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Perhaps what I miss most,
meu amor, is the way your eyes would glimmer
in the guiding light of my Winchester. These marbles forced
into your skull are a poor excuse for the deathly precision
of your iris at the edge of a barrel. Your beauty a bullet
not even lamplight could catch, though I would spend
the rest of this eternal sleep galloping after it,
if only to catch a glimpse of the darkness
in your pupils.

But what is there to catch?
For even in death I have never left your side.
You sound as if you were some macaco
courting flames as they dance a xaxado
but you of all people should know
the cost of singed palm
and empty fist.

I know of but one cost and that is you, bela.
To be by your side in this place is little more than a cruel joke
when once I had given you a sertão as your wedding ring
and a caatinga as your bridal price. What love
is there to be bought here with our lips empty
and our necks sewn like a purse?

Had not this tongue been taken
I would sing you the songs of our memory.
Let you listen to the sweet tones of glory
as they serenade the ghosts of our adversaries
like a shrill Lugar’s whistle.

Tell me, what glory is there in a headless man?
Whose body rots while all above the neck persists
only for the amusement of those passing by? Do you not see
how they mock us with outstretched arm and bucktoothed smile?
How they call us criminal? There is no remembrance
of our deeds. Only the bloated excess
of our deformed features.

It is true that these bodies
are ephemeral, but is there not power in a man
who resists long after his final breath has slowed?
Our names echo through the ridges of a Serra do Araripe down
through all the saints’ isles. What is loyalty worth in life
if you cannot capture their hearts in death?

Hearts are only worth as much
as the coronel’s nickel or as much credit as lead can buy.
Is that not what my father learned when his credit came due?
Is that not how we found ourselves cangaceiros, a band of debtors
who refused to pay by the rules they enslaved us with?
Yet, even now we seem to pay with each daily
repetition of this grotesque performance.

And what greater reverence for a cangaceiro is there?
To crucify yourself at the hands of Judas
so that the legend of your defiance can ring true.
If you cannot rest peacefully with that
do you even know what it is
you died for?



Woody Dismukes is a Brazilian-American poet and author living in Jackson Heights, Queens. He is a 2018 Clarion West graduate and has taught at University Settlement’s Creative Center. His work is featured in Huizache, Lightspeed, Apex, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @WoodyDismukes or on his website woodydismukes.com.
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19 Feb 2024

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