El Rio Bravo del Norte
I have never seen you with my own eyes.
I do not know your bendings and rocks,
the architecture of your browns and wet grays
and greens. I do not know the curvature of your
spine, the twist of your body across the miles.
I do not know what lives you bring forth, the
javelinas, jackrabbits, green jays, horned lizards
you keep alive and feed. Until a few years ago,
I did not know there were bridges to cross you,
that you were used and damned up, that slaves from
Texas crossed over you to escape from the nightmares
of their lives. To be honest, until last year, I had not
looked at a map to see your edges, your heart, the way
you moved through land, where you supposedly ended
and began. I have lived far from your ways.
You carry children through thick mud arteries, through
winding bloated currents that swell into wet promises.
You carry families across sadness like magic or is it
madness. You carry children and dreams, dreams
of minimum wage jobs or new televisions, dreams
of stability, safety, dreams of living, the ripple of a larger
story. There are children now in your dark waters.
They still want to swim on rubber tubes. They want
to find fish or play with toys or get just their dusty feet wet
and then run back onto the shore, to fathers, to mothers,
to life. They want to swim like green mermaids, with black
and purple hair, Sirens of good luck, keepers of water treasures.
You are the boundary, the baptism of fear and hope.
I want the thing that divides us to be cleaned by you,
Or maybe this is just my wish, my empty wish for the dead
to stop rising up from your banks and borders. So many
small hands and feet with ripped shoes and faded pants
keep trying to swim across, trying to reach the other side,
the side of yeses, the side of maybes and what ifs.
Now, you are a water grave. Some of us on one shore,
some on the other side. Some of us still in the water.
Adjustment Disorder, Part II
or Weekly Therapy after Cancer
Each week I whisper aimless
words to a small, slight woman
with straight brown hair and pale skin.
At first, I think, she is a child.
She is playing the part of seer.
What can she know about mutating
things swimming in a body. What can she
know of that midnight blue moment
of breathless fear, when you wake up,
feel the cells of your heart are
rebelling, making an army right inside
the ribcage, penetrating the liver,
weaving up through the blood stream
into your breast again. A snake,
thick, grey mamba so beautiful, so deadly.
She tells you yes, yes this is normal.
Yes, this is fear. It will feed you ash
until you look at it. You try to look
at it. The angular curved scale of it,
this gaunt thick gut creature that chases
you through morning rituals, coffee,
breakfast, brushing your teeth before work
when you look in the mirror and think, it is back.
It has it found fresh ground to harvest.
The mole there, that stain of skin,
that looks strange. Faded patch of skin
under your arm, has it grown.
The woman you talk to tells you
this is part of the story. It will pass.
You want to thank her. But this snake lives
in the membrane, the thick brown gristle
of your memories. She cannot know
its bulbous mouth, strange succubus
standing just to the left of your life.
M. SOLEDAD CABALLERO is a Professor of English at Allegheny College. Her scholarly work focuses on British Romanticism, travel writing, post-colonial literatures, WGSS, and interdisciplinary studies. She is a 2017 CantoMundo fellow, has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, a New Poet’s Prize, has been a finalist for the Missouri Review’s Jeffry E. Smith Poetry Prize, the Mississippi Review’s annual Editor’s Prize, and a finalist for the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award sponsored by the Poetry Society of America. Her manuscript has been a finalist for the Crab Orchard Review first book prize, the Saturnalia Press first book prize, and a runner-up for the Autumn House Press first book prize. Her poems have appeared in Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Memorius, Crab Orchard Review, Anomaly, Split This Rock, and others.