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Rattlesnake Allegory


   The poems in Rattlesnake Allegory are poems about owls and muscles and tattoos and mesquites, fear, and spit. These are poems about “the moment inside the body / when joy is not born as much as it is made out of anything / the rest of the world doesn’t want.”  Using land and South Texas’s flora and fauna as references, these poems explore aloneness and manhood as articulations of want, asking the reader to “take a moan by the hand, see what good it does.” Thematically, these poems address loss after transformative experiences, admitting to a reader, “All night I might fathom taking back / something precious / that somehow, / long ago, or not so long ago, I don’t know, / ripped off, / yanked from bone, / sloughed off like a husk.” These poems are about getting to know one’s body after being distanced from it, of recognizing a queer brown body inextricably belonging to lineages of loss, and then realizing that some new body has emerged from where the old parts were lost, or taken, as in the final sequence of four poems, “Lechuza Sketches,” where the speaker manifests the Tex-Mexican folkloric figure of a lechuza, the human-owl hybrid said to inhabit parts of South Texas and the Northern Mexican border. In the end, this is a collection of poems about more deeply engaging with one’s queerness, one’s brownness, and understanding that there are parts inside us we never knew existed, or as the Lechuza Sketches’ speaker offers, “In the world, some part of us is often / unseen / & not glorious. / But what if we are? / Glorious. Seen.”


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Some nights, I just want to hold a man in my arms, because this would make everything better in my life— 

a comfort I frame—biceps and all 

of my Mexican tattoos, my bulldog chest and stuttering lung, 

whispers that come only from another man’s scalp

when the whole world inside him is a fingernail

or quiet like a small bucket of snails.

Even when I’m a remolino, 

moreso, then, especially, I wish my kiss tenderness, 

enough to make a man’s heart burst

into a thousand desert owls—wingbeat,

featherness, the beak prod, swarm-crouch and screech.

Last week, I was a pendulum in a fantasy—versatile,

swinging back, forth, into, deeply.

Being entered is when I know I am human.

Being entered is when I know I’m a part of something bigger.

Again.  Equilibrium.  

Evenness.  And here it is:  I’ve come here to love

breath in my bones when skin falls off the world.

and Who doesn’t carry some sort of trap on his knuckles?

The moment inside the body

when joy is not born as much as it is made out of anything

the rest of the world doesn’t want. 



If I could kindle

a flame


out of water, it might



the doors each of the locks, 

which is all—

which is my plea



with Godlessness.

Protection.  Entryway, keys.


Once, I built

a fire out of a sofa—

because the world was cold, 

& our house

gave no heat.  but Once


I fashioned a fast flame

from saliva,

I no longer feared



My life, like my father’s—


that fencewire. 

Mesh made of belt loops & charcoal,

coats, ten-gallon hats, 

& gloves:


buckles from when we were boys:


Have you never seen

a man’s whole body glow?


Have you never seen

love falter?


a falsetto, a faux note.

It is beautiful

to win, to bring out the best


in a man.  Pero ten cuidado.

But be careful, I tell


these shadows—as they take small cottons

from my mouth


& listen to their milk.


& I tell them, You are glistening.

& I tell them, You walk too damn fast.


& Did I tell you about the hatchet 

my father handed me:


hacking, combustion, whole slabs

of upholstery flaring 

into ember, until ash? 


It makes & unmakes me—

the smokes give 

& forgive;


but ashes:  Shit, those fuckers take

& they take.


“There is so much desire, loneliness, and ultimately a longing for love in these sensuous, honest, and searing poems. So many questions, so much beautiful emptiness in return. Joe Jiménez exhibits poetic skill throughout—from the marvelous use of repetition, which leads to a kind of intensity and earnestness, to the often-surprising and sparkling imagery. He writes: “…but I also want to make beautiful things. Sometimes, I want others to/see me/as beautiful, too. Not rough, not voracious…” Jiménez has made a beautiful voracious thing—Rattlesnake Allegory, a brilliant book of poems by a poet I will keep my eye on for years to come.”


             —Victoria Chang author of Barbie Chang

“Where were these poems when I was lost in a Mictlan of my own making? They leave a throbbing in the flesh like fanged teeth. Antidote: run for your pen. A gorgeous collection que me dejó con envidia.”

                                   —Sandra Cisneros

First, I thought desire the core of these gorgeous lyrics—belly hunger, eros, a near ecclesial pang to be good. Joe Jiménez makes palpable a world of things to want, sometimes despite how they might cut—mesquite and teeth, thick arms and bedfuls of nopales, tattoos and gleaming gar fish. But then I wondered—what are all these owls doing here? Harbingers of death, these raptors rap against the cage of the poet’s ribs, the poet rapt in loves some insist he die for and some he would choose to die for. This fearless and beautiful book follows a man who knows the difference and loves them all anyway.

       —Douglas Kearney

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