poem index

The Fifth Dream: Bullets and Deserts and Borders

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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.

He discovers I have been watching
though he has long ceased to care
what others see. I ask him
his name, ask him what
has brought him here, ask
him to name
his angers and his loves.
                        He opens his mouth
to speak—
but just as his words hit
the air, a bullet
pierces his heart.

                        I do not know
the country
of this man’s birth. I only know
that he is from
the desert. He has the worn
look of despair
that only rainless days can give.
That is all I know.
He might have been born
in Jerusalem. He might have been
born in Egypt. He might
have been the direct descendant
of a pharaoh. His name
might have been Ptolemy.
His name might have been
Moses. Or Jesus.
Or Muhammad.
He might have been a prophet.
He might have been a common thief.
He might have been a terrorist
or he might have been just
another man destined
to be worn down
by the ceaseless, callous storms.
He might have come
from a country called Afghanistan.
He might have been from Mexico.

He might have been
looking for a well.
His dreams were made of water.
His lips touching
water—yes—
that is what he was dreaming.

I can still hear the sound of the bullet.

*

The man reappears.
It does not matter
that I do not want him
in my dreams. He is
searching through the rubble
of what was once his house.
There are no tears on his
face. His lips still yearn
for water.

*

I wake. I begin to believe
that the man has escaped
from Auschwitz. Perhaps he sinned
against the Nazis or because
he was a collaborator or because
he was Jewish
or because he loved another man.
He has come
to the desert looking
for a place he can call home.
I fall asleep trying
to give the man a name.

*

The man is now
walking toward a city
that is no longer there.

*

I am the man.
I see clearly. I am
awake now.
It is me. It has taken me
a long time to know this.
I am a Palestinian.
I am an Israeli.
I am a Mexican.
I am an American.
I am a busboy in a tall building
that is about to collapse.
I am attending a Seder and I am
tasting my last bitter
herb. I am a boy who has learned
all his prayers. I am bowing
toward Mecca in a house
whose roof will soon collapse
on my small frame.
I am a servant. I shine shoes
and wash the feet
of the rich. I am an illegal.
I am a Mexican who hates all Americans.
I am an American who hates all Mexicans.
I am a Palestinian who hates all Israelis.
I am an Israeli who hates all Palestinians.
I am a Palestinian Jew who hates himself.

I am dying of all this knowledge.
I am dying of thirst.
I am a river that will never know water again.
I am becoming dust.

*

I am walking toward my home.
Mexico City? Washington?
Mecca? Jerusalem?
I don’t know. I don’t know.

*

I am walking in the desert.

I see that I am reaching a border.

A bullet is piercing my heart.

Used with permission by Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

by this poet

poem
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