The Cantu Series

by Zeke E. Sanchez
Delectable Mnts
Third Place, January 2012
Judged by John Timpane

Is a series of poems covering
the lives of Efrin Cantu;
a man non-existent in the suburbs
though he lives there as a daytime
shadow, gone at night. The crickets
sing in the walls or rub their legs
or wings, and he does, too, since
he’s not real. Elfrin left
with his shorter brother to that
village in Zacatecas or Michoacan
never to return. Maybe waylaid
by Zetas or the Sinaloa Cartel,
maybe harassed by the Border Patrol,
maybe got tired.

Here, he mowed my lawns,
the front and back. Always optimistic,
vibrant, spring-armed and strong,
solid, they waited for the weekends
to play soccer, a passion. I
don’t know where they went. They
left last fall after the leaves
had stopped falling from the giant oak
and hickory. In a series
of letters I imagined them alive
and well, having come back
to California where
their imaginary sister owned a tortilleria
and they both got jobs. It’s
a nice sentiment on my part,
as if here on Bleeker Street
there weren’t enough homeless.

Somebody in a Prius dropped
off two dachshunds
at the corner by Carl’s Pizza
yesterday. They huddled
together at a busy corner. As
if that’s not enough. I wanted
to find the owners and just
look them in the eye.

"The Cantu Series" is perhaps the only poem in the group to address anything like a topical issue, and yet it needn't be seen that way, as the poem shows -- this story is of human beings and their relations and how history throws them together and apart. I like the way the poem refers to a "series" of other poems someplace else about the lives in *this* poem. That series, so described, may actually exist, or it may not. But the point is that it *could* -- you could write a whole book of poems on the lives of Efrin and his shorter brother. So the poem expands, to take in a possibly imaginary series, implying a sweep, an inclusion. I just love that notion. And it's mirrored by the "series/of letters" the speaker writes (to whom?), in which imaginary pasts and presents are imagined for the Cantus. The lives we might lead, we could lead . . . the dangers and encroachments . . . the truth and what we think the truth is. Lovely stuff. "He's not real," we're told, which is the only self-evident lie among all the self-announcing fictions here. Sure, he is. He's the guy in this poem. And THEN the lovely turn at the end, where we appear to leave the whole subject of the Cantus, migratory workers, sub-rosa American lives . . . and see a moment of cruelty to the unsuspecting, and a burst of righteous anger, right at the end. The connection is left lucidly unspoken. Excellent movement around line-endings, and a resolute avoidance of anything lyrical. Yet this is a humane poem full of love and wonder. ---John Timpane