This afternoon in a Riverside taqueria
Chuy is speaking for me, ordering
mango juice and tacos. And I wonder if anyone ever means
exactly what they say,
and how this confuses translations of Vallejo who told us that
God, in his infinite memory, may well have forgotten us.
We squeeze lime over the food
and watch the children that are brought in by parents.
They’re closer to perfection than we may ever be,
their bright eyes and loud voices accepting reality cheerfully.
It’s the only fair start, anyone can ask for
in this place where a mound of masa sits by the flat stove top.
It’s ready to be pressed and cooked into tortillas.
Everyone outside is praying for time to move faster
or slower. The kids carry purses and baby dolls
while an old woman stops to rest on a bus-stop bench.
But neither time nor God belongs to anyone.
The birds know this as they peck ruby seeds
from fenced-in pomegranate trees. They take what is there.
In here, the world slows as we eat.
Chuy tells me that houses are different in Mexico,
that there are courtyards with surrounding rooms,
that the kitchen must have a fire built to cook,
and that when you shower, you pour water over your head
with a dipper from a bucket.
I imagine there I can truly taste the food,
inhale the bitter and salty stems of tomatoes, the rising sting of the de arbol chiles.
The November sky is dimming when we head back
to the student apartment. Hours later, in the darkness
we share the belief that God is everywhere, willing to
illuminate our frail beings. I attempt to untangle my drowsy thoughts,
to say I have faith, but all I can do is shut my eyes.
So we listen to the lonely cars drive past, the familiar sound
of our voices. Listen and wait for light to come again.
– Jacqueline Balderrama
Jacqueline Balderrama grew up in Redlands, California. Currently, she is pursuing an MFA in poetry at Arizona State University where she teaches and serves as Poetry Editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her most recent work has appeared in San Pedro River Review and Miramar.