Milena Solot

Artwork by Jiin Choi

September, 2015; Train tracks between Tierra Blanca and Esperanza, El Bajío, Mexico

He opens his eyes. Am I alive? Is this my hand? Where does this body end and where does it begin? Am I here? Am I the same person? Am I someone else?

Railroad ties and iron bars sweat-slicked beneath him. He hears the train’s fugitive path through the desert. He shouts. I’m shouting. I’m here. Heat and cold, night and sweat. I’m this creased face, this flung body. But the crickets peal and chatter. I’m here. This is his hand and that is the moonlight. He survives. God, how he feels the years in his body with his eyes turned skyward.

These rails have a soul. 


2:23 a.m.

The stars shift. He knows he isn’t dreaming. Because he remembers. He remembers his hands clinging to the train’s metal bars, remembers the hard fall, the feeling of a thousand pins in his mouth. And then nothing. He feels nothing. Is he dead? Is he dying?



2:40 a.m.

Why now? Why right now at this very moment? He doesn’t know how to move his body, but he remembers Camelia. If he could only get up off the tracks, get closer to a tree, then maybe, just maybe, someone could save him, take him to a hospital. Am I still in Mexico? When did I get here? Dark brown hair, polished, shining. Camelia stealing candy from her grandmother, Camelia laughing, Camelia with missing teeth.



3:00 a.m.

Dead stars. Eternally dead, blind forever.



3:10 a.m.

Camelia awake, Camelia at the table with a notebook, Camelia staring into space, Camelia crying, Camelia in the bathtub. Will you forgive me, Camelia? I haven’t seen them for over fifty years. Your green eyes.



3:25 a.m.

How will he know if he’s alive? If this is his belly or the idea of his belly, if those are his legs, which he imagines but can’t see.

The pair of feet must be around here somewhere, the ones he’s always used for walking. Feet that know so much, with their years of cracks and calluses and aches and pains. They must be here.



3:28 a.m.

They must be coming for me. They’re coming to get me. They’re coming to get him.


3:45 a.m.

Time is passing. He can tell by the stars. They must be coming for me.



4:00 a.m.

This body that can’t move except in his memory, this stubborn body, this body with its knacks and torments, with its toughness and softness.



4:10 a.m.

Time ran like water around her skirts. He loved her, if it’s worth anything, if she could hear him. Until the day she asked him to stop. That day he learned life moves in as many directions as there are heads. I’ve lost you, Camelia, you’re gone from my arms. 

How can we know if what happens during childhood is real? The memories turn to fog. But not you, Camelia. They’re coming to get me, they’re coming to get him. 



4:15 a.m.

Was it Tuesday when he left Tapachula? What day is it now? The trip was going fine, smooth. People here in Mexico gave him what they could from up above, from the speed bumps that walled in the tracks. It was his eyes, his wrinkles, his age, that seemed to move them.

Water, water, water. His fingers were water slipping up Camelia’s legs for so many years and you looked at me.



4:20 a.m.

Apolinar doesn’t want a better roof or more windows, doesn’t want a garden with fruit trees or trucks in a garage, doesn’t want his children or grandchildren to get a better education. What I want is to find that faggot I refuse to recognize as my son. He wants to bring him back, I want to tell him to leave his faggot things behind and come work the land, because times are hard, it’s time to work.



4:30 a.m.

Everything looks dry. Let the rain come, let an invasion come, let someone come to tell him what happened.



4:32 a.m.

Camelia and me under the table, fine lace underwear I found with my fingers after slowly creeping up her leg. Harsh voice, my mother’s voice: “Kids? What are you doing under the table? Come out from there, Apolinar. If your dad finds you you’ll get a beating.” And her laughter that sounded like fountain water, and her laughter streaming out from under the table.



4:40 a.m.

He can still smell the soap and onion on Mercedes’s hands, and then her voice: “Wait till November, old man, ’cause you’ll be up top, and if you fall asleep and fall off, well that’s where you’ll stay.” Bitter voice, sugar voice, salty voice. Look at him now, Mercedes. Look at your husband and laugh.



4:43 a.m.

The stars move, but not Apolinar. If these rails turned to water, if this gravel under his back turned to cotton, if his neck, which he always thought was real, and which made him turn his head and lift his face, which leaned him forward, which grew tough and weathered. If he could only move it now and figure out what happened to him. They must be coming to get me. They’re coming to get him.



4:56 a.m.

Apolinar is after you, you traitor. He’s after you for one reason only: you’re part of him and he can’t accept the idea that a part of him is a faggot. You’re a fucking man, goddammit.

Fighting makes us men, but you, Eduardo, it only made you a pansy



5:05 a.m.

Why do you visit him like this, Camelia, in his memories? Apolinar swore he would bury you, body and all, swore he would forget you, and now, under this starry sky, you appear. Maybe you’re right, he should have asked for your forgiveness—would it mean anything to say that he loved you? He loved you in the cruel way that children love. With the rage that makes them capture butterflies and wipe off, little by little, the fine dust that makes them fly.



5:15 a.m.

Dawn beneath the palm roof. Mother-voice: “Time to get up, my little guirros, time to work. Just the red ones, the ripe ones, Apolinar, and Lord help you if you break the branches. Lord help you.”

El Paraíso. My mother’s skirts and you, always you, looking at me. Why remember El Paraíso?



5:20 a.m.

Apolinar sleeps for a few minutes, and he dreams, although he doesn’t know it. He’s a man swimming in a black sea. He sweeps shapes with his arms and legs at whim. A sudden whirlpool seems to emerge from every limb, then a larger one that swallows him whole. He doesn’t drown. The shapes he draws cut furrows that immediately vanish. But the sea isn’t black because when he cuts it he’s sprayed with something white, like a wave. And someone in the distance, high up, looks down on him. Is that you, Camelia? Is that you, God?



5:45 a.m.

Fog, light, shadow, water in a jug, his mother’s voice, his father’s leather hand, and Camelia, always. Her. Cross-legged in the dirt, Camelia eating coffee cherries.

Inside me are a heart’s feathers.



6:50 a.m.

He looks into Eduardo’s eyes: “Be a man, you faggot.” And then her woman’s eyes. Those eyes who looked beyond Apolinar, stripped him.



6:55 a.m.

Ripe cherries he lets fall from his hands, bloody ovals, streaming water, green grain, ready for toasting.

Mercedes in a skirt and apron, young, embraces him, brings him potatoes in the field, they eat, make love among the trees, among the shadows.



6:59 a.m.

I’m still alive, I’m breathing. How long has it been since I fell?



7:05 a.m.

Dawn comes slowly, the sun casts its shadows, and Apolinar wants to sleep. I’m made of dreams.



7:08 a.m.

The stars are snuffed and the world arises, look at it arising around him. Note, for example, the laborers’ quarters at a distance, hear the donkey’s lament, see that there’s life, and someone in one of those little cabins gets out of bed as if this were any other day and not the day when Apolinar must die.



7:11 a.m.

Who’s out there? It’s her voice, but he can’t hear it. Louder. Who’s there? It’s Apolinar, shouting, but the words won’t leave his mouth. I’m frozen, I don’t know how to move. How could he forget the obvious? Legs, cock, back, torso, he hears his heart, and farther off, he knows there’s someone farther off, who’s there? And yes, now it emerges, a whisper from his lips, he shouts but only a whisper slips out from between them. I shout, I whisper, I shout inside, I whisper outside. Who knows how to die?



7:16 a.m.

Who’s there, he whispers, louder and louder. Someone’s walking. A farmer? In the coffee plantations, in El Paraíso, they’d leave for work before dawn. He’d visit his sister before dawn, too. Camelia, come here, I want to show you something. Who’s there? Now it’s his voice, flat, withered, but his own voice, louder and louder. Who’s there? Footsteps around him. Do they know he’s here? Camelia eyes, ruined eyes. Who’s there? Someone’s around him, I’m a lion’s prey, a coyote’s prey, they’re animal steps.



7:20 a.m.

Just attack already, get it over with, devour him, whatever you are, but even so, Apolinar is met with the sweet smell of roast corn. I’m in Mexico, my name is Apolinar Romero, I live in El Paraíso, Honduras, with my wife, my daughter Ester, and my granddaughter. I’m also the father of Eduardo Romero, but he’s a faggot. I’m Apolinar Romero. If you must come for him, devour him already.



7:30 a.m.

Animal: you’re at his feet, you lick the soles of his feet. Apolinar listens. But he feels nothing; he only imagines the tongue licking his clotted blood. Let him die in peace, animal. But you don’t move.



7:40 a.m.

“Hey, come out from there.”

It’s a voice. They’ve come for him.

Don’t let me die like this. It’s a little girl’s voice. A wind chime.

“Hey, come out from there—go away, you dirty dog. Mister? Sir? Did you fall off the train? Mister? Hey . . . get out of there, stupid dog. He was drinking your blood, mister, this stupid dog.”

And she throws an angel’s stone.

“Get out, Papiiiiii,” she yells. And her hurried feet mountainward. 

Come get me. Don’t let me die like this. Come get me. But there’s no voice, just words in his head. There’s no voice. Camelia.


8:00 a.m.

Feet approaching, footsteps on gravel. Hard steps, measured steps.

“Hey, my girl, stay right there.” 

It’s the voice, the low voice, a man’s voice, He’s come to get me. They’re here to rescue me. I’m alive. I survived.

The good man’s eyes before Apolinar’s eyes, tired but smiling eyes, dark skin, hat casting shade onto him.

“Did you fall off the train?” he asks, the sweet, gentle man.

“Yes, brother, I fell.” But there are no words in his mouth, only words trapped in his memory.

“Oh . . . Here, have some water. Lots of men have fallen around here . . . ”

And then, to his daughter:

“Run home, missy, and tell your mama to get the truck ready so we can take him to the hospital. Go quick, my girl.”

Cold in my teeth, cold in my gums.


The farmer stays there, looking at him, casting shade onto him with his hat, which is round. Apolinar notes the man’s breath, the air that comes in and out of his nostrils and must keep doing so thousands of times more, infinite times more. What different worlds we live in, brother. Look at me, look at you. None of what happens to me, you’ll be relieved to know, is foreign to you, but his body melts away.

Your hands that hold me up, that live, that pulse, that carry me and can’t.    



8:15 a.m.

I want to get out of here.

“Can’t do it, you’re a heavy one, mister. If the train comes, seems to me it might take you with it . . . ”

Seems to him? Take me . . . river. Laughter. Laugh with me, brother, laugh.

“You’re heavy, I can’t do it by myself. I’m going for help. Don’t move, mister, and don’t you worry. I’m going to get you out of this.”


If you can, brother, just tug me a little to the side of the tracks. But the man, the sweet, gentle man, vanishes into the cornfield. Apolinar hears his voice calling for help. They’re coming to get me. They’re coming to get him.



Red sun on his shut lids and Camelia, sad, as he remembers her.

“It hurts, Apolinar, it hurts.”

I deserve to die like this.



8:21 a.m.

 “Come here, Apolinar, and I’ll wipe away that snot of yours.” His mother carrying clay pitchers in her voice, holding him. “Come on now, I’ll clean you up.” The smell, the sweet oat smell of her lap.



The distant wind brings the train’s howl. It’s coming this way.

These rails have a soul. Have I ever been alive before? It’s perpetual. The wind picks up, the cornfields intensify their song. Everything thrums and his teeth shake. It’s coming, it’s coming closer.



Camelia with her face painted,

Camelia smelling of coffee,

Camelia between my legs,



And the man, the sweet, gentle man, sees him from a distance and his daughter, farther, weeps. Weep for me, sweet angel. They’d come for me, they’d rescue me, but in order to reach him they first have to cross the cornfield, which looks dense, deep, infinite, and the man tosses his round hat, leaps, shouts,


And the train’s racing heart comes closer, chugging with patience, almost with love. And it flings him a slow shout, a dull ring, sustained. Camelia, the man thinks, Camelia. And his body shakes and the hazy, solitary sun goes still in the flat sky. And life, oh, life, how it trembles at the end.

translated from the Spanish by Robin Myers