[angels] by Domingo David Canizales III

“i left something here” by Elijah Guerra / @deercrossingthesea
The following is an excerpt from a larger multi-genre work entitled “Nuevo,” named for the town where the author, Domingo David Canizales III, was raised. The piece begins in the early 2000s, during the three-year stint his father spent in the county jail before being sentenced to seventeen years in prison by a corrupt and racist judicial system. Beyond that, it is, as Canizales says, “a recreation of the moments of loss in my life and how they fold together. A static accumulation.”

There is no subject separate from event.   
—Brian Massumi, Semblance and Event 

A roadside meadow on a hill in green diamonds (my father’s hair greased and curly; my mother’s long, straight and blonde). Nine months back from February. 

This is where I am conceived. 

It’s morning and I don my boots to feel safe before school. Thick red leather and high rubber soles. She is dead and he is now in prison. My sister is also gone. Before I grab my backpack, Gramma stops me. She hopes I’m not getting ready for school. Today is Tuesday. Court Day. She hopes I didn’t forget. 

At the back of the hallway closet is a leather jacket.   

It belongs to your dad, she says.   

I want to wear it but the sleeves are too long for me and there’s a crack under the armpit that leaks wind and scratches.   

You’ll get a rash like that, she tells me. Go put your flannel on. Besides, he won’t be there today. You might see your stepmom, though.  

[she is not my stepmother] 

There was a walk in there somewhere: house to car, parking garage to city hall, down Lemon Street, government edifice, offices of family law; long double doors, coffin windows, metal wands.                          

Hey kid, you can’t wear that. What’re those, safety pins? You can’t bring that inside. 

I look down at the buttons fastened to my breast pocket, the Misfits logo crudely safety-pinned beneath. The man looks down at me. Low broad walrus mustache, odor of coffee. Teeth.  

[was it you who arrested him?] 

Can’t he just leave it here, my grandmother asks.   

Sorry ma’am, against policy.                       No sharp objects.                   He could kill me with that. 

[would you arrest me, too?] 

I take the keys from my grandpa and walk back to the car alone. Stop to straighten my bootlaces. Cuff my jeans to catch the self-identity; gathers at my ankles in pools. Climb parking garage stairs. Slosh onto pavement. Drip red and blue. 

I leave my flannel behind and the wind sinks into my skin. Crystallizes there. Cold organs and stone. Fiberglass. Sinews and mineral: all the same. 

[should’ve brought the leather jacket] 

On the day my mother died I imagine her wearing blue. A sweatshirt the same color her eyes were. Like the one I used to wear when I was small. She was a donor and saved seven lives with the dismemberment of her body. A young man her kidney. A young woman her sight. She was not repaid the kindness given. 

I would have been with her had it not been for my grandmother.   

I still wore the black sweater with dinosaurs then.   

He has the flu; he should stay behind or get the other kids sick.   

Okay, [she hesitates] but only because he really is sick. Be good. I love you. [she hesitates] I’ll see you soon.   

This is the conversation I imagine. But I could never play it out in my head. Could never give her a voice. There is no memory. Transparent. Lack of inflection. Lack of . . .  There is a lack. 

At an early age the adolescent brain has a tendency to grow over the earlier pathways carved out by its synapses. If each memory is a lake then these canyons allow the rivers to flow into the conscious ocean. The lake of her voice is an island. Landlocked. Never again to trickle into the ocean. Never again to trickle into thought. 

Above my desk there is a small photo-copied picture tacked to the wall beneath my window. The edges are frayed and bending like the edges of my body. In it the three of us around a modest Thanksgiving dinner. Three blue cups on a table. My mother smiling like an angel in white. 

She was an angel. It is how she is most often described to me, has been most often described to me all my life. She is the angel watching the children cross the bridge in the storm on the candle. She wearing blue. The candle had been red. Every night the flame flickered at the bottom of the glass. 

She was an angel, they said, an absolute angel. Hair white as the sun in the pale blue sky. Gold like that. The sky itself often compared to her eyes.   

She loved to cook, they said. She would have been a great mother, they said. Your dad, he loved her so much, they said. It killed him when she died . . . 

I closed my eyes in a spring meadow on the roadside in the sun. Let its red seep into me. Disintegrate my eyelids. The light dissipates into crystals. Refracts memory. Alone. In this way, I feel her voice with my body. The whole of it. A distance too far to return. 

We are moving bodies on a spectral plain.                             To forget is to relinquish an absence.   

An artificial referential point in time: Where am I, and where is this going? Where have I been?   

In unmapping we dissolve the boundaries between ourselves and the outside world. Dissolve the vastness of history into a single moment of space. We alter. We relinquish. We discover ourselves in the fold. The void. It is staring back at us. We are the same. 

At twelve I cut my hair into a mohawk to remember freedom. My father slashed his wrists but the flesh still healed. Vertical scarlines like a map to forgetting. Fear doesn’t know what it’s like to have been. In that same year I never again saw my sister. She is her mother’s daughter, but she does not know that it was my mother who gave her a name. Voiceless. If she called, I wouldn’t recognize her. She was only eight when she left. Taken. Everyone whose voice is gone. Taken. They were angels. He is an angel still. Holy. Left. Taken. Is it the same? 

An image of the corporeal body. One grows, another decays. In truth both are decaying, as i decay into lowercase. into aftermath. into visions. into truth. done. gone but not seamless. i will rise into the earth. in my own case: forgetting. in another case: return. gone but not ceaseless. to be forgotten. to be: return. 

Domingo David Canizales III was born in Riverside, CA. He received his MFA in Writing and Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.