Joseph Rios – Golden State Highway 

Joseph Rios

Golden State Highway

The train catches up to me 
at Clovis Ave and we ride together
There’s one cloud in the sky
and it’s full of lightning. I can’t look away.
The three of us are on our way to Selma
when the first droplets of rain start falling. 
I smell them first and then I put out my hand. 
Neither of my wipers work and rain smears 
the summer’s dust on my windshield. 
It’s been four days since I had a drink
and this is the first time I haven’t felt alone. 

Brian Turner – The Drive

Brian Turner

Several years ago I did a reading in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I was lucky enough to be driven from the LaGuardia airport to my hotel in Scranton by a guy who often works with the Yankees for transportation issues. This poem comes from that drive, from some of the stories he told, from sitting there in that beautiful car and watching the world go by.

The Drive

It’s about a 2 ½ hour drive in either direction,
give or take a few, but any driver will tell you—
it’s a nonstop conversation on the way up to The Show,
and 130 miles of dead air when you’re headed back down
to Scranton, to that Triple A field in Moosic, Pennsylvania, 
where the ballplayers burn through their per diem 
at the Longhorn Steakhouse, eating alone sometimes,
their heads leaning over a porterhouse as they chew
and ponder their on base percentage, the cost
of a new set of cleats, the season slipping away, 
which credit card to put the hotel room on. 

And how could it be any other way? To watch
a dream turn blue in the rearview mirror
as the sun turns to rust in the windshield— 
is it so different for any one of us?
The way we sometimes know, so clearly,
that we’re driving away from everything
we hold most dear, the hard work, the tears, 
all that we’d imagined and then realized, if only
for a brief sliver of time—all of it, gone. 
The infielders at the edge of the grass.
The smell of pine tar. The heft of the bat.
The vision required to see a thing through.
The ball in flight. The outfielders wheeling back.
And all of it gone now. Just a stadium in a city 
on a day that once was. The past frozen in the air.
And the sound of the crowd rising to its feet,
once so electric, fading by increments, subsumed
by the silence of trees, the endless sway of pines
along the roadway, how they blur in green applause.

Joseph Rios – First Grade

Joseph Rios

First Grade

When Josefo got there, the kittens 
laid in pieces. Some here, there. He found 
dirt dusted hind parts. Black hair. Tails. 
Little feet like pinky fingers, soft velvet 
ears and bit halves of terrified faces. 
What blood remained, the droplets rolled 
away and grabbed onto the dust. 
Without wailing or crying, Josefo touched 
each of the pieces. He crouched over them, 
bent down and examined them. His hand
combed over their fur, his knees in his chest.
Josefo picked up what was left of his kittens,
ones he had yet to name, after school
and after waving away his grandfather’s van. 
Josefo buried the parts under grass clippings
in the green garbage can. His mother 
would be home soon, he knew. 

Brian Turner – The Shooting of David Ortiz

Brian Turner

“The preparation is like making a soup. You start throwing ingredients in…you move it around and just start to put in all of this information and the day you start shooting, you drink it. And then forget about it…you don’t have to be thinking about it, it’s just going to be in you and hopefully something real will come out of there. I believe in that. That preparation is the most important part.”  —Penelope Cruz

Nearly a decade ago I was in Sweden doing a book tour for the translations of my second book, Phantom Noise, into Swedish with Oppenheim forlag. Ilyse and I were on a northbound train from Stockholm to Uppsala, and I remember thinking I’d like to write a book of poems about baseball. Connected to the game, but not necessarily focused wholly on the game itself. I thought up some titles to potential poems and wrote them in my notebook. I thought I’d give myself a kind of ‘field of play’—and so I thought 27 poems would do it, as that’s the number of outs a team has before the game ends (unless the score is tied and it goes into extra innings).

I share this because for this challenge with the Fresno 15 I’m writing poems off the cuff, fresh, raw, brand new. And yet. These poems, in some ways, have long before been seeded deep within the imagination. They’ve been doing their work. Forming the soup, as Cruz describes in the quote above. These poems are alive inside of me. I often find that if I can find the right doorway in—then the poem seems to unspool outward and onto the page. I’m assuming this is how you write, too, but I really have no idea. So rarely do we get a chance to sit beside the author as she works at her desk, or as he paces the room, repeating the lines over and over until the body has memorized the rhythm. 

For this poem, I initially thought I’d begin in the bar in the very moment that the assassin attacked Ortiz, or Big Papi, as he’s known. As I mulled it over, something about that just didn’t work, even as I began to ‘see’ the scene in my mind’s eye—as if I were standing in the room like a ghost, a witness, an observer. I realized that this lens into the experience might lean more toward a study of violence, and the shock of the action itself. I’m more pulled to learn about the experience of trauma. One of the men involved in the shooting (though this is debated some), Luis Alfredo Rivas Clase, was shot to death just last month. He was known as ‘El Cirujano’ (The Surgeon)—and something about this made me think about the actual surgeons who operated on Ortiz. And so that lead to more research on the drive to the clinic, the doctors there and press conferences, etc. 

Once I had the first line come to me, the poem took off. Some of it near the end came so quickly I switched over to the laptop because my pen was too slow.

The Shooting of David Ortiz

On an operating table at the Dr. Abel Gonzalez Clinic
     in Santo Domingo, just a few blocks
from the Hotel Napolitano and the blue mouth
     of the Rio Ozama where it pours
into the Caribbean Sea, a scalpel opens the body
     so that the damage might be surveyed
and given care, attention, gloved hands and instruments,
     as a team of doctors gathers around the table
to rescue this man who pleaded for his one precious life
     before the anesthesia took him under
and into the deep waters of the subconscious, a mask
     placed over his nose and mouth so that oxygen
might fill his lungs and give him time to fight,
     so that they might study the path of the bullet,
the blood pooling in his abdomen, his liver
     in bad shape now, the lower intestine perforated
in several places, a gall bladder that will need
     to be removed, so much work to be done
as the clock cycles forward in its steady progression
     through the silent hours of the night, 
the city around them having drifted off into dream 
     while David Ortiz has slipped free of his own body, 
that 6’3” frame that carried him to the World Series 
     and back again, and he wanders through the shadows 
of buildings, he visits the men who set this conversation 
     with death in motion, who lifted a 9mm pistol
to pull the trigger in its cold blue housing, these killers
     who sleep on their sides now, curling into themselves
like unanswered questions, their bodies so fragile
     in the half-light of this visitation, each of them
whispering something to him as he leans in to hear
     what it is they are trying to say, though the gunshot
still rings in his ears, the world made silent by it, 
     and he can only watch as their lips sculpt
the invisible as it pours out of them, but if he could hear—
     it wouldn’t be the sound of these men that calls him
back into the streets of Santo Domingo, he’d hear
     the nightbirds flying over the city, that slow rowing
of their wings through the dome of light the city casts 
     over itself, and if he listened hard enough, maybe,
he’d hear the voices of loved ones praying 
     within themselves, calling out to God 
that he might live, that David Ortiz might rise 
     once more—and walk into the rest of his life.

Joseph Rios – Even at the Landscape Supply

Joseph Rios

Even at the Landscape Supply

I’m mourning my dead, again,
sitting in line with a 75 Chevy
that always smells like my father.
I pull up onto the platform scale
where I am to be measured
by a man with a flopping neon vest
and no front teeth. I ask him
what’s best for a driveway.
He goes on for a while, I think,
about drainage and tire compaction.
We settle on 3 tons of three quarter
crushed and he drops half in the bed
and half in the trailer. I want to
say something about the cloud
that formed under his scoop,
how the truck bounced as it collected
itself to shoulder the burden. I want
to talk about how it feels to step into it
and feel all that weight around you,
a four ton freight train barreling
forty two miles an hour down
Chestnut avenue, your worry
about leaf springs, payload,
and tongue weight are of no one’s
concern. It’s just you and the truck
that smells like your dead dad
and six thousand pounds of rock
you’re dropping in the backyard
of your Nana’s house to cover
the soil you just tilled. And just then
you remember for no reason at all
that neither of them have gravestones,
but you’re comforted when you see
their names in the cracked concrete
as you back the trailer into the driveway.