Tia Maria can preach with the frenzy of an auctioneer
when the bid is high and someone bids higher.
When she learned I was a non-believer, she followed me
around her flat, reading passages from the bible.
Even when I locked myself in the bathroom, I’d hear her
flip through the pages before starting in again.
I watched her once, from the hallway, knelt, murmuring.
How she lifted her chin as if her head had been raised
by the finger of a lover before he leans in for a kiss.
To understand her zeal, you had to be with us in Gotera,
gathered around abuelo’s grave, the first time since the war
all the siblings were together, tio Genio filming as each
brother and sister told a story. You’d have seen her
as I saw her when she stood by the headstone and began
to unload about the family friend who did what he did
to her body. Genio rewound the tape to be recorded over
and we closed the circle to hold her. It was like watching
a broken bone reset deep inside her. To understand her zeal,
I need only take what’s jagged in me and try to lift it
into place. How hard that is. How I might need help.
THE MOUNT PLEASANT RIOTS OF 1991
Cinco de Mayo, historians drink to Mexico’s victory
but in Mt. Pleasant, the barrio just drinks.
And the recently arrived from the burning cities
know nothing of the law that says you can’t
stagger down Columbia Rd. with an open bottle.
This is how the riot started, with a man, his cervecita
and huevos so big he could whoop a cop’s ass.
The officer said she shot him as he pulled a knife
but I heard it was as he unbuckled his belt.
Here’s a Rio Bravo toast to the desert dancers
appeasing the air for an ice cold Corona,
(and here, compa, dear reader, an ice cold Corona.)
For those who know the taste of sidewalk salt,
I give you the cool amber of a Molotov.
Tell me your breath doesn’t smell like gasoline.
Ever been so thirsty you burn a block for a beer?
No? Then this ain’t for you. Go ahead, call 911.
Next time rookies round up the handcuffed,
remind them to lock the doors. Here’s to
whoever fished a flare out the paddy wagon
and fed it to the gas tank.
for my tia Rosamaria
Perhaps you considered your brothers defiant, brave,
their asses swelling with that familiar yet
surprisingly ripe pain,
or perhaps you thought them stupid
to have selected instruments
of such girth.
When it was your turn, you handed your father
the thin flexible switch.
The most important lesson
the one your brothers neglected to tell you:
it’s better to bruise from blunt blows
than bleed from quick slits—
but how you too would be complicit
and let your little sister
find out for herself,
the day she was old enough
to climb to the upper reaches
where branches thin
and mangos blush red—
engorged with nectar.
The day she was old enough
to face her father.
Henry Mills was born in DC to a Salvadoran mother and a Jewish-American father who met in the solidarity movement to get the U.S. out of El Salvador. He’s been featured at a variety of music and poetry festivals including Different Kind of Dude Fest, Positive Youth Fest, and Split this Rock. With grant support from the Montgomery County Arts & Humanities Council and MEAD Theater Lab, he’s developed and performed three multi-disciplinary shows: Helicopters & Vultures, Waterline, and Underwater Poems.
His work has appeared in The Wandering Song, Time You Let Me In, and Border Crossing. He holds an MFA in poetry from New York University.