The Ghosts in My Room
The ghosts in my room sit on the dresser,
crouch in my nightstand,
kneel at my bedside begging to be heard –
the story of the first kiss or the last,
the journey of the first crossing
and the digging of the grave.
I tell them every night I’m full up on grief,
that it stiffens my pillow, drools out of me
when I dream of chasing them away,
past the hallway, the front door,
into the low tree in the backyard.
The ghosts in my room look like me
when I was young—their knobby elbows and knees
knock about like dice in a cup—
inelegant and unwise. The ghosts in my room
sometimes grow silent as if in prayer
for the resting souls of whom else I’ve killed,
as if the stillness of the curtains
and the uncertain light sifting through them
has finally lulled them to sleep, lidless and mute.
There's a poem I want to write
about the home in which I was born
back in Mexico, the bed I held
beneath me with faint smells
of birth blood.
The turtles eyeing the light
of the sun overwhelming the cactus,
the goats tethered to trees,
my weathered feet chasing lizards.
But the stories of people still living
have come to me: men with guns
roam the roads, the train tracks,
their morning roar. They brandish and stare.
Arms hurry children indoors,
As they move through
and I imagine come upon
that space I kept, the one
my mother swept and mended,
turning her back to the road
like taking a breath,
the one my father whistled
into joy every time he returned
from tilling the fields.
Everything still dusty. Still frail.
And they keep walking, these men,
to the next house to guard
something they sell, a cocktail
that makes people dream awake
so they no longer crave.
They never sleep, these men.
And nothing smells the same anymore.
When I turn off the lights,
I see the day’s roads and their dead animals—
the possum in the neighborhood,
the mass of innards on the highway—
and mourn the life interrupted this way,
by an indifferent machine adorned with lamps
that don’t illuminate but blind.
When I turn off the lights, I curse
the cars of this world, the bosses
with their schedules calibrated for greatest efficiency
and the loans that weigh the foot over the pedal
to get there now. Animals searching for sustenance
or company abstracted into nuisance.
When I turn off the lights,
I imagine I am in outer space,
floating weightless and wantless,
free of the scream of metal against flesh
that you tell me is just life.
José Antonio Rodríguez is the author of the poetry collections The Shallow End of Sleep and Backlit Hour, and the memoir House Built on Ashes, winner of the Discovery Award from the Writers’ League of Texas and finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, The New Republic, POETRY, and The Texas Observer, among other publications. He holds degrees in Biology and Theatre Arts and a Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing from Binghamton University. He is a member of CantoMundo, Macondo Writers’ Workshop, and the Texas Institute of Letters, and teaches writing in the M.F.A. program at The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Learn more at www.JARodriguez.org.
Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza is a poet, essayist, and university professor. He serves as the Associate Editor and Book Reviews Editor of Latin American Literature Today.
He has published the following verse collections: Al margen de las hojas (Caracas: Monte Ávila, 1991), De espaldas al río (Caracas: El pez soluble, 1999), Principios de Contabilidad (Mexico: Conaculta, 2000), Pasado en Limpio (Caracas: Equinoccio, bid&co, 2006), and Cuidados intensivos (Caracas: Lugar Común, 2014). His books of essays, literary research, and anthologies include: Lecturas desplazadas: Encuentros hispanoamericanos con Cervantes y Góngora(Caracas: Equinoccio, 2009), Itinerarios de la ciudad en la poesía venezolana: una metáfora del cambio (Caracas: Fundación para la Cultura Urbana, 2010), Las palabras necesarias. Muestra antológica de poesía venezolana del siglo XX(Santiago de Chile: LOM, 2010), and Formas en fuga. Antología poética de Juan Calzadilla(Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 2011).
Among other prizes, he has won: the Mariano Picón Salas prize for poetry (Venezuela) in 1995, the Premio Hispanoamericano de Poesía Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Mexico), in 1999, and the Premio Transgenérico de la Fundación para la Cultura Urbana (Venezuela) in 2009. He is a retired senior professor at the Universidad Simón Bolívar (Venezuela), and he currently works as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Oklahoma.
Latin American Literature Today begins its third year of publication with an issue that takes in Venezuelan poetry, the writing of indigenous women, and the strange worlds of fiction. We open the journal's second volume with a dossier dedicated to Samanta Schweblin, an Argentine writer whose work tests the limits between the fantastic and the real, and then we shift to the poetry of Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas, winner of the 2018 Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana. We also pause over Mapuche poetry, with a special selection of four young women poets who write in Mapuzungun and in Spanish, and we also stay up to date with the present debates surrounding one of the central figures of twentieth-century Latin American literature, Pablo Neruda, with an exclusive interview of his biographer Mark Eisner.