‘The Brown Body Effect’ and Other Selected Poems
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.
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.
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.