A House Waiting for Music
by David Hernandez
“David Hernandez is like a hip, urban William Stafford—his quiet, subtle poems force us to see what we often miss, lost in the rush of our lives. He has a deft touch for finding the striking juxtaposition, the odd fragment of grace. Hernandez embraces the world, even when it seems irredeemable and without mercy, and he celebrates the small daily miracles of survival. The music of these warm, intimate poems resonates, and lingers.”—Jim Daniels
Far as we know, this is a first. Originally selected by Judge Ray Gonzalez as the winner of the Tupelo Press Chapbook Competition, A House Waiting for Music so impressed the editors that we asked David Hernandez for his full-length book of poetry.
More poems. More dazzle. Everybody here needed more. Now this, a full-length incarnation of David Hernandez’s homage to the imagination, his sly, sober, knowing wink-at-the-world. Whether reinventing the cinematic sets of Laurel and Hardy or meditating on the glittering seams that hold us together from the inside, these are poems that know how to turn the world inside out and take us along for a closer look.
Hernandez has an impeccable eye for the details of our shared experience and for the shapes of the shadows that haunt us. Here are words that hand us pathos perfectly spiced, and loss with a sense of humor. This is a new voice to be reckoned with: impossible to ignore, engaging, lucid, and loud.
Laurel and Hardy Backwards
There was a bedsheet thumbtacked
to a wall, the rattle of the projector,
its one eye glowing behind us like a train
stopped inside a tunnel. In our homemade
theater, Laurel and Hardy were delivering
a piano, pushing it up the longest flight
of stairs. They heaved. They heaved
some more, faces cartooned into struggle.
We’ve seen this film five, six times.
It’s not funny anymore. We waited
until the end, until the filmstrip slapped
and slapped the projector, the bedsheet
radiant with light. Our mother stood
in the doorframe, three months pregnant,
saying it was time for bed. None of us
had seen our lives before —five, six times
or just once. None of us know
about the miscarriage scripted
for tomorrow. My brother flipped the reel,
threaded the film backwards. We watched
a bowler hat leap from the ground
and settle on Hardy’s head, slammed doors
opening by themselves. We watched
the two trace their footsteps
and wrestle the piano back down the stairs,
a thing now impossible to deliver
to a house waiting for music.
Huntington Botanical Gardens
Boring for a boy: 150 acres
and one hundred times as many plants,
each flouncing its colors. He drags
his bones where his parents want to go.
Here’s the Japanese Garden,
a red bridge arcing from green lawn
to green lawn, blood orange carp
fishtailing sluggishly in the pond.
Here’s the Subtropical Garden’s
fat leaves, blue jacarandas and pink
cape chestnuts. Here’s a yawn
blooming on the boy’s face,
black petals rimmed with white teeth.
Mother whiffs a rose. Father snaps
a photograph of a peacock
unfurling its emerald feathers.
Too dull for a boy, watching nature
on display like this, flamboyant
and rainbowed like this.
It’s all humdrum until the cacti
at the Desert Garden, their million
pinpricks. Walking the narrow
stone path, the boy never felt his skin
this way, so much hazard so close,
the thin hairs on his forearms rising.
A girl scurries by. Her mother
shouts from behind, Don’t run!
He will remember this. After each
failed relationship and gray silence
that followed, this: the girl’s palm
and fingers bristling with needles,
a cactus missing a handful of spines.
Wile E. Coyote Attains Nirvana
It is neither by indulging in sensuous cravings and pleasures, nor by
subjecting oneself to painful, unholy and unprofitable
self-torture, one can achieve freedom from suffering and rebirth.
from The Four Noble Truths
No wonder after each plummet
down the canyon, the dust cloud
of smoke after each impact,
he’s back again, reborn,
the same desire weighing
inside his brain like an anvil:
catch that bird. Again
with the blueprints, the calculations,
a package from the Acme Co.
of the latest gadgets. Shoes
with springs, shoes with rockets,
but nothing works. Again
the Road Runner escapes,
feathers smearing blue across the air.
Again the hungry coyote
finds himself in death’s embrace,
a canon swiveling toward his head,
a boulder’s shadow dilating
under his feet. Back
from the afterlife, he meditates
under a sandstone arch
and gets it: craving equals suffering.
The bulb of enlightenment
blazes over his head.
He hears the Road Runner across
the plain: beep-beep. Nothing.
No urge to grab the knife
and fork and run, no saliva
waterfalling from his mouth.
Just another sound in the desert
as if Pavlov’s dog forgot
what that bell could do to his body.
Last night I traced with my finger
the long scar on my love’s stomach
as if I was following a road on a map.
I heard the scream of tires, saw the flash
of chrome, her six-year-old body
a rag doll bleeding at the seams.
It is foolish of me to wish
I was there before it happened, to reach
back thirty years, clasp her small hand
and pull her away from that speeding car
that turned her organs into bruised fruit.
How easily she could have missed
her seventh birthday, the lit candles waiting
for her to blow out their tiny flames.
How easily I could’ve spent last night
in a crowded bar instead,
my shoulders brushing against strangers,
a man on the jukebox
singing his heart out to a woman
with the prettiest eyes he’s ever seen.
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“A House Waiting for Music is a remarkable collection of poems. David Hernandez is like a hip, urban William Stafford—his quiet, subtle poems force us to see what we often miss, lost in the rush of our lives. He has a deft touch for finding the striking juxtaposition, the odd fragment of grace. Hernandez embraces the world, even when it seems irredeemable and without mercy, and he celebrates the small daily miracles of survival. The music of these warm, intimate poems resonates, and lingers.”—Jim Daniels
El Paso’s Borderland News featured a review of A House Waiting For Music on May 25th 2003.
The Small Press Review, January – February 2004, featured a review of A House Waiting for Music.