Phillip Larrea is the author of Our Patch (Writing Knights Press), We the People (Cold River Press), and his brand new collection, Part Time Job (Sybaritic Press). He serves on the Board of the Sacramento Poetry Center and edits the annual print anthology, Sacramento Voices.
Sunday for the Masses
Sunday smells like soapy water.
Dia de Limpieza.
Day for raising a chalice to the newly anointed
patron saint of dirty laundry.
Dios te bendigo Juan Pablo el Segundo.
Te saludo con un fuerte café Bustelo.
Today this penitent intends to scrub three toilet bowls
disinfect ten countertops in the catholic tradition
wiping away the sins of the protestant world.
Now, eyes closed and prostrate, one meditates
In tune with the universal somnambulant waves.
We wake come sundown, when families congregate
To commemorate the Last Supper –
pernil de cordero de Dios
pure de papas, y judias verde.
Thus have we always and everywhere
given thanks and praise to the Eternal
while extending our offertory plates for seconds.
We cower when they come to our tents at night. Sometimes less often- never not ever- so we do not forget our place.
We were taken by this tribe in some war past memory back in my father’s grandfather’s time. Now we belong. We are valued. Valuable so they surround us with warriors for protection. We bank their fires each morning. Children forage, women haul water from the river. Young men fold up tents for another day’s march of the army on its belly. We are the belly. Nothing of us is wasted, not even digested age. I am too old to chew, so I teach what is permitted. How to carry on. We are needed. The tribe has needs to fill. We are vessels. Weeks may go by, one no different than the other. We pretend then. Until they come to our tents at night- when we remember.
Sliver moon after first thaw is their sacred time. The season of New Battles. They select a prized madonna, freshly blooded, from among us. Each warrior fills her with seed until she is near death. She is swaddled after in soft skins, borne by all to Bruja Mother who nurses her back to life. There must be life in the madonna’s belly before Battle Season begins. Forty times have I witnessed this cycle.
Madonna calves in the barren hungry season. Our gnawed bellies are flaccid. We build a great bonfire to burn all that is dead. Here she is led to where the Brujo Father waits with his Holy Spear. It- death- is direct and swift, so revered is she. Bruja Mother holds a chalice beneath the madonna’s heart. All drink hot holy blood. Her flesh is roasted for the feast. The babe, knowing neither father nor mother, belongs to the tribe. The tribe wastes nothing.
This is how we live. How we have always lived since before memory. This is how we all die, one no different than another.
Except when they come to our tents at night- then we remember.
We dig our trenches with teaspoons
in the name of full employment.
My shirt has at least thirteen buttons.
Pants and sweater have a zipper.
Shoes laces. Diabolical. Only my socks are simple.
I undress for bed early while I still have the ambition.
How global commerce would unravel
should we revert to the practical robes worn
by Caesar, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed,
Rembrandt, Gandhi – but what do they know?
My crippled grandma could knock out five a week
between kneading dough, putting up preserves,
hanging laundry, with soup on the simmer inside
stocked with assorted vegetables from her garden.
What then would become of the poor Thais
who spend lives sewing buttons with opposing eyes?
Or those little twenty pin-needle people?
Some small army of wrap-it-in-plastic guys?
Box flatteners, box builders who pack boxes
in boxes wrapped in plastic sitting on docks
to be loaded by shore men for sailors
who will steer an even bigger boat box until
What is done is undone, stacked in department stores.
I could go on and on – perhaps I will.
We get in our cars, stop for fuel.
Another twenty or thirty cities’ worth plus
Several medium-sized countries to enforce rules,
collect all necessary fees to pay cleaning crews.
You may say it took a village to raise this child,
but only a world could fit me with this straight jacket
when in fact, I would rather just lay about in my robe.
Skip the dignity of labor guff.
He has ridden city busses ninety minutes
with two transfers for the privilege
of being pinned to his mark like a bug.
The midnight ride to put him back in his place
will be longer still.
Condiments ergonomic in a clock face circle.
His hands never stop or slow. I pace
in a tight oval on the counter’s other side
waiting for my order to be obeyed.
Flash back to the twenty-second
mile of that marathon when hamstrung
pulled to the ground like a calf
lassoed around its hind legs, I writhe.
Spectators exhort me to lift myself up
as if I could. They love me
as only a mob can love a man.
I hate them with all my heart.
So I rise.
His arms remind me of that
last mindless Road-to-Calvary leg.
Bun mayo lettuce tomato
pickle – I don’t want the pickle –
but I love him too much
to interrupt his metronome monotony.
For that very same reason
he hates me.