Blackout with Cows, an Interrogation, and a Murder
Willy Palomo/ Number 93
Four hours later and the cows’ tongues
are still purple, licking the baby’s face.
Or rather, what once was a face, the skull
now a bowl for a scavenger’s hunger.
A woman’s hair is a black tuft of grass.
She feeds the herd her liver from an outstretched
palm. Once, after watching older sisters
slaughter roosters at dawn, Mama wondered
what she would see if she pulled back
her own skin, what drumstick
they could make of her arm, what soup
from the song in her breasts.
And now, ten-years-old, she knows,
staring deep into the chaotic orchestra humming
inside this woman’s torso, the slow
moo of flies and bees as they feast, the slick
slaps of the tongues kissing the wounds,
as if bidding farewell to the dead.
Abuela told the police officers everything
————————We were dropping by
to buy milk for cheese and quesadillas.
My daughter was the first to notice
——————We found don Ricardo
moaning in the barn. Los Gutierrez did it.
He didn’t give their sons jobs,
——————————————so they slaughtered
his family in vengeance, left him for dead
———two bullets in the chest.
———————————————He told me
to tell Felipe. I told him Felipe was hungover.
No one else knows where in Chaletenango
to find my family, he said.
—————————-Those were his final words.
Maybe that was the reason I would blackout,
Mama tells me, her hammock
as a chariot. At her worst, she would lose
—————doing nothing, staring at what
she doesn’t remember.
———————————–I saw so much
during the war, mijo. Jovencitas raped
while I hid up a tree.
————————————Men gutted while I hid
—————————————————————in the bushes.
But, of course, Mama didn’t begin to blackout
until decades later, after Papi cheated on her.
¿Isn’t it awful what griefs the soul chooses
to survive? There are griefs like packs of wolves
where your soul outruns your terror. The way
the war seemed to make Mama invincible.
Fuck a mountain. Her faith could move a border,
could scrub a white woman’s floor
until she could bring her brother and sisters
with her. There are griefs like snakes
around your ankles, your arms, your legs
until your hands confuse themselves
for snakeheads & leave everything
they grasp ill from their touch.
The way Papi’s philandering broke Mama
where the violence of war could not,
the way her grief would draw its purple tongue
over her face for hours until it erased
her face. There are torture survivors
who claim betrayal and heartbreak are worse
than what the army did to them.
And I still do not understand the artillery
in my tongue, how my lips can be a lawless
sergeant, how I ended up with an army of men
standing behind me, ready to justify
each love I betrayed with the sheer terror
of their presence, my confused heart
stupid with power.
Willy Palomo is the son of two immigrants from El Salvador. His poems and book reviews can be found in the pages of Vinyl, Waxwing, Muzzle, The Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the United States, and more. For more info, visit www.palomopoemas.com.