by Zachary Caballero

I can’t name the powers,
flowers, fish, or dishes
that give me pause, nor
the colors that draw
my breath short, and
I can’t really explain
how the sweet air
in my lungs hung me out to dry,
like a fish fried above the surface.
All I know is the voice in my head whispering
Worth it.

When I grow speechless at the earth,
my closed jaw opens on command,
until the whole world is just
a wish list I hold in my hand.
One of my students once asked,
Do we breathe in spirits?
And I want to expose
the family photo albums
developing in my throat
each time I think of home.
Hence, the guisada groan
roaming like ghosts in my
dimly lit respiratory system.
But I never told her that.
All I can think about is
All that surrounds me,
the day in which I drown,
the day in which I sound
out each syllable of my love,
with a mouthful of mud,
muddled by longing,
my lovely heart, muddied.
the sound of what I want
has always been
a flood underwater,
both the cause and the effect
of the wannabe blue in my blood.

How unfair is it
that I care this much?
What would it mean if I stopped
following the shiny shimmer of
a body I can hardly see?
What would it mean if I stopped
seeing myself in my body?
What would it mean if I stopped
my body from seeing itself?
The bathwater in my veins is the only way
I can say what I mean without disappearing.
Anchor for sentences, I’m swimming
deeper than any meaning you meant.
Yes, I have two fins, both called
I’m standing inside an aquarium
where a tower of fishes
kiss the glass, the glass kisses back,
everyone around is speaking
too loud to see the mystery before me:
the scales move like wet feathers,
I relearn
as a silent endeavor
this room has
seashells for ceilings,
my ears
peel back
sounds without me even looking,
until I find
the first wave I touched,
brushing my palm
against the simple foam.
This is when I learned to let
my touch roam,
when I knew my hands could not grow
the bones it needed, so I retreated
back towards my my father,
who brought me to the
edge of the Pacific,
when my
mother was still his wife,
when his love was won,
when our lives were one.

I forget
the color of the sea
has always been
the color of defeat.
When asked,
it’s true:
my favorite color
is the blues,
the feelings you can’t choose,
a song with the lyrics knocked loose.
Yes, the blues
aint nothing
but a good man feeling bad,
but am I good man?
Right now,
I’m eating a meal,
inside an aquarium,
drinking red wine
inside a glass
where my stained lips
kiss the brim like a gift.
I believe
a moment is most vast
when you stop trying to make it last.
The crevice of a moment
is the only river I follow.
Just because the water is hollow
does not mean you have to follow.
No, borrow its soft unbroken bones,
Slip into it like a leak, like a stone,
like a rock, like a ring, like your fingers
are flowers walking through the door of Spring.
In front of me, a man with love
in his sea drops to one knee,
slips a ring onto his beloved,
his lips ripple a promise,
all his true words
turned into a school of fish,
love again, is, the teacher,
my heart again, is, the lesson,
When my mother consoled me as a boy,
she would hold me close, and say,
I forget you’re such a sensitive boy, mijo.
I relearn
each time I vanish
off the face of someone else’s planet,
when somehow, I still appear,
letting fear go like a balloon,
reimagining the boy
whose softness
is his sword,
like instead of seeing
the bags under my eyes,
maybe, I disguise myself
with crescent moons,
pulling the tide from sea
and back to me
each time I think of my
father leaving,
or the spirits breathing in me,
or  disappearing beneath the surface,
me, and my two fins—