After Diego Rivera’s Entrada a la mina, 1923
A rooster’s crow swallows what’s left of night.
The lantern I clutch flickers as I enter
the hill’s gashed belly.
I offer a blessing to the underworld, pray
to its ruler. No need to take chances,
I tell myself, swinging a pick
into rich veins of silver. The stench
of Devil’s breath fills my lungs.
I cough. I remember Papá
hovering over my bed and kissing
my forehead. “Don’t follow me
into the mines,” he warned.
“The fumes will turn your lungs to stone.”
A five-year-old, I squeezed
his hand like a treasure.
At fourteen, I toiled in fields, built up
my muscles until they commanded
crops like rain filaments.
At eighteen, I followed Papá through narrow
streets to the mines, bowed my head
each of my brothers heaving a wooden beam
as if carrying the cross of Jesús.
Now, I lean against a rugged wall,
take shallow breaths, tell myself the stale air
won’t harm me. I stare into darkness,
see again my father slumped
in a corner like a pile of dirt. This time
he doesn’t speak but floats
toward me, a banner unfurling.
From its seams, water pours over crude,
rough nuggets. I touch his blackened
fingers, shout his name
into the moonless night as we lift him rung
by rung up the ladder. His lantern flares
like fire. Mi padre. Mi padre.