POETRY: New Mexico, 1992, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

New Mexico 1992 Benjamin Alire Sáenz

We learned to make the sign
of the cross,
Dipping earth stained hands in Catholic

Waters. We’ve filled the desert
with our altars
We prayed our rosaries, played them,

Rubbed them, clutched them–
rattles in the wind
Swaying back and forth—our

Playground swings, we rode them
toward God,
Now hang them on walls or rear view

Mirrors of fixed-up ’57 trucks.
Comenzamos
el Padre Nuestro en espanol but we

finish the prayer in a North
American tongue.
De vez en cuando we gather

ourselves together to baptize
a child
in the name of the Father, the Son,

and our ancestors who command us
from the grave.
We have made our way in the world,

worked hard, worked hard. Now, we
toss money
at the feet of my parent’s grandchildren

like pilgrims tossed palms
before Christ.
In the sounds of our coins against

the concrete, I hear novenas
yellowing into dust.
We try to speak of our lives

purely. Our memories will not
let us.
We wear our culture as penitents

wear ashes on their foreheads,
Una mancha
Permanente. We wake in strange-streeted

cities with the taste of the desert
in our mouths.
Because we are hungry, the taste

is sweet. We are damned to live
forever
on a border. From here, we build

our altars to our gods.

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