Poems by Samantha Tetangco
Author’s Note: These poems are inspired by my own travel and experiences throughout the Western United States. As for me, my poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction have appeared in a number of literary magazines and selected anthologies including The Sun, Gargoyle, Phoebe, Gertrude, Oklahoma Review, Stone Path Review, Vela and others. In 2011, I earned my MFA from the University of New Mexico. I currently teach writing at the University of California, Merced and am serving as the Communications Officer for this year’s AWP LGBTQ Caucus.
@ Joshua Tree National Park
The guidebook warns of thirsty bees. Last night you held a plastic bag above my head so I could bathe beside the rocks. Around us, the orb of a full moon dimmed the glow of campsites. We gathered sticks, tore pages from my notebook, ignited a log that wanted to stay unlit. At midnight, a car pulled into the empty site, and a woman’s voice said, I thought we were in this together. We sat up in our sleeping bags, pricked our ears to tent poles and the rustle of footsteps not far from where we sat, and what an odd thing to delight in the torment of others. I’m on his side, you said, soft so only I could hear. The woman’s voice ached. She begged for him to speak—you are supposed to be my partner, she said, why won’t you just hold my hand, my face is pressed into the corner of the tent—and don’t you think it strange how the sounds of separation brought our bodies close? But now it’s morning. I sit on a picnic bench. A rabbit tests the dust while ten feet above, you do your best to shoo a fly. You’ll tell me later how you, thinking of the bees, dipped your brush into the water. I imagine the sky swirl of diluted paint. The fly lands on the handle. It crawls to the tip. Then, it dips its face and sips.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
It is night this time instead of dawn.
The roof gone missing. The moon
a crescent silver hanging above
a circle of drums. A girl knits the air
with kerosene, and you hold your hand
to your chest, eyes closed,
say, this sound is the sound of truth,
and I know when you talk about drums,
you are talking about your own
beat, and I think, never in my life
has a moment been so sweet.
Earlier, a parade slipped past
our café window. We followed
the crowd to the water’s edge
where the girl with the candles
danced with swords instead,
hips swaying beneath a gypsy skirt
while a woman that looked like her mother
asked for Alms… Alms…
as if she’d fallen from the square
of a black and white movie.
We wiped greasy fingers
on brittle grass. You paid a dollar
to play a game of symmetry.
Afterwards, we ran ourselves
another bath, and I showed you
fig seeds and rings of fire,
black birds surrounding
an ace of untapped
wisdom. The two arrows pointed
in two different directions, and I said,
this card is playing with you.
I said, don’t you understand? This beast
eating watermelon doesn’t care
that her shoes don’t match her outfit.
Two years later, we return to find
our visits have been of little consequence.
The café doors are now closed,
as is the restaurant with the angry
chef and the happy belly,
and the market with the fresh
pressed juice and pot of vegan stew.
No one remembers our faces,
but they look at us
the way one looks at an old friend
who has long since been
forgotten. The locals love
to tell how Ralf Edwards returned
here year after year, long after the show had
ended. There is honor in a promise
maintained throughout one’s life-
time. But even he is gone.
Another November heart failed,
and with him goes fifty
years of tradition.
Now, the circle is disbanding.
The drum beats
stop. The candles turn to sticks
while the dancer lingers
in the hopes
the music will start
again. We slip into the night,
When a blare of sirens
strikes the empty street,
you kiss me
with the lazy comfort
Love Song for Randi
And now we come to Norman, Oklahoma,
where you run errands with your mother
while I wash your grandmother’s dishes.
In the living room, a crowd of white-toothed
grins watch the wheel spin. Pat Sajak
gestures to Vanna White and I understand
something about the difference
between the real and the fabricated.
This morning, the kitchen sink was a fish bowl
complete with scales, and do you see now
why it was all so funny? Why sometimes,
when I climb into the car and see the dog hair
mark my black pants white, I want to put
our life on pause so we can watch it
unfold from the safe distance of two people
who know what it is to love.
(IMAGE by M. Pitter)