The third line on my brow—
It arrived last night.

The crosshatches around the mouth—
They speak for me.

My hair surrenders to wind.
My fuck-you finger is romancing my thumb.

The slouch, the crippled penmanship,
My earlobes of Buddha,
The smile that reveals a Stonehenge
Of uncivilized eating.

Thus, I seek work
In a very tall building.

“I see you were once a colonel,”
Says the suit behind the desk.

“Corporal,” I answer.
“That’s a misspelling.”

I breathe in, breathe out—
Look, a sharpener on the wall.

“I see that you raised chinchillas…”
The suit looks up.
“What the heck—your shirt!”

The tip of my felt-tip
Is bleeding from the pocket
Of my white dress shirt.

“It’s nothing,”
I tell him. “It’ll stop in a second.”

I view the red stain,
As a sort of Rorschach test—
Is that a poorly rendered valentine?

I’m shown the door.
The elevator is a hush going down.
When I sigh, the valentine inflates.
I’m unemployable, I’m of no use.

I shudder from the cold and look back:
At the revolving door,
More people going out than coming in.

Gary Soto

GARY SOTO's new books in 2018 are a reissue of his first poetry collection, The Elements of San Joaquin, published in 1977, and a retelling of F. Pérez Lopez’s El Mexicano, a guerilla soldier’s testimony during the Spanish Civil War. He lives in Berkeley California.

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