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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.

El Mozote

The photograph leads you to coarse lines 
crooked along weathered grains 
of a wooden tablet, probably painted

by a carpenter or wood cutter; 
loops around the bowl whitewashed –
the color of clarity. Anacleta, 
 
Amílcar, Macario. Characters branded 
for a monument of wood & rock.
The morning the deer roamed 
 
the thick of the woods, panels 
of the sky capsized; the stare innocent, 
the cut unclean. The bar, the stem, 
 
the height. Cayetano, Candelaria, 
Concepcion built like a house. 
The sacristy burned 

the way wood changes to fire. 
Out of rubble fire. Femurs 
afire. Like Milton's Late Massacre
 
they’re outdated to the jury, robbed 
of their own eyes, yet everything 
is archived in the clouds. Doroteo, 
 
Filomena, Facundo. Each name 
a chamber, a chapel, fragment of a line
like an off-rhyme or a shotgun blast. 

The only movement is the movement 
of the monument. The contour, 
the black metal. You turn the page

and the family rises. No arch, no thistle, 
the town remained denuded of its residents,
many years the very picture lost in the hills. 
 
Stunning, the number of shoes, 
tricycles mangled. The absence 
of the physical grace, the cadence 
 
of a well-tuned body. The bending 
& brushing. Insects, vessel-like roots 
reaching for foliage; Zoila, Clicerio, 
 
Olayo. Lines of a child. A minefield.

Copyright © 2017 William Archila. Used with permission of the author. “El Mozote” originally appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, No. 14, 2017.

Copyright © 2017 William Archila. Used with permission of the author. “El Mozote” originally appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, No. 14, 2017.

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
S for salt, for 
spoiling crops. S 
for worse or
no choice other 
than exodus or 
a territorial discourse.
S for stretched out
in a morgue, plastic 
bags like garbage 
you discard.  S 
for stinking hog, 
onions, frenetic 
maggots laying 
their baggage. S 
for still you're flesh, 
meat butchered, bootlegged
in 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.