Poems: J.J. Hernandez

Illo for J.J. Hernandez's poems.

Praise Break

Dad bobs his head to gospel
                music, while driving to Jackass
                                Rock Campground. I can

                                tell he wants to clap his
                hands, but he doesn’t want
to veer off the windy road.

My two brothers try to grab
                branches and weeds from their
                                halfway rolled down window, yelling

                                when the branches slap and burn
                their hands. When the gospel song
moves to a musical bridge, organs

whir, and dad shouts, whoow, while
                I stare at the impending rocky cliffs,
                                and just as I start to feel overwhelmed,

                                the road straightens and I get
                the urge to hug my father while he
drives, but I don’t. We’re still climbing.


My grandpa was a coal miner,
even though he bought the cigar
shop & sold thick
Cuban cigars for years until
his daughters stole
so much that he had to file
bankruptcy & close
his doors. He was a coal miner
when he went to cosmetology
school and learned
to perm & style
women’s hair. My
grandma said he loved
to make beehives. He
was still a miner when he
worked for the state
of Colorado and drove
a snow plow on the Raton
Pass pushing snow off
of the steep sides
of the curved highway. Was
a coal miner when he
wrecked the snow plow
and broke his back. Was
a miner when he forced us
to help him put new sheets
of red tin on his roof,
so the snow would slide
off. He was a coal miner
when he hacked up black
matter that took us all back
in time, to a mine shaft
filled with methane & screams
of miners who lost their way.
I called out to him, Grandpa,
John, where are you, we miss you,
I know I left you here in this town
years ago
. & he told me leave
him alone, while he kept on
wading deeper though the fine
dust that coated overalls,
boots, teeth, and lungs.
J.J. Hernandez is a poet in Fresno, California. He holds an MFA in poetry and served as the inaugural fellow in the Laureate Lab:Visual Words Studio under Juan Felipe Herrera. You can see some of his work in Tinderbox, Cactus Heart, and (forthcoming) Crab Orchard Review.

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