The Corvair Yard
His friend has an acre of Corvairs behind Shady Lane Trailer Park in south San Jose, all two-doors of course, some hack-sawed into pick-up trucks, makeshift little vans look like Disneyland props. They work swing shift at the machine shop doing missile parts, same hated boss they both call Slop-Face, his friend with a red bandana round his head and my old man straight out of the joint, kinky locks so slick with Brylcreem, I gotta change the pillow cases every fuckin day, like his mother never did. He looks like any other white trash dude just done ten years in gladiator school and they stand around in the Corvair yard grinding valves, high as the clouds in that smoggy sky on some fancy Hawaiian weed Bandana got from this creep named One-Eye, just done county jail time, happens to drop by. I’m a rat in the corner, so loaded I can’t stand up, listening to their stories as if from an old TV screen, who stabbed who, who went back, whatever happened to that punk went by the name James Dean, not the real thing oh no big joke this, just another wannabe Bandana spits. They all laugh one big laugh, heads thrown back, these three guys standing at a dirty work bench, permanent grease under their nails like chocolate fudge frosting in a graveyard of pastel-colored Corvairs, old skeletons of cars that aren’t even made anymore they’re that important. By now, they’re starting to get loud the pot’s so damn kickin, shit, he’s on parole for the next 50 years, my old man is, and he starts in on the coons and spics even though he knows I hate him talking that shit, and then the whole fuckin tale of Hangnail and his guts falling out on the dirt in the Yard, how he deserved every drop of spilled blood cause he was a snitch cock-sucker. And I try to get him to switch topics cause I’ve heard this one five million times, but my old man waves his hand at me, Chesterfield no filter between his fingers red fire pointed straight at my face like a gun, left hand covered with the skull-and-crossbones tattoo and I shiver. Clouds cover the sun and he says, shut up … hon … and gives me the glare, so I just sit there. Pretty soon I’m either gonna pee my jeans or jump up and run screaming right at him like some wild fuckin Amazon with this pipe I found on the ground, this humongous chunk-of-lead thing just appeared here in my left hand.
Hejira del Bac
Drive across the desert to the Mission, sit on a wooden bench looking for faith’s proof, adobe walls lined with saints I don’t understand, angel sculptures in crevasses, plaster candles in their hands, an old man in blue shirt and work pants, a wheelchair near St. Francis Xavier, patron of sailors, the crippled man touches his third eye, tears flood the stone floor beneath my feet, I light a white candle in your name and place it in the east transept with the other flickering souls heating the sanctuary with hope, I pray this small flame reaches the Bigger Fire in time for transmutation, pray it doesn’t go out, pray there is still this one thing I can do for you.
Believe in angels and saints or even that tears can heal the tears in our hearts? Sitting on that bench, I’m small, summer afternoon at the high school pool, you’re already in exile for the first time, a boy in the water looks so much like you but dark-skinned, black-haired, a photo negative of your face and body doing tricks off the diving board into twelve feet of clear turquoise, while I stare wide-eyed from the safety of the shallow end, the dark boy disappears head first over and over again, I lose him each time, every single time my heart stops, every time it’s you and I think I’ll never see your face appear again from those depths, dive under the water and forget, now, light candles enclosed in clear glass and watch as others pray with more faith than I’ve ever had, compose letters to a man on death row because I think perhaps I can help a stranger but am convinced I cannot save even my own brother, though I’ve always been an excellent swimmer.
Liza Porter received the 2009 Mary Ann Campau Memorial Poetry Fellowship from the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Her poetry and essays have been published in literary magazines and in What Wildness Is This: Women Write About the Southwest (University of Texas Press: Austin, 2007), and Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative Process (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). Her personal essay “In Plainview” (Cimarron Review 2005) was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2006. She can be reached at email@example.com.