Friday, October 6, 2017


Codex Luna

My moon pulled a different darkness across the sky.

My unknown sisters tucked in the barbed embrace of
the border fence saw a different face in the moon. Theirs
was a Luna Tochtli, a Rabbit Moon — moon of running,
fear, hiding.

My bed was soft. Their beds were stone. My moon
was origami floating in a water cup, a Japanese
artwork of rice paper and pearls. A light to dream of
girlfriends. Their moon peeled a panicked eye, goggled
blind as they ran. Headlights froze them, twin moonbeams
ran them down, tufts of their dreams tangled in thickets
of border tumbleweeds.

My sisters brought undocumented scents to sweeten
the valleys. Their perfume settled on roadsides, misted
over bloodstain, rattlesnake, bootprint, guard dog, flash
light: illegal exhalations, unlawful breathing tainted
with cinnamon, coffee, filling cried like sugar in the bellies
of honeysuckle. Underarm sweat from running. Belly
sweat. Back of the neck sweat. Small of the back sweat.
Shoulder blade sweat. Brown sweat. Behind them, hunger.
Before them, night. Thigh sweat. Tang of terror under their
skirts, smell of hope burning like mustard blossoms in
the caves. Burning stink of running, Death smells of
squatting where they hoped no one could see them.
Fertilizer. Lemons.

Black soap fresh flagged in the wire.

Sun smell of underpants once hung in the wind. Heavy
hopeless breast milk smell. Smell of Morelos gardens
still in blouses. Burning stink of running.


I did not need to run.
I had a paper moon. Stamped and certified. Mine was
a colonia moon, a barrio moon, a suburban moon. I
knew where I was, where I was supposed to be, where
I was allowed to go, and that was anywhere. We lived
the outhouse moon, the tortilla moon, the channel
12 bullfight Tijuana moon. And then we migrated
north, like monarchs, following the light.

And my moon was a Boy Scout moon.
A campout moon.
A drive-in feature moon.

. . .

My moon remained poor as a rusted coin in a frozen pond.
But documented. The green men in the tan trucks could
read my belonging by this moon's light. Give us the all-
clear to walk, work, die on ground our ancestors had
forgotten. Let us don Rat Patrol patches and Troop 260
uniforms and hike the ridge lines where the Mexica had
taken Huitzilopochtli in their arms and began their 100 year
walk to the south.

My moon rose over tidy houses.


She ran.

She ran all her life. She ran to stay ahead of charging
darkness, galloping hunger. She ran west to el poniente,
north toward winter and Mictlan, land of the dead. Worked
the light of the moon in her small hands the color of earth:
she molded moon glow into trinkets traded for coins the color
of sun. Wove moon into brackets she traded for perfume.
Worked the ceremonial motel chambers, swept the floors of the
moneyed, folded bloody sheets and knelt at toilets, scrubbing
sins of the mighty from their seats.

. . .

Everyone moving north.

She was thirteen:
Mactlactli ihuan yei.

I was ten:


she came to rest in my house. Trucks could not track her
for an hour. Dogs could not follow her scent. She was on
that invisible railroad to Los Angeles. Enemy city of the Great
Walled City of Tijuanatlan. I was in the invisible mountains
of Cuyamaca, walking in the ghost footprints of vanished
in their tribes, wondering where their arrows went. And
   she slept

in my bed.
Too tired to eat or join in the gathered laughter of my
she slept in my bed. She lay in my sheets, smelling the odor of
Thunderbird and America and her eyes pulled themselves closed
to protect her. Dreams of home.

. . .


I came in and found her.

I came in and found her.

Is there any other story? And other legend to tell? I came home,
I found her.

Her head on my pillow.

The first woman to ever sleep in my bed.

Her hair

black across my pillow, spilling toward earth, reaching for the heart
of Ce Anahuac, the One World. Her eyebrows shallow as streams
fringed in cress and licorice in Cuyamaca shadows. Her brown brow,
unlined. One hand, fingers curled, nails pale small shells against the
Chichimeca shore of her skin.

Her breath

making small melodies of breezes and tides.

. . .

And me, holding my breath.

The thrum and sigh,
thrum and sigh,
thrum and sigh
of her sleep.


Then they woke her. She didn't want to wake. She didn't want
to rise. She didn't want to go. I didn't want them to wake her.
I wanted to sleep beside her. I didn't know anything else that
men wanted to happen in a bed with a woman. I wanted to sleep.
Beside her. I did not know the language of beds. I wanted to pass
through the door of her color. I wanted to pray in her temple of hair.

She knew more than I did about this new language. She blushed
when she saw me at worship. I blushed discovered in my beholding.
We touched hands. Hello. We touched hands. Adios.

Then they tucked her in the back of a 1964 car, smuggled her
under blankets through trucks up freeways laden with runners,
north, where she'd bask in the light of a thousand toilets, where her
nails would break on their porcelain, where she'd sweep more sheets
off more beds where she could not afford to sleep, where helicopters
searched her alleys with burning eyes all night, where she could speak
to no one and no one could speak to her

                                                            except to give her orders:
Girlie get your ass over here and wipe this up. You come when I
tell yo to come and you do it now. Have papers? Do you like this,
you do, don't you? You like this. I'll teach you a little something
right here and now.

That night I lay in her outline on my sheets.

She was hot as sunburn on the cotton.

I sank my face
into the imprint of hers,
her perfume
crept from the pillow,
the smell of her memories:
I smelled her mother
in a kitchen with clay pots
and cilantro on her hands:
it was all there: it is still there:
tea, a river, a handful of
shampoo falling to a drain
like melting snow drifts.
First grade, the Mexican anthem,
the snap of the flag,
chalk dust sneezes,
smell of library paste.
Village church.
The crack of unopened Bibles
freeing their musk.
Laundry day,
the boiling.
Tamale day,
and the aunts with their
crow-voice laughter,

the meat, the masa, the
raisins, the cinnamon.
Morning glory
vines all tangled
through cheap Tijuana

. . .

Just an illegal drudge
in crepuscular rain.

If you see her,  protect her.

Revere her.

My unknown sister.

Light candles in her honor, you travelers.

She is the mother of my race.


Luis Albert Urrea
The Tijuana Book of the Dead
Soft Skull, 2015