Words for Wednesday

Cinco de Mayo

BY LUIS J. RODRÍGUEZ

Cinco de Mayo celebrates a burning people,
those whose land is starved of blood,
civilizations which are no longer
holders of the night. We reconquer with our feet,
with our tongues, that dangerous language,
saying more of this world than the volumes
of textured and controlled words on a page. 
We are the gentle rage; our hands hold
the stream of the earth, the flowers
of dead cities, the green of butterfly wings.
Cinco de Mayo is about the barefoot, the untooled,
the warriors of want who took on the greatest army
Europe ever mustered—and won.
I once saw a Mexican man stretched across
an upturned sidewalk
near Chicago’s 18th and Bishop one fifth of May day.
He brought up a near-empty bottle
to the withering sky and yelled out a grito
with the words: ¡Que viva Cinco de Mayo
And I knew then what it meant—
what it meant for barefoot Zapoteca indigenas
in the Battle of Puebla and what it meant for me
there on 18th Street among los ancianos
the moon-faced children and futureless youth
dodging the gunfire and careening battered cars,
and it brought me to that war
that never ends, the war Cinco de Mayo 
was a battle of, that I keep fighting,
that we keep bleeding for, that war
against a servitude that a compa
on 18th Street knew all about
as he crawled inside a bottle of the meanest
Mexican spirits. 

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