This poem tells the story of Inocencio Rodriguez, the author’s grandfather, who was murdered in 1971. It’s a meditation on memory’s playback loop, as well as both the specific and general violence against immigrants and people of color. Rocha’s images are askew and arresting — the “street hangs from the sky” and summer has dark hair that is “lazily in a braid” — before the poem shifts to a home scene that propels us to a tragic ending and ruminates on details leading to Rodriguez’s murder. Poem Selected by Victoria Chang
The Many Deaths of Inocencio Rodriguez
By Iliana Rocha
The street hangs from the sky, held in suspension
by summer’s dark hair lazily in a braid,
exhausted power lines. Someone has thrown a pair
of sneakers, joined together by knots,
over the wires, insistence of we walk away from.
Or declaration of staying’s ease. What’s gathered
overhead — recognition of a cloud-shaped hurt.
Happiness won’t find a home here,
escapes through each home’s latticework like papel
picado chiseled down into a pair of doves.
Hanging on the wall of my grandmother’s kitchen,
a wooden scene of her kitchen, with its miniature pots & pans —
on the tiny table, a vase of daffodils given
to her before he left. This scene never
expands. It stays its little size, despite the trial &
want for it to expand beyond is diminutive
yellow. Can we reposition La Llorona’s creek behind
another house? What must stay pinned to the map
like a butterfly: the view, the sugar factory where he worked
when he at last modified Texas geography
to stretch all the way to Detroit
by letting his gun follow his steps in the grass.
Victoria Chang is a poet whose new book of poems is “The Trees Witness Everything” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her fifth book of poems, “Obit” (2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in Antioch University’s M.F.A. program. Iliana Rocha is a Tennessee-based poet whose latest collection is “The Many Deaths of Inocencio Rodriguez” (Tupelo Press, 2022), from which this poem is taken. It is her second book of poems.