Volume 69, Number 1 · Fall 2019

The Next Life

The deck of cards we’ve been afraid
to part for the unlit side of our lives

sits there holding down a table next
to a glass of water the sun might have

poured. The curandero we’ve put off
visiting for years, refusing the bright

distance between reason & belief,
avoiding the drive from several deserts

away to the noiseless town where he lives,
dreading the house where he’ll point out

the pain we’ve cradled like wet firewood,
where he’ll tell us whose jealousy hasn’t

let the tall grass sway in our sleep. Not
wanting to be in the room where he’ll

describe the flower we must steal, tell us
whose picture we must bury in its place

to let the past know it’s been uprooted.
But the time comes to rig the Cutlass

Supremes of our fathers, arrive where
every brown-eyed denizen starts giving

us directions before we even say his name.
Time comes to knock on the door,

enter that tunnel when his teenage sons
answer, invite us to sit in the patio

while they fix the stereo of a black Mazda
to the chopped & screwed music we once

hated to the point of love. When the curandero
finally appears, he blots out the imposing

figure we wanted him to be: hoodie sweater,
baseball cap that sends his ears out like a bat.

Smaller & younger & more clean-shaven.
Before we can change our minds we find

ourselves ducked into a room lit by
the deck & the glass of water the sun

could have poured. We sit down, try
to be clever by parting only one card

off the top, but he doesn’t even notice,
spreads the cards on the table. The four

we choose when the little man turns
them: windows that let out the wind.

Mike Soto’s debut book-length work of poetry, A Grave is Given Supper, will be published by Deep Vellum Books in summer 2020.