Rafael Campo

Issue 15 • Spring 2015


She says that back in Mexico the map
of the United States that hung above
the teacher’s desk was like a floating island
impossible to reach, impossible

for any girl like her to even dream
might welcome her. She gazes now instead
above my desk, her flattened breasts a map
no more accessible, no more forgiving,

the spreading cancer numinous, one could
say even beautiful, deceptive as
that distant promise. Here just one short year,
she tells me of the landlord calling them

“invaders,” six of them who shared a room,
the only toilet down the hall. She says
she cried alone beneath the Virgin Mary,
the church the only place she knew to go,

the flickering of candles casting shadows
in shapes above her everywhere like maps
to other worlds; she says she prayed for this
to be a better world. The clinic throbs

in pain outside my door, so many dreams
deferred, so many hearts invaded by
resentment, or remorse, so many seas traversed
and borders crossed. So many journeys done.


Cowboys and Aliens

The Indians were here before, were seen
as aliens. The cowboys hunted them
like animals, relentlessly. Back then,

what Indians called god was alien
to those who hunted them, who only saw
what they called land, and gold. The cowboys, keen

on owning everything (the sky, the land),
killed them, called on “Manifest Destiny.”
To Indians, whose names in truth were many,

were various, whose destiny was known
not to man but only to god, this meant
nothing. They saw them rape and steal; they saw

the cowboys not as aliens, but more
like brothers. Sioux, Chippewa, Navajo,
relentlessly pushed west, pushed north, to hunt

the buffalo become invisible beneath
the rifles of the cowboys; few remain
to kill themselves, their brothers on the res.

The cries of animals grew alien.
The land was fenced, became frontier; the sky
turned stark. The sunsets burned like molten gold.

The cowboys killed the Indians and took
what no one ever really owns. Our names
mean nothing now, aliens lost to god.


Cross Country

I watched you as you skied along the path.
The snow fell hard enough so you looked blurred.
You weren’t that far away, and yet it seemed

the distance was too great to overcome.
You skied along the path, oblivious,
alone, the blowing snow not threatening

exactly but enough to make me wonder
if losing you were possible, if love
still joined us. On you skied, tireless, alone,

into the incessant wind. Silently
I watched the snow accumulate --- how you
refused to let it bury you somehow,

how you kept going, growing distant yet
still closer, how you persevered for us,
the path lost, everything white, limitless.


From Down Below

From underneath the grand piano, there
was much to see: old Mrs. Harrington
inspecting undersides of china plates,
as if their markings were a code to be
deciphered; flattened gum affixed to soles
of shoes, the awful shape of contact with
the netherworld; this unstained wood, as pale
as white skin under brown forearms, left
unfinished since down here no one would know.
I wondered what small heresies we might
be missing, what the dog saw in that space
beneath the door, what the fat spider gleaned
from crawling into crevices, what hid
(it must be worse than monsters) under beds.
While birds shunned gravity, I knew that truth
was deeply buried, somewhere here, as dark
as hair in nostrils, and only to be glimpsed
from down below, head bowed before God.