two poems

by Saúl Hernández

Listening for Submergence

The force of running water from inside my apartment
walls rumbles. I press my hand against the wall, feel
the rush. Across town, my sister wakes to her heels breaking
water on the hardwood floor. A leaking pipe bursts
in the middle of the night; she shrieks. And father
has another dream of his brother’s body plunging against
the waves of the Rio Grande. His brother’s name overflows
father’s body; he shakes.

I ask him: How does it feel to drown?
Answer: It feels like every regret stuck in your throat.

Outside, it has been raining for a month. Rainwater
accumulates at the bottom of my apartment stairs,
I watch the deep stream, wonder if
Jesus knew his feet wouldn’t sink when he walked
on the surface of the ocean. At home, my mother drinks
another glass of water whenever she sees me, to wash
down my gayness.

At night I fill the bathtub with my body and water pours out;
mother gulps down another glass of water, my sister’s apartment
keeps leaking, father keeps dreaming—

When will this rain end? I ask my sister.
She says, When my floor stops rising.

And mother’s running out of glasses to drink from, and
father has another dream of his brother’s body
in the river—

This time father jumps in and swims towards him,
pulls him out and his brother’s body ascends towards the sky.
Father’s face in awe. This time the water swallows him.

At home I become obsessed with water.
I Google: How many gallons of water can I drink until I drown?


That’s Not My Name

In the fifth grade, I wanted to tuck my name
beneath my teacher’s tongue. I thawed
on mornings, prepared myself as she went down the
roster, ashamed to ask her to not yawn my name

around. The classroom eyes ahh, I hunch a little,
they know she’s merging two syllables into
one. Of those things she prided herself was
making sure we, her students, weren’t meant to feel

small. My ears feel her jaw snap as she opens her
mouth all day calling my name. With each jab
at it, my back gets heavy hauling the weight of two
languages. Once, on a field trip, a woman

pressed the permanent marker against a name
tag, her blue eyes tracing every letter. She called me
Sal. I wanted to stand tall, but translucent
I became. I heard many names that afternoon, from

my teacher, strangers, friends. Toward
the end, they didn’t know what to
call me, the Spanish kid made its way mouth-to-
ear-to-mouth; a child can only take so much taunting.

How to tell them my name has soul: I should have
said how my name in Spanish stays in your
tongue, a little longer; how I am the unyielding color
azul. I know now not all tongues move, fold,

press against teeth to reach for
more. The tongues I know now
I can bend; I can say to people
that’s not how you say my name.

In the school bus, I sat alone in the back,
put my mouth against the window
and breathed against it, in the mist I wrote
my name, and watched it

vanish, again—

and again.

Saúl Hernández is a queer writer from San Antonio, TX. He was raised by undocumented parents and as a Jehovah Witness. Saúl has a MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Texas at El Paso. He’s a finalist for the 2019 Submerging Writer Fellowship, Fear No Lit; a semi-finalists for the 2018 Francine Ringold Award for New Writers, Nimrod Literary Journal. His work is forthcoming/featured in The Acentos Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, The Normal School, Rio Grande Review, and Adelaid Literary Magazine. He’s also a Macondo Fellow.

Artwork by: Octoptimist