No rain for months and the irrigation ditch full, overflowing. Who can explain it? Somebody went and cut a chunk out of the ditch bank, maybe somebody fishing, maybe somebody hoping to get lucky like the time they found that shark in the Rio Grande, a real shark, a dead one, I saw it on the news. All I ever found in the ditch was some seashells, only Jah knows how oysters and clams end up in the desert.
It’s not for me to know. I in my little shack and the hippies that live on one side of me throwing crumbs at their chickens, their horse walking around in circles all day. They leave me alone except sometimes they come over to score. The other neighbors get a load of me and they’re scared, they make faces, they want to know why there always be so many people coming over all the time until I have to say, Shut up! Go away! Go to hell!
The water rises and washes over the cut in the ditch and it heads downhill, a stream that feeds a pond in front of my door. Now, I got to jump over it when I leave the house, or other people got to jump it if they want to see me. Leave dirty footprints in the house. Pain in the ass, mon. Sometimes if they got on sandals, they throw rocks at the door and yell, Rasta Dom! And that sound, that pow sound, makes me so mad I have to run to the door with my blade where they can’t see it and say, You want to mess with me? And they say, Rasta Dom, it’s cool, it’s cool, it’s just us. Then they come in with wet feet anyway.
I don’t like that sound. The sound of throwing rocks.
I am trying to tell you something. So listen! Are you listening? Do you know how? Look, I in my little shack, I fried some eggs for dinner, I think I’m getting a cold. Salazar came over this morning. A weed with a purple flower is wobbling beside my front door.
No, no. I once saw a fish pulled out of the river, a brown ugly fish, it flopped around in the dirt making big O’s with its lips. The kid that hooked it looked at me like he thought I was going to take it from him.
On Wednesday nights, I do poetry. I take the bus to the college and get off at the coffee shop called Bean Town, and people come and sign up their names for the contest. You read your poems out loud, and the people clap. The judges tell you if you get to read for the next round. They keep judging until they find a winner, people clapping louder and louder, people whistling. When it’s my turn, they say, And now, everybody give it up for Rasta Dominic.
Here is one of my poems.
All you people live your life with your eyes closed
You love only yourselves, and your money the most
But no one can hide from Jah’s eyes and Jah’s wrath
Only Jah is the way, only Jah is the path.
Everybody in the room has a funny look in their eye, like they know something about me I don’t.
I go anyway. Because she told me. The girl, that young blondie with the dreads and the patchouli stink and the new Birkenstock sandals, the one that comes with those college boys, maybe one is her boyfriend. Hardly talks but I can see in her face. Under her face. She think she knows how it is. She got dreads, nods her head to the reggae when I got it playing on the boombox, all the things that look like it from the outside, and then she pulls up with the boys in her daddy’s Lexus. One time she comes in and I look at her, at her smart freckle face with all the blondie blond dreads hanging down, and I get this jumpy feeling, it’s pushing me up to my feet, and while all the boys are dipping in their pockets for cash, I tell her, Listen. Listen to my poem.
Do you think that you can lie and steal?
Jah always sees what you do
Don’t try to run away from it
Jah knows what is inside of you
When I’m done I say, What do you think, college girl? Then before she answers, I reach out, I don’t know why, and I touch the soft, sticky lid of her eye.
She jerks back. The boys look like they got something too big in their mouths to swallow it, like something they’re thinking makes them want to laugh. My hand makes a fist and the alarm clock on the fridge goes tick, tick, tick. But blondie straightens herself up. She looks right back at me, and in one breath she tells me about poetry night at Bean Town. I don’t know what to say for a minute. But then I say to her, Okay. Thank you.
Knock and knock, everybody keeps coming. Maybe I should get out more. I don’t get up until the sun already be pointing at noon, then I stay in with the curtains shut. Why leave? They come. Come for what they want, come with their money, come for me. Slosh through the muddy water and come in. Stealing from me if I don’t watch them, steal from my stash and steal my magazines and steal my food, and when I catch them they’ll wish I hadn’t, they got a badness inside of them just like everyone else, I am trying to tell you. Listen. Don’t wake me up in the morning with rocks.
The other day, Billy Vasquez comes by and I hand it over and I say, Here mon. He looks at me and says, Why you always saying mon this and mon that? I say, Because I am Rastafari, mon. He says, Shit, man, you ain’t even black.
I say, Shut up. He says, Well you ain’t. Your white ass is sitting right here in El Paso with the rest of us. You ever even been to Jamaica?
I say, shut up, shut up, nobody knows me, you don’t know me, and I pull my blade so he has to back up and say, Okay, be whoever you want. Just gimme my shit.
For the rest of the day I can’t answer the door without that blade in my hand.
Salazar brought over the supply. He says, I don’t know if I’m going to continue this arrangement, you make me nervous, man. I say to him, very calm, I could fucking kill you if I wanted, mon. He says, no my man, you’re the one should be worried about me.
Stupid. Stupid. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know whose eyes are watching.
The hail came down hard, down from heaven, big as eggs, and I stood in it and opened my mouth. I said to the sky, Here! Here am I! And kept my mouth open. Nothing went in. The stones cracked my teeth. The stones smashed my eyes. This was Jah. And he bruised me over and over but still I kept open my arms, roaring Here! until the neighbors yelled at me Shut Up or they’re calling the pigs.
Now the pond is a lake in front of the house, lapping the bottom of my door.
The girl came again, up the plank I got for people to cross on. She always comes with those boys who laugh without laughing and shake my hand turned up sideways. Her face smart and shut. That hair. Gold. Almost long as mine. Mine has more weight to it. That’s what years do to you—make your head heavy, pull your head down.
My head. Pounds and pounds and pounds of it. Salazar left somebody’s car here, and I need to get out, get out now while there’s still some light in the day, so I say to them, Want to go for a ride? But I look only at her. Because maybe she can’t say with her boys there but I’ll know from the way she looks back at me.
The boys say, No, that’s cool, we gotta get going. But the girl shakes her head at me. Just shakes her head.
I am trying to say, I am trying to say, how I saw a fish, brown ugly suckerfish with long whiskers, someone pulled it out of the ditch and it flung itself around in the mud and still it tried to breathe.
The girl looks away, through the window. The light melts out of the sky and her lashes make skinny shadows. The curve of her neck glows with gold hairs.
They never pick me for the second round.
You guys ready? she says to her boys. But something bright gives a flash behind her teeth when she says it.
That’s when I move to her.
I say, Open.
Open your mouth.
She opens it wide, and there in the middle of her tongue is the shiny thing, piercing her. Pearl in the oyster. As though Jah touched her mouth with a burning finger and left behind one grain of sand. One righteous word. One lump of a pinpoint that might grow into something beautiful.
I grab her chin hard. Yank my blade out of my pocket and press it to her soft lip. Her wild eyes on my eyes, her breath hot on my palm. Does she know I could pry her open right now? Does she know?
I don’t move. Not even when the boys are on me, the smash of their bodies and the hollering and my twisted wrist, a knee on my neck. I only look up at her, my cheek pressed to the mud-smeared rug as she hiccups and shakes.
She doesn’t look away. Maybe she even knows what should have been mine.
The flood from my eyes is as salty as the sea.