Vickie Vértiz

   Claire Anna Baker "Inside the Whole"   

   Claire Anna Baker "Inside the Whole"


Don Mario

                after Ko Un's Ten Thousand Faces


Twenty years since Acapulco

Don Mario’s first life changing

tires, alternators, motors

light-bulb fury


One bedroom in the City of Crowded

three granddaughters, a pink fixie

dolls with tangled hair, polka dot socks, one

daughter-in-law, a mustached son

his curls wavy flecks

Don Mario's bed: a plaid couch, arms

covered in mugre

In the living room, cockroaches

darting bullets in the dark

the in-law gordita doesn't

clean or know how

Tomato soup crust on pot lips

dishes filmy thick with wait


It's not Acapulco

No one here cliff dives, just swimming

bare chested on freeways


Don Mario makes bubbly rubber

cheese pizzas between dominoes

Pictures his neighbor Elvira

watering her front yard

a botanical city garden

Red geraniums obscure her

husband grunting

The black Toyota

truck’s teeth dangle

taped on with grey masking


Don Mario is dreaming of driving

his plump neighbor on her mandados

: church first, the 99 cent store

bursting with school kids, y luego

the flower shop, ten dollar bouquet

the cemetery for her first daughter


As he kneads the dough

he thinks of her bready nalgas

Not the pimply hemorrhoids

he would get

if his hands could really find her


He saved, borrowed, bought a new

White Nissan, drives like a calabasa

Down Florence Avenue

Itching his mustache

Passes a mini mall of Texas Donuts

lay-away jewelers


The morning pizza dough

packed into red plastic

square bags, Don Mario escorts them

to stucco apartments

Shaved heads

don't tip, blue baseball

caps give exact change

Twenty four years of gurgling

engines at $8 an hour

He knows what he can have


We could be novios, he told Elvira, A escondidas

Why hide? she says. No,

we're friends so long

She doesn't need a daughter

-in-law who can't wipe

her own face


He stays away a bit

then calls on her

to ask again

Only the lime tree

leaves hears them

Shaking slowly, a branch bends under

the weight of a chicken

lost on a high limb

eying the distance

to the roses below

Señor Moreno

                                                            after Ko Un's Ten Thousand Faces



He told his wife Goodbye, Amor
Nos vemos, when he left
And let his knees fall

to meet the road

Took his black metal lunch pail
sitting shotgun in the blue van
Put on a beige jacket

Zipped up, his arm, muscle
pulled tight against his chest, seizing
the frost of his breath

Felt his eyes closing
black pebbles embedding
in his palms
His face calm with grown
children living, grateful

to see him rest

He may have been chased
by four children and wife down
Specht Street wailing
His bus driver's uniform starched

too drunk to go

to work, but dutiful
to his craft

He may have been jealous of
the milkman, the butcher, the Sunday school
teacher but he loved his cielo
his wife, his sky till death

His skin the browngreen
of oaks, stubble peppered with snow
His glasses government-issued
darkened with sunlight, lightened indoors
He went to work that last day


Like a match in a box, his
cheeks pink from sulfur
his hair white as smoke



Vickie Vértiz was born and raised in southeast Los Angeles. Her writing is widely anthologized, found in publications such as Open the Door, from McSweeney's and The Poetry Foundation. Her poetry collection, Swallows was released in 2013 from Finishing Line Press. She is a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of California, Riverside.