David Hernandez

Andrew Hilton

Customer Lounge

The old woman hauled her bones
here, where they hoist our cars

and tinker with their guts.
She can’t sit still. Up, toward

the sun-washed window, back
to her blue chair, up again.

The air-conditioner rattles,
ball of phlegm in its throat.

Everything falls apart, needs repair.
She knits and the pink spreads

across her lap. Sweater or shawl,
time will unravel it, a moth will build

a hole there. You can even hear
her breathing coming undone,

its rusted bolts squeaking free.
Static on the intercom, then a name.

The old woman gets up, pays,
and hobbles out into the afternoon

where a mechanic curses, fixing
what cannot be fixed.

The Taxicab Incident

A boy runs into a busy street,
a boy who happens to be my father.
Yes he’s careless and yes here comes
the taxicab. This happened
in Bogotá, Colombia. And this:

a boy falls, a boy who happens
to be my father, fallen before
the taxicab. You know what
happens next: my existence
spoils the drama. How the taxicab

glides over my father and skims
his shoulder blades. He stands
unscathed and brushes the dust off
his clothes and continues to breathe.
Fallen differently, I’m not here.

Fallen the way he did, I am.
When the boy who happens to be
my father runs into a busy street,
I’m in the backseat of that taxicab
with my brother and sister.

The three of us, we’re outlined.
Our skin is translucent as cellophane.
When we begin to scream
nothing but nothing leaps
from the zeros of our mouths.

Such is how the future lives
without influencing the world.
And my mother? She’s the girl
hundreds of miles south, blowing
air into a plastic ring skinned

with water and soap. The flimsy
bubbles lift. Whether they are
pushed into a wall, the spikes
of branches, or the sky’s blue field,
it is up to the wind.


In the womb our skull’s not one bone
but pieces of bone. It’s plate tectonics
how they come together. It’s jigsaw.
Except here, the gap where four
rounded corners don’t quite meet.

Soft spot, it bulges when the baby
weeps, sinks when he’s dehydrated.
Mostly it pulsates, as if beneath
those silky filaments of first hair
the skull protects a heart instead.

Who hasn’t once imagined pushing
their finger through the dome,
poking the gray matter? Dark thought,
plumb on my thumb, my own scalp
shivers just thinking about it.

One to two years, the skull’s trapdoor
closes. Finally the brain’s protected.
Except here, this entrance to the theater
of the mind. Doorway for any
bad idea or influence to walk through

and take the plush red seat beside us.
How thrilling infidelity becomes then.
How sensible it sounds to leap
from a bridge into oblivion. Here:
this opening I cannot put my finger on.


There’s an armless man on a hill
eating a candy bar and we wonder

which war, what factory machine.
Looks like his shoulder’s gone too.

Looks like the sky is a blue curtain
closing in on him. There’s a cloud

gliding into his rib. There’s his hand
rising to his mouth, teeth grinding

chocolate, the gift of sugar his lone
hand keeps delivering to his mouth.

Whatever happened, he’s moved on,
wakes, showers and buttons his shirt

by himself, his hand a swan pecking
down his chest. Wakes from a dream

where his missing arm flies into
his sleeve to pay his body a visit.

Wakes and buttons down and buys
a candy bar at the store. Damage

makes a notch on us all, with some
another notch. With some it steadies

the chisel and brings the hammer
down quick, brings a lesson on loss.

Blades take fingers. A tractor makes
a girl say goodbye to her footprints.

As for the armless man on the hill,
looks like the candy bar’s gone.

He looks like a sculpture, standing
up there with a hand on his waist:

a general waiting for the enemy,
hiding his saber behind his back.

David Hernandez‘s third poetry collection Hoodwinked recently won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry and will be published by Sarabande Books in 2011. His other collections include Always Danger (SIU Press, 2006), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, and A House Waiting for Music (Tupelo Press, 2003). His poems have appeared in FIELD, The Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, and Poetry Daily. David is also the author of two YA novels, No More Us for You and Suckerpunch, both published by HarperCollins. David currently teaches at the University of California, Irvine. He lives in Long Beach and is married to writer Lisa Glatt.

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