poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

William Archila was born in Santa Ana, El Salvador, in 1968, and he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1980. He received an MFA from the University of Oregon. Archila is the author of The Gravedigger’s Archaeology (Red Hen Press, 2015), winner of the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize, and The Art of Exile (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2009), which received a 2010 International Latino Book Award. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

The decade the country became known throughout the world

The ground cracked
like the rough pit of a peach
and snapped in two.
The sun behind the mountains
turned into an olive-green glow.

To niña Gloria this was home.
She continued to sell her bowl of lemons,
rubbing a cold, thin silver Christ
pocketed in her apron. Others 
like Lito and Marvin played 
soldiers in the ruins of a school,
running around mounds of bricks,
                   shooting chickens and pigs.

No one knows exactly how
a light film of ash appeared
on everyone’s eyelids
early in the morning
or how trout and mackerel plunged from the sky,
twitched, leaped through the streets.

Some say the skin of trees
felt like old newspaper, dry and yellow.
Others believe the soapsuds
washed aside in rivers
began to rise in their milk.

One Monday morning, a rain fell 
and the cemetery washed into the city.
Bones began to knock 
and knock at our doors.
Streets became muddy rivers
waiting for bodies to drop 
among piles of dead fish.

In a year, everyone stabbed flowers on a grave.

This explains why women thought 
and moved like lizards under stones,
why men heard bees buzzing inside their skulls,
why dogs lost their sense of smell
sniffing piles of rubble to get back home. 

In a few years, no one cared 
about turtles banging their heads against rocks,
bulls with their sad, busted eyes,
parrots that kept diving into creeks,
the dark swelling of the open ground
or at night a knife
stained the kitchen cloth.

Instead, niña Gloria swept the ground,
the broom licking her feet at each stroke.

At the bus station, Marvin shined 
military boots, 
twenty-five cents a pair,
reduced his words to a spit, a splutter 
of broken sentences 
on shoe polish, leather.

In the evenings, he counted coins 
he’d tossed in a jar, then walked home,
one step closer to the cracked bone
clenched in the yellow jaw of a dog.

Copyright © 2009 William Archila. Used with permission of the author. “The decade the country became known throughout the world” appears in The Art of Exile (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2009).

Copyright © 2009 William Archila. Used with permission of the author. “The decade the country became known throughout the world” appears in The Art of Exile (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2009).

William Archila

William Archila

William Archila is the author of The Gravedigger’s Archaeology (Red Hen Press, 2015), winner of the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

by this poet

poem
Somewhere in Nicaragua or Guatemala,
it doesn’t matter, his wings ache
from so much wax, so much discord 
in his father’s voice, how once 
he fled the wards of the state
through air & sky; so simple
and so exact he fell from the clouds,
yet no one cared; not the hospitals,
not the impoverished nor the
poem

Behind the cornfield, we scaled the mountainside
            looking for a foothold among the crags,

rooting out weeds, trampling on trash,
            the trek as if it were a holy crusade:

bodies armored, mounted on horses,
            banners fluttering in the air.

poem
At daylight, he surrendered to the gutters’ 
thick cirrhosis, his trajectory 

half awake, half anvil from the glass to the killing floor
I was raised in, each thin thread tethered 

from the root of a nicotined tooth 
to the rusted bars of the slammer.  I couldn't tell you why 

Felix the Cat came to mind,
2