This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features two poems by Javier Zamora. 

Don Chepe

The war is or isn’t over, but coffee still brews, 
sugar keeps vanishing, he’s burned his uniform 
and never wears boots, his daughters 
break mirrors on him to save their mother 
when he returns waking neighbors, 
waking his grandson. Hammock is wet, 
so are his pants, the parakeet, 
a wind-up clock, his daughters in nightgowns, 
his grandson in their arms, 
his black boots don’t make towns flee anymore—

Don has always been the wrong word. Not Don
redacted addresses, .38s, clips in back-pockets. 
To see how many he’ll kill, his grandson 
throws rocks at tadpoles. One by one 
his daughters leave. Don has always been 
what his wife didn’t know how to wash 
from uniforms. His grandson is asked  
to fetch vodka when Don tries to forget 
the still-opened eyes. Not even that wakes him. 
No one can wake him. No one can cover mirrors in time. 
No one can find the scorpion in their shoes.  

Kite Flying

Abuelos say if nuns at school find out,
guards won’t let me through Guatemala. 
Rumor says they did that for Margarita. 
Wind’s so strong it rips terracotta tiles— 
one by one they break. I can’t tell anyone 
I’m going to see my parents. (I’m going 
to see my parents!) If Mom was here, 
we’d split palm sticks and I’d run 
to Doña Chita’s, buy shoemaker’s glue, 
China paper, and nylon. Church bells 
just rang. I have to ask Diosito to guard 
my way across the bean-field, past 
great-great grandma’s, over the fútbol field, 
down the road past Mom’s best friend’s. 

I wanna ask Mother Superior how long 
it takes to cross Guatemala and México. 
Diosito, please let me fly so fast, 
roofs tell stories about me. I’ve been eating 
broccoli and drinking all my milk 
so parents think I’m big. Mom and I 
would fly as long as it took the kite 
to crash, sometimes it was the neighbor’s 
avocado trees, we’d pull and pull 
till it’d break, then neighbors 
would come out and yell 
thinking we were after their iguanas. 

I don’t like to eat iguanas like Mom. 
I’m going to see my parents. 
(I’m going to see my parents!) 
On the last day of school, I’ll tell 
only my closest friends I’m flying 
to where people drink cold milk 
and put strawberries in their cereal, 
I’ll eat strawberries all the time 
and get so tall I’ll start playing basketball. 


Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).