Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by José Olivarez





My Parents Fold Like Luggage

my parents fold like luggage
into the trunk of a Toyota Tercel.
stars glitter against a black sky.
from the sky, the Tercel is a small lady

bug traveling north. from the sky,
borders do not exist. the Tercel stops
in front of a man in green. stars glitter
like broken glass. the night so heavy

it chokes. in the trunk, it is starless.
my parents protect this moment. this now.
what folds them into the trunk of a Tercel.
the belief that the folding will end.

it doesn’t. dollars fold into bills. my parents
near breaking. broke. they protect what might
unfold them to discover they are six:
a family.  if the man in green opens the trunk,

the road folds back. this moment & everything
that follows disappears into the ink of a police report.
why doesn’t he open the trunk? my parents say
god blessed us. maybe they are right,

but i think about that night & wonder where
god was—a million miles away in the stars,
in the shared breath between my parents, maybe
everywhere. maybe nowhere. from the sky,

the man in green is so small it is impossible
to see him wave. from the sky, it is impossible
to hear whether my parents cheer or pray
as the car steals north.


I Loved The World So I Married It

music, even on the day my grandma died
there were mangos though i tasted nothing.

but slowly i came back to the world & carne asada.
better than i remembered, smoke off the meat.  i could not

contain my happiness even though it felt offensive
to smile with my grandma buried & getting eaten

by the flowers. & sometimes, i look at my love &
think i would like to stay, to put a welcome mat

on our doorstep with our names hyphenated.
when i was young i believed in forever. then

my uncle died & i knew forever included none
of my family, included no friends, their stories

rotting in my head until i lose them again, so
i know i will divorce the world & let it keep

my most treasured possessions: a six piece
with lemon pepper & mild sauce on, all the honey

of a slow kiss, my Apple Music playlists,
the way mi abuelita smiled & called me Lupito.

i hated that name except when she said it.


When The Bill Collector Calls & I Do Not Have The Heart To Answer

i unbury the boy, pull him out
of the cardboard box in my gut
where i keep him gone. almost
ready for jobs like this.

the boy picks up the phone. hello,
he says. the boy wears a cracked
turtle shell. his name is my name,
but we are not the same person.

when the phone rings, & it is not
a job offer. when the voice is legal,
polite as a razor, i bring the boy.

hello, he says. yes, i am Jose Olivarez.
i play video games while the boy bites
his fingernails & listens. i look at him:
the shell on his back broke beyond repair

& too small anyway. is it loyalty that keeps us
from tossing what’s not useful? the boy says yes,
& i think about napping. is loyalty another word
for fear? maybe, i should grab the phone

from the boy. i am the adult, after all.
the boy starts to cry. i imagine the bill collector
lost, trying to comfort the boy who sounds like a man

because he speaks with my bass, the boy
who will inherit my bad credit, & all the mistakes
i am too small to face. it is the boy, in the end,
who calculates all the lemonade stands i owe,

who promises the bill collector
he will take responsibility, who hangs up the phone
& crawls back into his shell, back inside my body,
while i stare at a blank television screen.

José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants and the co-host of the poetry podcast, The Poetry Gods. A recipient of fellowships from Poets House, the Bronx Council on the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and the Conversation Literary Festival, his work has been published in the BreakBeat Poets, the Chicago Tribune, The Adroit Journal, The Rumpus, and Hyperallergic, among other places. His debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal, will be released in September 2018 from Haymarket Books. He is from Calumet City, Illinois, and lives in Chicago. More from this author →