Mario Alejandro Ariza

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Mario Alejandro Ariza is a Dominican immigrant and a Michener Fellow in poetry at the University of Miami’s Master in Fine Arts program. He holds a Master’s degree in Hispanic Cultural Studies from Columbia University. His poetry can be found in places like The Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, and The Raleigh Review, and his journalism appears in The Atlantic and The Miami New Times. His current project focuses on sea level rise and Miami.

3 Poems

Death Mask of the Black Messiah

“Have had an encounter with Olivorio's group at a place called “devil’s field.” The engagement occurred at 7:00 am. Killed four, including the Bandit “God” Olivorio. His corpse has been brought down to San Juan. Have captured 14 carbines, 6 pistols, and 150 rounds of ammunition. No casualties suffered.”

— Telegram sent by Major Ansel Williams, 5th Marines, June 29th, 1922


After what happened, a white man took the picture.
Bullet riddle. Nose broken. Rope tie. Corpse, 

whose hands had worked now stolen lands. Cut -
lass wound spilling out rum, puss, mare’s milk. 

This is what didn’t happen: resurrection, unceasing
scansion of a rebel’s heart, Jesus saying to Thomas 

“Extiende aquí tu mano, y ponlo en mi costado.”
The photo states: Stop doubting death and believe. 

A black messiah has been killed for holy insurrection.
His disciples had bound together to shoot marines. 

His likeness is printed, posted, a warning to a conquered
people: “Here is your ululating tongue of fire, cut out.” 

For many, it’s their first photograph: bloodcrust
body strung between two stout poles, lifeless neck 

of Olivorio tilting dead eyes heavenward. Faith
works backwards, however, and is known to be  blind.



I can’t talk to god no more, won’t you call him for me on the landline?
It still works when the power’s out. He’ll probably say: “Fuck those lard 

Loving asshats over at the Santo Domingo Country Club, little white
umbrellas in their mixed drinks.” He’ll boast that no wall capped 

by jagged bottle shards lambent in the sun can interdict his radical love.
But please, if y’all do talk, ask about that fat-ass gout ridden colonel 

pandering for bribes on the border between Santo Domingo and Haiti,
ask him what the payment is when a Haitian woman hasn’t the cash.

Ask also after that visiting Polish Cardinal exchanging medicine
for blowjobs from skinny brown shoeshine boys under the statue 

of Fray Antonio de Montesinos down at the quiet end of the
Malecón, where even the famished pigeons don’t talk. Oh, y antes

de que se me olvide, ask after that country which can’t love itself; 
The Dominican Republic, island with its mind on Europe, brown 

melao skin blistered by sun. Pregúntale a Díos también about Johnny
Abbes, Trujillo’s military intelligence chief, who killed my great grandfather, 

whose espiritu stalks my yellow fever dreams, a machete called justice lodged
in its skull. Is there forgiveness for him, for the fascists, the genocidaires? 

God will quote Aquinas, or Merton at you. Don’t listen. Johnny repeats
a sermon each night he appears: “The Real Academia of Language disapproves 

of your mongrel espanglish, your spirits sits under the Puerta del Sol, not
with it’s feet in the Rio Massacre.” Listen if I should fail to wake up, evil 

will still persist, in spite of the omnipresence of God’s love. But know that dead,
you and I can be anywhere; aqúi in Nueva Yol, or in Cádiz caliente, or dozing 

in Dajabón; and they are hungry in Ouanaminthe, and God, who is still silent, who
makes me feel like when I catch my lover texting dirty pictures to another man?


The Map
                                                      After Elizabeth Bishop

Cliffs that break this crumbling city from the sea
become bronze triangles. Faint green dashes 

outline a tyrant’s neat new neighborhoods,
drawn on the Napoleonic Plan. The hot, dense 

venereal quarters of the Old Colony are done
in syphilitic red. Even if the mapmaker had 

to change the city’s name, this corner of his atlas
is at least coyly honest: Ciudad Trujillo gets writ 

in sulphurous font, while little blue letters cool as
azulejos abutt an aged cathedral; they whisper 

Santo Domingo de Guzmán. A new airport, now
Old, edges these wards hungrily as a starfish 

would an urchin. Verlaine once said the forms
of cities change faster than the souls of men, 

he wrote that as Napoleon the 3rd was ripping up
Old Paris by the roots. On this island, the souls 

of men don’t seem to change. If the map were modern,
riotous slums would enjamb the mullioned precincts, 

but this is an old projection, drawn by a steady hand;
Urbi the New World’s oldest city, Orbi the island it slowly 

ruins. Fell mountains like bone spurs stretch strip-mined
topaz east to west, greenish phlegmatic polluted rivers vein 

towards a plastic choked sea, an ox blood salt lake shines
like an endangered cayman’s eye in the mangroves at night. 

Every exhausted bauxite mine, each now abandoned sugar
mill and dead palm oil plantations get clearly labeled in dun 

dingy ink. Of course the free maroon hold-fasts are erased,
and the tierras comuneras expropriated by invading Americanos 

get named after the gran familias the gringos gave them to: Robles,
Hatuey, Des-champs, Vicini…The eye wanders west, and yes 

the map extends to Haiti, though  here the palette changes:
the forceful browns turn famelic around the Massif Du Nord

the black of Jérémie is obscure and absolute; Le Cap gets
oddly ignored. Only prideful Port au Prince (now laid so low 

by earthquake) receives La Capital’s pop out treatment: it
extends like a hand that’s crawled out of the sea to grab 

all of the low hills around it, the mapmakers lines pointing
imagined lusts and hungers to the east, subtly blaming this 

brother capital for the island’s ills, as if to optically justify
some despot’s genocide. It’s sad, really; how all maps lie.

© The Acentos Review 2017