Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe


By Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Book Talk by Gili Warsett


Dear Dante,

There are a million things I would say to you if only I was better with words.  It should be easier to talk about stuff in a letter.  Your letters keep coming one after the next, and I’m sorry I’m not so good at writing back.  You don’t seem to mind.  I’ve still been reading the poetry books you pushed on me, and I guess I’m kind of getting into them.

What’s Chicago like?  Are there a lot of other Mexicans there?  I guess we’re everywhere, right?  It’s not just an El Paso thing.  I’m sure you’re making friends everywhere you go.  How did you get to be so good at that?  I can barely talk to the people I know, let alone strangers.

The girls at school are nagging me; they keep asking why my legs are in casts.  I finally told them I accidentally saved a guy who almost got hit by a car, but they didn’t believe me, not when I said your name.  “What kind of a name is Dante?” they asked.

Speaking of cars, my mom and dad got me a red ’57 Chevy pickup for my sixteenth birthday.  It’s perfect, Dante.  I drive out into the desert late at night, lie down in the bed of the truck, and stare up at the stars.  Corny, I know, but it’s my favorite thing in the world.

I keep thinking about your family, how open you all are, how you kiss your parents on the cheek when you see them.  What fifteen year-old does that?  I can barely shake my dad’s hand, let alone get him to talk.  Anyway, I don’t know if this has to do with how you are with your mom and dad, but I’ve been thinking about how much I want my parents to tell me about my brother.  I told you he’s in prison, right?  He’s been locked up since I was a little kid and I don’t even know why.  Nobody will even say his name.  If I could just see a picture of him, I don’t know.  I have all these dreams.  My brother’s in my dreams; you’re there, too.

It’s quiet here without you.  I could say that I wish you were here, but I’m not sure that’s true.  You can be a little intense.  Did you know that, Dante?  Sometimes I hope your family decides to stay in Chicago, so that I can keep going through high school and my life the way I know how: quietly, on my own, not making waves.  We’ll be so different when we finally see each other again this summer.  I wonder if we’ll still be friends.

I’m going to end this letter here.

Signing off.  No, that sounds weird.

See you soon.  No, that’s not true.

Love?  Yeah, I guess in a way, I do love you, Dante.  Don’t freak out about me writing that, okay?  I read your letter.  I know you’re all about being gay now, but you know that’s not for me.  That’s never going to be for me.  So just know you’re the best friend I’ve ever had.  Let’s face it: you’re the only friend I’ve ever had.