Photo by Jeff Sirkin



I dream in a house filled with winter,

a house always between stages. My aunt,

in the country where I am a child,

watches as her dream house develops:

walls of cardboard and wood planks

make way for cinderblocks; doors

to each room go from bedsheets

to knobbed, solid doors; the floor

remains dirt long past childhood,

past when I stayed there, long into

the stories I hear of deals made

with narcos to keep safe the house

I used to dream in. Her house different

each year I slept there, memories

now different colors, the bottoms of

my feet the color of the earth

I walk across feeling winter, each

small step picking up more of the earth.

My aunt paces, wanting more for herself,

each step as dark as mine. In dreams,

we talk in the same house I try to place

years later on a map of Matamoros:

not the crowded colonias near the bridges,

nor the populated, street-lined center

nor the blocked-off Zona Industrial.

My eye veers further down dark swaths

of map, unmarked and undeveloped,

one road straight into the open fields

and ranches of makeshift shacks

and shacks shifting, made into

the country we find ourselves

dreaming in now. We counsel

each other in Spanish and English,

say we did not know, no sabiamos,

what the country would be like,

nor what would happen there.

We walk amidst changing walls,

our steps marking the path,

and the path marking our soles,

the earth molding to where

I relive nights of winter,

of not knowing

this is the nature of longing,

of faith, of not being satisfied.


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*** ** ***



A child, I hide El Presidente, wrap a shirt around the bottle. I can hear the amber fluid as it lays secret at my feet, each glug as the car idles forth says: lie, lie. My aunt rolls her window down, meets my eyes in the rearview: ¿Sabes que decir? I nod, my jaw tight. The river sloshes and sways underneath the bridge; each car shifts with shaded conversations. I hear laughter, cringe. Hear the smacked chisp of impatience, wonder what I’ve done wrong. When it comes time for the script, my teeth knit hard against themselves with each word: You a U.S. citizen? I count out three clicks of teeth before my aunt says yes. You have anything to claim? Two clicks, no. The man looks to me – I try but cannot see his eyes, his sunglasses reflect a silver world where I’m made smaller, double, as if given two choices, two strange lives across the faces of two rivers – U.S. citizen? One click rises clear over the glug of my heart before I can answer, before I can gulp over the engines, the river, over the silence to say: Yes, sir.


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*** ** ***



Death in twisted mesquite trees

in your ashy skin and spit

in childhood memories of wanting to look clean

Death in the handshake and the nail-biting

in the fear of the unknown

in the way things we do not know constitute the world

Death and its unknown face ignored,

become background to what is living, to what we know

Death in the man in the bushes you read about in the Caller-Times on a visit home

you remember nothing else from that month

Death behind the Black Eyed Pea restaurant

in the same parking lot shared with a Wal-Mart

across from a Circle K and Best Buy

facing South Padre Island Drive and Everhart

Death in the same parking lot you made your way across hungry

in the white noise of passing cars and passing lives

in the oceanic silence of a city at night

in the silence that is not silence, not the absence of sound but the distance of it

Death in the distance between each person so that our lives do not resound against each other

in what you imagine fills that distance

in what was considered a shadow, then a dog that wouldn’t move

Death in the shouts at what was not a stubborn dog but a man

Death in the restaurant abandoned, excavated, emptied

in the man abandoned, excavated

Death in an ambulance where a body is bagged like a suit to be delivered

in a body bag full of nobody, no known thing

Death now a restaurant hollow as a chapel without believers

without celebration or ritual

a home for the things we do when not dying and losing our names

Death a visit home, newsprint mussing its inks with yours


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*** ** ***



In a house without electricity, what matters

is having clean paper, and enough light for words.

Crouched at the window, by the streetlamp’s light, I write.

When the light clicks off, ask my hand if it matters.

Even when I can’t tell what word lays at my fingers,

I know the force and heat is my matter.

My eyes make out the paper as a glow

registered by some animal sense that makes it matter.

The night sky fills with bits of shell and bone,

or so I write in ink, in night-matter.

Since men learned print/No night is wholly black.

since I learned night, my print is holy matter.

Frost spoke of being acquainted with the night;

having words with it, neither wrong nor right, is another matter.

You who read and move on to other matters,

the night knows who between us must do the dying.


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*** ** ***



Conditioning is what is done with

soldiers, the heads of children

and dogs, what is studied

in the swipe and tap of

our fingers across screens.

Conditioning is

your legs red at noon,

the concrete of a city blurred

by the same fever

falling in sheets

of sweat down your back,

your head ringing,

swimming in light – Conditioning is

the hubris of weather by button,

the shift-of-belt-buckle mentality of:

It don’t matter even

the holes in the sky

or the waste in the water,

we can fix this, fight

the sun’s mad knuckle.


Your aunt hates it when you block the fan

while she watches TV. Any time you do,

a sandal shoots past your head

and smacks the glass

like a fish flopped on concrete,

that sad sound of being

out of place. You are used to it.

Used to sunflower seed shells

popped between teeth

counting down each salty

second. Used to the shells

collecting in the trash

like the black and white

wings of some creature

that has to be gnashed at

for the summer to pass.


Walking down the hall

and feeling the cold

seep through the cracks

of other people’s places

is an exercise in memory;

thoughts of faces

working outside

when the sun scolds

skin raw, forgets

how to hold back;

thoughts of another life

where you walked down streets

until your shoelaces

were bit away

to the knot,

where you held a small

fold of dollars

like aces

allowing you to sit

a little longer, hold

a coffee in a diner

a little longer

when it got too bad

outside; thoughts of

how it’s always bad

even when it’s not

your hand anymore

or your back

just your impoverished

pride walking beside you,

feeling the cold

like whispers of

heaven, how

heaven might mean

being set aside

and not allowed to go back.


Down the aisle of a bus

with a broken A/C,

a boy follows his mother,

his whole body shoved forward

by the clamber

and shuck

of a stop.

His open palm

hits his mother’s waist;

she swats it,


her cell phone

to the ear closest

to him. As she descends,

the boy’s fingers

trail the sky

and spread,

letting through



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*** ** ***



In her story

about being told

by her white bosses’

white secretaries

Vote Trump! You

better vote Trump!

as she punched out

from work

as usual, tired

and body-sore,

does my mother know

she gathered

the darkness of each

corner of the factory,

and the darkness

of the drive home

switching between stations,

nothing sounding right,

and the darkness

in her mind


all the work


for her at home,

and the darkness of

the night over

Corpus Christi,

and how these

darknesses spill over now

into every word

I’m urged to write,

because nights like these

are ink, and her story

of pretending not to hear,

but telling me

what she heard,

what was said,

is a story of darknesses

being separated, made distinct

as words on a page,

which hold darkness

in one form until

we close our eyes

and darkness shifts

to darkness


at the end

of her shift,

does she know

about the darkness

I will hold

for her?


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JoseAngelAraguzJosé Angel Araguz
is the author of seven chapbooks as well as the collections Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press) and Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Prairie Schooner, The Windward Review, and The Bind. A CantoMundo fellow, he runs the poetry blog The Friday Influence and teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College.


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A dozen poets. One a month. Nothing more.