Watching My Old Man Kick Someone’s Ass
by Richard Vargas

i was three maybe four
looked out the screen door
there he was across the street
people were standing in a circle
he and another man were in the middle
my old man must have been in his early 20s
lean hard and mean
fresh out of the 82nd Airborne
the other guy was soft
a pendejo who never left the block
my dad was throwing his shit
left and right
his opponent was backing up into
the crowd losing his footing
but afraid to take his eyes off
the crazy cholo coming at him
it was over before it really started
my old man victorious and cocky
i remember he looked from
across the street
saw me standing in the doorway
our eyes met and i knew he had
just shown me something important
i took a mental snapshot
so i’d always carry
the moment with me

when i want to strike out
unleash the blow we all
have within us
i write a poem

and i know
he would

SOURCE: “Watching My Old Man Kick Someone’s Ass” appears in American Jesus: Poems by Richard Vargas (Tia Chucha Press, 2007).

PHOTOGRAPH: The author at six months with his father.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is a mental photograph of my father, who overdosed on heroin shortly after my tenth birthday. He was incarcerated most of the time, it seems, but the few lessons he tried to teach me are etched in my memory. Poetry helped me remember and get over the bitterness he caused with his early exit.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Richard Vargas was born in Compton, California, attended schools in Compton, Lynwood, and Paramount. He earned his B.A. at Cal State University, Long Beach, where he studied under Gerald Locklin and Richard Lee. He edited/published five issues of The Tequila Review, 1978-1980. His first book, McLife, was featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, in February 2006. A second book, American Jesus, was published by Tia Chucha Press, 2007. His third book, Guernica, revisited, was published in April 2014 by Press 53. (A poem from the book was featured on Writer’s Almanac to kick off National Poetry Month.) Vargas received his MFA from the University of New Mexico, 2010. He was recipient of the 2011 Taos Summer Writers’ Conference’s Hispanic Writer Award, and was on the faculty of the 2012 10th National Latino Writers Conference. Vargas will facilitate a poetry workshop at the 2015 Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, and he has read his poetry in venues in Los Angeles, Chicago, Madison, Albuquerque/Santa Fe/Taos, Indianapolis, and Boulder. Currently, he resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he edits/publishes The Más Tequila Review, and will facilitate The Más Tequila Poetry Workshop this July at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference.