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Julio Marzán

Latin Music

Music that moved men like the man

forever breaking my mother's heart 

never filled our second-floor rooms,

up through whose linoleum gloss

rose our neighbor super’s beats

that made his small bashful wife

thicken makeup under one eye.

Music juicing baptisms, birthdays,

forests of enchanted rhythmic trunks,

where once a long kitchen knife

kindled an otherwise decent man’s

liquored-up madness or jealousy,

propelling mother, sister and me

down zigzag stairs, hating our kind.

Music my mother had no body for 

swayed her world unwished for me

but already sown, already betraying,

corrupting her son, a dancing man 

grown to learn our music as music

and we fish in working-class water,

violent our way of being imperfect.

Remembering Old Subways

Arctic our elevated station

where soot-black iron cars

never delivered soon enough 

heated bouncy reed seats,

thrones for my sister and me

as Mami rode gripping a strap,

on tortuous weekend rides

to closest, far-flung relations.

Our ill-adjusted Nueva York lives 

stitched by tunnels of musings, 

suspended when we got there,

resumed on night trains back,

my head drooped on Mercy’s lap,

runway to my constant flight

only to awake on coldest tracks

of distances still taking us.

Coney Island Myopia, 1956

Under blue sky’s chalk dust,

my near-sight dulls the beads 

of water on my sister’s back.

Far off, only specks glide up,

parachute down a hazy tower,

high lord over congested shore,

huge canvas of flesh strokes

under color-blot umbrellas.

Tia’s voice tugs us to return,

for chicken, from the ocean’s 

endless rock of fathoms

I was swimming to origins.

Visiting the Americano

His restored house lectures us

on his adopted New England,

refurbished antique furniture,

Quaker cans atop an ice box,

varnished stairs creaking steps

still descended by liar Puritans.

Everything he learned to want

from Anglo-Saxon blueprints

he broadcasts in drying white,

this applied American prestige

coating an implied inferior past.

He calls the paint “a better life,”

ironic code in a trace of accent

despite his Queens upbringing,

blue eyes boasting possibilities,

suggesting unlike pitiably me, 

whose black eyes must keep up 

their dumb grudge with ghosts.

Angelo, Three Weeks Before

Only forty percent heart 

pumped out his final days,

a condition beyond repair

not like this remodeled house 

worthy of these fine plates

and the gold-rimmed goblet

he now raises to his family,

his pose perfect to frame 

in polished cherrywood

like the black and white photo

that embalms on his wall 

his youth in a tailed tuxedo  

lifting a glass to his bride,

vigorous his migrant heart

primed to want the children

whose children he now toasted

on this Sunday of God's grace 

in August's last declining sun, 

as cruel, indifferent thunder 

drowns out his sincerity.

Julio Marzán is a poet with selections in numerous college texts, among them Reading to Go, Latino Boom, Literature: Reading to Write, and the past eight editions of the best-selling text in the country, The Bedford Introduction to Literature. His poems have also appeared in New Letters, New York Review, West Texas Review, Parnassus, Ploughshares, Tin House, 3 Quarks Daily, Prairie Schooner, and Harper’s Magazine, among others. From 2004-2007 he was poet laureate of Queens, N.Y.

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