My mother’s hometown,
surrounded by achingly beautiful mountains,
chills me. I am awake thinking about
stories of her childhood swallowed up
by an earthquake and the town
drowning in a celebration
of flowers every year afterward.
I am an apathetic teenager listening to
a strange store alarm
that blares every hour until
the sleepy vendor opens
the metal gate and shuts it off.

The Chinese restaurant’s sign
across the street
shines blue and red, so I count
time between the exhalations
of my mother asleep on the room’s other side.
I wait for stray dogs to bark
on cue, wishing they’d curl up
on a stoop somewhere on the block
and shut up. I turn in the bed every few minutes
and mangle my limbs in sheets
that scratch lullaby
out of my head.

Store alarm again
reverberates off unfinished rooftops
made of cement and rebar,
decorated with potted flowers and
clotheslines full of laundry.
For a moment, with my eyes closed,
I capture every town sound
and convince myself that I understand
my mother’s hunger for sleep after so many years
without. Then I multiply it. I wish I could wake her
and ask how to say insomnia
in Spanish except hope
she’s in the midst of peaceful sleep.



"This poem was inspired by past visits to my mother's hometown in Ecuador. The country's energy is palpable, with what I can only explain as an ancient energy, that I do not feel in the US. Also, it evokes the paradox of being the outsider and wanting to belong even if I wasn't aware of that want at the time. I wanted to explore the ways a new place can terrify you and draw you in, simultaneously."

Juan Morales is the author of a new collection of poetry, The Siren World (Lithic Press) and Friday and the Year That Followed (Bedbug Press). His poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Huizache, Crab Orchard Review, Copper Nickel, and others. He is a CantoMundo Fellow, the Editor of Pilgrimage Magazine, and an Associate Professor of English at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where he directs the Creative Writing Program and curates the SoCo Reading Series.