After the Honduras-El Salvador Soccer War of 1969

yesterday as her toes tapped


& stopped

      stopped the soccer ball, she passed

       past the reach of

legs that moved like scissors.

i screamed run, run, Cassandra,


& tried to will her to hear the pangs of death

the soccer war of 1969,

my mother rock-

ing in her chair tapp-

ing my back, wait-

ing for air to rise out

of my chest like a sigh of a goal.

that was the year Honduran troops blasted caps of oil tanks

&  the nighttime air became flares of body parts:

i couldn’t yet crawl or kick a soccer ball

but i could hear my father stomp, run

& run (and then stop to put on his uniform), stomp,


& run (and then stop to douse charred bones).

in between snapping the heads of chickens,

& bragging  about the header that turned

the deciding home game in El Salvador’s favor,

he would carry tapped

tap water through fields,

stopping to reach the mouths of two-year olds like me,

the ones thirsting for a water’s drip,

         drip (a sip)

or a touch of an absent father’s fingertip.

& yesterday, as a boy with wild hair & the wear

of a child (who wins with cheating grins)

caught up to Cassandra’s shins & slide tackled

her from behind, a ref looked down

at his own shoes without whistling & walked

away not listening to my protests.  my toes

tightened into knots & then hardened

like heads of hammers, they tapped

down into blades of grass, as if pushing nails

into the palms of the earth. 

her feet muddied & her knees scabbed,

she wiped dirt from her lips & pushed

herself back up to chase the ball.  i willed

her feet to spell the words of war, to forget forgiveness,

to let the poetry of revenge of soccer warriors

be recited through her kicks,

to wind back her leg like

a slingshot, shoot the moon,

leave a sign that she was there,

to stretch the stitches of scars

& remind everyone of her country’s past.

but as her legs pulled her to the other side of the field,

her toes tapped

tapped the soccer ball forward into a lazy roll

that wandered with an aimless yawn. 

i stood



waiting for the tremor that never came.

& after she went through the line of players

who high-fived each other

as if there had been no trip

tripping, she tapped

       tapped my back &

walked forward

toward gulps

gulps of water,

as if that was all that mattered,

as if it was 1969 and she understood

about the sudden disappearance of fathers.

Brown University Librarian Strike--1990

One side of my lungs still carried smoke

From the strike at my father’s factory

So I carried my books cautiously

As I walked toward Brown’s rock.

Library staff weren’t alone

With their rolling messages,

Wages, benefits, justice,

As students in denim uniforms

Marched in unison, a platoon

Of conscripts registering on the spot.

What could they know about the fire

That forms when the metals of

Wages, benefits, and justice,

Are melted together?

I had heard some of these students’ comments

In literature classes, professing their love of Dostoyevsky

Without ever having had a key to the underground,

As if walking around Providence’s downtown

Was the same as being poverty bound.

I wasn’t about to trade in a zero in my poetry seminar

Just so they could feel like heroes for a semester,

So I lifted my legs as if I were stepping over mud,

And I dived into the literary section,

Into the PS call numbers

Reserved for American authors, but on this day

The books, standing shoulder to shoulder,

Seemed to be blocking my path,

Their backs faced me.

On my way to check my books out,

I avoided eye contact with the portrait

Of John D. Rockefeller, but was pulled toward

The image of Edward Inman Page

And a biography of his life,

… born a slave

… family escaped through Union lines

… one of Brown’s fist two Black graduates

… Ralph Ellison’s grade school principal

… pupils thought him a terror, not because

… of his punishments but because they

… abhorred the thought of their idol knowing of their delinquency.

Those last words, the final link to the chain

Of protestors outside, wrapped around my books

And weighed them down to the point

Where when I cited them in my presentation

The following week, they felt heavy like the signs

My father, my idol, carried for hours and days

In a hot haze as he and his sweated brothers from Local 2429

Tried to melt wages, benefits, and justice into one,

Staring down people like me who crossed picket lines,

Crossed as if we didn’t have to learn about trades,

Crossed as if all that mattered was the weight of good grades.

i couldn’t for a teenaged bully’s death

i couldn’t for a bully’s teen death—

shot in the abdomen three times—

trigger pulled by the hand of a child

who sought the bullet of a gun

to stop the bull’s horns

from digging deeper into his abdomen.

before he died in the shadows of Victorians on Coit Street

he stole fieldstones from walls—only to crack them against storm doors—

& stored rocks in his yard so he could pack them with snow & whirl

them toward the heads of anyone who tried tiptoeing past his high rise—

the giant outline of his cradled body captured the enormity of his hands.

at 10 he used those hands to shove chests—

the beatings wouldn’t rest against running backs—

even then he’d laugh as if was chasing rabbits—

it was his habit to make the smaller ones cower.

by his 13th, teachers began crouching—

there was one who cried as he walked out of the principal’s office—

it was as if he was offing them 1 by 1.

watching tv with the door locked—

that’s where i was when i heard that his hands had been stopped—

on the news they showed people putting their hands over their mouths

as their lips trembled and they spoke about the times, the crimes.

but my fingers, they stayed tight like fists—

i couldn’t for this bully’s teen death—

not when this would end the thumping on chests—

i couldn’t, though i wish my palms would at least rest—

wished his father’s bars, his mother’s scars,

hadn’t turned him—me—us into this.


Jose B. Gonzalez is the Co-Editor of Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature and the Editor of His poetry has been published in numerous publications including Palabra, OCHO, Callaloo, and Colere. He is the recipient of the 2006 Poet of the Year Award presented by the New England Association of Teachers of English and is an award-winning educator. He has contributed critical and nonfiction essays to such journals as New England Quarterly and to National Public Radio. He has been a featured speaker at colleges and universities throughout the country.  Currently a Professor of English at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, he lives in Quaker Hill, CT.

Jose B. Gonzalez

Three Poems