Lessons on Expulsion by Erika L. Sánchez

Erika L. Sánchez reads two poems from her debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion, published in July by Graywolf Press.


The moment before death the air—
inexplicably—tastes of wet horse. 
The chest expands and something
unspools like wet vines. In this land
of child-brides and teenage assassins,
a bus full of students dissolves
into the mountain mist. A retinue
of beheaded journalists mouth
clues while the young president
delivers platitudes. But what
do they matter?  The students
don’t know the kilos of heroin
stored below them. A boy of 18,
eyes gray as bathwater, charts
a man’s face under his black
mask. Why even bother? the boy
wonders.  The night’s only
witnesses—the stars, an ocelot,
a single strand of hair caught
in a barbed wire. Even the zopilotes
won’t eat the glut of the unsayable. 
The blood-birds hiss and grunt
while a man with pointed teeth
whistles a love song. Why waste
time with metaphors?  The body
is kindling. The body is a plastic
bouquet shriveled at a crossing.
The trees bow and weep, but
everybody knows the rain revises
nothing, the charred bones belong
to no one. Beyond the verdant
mountain, a caravan of mothers
and fathers beg a cankered country
for the locus of cruelty. Farther,
a troop of camouflaged men burn
fields of red poppies—those lovely
flowers of happiness and squalor.

A Woman Runs on the First Day of Spring

When I am a stranger to my own
ruin, twilight reminds me
to give alms to my best sins.
March: the city is purging
in the humility of worms, salt
washing from the grasses.
When I breathe in, I say thank you.
When I breathe out, I say gone,
I say garden, I say guns.
Three crows devour the dead
rat. Look at all that booty,
the man mutters and blows
me kisses. The sky is worthless
and my bulbous ass is always
a dinner bell. I run farther,
I run with a feather inside
my ear, I run from a bird
with a broken neck and follow
the sound of thawing snow.
Aren’t we all boundless
though? The way a dream
secretes the morning after,
the way moths feed on the eyes
of fawn. Two and not two—
vines that strangle trees never
say they’re sorry. I reach
the lake with this grateful
ache in my throat. And if I say
my body is its own crumbling
country, if I say I am always
my own home—then
what does that make me?


“Forty-Three” and “A Woman Runs on the First Day of Spring” from Lessons on Expulsion. Copyright © 2017 Erika L. Sánchez. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.