At work, no one has seen him or his taxi.
Newspapers read, "Juan Márquez Missing:
Any sighting, please contact family."
A few months ago, police led a trail
to graves: some broken bones,
the kind you find in times of war.
In Nicaragua, they remember him,
poet so blue and modern like Dario,
almost a song of swans about to break.
Honduras spoke of him naked, hairless,
barefoot, tobacco skin without toenails
or ears, a man of ants and stray dogs.
Two weeks ago, a boy found a body
dark as eggplant. His wife, worn and rumpled,
could not recognize the blown-out face.
My mother thinks he's deep in the ground,
sleeping with torn clothes, thick,
dank roots spreading over his limbs.
The rumor goes at night in smoky bars
he met Jesus of Nazareth, a red lightbulb
flickering on and off in the corner.
Today I heard he's a bus driver
in L.A., circling long avenues,
parks, the same hotel signs, traffic
lights, the rain that falls at night.
Around ten, a rumor goes he gets lost
in a downtown dive, drinks his shot of gin.
Don Chamba, a shoe shiner from Santa Anita,
gave me the final word the other day.
"To me," he says, "those stories don't mean shit.
By now, after all those small deaths,
he has to be a soiled shoe, a worn-out tire,
aflame, smoking by an empty highway."
This poem is published in William Archila's debut collection: The Art of Exile (Bilingual Press, 2009).
William Archila was born in Santa Ana, El Salvador, in 1968. When he was only twelve, he and his family immigrated to the United States to escape the civil war that was tearing his country apart. He eventually becaem an English teacher and earned his MFA in poetry from University of Oregon. His poems have appeared in Agni, Blue Mesa Review, Crab Orchard Revewi, The Georgia Review, and The Los Angeles Review. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife.
The Art of Exile is the recent winner of the Emerging Writer Fellowship Award from the Writer’s Center and the International Latino Book Award. The Art of Exile was also featured in “First Things First: The Fifth Annual Debut Poets Roundup” — the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Poets & Writers.
For more on this collection and Salvadorean literature check out Adolfo Guzman-Lopez's KPCC article, "Salvadoran American's Poetry Makes Amends for Silence Over Civil War."