Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, Poetry


Whiting Awards 2019

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. Photo courtesy of the author.

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal was born in the Rio Grande Valley. She is the author of the collection Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series, 2017), a 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist and winner of the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. Her 
work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, The Boston Review, The Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere. She is a CantoMundo Fellow and is pursuing her doctorate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.


“A Field of Onions: Brown Study”

dedicated to the immigrants buried in mass graves in and near Falfurrias, Texas

  1. I walk through a bald field blooming violet onions. I will know I am absolved when there is no more dirt underfoot, when I have flipped the earth and the river runs above us, a glassed belldark sound.
  2. To find: liver, lung, womb. A lens cut from vulture eye. This is what it is to miss a thing.
  3. At the McDonald’s, a man in a parked car will talk himself awake. This is another kind of hunger.
  4. A prayer for the king: forty pears, all bloomed from young throats. Long life, a sea of rice, a thicket of braids.
  5. Problem: Four boats arranged in a cross drift away from each other in opposing directions. What theory states that, all conditions remaining equal, they can reach each other again on the other side of a perfect globe?
  6. To understand a map is to shrink the world; to plan; to color.
  7. Can you smell the vinegar blood in the babes, stardappled. The survivors ride the beast train toward the North, over those rolled off onto the tracks. See their legs, scattered.
  8. Olga in Minnesota: to be with her mother amidst rags of spring snow. For now, she is curled in the glovebox of a Chevrolet Cavalier.
  9. Bless you, all that meat and milk, threaded. Pass, you fairer animal. Not you. I have seen the door in the water.
  10. Solution: Magical thinking.
  11. To panic is to feel all your wildness at once.
  12. A flock of geese felled to the open plain, the lush grass confounds even the birds for passable angles.
  13. We the holy, are never really still. Agitation pulls even at hanging planets.
  14. Four sirens twist their voices—four dead in the desert borderlands.
  15. In this dream, I am on a plane. I wake up to the pilot smiling down on me. No one flies the plane. Or, I am flying the plane.
  16. The threads fly loose on each body, some sown to others, some not. But let’s not take this metaphor too far; we are better than the obvious.
  17. A hero is a plane of being.
  18. I think of a girl at space camp, perched above a better telescope than she has in her room. Tonight, she figures space as a map of horses. Blur, focus. Blur and focus. Tonight, the clouds will pull apart for her. Tonight, we will all dream of horses.
  19. My ancestor says: Later, when I arrive at your house, I will hang a crown of flowers at your door. And yours. And yours.
  20. And: Sometimes I choose to come through your television. In sleep, you will mistake me for dripping water. You will think you heard your father. We visit each other in these ways.
  21. Plan B. From the moon, the earth is a crown of dark marble.
  22. There are varying kinds of tragedy that produce the same outcome: paperwork.
  23. And even if we did save the trees, or the whales, the hunger would still be so great the people who need saving would still need saving.
  24. The heads of violet onions, rooted child fingers, blue-leafed lips. An orchard, a mass grave.
  25. I give you my coat and scarf in offering. I have no choice, I was born to saints in pilgrimage.
  26. Paper-purple skin. Grounded bodies. The border. A field of onions.
  27. Thesis: I swallow a bee for each ill deed done. I am a hive walking. I strain to hear you over the regret.