Three Poems From A GRITO CONTEST IN THE AFTERLIFE by Vincent Antonio Rendoni, Catamaran Books

Legends of the Hidden Temple

In the worst of all my nightmares
I am being filmed live
before a studio audience in Florida
where a man with bleached teeth
& feigned enthusiasm pushes me
into a maze

The giant head of an Olmec mover & shaker
who despite being made of rock
is somehow fleshy
frowns at me
because he knows all things time & space
including the outcome of this game

I brave jaguars & scorpions
& the dry season abruptly followed
by a rain of arrows & chanclas
I am doing well, but soon I feel
the rolling thunder of an evil rudo
with a toxic fanbase
who is coming to take my mask which
I think is a metaphor for my soul
but I don’t take much stock in dreams
since Abuela’s dreamcatcher failed me

Anyway, I am losing track of time
right on schedule
& the temple is growing dark
despite an ample budget for lighting
Mayan mystics & Aztec warriors
join the rudo in his hunt & bloodlust
& it’s not very historically accurate
& frankly a little offensive
but there’s no time to consider this

From their seats
the crowd intervenes
they move my arms & legs
in ways that can’t bend
& shout conflicting directions

Soon this will be over
& my failure will be broadcast in reruns
& be well-known amongst millennials of a certain age
because even though I get what I came for
the point is to leave this place alive
which I know, and you know, I won’t

The Tío Who Is Bad With Money

doesn’t know why everyone says he is bad with money.
He shows me a stack of dirty bills
& wads me a twenty through a handshake.
He says that’s for being a man,
but could I look a little less queer?

See, the tío who is bad with money
says what’s on his mind.
He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t follow the rules.
He’s not open to your advice.
He’s going out the way he lived, muchacho—
on a chopper without a helmet.
Because there’s nothing to protect
when you’ve got shit for brains.
(His words. Not mine.)

Yet, the tío who is bad with money
lives in the suburbs with his wife.
Where over Costco lasagna dinners,
he shows off his knives
& says to never let your guard down
because that’s when they get you.
Though, he can never tell me who they are.

We always forgive the tío who is bad with money
because he saw some shit in the navy.
We let him have his cheap thrills:
His OnlyFans accounts. Jack-in-the-Box tacos.
That thermos of Crown & Coke.

We let him have his late nights at Love’s,
watching the truckers & drifters
sink into their fast food & fried cheese,
wondering: where do they all come from?

He officiated my wedding. He fixes flats.
He smells like Corralejo & oak, but still has bad gas.
To the ladies, he’s Charlie Oso.
Watch your ass, he knows hapkido.
Say yes if he asks you to drive him home.
Give him a break, he’s great with kids.
Really, any except for his own.

I haven’t seen him in years.
He died a long time ago.
He’s still kicking it.
He probably doesn’t have long.
He needs to sit down
& take a good look at himself
& eat a goddamn vegetable.

He really needs to not call me
by my dead father’s name,
but I can let that last one go.

Find Me a Pear Tree

In his last lucid moment,
my father tells me about his abuela:

I asked when she died
He slams his Ensure like a shot
& says she’s still alive
she should be about one hundred forty
but won’t look a day over twenty-five

He says I can find her high in a pear tree
on a highway outside Laredo
eating overripe fruit
listening to Chente on repeat on a tinny radio
saying the names of all the animals
forever trying to get a blackout on interstate bingo

             I say OK Dad
             & ask if he wants to listen to a ballgame
             OK son

He lets me in on the secret of her immortality
Death had chased her until he keeled over

                                                              Pause for laughter

Tried everything: whooping cough,
infections of the blood
bandits, soldiers, scammers
first husbands, green skies,
inauspicious winds, bulls that gore
but let’s not forget his go-tos:
hunger, loneliness & thirst

Chased her up into that pear tree
Big mistake
Told her to come right down
Blew that asshole a raspberry
Turns out the Sandman can’t climb
Got himself found out

          Commercial break
          when the Mariners score, you score
          2-for-1 Jumbo Jacks
                      My dad says that’s a pretty good deal
                      I agree it’s a pretty good deal

I say, so she stayed in the tree
                      He said yes, she stayed in the tree

She raised a family up there
Met another man, nursed his children
Led filthy toasts, strung up piñatas
Kept a song & dance going
until everyone else died out
while the big man
circled & paced below
like the dog he is

           I hear cheers
           We’ve got a tie game going
           There’s still a chance

The lesson here, my father says
The lesson here is
The lesson

He jumps from his bed
& grabs my face, pulls me close
heart in his head
mouth a black hole
& says we’ve got to find that pear tree
that’s how we stop this

                                      pull the car around

I remember these sounds:

             a cracked bat
             smooth leather under a pop fly
             three up, three down
             says the whiskey-laced announcer

                            a half-dead pocho’s
                            heavy breathing
                            & outward

hoping his body has it in him

                                              for one last climb

We never did find that pear tree
He’s been gone 14 years now

Still, I never stopped looking


Vincent Antonio Rendoni is the author of A Grito Contest in the Afterlife and the winner of the 2022 Catamaran Poetry Prize for West Coast Poets. He was a 2022 Jack Straw Poetry Fellow, 2022 Pushcart Nominee, and winner of the 2021 Blue Earth Review Flash Fiction Contest. His work has appeared or will appear in The Sycamore Review, The Vestal Review, The Texas Review, The Westchester Review, Quarterly West, Hippocampus, Sky Island Journal, and So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library.