Plastic Mexican, Plastic American
When people ask me why I don’t speak Spanish,
I tell them it’s because my tongue isn’t mine.
The one I was born with escaped from me like
a blood-sucking parasite the moment America
shaped my mouth into a war within a war.
My body was also lost so I had to rebuild one
out of brown LEGO bricks like the ones my
white-passing cousins used to always play with
whenever I’d stop by to visit them. For a
replacement tongue, I made one out of nopal
cactus juice plastic. And for a replacement heart,
I made one out of melted down red, white, & blue
toy soldiers: & I left my chest ripped open so strangers
could view my interlocking shrapnel anatomy from a distance.
My cousins played hockey & loved swimming
& skateboarding. I remember how some of their
white relatives called my other cousins & me
beaners & thugs during camping trips to Lake Tahoe.
It upset me that my cousins saw nothing wrong
with this & neither did my aunt & uncle.
That’s when I first realized that people who share
the same blood can never occupy the same ghost vein:
can grow from the same root but can never bloom
sword shaped from the same downward wounds.
I recently heard a story about why one of my uncles
never taught his sons to speak Spanish: because
when he was in school, he had it beat out of him.
If being Mexican-American & having ancestors
who rode with Pancho Villa means my loyalties
are inherently divided, then I can never be a
real American. But yet I can still die for a headless flag
that’s perceived to hold more value in its threads than
the collected dust of my once flower-filled bones.
A Mexican girl in my AP Spanish class
(which I had no business being in)
once asked me why I pronounced my name
all white-ish. I thought it was funny how I
could turn myself into an instruction manual
no one could read & make my freshly peeled echo
taste like white charcoal to anyone who heard it.
I once took a picture of one of my bilingual
relatives standing next to a wooden cross on top
of a pyramid at a Mayan archeological site.
During that Yucatán trip, I chose to speak in camera
flashes because my voice felt clotted with words.
And I deeply admired how easily my cousin
was able to move between worlds as if language was
spring water under the dark yellow castle of her mouth.
(I use language the way America uses tear gas.)
My grandmother had to translate Spanish
for me as we watched fireflies flickering
chartreuse on the lawn in front of a step pyramid
with the sun slipping its warm neck into a halo of obsidian.
But I couldn’t feel the gods burning off me
like rainwater into steam. I could only count
the changing colors of death’s ancient plumage.
Let me write a poem in whited out English
about how I dream my body borderless at night.
And how every morning my plastic skull
becomes an adobe prism for splintering blood
into brick. A suicide of light. Ruddled sugar
& water for dark hummingbirds to feed on.
Portrait of Boy and Man without Shadows
The lights have been wringed out.
But your voice was already a lost greyhound.
Your chest a prism of painted horses.
Your lungs reservoirs for holy water rain.
Smeared eyes: dislodged of blue: tears turning stigmata red.
We used to play darts & Atari & watch
pro wrestling matches on VHS tapes.
Bret Hart pink: The Undertaker’s bells:
Steve Austin Pollocking the canvas red from
a dripping head cut. You let me shoot grandma’s
cantaloupes with your BB gun in the triangular backyard.
The metallic projectiles felt like the roundness
of war in my palm until my skin became a drumline.
Remember the time I lit a winged firework
& it burned a black starburst on the backyard fence?
Remember the time we were wrestling
& I kneed you so hard we thought I had broken your ribs?
Remember the time I painted the floor of the front porch
but I forgot to leave a sign out, & we later laughed when
we found the mailman’s footprints left in the wet paint?
You used to do a magic trick I could never figure out as a kid.
You would hide a watch somewhere in the house
& it would always end up back inside your safe.
I realize now that you likely kept two watches around.
Sometimes I imagined that there were two of you:
that you had an untethered double you could
learn the howling fragments of other freedoms through.
Why give a bird wings if it will never
experience unfiltered flight? Why give a man
a consciousness if he can’t explore the physical world
around his body? Why give him a fractal conch of
a heart if no one can hear or reach it behind a
caged extinction of dusk? Raw meat left on the counter:
melting sand dunes on the bed. Every shape
inside of you ached like clouds locked inside a glass vault.
Dialysis to replace your kidney function:
confined to a wheelchair: invisible chamber:
mushroom-colored floors: splintered yellow walls.
You lived my deepest triptych fears. You mastered
life in quarantine before COVID ruptured our reality.
(Now we’ll have to wear face masks to view your ashes.)
White web coma: tubes pulled. I woke up in the middle
of the night & cried myself back to sleep because
I wasn’t there for you. My nested screams blackened & mutated
inside my throat like spots blending into stripes on a cheetah.
For years I’ve been rearranging my depressed states into
black spheres like coral structures & mapping
out my anxieties on butcher paper. Hiding behind
charcoal mirrors & dirty teeth water. Because I abandon
every home I can’t cactus. & I swallow back every
drop of love I can’t pearl. When I think of you now,
I want to picture you sliding into second on a
little league baseball field & ripping your pants pocket
as small stuffed animals, change & rosaries spill out of it.
When I think of you now, I want to remember white summers
tossing plums at the neighbor’s roof. The pencil memory
of our shadows no longer holding us down.
Photograph of Anuel Rodriguez by Manuel Rodriguez Sr.