to show a cruel world than two fisted hands!


but it was always tomorrow, the mañana syndrome
sure as hell didn't skip the pocho,
always tomorrow tomorrow
Turi, she'll be there for you tomorrow,
you'll toss her flowers from the mouth tomorrow,
turn yourself inside out for her tomorrow,
explain how much you love her tomorrow,

but then she was gone—
just like that,
leaving my life
like a tear-stained pañuelo
whisked away by the wind, as I held
all of those fancy English words
in my hands like counterfeit bills
that wouldn't go up in flames,
that wouldn't turn to ash.

(to be continued... )

© 2006 by Manuel Paul López
Death of a Mexican


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