Some Letters to Cabeza de Vaca, Shipwrecked on the Texas Shore, 1528

Kevin Honold

Letter #19

The bank towers downtown gaze
like tungsten-eyed idols over the city
as the poor bus’s wornout struts
bottom on the broken pavement.

Nobody wants to cut each other’s
hair anymore, Cabeza, no one
wants to sing the old songs. I got this bad feeling
but everyone else just goes about their business

re-enacting the lives they lived
when their bodies still parted the light.
One man buried alive in a Steelers jacket
hasn’t even bothered to shave.

See the first tokens of spring: three
bullet holes in the bus window
like crystal florets in arrested bloom, unnoticed
by the nice old lady who doesn’t speak

but sits so quietly, so contained, who
ventures now and again to catch
the eye of someone else’s child,
merely to convey a smile, and see how her smile

lingers over that fidgety and oblivious boy.
How was it, brother, we failed
to recognize the ticket agent
in his sorry disguise,

the way he peered at us
from the gap between his coat collar
and hat brim, pretending he was one of us, just
some guy just trying to get someplace?

Letter #20

I was walking down the street and passed
a woman with a cross of ash between her eyes
and then I saw a man and a child, then couples,
old folks, whole families marked like Cain.

The Emperor’s sentence hung over the city
like a sword by a horsetail hair so I stopped at a diner
for a final cigarette and a coffee. Months of plowed
snow flecked with halite lay
piled like ranges of busted masonry
along the gutters and I wondered, my friend, who’s

going to care for all
the animals and flowers now?
Who will scatter grain at Christmas-time on the sidewalks
for the sparrows, in memory of us when we’re gone?

As I write this letter to you,
three girls sit laughing at the lunch counter,
perched on turntable stools, heraldic patches
on their blue parochial school sweaters,
sipping milk shakes through pink straws.
Their composure in the face of extinction
is devastating. They must think I’m barbaric.

Kevin Honold is the author of Men as Trees Walking, a book of poems. He currently teaches English at Hiroshi Miyamura High School in Gallup, New Mexico.
Originally published:
April 1, 2019


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