Three Poems – Willy Palomo


Prayer from a hole in the wall

I still feel your sweet fist inside me,
the pop of plaster and tense tremble
of knuckles that broke me into existence.

My sisters stare star-like out of bedroom walls,
brothers mumbling illegible braille.
We are eyes that never blink or sleep,

mouths that never cry or speak. Jaws unhinged
and open. Our teeth flake and shudder
when we breathe. We know you are always

listening: as we suck mouthfuls of cold air,
as we blow pipes in the night with hymnals
of rust and brass. This is the way we worship

the fists that birthed us, how we attempt to forget
the miracle of our conceptions.
I cannot imagine what fury roused you

to constellate your living room
like a burnt out night sky, what wound
sparked your spirit into a fit,

but I know when hands hold onto nothingness
tight enough, they inevitably curl
into fists, hurl their desire

on any kissable surface.
Your longing becomes a weapon
you cannot contain.

If my birth was an act of violence,
I will always be a hole in the wall,
a reminder of hands that chose to close and twist.

I am an emptiness you cannot heal
without silencing part of the story,
without destroying me.

¡O bony creator of my tongueless mouth!
¡O Saturday evening blackouts
drunk on thunder and rain!

All I can do is wait
for this house to collapse
to rip me at once

into a larger void,
another expanse thinner
than mercy or air.

I will always be tempted
to cave in, to forget the father
who gave me life

in the palm of his hand,
who raised me to look so much
like the mouth of a bottle.

Pero, Papí, I can’t reject who I am
whole: a black-eyed truth, a past
still wet with bruises.

All I have left to do is set here
and calcify your name like scars
into the wall, a testament

to your empty omnipotence.
Never letting you forget
what you have done.


papi’s belly

has a slide where dwarves chuck chihuahaus
down intestines thick with tecate

if you press your ear above his navel
you can hear them yip and scowl inside

here, an octopus rides the face of a bear
pissing ink into his angry mouth

here, piranhas slowly emaciate fussy
cows munching on fields of churning grits

at 5, I’d sit up and ponder the paranda
in his belly then, I’d jump on his bed

until he made me something to eat
I cannot translate what his bellymonsters

told me but if you placed the child
of your ear against my hunger

you can hear the same creatures
begging your face to enter

the fat cage where my laughter
strips the skull to its naked gleam

so hungry, you can still find
my bite marks circling papi’s eyes

pock marks where my little mouth
failed to swallow a pound of flesh


El Hombre Machete

After Tía Tere

Tía Tere told me his real name
was Daniel. Ojos como las boquitas
mojadas de botellas cristales. Face,
a chilled Pilsner with a cracked side.

Daniel, un mano amputada, mitad
de una oración callado en su puño.
Daniel, a bloody foot running nowhere
by itself. Daniel, who split Usulután

into myriad directions with the slash
of his machete: arm, leg, leg, arm, head,
broken votive statues to a thirsty god.
Whose horse hooves echo the gut-spill

smack of his blade and leave police
with slippery limbs to gather and no
liquor to bury them. Daniel, better
known by locals as el hombre machete.

¿What else do you call a motherfucker
who hacks apart men, women, and children,
for the nickel-and-dime of their pockets,
cabeza por cerveza and vice versa?

Everyone knows to run away from an indio
with a name that ugly—everyone except
for my Tía, of course. ¡Don’t be a hero,
niña estúpida! cried abuelita in chorus

with all the other rational people.
Naw. While mamas seized their babies
and grown men ran and left their balls
at their tables, niña Tere held her mesas

down, just a teenage campesina y cocinera,
a female David against midget Salvadoreño
Goliath, and she wasn’t ’bout to let some
crazy machete-wielding psycho-killer

chop her family into chicharrones.
¿Do you know who I am? he asked her,
eyes squinting like a blade. Of course,
my Tía gave him a side-eye twice

as sharp and spat ¡hell, I don’t give
a fuck! She ain’t move, not even
as he declared, Soy el Diablo
and pulled out the gory machete,

face twisted with satanic laughter.
Naw. Niña Tere laughed along cuz
she been already seen the devil
and he ain’t him. So he swung

his machete, a warning strike at the table
and got it stuck. My Tía didn’t hesitate.
Behind her back, she pulled a seething
red poker from the fire. Said she stabbed

ese carajo in the neck as he shrieked
like a butchered sow and fled, leaving
behind his machete, staggering back
to his horse, never to be heard of again.

Tía Tere tells me all this as I help her
prepare hojas de guineo for Christmas
tamales, my punishment for snapping
the limbs off my sister’s Barbie dolls.

Her hand a heavy slash across
my cheek as she sits, humming
softly to himnos, with legs not even
her diabetes could take from her.

I ask her if she’s a murderer. Smiling
a crooked old lady smile, she tells me,
she would do it again to any man
who acts like he owns this world.


About Willy Palomo

Willy Palomo is a US-born Salvadoran raised in Mormon Utah. He learned poetry through the worlds of slam and hip-hop. His work can be found in muzzle, Vinyl, Solstice Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. He is currently pursuing an MFA in poetry and MA in Latin American and Caribbean studies at Indiana University. View all posts by Willy Palomo

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