Excerpts from Padre Tierra by Mariano Zaro – translated by Blas Falconer

The house groans with heat.
Each beam, hinge, and sill.
Each juncture of August, a maze
for a six year old boy.

I go up to your bedroom, Padre Tierra.
I discover your body,
exhausted, vulnerable,
clean, naked.

Your sex rests on
your thigh’s fair skin.
The fields of wheat shine,
my temples burn.


On the bedside table,
an empty water glass,
a wristwatch you never wear,
three coins, a pocket knife. 

The mirrored wardrobe reflects
the slant of your cheekbones.
Like a burden, your clothes dropped
over the chair. 


I contemplate the cordage
of tendons that invade
rib cage, hillsides, peaks,
cliffs, folds.

All men from the beginning of time
amass in your body
on a bed
too small.

The air smells of plum liquor
and ginger. The furniture dies
in the summer heat. The floor planks
give way, warp, turn to sand. 


Open the gate to the street,
you tell me one night, Padre Tierra.
Open the windows.
Turn on all the lights in the house.

You sit in a stiff
kitchen chair.
White shirt and black coffee
to fight the night.

Some neighbors come
to see what’s happened.
The son wears flowers in his hair.
They say in the streets.

Without flowers the world
would die of hunger.
That’s what you say, Padre Tierra,
your arms on the table.


I wake up thirsty,
I turn my head. You bring me
the best grapes of the harvest.
The cluster spared by your hand.

Your hand saves me.
You intertwine your fingers,
make shadows on the wall
to keep me company.

Look, you tell me, a horse
here, and a dove.
I hear the gallop of hooves,
the flap of wings over the bedspread.

I also hear buffalo in a stampede,
beasts that I fear,
as I fear I am not
who you want me to be.


You open a one-hundred-page atlas
on my school desk. Study
the rivers well, you say.
We are made of rivers.

I put my finger over
deltas and river mouths
as if I could touch
your veins, Padre Tierra.


Father, can you see the birds?
They’re outside the hospital
window. Today, you sit up in bed,
awake. They’re turtle doves, you tell me. 

They fly and disappear.
They return, silver gray, over
the pine branches. Again,
they fly and disappear. 

It’s going to snow, you tell me. With snow,
everything is made clean. A nurse comes,
I tell her it will snow. And we stay
still, waiting. 

After some time, it snows, without
compassion, over each crevice.
A dying man predicts
the sky beyond the walls. 


The reeds undulate
like a reptilian spine,
flutter, sowing flocks
of pollen into the abyss.

The reeds tremble,
move with the wind,
but I think it’s you,
Father, you who breathe

and calm everything
with your breath, born
from your parted lips. Without your breath,
the seed does not sprout,

the water does not roar,
the bee does not remember its numbers,
the shadows of summer
do not lengthen. 


The sick apple trees
drop their fruit
early. Incredulous,
you look at the rain

of unripe apples
that die with a thud.
In the mud, the apples reveal
at their base, the last petals,

persistent crown
of the flowers they once were.
Your sap reaches
the unfinished apples,

the secret handwriting inside
the leaves, the bewilderment
of the sepals,
the impossibility of seeds. 


You collapse by the river
that laps your body,
your weight and frame.
You dissolve through roots

that talk to you,
drop by drop, and question me.
I answer, surprised,
with the syllables of your tongue.

The current slows its moaning,
the water stops.
I see my head, static,
reflected in the river

and it’s your solemn skull,
Padre Tierra, bronze
or flint, your profile
in my face.

Mariano Zaro is the author of six poetry collections, including Padre Tierra (Olifante 2019, Zaragoza, Spain), a book-length poem inspired by the author’s own relationship with his father, a farmer, and the rugged landscape of his home in Northern Spain. Zaro earned a Master’s in Literature from the University of Zaragoza (Spain) and a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Granada (Spain). He is a professor of Spanish at Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier, California.

Blas Falconer is the author of three poetry collections, including Forgive the Body This Failure (Four Way Books 2018). He is a poetry editor at The Los Angeles Review and teaches in the MFA program at San Diego State University.