Vanessa Angélica Villarreal was born in the Rio Grande Valley borderlands to formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants. She is the author of the collection Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series, 2017), winner of the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. She is a CantoMundo Fellow, and her work has appeared in The Academy of American Poets, Buzzfeed, Epiphany, PBS Newshour, and elsewhere. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she is raising her son with the help of a loyal dog.
Exercise in the Face of Divorce
after David Campos
I was seventeen when I met the you
within you, poor Texas twenty-three year-old white boy
slumped in a Denny’s booth, peeling
out in a thrice-used RX7 blasting Tool;
the one whose Daddy showed up to his birth
with his mistress, and stayed out of his life ever after;
then the thirty-one year-old you with Warcraft 3 and Half-Life
posters hanging crooked on your suburban
apartment complex walls, mattress on the floor,
bed unmade and not a spot of floor clean
of old clothes, magazines, computer parts.
This is where we first made love for three days—
It was never going to work.
I knew the first night,
the wood of me and the steel of you
would sing like an axe into those dark Texas pines,
but I’d dull your blade, and you’d cut me down.
Text message. Tuesday, May 23, 2017. 10:41 am.
I’m not sure how to handle any of this,
I feel like I’m not attracted to you anymore
because you just gave up on trying to keep
yourself in shape or
attractive to me at all.
I’m not expecting you to look like
a model, just try to be a little in shape.
You say you love me unconditionally,
but you can’t say that, you’re not
married to a big ugly fat guy.
Every time we talk about this subject, you
make me feel ashamed that I would
even suggest that people should be
physically attractive to their spouse,
and then you put it on me that I won’t
run with you or something.
You were softer than this, and for years, I
turned plates clean under water, stirred
and folded bright sauces, sliced potatoes, ran my hands
across your face, grateful for this borrowed time.
Every road, every mountain, every river promised
you for a lifetime, to me,
and we pushed our way to the furthest coast.
The land ends here. When did we stop kissing.
When did we stop talking. When was it that you fell out of love?
Text message. Tuesday, May 23, 2017. 10:46 am.
You make me feel bad
that I would have desires beyond you,
so now I don’t talk about it at all. I feel
like you start conversations that
quickly devolve into arguments because the way
you bring up issues with me feels like
you blame me for all problems
and you have no blame at all;
I think we’re both to blame
and I wish you’d stop putting it all on me.
I don’t want to stay with you.
I don’t think I’ve been happy for a while.
I have long lacked the language of you,
failed to catch your eyes even during our son’s first steps.
This burn is a darker grief, folded into every corner of
the bedsheet. The silent monsoon stirring between the
cliffs of our turned bodies in bed, the still wave at its peak
before total decimation. Old lover,
salt-rusted steel, I have hurt long enough through your winter.
I will no longer be sorry this body grew heavy with labor,
with every unkind word, every lie, every wound. I am not
your punching bag,
There is no limit to how much you will take,
but a limit to how much you will give.
Same old story.
Same old storm.
_______On our old coast, the hurricane drowns our hometown, drowns
_______the islands. Our lives flood with disaster, and rich men abuse of their power.
_______Everything is trying to kill me, and I have to survive you
_______I fold the world’s grief into mine, stroke our baby’s hair in the dark:
What if we could just go back.