Irrigation Canal Codex by Luis Alberto Urrea

Y los muchachos cling

to the cantina’s jukebox heart, sing:

we never go nowhere we never see nothing

but work: these fingers bleed every daylong day,

aching from la joda of the harvest–

y la muerte, esa puta que les chifla

from the bus station balcony, from I-10,

from Imperial Ave. truck lot behind the power station,

from waterbreak delirium, from short-hoe

genuflections down pistolbarrel fields–

and the canals, green,

pumping life into those chiles, los tomates, once

a year some poor pendejo can’t take the grease-

heat drudge, the life of a burro, the lonesome nights

of sweat and harsh sheets and drinks

tattered lips pulling tequila

till el vato’s so alucinado he thinks

he can run free, thinks

the trucks with spotlights are motherships, thinks

he sees Villa shooting cars off I-25, hears Tlaloc, god

of storms, calling: water to water,

rain to rain, mud to mud—feed me your tears—I

thirst—I will feed your daughters, I will

sweeten fields, I will ease your heat—and

he runs

he runs

se larga el guey

down the alley, out

dirt road, cuts

under freeway, jumps


where that homey last year drove his toca

into the ditch

he’s so pedo he can’t see

if it’s stars or distant windows, he

can’t tell if it’s roadside crosses where some bus

drove into a delivery truck

or a fence all white and crooked

or a boneyard

where his grandfathers fall apart

beneath him, he runs—

through carrizo reeds, midnight sunburn,

cane and chapulines dry as bones,

rattling like deer hooves, like calaveras on

the Day of the Dead, like Yaqui rattles,

like old Death snapping her fingers and then amazing:


green, cold green of the canal: sun-scummed

but icy, fresh and still steaming through back-crack

cabbage fields, from sunrise to el poniente,

going going green endlessly going

verde que te quiero verde going

he dips his head in to drink

and it grips him: he slips: he’s a watersnake, slick:

drinks his way to the bed of the acequia

and spreads his dust there: he is become an offering

to the raingod and it is good: he breathes

the green into his lungs until his heart grows cool:

and he goes—

he flows west: frogs ping off his back: dragonflies

part before him: tortugas worry his shirt tails:

he flies mouth-down, arms wide as cranes’ wings

touching the rusted rims as he sails:  miles

slide along his callused fingers—across the land he goes, no one

watching: he goes through the harvest: corn

combs his hair: nights he goes, days, no patrols

hunting him now: his lips never stop

kissing his shadow.

And he touches earth

400 miles away, gone somewhere now

south of Calexico—almost home—

nothing in his pockets—

small fish

in his eyes

like coins.

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