Ariel Francisco


—for my grandfather

I walk down through Manhattan
from the Bronx, tracing the path
you must have taken in the hunt

for your first job in America,
some hotel on Park Avenue
you could never afford to stay in.

No money for a cab, you must
have walked the crowded city
in awe, more people on a single

street corner waiting to cross
then there were in the whole
Dominican Republic you left behind.

No money for the subway,
though maybe you considered
becoming a conductor,

despite the fear of being underground— 
they must get paid well to wield
such huge machinery— 

but you didn’t come here to lead
people through darkness.  Or did you?
Uptown now, where your son,

my father, will enroll in City College,
the first in the family to have his degree.
Uptown, where the trains emerge

Bronx bound or bent towards Queens,
or dive right into the very ground
you walk on below Manhattan

towards Brooklyn or far off Staten Island,
where another son is still locked up
in an asylum, Uncle Kiko in the embrace

of schizophrenia.  He might be in the same
room you used to visit him in, I wouldn’t know.
I don’t visit him.  I keep walking

just as you must have kept walking,
eyes bouncing around like a pinball— 
the bars with strange names,

clothing stores, Chinese restaurants,
a post office, a donut shop with a bold
red sign that says HOT & READY

but not HIRING, and what do you know
about donuts anyway?  You must have
walked past this same bodega in Washington Heights,

contemplated stopping for smokes
but there was no money for cigarettes
yet, and besides, you’ll smoke twice as much

when your wife dies from lung cancer.  
I have cousins in Washington Heights
that I would not recognize 

if they were standing next to me on
this very same corner crossing
in the same direction but I keep walking

past coffee shops and food stands, 
a farmers market, a pawn shop with a sign
that reads WE BUY ANYTHING

but not HIRING, and you don’t have much
to sell anyway, anything of value
already gone to pay for the plane tickets,

the first months rent, food, a new
pair of shoes that lead you past
the length of Central Park.  Did the acres

of autumned trees dishearten you,
leaves breaking from stems like
drifting days?  Or had the decades

already taught that spring returns with
or without us?  Midtown within sight
now, how the skyscrapers must have

floored you.  The Empire State, 
The Chrysler.  Or perhaps you were
skeptical.  Rascacielo?

How could the snow not come down
if their spires were truly piercing the clouds?  
Did you consider going up

to the top floor of one to see
for yourself?  But there wasn’t much
time, the evening growing thin around you

as it does right now, the streetlights
coming to life, and an electric blue sign
down the block springs into view

in the window of a hotel, the words
in red handwriting: HELP WANTED.


With my last two dollars I buy a coffee
to warm my ungloved hands, snow falling
soundlessly onto my upturned face 

beneath the shadow of an enormous
Christmas tree, a skyscraper raised
overnight in midtown New York.

I try to fathom the flatbed it came to town in
from some far-northern Paul Bunyan
forest, and remember the eighteen wheelers

full of classic Fraser Firs and woolly Douglas trees
that I had to unload by hand when I worked
at a Home Depot in North Miami.

The trees were always stacked and netted
like body bags, from smallest to largest,
making it as difficult as possible to unload, 

with the menacing twelve footers
still waiting in the back after hours
of dragging and lifting, dragging and lifting.

That winter was cold enough to send
the snowbirds home, temperatures dropping
to the upper 20’s at night, and it was always cold

in those refrigerated trucks, though the sap
that oozed from the trees wasn’t quite frozen
and so it would stick to my jeans, hoodies, gloves,

and that stupid orange apron, leaving me sap-
stained from head to aching feet.  This was after
I graduated college, when I was so broke

I called out sick because I couldn’t afford to put gas
in the car that week to drive up to work and threw
up from eating ramen noodles for four days straight.  

Never broke enough to pick up a penny
on the street though, knowing damn well
how worthless they are, not even pure copper—

even Abe is embarrassed, casting a sideways
stare to avoid eye contact.  Those were the days
when I’d come home broken and stare

at my English degree hanging on the wall
like a crucifix that never answered a prayer.
I couldn’t even afford a Christmas tree,

not even one of those shitty plastic tabletop ones,
and hated everyone who shopped at Home Depot
for theirs, having to cut the netting and twirl

tree after tree, only for them to say, 
again and again: Eh, I don’t know.  
How about that big one in the back?

and I hated them even more, hoped the tree
they picked was full of spiders, even dead ones,
which often turned up in the frozen trucks

with their eight glazed eyes multiplying
the darkness, legs like dried pine needles.
Or maybe a stiff robin would drop down

on their gifts as their children hung lights
and angels from the branches, its beak
parted in yellowed silence. I always imagined

those creatures that turned up in the trailers
as sad, strange little immigrants fleeing
their homeland, smuggling themselves

in the trees, the trucks, their homes
destroyed but deciding to stay in them, 
seeing the semi’s license plate and dreaming

of Florida, that legendary place only mentioned
in the chatter of migratory birds, though I was
the only living thing ever inside the trailer,

sweeping out the dead critters into the piles
of pine needles, miniature funeral pyres.  One night
it got so cold that I considered setting fire

to all the trees, watch them all light up brighter
than that giant one in New York.  I didn’t quit
that night— I just never came back, though I

stood out there a long time, broom in hand
fantasizing about the embers flickering
like tinsel, the smell of roasting pine needles.

And when the fire trucks finally arrive
and the police come and ask what happened
I’ll wish them all a Merry fucking Christmas

as the fire jumps to the store front
and say this blaze is my gift
to myself— the only one I could afford.




Ariel Francisco is a Dominican-Guatemalan-American poet born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in Florida. He is currently completing his MFA at Florida International University where he is also the assistant editor of Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. His poems have appeared in The Boiler Journal, Portland Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Washington Square, and elsewhere.

Posted on December 14, 2015 .