Joe Jiménez

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Joe Jiménez is the author of The Possibilities of Mud (Korima 2014) and Bloodline (Arte Público 2016).  Jiménez is the recipient of the 2016 Letras Latinas/ Red Hen Press Poetry Prize. His writing has recently appeared in Entropy, Drunken Boat, Atticus Review, and on the PBS NewsHour and Lambda Literary sites.  He lives in San Antonio, Texas, and is a member of the Macondo Writing Workshops.  For more information, visit


         From the rooftop Cele could see the fires. 

         “They are burning the montes,” Cele said.  She said this to Agma, the Keeper, the watcher who’d attended her, watched over and recorded her goings and tasks, her bouts of solitary, her confinement, for these three moons during which she’d been held. 

         “But there are people who live there,” the Keeper observed, trepidation inside her voice.

         “And so they are burning the people.” 

         Directness in Cele’s voz troubled the Keeper, the flatness of the sounds that emerged from the girl’s throat, the blaring absence of concern, it seemed, or sounded, which, if coming from deep within herself, from the red, red heart or the bone of it, would have indicated something had quelled inside her or been killed. 

         On the rooftop, the two figures sat very quietly, the ardent glow of the tree flames causing the sky to go rife with light, to forget its own darkness.

         “Why are they burning the montes?” Agma asked. 

         Questions from Agma, while not strange, often reminded Cele of wonderment, the curiosity of a smaller child, but she paused here, making this association, since such an idea spurred thoughts of her younger brother Kike, of his endless barrage of questions about the world around them.  Why were the birds long-tailed, and why did the horses avoid the shadows and trees?  Sister, why are the bees dying?  No, Cele did not want to remember her brother, she did not want to fill with the sadness of missing people, not on this night atop the rooftop with the cloud-clad sky above them and the trees burning, waiting for the moon, as she herself awaited her own sentence, which was to die.

         No, Cele did not want to die.

         Standing near the edge of the roof, Cele imagined their voices.  The screams of the people of the monte.  Their mouths opening with the wideness of witnessing, a woe known by bodies against whom wars were waged, flesh that knew fist and golpe, machete and uzi fire.  Her teeth bolted against themselves.  Her heart wanted its wail.   

         “How long will this last?” Agma asked.

         She stood away from the roof’s edge, near the small electronic light in the stone pit.  Like all Keepers, Agma had an artificial heart, she was a flesh-cyborg, after all, a form made of pieces and parts of the old world and the newer one, but still, regardless, there was a part of her that was like Cele.  Human.  Bloodborne.  Somewhere inside her.  Warm and muscular and breathing.

         “It will last.  These things never go away.” 



         On the morning Cele learned she’d been sentenced to death, she wept.  In front of the white stone sink, in front of the hard fluorescent light which spewed brightly from a long panel above the sink. Both her hands trembled from the weight of her sobs, both her lungs quaking and spinning and sputtering so that spittle erupted from her mouth and she coughed.  A thwacking frenzy of a cough.

         The guard by the door yelled.  Something Cele could not hear well, nor did she care to. 

         He banged the butt of his rifle against the reinforced window. 

         Agma stood against the stall’s thin wall.  It was plastic.  Transparent, also. 

         No privacy, Cele had thought early on during her incarceration.  But today’s worry concerned itself with a matter more pressing than privacy, and yet, Cele remembered they could see her as she coughed up the helm of her heart, this desire to not go down, to not surrender her life, to not quell the fire she carried for all living things, for the people from whom she came, from the land and the sky and the waters and the moon from which she was born and into which her body needed to return.  Remembering this, remembering, Cele bit her teeth and ate the next hot sob.

         “It is human to cry.”  Agma said this, hoping it would console the girl.  She placed a palm on Cele’s shoulder.

         “Tell them,” Cele replied, jerking away from the half-machine, pointing her thick wet brown finger at the grey-hued suit posted with his eyes and his weapon near the stall door. 

         But Agma whispered:  “What I mean to say is you never want a day to come when you feel something horrible and cannot cry.”



         It wasn’t that Cele disliked Agma.  At night, as Cele lay in the small stone cell, even before they took away her cot, she wondered why she could not embrace her Keeper. 

         The walls were made of interlocking slabs, cut from some quarry, long ago—in the aloneness, in those hard hours, Cele ran her thumbs along the stones’ rough skins, which had been smoothed out, almost polished, at one time, along their crags and their solidness, their bodies.  She wondered who’d made this?  Did they want to make these walls?  Were they, like so many others, forced to or coerced, pressed to by the difficulties of life, by the need to feed mouths at home, to provide?  In the hardest hours, Cele pressed her face to the stones and listened for voices, for sighs, for screams, none of which were there. 

         The only voice, of course, really, was Agma’s. 

         But it was a stale voice, and Cele wondered if that voice held warmth in its hands, held softness and love and the bird-bones of hope, a heartbeat, a real one, ever.  The times she tried to imagine Agma as human, as something other than the mechanical flesh of a Keeper, Cele found herself lost, roaming her old world, standing in the market or the fields, among the cactus fruit and the commuters and the corn, trying to place Agma among the faces of women she knew in her home community, before the Authoritarians came, before they shut down the schools and burned the relics, forced the people into the streets and killed their dogs.  And so, Cele seldom walked this remembering. 

         Oddly, all night, Agma sat on a plastic seat at the opposite end of the tiny rectangular cell, her only dictum to watch.  As artificial life-forms, Keepers did not require sleep.  Not like humans.  Accordingly, Agma could watch all night.  Her hands in her lap, her small eyes like two heedful buzzards circling, circling, circling a light. 

         So you are here to watch me, Cele had decided indignantly early on, thus resenting her Keeper, but as Agma had only shown her kindnesses, repeatedly, consistently, a small world of encouragement in a place such as this, Cele pondered the notion that perhaps Agma was there to do more than watch her, than keep track of her and report findings back to some Authoritarian—that perhaps Agma meant to watch over her, to watch out for her, to watch Them.  The idea confounded Cele’s understanding of the ways things worked among the cells.  Whenever the guards yelled their threats or the Authoritarians made their presence known with their chimes and their hymns, especially around the time Cele had first arrived, Agma attempted to mediate, to explain, in her own way, a way of mitigating what was coming Cele’s way.

         “She is only a girl.  She needs time,” Cele had overheard Agma apprising a white-robed Authoritarian asking too many questions. 

         “There is no more time,” the Robe scolded. 

         When Cele asked her Keeper what they wanted from her, it was only due to the fact that her whole body ached and she believed she might be dying, for Cele did not care what they wanted from her.

         And so, they’d taken away her food.

         They’d taken away her cot. 

         They’d taken away her book, a story about a rabbit made of velvet, which she loved very much and offered her comfort.

         They’d taken away sound and her showers and immersed her in darknesses.

         They’d taken away her hair. 

         One guard joked they would extract her teeth and fingernails next.  His laugh was a barrel of a chuckle, loud and untied and vexing.  And if that didn’t work, there were fingertips and eyeballs and ears and lips, other parts.  “We’ll rip out your heart, if we have to,” he barked.

         He was a brute man. 

         Later, Cele had spit his name into the piss pot when she shit. 

         But finally, most injuriously, the guards had taken the small clear, metal transom through which Cele could see and speak to, feel the light of and pray to the moon.  The moon.  Her moon, the Sister, her mother had called the white whole-broken body holding up the dark sky.  By this time, Cele had predicted this final sanction was coming.  She understood this last indignity—“my heart,” she muttered, clutching the moment inside her when she knew they would try to break her by taking her away from the moon.  Just a matter of time, she figured, and blankly, with her heart in her mouth, guarded there by her teeth and her still-bold wet tongue, she watched the guards cover the window.  A hard chrome metal grate.  Opaque, dull blade-grey.  Drilled into the stone wall with twelve metal screws and grinning.

         “So much for the moon,” the guard with the gun-drill grunted.

         “Fuck the moon,” the other guard jeered, spitting at the chrome plate.

         “They will not break me,” Cele whispered in the darkness as the cell door locked.

         “Do not let them,” Agma, from somewhere in the cell, whispered back.

         Counting her steps back to the place on the floor where she slept, Cele drew the moon over her chest using her own saliva and just her left thumb.  She could feel her own heartbeat, and this defiance, like so many others, mattered to Cele, it made her and unmade her and this was living, the fact of not forfeiting her strength to them, of still hearing the moon even if she couldn’t see her.  On the floor, in her corner, she pulled her knees to her chest and held the covering cloth she used as a cobija, pressing the fabric to her face. 

         As the weeks accumulated, in the utter darkness, with only protein and hydro-pills to fill her shrinking body, Cele realized she hadn’t known just how difficult this task of enduring would be.  It hurt to want to survive.  How much easier it would be to tell them, to make shit up, to spit it up like a sickness, this truth about where she’d been and with whom and where they’d taken the dogs.  And so, angrily, worn, trembling, Cele put her gaunt face and her palms to the cold polished stones, and she shrieked. 



         “Are there others here?  Like me?” Cele asked the Keeper one morning.

         This was a few weeks after she’d come to the cells.  A few weeks after the long journey across the coastal deserts and the grasslands and the great oak montes and the forests of the Lost Maples and Witnessing Pines. 

         From across the room, Agma shook her head.

         A sigh.  It’s what Cele’s body emitted.  That, and a darkness.



         “The fires.  They will burn the pines.  There will be nothing left.” 

         Cele nodded. 

         The rooftop, the wind, the clouds in the glowing sky. 

         She remembered what the people of the Gulf had told her about fire.  How the Authoritarians came, how they burned the plains so that nothing would grow for an eon, so that the animals of the plains would perish and no more would come, not for a long while, not until the children of the children of the Gulf people were very old and very frail.

         This is why they bring fire.  This is why they are burning the Witnessing Pines, Cele thought.  Looking over the roof top, she saw the sky glow hotter.  Its dark body orange now and flickering and the earth smoldering. 

         Agma held her hands near her lithium heart and stood near the fire-pit. 

         “Tell me everything, friend.” 

         With one hand, Agma reached toward the roof’s edge.  She reached toward Cele’s back. 

         A water cistern, a pile of stones, a bank of dark clouds.  The smoke rose in billows, towers and spirals, and much of the sky now covered in smoke and clouds, impossible to distinguish the two, the moon was nowhere to be found. 

         But Cele looked, nonetheless. 

         “Friend, tell me everything.  I will listen.  I will make sure the others hear.” 

         Agma took another step toward Cele.  Cele stood on the roof’s sharp edge, and Agma was almost touching her. 

         Nowhere in the sky could Cele detect an opening.  Nowhere for the moon to see her, to speak back.  Her heart beat very fast, like a hummingbird, like the heart had grown those tiny little wings and might take flight, cut through the cloud-smoke, search out the unflinching body of the moon. 

         But the jets came then.  Fighter planes zooming across the tops of the skyscrapers.  Even from the rooftop, Cele could see the missiles, not the vessels themselves, of course, but the explosions, the detonation and paroxysm of bombs striking tall, very old trees and the people who protected them. 

         “Cele.  They are going to kill you tonight.  Tonight.  I need you to tell me everything.” 

         But Cele said nothing.  She stood by roof’s edge and wondered what it would be like to open her arms, to let go of her breath, to wish her skin plumes and hollow out her bones, take flight.   



         “I can hear them.  I know there are others here.  I can hear them at night.  Why did you lie?”

         “I didn’t lie,” Agma replied.    

         “You shook your head.  When I asked.  When I asked you if there were others.  You shook your head no.  I saw you do that.”

         “Yes, telling you not to ask such a question.  I shook my head telling you not to ask.” 

         “But I wanted to know.”

         “Perhaps there are things you only think you want to know but do not really.” 

         Cele said nothing.  She stared at her soup.  On a grey metal tray it stood.  The second moon had come, gone, the hole in her body throbbing and mired.  In a sky-blue bowl, the copper-colored soup, the sprigs of blue corn and mint. 

         “It will get cold,” Agma warned of the calabaza heart puree.

         “Let it get cold.  I don’t think I want to eat.”

         Cele pushed the tray toward the Keeper.   

         Only a few days had passed since Cele had refused to tell the Robe the story of how she came to the arroyo where they’d found her.  To refuse to eat one’s meal was bad but to refuse a Robe was punishable by worse.   

         They’d found her in the forest.  They’d found her after a rainstorm, her moto badly damaged, the front wheel smashed and not spinning.  With only a bag of figs and cactus, a few jars of water, two sweet potatoes, and seeds, Cele had collapsed near a pine tree, by a half-dry arroyo, her head throbbing and a wound leaking red into the fallen brown needles.  The seeds came from very far away.  They knew she’d come from the city but had travelled a very long way.  But why was she coming back?  For whom?

         “You should keep your strength,” Agma urged.  “You will need to stay strong.”

         Cele kept her words stuffed in the folds of her heart.  What did this Keeper know about strength?  Of surviving?

         “Yes, then.  There are others.  If that is what you want to know.”

         Cele looked up.  Her eyes dark and brown like a wood Agma had never seen.

         “And now that you know there are others, you should eat.  You think you are the only one who matters, girl?  Eat.”  The Keeper pushed the soup bowl and tray toward the girl, and a bit of the soup spilled, but Cele just stared at the spoon and the bowl and the stained orange tray, the jigsaw-puzzle stone walls. 

         “Eat,” the Keeper repeated after a few moments, after Cele refused to move the spoon.  “Eat because they will need you to be strong, girl.”



           When Cele decided she would not die, she was seventeen years old and she remembered this.  She remembered it well.  Placed it in the husk that had grown over her heart and beat, still, a song about the moon and the waters of the Gulf and the little dogs whom she’d saved and her uncles who’d given their lives to help her do what only she could do.  It was a song about corn and old trees and coyotes who’d tried to rip her apart, who’d tried to kill her dogs, about the people of the Gulf plains and the deep deserts and the people who ate pain, the horses and the hogs and the tlaquaches and the little armadillo who’d helped her dig into the earth to survive.        

         On the rooftop, Cele heard the men with their guns coming up the stairs.  Just like Agma said.  Just like she’d promised would happen.  Near the edge of the roof, Cele could hear their boots, the fast stomp as the men climbed, as they rushed the door, the upheaval with the guard posted at the door, the gunshots. 

         Cele did not know exactly what was occurring. 

         Inside her heart, she felt air and hollowness, a coating of heat that swelled like oil or plumules.

         But she stood by the roof’s sky-edge and said to herself, I will not take their bullet. 

         The wind answered her and listened to her skin, I will not.  I will not take their bullet, it said with an echo.

         When the men with their guns kicked open the metal door, Agma placed herself before the girl, her arms outstretched.  Behind the men, the guard at the door lay in a red pool, the fluid leaking from his chest. The bootprints marked the rooftop.  A slow march.  Steady, direct. 

         It was quick then, the shot.  One shot.  The gun brought up behind the lead guard’s skull. 

         Cele recognized the taller guard, the one from her cell.  Osto he was called, the one who’d bolted the transom and kept her from the moon, the guard whom Cele had so hated, taking his machete-gun, putting a bullet in the back of his companion’s. 

         No one expected this. 

         The man whose name she’d spat into her shit.  She hated his face.  Osto, his name.  His bullet lodged now in the other guard’s skull.

         Shot, the first guard fell to the ground, his body limp, his face left with its last look, the curled lip, the eyes wide and aiming.

         Wind pushed at Cele’s back.  She felt light and her bones felt emptier, somehow. 

         Agma began to plead.  “She is only a girl.  She will tell me everything.  Just wait.”

         But Osto took his arm and pushing Agma away, motioned to Cele, “Come.  Hurry.  Come.”  Pointing toward the stone stairwell, over the first dead guard’s body, he urged her. 

         And it was too late. 

         In the sky near the rooftop, a drone appeared, hovering, its thin sharp grey blades spinning steadily.  For a long moment, the three of them on the rooftop stared at the red eye of the drone.  Then two of them.  Then five drones.  Then nine of them, standing their air, thwarting gravity, surrounding the rooftop.  Each aimed its red eye on the cistern, and the guard said to Agma, “Too late.  Give it to her.  Give it to her!” he yelled. 

         “Give her what??”

         “Your heart.” 

           Before the drones let go their weapons, Agma did it, she reached deep into her chest and extracted the very hot lithium heart, which fit in her palm then inside Cele’s and thumped still. 

         As the barrage came, the guard hurled himself across Cele’s body, a vast dark cope.  Then, the flash and the firestorm, the monstrous boom and the man holding his big winged body across Cele’s as she put her arms around him and pulled him back, toward her, toward the openness of air. 

         “We won’t die,” he would remember her consoling him, or promising, or warning, as they fell.  Her voz like a tiny red bird.  A small creature holding onto a tree. 

         The dark cope clung to the wind. 

         Through fire, they flew. 

         As they felt the wind over their spines and their jawbones, their clothes burned off their arms, as Osto, thinking this was his end, said, “For the moon.  Do it.  Comételo.”

         As they plummeted toward the asphalt street, as they glided through the inferno that consumed the city, over street lamps and origami skyscrapers, small arms fire and halogen billboards, as their bodies cut through the smoke and the smoldering and the falling rock and screams, Cele felt the man’s big body begin to break, parts of it coming undone, she could see tears in the cope, fiery tears, too, and she felt her own body also begin to come apart amid some blazing trees and ash, and so, Cele did just as she knew she had to—she opened her mouth and let go her tongue, and surrounded by fire, she ate the Keeper’s small heart. 




© The Acentos Review 2016