Seth Michelson is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Eyes Like Broken Windows (Press 53, 2012), winner of the poetry category of the 2013 International Book Awards. He also is a translator, with his most recent publication being the book of poetry El Ghetto/The Ghetto: A Bilingual Edition (Point of Contact, 2011), which is his rendering in English of El ghetto (Sudamericana, 2003) by the internationally acclaimed Argentine poet Tamara Kamenszain. He currently teaches poetry in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Southern California, and he welcomes contact through his website, sethmichelson.com.

 

Papá’s War Song: A Manifesto

                —for my son, Joaquín

Joaquín: pale blue starlight
traveled centuries
to sing from your eyes.
Thick auburn hair, skin
like dulce de leche, a Latin
heartbeat: pum-PUM!
Born at the flooded junction
of the Río de la Plata
and the Los Angeles River Basin,
a transcontinental spirit
lodged in a hybrid body: mestizo,
a convergence
of technicolor worlds, part
gaucho, part L.A. Dodger,
cualquier pibe de la calle
de California del sur.
So please hear me, mi hijo.
I’m talking to you.
I said, Escucháme bien, por favor,
when I warn you
to look both ways in life,
and then to look around some more,
and to cling fiercely
to your sacred language
of mixed languages, that squall
of words, of voices
time-saturated with love,
struggle, and persistence,
because the local mobs,
O, they will come
chanting beneath burning pitchforks,
and they’ll forgive nothing
as they pounce
to take it all from you, mi Quinito,
against which your best chance
is a quick song
and a hard right hook.


Bombing Fallujah

Rick Perry, running at daybreak
in the hills of central Texas,

spots a coyote, the kind
we've all seen: lean, hungry, golden,

skittish. The startled animal
stops, and the American jackal

pauses, too, so Perry whips out
a pistol from his waistband

(Such strong elastic in running
shorts these days!). He trains

a laser-sighted hollow-point
on his panting constituent,

pulls the trigger: one shot, one kill,
leaves the carcass where it fell.

Later he'll brag to the press,
"Yes, they're very wily creatures."

 

My Teeth In The Mirror*

Smog-stained, coffee-stained, burnt
by digestive enzymes, they rim my mouth
like a harbor’s yellowed palings, stand
guard at the hideout’s door, gate-like
they open for the edible, divide like fences
my stench from New York’s. Plus how tenderly
they clasp nipples and lips in the dark!
O enameled, stalwart lovebuckles!
O speed bumps between my voice and the world!
Bear this corrosion until you’re withered
and your center’s deeply sore, then make me
believe in your cavities as metaphor:
That all the holes in a life
can be polished, filled with silver,
and, if rootless, dressed in layers of gold.

 

* "My Teeth in the Mirror" first appeared in Can We Have Our Ball Back?, and was reprinted in Eyes Like Broken Windows.

 

 

 

 

 

2014 Seth Michelson


 

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