Portrait of Us Burning

Sebastián Hasani Páramo
| poetry


If the morning scaffolds, then night prayers come.

If years ago, Mother & Father ate only rice & beans,

then we slept in one bunk bed & Saturdays were

for chilaquiles & Sundays for church—weekly buffets

& big screens, the dollar theater. We grew quiet.

If we filled our evenings with silence, they yelled.

In the car, in the bedroom, in the dining room—

we held on. We hold on still. It costs something

to be something. It costs money to breathe. I catch

Father coughing cigarettes. His eyes worry.

Like flames. His throat on fire. Screaming.

Just yesterday, he said I should work harder.

As if he didn’t break his hands enough

when I asked for more. When I am broke-

n, a fragment of him, of mother—her voice

will worry too. As if I never caught her, years ago

lighting a cigarette/caught ashamed raising

her hand, saying I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

As if she could be a better mother. As if

she never flew across the country for me,

to the sixth-floor walk-up of my depression.

She sang arrorró mi niño, arrorró mi sol, arrorró

pedazo de mi corazón & I was no longer twenty-five.

I was a boy, burnt out & afraid my heart would give

in & give me nothing. Nothing for all those years

Father whooped me with a stick, a belt, his working

hand. Oh what a storm. Him medicating his anger.

What flickers between us now. Me, sparking up

a calm. & days ago he called to apologize for yelling.

He remembers rage, when he chased me before I left

& as I climbed the fence to say I would leave this roof.

I wonder what we learned. What did we sing in our hot

breath? What did we say then? What do we say now,

holding our frustrated, flaring hearts?

Sebastián Hasani Páramo is a CantoMundo Fellow and is a PhD candidate in English and creative writing at the University of North Texas. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in TriQuarterly, Missouri Review, Kenyon Review, among others. He is the editor-in-chief of THE BOILER.

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