POETRY: Push by Michael Torres
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I Man pushing mower
What I’ve come up with is this: a small yellow one-story
home, whose black leather couches in the living room
rise back to their full shape. But my steps make no creaks
in the floorboard. The house sends its message in silence,
except for the fridge that hums itself cool again.
This place feeds a hunger not recognized
by the lash of my tongue, even in this version,
I stare out the back window, and a man who looks
so much like my father I can mimic his walk,
is pushing a mower. He should be my father
but he is a stranger and I’m not surprised.
The living room fills with the smell of cut grass
and gasoline. There is nothing I can do here.
Today no one forgave me. I heard the word
whitewashed and everyone knew
of my Spanish tongue lost like a ticket home
that slips under a bench. I thought about bleach
and the wrinkles of eyelids stung shut
so I began to walk the streets, aimlessly
listening for a way back.
Up and down streets there’s the buzz
of mowers across lawns and hedge trimmers
over the ivy elephants stampeding green.
And the men behind machines never stop pushing,
never stop working to turn their heads up at me
or the swelling sun. I offer what the cloudless sky offers:
nothing. They remove bandanas from their foreheads,
to swing cool again, only to tie them back on.
No one will tell me which way to go.
III Stopping in front of the day labor workers
Donde-meh-voy, where do I go, I try
to say, knowing it’s all wrong.
Men lean against thin palm trees
& Handicap parking signs outside the Home Depot.
They spit answers –want in their silence.
If I do not offer them work and pay,
I am just another wave of heat
they look through in search
of a few hours of labor. My search
is counterfeit to theirs.
They need to eat, keep wives fat with love,
keep children in swap meet jeans bargained for.
Barato, Barato. They need a 24-pack of Bud
with each check cashed at the Sunny Liquor,
to celebrate the power to spend, to celebrate
anything, and everything. We have real problems,
they blink at me. It’s hard to translate.
I shrug apology and they fill their pockets
with their hands again.
IV The street vendor on her way home
Her shift is over when no one’s hungry.
Going down the street — her small frame hunched over the cart
whose wheels squeal with lost strands of hair — I whistle
a last chance. She stops without looking up;
children I did not know were there, pool around me
and offer her crumpled dollars. She sighs.
Elotes con queso, limon y chile, she says without effort.
I write every word down like taking directions
and listen to her flip back-and-forth between Spanish
and English for the younger children,
tengo raspados de vanilla, blue raspberry
y red cherry.
I order a snow cone and she takes my money.
Ayuda me, I say, help me.
She hands me a napkin and a quarter.
Ignorance is a type of penance.
When she pushes away, the cart moves slowly
like she’s rolling boulders. I want to go
where she is going. Toward the street lamps
that flicker over her children who enter,
kicking off shoes and jeans grass-stained
for generations. In their small, dark hands,
are the ripped pages of homework.
When she opens the door, she will yell at them
to get off the couch, and join a house so loud
with conversation that all windows are kept open.
And from outside, someone might catch a word,
perhaps an entire phrase, in Spanish, before it breaks
against the closed ear of sky.
Photo via Flickr