Sheryl Luna was born and raised in . Her collection of poetry Pity the Drowned Horses won the first Andres Montoya Poetry Prize sponsored by the Institute of Latino Studies and the creative writing department of the . The judge was Robert Vasquez. The collection was profiled in "18 Debut Poets who Made their Mark in 2005" by Poets and Writers Magazine. A graduate of , she earned a doctorate in contemporary literature from the and a M.F.A. from the at . She also holds a M.A. in English from . Her work has appeared in Feminist Studies, Review, Georgia Review, American Literary Review, and many other nationally acclaimed journals. She's received scholarships from the Fine Arts Work Center and the Napa Valley Writer's Conference. Pity the Drowned Horses was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and the 2006 Book awards. Her second manuscript of poems, titled 7, was recently runner-up for the Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize sponsored by . She currently teaches at the University of Colorado in .
Once, as a girl, she saw a woman shrink
inside herself, gray-headed and dwarf-sized,
as if her small spine collapsed. Age
and collapse were something unreal, like war
and loss. That image of an old woman sitting
in a café booth, folding in on herself, was forgotten
until her own bones thinned and hollowed,
music-less, un-fluted, empty.
She says she takes shark cartilage before she sleeps,
a tablet or two to secure flexibility and forgets
that pain is living and living is pain.
And time moves like a slow rusty train
through the desert of weeds, and the low-riders
bounce like teenagers young and forgiving
in her night’s dream. She was sleek in a red dress
with red pumps, the boys with slick hair, tight jeans.
She tells me about 100-pound canisters of lard
and beans, how she could dance despite her fifth
child, despite being beaten and left
in the desert for days, how she saw an angel
or saint glimmer blonde above her, how she rose
and walked into the red horizon despite
her husband’s sin.
I’m thinking how the women
in my family move with a sway, with a hip
ache, and how they each have a disk
slip. The sky seems sullen, gray, and few birds
whisk. It’s how the muse is lost
in an endless stream of commercials, how people
forget to speak to one another as our ending skulks
arthritically into our bones, and the dust
of a thousand years blows across the plain,
and the last few hares sprint across a bloodied
highway. Here in the desert southwest, loss
is living and it comes with chapped lips,
long bumpy bus rides and the smog of some man’s
factory trap. And there are women everywhere
who have half-lost their souls
in sewing needles and vacuum- cleaner parts.
In maquiladoras there grows a slow poem,
a poem that may only live a moment sharply
in an old woman’s soul, like a sudden broken hip.
And yet, each October, this old woman rises
like the blue sky, rises like the fat turkey vultures
that make death something beautiful, something
towards flight, something that circles in a group
and knows it is best not to approach death alone.
Each October she dances, the mariachis yelp
and holler her back to that strange, flexible youth,
back to smoky rancheras and cumbias, songs
rolling in the shadows along the bare Mexican hills.
She tells me, “It’s in the music, where I’ll always
live.” And somehow, I see her jaw relax,
her eyes squint to a slow blindness
as if she can see something I can’t.
And I remember that it is good to be born of dust,
born amid cardboard shanties of sweet gloom.
I remember that the bare cemetery stones
in El Paso and Juarez hold the music, and each spring
when the winds carry the dust of loss there is a howl,
a surge of something unbelievable, like death,
like the collapse of language, like the frail bones
of Mexican grandmothers singing.
Danny Lopez was so dark that some thought he was black.
His eyes were wide and wild.
When he ran, his short frame’s stride heated the streets.
Sweat trickled down his bony face, and his throat
lumped with desire, the race, the win.
We used to sit on the hood of my parents’ car,
gaze at the stars. He would win state,
dash through the flagged shoot in Austin,
get a scholarship to Auburn, escape the tumbleweeds,
the dirt floors of his pink adobe home, his father’s rage.
We were runners.
Our thin bodies warmed with sweat, and the moon round
with dreams of release. We lived a mile from the border;
the Tigua Indian drums could be heard in the cool evenings.
Our rhythmic hopes pounded dusty roads, and cholos
with slicked hair, low-riders, were only a mirage.
We drove across the border, heavy voices, drunk
with dreams, tequila, and hollow fears. We ran
trans-mountain road, shadows cast cold shivers
down our backs in the hundred-degree sun.
Danny ran twenty miles, finished, arms raised
with manic exultation.
The grassy course felt different beneath his spikes,
and the gun’s smoke forgotten in the rampage of runners,
his gold cross pounding his chest to triumph, his legs
heedless to pain, his guts burning.
Neither of us return to the cement underpasses,
graffiti, and dry grass, though I know
the drums still beat when we look at the stars,
and our eyes flicker with ambition.
Brown children in tattered shorts still beg for pesos,
steal pomegranates and melons.
Young men with sweaty chests and muddy pants
ask my mother for work, food,
passage to that distant win
somewhere on the other side of Texas.
Today the green trees are wet with rain,
and I am too lazy to run. The desire to run my fingers
down an abdomen tight with ambition, is shaky, starved.
It’s been too long since I’ve crossed that border,
drunk tequila, screamed victorious
at the mountain. The stars seem small tonight,
they don’t burst over the sky like they did back then.
These poems, these books don’t ravish me
the way Danny could, the way the race could.
His accented English, broken on the wind, and his run,
his lean darkness, drove exhaustion to consummation.
The wind seems too humid in this preferred place,
and when I hear throaty Spanish spoken in the lushness,
I long for the grimy heat,
the Rio Grande’s shallow passage,
the blue desert, and the slick legs of runners
along the smoggy highway.
The Cordova Bridge
I’m not writing delicate silver birds or some Southwest
aubade. I am rough in a pebbled and stickered dead sea.
And here, crazy-sad among the flowerless places
I sweat my way through the dirge of horns and radio
blues. Smog- filled air. Sweaty dark-dirty children hang
on my car. Their paper cups hold out a coinless surrender.
El Pasoan’s call them scam-gangs. Bumper to bumper
as a rainbow smears the sky, window-washers beg for dimes.
The streets narrow in Juarez. Gaudy green hand-painted
school buses block signs. The poor wait. A bright scholar
described las ciudades hermanas as unmoving. Blue hills,
the river’s banks deceiving us to see one-sided, blind. Juarez,
me later driving in circles, cursing the mad stops, the move-over
hurriedness. El Paso’s streets are wide, people erect chain-
link fences, bars over windows. They love their small plots
of land, their jalopy cars. A poet once sang a maid’s daily
dread over Cordova. I think I see her sweating away.
I once drew a breath of lush serenity, words danced
as small breaths, gilded beads. But you see, I was cursed
in this dust, crystallized among charcoal frowns and smiles.
At times, anger is an unnamed cry. Must one sing lichen,
lagoons, a glint of sky, creamy white breasts? Here, men
and women living bare dance among crumbling things. A man
without a leg has hopped that bridge for thirty years eyeing
shiny red Firebirds. What was a bird of red-fire to him?
Do we all rise phoenix-like from our tumbleweeds? Rain-
wash twirls about brown knees, rolled jeans, bare feet.
Popsicle-sellers close tiny carts, cigarette boys cover
damp cartons. And I am dry as an American can be.
- ISBN-10: 0268033749
- ISBN-13: 978-0268033743