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Juan Morales



You tell me that you’d be a survivor,

smart enough to stay out of the way.


I peg myself the second guy

to figure it all out,

who picks up


the key and opens the heavy door

before being swallowed up


in the undead-stuffed corridor.


We omit the promise of wasting


each other

and kiss good luck

before our fight against

a horde of ex-people


devouring toward us.

I think a thought as secret as the tiny


bite wound I hide:

I would end you

if the village depended on it.


You’d do the same

for me.



Because the elm must be lonely

in a field’s wintered landscape,

featured in the tree poems I routinely see

in a journal that’s rejected me five times.


Because the tree stands for decline

and the nobility of aloneness, I resent it.


I’ve talked my share of students out of tree poems,

especially the ones featuring a tree house they feel

guilty outgrowing. These are my selfish aversions.


I’ve cut down the evergreens, dying in the middle,

but I never thought to eulogize them.

I’m not the hippie

who offered to do odd jobs but refused

to cut them because they were still alive, man.


Maybe I’m wrong and the poems and the trees

are one. Maybe that’s why I’m afraid of them burning down

and taking me out in the process.




When you’re undead, the compatibility parameters expand.

You’re caught in the rot of your own bag of skin

with one ravenous mouth and two hands

to claw down a kill.

You now mass with others like you

and no longer worry about

first-date jitters, ordering a dish with garlic,

how long to wait before you text or call, or narrowing

the field one nervous coffee at a time.


If only old instincts could fire up brain cells again

to yearn for the one who could fall

for your unique bite wounds and scratches or look past

the dab of victim on your face

that defines the new you,

the one in a staggered gait missing a shoe.


You were once the guy she could teach

to use chopsticks, who always opened the door

or offered the crook of your arm during a walk,

who could follow her to a favorite clearing

with a blanket to watch for falling stars, but now

love starts by sharing screaming flesh

captured in chase,

playing it hungry, almost confident.


You don’t have to worry anymore about her getting tired of your jokes

when you moan out to your undead match,

the one to share harmonious wanderings

toward brain binges, the one you wouldn’t have found

in the herd unless you died first. You’ve adapted together

even if you cannot tell her how divine she looks tonight,

or how somehow, in her tattered, reanimated body, she glides.

-from The Handyman's Guide to End Times, (University of New Mexico Press) selected by Spring 2023 Guest Editor, Gerard Robledo

Juan J. Morales is the son of an Ecuadorian mother and Puerto Rican father. He is the author of three poetry collections: Friday and the Year That Followed (2006), The Siren World (2015), and The Handyman’s Guide to End Times, winner of the 2019 International Latino Book Award. Poems have appeared in Acentos Review, Breakbeats Vol. 4 LatiNEXT, Crazyhorse, Hayden's Ferry Review, Pank,, War, Literature, & the Arts, and elsewhere. He is a CantoMundo fellow, a Macondo fellow, the editor/publisher of Pilgrimage Press, and professor and department chair of English & World Languages at Colorado State University—Pueblo.

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