4/30: THE ANSWER
by Zachary Caballero
Will my niece ever love a man like me?
If I think about
If I hope
is no—then I want her to know why.
Jessi, mija, I am your uncle but before I am a man
I am a boy I am a mistake I am untrue I am a lie
I am a forgery I am a horror story I am a sorry
sorry man, a forged boy, a museum of memories
spoiling in the corner like stories stuck in time-out
I am a mistake
I keep making.
In the sixth grade, puberty arrived. So did desire.
So, so, so
many fires forged this foolish faith,
and mija, I cannot apologize
for the stubborn smoke of my secrets. But I will
I did not
want to be a Mexican boy with the Spanish name
but Mexican girls,
like you, wanted me the way I was.
Knowing this, I hid
this new affection for soft cajeta eyes.
I lied about my longing. I did not give
it a name. I grew secrets in silence.
Intimacy did not speak unless spoken to.
Eleven years old, under the wooden desks
of my world geography class,
I sit next to a girl with eyes like yours
She speaks Spanish to me like a secret
She knows I cannot keep
When no one is looking,
my right hand storms
the unfamiliar shores of her new world skin,
and this new land does not feel new,
Because our blood flows from the same running river of remembering
Because our grandmothers speak Spanish in their kitchens when cooking
Because our mothers threw chanclas in the backseat to beat us
Because our skin jumped at the sun like the gritos of our tios
Because my name told them I was a lit saint candle in their hallway—
Weeks later, when confronted by my peers
All I can do is lie
about the first time
a Mexican girl
held me wordlessly
in the dark, pretending
hands never melted
across hot sopapillas.
As a rule, I learned,
to be a cruel boy,
you must deny what you feel.
I trapped the truth in me like a dead tree.
Years later, when other men ask me
if I would ever date a Latina,
I’d say, I don’t date Mexican women.
I’d say, have you met my mother?
I’d say, I only stay for the food.
I’d say, does it look like I want to wake up with a knife in my back?
I thought, is this not what Mexican men do?
is a disgusting disease
I am trying to transfuse
out of my blood by talking
any man hide his hands
when he holds you.
Do not love a man
he is blameless
for failing to name
the monsters he created.
Do not love a man
who preserves the past
into a personal legend
but acts like the lessons
are lost on him.
Mija, I did not mean
to be so mean.
do not love
a man like me.