Summer, home: A Poem by Joel Garza


Daniel was the son
raised in the valley. A bucket for a
swimming pool. Air conditioning was
hosing down the cement porch,
waiting for a breeze. Him and Mom,
Granny and Papá Romulo.
Then Dad returned from the war. That’s all
I know of the war.
__________His return.

Raul was raised in San Antonio.
Daniel & Raul,
speaking Spanish, singing boleros,
eating raspas, and parting their hair on the side.
Los hijos de Junior y Noelia.
Tan joven, tan guapo.
They knew the valley, they knew
the language.
__________I came late. Learned late.

I came each summer
to Granny and Papá Romulo.
Dad in the reserves, Mom with us.
Two weeks to watch
__________and learn late.


504 Fairgrounds Road
Rio Grande City, Texas 78582

I climbed the salt cedar
each morning. I could see
Roque Guerra school,
where Mom learned
English. Dogs unleashed,
dust and dress shops
and the panadería.

Papá whistled. I climbed down.
Past the cement porch,
past Granny hanging sheets
freshly wrung, flapping and damp,
between the pomegranate trees,
Javi watching from
the other side of the chain link fence,
(sin hermanos, pobre de Javi)
to a row of bricks in the backyard,
to Daniel, Raul, David, Martita,
and Papá Romulo. He had made
us slingshots.

He sets up the cans, his heavy step
crunching mesquite pods.
We take aim.
Pebbles ding the bricks,
bounce in the dust,
Javi watches from
the other side of the chain link fence.
Pull, aim, miss. Calmate, mi’jo.
Pull, aim, miss.
Fijate, mi’jo. His weathered thick hand
on the slingshot now. Dress shirt and
dress pants, thick lenses and Three Roses
pomade, but a face and a gaze pure Olmec.
Fijate, mi’jo.
____________________One pebble,
____________________one shot.
____________________A can falls.
Papá Romulo, stepping heavily,
back to his fading aluminum
lawn chair. Grinning, rolling a Bugler.

(The bricks were put to better use
when the house burned down on
my eleventh birthday in 1980.
____________________I was there.

Papá Romulo learned to make do
with his left hand after the stroke
in late May, 1985. Raul led us
down the hospital hall, fighting back
tears in his cap and gown.
Papá Romulo, face drooping,
voice powerful & phlegmy:
‘toy orgulloso en ti.
Yo sé, Papá, Raul nodded, Yo sé.)


I haven’t been to 504 Fairgrounds
in twenty years. It’s not ours
anymore. I drive
past it, past the peyote dealer,
past the bougainvillea
and unlocked trucks
and picket fences
and hand-painted signs for
businesses long gone.
All the way to the cemetery
on the left. Where my cousin
Netito patted my shoulder,
as we carried Papá in his casket.
Where Mom and Tío Israel cried
and sang. Where the dust covers
plastic flowers and prayers
etched in stone. Where I went
the day after Thanksgiving
in grad school (just
to pay respects) and wound up
with my Tía, slicing apart
a hose tucked in the weeds,
to siphon gas from her car
to fill the borrowed lawn mower.
No podemos leave it así, mi’jo.
Tan dusty, tan sucio, como un parking lot.
The mower kicked up whirlwinds.
We stood under the mesquite.
She cried, and I slapped my
jean jacket clean for
the drive back to Dallas.


My closet has vintage
skinny ties & guayaberas,
safe from the fire. I still wear
the gold Virgen they put
around my neck in 1982.
I’ve never removed it.
I look at the veins in my hands,
more pronounced each year,
and see Granny’s veins,
her olive skin. Your blood
is bouncy, I’d say, poking
her veins and laughing, my head
on her shoulder, her hands
on my lap.
__________Our hands, our blood,
__________write now, right now.


They lied once a year,
Granny and Papá Romulo,
each April inflating
their income for the honor
of paying taxes. Their city is named
after a river that they never crossed.
They lie side by side,
under a mesquite tree
at the far end of
Fairgrounds Road.


This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

Filed under: #31DaysIBPOC, Blog

About the Author

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English teacher. Writer. Reader. Photography hobbyist. Daughter of immigrants. Wife to best friend. Mom to three Jedi-in-training. She/her.


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