I, too, desired a suit with a gold chain
dangling below my knee,
and a cross swinging over my chest,
baggy pants pegged at the ankles,
and the all-black ensemble
with a wide-brim hat.
You had to pull the pants tight
above the waist like a fat boy, a style
that could get your ass kicked on the street.
Once you had the suit
all you did was strut around,
show up at a club, lean against the rail.
How you danced with that chain
and hat, sweating like a hog,
swaying in that long coat,
doing that slide across the linoleum floor.
The men straggle into the cold warehouse
draped in tattered shirts, torn sweaters,
army jackets, their hats crowned
with logos—NY Yankees, UCLA,
Puerto Rico. Sometimes when they speak
I see gaping holes in their mouths
form the missing teeth.
Sometimes they arrive
in twos and threes—wandering
from warehouse to warehouse like a lost tribe.
Sometimes a son will lead his father
and speak for him, the father standing back,
his eyes open, the son boasting to me,
he can drive anything—give him a shot.
When they fill out the applications
they scribble the reason
for leaving each job:
temp work only
company moved away
Sometimes one of them is bold
enough to write fired.
Another one wrote,
fired for fighting,
and for another job he wrote,
fired for drinking with the boss.
Under “Special Skills” they scrawl:
I glance out the window
at the downtown skyline.
I know that when I pull down
the Help Wanted sign, still they will keep
shuffling into the warehouses,
hunched in the cold,
gaping holes in their mouths.
Marilyn Monroe Is Dead
When Marilyn Monroe stepped onto that iron grate,
her skirt billowing like a parachute,
I fell in love with her white skin and her blond hair.
Back home, I broke the mariachi music
on the stereo, songs of women sleeping in buses,
buses filled with men lugging chickens and knives
through Panama and El Salvador,
the immense Mexican desert
to the fiery border.
We had come to this country for the TVs and Cadillacs,
for the money and the skyscrapers.
When I saw Marilyn’s shimmering legs,
I was ashamed of my dark skin,
ashamed of the Latinas
and their sweet-fifteen debutant parties
where girls became women
without ever touching a man’s body.
Without ever touching my brown body.
Whenever Uncle Reynaldo
showed up with his blond wife,
his brothers would flirt with her
in their thick accents,
in their best busboy English,
offering her their English
their own crooked words
shaped while working sixteen hours a day
in the kitchens, in the boiler rooms,
in the factories—sixteen hours a day
to break through the language.
Marilyn is dead and I feel the dark
Indian blood that’s run
silent for hundreds of years,
and I feel the language of peasants
and machetes, of machine guns and priests,
the language of gold and silver,
of gods and flesh,
the language that built the pyramids,
temples, cathedrals and plantations,
that sacrificed virgins,
that fought the Marines.
That dangerous language is coming back.