POEM FOR THE YOUNG PROPHET-WORKERS
FROM HÁBITAT PARA LA HUMANIDAD EL SALVADOR
WORKING FOR THE SOULS OF GRINGOS,
TRYING TO SAVE THEM IN SIX DAYS
—for Sofia, Bris, Magdalena, Francis, Kathy,
Karla, Luis, and Evelyn
That’s not a poem, Sofia says,
when I read the haiku written
in my notebook. That’s not a poem,
she says again. Let me try it
another way, then. But I need
another day. I have just been fed
yucca frita, pan con gallina, platano
tamal de chipilin, frijoles, and
two kinds of pupusas, one made
from masa de maíz, and one made
from masa de arroz, washed down
with fresco de ensalada and horchata.
I’m full. Too full too write a poem.
You can’t write a poem when you’re full.
In order to write a poem, you need
to be in love, and you need to be empty.
Poems are always about love,
don’t you know? You need to be away
from your beloved, too. She needs
to be far away. If she’s too close,
or he’s too close, you’ll think
about other things. God says,
Mana for all, and all food is God’s.
God is good, but these Hábitat
workers filled me with too much God,
making it hard to write this poem.
All I can think about is chispa.
I’m dreaming chispa with a full
stomach. Poems are for dreamers,
too. Dreamers and lovers. And fools.
Don’t forget the fool. If you’re a real poet
you might write about all three. And
you must think about the beloved at all times,
full or empty. You need inspiration
to write, but like I said, all I can
think about is chispa. Chispa
is the cement holding the house
together. When I try to think
about love, all I can hear
is the voice crying, “Chispa—
more chispa.” Where is my faith?
Lovers are faithful—how can I be
faithful when all I think about
is chispa? I worry that chispa
dries up my heart, turning it
to cement. I fill my wheelbarrow—
mi carreta—with dried up chunks
of cement, and say to myself,
I’m going to start this poem over.
I will write inspired. I will tell
the honest truth of love. I’m wheeling
my wheel barrow as I talk to myself,
poets are always talking to themselves—
I’m going to dump the rocks
and all my worn out words into the ravine.
Poets are always revising—when
you’re really in love, don’t you always
go head over heels for the beloved?
Aren’t you dizzy? I’m sweating so hard
and I’m dizzy, and I can’t see from the sweat,
and when the rocks and words tumble
from the careta, the wheelbarrow
goes with them all the way to the bottom
of the ravine. It’s gone. Just like my poem.
I’m empty now, I’ll tell you that.
And the Hábitat workers will think
I’m just another lost sheep, a sad-faced lover.
“If he can’t handle the wheel barrow,
see if he can do something easier.
Find him a rake. Find something for him to do.
He may call for more chispa,
but don’t tell me he loves it.”
I imagine those workers thinking like that.
The young men give me their skin
giving me their gloves, going without.
The women carry shovels like they’re machetes.
I’ve thrown away my poem ten times
and lost my barrow. I’m empty,
away from home, wondering if chispa
binding the lovers and the workers,
binds us all. Hábitat workder
make me feel like we’re all one family.
Building a house for others
I—we—feel only love. Hábitat
workers teach us about love. ¿Que es eso?
Maybe I’m trying too hard to find
my way in a poem. Maybe I should try
building a house. Tamp it down,
tamp it down. Maybe what I’m feeling
is just love. Chispa and wheelbarrows
isn’t what this poem is about at all.
What this poem is about is love—
love breaks up the hard heart.
No more dried-up cement surrounding me.
Pupusas fall from the sky. A finished house
is always a real poem.
16 January 2015—21 January 2015
Santa Ana, El Salvador—Yakima, Washington