Even with its trunk arched back and boughs splayed out
like fingers extended from an open palm, I’d never mistake this position for praise
though its name is biblical like my own: Steven-- the first man to die in God’s name, chosen
by my mother who didn’t want my name to sound Mexican. Spanish is dirty,
dirty as the soil that insulates roots, dirty as my left hand after writing
in pencil. And now, when I speak to anybody in Spanish, I’m an imposter.
My thick accent breaks the legs beneath each letter and leaves my words
disfigured like that first martyr after he was stoned and whipped, his face tilted
toward the sky, warm blood escaping his mouth, open and silent.
What I Didn’t Tell You
—for my brother
You can ask me anything, even about my first kiss, which was at your age and tasted like stale beer. I used to feel guilty swallowing the pulse of another man, but now I know there are many ways to pray. There’s a name for that most intimate prayer: la petite mort—the little death. If, when your lover rakes your back, you recall the flock of worshippers surrounding you like raptors when they learned you’re gay, clawing at your shoulders, squawking for salvation, remind yourself you have to die before you can be resurrected. Never forget what the Bible says: when two people worship together, they create a church no matter where they are-- which must include the backseat of a car or the darkest corner of Woodward Park. These are some of the things I wanted to tell you that night in April you called me for help with your history report about the gay-rights movement. Neither of us admitted what he knew about the other. Instead I started with the ancient Greeks, told you it was normal for them, that for one brief moment they were allowed to shape their own history and religion, organizing the stars, forming Orion, for example, flexing in the sky, arms open in victory, belt hanging below his waist. But he was punished for his confidence, a scorpion’s hooked tail piercing his body like a poison moon. When I see Orion, I think of you and remember what it felt like for my knuckles to sink into your stomach, for my fist to collide with your face. Your voice, your walk, your gestures reminded me of myself, your figure bright and fluid, creating a reflection I wanted to break. And now I see your body spill open-- Big Dipper hooked to your ribs, North Star nestled in the middle. I reach for that ladle and drink.
Public altar in San Francisco honoring the 49 people killed at the Pulse nightclub.
Orlando, June 12, 2016
Imagine: the four chambers of my heart each loaded with a bullet, each beat another revolution in my chest, my throat a barrel, my curled tongue a trigger. I believe in spirits, in every fag and queer I’ve heard and allowed to pass through my body and into the next. I believe in possession, believe each metal slug entering our bodies tonight is a history we can’t escape, forged in factories across this country by men who feel threatened by love. And when I stare into my reflection one last time tonight, I know each pupil will become an exit wound. I’ve spent my life learning to lie to myself, but tonight the truth will enter my body, will hurt, will kill, will leave an echo.
Photo: Carmelo Rossette -- Et al. Photography
Steven Sanchez is the author of Phantom Tongue (Sundress Publications, 2018), chosen by Mark Doty for the Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. He is a CantoMundo Fellow, Lambda Literary Fellow, and the inaugural winner of the Federico García Lorca Poetry Prize for an emerging Latinx poet. His poems have appeared in Agni, American Poetry Review, The Missouri Review, North American Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere.