Paola by Julio Cesar Villegas

Author Photo

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, raised in Essex County, New Jersey, Poetry Reader for Muzzle Magazine, and author of Memories of an Old World (Wilde Press, 2016)Julio Cesar Villegas is the writer that your abuelos warned you about. His scriptures can be found in Rigorous Mag, Subprimal Poetry Art, Waccamaw, Into The Void, as well as the inescapable mouth of the abyss. Puerto Rico Se Levanta.



I carved an atlas from forests of gunpowder

The first chapter unfolds
in the island before time,
born as Boriken,
named as Puerto Rico,
and I have become the son
whose father is buried
beneath the fields
of burning sugar cane

The second chapter coils around the horizon,
punctured by an island
in the form of a dagger
in the form of a people

When I think of Cuba I think of revolution,
they say
When I think of revolution I think of Cuba,
I say

The third chapter is a steeple
colliding against the sun,
across the island that was once
one but is now considered two,
gospels combust in my chest
when I remember the Dominican Republic

The fourth chapter spanned the earth,
divided the ocean and crashed into
the mouth of sand, lakes, adobe,
from the womb of the universe
you will find me, you will breathe me,
and my hand grasps onto your rib
when you dream of seeing Mexico

The fifth chapter is the forest
before it became gunpowder,
where the anatomy of the world
was undissected, and the mountains

still sang, and the darker your
skin was, the closer to God,
and once you learn to walk through flames
you will find me in the heart of Guatemala

The sixth chapter is a pillar of glass,
a museum of memories, an ancient candle,
whose shadows flicker across the sky,
storming like a restless tapir
past the bullets of an army
and if you find me with a cross around my neck,
know that I forged it from the bones of my mother,
know that I am the child of the rainforest’s wrath
in my eyes you’ll find the solstice, the pages of El Salvador

The seventh chapter is a hurricane,
a wrist that deals the jury’s pain,
the twisted steel of molten railways
halted by the Fury’s name:
campesinos and preachers,
doctors and tailors and teachers,
all feast together,
uneased in this weather
sculpted by creatures,
and we must sing songs,
continue to sing when there is no music,
my footsteps are the tremors that
dismantles this world’s axis,
the epicenter of the warrior
awaits me in Honduras

The eighth chapter is the eighth day,
on which the Lord returned
to remind us of creation,

with scarred palms and eroded knuckles,
the hands of time planted a garden of hope:

a sea of unborn plants that one day will bloom

and they will bloom with a brilliance that eclipses the day,
and upon this altar even the sun will offer her prayers,

from the horizon of the thousand-year garden
you will see my reflection in yours,
burned into the waters, the streets of Nicaragua

The ninth chapter drowns in a house
with no roof, walls of moth wings,
the wooden floor has returned to rust,
sleeping on a foundation that never was,
a skeleton of gravity and dust, the dance of
oblivion and love, here you will find the last
bullet of the general’s rifle resting in its
newfound bed of skull, tissue, and demons,
the silence of this house will be printed,
and the newsstands will walk around in Costa Rica

The tenth chapter ascends an endless staircase
that winds through
the cemeteries,
the libraries,
the hospitals,
the shipyards:
feel the iron fingers bend
beneath a riot’s yellow fever
I am no poet,
I am just another form of mirror,

on the third day I rolled the stone from my grave,
on the second day I dug a canal,
on the first I spoke to myself,

I remembered my name:
tú eres Panamá

The eleventh chapter sat in the front row

of the back seats, right before the crystal
curtain raised itself into its chaos:

dogs of lightning, rabid thunder,
sleepless chimneys, broken hours,
frozen rivers, burning bullets,
the hand that never smiles,
the hand that never grins,
stormless sundays, martyred mondays,
tyrants’ tuesdays, widows’ wednesdays,
thorn-laced thursdays, freedom’s friday,
solemn saturdays, solemn saturdays,
they say, but I have yet to know
a saturday in the past nine years,

on the roof of my mouth sleeps
the yellow butterfly that makes
this life worth living, the world
remains round like an orange:
from this whirlwind of ash you will
feel a dove’s wings across Colombia

Chapter twelve is a volcanic dance,
a rainstorm, an architect
of voices, the child of centuries

never to begin, never to end:
I am the jade knife lodged
inside the throat of the twilight

from the blood of these skies
was born a language of the earth
collapsing summer, tongue of autumn

I swim across the Orinoco
I walk across the Maracaibo
I write in lines of magma

the song of Venezuela

The thirteenth chapter howls back at a puma
perched on the edge of a mountain, the edge of
the world, the weight of the air sliced by a fang
and a bone flute, a waterfall of memory crashing
upwards against the mountain:

I have not heard this song for generations,
shouted the puma

I was the one that created it,
responded the mountain

with fangs impaled into the chest of a tree,
the puma rips them both from its mouth,
spending the rest of its life wandering
labyrinths of stones and vines
in search of an ancient melody
that can still be heard during
the quiet winters of Ecuador

Chapter fourteen is a cannon blast,
a monsoon of sound
that levels the morning,
drowning the prayers,
submerging the songs,
erasing the coastlines,
rewriting the calendars,
renaming the continent,
and if only the churches had ears
and if only the palaces could hear,
I’ve woven robes from the bodies of jackals,
and I’ve walked each land three times in one day,
and with every hour grows the phantom cloud above me,
the restless bell of cannon blasts that tears into the flesh of Brazil

Chapter fifteen is an angel’s wing
torn from the walls of a cathedral,

where Atahualpa sleeps, and cries,
and draws the shape of his brother

on the tombstone of a kingdom
that no longer remembers him,

the crowds no longer have faces,
this life is a celebration of corpses:

make your way to the end of this table,
you are no more than a ruler of silence

an altar of rain that flows into Hell
and courses back into a cathedral

where an angel’s wings were once ripped
in the hopes of protecting Peru’s daughter

Chapter sixteen was written inside of a dream

where the night was day
and tomorrow never was
and today never began
where the shores spoke
and the rifles never fired
my daughter knew a home
a poem is written in bone
do you remember me?
in a dream you can’t forget
you remembered yourself
and found a tunnel of light
the labyrinth meant for you
this garden of ancestors
that blooms in your throat
in between the impossible
is where your name sings
do you remember me?
A new day rises in Bolivia

I wrote the seventeenth chapter across your skin—
beneath the wings of a condor I found you,
and with the afternoon’s light we wrote
each other’s names across our lips,
your fingers becoming wild candles,
burning news stars into my nights,

your breath becoming a promise
that oceans rage beneath an eclipse,
and your skin still tastes like baptism,
like the earth after it tasted the sun,
my body the canvas of your words,

there are no chapters for this love,
only two bodies, only the stories
that we’ve written into the tongue
of ten thousand burning winters:
in your eyes the spring blooms

find me within the fields of stone,
carving your name into the sky,
into the waters, into the forest—
from this heart you built a church,
feel its flames fly over Chile

Chapter eighteen is a fistfight
between a teacher & student
between a beggar & soldier
between a savior & boulder
lion & serpent
liar & vermin
(sunsets and sermons)


between a father & mistress
between a mother & distress
(the bliss of a giftless kiss
missed on Christmas)

between a coffin & country
between a river & honey

(of one hundred days plundering
wonder for money)

yet the thunder keeps laughing
at the world that rests under?

I’m the broken-knuckle ballad
of the Paraguayan plains

Chapter nineteen escaped
the battles of independence—

in a letter addressed to the poet,
the letter read:

I do not need a poem,
I am the poem.

— Argentina

Chapter twenty is the core of the earth
sleeping giant, molten spirit
a room that leads to another
with doors that look like words
and spears that looks like friends
but in the altitudes nothing is ever certain

like the days that we have left to sing
or the truths we owe to our children
the harvests that are not yet here
or the promises we make alone
our muscles twisting into age
bones cutting into the flesh
condors continue to circle
the words that we speak
we continue to exist
I am more than air
more than flame
I am Uruguay

I carved an atlas from forests of gunpowder—
the pages of Latin America