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Michael Torres



Summer called for it. Miguel said

to his brothers: What are you

little bitches waiting for?—tossing


the gloves onto the front lawn.

In 8th grade, what Miguel had

I wanted: girls hovering close like kids


to a lit Christmas tree; the ability

to bloody a boy in one swing. The yard

became a ring. No bell or timer. Just us


and his brothers, yanking the gloves up

their skinny arms, lacing them

tight with their teeth, talking shit


between knots. Calling each other

putos like hocking loogies until

our mothers called us in to eat.


Juan was ten. Brian, two years younger,

and not a good listener. You know

how it goes: Brian swings like a carnival ride;


Miguel yells, Keep your hands up

and, You better not cry. That summer

I learned men are born from torn muscle tees,


sharp teeth, and pink scars on smooth faces.

There, motor oil combed over the lawn,

Bud cans crunched sunlight into silver


blades, and sweat slipped along foreheads

like commas between every other word

those boys, desperate to leave kid-dom,


spat out. We didn’t want to stop. Years later,

Miguel would go to juvie for breaking

another boy’s jaw. Police photos of his knuckles


and all his homies proud. Brown boys of July,

bobbing, blocking from getting bombed on.

Swift with a sharp jab. No one told us


we moved with such grace, or that passion

didn’t have to be violent. Then, a long arm

through a target in the air. Brian on his back,


rising before Miguel got there first. I thought

I too could be tough enough, transfer that,

somehow, into a confidence for the girls


of high school Spanish class who knew

only the answers to last night’s homework.

Once, after helping him in with groceries,


Miguel told me how, at Food-4-Less,

a condom slipped from his father’s wallet

at the check-out line. How his father winked


at the cute cashier when he picked it up,

and said to his son, Cuz you never know.

Miguel laughed and I couldn’t tell if he meant it.


What choice did I have then but to wring

laughter through my throat? That summer,

I learned laughter is a type of leaving. Maybe


that’s not what we wanted. But if our mothers

called us in for dinner, we stopped hearing them.

The lights came on around us, inside each house


on our block. And we just stayed there. Laughing,

shouting, and swinging at the swelling eye

of the evening, closing it for good. Not even


our fathers, who approached the doorway

to stare with their arms crossed, but said nothing,

not even they could get us to come back in.



Just because I don’t say love

doesn’t mean it doesn’t stir


inside me. I’m too young

to think it brings anything


besides problems—but it’s 2AM

in the donut shop parking lot


and Diana’s smoking. I don’t care

for any. I sip hot cocoa, I devour


a bear claw. A night this quiet means

my homies are elsewhere, leaving me


unfolded. Diana and me, we have this

game: If you could be anything else,


what would it be? I’ve been waiting

for her. Her kissing lips blow smoke.


I’ve been the moon. I’ve been a coyote

on a hillside, howling at myself. Finally


she says, Cactus, and turns to exhale

away from us. I know why, I start


but stop. She socks me anyway, because

it’s true. I imagine needles on a plant


that also blooms flowers. What men teach

boys to be, girls witness as well. We want


no one to know us. But here we are.

Diana reaches for her pack, passes me one


I decide to take. Lighter in her hand, cigarette

like a flag planted between my lips. Tonight,


what country does my body belong to?

I hear the hornblare of a distant train


neither of us can see, and I want to be it, too.

I want to be here, with her, and far away. Alone,


and unquestioned, with my homies. And if

there is a word for what it is I am, it stirs


in my gut, I assure you. Diana spins the wheel

into fire, wraps a hand around the flame.


Holds it there. What did I know

how to build except something between


myself and the world? I’ll get close.

I’ll stay there longer than I should,


long enough for her to see me in this light.



Nothing in my life was crooked or broken.

Or potholed. Not haggard or tired. Not poor

and unfortunate. Nor merely lucky. No one’s

father returned from work with calloused palms

every evening. No one got to where they were

in life with the help of a new-to-the-area teacher,

who stopped at nothing until our dreams came

to fruition. Please. Our parents paid for those

university tours. On weekends, we went out

like families do. The zoo, science museums.

Summers, my parents said I love you, leaving me

at camp where I earned badges spinning twigs

until sparks spilled out. In September, no one

came to class with torn or tattered clothes.

No one got beat up for being less than. Please.

Boyhood was a ballad. Our parents sang

when they bathed our brothers. No one

became what this world carved out of desperation.

When it rained, we got picked up from school.

At home, a change of clothes on our beds. Yes,

we all had our own beds. Yes, each of us had

our own room, as well. We made boats

out of egg cartons. There were no gunshots

or helicopters to stop us from sailing those ships

along the curb’s current. With the world ahead,

we opened our small yellow umbrellas,

some sudden burst of sunlight to walk right into.

-from AN INCOMPLETE LIST OF NAMES (Beacon Press) selected by Spring 2023 Guest Editor, Gerard Robledo

Michael Torres is a VONA distinguished alum and CantoMundo fellow. In 2016 he received his MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato, was a winner of the Loft Mentor Series, received an Individual Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, and was awarded a Jerome Foundation Research and Travel Grant to visit the pueblo in Jalisco, Mexico where his father grew up. In 2019 he received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and The Loft Literary Center for the Mirrors & Windows Program. A former Artist-in-Residence at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France as well as a McKnight Writing Fellow, he is currently a 2021-22 Jerome Hill Artist Fellow.


His first collection of poems, AN INCOMPLETE LIST OF NAMES, (Beacon Press, 2020) was selected by Raquel Salas Rivera for the National Poetry Series, named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2020, and was featured on the podcast Code Switch.

His writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Best New Poets 2020, The New Yorker, POETRY, Ploughshares, Smartish Pace, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Georgia Review, The Sun, Water~Stone Review, Southern Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Poetry Northwest, Copper Nickel, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The McNeese Review, MIRAMAR, Green Mountains Review, Forklift, Ohio, Hot Metal Bridge, The Boiler Journal, Paper Darts, River Teeth, The Acentos Review, Okey-Panky, Sycamore Review, SALT, Huizache, online as The Missouri Review’s Poem of the Week, on The Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith.

Michael was born and brought up in Pomona, CA, where he spent his adolescence as a graffiti artist. Currently, he teaches in the MFA program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and through the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop.

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