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El Chacal

by Jose Hernandez Diaz

Growing up in the neighborhood, everyone called me The Jackal or El Chacal.
It was a term of endearment. At least, I think so. I was rather slick, like a
jackal in the moonlight. A wise guy in the sense that I read philosophy books
I didn’t understand. I could handle my beer, that was my true talent. When I
was younger, I ran with the wrong crowd, but everyone has since grown up and
become family folks. I have a tattoo of a jackal on my bicep. It is rather gothic
looking. I think people called me jackal because I’m upfront yet undersized.
Maybe it’s actually just because I have funny, pointed ears. When I wrote graffiti
back in the day, I only wrote in Spanish: El Chacal. I’d also draw the outline
of a jackal’s head with the tag. I’ve since branched out to tattooing folks and
experimenting with canvas painting. I’ll always remember those days in the
neighborhood, though, as special to me. I get the urge to tag my name on a
blank wall, again, every now and then. But I know I can’t go back to my youth.
I can only remember it with a beer or a glass of wine or a painting. Right now,
I’m thinking of painting a ghost in a rearview mirror.

This prose poem came about this spring during poetry month, when I was writing every day, as I was thinking of my youth and how I wanted to be a graffiti artist, like some of my friends and writers online I looked up to. I never actually wrote graffiti, because I didn’t want to go to jail or get a fine, but the prose poem allowed me to pretend such a reality existed. Through this vehicle of the prose poem, I mixed in memories from real life with imagination. Also, some of the prose poem is based on the lives of friends who wrote back in the day and now have adjusted to “mainstream” life. As far as the jackal or chacal, it is a tag, along the jackal head, a-la Banksy or Blek le Rat, that I always thought would look cool on a wall. Most of my prose poems are either surreal or narrative-based, but this one is sort of a mixture of life experience and fiction.

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Fellow and author of The Fire Eater. His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, The Nation, POETRY, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He has been a finalist for the 2018 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize Competition and the 2020 National Poetry Series. Currently, Diaz is a guest editor for Frontier Poetry and Palette Poetry.