Issue 9

Contest Winners

Lucian Mattison


Revisiting December 2001


Winner

—Buenos Aires, Argentina

I. Villa Miseria

It’s impossible to go back to the same country,
especially when some hijo de re-mil
puts us between two walls of an alleyway,
our hired van stuck amid a six-point turn.
We are all in my mother’s hands, now raised,
at the whim of eight revolvers encircling us.
The gunmen are just turning seventeen,
the youngest maybe thirteen like me.

It’s a shame I feel lucky
that one of these thugs rips open
the passenger side door, jams his revolver
into my mother’s ribs, grabs both of her breasts
just for the fuck of it, and after stripping us
of everything we have, asks another revolver
waving kid Y que hacemos con ellos ahora?—
as if he were tormenting a passel of farm hogs.

I feel lucky that they ran out of fresh ideas,
that we were left with our lives.
I often think about revisiting that alleyway
and how things would be now.
I see half of them pass a broken bombilla
between them, inhaling whatever charred hope
this country proffers in a fifty peso note
stapled to a ballot slip. I see them crumpled
like soda cans in a canal, riddled
with some other street kid’s bullet holes.
Look down this barrel,
this country’s empty wine cask,
see God’s bloody handprints all over the walls.

II. Golpe

Looking through the window of the backseat,
I see the son of a bitch who gave the orders—he smiles

a rack of impacted teeth growing out of the top of his gums,
as if a second mouth bites through to supplant the old.

Where is he now—belly full of red meat, waving
his youngest son out of the dining room with a revolver?

I hear him tap his muzzle on the table as he wonders why
he didn’t take the van, complete the illusion,

at least make it seem like that driver might also lose
some essential piece of himself out there with us.

But we both know the driver will do it again.
Everyone here looks the other way.

III. Martial Law

It runs on a loop—a horse cadaver crawls
with insects, a supermarket vomits hordes
of looters, banks all have broken windows,
police sit with their hands tucked beneath
their backsides, mouths stuffed with rubber bullets—
the images lull a mother and son to sleep
in television light. Locks on the windows,
doors bolted shut, the father has fallen asleep
in a plastic chair before the front door,
hand on the loaded pistol in his lap.

IV. Cacerolazo

It sounds like the city is being overrun
by an approaching caravan
of silver and soda cans: violent chorus,
empty hollowware beaten

with wooden spoons, iron stock pots
cast through the windows of cop cars.
The noise amplifies in the canyon
of concrete apartment buildings—

a third president in five days, the Casa Rosada
permanently flushed pink with shame.
The nation is going hungry for a fifth
day straight, but everyone sings,

pushes against the traffic on Santa Fe,
pushes toward that little pink house
even though most of them know
it’s been empty for a long time now.

V. Christmas

At about four AM the fireworks
peter out, and the whole city
is suspended in moonmilk.

Nobody in this apartment is sober,
except for my mother,
and she holds her brother’s head

over a toilet bowl. Stumbling in the belly
of the living room, I spin
my cousin’s petite frame, as Discovery

cycles through its third play,
the only CD in the apartment—
a gift from my brother.

My sister smokes on the balcony
because she’s 15. It’s impossible for me
to understand how fucked up

this country has become.
I am holding my eyes open
with a beer bottle.