Confessions: My Father, Hummingbirds, and Frantz Fanon

Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Every effort is made to bring the colonised person to admit
the inferiority of his culture...

—Frantz Fanon
And there are days when storms hover
Over my house, their brooding just this side of rage, 
An open hand about to slap a face. You won't believe me

When I tell you it is not personal. It isn't. It only feels
That way because the face is yours. So what if it is the only
Face you've got? Listen, a storm will grab the first thing 
In its path, a Persian cat, a sixth grade boy on his way home 
From school, an old woman watering her roses, a black
Man running down a street (late to a dinner with his wife), 
A white guy buying cigarettes at the corner store. A storm
Will grab a young woman trying to escape her boyfriend, 
A garbage can, a Mexican busboy with no papers, you. 
We are all collateral damage for someone's beautiful
Ideology, all of us inanimate in the face of the onslaught. 
My father had the biggest hands I've ever seen. He never
Wore a wedding ring. Somehow, it would have looked lost, 
Misplaced on his thick worker's hands that were, to me, 
As large as Africa. There have been a good many storms
In Africa over the centuries. One was called colonialism 
(Though I confess to loving Tarzan as a boy).

In my thirties,  
I read a book by Frantz Fanon. I fell in love
With the storms in his book even though they broke 
My heart and made me want to scream. What good
Is screaming? Even a bad actress in a horror flick
Can do that. In my twenties, I had fallen in love
With the storms in the essays of James Baldwin. 
They were like perfect poems. His friends called
Him Jimmy. People didn't think he was beautiful. 
Oh God, but he was. He could make a hand that was
Slapping you into something that was loving, loving you. 
He could make rage sound elegant. Have you ever
Read "Stranger in the Village?" How would you like
To feel like a fucking storm every time someone looked
At you? 

One time I was 
At a party. Some guy asked me: What are you, anyway?
I downed my beer. Mexican I said. Really he said, Do
You play soccer? No I said but I drink Tequila. He smiled
At me, That's cool. I smiled back So what are you?
What do you think I am he said. An asshole I said. People
Hate you when you're right. Especially if you're Mexican.
And every time I leave town, I pray that people will stop
Repeating You're from El Paso with that same tone
Of voice they use when they see a rat running across
Their living rooms, interrupting their second glass
Of scotch. My father's dead (Though sometimes I wake
And swear he has never been more alive—especially when
I see him staring back at me as I shave in the morning). 
Even though I understand something about hating a man
I have never really understood the logic of slavery.
What do I know? I don't particularly like the idea of cheap
Labor. I don't like guns. And I don't even believe
White men are superior. Do you? I wanted to be
St. Francis. I took this ambition very seriously. Instead
I wound up becoming a middle-aged man who dreams
Storms where all the animals wind up dead. It scares
Me to think I have this dream inside me. Still, 
I love dogs—even mean ones. I could forgive
A dog that bit me. But if a man bit me, that would be
Another story. I have made my peace with cats.
I am especially in love with hummingbirds (though 
They're as mean as roosters in a cock fight). Have 
You ever seen the storms in the eyes of men who
Were betting on a cock fight?

Last night, there was hail, thunder, 
A tornado touching down in the desert—though I was
Away and was not a first hand witness. I was in another
Place, listening to the waves of the ocean crash against
The shore. Sometimes I think the sea is angry. Who
Can blame it? There are a million things to be angry
About. Have you noticed that some people don't give
A damn and just keep on shopping? Doesn't that make you
Angry? A storm is like God. You don't have to see it
To believe—sometimes you just have to place
Your faith in it. When my father walked into a room
It felt like that. Like the crashing waves. You know, 
Like a storm. This is the truth of the matter: I am
The son of a storm. Look, every one has to be the son
Of something. The thing to do when you are caught
In the middle of a storm is to abandon your car, 
Keep quiet. Pray. Wait. Tell that to the men 
Who were sleeping on the Arizona when
The Japanese dropped their bombs. War is the worst 
Kind of storm. The truth is I have never met a breathing
Human being who did not have at least one scar
On his body. Bombs and bullets do more than leave
A permanent mark on the skin. I have never liked
The expression they were out for blood.  

There are days
When there are so many storms hovering around
My house that I cannot even see the blue in the sky. 
My father loved the sky. He was trying to memorize
The clouds before he died. I confess to being 
Jealous of the sky. 

On Sunday Mornings
I picture Frantz Fanon as an old man. He is looking up
At the pure African sky. He is trying to imagine how it appeared
Before the white men came. I don't want to dream all the dead
Animals we have made extinct. I want to dream a sky
Full of hummingbirds. I would like to die in such a storm.

From The Book of What Remains by Benjamin Alire Sáenz . Copyright © 2010 by Benjamin Alire Sáenz . Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

From The Book of What Remains by Benjamin Alire Sáenz . Copyright © 2010 by Benjamin Alire Sáenz . Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

by this poet

poem

A man is walking toward me.
He is alone.
He has been walking through the desert.
He has been walking for days.
He has been walking for years.
His lips are dry
and cracking
like a piece of spent soil.
I can see his open wounds.
His eyes are dark
as a Tanzanian night