Literary Orphans

Three Poems
by Casandra Lopez



I. Self Diagnosis: A Planet of Pain

It is an ancient pain. The weight in you,

pulls and pulls.

Planet: From Ancient Greek, a wandering star.

In you it becomes a burn, a solar ache.


II. Therapy

Ask if there is another

word for the persistent

thrum–blame you choke up

as spittle,

a gooey witness

of shame.


III. Reconstruction

Tell Therapist:

Sleep is play by play. Knock on door, open

door. Scent of blue-black………..rain,………..dampen………..arrow

of fear.  Get Brother.…………Blue………….door.…………Spot………..his weathered

hand.……………..Catch the low…………….of his voice.…………..Final words before:


Bullet. Bullet.Bullet.Bullet.Bullet.Bullet.Go Go Go red breath of danger teeth chatter squawks dread is a rogue wave sink further and further into the salt wet of it only come up for breath when Doctor returns reach for the terrestrial, that hidden root, a coarse promise. Dig your fingers and toes into the earth searching for the organs Brother needs.


IV. Memory

In shadows live:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . men who are no longer human.



V.  Aftermath

Limbs turn

to bark. You are a tree

trunk settling into

a loss, into the wait.


Wait on police. Wait on autopsy. Wait to make

sense of it all. Needle the hurt. Show Doctor the hurt. Offer

up arm–a rough branch, then thick

thigh or traitor throat speaking

code, signaling red: Emergency. Days dull it

to a drizzle. But the fever heart throbs



Think maybe you need

a dendrochronologist,

someone to analyze your ringed

grief, someone to calibrate your thin

lined pain, circling and circling–


VI. Survival

Get used to carrying

it, tell yourself it’s just another sore

tooth, or a too tight bra strap pressing

into shoulder. You are not surprised


when it returns as a force–a bone blast, spiraling.

Plead to Doctor: Carve the tender out, I must

make room for a weight that never leaves.


O Typekey Divider



Helix of pain,

then dull haze,

a dozen or so soft black t-shirts

Distrust of the night, muscled voices,

dark SUVS, the unknown. Sheets

of paper work, faxes, phone numbers,

account statements, business cards,


to-do lists: feed yourself–

for a month of his last meal.

Break down when the bowl

empties. Break bowl, skin to get at

the hunger–an arterial pull that thrums

and thrums through the spine.


Bills–Write Deceased,

write it until you think

you are writing Diseased.

Start to imagine this your truth.


A few striped collard shirts,

Never, or

barely worn.

Size 13 shoes.

One pigtailed crying child,

one infant,

one boy

who wants to be a man,

and refuses to cry.

O Typekey Divider


Second Son, Bright Star

We teach your son to say Daddy. Kiss

your portrait face, the lightest air brushed strokes.


White canvas and black paint is what we can offer

little baby, now toddler. I want to stop–


time for you. Let you see him now,

your third child, second son. A late star


you once cupped in your arms with tired

eyes. How unfair life is that we grow


older and you stay the same, changing only

in memory, perhaps becoming softer,


a dry brush swirl. But I want none of that.

I want to give Second Son all–of you. Scalpel


each memory from my brain, placing it

on silver tray for him to examine. I will point


to that piece with your pyromaniac

tendencies, and tell of the rush of joy


on your face when you lit fireworks off

illegally into the sky, how bright we were


against the dull of night. You were always our light

shining into our darkness, even as we burn for you.

O Typekey Divider



When you speak of love, I think of conquest,

 . . . . . . . . . . cottonwood trees and years of river,

chiseling away at time. Show me how the bold

 . . . . . . . . . . believe. Because all I can think about is

what you will take and what I can give.

. . . . . . . . . . Sometimes I want to bend–to the distance,

those great states–lines we draw on maps,

. . . . . . . . . . and between us. I would like to tell you,

how you make me feel darker–without making you feel–whiter.

. . . . . . . . . . A simple statement from my trumpet

heart. Maybe I should cup your mouth with my hands, showing

. . . . . . . . . . you how to purse your lips to play ancient

instrument. Then I will ask: Did you hear that thrum

. . . . . . . . . . of desert, the way it steals the moon from the night?

Listen again, to the way brass valves rise in my chest, between

. . . . . . . . . . the rattle of gourds, such an old cadence. That part

of me always singing about the dead–little ghost songs

. . . . . . . . . . of longing. I used to think it was about showing you

where I am from, but now I think I must make

. . . . . . . . . . you feel it–the prick of green succulents, and how

Mother’s house shakes from Brother’s bass,

. . . . . . . . . . that thump of stereo that echos through our teeth.


O Typekey Divider

Casandra Lopez is a Chicana, Cahuilla, Luiseño and Tongva writer raised in Southern California. She has an MFA from the University of New Mexico and has been selected for residencies with the Santa Fe Art Institute as well as the School of Advanced Research where she was the Indigenous writer in residence for 2013. She is the winner of the 2013 Native Writers Chapbook Award from the Sequoyah National Research Center. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in various literary journals such as Potomac Review, Hobart, Weber, CURA, McNeese Review and Unmanned Press. She is a CantoMundo Fellow and is a founding editor of As/Us: A Space For Women Of The World.


O Typekey Divider

–Foreground art by Brent Bluehouse
–Background art by Winoka Begay

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