José B. González

Scene from The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)


A sheriff. Looking for a man who traded
A horse. A Translator. Tells about a man who
Supposedly denies trading a horse, who
Supposedly refuses to admit a crime, who
Supposedly says no man can arrest him.

A sheriff’s death. Translated as a murder.

When my clothes sat in suitcases, my uncle
Would translate the aches from my stomach
To the corner pharmacist. My haircuts to
Barbers. After the scissors and the pills, my
Hair would sometimes be just as long, and
My stomach would still gurgle its pain.

Now that my clothes are two sizes bigger
He is the one who tosses Spanish words
To me so that I can catch them, turn them
Into English and use them on someone
Else. I treat them as if they had shells
Around them. The time he had me meet
With his boss who had docked him
For having the flu, I dropped the words
On tile and he almost got fired.

Gregorio Cortez was an outlaw. The pistol
In his hand less dangerous than the Spanish
In his mouth. At night I take a dictionary
The size of a brick and use it to load my
English. No horses, sheriffs or wagons
On our roads. But the more words I load,
The more I get the urge to pull a trigger
And shoot aimlessly until the bullets
Sounds like a Spanish word hitting


José B. González