Back to Issue Thirty-Eight




The capital of January is January.
The capital of a hospital is the morgue.
The capital of the hospital
is a refrigerated truck. The capital of the truck
is oil. Oil tells the President
to stand down. The President looks toward the Capitol
Building. It is a capital
idea. The sentries that guard the idea
do not believe in it. They believe
in the guarding; that only they know
who it must be guarded from. The capital
is in each of them. It is infected
with the anti-idea, the belief
in the President. The viral load
increases. The capital thick
with infection. The virus
builds its capital in each branch
of the lung. When the lungs no longer
work it moves its capital
to the trash-covered ground.
The capital of death
is under siege. Death builds its capital
in America. The nursery
is the capital of Death. Death is a country
lacking hospital beds.
Inside the cab of its refrigerated truck
Death idles the engine. 







Take a selfie beside the library of Alexandria.
Take another as the burning library itself:
groan with the labor. Already
you are giving birth
to the idea of the ancient world.
No technology
has surpassed the mirror.
Freud says the goal
of grieving is introjection.
I am triggered by the word encrypt.
I stare at the midpoint between my eyes
until the smoke begins to crown.
One story contained galleons.
Another the scent of lilies.






My mother didn’t believe Alzheimer’s
was a time bomb exactly

but a slow explosion made of time
that leaves the tissue intact

but annihilates memory. Turns out

she didn’t have to worry, didn’t
have to watch as each moment

got a shine in its eye & came close
for a Judas kiss: only

her knee. Only the knee they took out

& replaced like a cracked tooth
grinding down the femoral end

before brushing on bone cement
& fixing chrome & polyethylene

to the buffed smiling edge. The present

presses the past into coins
you can’t spend anywhere.  Some time in

the night, opioids hushing the
stapled-up knee she’d never use

her heart stopped. Not a clot

was all they could tell us.
Did coroners I wondered take X-rays

& why would they when they could
break open even a rib cage as hastily

as a just delivered package? No complaint

but imagine the sound. When I’m gone
Frida Kahlo once said I want you

to burn this Judas of a body. We did

but could bear to give
only half the ash to the columbarium.

New Classmate



As though the ocean had joined our kindergarten midyear
& not a refugee.

Little English
& a transistor hearing aid

strapped to his chest like an answering machine.

They asked me to sit with him
at the long library table

to work on greetings, colors,
shapes—when we got to black
I pointed at his hair
& he smiled & pointed at mine.

Static sheared the air: soon
I realized that if he chuckled

or even grinned
we would both be flooded with feedback.

He smiled anyway
confident of every word, teaching me its confederate

in Vietnamese.
At first I bristled. I didn’t need the ocean.

I could ride for hours in any direction & still be surrounded by hills;

further & the moonscape of the Badlands;
keep going & I’m old enough to drive, to idle

the car beside a smattering of bison—
not extinct after all
but not going anywhere either.

Only war
could tuck the sea into a boat

& shipwreck it on shag,
in supermarkets, could force it
to come to grips with plow schedules,

the workings of a gas range.
Who was I
but another brown child

a name that had to be pronounced
twice? What I remember isn’t our words

but a range of possible meanings—red
to red again. 


Chris Santiago is the author of Tula, winner of the 2016 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, selected by A. Van Jordan. His poems, fiction, and criticism have appeared in FIELDCopper NickelPleiades, and the Asian American Literary Review. He holds degrees in creative writing and music from Oberlin College and received his PhD in English from the University of Southern California. The recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and the Mellon Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies, Santiago is also a percussionist and amateur jazz pianist. He teaches literature, sound culture, and creative writing at the University of St. Thomas. He lives in Minnesota.

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