My younger daughter’s burning up
with fever. Careless, unthinking,
I give her a dropper of her sister’s
antibiotics. Within minutes, she’s
turning purple, her neck swelling
like a goiter, ranine and ominous.
Her breathing is labored, she whines
weakly, she’s only a toddler…
I rush to my wife who says
jump in the car, we have to take
her to the emergency room, but
not in the US, she says as she peels
out of the driveway and I clutch
the baby to me, those bastards
don’t know what they’re doing
y le van a chingar. Thank God
the oldest is with her abuela.
The Reynosa bridge is packed
and we exchange panicked
blame, voices rising as the child
squirms. Then we’re through
and she caroms past Los Arcos,
turning left toward Hospital
Santander. I’m opening the door
before she can put the handbrake
on and sprinting to the entrance.
I don’t even want to look down,
what if she’s dead, what if I’m
holding the cold body of my little
girl and it’s all my fault. The nurse
takes her from me, lays her on a
stretcher as I babble an explanation,
my wife too overwhelmed, her role
as driver over. They wheel my baby
off and I twitch with fear that slicks
my hands as I fill out forms. Soon
we just sit together, huddled before
the yawing darkness of uncertainty,
my wife’s fingers clutching mine,
no words to say. The doctor emerges
after a time, nodding his head. “She
is allergic to penicillin,” he declares.
“Didn’t they tell you?” My wife
sighs, grimaces. “American doctors,”
she says simply. “Will she be okay?”
Lucky we brought her so quickly,
near suffocation. Antihistamines
have kicked in. We’re to come back
in a few weeks, to his clinic. He’ll
do a full study. We pay him, fill
the prescription. My wife cradles
our child as I take my time driving.
I look around at the city, thankful.
I’m a first-year teacher, no insurance
on my family, perhaps irresponsible,
but Mexico, like a spinster aunt
who dabbles in curanderismo,
waits to gather her northern nieces
and nephews and kiss the pain away.
Don Moncho chafes at the cordial confinement
Of his daughter and son-in-law’s middle-class home,
So different from his accustomed abode: never
A house, though he has owned several,
But instead the sinuous arms of the road.
Diabetes unchecked has claimed a kidney,
So now, apart from hospital visits
For debilitating hemodialysis,
He speaks to no one, spends his days
Peering with failing eyes at bible and TV.
One day he can stand no more the muffled
Hum of the air conditioning, the distant
Rattle of passing cars upon the farm road:
Taking up scriptures and useless spectacles
And magnifying glass, he begins to walk.
The winds of the past seem to bear him forward:
He remembers being Raymond, as Nebraskans
Called him in their low, casual voices.
He spent the Korean War in America,
Fixing cars and pleasing women.
But drink and brawling nearly did him in,
So he returned to wife and children
And followed his younger brother into Christ.
El Hermano Ramón could barely read,
But he let the Word lead him through ranches.
Traveling evangelist and mechanic, he made
Little money: his children had to fend
For themselves and for their mother
During his long months in the mountains
Till God told him to found a church.
The reverend now roamed from home to home,
Tending to his needy flock, retiring
Each night to a bed on the rooftop, sprawled
Beneath the beautiful expanse of stars
Laid like a royal highway into the heavens,
The very same path he had studied as a boy,
Herding goats across the vastness of the ranch,
Days without a sign of man’s foolishness,
His pointless gouging at earth and sky:
The only company some passing vaquero.
The roar of the expressway reaches him
In the midst of this reverie: he squints and ambles
Under the overpass to reach the store,
Where he asks for a quarter and calls a pastor
Who just might give him a ride to the church.
As he waits near the payphone, a form
Blurry and dark, like some dread apparition,
Wavers its way out of the haze, looming—
A familiar voice scolds him with maternal sting:
His daughter, come to return him to his cell.
DAVID BOWLES: A product of an ethnically diverse family with Latino roots, David Bowles has lived most of his life in the Río Grande Valley of south Texas, where he teaches at the University of Texas. Recipient of awards from the Texas Institute of Letters and Texas Associated Press, he has written several books, among them Flower, Song, Dance: Aztec and Mayan Poetry and Border Lore.
Additionally, his work has been published or is forthcoming in venues such as Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Metamorphoses, Rattle, Translation Review, Concho River Review, Red River Review, Huizache, The Thing Itself, Eye to the Telescope and James Gunn’s Ad Astra.