Mudlark Poster No. 45 (2003)

Sheryl Luna

Ahhhh | Wal-Mart Candles and Night
Turn the Other Cheek | The Wager

Sheryl Luna’s poems have appeared in journals such as Georgia Review, Madison Review, Prairie Schooner, and Spoon River Poetry Review. She was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and currently teaches at the University of Nevada, Reno.


And you pray against Hollywood, drift like smoke
over the mountains, the pine cones fallen and spread
for mother’s artwork. There’s a man writing of prayer,
birds, quipped and quizzical, tight and rhymed—like
some sort of desperate play. Some dark Othella singing
afar—some Penelope drifting like a thinned cloud
across the October cold. And everyone feeling fat
or gouged on minimum wage. Fast-food James Dean,
Superman will get you a book, a gimmick, and masked
Batman hollering something of love and loss and the Joker
green-faced and comical. Here, there... you’re not the tight
muscled forever you once thought you were. And there’s
NYC and I imagine it all cool, sleek, and then there’s the piss
on walls, the poor like bag-men rocking to old tunes.
A fire beneath the freeway in El Paso and 40 ounces
perched in the warm sand. The tumbleweeds rolling
past town, the dead cats stretched across a highway 
like they could’ve survived, and la migra somehow
everywhere. Trucks perched on lookout for you!
Ah, safe America—the thieves wanting your leather bags,
wanting your credit cards of strife. And abstract men,
their faces like cards, their faces like plastic bags bellowing
in the winds. And there’s a man teaching with tenure
who believes himself penalized by my brown skin.
Give me a break and let me sing this song—oh,
I feel like King Kong. The bed is unmade
and sleep is forever an indispensable haze.
I found the angels of my childhood, the stained
cathedrals and priests in brown sack-cloth chanting
Latin or Spanish in memory. And oh, colonized
El Paso, your streets are forever free, sizzle-mirage,
cool pool on the endless asphalt home.

Wal-Mart Candles and Night

The red Wal-Mart candles wouldn’t light and she cursed the useless wicks and smoked too many cigarettes she couldn’t afford. The loans pile up and a New England poet according to David Foster Wallace relaxes on a hammock. And then there’s the poem about metaphor and definition, the song about the green lush scene, the detailed colors of fish or, and if not, various birds—veery, blue-jay, oops, it mustn’t be common—  And this left her out counting the streaks of clouds before the free sunset, and all the races fell to the floor among pine cones and, yes, she collected various shapes and sizes of pine cones for her mother in the barren land where the country ends and Spanish flutters before another sunset, a different one, a sunset that lives in exiled memory. And there was a woman who spoke eloquently and rode a horse to jump and in all the jumping there was the ground—the desert ground blowing amidst the sky into the eye—

And it’s too late to hope when one doesn’t sleep for fear of living. Darkness is a place of peace, a place of forgetful worries in an imagined Cinderella world where flowers bloom violet and red and pink in October, and the woman is losing her sight, fighting to keep a drunken sight—a sight of billboards and chain-link fences, a place of forgetting, a border where language is like sand-storms, like heat, like sweat. And there was a Peruvian poet driven South, another exile to duende and some real scene of bare feet and nicorette stained fingers. Everything moving so quickly to rain and haze—every song on the radio, every balding tire, every red-nose hurting like fire. The faces of girls with blonde hair whispering and giggling in a red-hot firebird in the high desert of Nevada, ah sweet exile, sweet desperate shiver— And chaos came like sleep, dream, like forgetting desire.

This is the way she found the refrigerator mold, the trash piled high, the cat perched beside the Pine Sol. It is how cleaning is a small rebirth and dreams refuse to die in the face of distant Stanford. And whisper the barrio, the girls encircled palms grasped as they chant a prayer that’s all about winning—and it’s how the race is lost because a runner is pleasantly shocked to be in third place, and the way we know it is a good thing to go without. The cheap-shoes and plump faced women of the world who gaze into the eyes of children—wanting, wanting.

And a man skirts about town in a wheel-chair, electric movement, the tingle of desire— All his body parts fully functional. This is the way of catalogue. This is the way of misplaced notes and promises. And watch your own face fade like some miracle, like some religion, a dark painting. And god bless the X files, and the unknown, the conspiracy far away from ourselves, and there are the bombs collected in bunkers somewhere in Nevada just north of Death Valley. There is a mindlessness, a peace on the television. And it is sweet. The bed and the silence. It’s like that. The boy insisting the only black kid at school is okay being called “nigga” cause it ends differently.

Turn the Other Cheek

It’s difficult
being smacked. Your cheek flaming
and swollen and the sky a gray falling.
Drizzling your way through life
there are the wounds, green and red
with childhood hurts. Everyone
lashing and receding.  And all the swings
landing square on the jaw. And it is
like snow, white, cold, beautiful—
human rage and seeing the world
as a starving child, a crack-addicted
mother, yellow-eyed, skull-faced
before the mirror and everything
there in the blame. And oh to be
justified in our mirrored selves,
everyone trying to claim righteousness
up their sleeves. Gods telling us
to behave, and we cannot do it,
until the final smack comes and we
in all our human frailty strike back—
Until then, we may think the adage
a croak, a joke, a misery, a welcome
doormat for the world’s cruelty.
And only then can one see the work,
the labor of the hands the only true revenge.
A small peace like sky and star or moon.
It sounds so simple, until the world is so deep,
a triggered lightning rod through the soul.
All the hurt in life culminating in the big-bang
of our aloneness. My own fist
sore from the swing.  What a reeking bore—
this fascination with mirrors. And there my face
a jaundiced laughter. The reflection a gauntlet,
a boxing ring, and forgiveness, is not something
easy for the colonized. It’s like counting
stars after being hit hard. The immensity
of our smallness a cold rain. And oh, to forgive 
and forget is too difficult, but it is necessary. 
Otherwise, this pale gaunt cheek is faded further
into the insignificance of indignation.
So, the world is unfair, and there isn’t 
a man who has not felt the ultimate sting
of this. Death coming like the snow,
always life frozen over before the melting.
Crab-apples and peaches, unpicked
fallen on the dry grass, rot. This is the
story of loss. It is a gallant tale of living.
Who can tell the insignificant shadows 
of indeterminate rage—everywhere fluttering 
with envious eyelashes, pouty lips, hands on hips—
everyone wanting the world to give them something
back for their suffering, and it never comes—
life is suffering and suffering life, only the respite,
the resolve, the recompense. Beauty.
Everything retrievable and death’s shroud
always white like snow. Here is my round
cheek world; it is well-fed, and my battle-lust
with this mirror begins again, but at least,
for once, I see, it is but a reflection.
There is nothing there, individuality
a sham, a soft cadence of joyous music,
drifting into the emptiness all about.
Here, is a ditty, for the lost rages, the unrecompensed,
those who walk bearing the wounds of revenge.
A jester’s hat for the making.

The Wager

It took the trauma of getting caught
with hands ink-blotched from the crime
of loving myself too deeply.
It took the collection, the bookie
to call me on my bet. The loss
I thought always could be hidden
within my hot bloodstream, but I saw 
the muddy river and believed
it could not reflect back to me the truth.
Truth with a capital “T” some relative
Blakean delusion, some religiously
Delicious salvation in the exaggeration
of me.
Always exaggeration and pity
like some goon-struck mugging, 
always taking me into some corner, holding 
my black velvet purse, coins falling like broken
music on the cracked sidewalks of this self.
I look up only to see, I am this bandit,
this thief, this recluse and misanthrope.
American, I walk the sidewalks with a cigarette
dangling between two brown fingers,
the smoke bellowing behind me and into
your white smooth faces for a reason.
It is not you or your face, but this fire.
I am sorry for the image of myself
like some goblin, some murderous rage
into the nothingness that defines this flaming.
Some days, I think, X is the reason,
but it is fleeting and the truth they say
shall set us free, but I am in bondage to it
since it is here, in this mirror-gaze
constantly strung out on something like
crack, it is like obsession and desire always overwhelming
the consequences of this self-burn. Revenge and envy,
the two abstract angels on this broad chipped shoulder,
laugh maniacally. This dilemma, a shrill moment
in the falling into myself like some mythical
fire-breathing beast with leathery skin
and red-eyed rage begs,  Forgive me, but you do not
even know my name, nor I yours, though
I never learned to forgive, and certainly don’t
deserve yours.  I see Rilke beneath the castle
discovering something of this. I have not
the courage for such discovery or, better yet,
acceptance. I yearn today
for the mop, the bleach water, my colleagues
poor and simple. My life a forgotten
shadow, a casino wager, lost and uncollected.

Copyright © Mudlark 2003
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