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serpent crown lined with marrow

The Aztecs had eight omens that foretold
the arrival of the conquistadors
& almost all of them ended in fire.
Orange plume against the moon,
a burning temple & the storm of light
that cleaved the sky. Lake Texcoco
boiled up & singed Tenochtitlan down
to the bone. Eventually, a mirror appeared
on an ashen crane. Eventually, war horses
descended from salt & brought with them
a god with skin of abscess. What is the end
if not a new fire? If not the spectacle of silver
unsheathed for the first time? If not hands that
reach out in awe before vanishing?

I reach out in awe before vanishing
into my father's shoulder. My father vanishes
into a single tremor. I've never seen him break
like that: a wave pounding its head against
hospital doors, demanding they spit his father
back out. Demanding the man be brought back
unmarked by grief, grayslick & glossed with bloom.
This country tested my grandfather with a knife
of bone, a bottle, an endless unlit street,
& finally won. I wasted so many years listening
to his stories before understanding them as history
that must survive us. It's too late for him
to hear me, I know. But I haven't stopped trying,
I've only started to name my grandfather.

I only started to name my grandfather abuelo

Cursing his perfect memory for its decay,
my father says childhood is a starved fog.
Labyrinth of locked doors, if only he saved
the keys. If only he kept a better atlas. He once
travelled this country to archive its scroll
& scripture, to carve a space for us. He's never
stopped, really. So how far must he go before
it's considered exodus? How many people
must know the story before it's canon? It's strange
irony; a historian glutted with so many centuries
that decades start leaving him in the night.
A good son, I memorize his hands, his careful
joy, arroyo between resilient teeth, but I am
a reckless historian, I get ink on all the bones.

A reckless historian, I get ink on all the bones,
rewrite their stillness as reliquary, mistake
headstone for gemstone. Forgive me. If my hands
stop moving they will forget where they learned
this choreography; how they reach down time's
infinite throat & find a spine, a snake. Salvage
its tongue. Forgive me. I was born to my father
already mid-story & I haven 't stopped listening.
As he tells it, there is empire before empire,
history before historia. It starts with a skull
in a jaguar's unflinching jaw. Crack of stone
against the mountain. Moctezuma climbs the temple
steps, burns copal. Quetzalcoatl appears at the tree
line. Then, thunder, the smell of gunpowder.


headstone for gemstone

Brandon Melendez

Black Warrior Review

Fall/Winter 2018

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