John Manuel Arias

Featured Poet



coffy and la cumparsita


tonight she feltches battery acid into his missing eyes           he wriggles like a baby bird

mid      orgasm and blurts out I’ve just made love                  to a shotgun because she’s

sawed off at the waist                         he’s a magician           he’s the one who’s done this to her


the latest Soul Train episode is muted because they can’t really afford sound

instead he hums her father’s favorite tango                         it’s a funerary spell cried out

at the mouth     of a river where barges are swallowed

where she swallows him

where she too is swallowed


surrounded by clouds of horseflies she leaves           her father alone in a park         steals

his tongue right out                         of his mouth mid                                             sentence

he was humming his

favorite tango

it’s wintertime and he reaches out to embrace the cold         and      rigor mortis like

childhood friends                 they’d played futbol together in a field in front of a church

in front of a gun factory where mothers gave birth to metal and

fathers abandoned them anyway


she points the rifle at his forehead and leaves a perfect         pencil-thin blast          the

other kidnapper     the one who’d been shoveling diamonds into his ass instead of

their cartoonish money bags begs

for mercy                   but she’s an action star           a femme fatale in velvet shoulder

pads          her ovaries hum her father’s favorite tango          her finger squeezes the shy trigger


on the pavement she scrapes up her ankles    because you have to jump out of a window

when a head explodes                                    because heads explode like grenades in Montevideo

her mother waits behind the reporters            gargling a greenish liquid       that tastes like

breast milk                  she’s now her husband’s mausoleum and some familiar song

goes unheard inside


this is the first ever                                         live-action television broadcast

¿why did you do it?

give us the scoop

why is everything they ask so complicated?

those Tupamaros in the bank elevator

her fiancée bathed in acid

her father in a cloud of horseflies

and now the reporters

¿will he ever be loved?

tell us, tell us

he’ll never know

it can be our little secret


in the darkness of our             brick    and      lead     basement she’s paced back and forth

for the past 10 years                         leaving a furrowed grave the size and shape of her shame

on the television her interview is a rerun that cuts   off at the last minute

at the very best part                             and now after so long she’s forgotten the question

but all my life              the answer has hummed in her

head like the echo of a tango that was her father’s favorite





Devices: on the 90 bus at 6:18 AM,

after a one-night stand


without turning around

a crack-

head says to me:


child, there are


there are devices that

breach our

dreams and tell us

we’re not

ourselves anymore


and I think: ¿how many

times… how

many times have I

woken up

from dreams with the


that I wasn’t myself?


she turns and says

look here—

don’t even worry, because

this world

will forget you anyway

and whether

or not you’re the same person

today or

awake don’t matter


baby boy, if you’re here,

you’re dreaming

and if you’re over there

you’re dreaming

and if you think you’re


then you’re still sleeping


¿you want my advice?




because waking up is a bitch

for somebody

who ain’t themselves tomorrow





aileen wuornos was eleven

and a half when she died


you crouch slowly in a barren field

and on all sides, there’s nothing but

mountain, acheronian sky

the marching wildfire of ants

Guanacaste trees shiver like grave markers

like unnecessary crosses around

old women’s necks

at noon you crouch lower

watering the dry earth with blood and urine

nourishing a bursting seed in hopes

of a flower that will someday bring you rain





breath-hold breakpoint


when you drowned a mouse in the glass your grand-

mother still drinks from / two tiny bubbles / perfectly

round and fragile / blew out from its ears

so / I gotta ask / when you drowned yourself

in that same glass / and those bubbles cupped

your lovely ears / ¿what is it you heard?





soraya montenegro is a fictional character in the mexican telenovela María la del barrio


right when it’s over, he kisses both your eyes, tasting everything you

find beautiful: dark lovers scratched        out from the black, the face you make on camera

when you don’t know you’re being filmed, a pistol                 blooming from in between

your fingers


love skulks in like an invalid peacock, crippled by the weight of being wanted

crushed by the weightlessness of not

it unfurls its feathers with witchcraft, sways them like an eye blinking

you curl your torso into a shadow      when it throws you gently against three walls

painted with asbestos and someone else’s ashes


from a key hole, you observe him                  with your body, as full of life as you’ve ever

seen it—you won’t admit that he’s the reason why the ghosts in your bedroom holler out

at night         why they bang themselves against unopened windows


he’s incense that traps them                there, sage that burns them to blackened logs in a

fireplace              you’d hurled yourself into, candied                embers caught in your

teeth, a singe at the end of your tongue, a flame too delicious not to swallow


sprawled out on the sandalwood floor, you’re a match, ready

he hovers over you like smoke; you splinter              you’re tinder; he’s watching

preparing, because you love to break in his presence just so he can try to fix you


John Manuel Arias is a gay, first generation Costa Rican/Uruguayan poet and crepe-maker raised in a DC ghetto when it was the murder capital. His poems have appeared in Red Paint Hill, the Journal, Assaracus, Sixth Finch and others. His debut collection of poetry, “¡I’D RATHER SINK–!” is forthcoming from Red Paint Hill Publishing. He currently lives in San José, Costa Rica with his grandmother and four ghosts.

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