Respiration (Remix) by Antonio Lopez


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Respiration (Remix)

After Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Common

“I heard the city breathe in my sleep
A reality I touch but it’s hard for me to keep.”

Three barber shops cada cuadra—all Dominican-owned.
Nocturnal laundromats, two-story gallineros.
At Pepe’s Poultry, the caged animals
look through the window,
and ask me:
if I can separate the scent of their filthy plumage
with the Mickey Dee’s across the street.

In front of a sala-sized nightclub,
men slam fichas at a marble table—
a lifesize Presidente ad,
Their green bottles glisten in full-time sweat
to see “Quién va a lavar lo’ trastes.”
The women pawn-swap the hour:
a good night’s sleep
for the comas’ latest bochinche.
Their burst-fire tongues flicker the flood lights,
según broken for month—
hood Hanukkah

Yendo de compras,
I practice bachata at the Twin City supermarket
where the brown-haired cashier teases me
that my form’s getting rusty—
“Te falta levantar la pierna papá.”

Afuera, bus taillight shines the mural
of puertorriqueña matriarchs guarding a cemetery.
Police stationed at an abandoned library,
radio chatter of a homeless man causing a riot at Burger King–
“I bet you my wife’s empanadas it’s Sean again.”

The next morning is
Boricua Day Parade, where
clergyfolk pass out pamphlets, asking us
“Out of pura curiosidad, have we repented?
Dressed in Goodwill tacuches, they body-guard
the Day of Judgment in bilingual lyric.

The barrio is the first still life I ever saw.
Deja que te lo pinte:
the pueblo’s a tanktop’d militia of
–do rags, camisetas, chanclas, ATV’s—¡¿hasta ATV’s>?!
Fourteen-year old baby still with an umbilical phone,
tied to her mamá’s Sprint Plan.
“Mejor haz algo muchacha!
Ponte a leer la biblia!”
She rolls her eyes, “Ha, very funny mom.”

The still life’s shape-shifted
to a family portrait outside Miguel’s Deli.
They perch up on a 3-foot vocina.
“Raymundo ven acá,
¡Nomás que cruces esa calle!
Hijo de su – ¡Raymundo Carlos Vega!”

On a caved-in street corner,
a brother sells belts
still in their plastic wrapping,
slung over his shoulder like
hanging slabs of longaniza,
while munching on bag of cacachuates japoneses.

“I heard the city breathe in my sleep
A reality I touch but it’s hard for me to keep.”

‘Cuz on sleepless nights, when my
eyes slouch like unpicked garbage bags,
vultures pick away at the tendons of syllables,
travellin’ in critics’ circles.
Their gaze freezing me in time.

My respiration’s a two-steppin’ time-warp,
llevándome a isla y inner-city
LA to South Bronx       trapped inside this conch
of my ear,       perch up to hear the brown sea:
the decibel chops of mi amá cortando frutas,
roma tomates bulging from the Mercadito Latino’s plastic bag
sleepless bodegas firin’ enchiladas to tipsy dancers,
propane tank on its last disco
tías thinking quebradita’s a weight-loss plan.

“I can’t take it y’all, I can feel the barrio breathing
Chest heaving, against the flesh of the evening.”

Brown hands clutch the pen,
mine’s made of ink
Their’s of bars.
One’s serving a life sentence,
The other sentences for life.

Shhhh. “Eschúchela la cuidad respirando.”
The grind of tectonic plates
crashing underneath the 4th floor
of a poetry workshop.
The ground hisses from the
coiled serpent whose tongue we share.

Breathe in.
Es un earthquake
Breathe Out.
The city’s shaking real good now.




Antonio Lopez

Antonio Lopez’s nonfiction has been featured in TeenInk, The Chronicle, PEN/America and his poetry in Gramma Press, Eclectica, Hispanecdotes, Acentos Review, Sinking City, and What Rough Beast. Born and raised in East Palo Alto, California, he is currently pursuing a Master in Fine Arts (poetry) at Rutgers University-Newark. : @barrioscribe