Joel Salcido: On Hatching a Mythical Beast
Photo: Joanna C. Valente

Photo: Joanna C. Valente


                                    January 29, 1986



Me rajaste she whispered to her son—

there were no sutures to mend what cracked

her shell, inside, beneath the belly.


She was prescribed a wheelchair

to hold together her bruised hips,

told to limit her carcajadas or risk spilling.


The skin of her belly striped raw

as if a jaguar had tried to claw

its way in from the outside.


With her fingers she licked

the thick black hair that feathered

his head, the way her mother had.


Stroked his back, felt the bony

shoulders of his father unaware

they were the beginnings of wings.




The boy was born of a bomb.

His moment of light,

the glowing wake of a misfire—

his first breath stolen

from the space of a collective gasp.


He emerged from a blast—

a mouth of smoke

snaking through the sky,

stitched his consciousness

from sections orbiting the air,

the debris of an explosion

falling in a soft blaze.




She chose to name him

after her brother,

after a prophet.

Her brother who died

in a heap of crooked steel,

flown until he struck dirt

like a fletching.

Whose sparrow eyes

flashed to dark,

light snuffed by the dust.

Whose crow was cut short

choked in a wail of tires          

& she wailed too—

raucous, her voice

full of murder.



Quietly the newborn nested

on her chest,

frail as a hummingbird.

A Body Can be Haunted too


Inside your abdomen

there is an echoing.


A place where something cut-away

bit and clawed the walls of its exit wound,

exhaled an invisible balloon

bursting with burning air,

left its teeth.


The gall of it,

bile little thing,

to unwind like a screw

washing its own threads.

Nothing can fit its empty,

tighten shut this gaping.


Doesn’t the cup ache   for what once filled it?

How long can a groan sing      after it’s departed the body?

Why does pain pulse then haunt, then murmur           like a memory?


I see the slits of your incisions,

two unblinking eyelids,

the rough crescents cut and stare.


I often wonder

about the smallness of pain,

how I might clutch its smallness

around my fingers.


But as with so many things of such small size

it shrinks but can’t disappear    it’s hard to hold,

impossible to keep track of      won’t be crushed.


Joel Salcido was born in the San Fernando Valley and raised in West Phoenix. He is the son of Mexican immigrants, a first-generation college graduate, a husband, and father of three sons. Joel characterizes his work as hood magical realism—a navigation between the grief and ecstasy of place and experience. His poetry and prose are not simply written to or about his culture and community—but from it. His work has been featured in Write On, DowntownPublic Pool, The Decolonizer, and Four Chambers Press among others. He is the recipient of a University Graduate Fellowship from Arizona State University and a Virginia G. Piper Creative Research Fellowship. Joel is the Editor-in-Chief of Hayden’s Ferry Review and an MFA candidate in poetry at Arizona State University.