‘The Brown Body Effect’ and Other Selected Poems

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By Eloísa Pérez-Lozano

“Whenever clients meet me, they say I have soft hands and I hate it.”

But why should you?

Do you feel like less of a man

because you don’t have

calluses of manual labor

on your hands, in your soul?  
 

Then why did you go to school?

Do you regret years of studies

to earn a degree that delivered

you into a white-collar world?  
 

A world where your hands

navigate screens and keyboards

not contours of meat

or insides of sinks.  
 

Where your fingers coax a copier

to print by pressing buttons

not reach through branches and leaves

to feel for fruit in its prime.  
 

Where your arms stay mostly still

against your sides during the day

not always moving and sweating

amid concrete, cranes and orange cones.  
 

What you don’t see is they wish

calluses weren’t vital for survival

They wish for the schooling you scorn

and your house in the quiet suburbs  
 

They wish they had your hands

your smooth skin a reminder

Of their children following your path,

their hands kept soft by studying  
 

made possible by the roughness 

of their parents’ hands.

The Brown Body Effect

He’s in his thirties, has a job, a house,

and his own family and yet

he still is comfortable in crowds

in a way that’s foreign to me

especially with the kind of mexicanos

he grew up knowing in his small town:

ones who may or may not speak English,

usually short, brown, humble, and quiet

at least until someone brings out the tequila.  
 

The brown in their skin embodies an ideal

he keeps close to his heart

a color that means kinship

a color that, in the midst of

the millions living, working

breathing in the fourth largest US city,

brings him closer to his beginnings.  
 

In these moments, he is taken back

to his small-town roots

shooting the breeze

if only for a minute

sharing a way of being

a cultura that reminds him of home.

Mask

I.

I peer out the rolled down window

as the pickup moves past our van,

on the dry paved road

sprinkled with red sand

soldiers standing up straight behind rails  
 

In the news back home,

they are far away,

a lifetime removed from me.

Here in Juárez, we live this reality together

they watch for danger as I try to avoid it.  
 

All but one take in the unfolding city behind us.

He stands like a statue,

holding his assault rifle like a prop

in this Mexican tragedy, played out before

audiences sitting safely behind the world’s TV screens.  
 

His costume is camouflage, 

tan and beige fatigues concealing all

except his nameless face,

its features drowning under a sea of black fabric,

ebbing at the islands of eyes and mouth.  
 

I am innocent, yet my heart quivers

beneath his unwavering stare.

I breathe slowly, never looking away

out of fear, curiosity, and disbelief

as his dark eyes drill into my soul.  

II.

I peer into the rolled down window  
 

in the shadow of the van’s side door,

I catch a feminine gaze from dark brown eyes

before I squint against the dirt,

spewing from the truck tires rolling under me.  
 

Her eyes are rich in life and questions and future,

not empty and resigned like those

who have seen the bullets burn

through memories, walls, and loved ones’ flesh,

red rivers filling sidewalk cracks on the walk to work.  
 

Those eyes are not from here, nor is the soul inside.

What has brought her here I don’t know,

an untouched face driving through this garish nightmare?

The others take in the road and dust but I am hypnotized,

her eyes framed by lashes curling toward the sky.  
 

I wish my daughter had eyes like hers,

filled with the light of hope and dreams

instead of excitement to see me come home.

At six years old, she doesn’t grasp the why of this war,

but rejoices that I survived another day.  
 

The girl in the van has never seen torsos

like tree trunks with no branches,

money slipping between hands, guaranteeing silences,

crimson curtains coming down, another life extinguished,

territory claimed with bodies instead of flags.  
 

The light in her eyes will stay with me until we arrive on the Scene.

 

Eloísa Pérez-Lozano graduated from Iowa State University with her M.S. in Journalism and Mass Communication and her B.S. in Psychology. A 2016 Best of the Net nominee, her work has been featured in The Texas Observer, Houston Chronicle, and The Acentos Review, among others. She lives in Houston, Texas.