Poems, Iconic White Crosses, and Memories
First published on September 22, 2013, in Somos en escrito Magazine
By Sarah Cortez
Vanishing Points: Poems and Photographs of Texas Roadside Memorials, edited by poet Sarah Cortez, is a memorial in itself to the thousands of spontaneous roadside memorials, usually marked by small metal crosses, which line Texas highways. The prominent display of these iconic white crosses, some with accumulated mementoes, is often ignored by motorists.
Yet these roadside memorials are invitations to pause, invitations to ponder the meaning of life and death. This volume of poems responds to these invitations with an array of stunning black and white photographs of these Texas roadside memorials accompanied by poems written by some of the state’s finest poets.
That day you grabbed
the armadillo’s tail
and jerked it upside down
as it snarled and raked
air with black claws.
Remember? All of us laughing
at the squirming, silver ball
of scaly, pissed-off critter
who’d thought he’d burrow
into safety when chased.
It’d be on that day—if
I could have you back—that
exact moment. Your right arm
outstretched under scrub oak
alongside a one-lane road.
You, flushed, breathing hard,
sweaty—that instant suspended
the same as that armadillo
who’s now probably as dead as you,
alongside some other back road nearby.
By Sarah Cortez
But the sky, Nate, the big blue sky
crowns this cross so far above
both you and me that I get scared
just trying to think about it. And
I promise you I still believe in God,
and I believe in His Only Son Jesus Christ,
and I believe in the Spirit sent down
upon us like the dewfall. I believe, I
believe, I’ve always believed, but
I have a hole in my chest
where my heart loved you, and I
walk around like a clock without
a mechanism, and I’m not joking
when I say I’m dead too
now. Not just inside, the cold
blackness, but outside, and only,
and only this wind up high here
and the burning sun and
the million pesky grasshoppers buzzing
remind me that God’s ways
are so infinite and beyond,
so far above my mind, my pitiful
body, my heart-no-longer-there
that I’d just better go on
into whatever I have
left after losing you. Not
that I know what
that is. But there’s something.
There’s bound to be
worth living for.
Poems in War and Love
You deployed six times, I count them as such
Never mind the lingo and the requirements to define –
You fought in one of the nastiest of them – Fallujah -
Against Al Mahdi and his friends,
Yet you came back with all of your men.
You grew up in a town that might have been mine,
Except that yours was near rivers and mine
Was in the desert; You fought in the desert too,
Learned to love there, to be fully alive, sober to the threats,
To be kind to the populace. Then you fought at the ends
Of the earth, making friends all the way, even as you had
To remember to be lethal. A dog, you said, in that other
Country had come upon you and your forward man:
You were trained to slit its throat, You – dog-lover, rescuer of dreams,
Faithful man to your wife, whom you left and came home to
Twice. Dogs, yes, dogs you are faithful to, and this one did not bark.
So you did not have to slice and silence him with a knife,
And on that night you made your way back with relief
For sparing - at least- one more life. Archangel,
Sniper, man from the skies, friend for life.
On the conquest of Raqqa
Mourn with your brother in war and Love, Alex,
And mourn for the Kurds who have declared
Like lions their autonomy. Mourn for the women
You miss, indescribable loss not to hold them
In your gaze and in your embrace.
Mourn the purpose they gave you, both ends
Combatants and warriors, women and culture,
Ancient, tested in fires from century to century.
Mourn, too, your brother and friend, who like
Odysseus and Gilgamesh, who like Aeneas
And Patrick Leigh Fermor had to voyage back to
Woman, society, and cultivation of mother earth;
Mourn them who had to sheathe the sword, put it beyond use
Back in the head and on the hearth - who always have it at the ready
In the heart, in the hand and in the mind
And in the memory of those you fought for, that sword
From beyond time, now and past and for the future.
Mourn them, mourn them all warrior, friend,
Poet, lover, son and brother.
Mourn, brother Andrew, mourn.
Mourn the man who blew up behind you
Spinning legs in the air were all you saw,
Yet you had to go forward and take the village
See the traps, the mines, burned out and blasted
Cinderblock of once-homes made sniper shot-watches.
Mourn now because you can, brother Andrew.
Mourn the families you embraced and those who
Adopted you: Mourn and rejoice:
So many are alive because of you.
So many have hope because of you.
I want to lay my head in the warmth of your lap
Then watch iridescent stars fall behind your hair
Trace your brow’s shape, the pomme of your cheek
Touch your lips, while tracing light in scintillant eyes.
I feel the emanating warmth of your womb
Hear your voice in the dark, taste its sweet depths;
Then feel your pulse beat through your sex
As you shape the sounds of your words - like angels falling,
One-third, from the sky.
Auburn-haired woman, sapphire-braided skies
Halo you, while stars hang pendant
From your tilted head even Renoir could not capture.
Kiss me with your eyes (and lips),
Sing to me with your honeyed voice.
I scent you in the breeze of fall as Spring --
Soft fire, feminine song, emerald eyes: You.
You evanesce sooner than the scent of
Your body. Oh Soñia, how I wish that you would
Place my ring on your finger –and you do.
But don’t you know what that means?
Or best, you do. That’s what leans me
To you, emerald eyes, Soñia
Such womanly hips, such warm thighs. I
Follow your time, your rhythm, your honeyed
Voice, knowing that once I surrender to you -- if
That is what you wish -- I am complete or finished.
Indicate, say, tell me all I need to know.
Time, age, those erase if you say them so.
David Vela is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College, in Pleasant Hill, California, where he is also an advisor to veterans and an instructor and mentor in the Puente Project.