I am the wound that does not heal, the small solar stone:
strike me, and the world will go up in flames.
Had I not stolen that book, I most likely would not have been a writer. It was a collection of Latin American and European authors edited by two former poet laureates— in which I cannot recall the name of neither the text nor the laureates. All I remember are the authors: there was Czeslaw Milosz, Nicanor Parra, Carlos Drummond De Andrade, Julio Cortázar, Fernando Pessoa, and a handful of others. At the exact halfway point of this text, along the meridian of page and language, is where I found it.
I remember serving witness to the shattering of the sun; time began its laughter through the only open window in the room, and if you looked at the clock long enough, a hand would come out of the book and point you in the direction of an obsidian butterfly perched on the end of winter. That’s exactly what it was— an obsidian butterfly. Who the fuck would have ever thought that a butterfly would come into the hood? I was understanding the words, but I wasn’t understanding this language. What I’m reading looks like a lot like prose, and what I’m reading sounds a lot like poetry, but in essence this work is neither: its existence within a binary’s twilight allowed it to become a form of its own. This very form of curated chaos was the prose poem— revealed to me within the lines of Octavio Paz’s “Obsidian Butterfly”.
Each night is an eyelid the thorns never stop piercing.
And I never really understood the fear of chaos. Nor the fear of depravity. I never really understood this denial of allowing yourself to see the beautiful behind the perceived foundless and ballistic. Chaos doesn’t possess a nature; it’s intrinsically formless. And if it’s intrinsically formless, it’s capable of becoming all forms. What “Obsidian Butterfly” revealed to me, as I sit here reading it for the first time, is that we’re the exact same. It’s a failure of judgement and absolute lapse of belief to predestine the nature of another human being, for by doing so we have robbed them the opportunity of allowing them to show the world all of their forms. If anything, this work didn’t just impact me in regards to language and imagery; it had holistically reinvented my philosophies of being. It offered an almost indirect olive branch to all of the worries that I could have talked about with only myself.
Who I am today is not who I will be tomorrow, as who I am today is not who I was yesterday; with every hour’s passing I vacillate among the people I once was or have yet to become. This shit’s not just some abstruse talk. Whether or not I want it, I’m the inheritor of memories— this gallery of generations that allowed its portraits to step outside of their frames and wander throughout my body since before the acquisition of language. The seven-month-old sitting on an ant-lined tile floor in San Sebastían is also the four-year-old running with a bloodied nose in Elizabeth is also the seven-year-old replaying Green Day’s American Idiot album trying to process death’s salutations in Kearny is also the twelve-year-old trying to grapple with a school’s closing in Harrison is also the sixteen-year-old stealing one of his favorite teachers’ books in Bloomfield is also me is also you is a conglomeration of people, feelings, and moments which is contained entirely within the parameters of only one body trying to understand itself in a world that won’t really offer the time. It kind of reminds you of what J. Cole said in Sojourner: The world ain’t got no patience for some shit that’s introspective. But the realm that the prose poem created for me— inaugurated by “Obsidian Butterfly” — allowed for this particular patience to take its permanent root. For the majority of my life, it was only the realms of Halloweentown from The Nightmare Before Christmas or Poe’s short stories in which I found a personal solace and relativity— but with the accidental introduction of this medium, I was finally allowed to speak in the language which had always been native to my mind, yet foreign to everyone else.
And now my hands tremble, the words are caught in my throat.
Give me a chair and a little sun.
What are your greatest fears? I promise you, no one else is listening.. Have a conversation with me by having a conversation with yourself. Are you afraid of economic collapse? A stray bullet? Rusted nails in the floorboards? Your childhood’s home engulfed in flame? Are you afraid of looking into the mirror and believing that you’re capable of forgiveness? The doors are locked. The blinds are lowered. This conversation is only between us. You don’t need to answer right now, if you still need the time. Or if you just simply don’t want to. I’m only asking you because that’s what I ask myself— and I would like to believe that I’m not the only one here who’s a mausoleum of fears. I would like to believe that I’m not the only one here who has ever had to rehearse a response. The scriptures professed this world a stage. Humanity its players. How will we know when to recite our most important lines if the entire story has been an improvisation?
I would never ask you a question that I wouldn’t answer myself first— and so I’ll tell you that one of my life’s greatest fears has been the premature degeneration of my brain. I grew up intimately alongside the Parkinson’s of my maternal grandmother, knowing full well that the preceding generations of our family would be bound to become the inheritors and expressors of its coding. From childhood into adolescence, and shortly past the cusp of adulthood, I witnessed a library of faces and names just wear away, slowly smoldering into this leftover archive of barely-legible pages. There was no recognition of her childrens’ faces; she kept hearing the voice of a child outside the house screaming to be let in; she kept having conversations with her oldest sister who had long been deceased; she would scream the names of people no longer present, all while struggling to remember those of the ones who still were. The only people she could immediately recognize at the end of her life were her husband and her second-youngest grandchild. The only people she could immediately recognize at the end of her 88 years were Abuelito and me. And I’m not going to lie— this entire essay is beyond fucking difficult to write. But it’s alright. It’s still only the two of us.
I was the flint that rips the storm clouds of night and opens the doors of the showers.
I don’t know the trajectory that my life would have taken had I not stolen this book. I really grappled with the rationale of a lot of things that I should not have been devoting so much energy towards as a child. Poverty kept me up a lot. Homeslessness kept me up a lot. Domestic abuse, the efficacy of faith, the falling of the Twin Towers, the Iraq War, the disproportionate suffering of the purely selfless, and especially the notion of how many of us were actually going to make it past the cocoon. There’s zero question that these thoughts and the framework of what eventually became the baseline of my mind was bolstered by a specific set of factors— and the prime two factors that have always returned into the conversations with myself have been the creative, almost chaotic, endowment of my father’s lineage, and the neurological codings/epigenetics from that of my mother’s. I remember feeling and seeing before even speaking. I remember feelings, thoughts, and observations just so physiologically-overwhelming that they prevented me from being able to speak or even articulate a proper sentence. The weight of existence is what unquestionably baptized me into the arts. It was really my only counterbalance for a mind that robbed me of a childhood. Solaces were forged within the works of Poe and Tim Burton, as well as the worlds of Naruto and Dragon Ball Z, but yo the only real lifeline for me, for a long time, was channeling the mind int any form of creation that reminded the world that I was here. There are many artists that won’t admit it, but deep down we all just want to be remembered. We want to be remembered for surviving the uninhabitable. We want to be remembered for allowing ourselves to be so frighteningly open to the world which scarred us in the hopes of making a soul similar to ours believe in the possibility of the impossible. And absolutely none of us know when the neuronal machinations are going to rust and come to their fullest halt. We won’t know the date, nor time, nor place of our internal collapse. Will it be a slow fade into senescence, or the most brilliant and abrupt supernova the hood has ever seen? I’m scared of the answer, in honesty— but I’ve fully come to terms with either ending of this story. There’ll come a day where I am no longer the holder of my own compass.
What’s the significance of “Obsidian Butterfly”? What’s the significance of the prose poem? What’s the significance of my grandmother’s life? Or the mathematics of fear? They all taught me how to find the beautiful in the chaotic. My grandmother was my mind’s closest mirror— she was one of its prime architects. And what “Obsidian Butterfly” did for me, as the first prose poem I have ever read, is that it finally allowed me to unhinge all of the hesitancies and regulators that I had cast within myself in regards to the thoughts, feelings, images, and sounds that I navigated since childhood, but could never fully express through my writing, regardless of ability. It had always felt like a part of me was never fully present in the lines that I wrote up until then, because I believed that language had this codified set of rules to exist along in order for it to be considered language. But then I realized that there are no rules for being. All of society is an aggregation of constructs. Adherence isn’t actuality. So who the fuck can actually profess themselves as the god of language? No one. And those who attempt to crown themselves as such are more often than not the most estranged from it. Language is intrinsically formless— so it’s capable of becoming all forms. I don’t think in prose; I don’t think in poetry; I exist as both. It just had never registered to me, this vacuousnessess of attempting to fixate all of who I was, in all of my manifestations, into the calcified dichotomies of either prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction. It was always or— now I was introduced to and.
You should see all of the butterfly wings I keep coughing up when I talk about survival.
Wait for me on the other side of the year:
you will meet me like a lightning flash stretched to the edge of autumn.
We’ll meet again soon.
The both of us will be sitting underneath the shadows of our wingspans.
Julio Cesar Villegas was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, raised in Essex County, New Jersey, Poetry Reader for Muzzle Magazine, and recipient of the 2017 Atlantis Award for Poetry. Villegas is the writer that your abuelos warned you about. His scriptures can be found or are forthcoming in PANK, Puerto Del Sol, Rigorous Mag, Grist Online, Waccamaw, Subprimal Poetry Art, Into The Void, as well as the inescapable mouth of the abyss, Puerto Rico Se Levanta.