Dionisio D. Martínez


Did We Betray the River



Did we betray the river or did the river betray us? You’ve noticed, I’m

sure, how, under certain conditions, a ladder leaning on a wall is a draw-


bridge waiting for a sailboat that keeps delaying its journey, calling

the man who operates the bridge, layering elaborate excuses so neatly


that the man only hears one excuse: the boat’s coming, just not yet, not

while the water’s in control of the situation. The man waits—drawbridge


up, traffic on hold. Sometimes the world is all patience and silence

and there is nothing you can do to stir up trouble. The driver who keeps


a knife beneath the seat is tapping on the dashboard a song coming from

another car. This is an exception. Others are praying to their private


rivers, as if the one just ahead were not there: seeing is too easy: one

acquires increasingly complex needs, like the taste of earth just


turned by oxen who know the plow as well as a man knows his river. We

know this blue’s an illusion: the things that shelter us are colorless and


hover just so, not quite halos and not quite hats, and they can all be named

even if the names are arbitrary, even if they’re not quite words. Our boat


waits for the water to go from blue to brown to ocher, as in a Turner

vision—a realism so crude it borders on beauty, the way beauty


was meant to touch us: with its repulsive allure, its unwashed mirrors of

heavy morning fog. We have to look head-on, and learn to forget again.



                                                                                    —in memoriam: A. O.









Once a man



Once a man, always a man. The measure of a man. A shadow of the

measure. This man, a father, is hibiscus, grand oak, eucalyptus root. This


man, a soldier, is palm frond and sugar pine and cedar. This one sprouts

the unexpected branches that will be our shelter. Transmigration is


good for the soil—the pasture all rot and renewal and crooked trees with

tiny pears that (by their own admission) would rather grow upwind from


the world’s incentives. These men have heard eternity’s a cinch, but you

have to walk without disturbing this quilt of poppies and forget-me-


nots before you understand that, even here, there’s only so much room

for the restless—ivy, kudzu, wandering jew. Tough to believe in the end


when obstacles have the courtesy to step aside. This wall. This gate. This

useless row of fenceposts—each of them a man who thought he was


alone, unencumbered by the hiss and the hum of things almost grinding to

a halt, things bluffing and no one calling them on it; each post a man who


turned down offers from Narcissus himself; each man declined because

he would not bow to the drowned, unsettled face looking up at him—two


targets equidistant from the surface. Such a steadfast march toward the

unforeseen: lacking water, he reconstructs himself in the sheen of the bent


grass—closing parenthesis, reminder of the open/empty clause, chronic

pain and stance of one who prays to the patron saint of best intentions.




You’ve been sleeping



You’ve been sleeping on someone else’s pillows (your head can’t tell

the difference) and now you wake bewildered by terms like office hours


and Daylight Savings Time, fearing they are towns you have missed

on the way. You look down at the ravine. A man is planting a night-


blooming cereus in the wrong soil. You wish there were something you

could do, but the beams above you rattle when you try to speak. This is


where you stand, literally: if you move, if you so much as contemplate

walking out, and the room implodes, the ceiling—innocent byproduct


of shelter—will suffer the fate of the roof. Your place in the matter

seemed clear until you started to rename the things you could’ve had by


now if you’d only known how to want them. The man falls into the long

ravine. You try not to stare, and fasten the blinders as you did when


you passed the woman with three arms—because you didn’t want her to

know that you knew just how fortunate she was. Especially after all your


ranting against excess. You had to show her, reminding yourself in the

process, that (in an utterance beyond words) you had always praised


undeserved laughter, rivers overflowing, the entrails of a dormant

volcano scaled by tourists who take their cue from the locals. They


have no assurances or room for doubt. Just after dusk, they come down

the hard lava steps with candles in their hands, mocking a mild eruption.