serpent crown lined with marrow

Brandon Melendez

The Aztecs had eight omens that foretoldthe arrival of the conquistadors& almost all of them ended in fire.Orange plume against the moon,a burning temple & the storm of lightthat cleaved the sky. Lake Texcocoboiled up & singed Tenochtitlan downto the bone. Eventually, a mirror appearedon an ashen crane. Eventually, war horsesdescended from salt & brought with thema god with skin of abscess. What is the endif not a new fire? If not the spectacle of silverunsheathed for the first time? If not hands thatreach out in awe before vanishing?        |::|I reach out in awe before vanishinginto my father’s shoulder. My father vanishesinto a single tremor. I’ve never seen him breaklike that: a wave pounding its head againsthospital doors, demanding they spit his fatherback out. Demanding the man be brought backunmarked by grief, grayslick & glossed with bloom.This country tested my grandfather with a knifeof bone, a bottle, an endless unlit street,& finally won. I wasted so many years listeningto his stories before understanding them as historythat must survive us. It’s too late for himto hear me, I know. But I haven’t stopped trying,I’ve only started to name my grandfather.        |::|I only started to name my grandfather abueloafter he died, Jesús instead of Jess afterhe could no longer correct my Spanish.This is poor magic for resurrection. I cannotchant Jesús, Jesús as incantation & expectabuelo to rise three days later. I can practicehis name until it no longer sounds like an apology.But it will still be an apology. Music playinginto an empty room. The room fills with guitarróns,then fades. Escucha, escucha: somewhere,the distant thrum of ranchera & a bald man laughs,swings his brittle hip, curses his bonesfor their bad memory. A boy refuses to dance& he ages; cursing his perfect memory.        |::|Cursing his perfect memory for its decay,my father says childhood is a starved fog.Labyrinth of locked doors, if only he savedthe keys. If only he kept a better atlas. He oncetravelled this country to archive its scroll& scripture, to carve a space for us. He’s neverstopped, really. So how far must he go beforeit’s considered exodus? How many peoplemust know the story before it’s canon? It’s strangeirony; a historian glutted with so many centuriesthat decades start leaving him in the night.A good son, I memorize his hands, his carefuljoy, arroyo between resilient teeth, but I ama reckless historian, I get ink on all the bones.        |::|A reckless historian, I get ink on all the bones,rewrite their stillness as reliquary, mistakeheadstone for gemstone. Forgive me. If my handsstop moving they will forget where they learnedthis choreography; how they reach down time’sinfinite throat & find a spine, a snake. Salvageits tongue. Forgive me. I was born to my fatheralready mid-story & I haven ‘t stopped listening.As he tells it, there is empire before empire,history before historia. It starts with a skullin a jaguar’s unflinching jaw. Crack of stoneagainst the mountain. Moctezuma climbs the templesteps, burns copal. Quetzalcoatl appears at the treeline. Then, thunder, the smell of gunpowder.        |::|                         the storm of                 salt                                                end                                            of silver                                       hands                                 vanish                                         My father vanishes       marked by grief         countryof bone                                                        listento                                                         history               survive us                                name my grandfather                                                          abueloThis       magic for resurrectionchant Jesús                            expectabuelo to rise                                practice                                                                 apologyinto an empty room                 Escucha                              ranchera                             laughs                                   A                                   perfect memory                                   for us               the story                   glutted withjoy                     resilient rewriteheadstone for gemstone                                     I was born             mid-                                        crack of                thunder

Feature Date


Selected By

Share This Poem

Print This Poem

Brandon Melendez is a Mexican-American poet from California. He is the author of home /land (Write Bloody, 2019). He is a National Poetry Slam finalist, two-time Berkeley Grand Slam Champion, and a recipient of the 2018 Gregory Djanikian Scholarship with the Adroit Journal. His poems are forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Muzzle Magazine, the minnesota review, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Boston and is an MFA candidate at Emerson College.

Black Warrior Review

Fall/Winter 2018

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

The University of Alabama

Jackson Saul

Managing Editor
Josh Brandon

Poetry Editor
Kelsey Nuttall

Black Warrior Review is named for the river that borders the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Established in 1974 by graduate students in the MFA Program in Creative Writing, BWR is the oldest continuously-run literary journal produced by graduate students in the United States.

BWR publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, comics, and art twice a year. Contributors include Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners alongside emerging writers. Work appearing in BWR has been reprinted in the Pushcart Prize series, Best American Short Stories, Best American Poetry, PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize, New Stories from the South, and other anthologies.

Black Warrior Review is indexed in Humanities International Complete, the Book Reviews Index, and the MLA International Bibliography. ISSN: 0193-6301

Poetry Daily Depends on You

With your support, we make reading the best contemporary poetry a treasured daily experience. Consider a contribution today.