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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.

Three Minutes with Mingus

When I read of poets & their lives,
  son of a milkman & seamstress, raised
in a whistle-stop town or village, a child
  who spent his after-school hours deep
in the pages of a library book, I want to go
  back to my childhood, back to the war,
rescue that boy under the bed, listening
  to what bullets can do to a man, take him 
out of the homeland, enroll him in school,
  his class-size ten, unfold the fables 
of the sea, a Spanish galleon slamming up 
  & down the high waters. This is why
I write poems, why I prefer solitude 
  when I listen to your lazy sound 
of brass on the phonograph. You give 
  language to black roosters & fossil bones, 
break down phrases between the LA River
  & the yellow taxi cabs of New York.
I picture you in Watts, the 240-pound
  wrath of a bass player building up steam,
woodshedding for the strictly segregated
  hood, those who seek a tiny shot of God,
digging through hard pan, the hammer’s
  grunt & blow. I need a gutbucket of gospel, 
the flat land of cotton to catch all those 
  Chinese acrobats bubbling inside your head. 
When I think of the day I will no longer 
  hold a pencil within my hand or glance 
upon the spines of my books, I hear 
  Picasso’s Guernica in your half-choked 
cries, a gray workhorse lost in a fire’s 
  spiraling notes, a shrieking tenor sax 
for the woman falling out of a burning house. 
  I want to tell you if I wrote like you pick 
& pat in Blues and Roots, I would understand 
  the caravel of my childhood, loose
without oars or sails, rolling on the swells
  of a distant sea. That’s all I got, Mr. Mingus.
I give you the archaeology of my words,
  every painstaking sound I utter when I come
to the end of a line, especially the stressed
  beats of a tiny country I lost long ago.

Copyright © 2015 William Archila. Used with permission of the author. “Three Minutes with Mingus” appears in The Gravedigger’s Archaeology (Red Hen Press, 2015).

Copyright © 2015 William Archila. Used with permission of the author. “Three Minutes with Mingus” appears in The Gravedigger’s Archaeology (Red Hen Press, 2015).

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
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
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
poem

When it comes, my father’s presence
is behind the weight of a country
I’ve lost, like I’ve lost him, on his way out
over the hill, flooring his decrepit wagon,
exhaust pipe exhausted, which brings
me to bed, to the sleep of a sunken log
at the river’s bottom, and my father is in it,