Poem – Excerpt, II. The Knife & III. The Head from Dos

Excerpt, II. The Knife  & III. The Head from Dos

II. The Knife

The cut.
She used it as a verb,
“when we cut….”

As a girl, she survived the knife
when her abuelita challenged her, Take it!
handing her the knife,
the morning she announced she wanted to end her life,
Take it!
as the girl turned away in shame,
shame for her life and shame for admitting the pain of it
to her grandmother, her father’s own
supreme protector, mother.

Live your own life, not someone else’s–scar knot we shared.
I turned to arrive into a different language, hers.
I wanted to taste the sound, alive in my mouth,
and pull the cut closed with a song.

Years before, I let a boy slice my neck to see what it was like.
A young girl–my answer, Yes.
Luck the cut that left a need for song,
and from then on, I heard the white throated sparrow’s
four notes as my own Yes, no no no… .

The girl in Mexico watched the machete come down
on the necks of the chickens slaughtered in the kitchen,
taken squawking from the henhouse
next to the house on the roof where she and her mother and sister stayed,
feathers drifting on steamy air
and landing on stones in the street below,
roosters crowing from the chimney and gutters
of her grandmother’s boarding house.

The girl tasted the sharp burst of saliva in the mouth of disdain,
and acrid silence in the hall
where she ran the length of stairs
passing her father’s second floor rooms
shared with another woman. She,
later listed as his wife in the books, a mention
of two children, none of her own mother
whose hand she held, sometimes,
when the three–mother and two daughters–
walked upstairs three abreast.

Second language, she heard Spanish first, but learned to speak English,
and before her native tongue cleared, strange numbers
appeared on the blackboard: continuing relationship, a mystery to the girl
between languages, erased at the end of each school day
by close mother English and kitchen Spanish–
grandmother supervising the count.

The girl danced, spoke in a rush of skipping words
and counted steps, cobbled stones
and letters of her mother’s name, Rose,
and letters in her father’s name, Luis,
the same count and same broken syllables in Spanish.

It seemed to her that only birds in flight could sing
the same way in all syllables
as they trilled shapes dancing on air.

III.  The Head

The sculpture sits silent, remembering.
Visible from all directions, the head of Benito Juarez
rises from across the plane.
The globe looks out and looks back,
while being seen alone, stranded on the flats of a sprawling suburban frieze .
The sky curves away.

Mexico is within sight:
horizon unblocked on an unremarkable day,
save for the live memory
that would come darkening
as the people moved to open the lines,
and take the tracks, fully loaded, to the city.
Some remembered Juarez for what he tried to do:
Mexico, first and last.

From the five directions, people confront the monument
to Juarez every day, unmarked, fading into dusky concrete.

Behind the brow, a glorious, hidden observatory in the brain of Juarez,
sunken, old, unmoving eyes that saw and see still:
all of Mexico.  Juarez: the first to seize
property  tear Church from state.
   He did not win.
   He did not lose.
   He moved towards the doors
   and he opened them with his entire being
   like the doors of the sun.

He stood on the horizon in exile and on return
and he wrote and spoke from the sun-washed mountains.

Unheralded stranger from an indigenous tribe,
when he landed, blue/brown rock on the yellow earth,
his agate eyes breathed through the shaking desert,
Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, Sierra de Ixtlan, Sierra Monteflor,
Sierra Madre del Sud.
He saw human lives, still,
people without enough food, water or work.
He organized to be able to feed every citizen,
to feed the earth.

Benito Juarez corresponded with Lincoln.
The people knew they had a leader and demanded he lead.
From under the globe, they began to walk in the hot dust
of his footsteps and celebrate his tenacity. Even as exile
drew blood from his cause, he was not forgotten:
he counted the human number of their lives.

Iron will and golden tongue of Juarez, transmuted,
Mexico took the horizon like the sun–red warning to white-gold blare of noon
and orange swath cinching down the dark–
hunger aleved, people embraced the right to grow
a full life long, into a blue edged evening.
Mexico knew the meaning
of the cool knife of Benito Juarez’s mind
shining at the edge of day.

The Benito Juarez head
placed on the earth like a ball:
motion lives inside the monument as expectation.
Blood pumps to the veins below
and into the double caverns of the heart.

Geometry defined and defied the plane
and from under the globe, the sky curved away
and everything else stayed red, brown   beating under the ground.

It was her father the sculptor who created the Juarez head,
and he who fled, untouchable
curving path, dark star spinning away to another world.
She began to dance.

We went together to see the dome rising from the plane–
she had the same rounded sun brow, her father’s,
and the landed, other worldly sculpture–exact
replica down to the parted lips
and viewing station behind plated eyes.

Looking up around the head’s dome,
a reminder of a picture she kept in the hallway:
Luis’ wide forehead in the sun,
dark frame glasses squaring oval eyes,
cigarette smoke, the mate to a mild manner,
while bold woodcuts fell from the bone,
fingers carving fire racing across the field,
   women running, rifle butts slung inside rebozos,
   muzzles angled forward   wheat and corn forward
   smoke blowing back.   He had to look back to see.

Across the sky at sunset, the head of Juarez goldens like her skin and her father’s,
uncounted daughter, named for his mother
as if that name was enough for a blood line to cross the desert and survive
all the way to north america.

When we see the sculpted head,
the father shines.
And from her same patch of earth, close or far in time,
his absence shines.

He cut the fingers, one by one,
from the hand
that grasped
for his.

Mother held the girls
by the hand,
and when they asked where their father was, and then who he was,
she answered: his art.

He slid past down the face of the cliff
marrying twice more
then coiling peacefully at the bottom like rope
into his own circle.

He turned easily from stone carving to wood mallet
to plaster cast to paint and then back to black
and white. He said carving wood blocks always gave him
painting back, brought yearning to his fingertips.
Rope twisted to splatter paint, three wives
helped him stay alive.

Five doors at the bottom of the Juarez head,
a span secured so the globe could float
above the ground    the shape of human thought
stark on the horizon, a warning and triumph.
A human scale for Mexico.

The Juarez head waits.

Five doors to enter in
to leave through
Earth doors.

The head becomes the earth’s brow

Earth thinking in her own good time,
ready for vision to be occupied again
for the male idea to become the woman.

Juarez waits quietly for his mother, his father, the earth.

The sculptor opens the earth.

The sculptor opens the earth with every stroke of peeling air
cut from stone, held in a mold, cast back into hardened cement–
he saw the city as part of the vision
and wanted Juarez within view.
The sculptor nowhere to be found.

He landed the meteoric head,
sun and wind outside the cavernous eyes,
a notched balcony across the monumental brow.
The sculptor knows there can be no one person inside.
The daughter too knows there can be no one person inside
a political movement or a life.


Today the fire door
takes nothing in.


No more father shadow dance
threat, envy, abandonment.


Now metal door heart
is secure.

She could only trace her father’s adhering absence.
Blood and bone stuck to boots,
revolutionary wounds across time,
his leaving a replica, a larger than life skull, behind.

Cut the aorta at the neck
or flatten the vein with a boot. Stand on the neck,
as blood winds to the heart
a half breed grown under the desert
and vining to the city’s ancient aquifer.
Mexico will provide a place for her
and clear water, a daughter, not half of anything but Mexican.


I turn the lights off,
because I trust only my basic instincts now.
I reach for the handle in the dark.

I find the fire door. It is open.
Now I know the way out.

© Copyright 2024 Beatrix Gates