Listen to me.
You see, I’m weak, I’m dying,
or maybe I’m already dead.
Whatever the case,
there is nothing more important
than what I’m about to tell you, mijo.
every day we die,
and that’s your earthly inheritance.
We die on wedding nights
spent in pink motel rooms,
lying next to a stranger
who says they will love us forever,
our skin smelling like gentle
bubbles and twenty dollar bills.
We die while at war,
while praying for peace to return
like a Christmas ornament
we had forgotten about.
We die with catheters
pinned to us like carnations.
We die with haircuts
we never should have paid for
and with yesterday’s underwear
clinging to us like chewing gum.
We die in beds in living rooms,
in 7 car pileups, our bodies spilling
out over the road like salt over meat.
When I was a child,
I watched my mother,
your grandmother, pour small piles
of salt into her palm
and then lick it up as if she were a young,
eager lamb being fed by the hand
of a child in a petting zoo.
I watched that same woman disappear
into her eyelids and into her cheekbones,
and her stomach turned
into a pair of harpsichords,
her ribs springing from her
as if they would become wings.
She was dying, my own mother,
cancer nipping at her heels the way I had done
12 years before
as a hot-tempered child,
much like you are now, as I write this,
the way I’ll always remember you,
fighting at your mother’s breast,
your face as crimson as a gunshot wound.
I know this is tiresome,
but I may not get another chance.
Let Christ take control.
Let Him enter you.
Let Him fill you up
like salt into a shaker.
Open your heart to Him
like when you first opened your eyes.
Open your mind to Him like you open
your mouth to take the chupón.
Open your soul
just as you open your arms each morning
to be lifted from your crib.
I know you can’t possibly remember this,
the instant way you grow so sad,
your face darkened,
when you see your mother disappear
underneath bed covers,
only to reappear to you,
your nervous laughter, your smile.
I know you won’t remember,
but I do,
and this is what I leave you.
—Kenneth Chacón is a native of Fresno, California, where he spent much of his youth and part of his adult life involved in gangs and drugs. By the grace of God, he was able to get educated and escape the madness. He now teaches creative writing and Chicano Studies at Fresno City College. His work has appeared in Cimarron Review, Poetry Quarterly, and BorderSenses, among others. His collection of poetry, The Cholo Who Said Nothing, was published in January 2017 by Turning Point press. The book details the very harsh reality of the streets, yet ultimately expresses hope for a brighter day.