I never think of my uncle as a man with rabid mouths burgeoning inside his skull.
I’ve never seen him draw his teeth like burning hatchets or pull dead wolves out
of his head. I’ve heard the stories; man leaves the hospital door ajar & wakes up
peeling mothwings off a hospital floor. Man removes a bouquet of thorns
from the back of his eye & he feeds them to blood-thirsty locust. Call it myth
or magic or madness, name him what you need to keep him living.
But whatever the diagnosis, know that what matters to me is this man
once walked me through the Los Angeles arboretum to share the mythos of trees:
sometimes, their seeds stay dormant for years. Trees are so patient—
they can wait out the seasons, the axe, any man who thinks himself king.
My uncle paused often as we stood before each birch & field of fringed lavender.
He watched the moths take flight, mirrored their path with his hand, like waving farewell
to someone he’d known his whole life. We stopped before a trunk shrouded in silk & bramble.
The Maya believed this tree was the pillar of the world,
a bustling road shared by the dead & their gods alike.
He pulled a hollowed thorn from the bark & hid it inside my pocket.
Something to remember this by: urn with a sharpened edge,
proof the earth is full with voices, remarkable, unshakable voices.
American Boy Shares Death Metal with His Abuelo
after Turn Loose the Doves by It Dies Today
what did you call this again, mijo?dead metal?metal devil? can you turn
it up? can you turn it into the sound of somethingother than la caballeria set loose
on children crossing a river?¡híjole!there is a butcher trapped in the
drum beat or is it men tearing into each other?or the thump of doves
shot dead?this sounds more like mutiny than music maybe the sorrow &
misery are honestbut what of all the ways a song can heal? it’s a marvel
how often grief wears the mask of rage how a man can stand at
the mouth of a lake & still burnI understand better than most I know their
anger must be a country they refuse to abandonbut sometimes flight
is the only way to reach the skyor survive yourselfI can’t imagine sitting with
the violence done to a body & trying to name it melodythere is enough fractured
in this world without someone pretending an axe is a songbird with silver wings
so how can you call this music?there’s no joy! no grito!no ra-cha-cha that makes you turn
your body into a cathedral makes you worthy of worshipthe way your bones come loose
mijo, what good is music if two people can’t dance their last first dance to it?the
truth is—every day since I met your grandmother has been a songchorus of crimson doves
I’m not saying it’s been perfectI’m saying I know it’s lovebecause I hear maracas &
become young againwithout historyat home in the hands I want to bury melisten
please understand I cannot hear the word metal& not think weaponI want to
explain what anger does to men like usperhaps one day I’ll tell the
story, for now I’ll say if there is violence in this familylet it die with meno mourning
no funeral a quiet exit& I hope the next time you hear a chorus
that reminds you of all you’ve survived you’ll start
to understandhow good music ferries you into
a future where heaven is so close there is no choice but to sing
Brandon Melendez is a Mexican-American poet from California. He is the author of home/land (Write Bloody 2019). He is a National Poetry Slam finalist and two-time Berkeley Grand Slam Champion. A recipient of the 2018 Djanikian Scholarship from the Adroit Journal, his poems are in or forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, Muzzle Magazine, the minnesota review, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Boston and is an MFA candidate at Emerson College.