I'm just happy to be here.

Tag: zachary caballero


The poem can wait.
Living is the first draft to master.
Sitting down to write comes later.
A poem happens out of order,
When the door is ajar and the
Muse is asking what is for dinner.
Whether the stove is on depends
how much fire you can walk through.
Memories are sleeping, hungry giants.
You decide what stays, what goes.
The point is—
you have a purpose,
long after the poem is finished,
long before the poem began.



It’s spring in Texas and I want to name the flowers I see
whenever I’m stuck in traffic on I-10 on the way to Austin.
Me and Jeremy are two men stuck in traffic on the way to Austin,
two men awestruck at the pink evening primrose, though neither
of us can tell the other the name until we look it up on our phones.
Pink evenings are burning in every room of my mind. Everything
I remember is set against a pink evening. Even when dreaming,
I adjust the rearview mirror of my memories, altering endings until
the dark thoughts turn to alternative facts. Never look back.
I change the wild past with each flower we pass, laughing
at the new name,
we both now know.

Nobody has ever asked me why,
I believe in myself with such certainty—
And who wants the truth?


ol’ hereditary hoarder
ol’ bargain-buyer baller
ol’ dress for less loyalist
ol’ king of keepsakes

when will what I hold be
enough? If I comb
the knots out of my closet,
and I do not give an answer
to each questionable relic
wondering where my
eyes have been,
is the object
wrong to expect
my affection?

of course, i’m a sorry warden.
each object of my affection
only knows desire
as a lie in the eyes
only knows attention
as a glimpse of light—

In the dark spaces of my past
I am an awful oracle.

each object of my affection
remains a portable miracle:
not the thing itself, but
the king of the thing
two tricks
short of sainthood.
Yes, I kept something
I kept something alive
though I did not care about its life.
Isn’t this enough?



On test days, mom’s hands
woke up early enough
to build a meal

for me, three chorizo & egg tacos
tucked in foil,
the foil kept the heat
alive long enough inside
our backpacks to eat on the bus.
Mom cooks in her robe,
spoon in hand,
pan on stove,
scrambled yolk.

The spoon yearns for movement,
but speed kills the scramble so mom
goes slow, her wrist
works like visible wind
moving so slow, the moment
is almost a secret. But
I see it.


it’s been said, I sprint through sentences
with a vicious lack of precision
like my speech is a track meet
except the audience
is the one out of breath
and somehow, I have no feet

it’s been said my voice is a vacuum
where syllables go missing,
where meaning is missed
mostly due to my quicksand
quips, the quivering lips I get
when the words I find are too
heavy to lift

it’s been said, I talk too fast
like my voice is reckless behind the wheel
like my thought-to-talk process
is a banana peel slip!
Witness every listener
hurt their hip against
the cautionary wind behind
each sentence I tea-cup spin.
I remember,
a woman who judged
my poem when I was 18
told me
that if I slowed down,
articulated my words
with the worth
they deserve, then
I’d be heard.
It hurt my
so I did not listen.


when I choose to read the poem in Spanish
my voice does not know how to move.
I freeze in the aisles between the letters
Just as I did as a kid, when my cousins
spoke Spanish as fast as light vanished
All I could hear was the dark shadow
Of sound I could not summon.

when I choose to read the poem in Spanish
I sit on the floor of my room with the windows open.
I call for my voice,
the slow breath rises,
not so much pronouncing
the word, but searching
for the light switch
the one my mom turns on
when she’s cooking
eggs in the morning.


Will my niece ever love a man like me?

If I think about
the answer
If I hope
the answer
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
explain myself
to you.

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
like honey
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?
Disguising vulnerability
is a disgusting disease
I am trying to transfuse
out of my blood by talking
to you,

don’t let
any man hide his hands
when he holds you.

Do not love a man
who believes
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.


shout out to the businessmen buying broken gold
shout out to the folks who kept gold after it broke
shout out to the men who hug me in public
shout out to my pops who texts me recipes
shout out to the cast iron feeding the cast of my life
shout out of your driver side window at the top of your lungs
shout out to the crescent moons marooned under my eyes
shout out to voicemails
shout out to wanting to talk to someone so much,
you call to hear their voice, only to leave your voice behind
shout out to green lights and Monday morning traffic
shout out to black tea, honey steam, and hand heat
shout out to the voice in my head and the voice in my throat
shout out to buttermilk pie breath
shout out to my lonely homies
shout out to the play station four encouraging my solitude
shout out to the service industry
shout out to the industrious servers who laugh at my jokes
shout out to my niece, Jessi Diane Caballero, J3, JD, valentine’s day baby
shout out to the bridges I did not brave
shout out to the turtles picking up shifts for Atlas
shout out to the bargain shopping hustle I inherited
shout out to the out of reach future
shout out to Sufjan Stevens curing my sorrow
shout out to the lady bugs who trust the touch of my hands
shout out to stick in the mud that is my tongue
shout out to the generous ticket stubs of love
shout out to the depressed, us champions of effortless sadness
shout out to the sunsets stunting like Shakespearean sonnets
shout out to man behind the manuscript
shout out to the mighty pens of my friends
shout out to my left palm dividing the wind like a pretend god
shout out to my students who fish their voices from the river
shout out to the promises I will die to deliver
shout out to the verdicts I reach about myself in silence
shout out to the endless shouting of shame
shout out to the dark passenger shouting to get out
shout out to the dark side of the wiry moon
shout out to the dark bark of peppered brisket
shout out to unrequited love’s lesson on risk
shout out to my happy flintstone feet, flat as a flag
shout out to the poems put on plates
shout out to complete feasts
shout out to inescapable refuge of regret
shout out to the mouth, the pink soundboard of speech
shouting out loud what I refuse to whisper.


God bless my bluebonnet heart opening Sunday morning
Like the last laugh of wildflowers in my grandmother’s garden—
God bless the by-lines of beauty multiplying in the dark, growing
overnight, springing from everlasting ash like a blunt wrapped
in phoenix feathers. I found I do not fear what I cannot learn
and I cannot learn what I do not witness. The lesson is this:
We’re still learning to love the lessons, no matter the teacher.
I once wrote, if you lose hope, try forgiveness. But I did not
Trust the teacher, so I chose neither. In the interest of justice,
I ask that the universe reverse the grid-lock of my grief.
Though, I know this is not possible. My brother taught
me how to box-out. This was the first time I learned
to put a perimeter around the pain. As a creature who craves
the hunt of the heart, I ask for hands to hold the slippery
silver fish of suffering. Remember the rebound. In the interests of joy,
I ask the voice of vulnerability to self-govern. In every poem,
a crossing collapses and another bridge begins. Please,
despite the dark doom of destruction, accept this invitation.
Wander into the wilderness. Witness what work it is to stay.
Though, I know this is not possible. In the interest of Self-
Preservation, I ask the secretkeeper to switch to bees.
Why does what I keep never feel like honey?
The lesson is this: I cannot define what is unfinished.
“If I lead you through the fury, will you call to me?”
I sing fleet foxes in red boxers when no one is watching.
Last spring, I spent all my love making time, just like
The Eagles taught me. But what happens when I run out?
Imagine the eye of the storm. Now imagine your eyes.
Whose eyes are lying? If I want the answer to my question,
I’d give it. The lesson is this: the wood in me is not for building.
I used to borrow the best parts of my boyhood to understand
the misunderstandings, wishing, I did not know what I know now.
I used to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. Though, I know,
This was not possible. After offering my body into the wrong church’s
collection plates, my lover tells me, I am no longer a safe-space.
The teacher taught me: whatever I gave, I took away. Like a carousel
of untold truths, I spun my tongue away from the end. In the interests
of time, I ask that the clock restart. I ask for one hand to join my hand
and hold whatever part of my heart is most bruised. Though, I know,
this was not possible. The lesson is this: even pain has limits.
For years, all I wanted as a boy was to be loved. The world gave
me many things, but I still wanted more. First, desire, then lust,
Then greed. At twenty-five, I ask each dark seed to leave. Though,
this is not possible. The earth is strong and I am not ready yet.
For a while, I forget most terrible things I’ve done or did.
Then I remember the wild foe of my woe, guilty as green grass.
I try to mow the misery growing into a sanctuary city.
Do not pity the fool forever failing to find the spark in the dark.
Though, I know this is not possible, I still bless my bluebonnet
heart opening up, like a faucet I fixed in the dark. God bless
The lessons I am still alive to live through. At twenty-five,
I have lived through one-hundred seasons. Through every season,
I have left what I cannot forgive in the fury of the past. Is anyone
Left to call to me? Though, I may not always answer.


This line is late. Weeks overdue. None of my thoughts are new. It is what it is.
The laws of loneliness are fixed stars in my constitutional constellation.
I am most free in a dream where I outdo death. Sleeping, the dreamy version of me drags his feet across the tops of the peculiar pine trees pissing off the power lines. When I say I am most free, I hope you hear how little I hold. I was told to put a pot on the past, Wait, then laugh at the steam. Levitate, levitate, levitate. This earthbound body comes dressed in stubborn smoke. In this song of hope, every lyric is moonbound. Name a scar the sky cannot solve. Spring has sprung on schedule but no one is here to smell the jasmine breeze with me. The moral of this moment missed its deadline.
Whether or not my faith blossoms, the season to show up has arrived. April can be the cruelest of dance floors, but today I abandon the rules of gravity-disguised-grief. For the sake of my ankles, do not ask me about anchors. Give me balloon bravery. Can I be a kite the sky keeps? I wish I had more to give than just my body. To date, Ask any woman I loved if I’m down to earth. They’ll tell you how I write poems for, to, or about the sky, but never for, to, or about them. I wish I had more than hurt to hem for them, but to tailor the terror of my affection is a lesson I left behind in the grinds of midnight. Reading Robert Bly aloud, I say, is there enough left of me to be honest now?
I’m afraid the answer lies, inside my body, scraping the paint off my walls.
Nobody but me can fix the hollow frames of the rooms I groom my shame in.
Hesitate. Hesitate. Hesitate. I place the sky back inside myself. Like a Magritte brush stroke, I am most free when I break all the rules of my body. In a dream, I raise my arms like wings though I do not move them. What happens if I never wake? The word I’m looking for is transcend. Yes, watch me transcend into some moonbound mystic meant to illuminate the intricate energy of the universe with every poem I visit. If love asked me to say her name, I’d say I am not ready. No, I haven’t failed at love. I haven’t succeeded either. If love asked me to let go, I’d hesitate. Inside my head, Ghosts of lovers leave their names in my throat like an anchor I didn’t ask for.
It is what it is.


Watch me create a moment.
Lonely vibrations jumping
out the bag of my bones.
Home alone as karaoke king,
my magic
stays unknown.
Rhythm is an invitation,
the breathing pattern of my lungs
stays undisclosed,
& all I know is
joy, like air, is unavoidable.
both carve their own space
both fill the space they make,
emptiness giving me shape,
Elation shaking my hips
French-kissing the chorus
I’m breaking all the rules.
Give me joy, give me pain.
Suffering is a slow song
everyone wants to shuffle gone.
Don’t make me the DJ.

Inside of me, a need for
repeats, repeats, repeats.
On my birthday, my shirt says
SAD SONGS, because
sad songs are my weakness,
because pain is a place too,
not unlike a dance floor, or
my forehead spinning,
skin vicious wood splitting
sweat leaps off me,
like light jumping
off disco balls,
the need to shine
craws through
the dark room of my past,
also a dance floor,
where each body
orbits like an heirloom,
beating hearts for tennis shoes,
walking through
unavoidable echoes
where hopeless is
the opposite of rhythm,
something that throws
you off by letting something
else in.
What if,
what if joy and pain
are both unavoidable
What if
emptiness is a shape-shifter?
Can I still kiss suffering
with a smile on my face?
I’m breaking all the rules.


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—