A 4TH GRADE DANCE PARTY IN A CAFETERIA AT 1P.M. IS MY AMERICA
file in with fluorescent sneakers
chirping across a blue-grey chess
board. adults are all at work.
i chaperone. lunch
ladies load tired pennies
into cylinders. a man
mops a corner. gym teacher
queues a clean playlist.
no child must do anything
except what music inspires.
mira, this barely lit dance
is a nation of motion. i lean
against a wall & be its facilitator
a scheduled bell rings. the children recognize
one song, then another. those who know how
form a mass & sway to the beat of a 90s hit.
more children join in this stewing of joints
& sound knowing their dances like the milly rock,
the juju, running man. even ones before
their birth like the macarena, wobble, cha-cha slide.
each child becomes another. these must be inherited
languages since movement has been our truth
i witness a song’s lyrics progress until words
everyone has memorized plays. children sing
in one mind from many voices. i need not
be a member of this congregation to be saved by it.
the next bell rings. the children have grown
with ache & understand things end prematurely.
a song, a dance, this nation. the adults continue
their labors. i file children back into a line.
lunch ladies remove their hairnets.
that man mops that corner. gym
teacher is just a gym teacher. we go
back to class & learn math or
science or a history. in the face
of what needs change in this
country, i’m still a
FROM A PHOTO BOOTH AT GREENSPOINT MALL
is surveillance-gray footage of a little brother & big sister
smushed cheek to cheek, the pixels around their dimples
grainy as gravel, fingers v-signed, proof of any relation in
their bestowed mother’s lips that would be belly-pink like
the innards of conches had the technology been accessible
to colorize this 8.5x11’’ monument to an afternoon whim
of wandering among facades, sipping from a shared cup
of strawberry soda & never affording any shoes or books.
but yes, $4.95 to make timeless timelessness, just focus
eyes camera-ward, follow the hollow underside of a
ziggurat cascading into a peephole silvering with
potential. hold that breath, invoke a smile,
be still a moment, be a people in an x-large Looney Toons
shirt or black tank top & bleached jeans, tattooed
eyeliner, blonde highlighted hair, mauve mouthed &
dark necked, as though later the big sister will drive a
poppy red sedan that clunks up concrete freeways, radio
singing nuhnah nuhnah & the little brother will too. a
giggle. a sigh. a bulb ignites. an eye shuts. oxygen
becomes carbon dioxide again. what could not be done
in color can be expressed by adding stickers (a cartoon
heart, birds chewing ribbon, clouds, a rainbow) framing
two faces conjoined by shadow. neither sibling blinked,
so there’s four pupils staring at what must be a version
of themselves in some other time in some other place
from a bent document noting a tenderness in the blood.
BEING STUCK IN TRAFFIC WITH MY BIG SISTER ON I-45 S
AT 6 P.M. IS MY AMERICA
can the radio play hip hop,
then cumbia, classic
rock, then pop oblea sweet?
about a war, then prayer,
swearing, someone asking
why love can hurt so much.
is it cuz
between wanting someone
& them wanting you back
is so vast, so great?
i think it’s this gulf of yearning,
this tectonic plate of want,
reminding us not everything
in short lives can be fulfilled, yes.
& starting anew
takes more life?
oh for sure. it’s static
interrupted by someone speaking
in another language. then silence.
look outside the car window.
the freeway wall
forms a frame bottom
to an infinite painting.
the sky’s a bed of lavender
rusted by dying sunshine.
aren’t those clouds up there
actually loose feathers
to a big bird who takes
people away with too many
just a graveyard
you’re supposed to
hold your breath.
i’m looking equally
at the other drivers.
we all face forward.
is every windshield
a pair of glasses into
a soul’s polyester
interior littered with
receipts & cups?
every driver’s a city
for what’s needed.
car’s its own riddle.
like this grey sedan.
look! the bumper has
stickers of a team's
flag a radio station
that doesn’t exist or
maybe bible verse?
& one that says if you
can read this, suck my
yes! the bumper is truly
to the soul.
is the soul itself.
now look! in the rear
windshield, a kid plays
with die-cast toy cars
on the back rest.
what a film he composes!
one sleek car races another.
a fire truck crashes
into a spaceship.
there's even a convertible
zig zagging between the
headrests & seatbelt
straps. his mouth
will i ever be so lucky?
i don’t know. maybe
the radio sings through
old men. maybe
the radio speaks in
still, he’s created this
universe of joy within a
city of waiting within
a state of waiting
within a nation of violence
within a continent of theft
within this last world. how
can we not be so lucky? tell
me what’s right out
an atmosphere blotted like
fingerprints on a cake. some
to birds we’re rows of
smelly cans & broken glass.
that’s good. here’s the exit.
this stream of consciousness
tributaries. we’re breaking away
from this mind.
were we floating in a river of
concrete, growling engines,
first it’s hot then
it’s too cold. booty
& back so stiff, i
want to be
well, the world persists
despite our desires.
we’re all sitting &
trying to escape our
how do we achieve what’s
next in our destinies?
we enter another sleep. we
won’t remember this dream
when we awake.
-from El Rey of Gold Teeth (forthcoming October 2023, Hub City Press), selected by Spring 2023 Guest Editor, Gerard Robledo
Reyes Ramirez (he/him) is a Houstonian, writer, educator, curator, and organizer of Mexican and Salvadoran descent. He authored the short story collection The Book of Wanderers (2022), a 2023 Young Lions Fiction Award Finalist, from University of Arizona Press’ Camino del Sol series and the poetry collection El Rey of Gold Teeth (2023) from Hub City Press. His latest curatorial project, The Houston Artist Speaks Through Grids, explores the use of grids in contemporary Houston art, literature, history, and politics. Reyes has been honored as a 2020 CantoMundo Fellow, 2021 Interchange Artist Grant Fellow, 2022 Crosstown Arts Writer in Residence, 2023 Dobie Paisano Fellow, and awarded grants from the Houston Arts Alliance, Poets & Writers, and The Warhol Foundation’s Idea Fund.
Reyes won the 2019 YES Contemporary Art Writer’s Grant, 2017 Blue Mesa Review Nonfiction Contest, 2014 riverSedge Poetry Prize and has poems, stories, essays, and reviews in: Indiana Review, Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology, Infrarrealista Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, december magazine, Arteinformado, Texas Review, Houston Noir, Gulf Coast Journal, The Acentos Review, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere.
Reyes has also been a finalist for several honors, contests & prizes, including: Hub City Press’ 2021 New Southern Voices Poetry Book Prize; 2021-2023 Houston Poet Laureate; 2021 Jesse H. Jones Dobie Paisano Fellowship; Florida Review’s 2021 Jeanne Leiby Chapbook Award; Cosmonauts Avenue's 2018 fiction prize; december magazine's 2018 poetry prize; Indiana Review’s 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest; Texas Review Press’, Iron Horse Literary Review's and Gold Line Press' poetry chapbook competitions; Orison Books’ 2019 Prize in Fiction; and PANK’s Fiction Book Contest.
His other distinctions include: an Honorable Mention for Gulf Coast Journal’s 2022 Poetry Prize, Texas Observer’s 2019 Short Story Contest; Santa Fe Writer’s Project’s 2019 Book Award Long List; and Semifinalist for the 2021 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, Tupelo Press’ 2021 Berkshire Prize, Wisconsin Poetry Series' 2021 Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prizes, YesYes Books’ 2019 Fiction Open Reading Period and the 2020 OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Prize for Poetry.