Tiller of the Ground by Jose Oseguera

My brother didn’t ask for my mother’s womb

To open its mouth to receive her husband’s seed.

He didn’t ask to be part of a family sapling

Too diseased to be called a marriage.

He didn’t ask to live in an apartment building

Where the property manager’s kids acted

As their mother’s henchmen—

Garnering fear from the kids

Who slept cramped

On hand-me-down mattresses

As she garnished their parents’ Welfare checks—

Because she was jealous

Of how torrid and impetuous and dashing

Her “assistant” manager husband

Wore his grin whenever Mom needed something fixed—

Then 26 and mostly single.

He wasn’t at fault

For his mother’s beauty and selfishness—

An abandoned, immigrant woman starved

For the kindness and warmth and lies

Of any man stupid enough

To harvest the fruit of his vigor

For her pale, brunette, wild honey—tender as lush as foreplay—

Miraging as clear as forbidden sex.

He didn’t ask to be born two years after

My empty trunk, shaking as it petrified,

When my hands twinged as twigs— my shoes as roots—

Because they were filled with rage as a tree with sap.

He didn’t ask to read the letters Dad

Sent from prison, written in false promises

On paper made of the pulped bark,

Inner flesh of stumps pruned dead.

He didn’t ask to be too young

To understand rejection and disappointment

From someone who had become so good

At hiding them in her impatience and chagrin—

Our comfort, craving for the heat of her violence;

A woman whom I questioned in silence,

While she distracted herself with absence,

Whether she was really a mother

Or someone pretending to be one

Because she was stuck in a prison

Which bound her to us in a way

That correctional bars set him free.

He didn’t ask for his wailing kindergarten body—

Still soft and fuzzy of baby hair—

To be tilled soil for their whaling fists,

Stripping from my sinews

The spirit that wasn’t fully formed—

The layers between skin and muscle,

Bone and soul, blood and breath—

Crying to me from their laughter.

He didn’t ask for his eyes

To be so large that he couldn’t hide anything,

Melting as the older of the two Cains

Held his arms back, sternum up—

A loser before I had the courage to face his sacrifice—

While the smaller kid punched my boy, my son by omission:

It was a matter of honor,

Something you defended when all else was lost.

The leaves on the trees—

Falling before it was their turn—

Paved our way back home

In summer’s heat, when the days were longer

And the dad’s came home

Tired, dirty, hungry, empty-handed

Without a dad to give us,

As if they’d lost him somewhere along the way.

Jose Oseguera is an LA-based writer of poetry, short fiction and literary nonfiction. Having grown up in a primarily immigrant, urban environment, Jose has always been interested in the people and places around him, and the stories that each of these has to share. He seeks to write about the accounts in marginalized people’s lives that often go untold and the beauty in the urban landscapes that goes overseen. His writing has been featured in Meat for Tea, Sky Island Journal, The Esthetic Apostle, The McNeese Review, and The Main Street Rag. His work has also been nominated for the "Best of the Net" award and the "Pushcart Prize."