La Guerra Civil

Duelo A Garrotazos
—Francisco de Goya, Museo del Prado, Madrid

By Sofía M. Starnes

I

They look over their shoulder, eyes set on the exhibit
overhead; it’s wringing out their heaven.

We live off wounds, don’t we?
How will our world sustain us—

Today, half their body’s buried in the earth,
as Goya’s giants, whose clubs rained thorn and destiny

on their heads,
whose knees were water-logged as cypress knees,

and swampy.
A townline hampered the horizon: twilight eaves, thistle,

and the invisible spire;
while duelers dueled, sunsetting all at once.

Where is their beauty now, this close, calf-high
in mud, the assailed head slumped

against the assailant’s shoulder?
Whose idols grace the land with midnight losses?

Life clings to their sash-cloths, whips and hunches mortals
into one—

Half a body understands the meet, baffles
the blow yet takes it; half splices the incoming

wind, shivers fate out of a riddle.
Hour on hour, the moon soaks the weaponing wood.

II

Come, see the Duelo again: this time, the storm’s
ajar, one elbow high against the blue, arms flung

in double-ecstasy transfixed—and at the tips, garrotes.
No children can deny it: split-oaks of a late

revenue’s offense, shades marring the moss equally, and
their father’s panic at having outgrown

the house—
gigantic loss, gigantic love, into the ultimate—

Livid in our heartache
is their blood, their fever is familiar as a bull-run and

hot black coffee and anís,
and the need to be this drastic halfway through a life.

Half-lit, the sunny roofs we build,
the roofs we nail, roofs now coping only with pink

flowering walls
from where our homeplot measures.

Mercy, O Lord, on us;
mercy on these children you carefully toweled,
certain we were muddied and would again
muddy our limbs, leveling.

Mercy on the waste caking our heels—
You flake it, because dirt before death is unseemly,
because it counts only
how cleanly out of, into your house, we come.

Picking Weeds

By Eric Tinsay Valles
Singapore

Your fingers once scratched the soil
For clovers, dandelions, briar
As your mamá picked up shards of glass
On the path of her starving toddler.

The same stubby fingers bled
Clasping to a prickly border fence
In that wind-swept, dreamy point cleaving
Sonoran desert1 from Temecula vineyards.2

They later folded dog-ears
On pages of flora with unreadable names,
A jigsaw of body parts starting like engines,
Tumbling to your rebirth in Boston.

Cupped firmly, they broke the water
Of the Patapsco River3 and nimbly
Disentangled brains from briar
In an illuminated operating theater.

Your farm-hand fingers,
No more delicate than thousands in a chain,
Turned the knob and defiantly shut out wailing;
A scalpel replaced your trowel.

Did those fingers turn traitor,
With a wave dismissed your race,
Or did they heed a higher impulse
To cure the misery of all people?

In sanitized gloves, they cut clean,
Lob seed-like tumors to an icy tray;
Curled-up, healthy tissues hum
Like a tractor on the first planting day.

They recall rubbing against the prune skin
Of fellow aliens rounded up,
A malignant abscess to be excised,
Tucked away like straw for kindling fire.

Between your thumb and index finger
Rest x-ray images instead of a bedsheet.
Cancer spreads with cyclone rage, you say,
When let to fester like peat.

Thousands of fingers risk being maimed
Scaling a prickly fence to ease distemper.
Which belong to physician souls on the make
Or are in bliss counting clover?

1A desert at the US-Mexican border

2Vineyards in southern California

3 A river close to the Johns Hopkins Brain Tumor Stem Cell Laboratory where former illegal migrant worker Dr. Alfredo Quinones practices as a surgeon

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Photograph by Francisco J. Montero from Washington D.C.