Michael Torres


Michael Torres is a CantoMundo fellow born and brought up in Pomona, California where he spent his adolescence as a graffiti artist. His work is forthcoming or has appeared in BOAAT, Forklift, Ohio, Huizache, Miramar, and Paper Darts among others. He is the recipient of a 2016 Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant.

On Endings



You won’t want to remember this moment, but you’ll have to. So pick something else
to focus on as she talks about the faith she can’t place in long distance.

        The light above her porch will do. Look, how it flickers because it’s always
been left on, as if turning it off would lose it for good.

        You’re listening to her, though you keep checking on the light. The more you
look, the less it seems like a flicker. Instead, it takes on a sort of fluttering, like a bird’s
wings, like one is in there trapped in glass, wanting to free itself from this.



I like to picture an ancient civilization one cannot find unless having successfully
weaved through a jungle of trees so thick with green not even a bird could look down
in on it. But it’s there, in my mind. And here, women choose their partners in a ritual
the whole village witnesses. Origins of the first dating show. They go off and marry.
As for the brokenhearted, the dumped, whose sorrow there are no words for, they go,
as legend has it, as far away from their unrequited love as possible, marching up and
into a volcano. And their absence is honorable here.



So I go for a few years. Onward, to the end of the world, which in this world are the
salt-worn roads of the Midwest. In the summer, a maze of detours will take anyone
away from the main highway, past the Ford dealer and McDonald’s with its faded
golden arches to County Road 6. Eventually, a town so small it could disappear if you
blink long enough appears.

        This is where I stop. Parking space in the dirt.
        I approach an antique shop. It’s closed so I stare in. Behind the glass is a
jewelry rack fashioned like a tree; a pair of turquoise earrings perched on one of its
branches. I can hear myself think,
yes, she’d like that, I can almost hear the store bell

This is how leaving doesn’t mean ending.



The logic of the heart is a small space with no room for statistics or studies of great
distances etched across a roll of construction paper, but only enough possibility for
the wingspan of a small bird, its flickering.



Somewhere, a blackbird flies into
the side of an SUV. Black feathers
part from the bird itself; how they spread
like fingers from a hand opening
to wave goodbye, or how each feather
rises as if climbing the wind,
each one going from wherever
it had been. Love is like this.
I know I’m going to have to explain 


how love is also a bird bursting.
If you’ve been there, you know 

that it is more than one simple thing,
that love becomes what you cannot fit 

back together when it’s gone. The fragments,
images, incomplete, O how they flutter,

or flicker, about the mind—a light that only stays on.
But it’s still there. Here’s proof: a stormy afternoon

of her childhood in Mexico once described to me.
In the moment where the wind mixes with earth,

causing the air to smell of baked mud. I imagined
after the clouds came in to close the eyes of the sun,

dirt floating up, filling the empty space
where the light was a minute before.

I loved a woman who gave me her stories; she has mine too. 


On the highway for hours, waiting for the dark
road to clear, so I can pass the trailers
and their drivers who are used to this kind of loneliness. 

It’s been years. Someone else knows you the way I did,
but more. And I’ve been talking to myself in this car

for twelve hours, coming up with new dreams no one knows.

In Colorado, the farm roads of the Midwest end and turn into the beginnings
of dirt roads that wind up and release me in front of a motel where the roaches

mingle under the dusty yellow light buzzing them about, calling me in.
Inside I meet a woman with hands like a man—calloused and all knuckle—who left Texas,

packing along her two children, for this: night shifts behind the plastic marble desk at
the Super 8 in La Junta, which in English could mean
all together, a thin city born from a highway’s hip 

and passersby with no choice. But here is now home for her family, a place
where she can begin again, as she puts it, where their first Colorado snowstorm 

taught her how to successfully slide into a ditch. She mentions her children
in future tense—They will like the school here. They will have soccer—but steers

away from how things ended, or didn’t, in the Lone Star state. She repeats this phrase:
I just gotta keep on going as if the act of going, of movement, is not enough, but that a person

has to continue, perhaps gather momentum. I look at our hands—mine smaller than hers
—when she passes me a room key and think of how longing is both limited and limiting,

for everyone. 


A man can drive himself to madness trying to fill an absence.
I have more fragments of stories that will not leave: 

a ranch-town in Mexico with a name you repeated, knowing
I wouldn’t recall a place I couldn’t pronounce. How name’s haunt.


I remember the end of a poem by Weldon Kees from those college days with you
when we’d have lunch together after class Mondays and Wednesdays. How lunch was 

just almonds from a Zip-Loc bag we reached into at the same time. You told me
almonds came from peaches, that they were a fruit before they became what we held.

The Kees poem ends: What we have had
we will not have again. I put that line at the end

of a poem I wrote when it was over. I left it there
even after a friend told me to let it go, to find my own ending. 


I forget Weldon Kees left one morning, into a San Francisco fog
and never came back. Some say he ended his life in the water
under the Golden Gate. Others want to believe he traded this life
for one in Mexico: a barstool in a town so far away any map would overlook it. 


Everywhere I go,
I glance at each passing person’s
ring finger as a way of measuring
their own absence against mine.
This is how ending keeps ending. 


It was a quiet explosion,
the ending of that blackbird. 

My windows were rolled down,
the wind beating at my ears. 

It happened in front of me,
as I drove through Nebraska.

I remember black feathers
caught in a gust of wind

that came into existence
—or that had been there

all along—sweeping everything

away. Though I shouldn’t give it to you,
the memory of this blackbird, I might. 


I’ll want a coffee shop on a Saturday with you.
I’ll get a Thursday at a place with crowded barstools,
a place that offers free peanuts while you wait for your burger.

A bowl of peanut shells sitting between us.
I cannot state it more plainly.

How’s everything?
Your sister?
And your mom?
Tell them I said, Hi

But you won’t. You’ll tell me
about work nowadays, missing
the comfort of a semester
and I’ll be so close to everything
I want to ask. But we never ask the questions

we really want to because what we fear
are not the answers but the recognizable voices
providing them, the inevitability of it all.

There is no storytelling here;
here, a porch light will be nothing
more than a bulb that needs to be changed.

Here, an almond won’t remember it was ever a peach.

The shells on the table
will resemble a nest of tiny bones. 

And I’ll watch your legs straighten,
your feet tap the barstool’s metal legs
when you check your phone. 


I’ve thought it over. This is
what I want instead: the beginning

of that Kees poem—Then walk the floor,
or twist upon your bed—because I believe,

when read correctly, the line
will lift from the page. I want

to learn that building momentum,
to mimic its flickering and unapologetic

flight when it rises into the air
and finds its way out.



To Danny, After Listening to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly


Beyond Mankato’s downtown I can see the red light of a radio station tower. I like to
think you see the same light, that this tower marks the median. But you are in
California and I am a foolish imaginatarian. Beyond the light, the dark sits like a drunk
on the curb after being kicked out of the bar. The stars, nothing more than shattered
glass in an unswept sky.

Now that I’m gone, I keep looking back. Have you ever been away long enough that
you begin to see people you grew up with around a strange town?—their cars pass
you on the street and you want to catch up. The other day I saw Jesse’s sister’s Trail
Blazer making a right onto Riverfront Avenue. But when I caught up, the woman in
the SUV rolled up her window. No one is here to take me back.

I imagine you and the guys still cracking open bottles from 24-packs, smoking Camels
outside Jesse’s house. I see Jesse yelling about how his mom is gonna trip about the
trash and make him sweep-up early in the morning. Sometimes I want to drive all
night and all day just to get back in time to buy the next case of Bud Light. But it’s
been years since those nights and everyone’s moved on to girlfriends and kids. All I’ve
 learned is I don’t know how to say goodbye.

Danny, sometimes I think I don’t know home anymore. I used to think I was going to
return with a Master’s degree like a trophy for all of us to drink from. I’m not so sure.

One of the last times I saw you all, Balou asked what I was going to do after college,
and I told him more school because a BA doesn’t mean much nowadays. He rolled
his eyes and apologized for his high school diploma. Do you remember this? I’d
forgotten I was among men who took on 9-5’s to pay their parents’ rent. I couldn’t
explain to him what I meant because we seemed to be speaking different languages.

Leaving is what luck must look like; I don’t think I’ve suffered enough.

If I can’t return, all I have left is a shoebox above my desk where I keep everything
from back then: a Zip-Loc bag of yellowed letters from high school friends locked up
in juvie; the glamour-shot wallet-sizes of girls who became mothers and lovers
without me. There’s a miniature cowboy boot sleeving a shot glass—my name
inscribed along the calf—that was given to me by a woman I once loved. The shot
glass is gone. Photos: me and Liz, five years old, leaning against the yellow wall in my
front yard, holding empty Easter baskets and laughing. A news article. Two photos of
 us: one after my high school graduation. Both of us stare at the camera, the guys
around us. Everyone flipping off the camera. We did not know who we were angry at,
only that we held it inside us. In the other photo, it’s my college graduation, finally,
and our smiles tell the camera it’s okay to be happy.

Danny, I’m afraid to make something of myself and in the process become someone
different. I worry about going back home, looking for remnants of 2007, only to find
the ghosts of the boys I grew up with now cloaked in gray Dickies and collared shirts,
names stitched to chests, standing at the curve of the cul-de-sac. I’m afraid to get out
of my truck and extend my hand to men wondering who I am.