by Tomas Nieto
A Study on Dying as an Immigrant
In San Francisco,
a Venezuelan cab driver
narrow alleyways paved with
breadcrumbs and bone scraps
brittle like grandfathers, trying to find
in the vertical roads.
The gold rush dried up last lifetime.
The difference between conquered and discovered
is in how much the textbook bleeds;
a country and identity—
the vein the blood is drawn from;
us and them—
how much blood is left.
Inversion explained by a student from Thailand:
The ghost is on the outside
unwriting our bodies into their homes.
The walls are raw with tombstone
painted promises sung backwards.
Our chameleon skin still spills
from our pores.
Take off your shoes when entering,
do not muddy their bones.
Grandma told me
to not go straight home
after Grandpa’s wake.
She did not want the Pagpag
following us to the house.
Dressed in black,
we went to IHOP.
The hungry and tired
end up there anyways.
would’ve appreciated that.
Sonnet for San Francisco
I offered my mattress to San Francisco tonight. I picked
it up by the sides, holding the indent of my spine against my belly.
The hardwood scratched—the lost slipper found.
I hauled it down the narrow hallway past the kitchen
(careful not to disturb my seven roommates). This house
stands in quiet solidarity in this ceremony of continuation.
Can-crushing and after-blunt pepper the crisp December air
as I lay my mattress on the corner of Broad and Orizaba.
Later on, when the fog rolls in and the Muni stops running,
everything left on the sides of the streets is swallowed by the city:
three-legged chairs, an ex’s closet. Slivers of china and leave chippings.
Empty coffee cups and books with empty chapters. Even paystubs made out
to landlords for coffin-sized rooms. And yes, my mattress will go too.
You see, everything becomes San Francisco.
After Lee Herrick
Here, in my California, we name everything
after saints. Our cities and grocery stores
are stamped with holy. Come, light a candle
and bless this house. When the sun dips
and the tired close up, we raid
the stockpile of goods harvested
from the overgrown ocean floor and the orchards
full of drought. Sidewalks become tables,
stop lights become candles and everything comes
to this feast—you walk in with the poets, seagulls
and sea serenade, and the teachers
bring all of their marvels. We break the ozone
like bread, spread it over fries and eat it down
to the seed of the avocado, to the bottom
of Styrofoam boxes with no plates
and many forks. We talk about blessings
but there are too many aunties to count.
We laugh until our fault lines split
our names into hyphens and we breath
the salt air of the Pacific like it is part of us.
Every mouth eats, every voice speaks,
every belly swells with second chances.
And when everyone is full and the difference
between person and wonder blurs,
we sing to each body lit with this love.
Tomas Nieto is a Filipino/Mexican-American writer from San Diego. He holds degrees from San Diego State University and San Francisco State University and is alumni of Las Dos Brujas and VONA/Voices. His work has appeared in Solstice Literary Magazine, The Rumpus, and Dialogues for Social Justice.