“The Wanton Life” by Luis J. Rodríguez

For my son Ramiro, sentenced to 28 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections

The long fingers of a wanton life,
from the ends of a twisted highway,
pull at us with the perfume of the streets
and its myriad romances,
all intoxicating, gripping at our skins;
as blasts of late-night shoot-outs,
the taste of a woman’s wet neck in a dark alley,
and the explosion of liquor bottles
against a cinder-block wall
free us from the normal world,
while chaining us to the warped cement walks
of our diminished existence.

I run with you inside of me
entering layers of darkness,
into the swaddling of night,
with accelerating thoughts,
in the velocity of the city’s demands,
constantly moving, but inside standing still,
searching for words to cut through the drivel,
the screams around my ears,
the pain of neglect and addictions,
running with your voice in my throat,
you, calling out my name,
searching for father while I searched for mine,
on your earth of many souls,
craving the moon,
the lunacy and warmth
of these rocks covered in mud.

I dreamt I had a son.
His name was Ramiro.
He was a beautiful boy.
He loved his father.
He laughed and played and smiled.
I dreamt such a great boy.
I woke up.
And the nightmare of the reality told me,
I should be there.

The outlaw life, idealized, symbolized,
even kids who’ve never truly lived are “killas;”
it’s in the rhymes, in the bass, in the rhythms
from inside bouncing cars or yawning windowpanes.
Tattoos on faces — they’re saying, you can’t change this;
you can’t change me.
Permanent pathology.
But that’s only the body.
Inside, somewhere, there’s a different song
Who will listen to that song?
Who will know these cries because they’ve languished here, too.
The truth is we’re all broken.

What regrets and longings must we bear?
What clutch of inner fears forces our hand?
What frenzy knocks on our door
and then when we open it,
darkness is swept in?
Do we need more laws but less humanity?
More punishment and less redemption?
As Common asks, “High expectations but low patience?”
Fear drives policy and then drives us from being human.
It’s time to understand, go open-eyed into ourselves,
into our deepest fears, among our underground youth,
into the futureless future, and then rise up.
The time of sleeping is over.

The falling is so forceful,
a gravity of soul to the bottom.
The motion downward takes in reams of unwritten poetry,
paintings with no canvases,
notes without melodies.
As a young man, I wanted somebody to stop me,
to stop me from crumpling into the death surrounding me,
the death that gives one life.
I didn’t seem to be able.
Sometimes prison can work this way
— most of the time it keeps you falling, further, deeper.
The key to life is to have the words,
the /images and the songs as the barriers to all the great falls.

Collapse into yourself;
fold into the pages of your journals,
into the chords in your head,
into what your heart sees.
Every other choice has death in it,
so choosing your death seems empowering.
Art is about creativity,
new breath, new birth.
The only empowering course that echoes,
that ripples, that takes on new shapes as it goes outward.
Not down — lateral to the rest of us.
It took me a while, but I learned to fall sideways.



Luis J. Rodríguez — of Mexika-Raramuri descent — is founder-director of Tia Chucha Press and a cofounder of Tia Chucha’s Cafe Cultural and its not-for-profit arm, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural — a bookstore, café, art gallery, performance space, workshop space, and computer center in Sylmar, California. He’s also co-founder and editor of the Xicano online magazine, Xispas.com.