Excerpts from Z is for Zapatazo by Ruben Rivera published by Atmosphere Press
Z is for Zapatazo
I started learning my ABC’s before I could even read. The first lesson involved a woman collapsed in the back lot of the Bronx tenement where we lived. Something had scared her nearly to death. There in the pouring rain she lay writhing and screaming out her wits while neighbors watched from the covered balconies and fire escapes. R is for Rat.
Another lesson was connected to chickens in that time when “children should be seen and not heard.” The Spanish version had, as usual, more syllables as well as color: “Los niños hablan cuando las gallinas mean.” “Children talk when the chickens pee.” Those who relate to chicken only in conveniently dismembered extra crispy form may ask when or how often do chickens pee? Never. We Nuyoricans, Spanglish-speaking Gothamites, who had never seen a chicken except when it arrived steaming aromatically on a plate with rice and beans, nevertheless knew well that chickens don’t relieve themselves like little boys and girls. C is for Chickens.
We moved to California, that hub of social contradictions. There I was raised on breezy primetime shows, punctuated by interruptions about some protest march, police suppression, riot, space-race launch, cold war threat, assassination, or other scary event. For a while it seemed like “We Interrupt This Program” was part of the regular TV line up. Maybe that’s why there were so many sitcoms and family shows – diversions from the worry and sheer terror. The shows conveyed placid American suburbs lined with houses that never needed painting, populated by families like the Andersons, the Nelsons, and the Cleavers, lovingly and rationally ruled by parents that never yelled or hit or even had sex.
Meanwhile, on this side of the fourth wall, verbal and physical discipline was natural. So natural in fact that it was conveyed in a Spanish-language ABC book for children. The benign English version that the Cleavers read had, “A is for Apple, B is for Ball, C is for Cat” and so on, to the last letter, “Z is for Zoo.” A logical entry for the Spanish Zeta (Z) would have been Zapato (Shoe), something every Latino child would know. But instead it read, “Z esporZapatazo” (paraphrased: Z is for Shoe Missile). The expounded letter was accompanied by a drawing of a dark-haired child with its wincing face cocked to the side from the impact of a flying shoe. A friend recalled the book to me years later and we responded with equal parts laughter and loathing at the kind of mentality that would include such a casually violent lesson in what is perhaps the most basic childhood introduction to an intelligible world.
History reminds me, however, that Anglo American ways of child rearing were not so idyllic as the TV shows portrayed. In colonial New England, a child’s education went hand in hand with physical discipline. The 1691 edition of The New England Primer for children had ABC lessons that included: “F: The idle FOOL is whipt at school,” and “J: JOB feels the rod, yet blesses God.” And even as the belt-free world of “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It To Beaver” was being beamed into televisions across North America, teachers in schools who looked just like Robert Young and Barbara Billingsley blistered our tender behinds with every device imaginable, from ping pong paddles to a cricket bat perforated in wood shop by one particularly sadistic misanthrope to cut wind resistance.
I can at least affirm that I advanced in my ABC’s fairly early in the game – my older brother, not so much. If I say that too frequently I followed a crowd of kids to an afterschool fight only to discover that my brother was one of the young gladiators, you’ll understand what I mean. The same feckless pugnacity repeatedly got him into needless trouble at home, where there was no immunity of non-combatants. K is for Knucklehead.
Years later, my mom and stepdad divorced. (My birth father I knew only through an old wedding photograph and mom’s spectacularly imaginative comparisons to our misbehavior.) By then I was married, living at the other end of the country and going to seminary. I did not know the degree to which their split had affected me. Then one evening, after my wife had gone to bed and I stayed up studying, I sank into an abyss of grief, crying and shaking uncontrollably.
Gone were the family parties when we kids listened to music and played while our parents did…whatever parents did at parties, until the sensuous Puerto Rican food appeared miraculously on the table to be gobbled up by gangly calorie-burning urchins, leaving the mess to be cleaned up by elves while we slept soundly wherever our bodies happened to land. Gone was the Monorail, and the Matterhorn, It’s A Small World, and the Adventure Thru Inner Space courtesy of Monsanto. Gone Knott’s berry pie. Gone the excursions to Pacific Ocean Park, Redondo Beach, and Newport Dunes, the broiling burgers, the quenching watermelon.
Gone the chilly early hours of Christmas when we’d sneak out of our beds to peek at the gift-wrapped silhouettes under the tree and imagine they were what we wanted. Gone a mother’s tender ministrations when any of us kids were sick. Gone her tears when she saw mine after a broken wrist ended high school gymnastics. Gone the rosary prayer circles and sleepless nights when my brother was in hospital with brain tumors. Gone the frantic calling for my sister lost in a Tijuana bazaar. Gone the tears of joy when she was found. Gone the dreaded daily tablespoon of cod liver oil and the sting of Mercurochrome on scraped knees and elbows.
Gone dad’s brutal six-day workweek that underwrote our lives. Gone when the family sat around the only television in the house after eating dinner at the same table, at the same time, and the wild symphony of everyone talking at once. Gone the laughter, I’m talking Puerto Rican laughter, the world series of laughter, now only faint bells in the distant steeple of my memory. Z is for Zapatazo.
The Fall of Middle Earth
One day, I went to that land between home and school, shocked to find it invaded. The scene looked like a horde of dragons, their plated skin clattering, their movement stuttering like some Harryhausean nightmare, and generals commanding troops in white helmets from blue paper battle plans. The noise cracked the sky’s thin blue shell and soot from organ pipe nostrils nearly blocked out the running yolk of the sun. Mandibles dropped open dripping an earthy stew then clammed shut with the metallic squeal of lightning, like colossal hinges on the gates of Mordor, maws of these steel-veined horrors engorging and disgorging dirt, rocks, grasses, trees, nests, warrens, dens and cloisters, secret gardens, fens and shires. Fangorn, Moria, Rivendell...
How I started hating conspiracy theories
How often the truth is just not sexy enough. But the lie? Now that’s an orgy. In the fifth grade I caught the flu so bad I missed two weeks of school. When I returned my teacher got down on one knee to look me in the eyes and said: “Ruben, are you OK? I heard you got in trouble with the law and went to juvenile detention.” “Home with the flu,” I said. “Nearly died. Didn’t you get mom’s letter?” “I heard you were really in juvie.” “Nope. Home sick. Nearly died.” He walked away disappointed, in the same way dogs find catching cars disappointing. That year I was “Juvie Rubie,” hang all my protestations for truth. Even today, I’m Juvie Rubie.
I Don’t Mean
I don’t mean to doubt your faith but why doesn’t it make you good to me?
I don’t mean to question your scriptures but why are the sweet parts applied to you and the harsh parts to me?
I don’t mean to be aloof but why does god love you unconditionally but me conditionally?
I don’t mean to sound unpatriotic but why does the god of the universe bless America over other nations, and before that Rome, or France, or Germany, or Spain, then England?
I don’t mean to risk your wrath but why does god look and act like the latest rulers?
I don’t mean to appear radical but why does god favor your race over mine?
I don’t mean to feel cheated, but why does god answer your prayers and not mine – when you got the job I didn’t, and the traffic lights you believe worked for you made me miss my friend’s last moments?
I don’t mean to impugn your justice but why does god love sinners like you more than sinners like me?
I don’t mean to question your motives but why does accepting your religion put me and mine under you and yours?
I don’t mean to sound bitter but why is there no room for me in the land, the neighborhood, your family, your heart?
I don’t mean to dislike your god of grace but why gift the one truth to you and leave others in damning ignorance?
I don’t mean to be impertinent but how come god welcomes prayer in any language but only English can be spoken here?
I don’t mean to be skeptical about the universality of your religion but why do I have to amputate my culture but you get to keep yours?
I don’t mean to be in your face but why can’t you see me?
I don’t mean to speak so loudly but why can’t you hear me?
I don’t mean to doubt your faith but why doesn’t it make you good to me?
Click here to order a copy of Z is for Zapatazo today!
Atmosphere Press is an independent, full-service publisher. Click here to learn more.
Ruben Rivera is Emeritus VP for DE&I and Associate Professor of History at Bethel University in Saint Paul, MN. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife Anita. Although his poetry has won awards in various contests, Z is for Zapatazo is Ruben’s first published collection.
Three poems from City on the Second Floor with review and short interview with poet Matt Sedillo
L.A. is Full of Pigs
Los Angeles is falling apart In the streets, in the suburbs In the wind In a barely kept Hollywood bathroom Wheezing, vomiting, coughing up blood The past few days, these past few years I have spread myself across this sprawl And now fear this drive may kill me May kill us all and I wander Over to general hospital Between whose walls desperation wears in high concentration upon the faces of the shopworn And prematurely ill alike as they await upon news of illness they cannot afford to have Survival without insurance This may take a while Los Angeles Is full of untold misery A homeless man sleeps next to me and I can smell the years of hard distance between who he is now And who he may have been And all that stands between him and the bitter wind Is chance, is the kindness of a night nurse who will let him sleep in peace Los Angeles is full of good people Who from time to time Can turn a blind eye To killer policy And I wonder how many more bounced checks, free clinics, carry cash And leave the account in the negative Stand between me and him, me and the bitter wind and if so Where would I go from Venice to San Francisco There is an outright war on the homeless A war on the dispossessed, there are fewer and fewer options They got shelters for women and children, all inadequate But for me just man up homeboy To that concrete pillow To that cardboard blanket And freeze your ass to death Yes, this city will leave you to die On the same stretch of sidewalk where banks stretch into the sky And I wonder as even now skid row Is being gentrified As this city As this system As the pigs Push people Past poverty Past hunger Past homelessness Towards the very edge of existence On Skid Row Where all the so-called complexities of an economy Are laid bare, where the rich are literally stacked upon the poor Los Angeles Is full of grotesque absurdity Especially on skid row Where they spend millions Annually policing the misery of people with nowhere to go Because when your pockets are empty And you aint got nothing And change is just not coming There is no real difference Between a booming metropolis and a barren desert And the world of money Passes by you Passes through you As though you Were just part Of the scenery Protected in the knowledge They are serviced by pigs Who speak the language of violence The language Of the nightstick The language Of untold misery That will beat you for begging Beat you for sleeping Beat you for breathing Beat you For doing whatever it is you need to do To survive the night In the bitter wind Los Angeles Is full of pigs
The rich, well they're not like you and me They see an opportunity and they grab it reach for the stars And they, put ‘em in their pocket Company stays in the red But they're backed by the government Snort the public dime into lines of pure profit Research and development
The rich, well they're a different breed Champagne wishes and caviar dreams Thoroughbred stallions, quarter billion mansions on the sea Deepwater Horizon Blood diamonds Golden parachutes Silicon messiahs Feasting on endangered species Served on silver platters in winter palaces carved from the tips of icebergs Six-figure charters Vulture capital Million-dollar cufflinks plucking life like an apple Insured by suicide nets Lifestyles of the criminally negligent But you haven't lived Until you've launched a car into space for no fucking reason Now that's what I call freedom
The rich, well here's how it is Dollars and cents Trademark and rent Facts and figures Lines on a ledger Derivatives and debt Building the future Increasing productivity Union busting back To the hundred-hour work week Trimming the fat Producing monopolies With real money shortages and bets And that my friend is how the rich stay rich While the rest, make poor decisions And it's pure ecstasy Living in the lap of luxury Pushing pharmaceuticals At the markup The market Will bear your body To its altar At a life-or-death bargain The gospel Of wealth Cause it is what it is And that's all it’s ever been The less we spend The more we keep
You see the rich And the poor Well, they're just like you and me Two hands Two feet The sky The sea And everything between One heart that beats And the time To make the most of it So, you'll find no sympathy Reaching into these deep pockets All we ever asked was our fair share And God damn it, that's all of it So, while you're out in the streets screaming for peace and justice We’re sleeping in satin sheets dreaming free and guiltless over oceans and tariffs liquidating pensions then off to bid on porcelain and portraits at billion dollar auctions You know you need us You know we're selling your secrets You know you still send us DNA kits Watching the puppets On television Debate freedom free speech Fascism, democracy while we reach into the earth And fuel the economy With space stations Yes, space stations Hydrating the red planet We’re gonna survive this lava pit So you got pots and pans We got deeds and plans Chopping down rainforest Colonizing the moon We’re the rich, who the fuck are you We’ll privatize the water supply Then copyright the tears Falling From Your Eyes Burn it all down What the hell you talking about The icecaps are already melting You wanna start some shit Eat the rich We're already killing your kids One carbon footprint One gas house emission One oil rig One naval ship One free Trade Agreement at a time And we'll get away with it too Nothing we say or do Is ever held against us Haven't you been paying attention We’re rich
I grew up on television and so did my parents I Love Lucy Lied to them sweetly America's Favorite redhead Desires suppressed In separate beds Censors rest Assured Everything in good taste Everything in its proper place Every traumatic episode Ends with the threat of Ricky's hand Never far from Lucy's face Beaming in glorious black and white Wrong and right Plot lines shade out the gray On John Wayne's Shining silver City on a hill Of guns and butter Where every School child's desk Doubles as bomb shelter Praying to the altar of the unquestioned So Pledge your allegiance Seal your documents And lock and load Your freedom Because it is not free Now fall to your knees And praise be To the only God In which we trust The Atom The Manhattan Hiroshima Nagasaki The nuclear family Nuclear testing In the nuclear age Gave way To nuclear waste That's me See I grew up In the eighties Morning in America Ronald Reagan And Mr. Belvedere Fresh at my door Telling me life was More than mere survival That I Might live the good life Yet when my time came Homer Simpson Peter Griffin Al Bundy Were all lying in wait To convince me I could raise a family In a two story On the single income Of a shoes salesman They lied And I cry Not for myself But for this oncoming generation Of IPAD kids On the Hulu and Netflix Where you pick your poison But it rots your mind Just the same See them at cafes Sit sipping Job seeking Asking the net For deeper meaning Who am I Where do I belong Of what use can I be In days such as these Kids born of go go gadgets Wired to networks Connected Directed To the latest trends Surf the web In search of themselves No different From medieval serfs Waiting on the bells Of the Catholic Church For the latest in Holy writ Holy script Holy this Since The golden rule Of Pharaohs and Caesars Romulus and Remus Akbar and Alexander Xerxes and Hammurabi Since the days of scribes And the books of Kings Since they from on high Convinced us down below That we Ever Needed Their Code Of law To tell us We were free
Reading by Matt Sedillo and short interview.
Cutting Noise, a review by Scott Duncan-Fernandez
Why should you read City on the Second Floor by Matt Sedillo to hear something anti-greed or anti-colonial? Can't you got to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to see posts counting coup with the may or may not be true and the armchair warriors armed with glibness and not even one sentence memes, instant espresso shots of thought?
Poetry can cut through the noise. Needed now more than ever. Poetry can serve us Chicanos as it did in the Chicano Movement and before, our activism and words melded. The earth is dying, working people are abused and it’s the rich driving it with their pharaonic greed. It’s a message that needs to be believed acted upon and repeated. City on the Second Floor has the tradition, has the words and message and cuts the distraction.
Sedillo can see us. He knows we are entertained to inaction and death with the violins of streamed shows as the world burns in “Hammurabi”: “Of IPAD kids On the Hulu and Netflix Where you pick your poison But it rots your mind Just the same See them at cafes Sit sipping Job seeking Asking the net For deeper meaning”
We, our bodies and minds, are commodified to the same kind of internet glibness, smiling and disposable as he points out in “Post”: “Smiling at your service to gig economy Side hustle, millennial, post industrial standard Hire me as an adjunct Fire me as contingent Into a city I cannot afford to live in Tell me my credit score Better yet, tell me yours Promise me the world, then show me the door”
More than exploited, we are commodified and vilified so the system for the rich can keep eating us. Keep us inactive and watching the television we grew up on. In the “The Rich” he lays the destruction of this planet at their feet, they escape culpability, they don’t even have to look at the misery down below as they live on “the second floor.”
Sedillo says they even want to colonize the heavens in the poem “The Sky.” I love the poem as it mentions our ancestors, compares the “beautiful brown mobile proletariat native to the continent” and the connection and guidance from the monarchs. These butterflies are like hummingbirds, messengers from the underworld, and masses of them traverse California and more of Turtle Island. These creatures are threatened by the ruining of the environment as tourists and towns commodify them, not listening to their message in their journey:
They are dying, we are dying.
It’s the Space Force Sedillo mentions vs butterflies. The suffocation of the void vs breathing.
We get a lot of witnessing of trauma in the literature of raza; we get the much more needed denouncing and recrimination in Sedillo’s work. No settler is slumming his way through these words for titillation of viewing traumatic experiences. Sedillo isn’t smiling. This isn’t a sideshow for masters. This is not Taco Tuesday.
Support this poet. Poetry is spellcraft and ritual to heal and name what must be changed. Read City on the Second Floor. Cut the noise.
Born in El Sereno, California in 1981, Matt Sedillo writes from the vantage point of a second generation Chicano born in an era of diminishing opportunities and a crumbling economy. His writing—a fearless, challenging and at times even confrontational blend of humor, history and political theory--is a reflection of those realities.
Listen to David A. Romero read "The Redemption of Roxy Salgado" (text below).
“This seatbelt Is suffocating The walls They’re closing in!”
These were the words of one Roxy Salgado From Rowland Heights, CA Psychology student at UCLA Before she unclicked her seatbelt And opened her car door to the 10 Westbound Psilocybin was pulsing through her veins A whole bag of magic mushrooms churning in her stomach Against the advice of members of her cohort Three of them in that car Couldn’t manage to calm her down Prevent her from tumbling out Somersaults and side rolls As her body went limp into the wind The black pavement under the night’s sky Illuminated by post lights.
It wasn’t Roxy’s obituary In the following morning’s paper But that of Patricia Guzman Mother of three Resident of Pico Union, Los Angeles Hailing from San Miguel, El Salvador Severe trauma to her neck and spine Blunt force trauma to her brain From collision with dashboard An airbag that never deployed According to her husband Victor Her last words were, “Me duele” “It hurts” And fragmented questions About the safety of their children.
Roxy awoke at a friend’s house in Southeast Los Angeles With a headache Sprained ankle Some cuts and bruises Unanswered texts and voicemails Clothes embedded with gravel And stained with blood and vomit.
Three months later Roxy is in a state between uppers and downers Leaning on a chain-link fence Across the street from a house in Pico Union, Los Angeles It is once again nighttime Roxy looks in through partially open windows Revealing the Guzman family inside Victor and his three children There is laughter There is screaming There are long silences and muffled whimpers Victor often walks around aimlessly Moves to start something And abruptly stops The youngest of the three Lusita Has a Dora the Explorer doll Sometimes she talks to it Clutches it tightly for hours Crouched in the same spot.
One month later It is the eve of Lusita’s birthday Roxy has gathered that from outside surveillance Roxy’s parents Have no idea she has functionally dropped out of school Roxy spends most of her days visiting friends and dealers Going to parties Kickbacks Afternoon hangs Walking the lampposts and pavements of Los Angeles But every trip eventually takes her back to the Guzmans On one walk Roxy found a discarded piñata on a curb An unlicensed paper mâché and chicken wire Dora the Explorer That day Roxy picked it up Took it with her on the bus and dragged it home Fashioned it into a costume.
Roxy stands now In the Guzman’s kitchen with it on After having broken in Her mind is swimming With guilt and hope The pain of something that happened to her long ago The little girl Lusita Walks into the room Sees Roxy As a shadowed paper mâché monster And screams Roxy lifts her costumed hands To try and comfort Lusita She wants to hold her for hours Tell her everything will be ok Lusita runs away Continues screaming Roxy hears rustling in other rooms Victor shouts, “¿Qué es eso?” Roxy panics Tears the paper mâché head off Sprints through the kitchen door Through an alley A block over Roxy can still hear Lusita’s terrified wailing Roxy is panting and sweating She leans on a fence still partially covered In the collapsing costume She weeps As the neighborhood dogs Awaken the neighborhood One snaps behind her Teeth colliding with the fence Roxy runs Eventually finding her way home.
Roxy never returns to the Guzmans’ She goes back to attending classes Asks for extra credit Graduates And in time Finds a job On her best days She forgets what happened On her worst She drinks Pops pills Starts doing something And abruptly stops Or sits for hours In the same spot.
The Guzmans struggle with the loss of Patricia For many years longer Lusita occasionally awakens with nightmares Of a paper mâché monster in the house But in time The nightmares abate.
Victor Keeps a copy of the paper On his antique wooden nightstand With the article about what happened the night Patricia died And within it It outlines how Victor Swerved into the shoulder of the freeway To avoid a head-on collision With a truck heading the wrong direction There is a statement Issued by the trucking company Giving their most sincere condolences Promising the immediate termination of the driver And in the cold calculations of the value of Patricia’s life The announcement of a settlement.
Nowhere in the article Is given mention to a Roxy Salgado Of Rowland Heights, CA Or any other person Who may Or may not have been In some way Responsible For the accident on the 10 Eastbound that night.
David A. Romero is a Mexican-American spoken word artist from Diamond Bar, CA. Romero has performed at over 75 colleges and universities in over 30 states. www.davidaromero.com
Book Review of April On Olympia by Lorna Dee Cervantes (Marsh Hawk Press, 2021)
by Rosa Martha Villarreal
—you and I are old; Old age hath yet his honour and his toil; Death closes all: but something ere the end, Some work of noble note, may yet be done[.]
—“Ulysses,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The theme of Lorna Dee Cervantes’s latest book of poetry is implicit in the title, April on Olympia. When the artist reaches the summit of the mountain, she is faced with her own mortality. Just so that the reader is clear, she includes a section to allude to T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” April is the cruelest month because it reminds us that the natural cycles of rebirth and death will continue without us. But, as Tomás Rivera said in his existentialist novel …and the earth did not devour him, not yet. The earth has not devoured this poet yet, and there is something still left: the untarnished spirit of youth now imprisoned in an ageing body. There is still something left to do, a final journey of creative consciousness, the gift of a spiritual inheritance to kindred souls who await their conception and birth.
Gardens, seeds, memory, and regeneration are recurring ideas and symbols in this collection. The mountain, both a symbol of total dissolution and proximity to the heavens, is where the seeds of fifty years of Cervantes’s artistic career—losses, loves, and quest for social justice—are taken to be planted in the fertile minds of future poets, much like the seed of her mother’s essence and memory in “Unimagined Title” bore fruit in her mind.
On my murdered mom’s birthday: light rain on expired seed; new garden, mine.
Cervantes conjures the ghosts of her literary and artistic godparents, guides of the subconscious mind’s nights of darkness, the givers of the word/logos, which orders the chaos of imagination just as the gardener organizes the fecundity of nature. The artists: Theodore Roethke, Gil Scott Heron, Billie Holliday, Federico García Lorca, Allen Ginsberg. The social warriors who shaped her sensibilities and gave definition to her indignation: César Chávez, Nestora Salgado, Carlos Almaráz. She elaborates in “River: for my murdered mother” that the inheritance of remembrance, sorrow, and the continuum of thought and passion through time are vehicles of freedom because the quest for justice takes longer than one lifetime.
I remember the river. Word you didn’t want me to use. Meaning Freedom. Meaning liberation from the flame.
I remember the fire. The lap of genius dissolving it all, the light of the dying leaves, bare fall of it all. I remember.
River of vein in the brain, the great artery of culture weaving it together with threads, conversations. River of immense sorrow.
River of forgiveness. River of the riven fallen. River of the gasping. River of icy grasp. Fierce river. Fleet river. Saltless self-revealed in the sunlight.
I remember the river: word you didn’t want me to speak. Word I free you. Word in your ancient reveal. The word river, a substitute for desire.
Nothing is ever destroyed. Desire deferred is but a dormant seed of ancient tree waiting to be born once again. Encased in the stillness of stones, even the collective memories of an entire people seemingly dead await their rebirth. This concept is not mere fancy but an empirical reality because memory is an energy field. Energy is never destroyed, said Newton; can never be destroyed. Matter is energy in another form, birthed in the human mind, reimagined, re-arranged as Cervantes says in “Olmecan Eyes”:
Olmecan eyes reborn. The infant stone unfurling in our navels. Another civilization reconquers the wilderness of today. Sun devouring Earth, we are shadows of the way we were, beneath the shifting planets, the comets, the desolate inconsolable moon.
The ghosts of people from Cervantes’s past appear to her throughout this volume, not just her mother’s but other beloved ones, friends and lovers. “On Feinberg’s Theory of Physics: another for John,” Cervantes continues with the imagery of gardens, rivers, the rebirth and transforms the language of quantum science. An invisible sorrow evokes that same you, says Cervantes: the ever constant in the chaos, “circling aimlessly around some / nowhere no one’s planet loneliness.” The title is an allusion to the theory of retro-causality. After a life is lived, can the summation of experience, the culmination of passion and loss act like a subatomic particle assert itself in time-space and deflect the path of the past?
It would be inaccurate to quantify this collection of poetry as solely one individual’s existential reflection. Lorna Dee Cervantes has and continues to be a warrior for human dignity. The imagery of nature and its cycles of decay and regeneration is likewise expressed in political themes, which resonate as strongly as they did in her previous books of poetry. The opening poem “The River Doesn’t Want a Wall” clearly alludes to a former U.S. president’s incendiary rhetoric on a never-built wall that was meant to run along the U.S.-Mexican border. The wall would have done more than just to keep out people; it would have created an artificial, disruptive barrier in the natural world. Nature is not divided. Division is a human construct that is simultaneously a tool for functional organization and an instrument of oppression. Freedom, however, is a natural phenomenon. It is not a coincidence that Thomas Jefferson calls liberty an “unalienable right.” Resistance to oppression is endemic to animal life, of which we are but one species. The rivers of freedom will flood and wipe away the vanity of humans. “The river doesn’t want the Wall. / The land won’t let it. / The floods won’t cede.”
In “Poem for Black Lives Matter,” Cervantes asserts that love and memory are weapons of liberation from the false division of societal construct of so-called “race.” (Speaking as a person trained as a biologist, I can assure my readers that there is but one human race. The other human species that existed as late as 16,000-35,000 years ago have died off or been absorbed into our race.)
Love is a force greater than fear a presence
and a present a prescience sense a nuclear subatomic
The historical division of people by “race” spawned a loathing for the offspring of miscegenation, los desdichados, the undesirables, who were exiled to the margins of society. The center of society, governed and possessed by those who had pre-privileged themselves as “the right people,” dictated who was what, who was worthy of their right to self-determination and who was not. (“College isn’t meant for your people.” “This neighborhood isn’t meant for your people.”) But the center cannot hold forever as Yeats said in “The Second Coming.” However, what is being reborn isn’t Yeats’s horrific beast of darkness slouching towards modernity creating chaos and despair. Rather it is a spiritual re-embracing of what was exiled, new possibilities of being, an aroused consciousness, an awareness that we are part of nature not its rulers. In “What IS XicanX,” Cervantes posits such a return to the one People, the source from which we first became human. Carlos Fuentes said in La región más transparente del aire, that the original is the impure with physical and symbolic miscegenation. The rebirth of a new era begins here with this new people recombined, returned from the exiles of division. XicanX, the mixed ethnic people, represents the inevitable. X encompasses all. Humanity is re-integrated, and we become “The People (and I birth) / in any language.”
Let me conclude where I began, with Tennyson’s poem: “[B]ut something ere the end. Some work of noble note, may yet be done.” For the for the visionary warrior—the poet Cervantes—the noble work is the invocation of memory, rebirth, and the quest for enlightened morality. The beauty of Cervantes’s poetry lures us into the realm of primal dreams and a reality that can only be discerned in metaphors. That said, there is just too much packed into each poem for a single review to do this book justice. Lorna Dee Cervantes made us wait since her last book, but it was worth it.
Click here to buy a copy of April On Olympia from Small Press Distribution.
Lorna Dee Cervantes, a Native Californian (Chumash), is an award winning author of six books of poetry. The former Professor of English at CU Boulder, Creative Writing Program, lives and writes in Seattle.
Rosa Martha Villarreal, a Chicana novelist and essayist, is a descendant of the 16th century Spanish and Tlaxcatecan settlers of Nuevo Leon, Mexico. She drew upon her family history in her critically acclaimed novels Doctor Magdalena, Chronicles of Air and Dreams: A Novel of Mexico, and The Stillness of Love and Exile, the latter a recipient of the Josephine Miles PEN Literary Award and a Silver Medalist in the Independent Publishers Book Award (2008). She writes a column, “Tertullian’s Corner,” for Somos en escrito Magazine.
A community of diverse poets and writers supporting literary arts in California. Somos en escrito provides a venue for these aspiring poets to feature their poetry, interviews, reviews and promote poetic happenings.
ADELA NAJARRO THE POET: IN HER OWN WORDS I was born in San Francisco, and then around the age of four or five we moved to the Los Angeles area. We lived in many L.A. suburbs, Downey, Pico Rivera, Cerritos, and Torrance. We moved around a lot. I went to a different school almost every year. I learned to adapt and understand U.S. suburban culture. I also learned how all fluctuates and is indeterminate.
My love of writing and ability to play between two languages arose from the randomness of my childhood. My early years were filled with what can best be termed chaotic love, and so I came to understand how the world is not set in one place, language, or mode of seeing, which just happens to be the perfect upbringing for a poet in a post-modern world! I have done a lot of inner work analyzing and articulating my childhood. My family, my memories, mi pasado, fuel my poems, though perhaps not directly in a one-to-one translated narrative.
My early memories focus on my father. In one, he is carrying me from the car to the house. My head rests on his shoulder and I have my arms wrapped around his neck. We lived in San Francisco, at the time. We are going up the stairs to the door. In the other, I am in the same doorway, and someone asks my name. I reply “Adelita.” He tells me that my name is Adela and that Adelita is a term of endearment used in the family. Of course, he didn’t use those words since I must have been around four years old and this would have taken place in Spanish. I also have a memory of standing at the top of a street in San Francisco and looking down. I fear falling.
My parents and grandparents were born in Nicaragua. Some of my cousins were born here in the U.S. while others were born in Nicaragua. Nearly all family members are now living in the United States. I’m sure there are a few distant cousins in Nicaragua. I don’t know them, but I would like to. Instead, what I do is travel to Nicaragua through my imagination—what was Nicaragua like for my mother, my father, mis abuelas? I love to imagine los pericos in the tropical rainforest and iguanas sunbathing in the branches of barren trees.
I have always written. I have memories of writing poems in elementary school. I write to understand my place in the world
THE POET'S BIO Adela Najarro is the author of three poetry collections: Split Geography, Twice Told Over and My Childrens, a chapbook that includes teaching resources. With My Childrens she hopes to bring Latinx poetry into the high school and college classroom so that students can explore poetry, identity, and what it means to be a person of color in US society. Her extended family’s emigration from Nicaragua to San Francisco began in the 1940’s and concluded in the eighties when the last of the family settled in the Los Angeles area.
She currently teaches creative writing, literature, and composition at Cabrillo College, and is the English instructor for the Puente Project, a program designed to support Latinidad in all its aspects, while preparing community college students to transfer to four-year colleges and universities. Every spring semester, she teaches a “Poetry for the People,” workshop at Cabrillo College where students explore personal voice and social justice through poetry and spoken word.
She holds a doctorate in literature and creative writing from Western Michigan University, as well as an M.F.A. from Vermont College, and is widely published in numerous anthologies and literary magazines. Her poetry appears in the University of Arizona Press anthology The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry, and she has published poems in numerous journals, including Porter Gulch Review, Acentos Review, BorderSenses, Feminist Studies, Puerto del Sol, Nimrod International Journal of Poetry & Prose, Notre Dame Review, Blue Mesa Review, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere.
Adela Najarro & Juan Felipe Herrera
POEMS FROM TWICE TOLD OVER
Early Morning Chat with God
This morning I’m back to asking for patience. With my cup of coffee I sit outside to say hello to you God, my Jiminy Cricket, my salsa dancing quick-with-a-dip amigo. We have a very collegial relationship. I laugh at all your jokes and praise the wonders of a sky’s watercolors. I know you like me, a benign affection and tolerance as I run around like a chicken with its head cut off, a truly gruesome image, nevertheless hilarious like a grisly cartoon. The blood spurting. The body winding down to zero. The crashing into unforeseen objects. I think if I were back on my great-grandmother’s farm, the farm that I know only through stories my mother tells of Nicaragua, Bluefields, a tortilla filled with just enough, and I saw the long scrawny neck and the axe, I would be sick to my stomach: the aimlessness of her final strut, the reality of blood loss, her claws scratching the dirt, kicking up rocks, a panic. But when she stops, into the pot she goes. A meal, what we need to continue, her flesh simmered off the bone. Truly delicious in a tomato sauce flavored with green peppers and onions. Transformation. The feathers plucked, soil and dust washed away. The table set. Goblets of red wine, white china plates, a cast iron pot twirling a bay leaf scented steam. Then a prayer and gratitude that we have enough to make it through another night alone, a night filled with longing whispers and the turbulence of dreams.
Between Two Languages
Misericordia translates to mercy, as in God have mercy on our souls. Ten piedad, pity us the poor and suffering, the lost and broken. Have mercy. Ten piedad. Misericordia, a compassionate forgiveness, carries within miseria, misery, the stifled cry on a midnight bus to nowhere, and yes, the hunger, a starless night’s piercing howl, the shadows within shadows under a freeway overpass, the rage that God might be laughing, or even worse, silent, gone, a passing hallucination. Our nerve-wracked bodies tremble. Our eyes have trouble peering into night. Let us hope for more than can possibly be. Señor, ten misericordia de nosotros. And if we are made in the image of God, then we can begin heading toward the ultimate zero, the void that is not empty, forgive ourselves, and remember the three seconds when we caught a glimpse of someone else’s stifling cry. Compassion, then miseria, our own misery intensified by the discordant ringing of some other life. Our ultimate separation. Our bodies intolerably unable to halt the cacophonous clamor of unanswered prayers. But nevertheless we must try for no reason at all. Once more, Señor, ten misericordia de nosotros, forgive us for what we cannot do.
I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm simple, like my mother, my grandmother, father. All of them from Nicaragua where time goes back further. Here, wagons and rifles, the prairie plowed into fields of soybeans and sunflowers. Sunken wood barns and tombstones rattle as a six-by-six tractor-trailer rumbles through exit 41a and on past peach cobbler, a shot of Jim Beam Whiskey, and the Stop'n'Go, 7-11, Circle K, whatever name on that one corner, in that one place, where someone calls the intersection of a convenience store and a gas station their town, their home, their grass. Paint or aluminum siding. A kitchen and carpet. Photos of Aunt Edna and Uncle Charlie. That summer Chuck went for a ride on a Harley under redwoods and past cool stream shadows while Julie, as little girl, slept in a Ford station wagon. Faded blue. Wood paneling peeling open to rust. The back flipped down for her and Ursa Major poured out sky. * In Nicaragua the colors are electric water in air. The weight of clouds on winged cockroaches and crocodiles in streams. La Virgen de Guadalupe. My cousin, Maria Guadalupe Sanchez, on a bike with Brenda through a suburb of Managua on the handlebars. The streets were Miguel, her brother, with a rifle shooting iguanas from a tree in a pickup or Jeep. The huge overbearing green of myriad plants inching their way past monkeys and chickens to a patio whitewashed and cool. The distance away from grandmother. Actually great-grandmother and her son, the witch doctor who could stop malaria with powder or a gaze into trembling hearts. The known ancient crossing to psychology, biology, chemistry. The workings of ourselves. A railroad blasted through mountain. * I want to dance during the Verbenas. I don't know the word or correct spelling. V or a B? Just a sound from a one-time visit to Nicaragua. A celebration. A truck lined with palm fronds in a parade, then dancing. At three in the morning, it was still warm. Verbenas. An old colonial colonel's name? A street? A time to celebrate the harvest of bananas, yucca, corn, beans? I don't know. There was a monkey on a leash, on the roof. The tiles curved from Tía Teresa and Tío Rafael to me being pretty sitting at a table with my first rum and coke. The loss of my virginity was to be a golden icon mined from history where my grandfather was a child hidden under a loose brown skirt and delivered to a convent. Mi abuelita with her eight kids. My aunts and uncles. My mother with us. In college with Philip, a boy standing naked looking out a window, his butt prettier than mine, it was California. There were palm trees. I was correctly 18. I had gone to visit Planned Parenthood. The ladies behind a desk were asking questions and taking notes. With a brown paper bag I waited on grass, in the park, knowing already Interstate 80 divides this nation in two, beginning in San Francisco cutting straight through to New Jersey on the Atlantic Coast.
Adela's father, brother & mother (early 1960's San Francisco)
IN CONVERSATION: ADELA NAJARRO (AN) AND LUCHA CORPI (LC)
LC: Adela, I have enjoyed listening to you read some of your poems a few times. Mostly, when we happened to coincide at meetings and readings sponsored by Escritores del nuevo sol in Sacramento and Círculo de poetas and Writers in Oakland. It’s been a treat every time. But quite a double and triple treat now to read and reread your exquisite poetry in solitude, as I prepare for our charla here today. And I am in awe, not just for this pleasure of hearing and reading your poetry. I have also had the opportunity to see you organize public events with an ease that never ceases to amaze me. Also because reading your biographical material I realize that you are a wife, mother, indefatigable professor, community organizer, a “dynamo” poet… and so much more.
Above, in your biographical information of your early years, you close your narrative with a line that immediately held my attention: “I write to understand my place in the world.” Could you elaborate?
AN: That arises from the idea that poetry is discovery. A rant, a diatribe, a polemic , all make statements about what is already known. The rant is yelling, screaming, crying on the page over events that have happened; the diatribe is an attack; the polemic tries to convince through astute argument. All of these begin from a standpoint of knowing, knowing how one has been wronged, knowing the wrong itself, and knowing how to correct and proceed. That’s not poetry. Poetry has to begin with an open mind that follows language into a discovery or truth. It is through writing that I discover the truth of what surrounds me, in the past, the present, and even in the future; in that sense I come to understand my place in the world.
I have no fear. If the truth I find is one of betrayal, hatred, violence, anger, then that is a part of the world I live in. Even so, it surprises me over and over, how writing always takes me to hope. Even when I write about issues that have broken others or myself, I always find beauty. Maybe it’s about being alive, being able to breathe, being able to wake up one more day. Praise God and sing Hallelujah! Poetry and religion merge onto the same roadway in that they both seek the human spirit and lead us to compassion, again, our place in the world.
LC: In “Redlands, California,” you tell the story of living in the United States while imaging life in Nicaragua. Could you talk about the context you had in mind when you imagine a homeland, Nicaragua, that you don’t know since you grew up in the United States?
AN: My brain developed a duality of language and culture as I grew up. I learned English in pre-school while my first language was Spanish. I was living in U.S. Anglo culture while at home it was all about Nicaragua. So—"Los dos fit better than one alone.” That’s my line from “Conversation with Rubén Darío's ‘Eco y yo’,” which was first published in Nimrod International Journal of Poetry & Prose and appears in my collection, Twice Told Over.
Los dos. I view myself in terms of Whitman and Anzaldúa in that I contain multitudes in my mestizaje. I seek an American literary tradition that contains the Anglo, the male, the Latinx, female, and all the range between. There is no set answer, just the flux of words, our thoughts, the daily wakening to a new day that somehow seems old and familiar.
“Redlands, California,” has three sections, the first is about life in the States; in the second, I imagine life in Nicaragua; the final section tries to create a new juxtaposition between these two states of being, and, of course, it ties in with sex because what else captures the union of two distinct bodies?
The Nicaragua I know is the Nicaragua of my imagination and that of the stories told by my parents, abuelitas, cousins, tías y tíos. I tell and retell their stories to bring them into the literary conversation of the Americas. They matter. They are part of the American story. As a writer it falls to me to create poems that capture this duality of language, culture, immigration, las penas and the joy.
LC: Tell us what you will about your creative process. Do you sit down to write at certain times of the day on certain days? What happens if you get inspired while driving or in other similar situations? Do you memorize the lines for the time you finally write the poem where they belong? Or hope for the best?
AN: There was a time when I wrote nearly non-stop. I remember being at a job training and writing a poem. I have written poems on napkins. I have written using big orange markers. I feared that if I stopped writing, then the Muse or inspiration would vanish. But it never has. As I accepted that writing was part of my identity, of who I am, and what makes Adela, Adela, I took a couple of days off. Then I wrote about those days. Then I took a few more days off, then wrote new poems. Eventually, I realized that my mind collects ideas, images, language, every waking and sleeping moment. When I sit down to write, it comes out. Then the work becomes revision. Editing. Cutting that which doesn’t belong and expanding that which is hidden, all the while finding the exact words and rhythms. Doesn’t that sound like joy? It is to me. When I write, I am at one with everything. I accept whatever shows up. The pain, the horror, the laughter, the jokes, the image. Right now there is an owl in the eucalyptus tree outside my bedroom patio. Earlier coyotes were howling at sirens, not the moon, but sirens. Someone on their way to a hospital. Tomorrow, a mint leaf will open in a pot. There are spiders in the eaves. Every waking moment holds something and then the world of dreams, the imagination, the possibilities. Here are the final lines to “Conversation with Rubén Darío's ‘Eco y yo’”:
Out of the delirium, the sweat, the anxiety of every morning, we weave a soft and tender sea,
the mermaids, the song,
and all begins again.
Thank you Lucha for this conversation. It is always such a pleasure to see you and collaborate! Hasta la proxíma.
A community of diverse poets and writers supporting literary arts in California. Somos en escrito provides a venue for these aspiring poets to feature their poetry, interviews, reviews and promote poetic happenings.
Arturo Mantecón and his Heteronym Winstead Macario by Arturo Balderrama.*
ARTURO MANTECÓN THE POET: A Personal Narrative
As a child I was an avid reader. I read a wide variety of things. Once I learned to read, at age six, I sought out all the signs that I had seen on store fronts on my walks with my mother. I had been fascinated by the mysterious, indecipherable characters, and the ones in neon entranced me. The first sign I deciphered was one that had always enchanted me. It was near my school at the corner of Quincy and Grand River in Detroit. The sign jutted out from the storefront at a 45 degree angle. Its lettering was very unique, vivid and colorful. It turned out the sign read "Dry Cleaning." That was the first of a succession of profound personal disappointments in literature.
I was read to up to then, so I enthusiastically cut out the middle man (my mother) and started checking out a lot of books from the library. (It didn't occur to me until a year later that one could buy books.) I read kid stuff, stuff that was fun: Munroe Leaf, Hugh Lofting, Dr. Seuss, Aesop, but my preference at the time was paleontology and, to some degree, archaeology. I developed a thirst for rudimentary cosmology, and I was interested in the evolution of animals and men and would check out books on those subjects. When I was seven or so, I came across the book "Microbe Hunters" which detailed the lives and discoveries of van Leeuwenhoek and Pasteur among others. It led to my begging for a microscope, which I got, one wonderful Christmas. No one guided me. No one made any suggestions as to what I should read. It was haphazard. I was indulged in my pursuits but not guided. I liked comic books and began to notice the covers of the "Classic Comics" series. These comic books were my first literary purchases (ten cents). I was introduced to Gulliver's Travels, Moby Dick, Don Quixote, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (It wasn't until I later checked it out at the library that I discovered its true title was Notre Dame de Paris.) I read these and, realizing that they were based on something grander, looked for them at the library. I read these things understanding perhaps 70 percent of what I read, but it was a start. My paternal grandmother had been given some old books by a white lady who befriended her. My grandmother didn't read English, so they ended up with my father. One of them was the The Lady of the Camellias which I dismissed as a bore after a page or two. Another was the complete works of Tennyson, and it included Idylls of the King, which I adored. It was the first poetry I ever read, and it started me off on a life-long love of chivalric romances, and when I came to read Don Quixote, it enabled me to understand the satire. Anyway, this is a good description of my early childhood reading.
Different writers inspired me. My first thoughts of becoming a writer centered on baseball. I was about 12 and I wanted to be a sports writer/reporter. My models were Ring Lardner, Damon Runyan, and Paul Gallico. But it wasn't until I was 15 and had run into Dylan Thomas, García Lorca, and Rimbaud that the notion of writing poetry occurred to me. At the time, I was already writing sports articles for my high school newspaper. But it wasn’t until I was sixteen years old that I began writing poetry.
THE POETRY OF ARTURO MANTECÓN
SARDINE I am tired of breathing, weary of my own two feet I want to crawl through the sand, to the shell-scattered shore, to the exhaling, inhaling surf, the rippling margin of the grey-green mother, who carries the lungless in her womb. I want to plunge in the beckoning waves; I want to be pulled and drawn, to where breath is fatal. I want gills to capture my essential gas from the sodium liquid atmosphere, so that my blood will flow, and redden the folds of my brain. I want fins; I want tail; I want a sleek, oblong body, with brilliant, lapping scales. I want to be small, no more than the span of a hand, small and quick and mindless. I want to be without hope; I want to be without disappointment; I want to be without happiness;
I want to be without sadness; I want to do without comfort; I want to be without fear; I want no love; I want no hate; I want no indifference; I want no motive; I want no idea; I will make no mistakes.
I want only to swim; I want to swim with my fellows; I want to school with the others, to move in unison as a glimmering, shifting cloud. I want to follow the signal of tail, and bend of body moving to the music of food and the avoidance of pain. I want to be a part of the shifting, quickening parabola, the conical curves of flesh flowing outward, downward, upward inward, suspended in the thickly inhabited ether of liquid darkness enlightened with the star-like phosphorescence of complex, darting animation; I want to minimize my zone of danger; I want plankton and more plankton; I want the nourishment of the infinite-formed diatomic soup I want to move, to swim, to swim and move over the red coral, past the mouth of the purple eel, to flee the ravening, yellow-fin tuna, to follow the silvery, corporeal alliteration, of a million, blue platinum sardines. I want to swim with them; I want to release my swimming, milky milt upon anonymous eggs. I want to eat my children; I want to die in the sea bass’s belly; I want to die in the beak of the squid; I want to be pierced by the needle-sharp teeth of the rocketing barracuda; I want to tangle in the net, to be enclosed in the purse, to be one of the shining, countless coinage of a thrashing, convulsive, collective treasure. I want to be entombed in oil and salt; I want nothing more than movement, un-thinking movement, organic movement, unconscious movement, movement, and the bliss of an unmourned end.
SONETO DEL ALBA El fulgor primitivo que aves provoke with a chaos of selfish song alumbra con aureolas suaves the night-hid, many-named colorless throng. Words are released in the logic of light extrañadas por negras mudanzas. They are bolted by tongue at war with sight, y transforman adargas las lanzas. La luz engendra aguda razón that wounds with every daily, mortal name. Seres parados en roja pasión are all torn from nothing, one and the same. Fatal destino de la fría luz, our dark bliss is broken when you accuse. en reverente idolatría debajo los quivering heavens, adorando tu sagrado cuerpo, adorando tus infinitas, únicas manifestaciones de maíz, the indelible, edible, skyborne fingerprints of the hands of our souls.
LORNA DEE CERVANTES There is a fibrous, ribbed quisqualis to her lines, at times rough, at times fine, like flat blades of chlorophyll, like tight plaited trenzas of hair, like set-at-angles herring spines, like the palpated hand of a textile like the wound filaments on a raveled spool, like the branched barbules of a starling’s plume, the warp as well as the crossing woof shocked by the incidental catches of her phrasing coins and drawn by the dylantommed orotundity of her gathers. But for all that, this weave is not meant to be worn but rather thrown and slung and draped and tied blanket, tarp, web and rebozo, all for love, hunger, and the forfending of fear and dark rain implicit all in the design of her designs y en la poridad de las poridades contained within the petals of her orchidaceous soul. And the relentless, vibrating shuttlebobbin within her brain speeds through the nervewebs of the loom perforce creating the impetuous searching with hand and tongue for the grace of love and memorial racial bliss y el justo anhelo for the restless peace of justice que anima y da luces y fuego azul a la poesía de Lorna Dee Cervantes
CULTURAL DELTAS: LINGUISTIC CHOICES: In conversation: Lucha Corpi (LC) and Arturo Mantecón (AM):
LC:A re-cap: At age sixteen you began to write poetry. Before, you had written only sports articles. You fell in love with the short narrative or epic in verse. In your own words: “…it wasn’t until I was 15 and had run into Dylan Thomas, García Lorca, and Rimbaud that the notion of writing poetry occurred to me.”
Have you kept some of those—your--first Lyrics or narrative poems? If so, would you share one or two of them with us here? And perhaps talk about your source of inspiration and the feelings they elicited in you once done?
AM: The first poem I wrote was directly after I first saw San Francisco coming across the Golden Gate Bridge. I had never in my life seen a city so beautiful. I wrote it after the manner of Tennyson, the only poet with whom I was familiar at the time. I thought it was brilliant. It was awful. I kept if for a while, and, when I discovered Rimbaud a few months later, I destroyed it. I think I burned it. In high school, a friend of mine convinced me to collaborate with him in creating a poetry magazine called Lost. Fortunately for me, and for everyone else, all that poetry is lost. I remember only one, and that only vaguely. It was titled “The Beetle”. Two or three quatrains about being like a beetle on its back, legs waving madly trying to right itself…something about being trapped by conformity. I thought it was a very cool, hip little poem. It wasn’t.
Every attempt I made at poetry before the age of 50 was garbage, very stinky garbage.
LC: I am assuming that you read García Lorca in its original language--Spanish. And, of course, Thomas in English. How about Rimbaud’s poetry--in its original French as well? How many languages do you know well or are conversant in?
AM: My first encounter with García Lorca was at age 15 via an LP checked out from the Sacramento Main Library. The poem that made an impression on me from that recording was "Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías". If I remember correctly, a line was read in Spanish followed by a translations of that line in English by another voice, another reader.
The same day I checked out the García Lorca, I took home a disc of Thomas reading his own stuff. I was completely blown away. By the power and mystery of the words—"In the White Giant’s Thigh" (!!)—and that reading voice!
The two books I checked out of the library--Illuminations and A Season in Hell—were the translations by Louise Varèse. The original French was presented on the facing page. I knew nothing of French at the time but was intrigued to discover that it bore enough of a resemblance to written Spanish, that I was able to puzzle some phrases out with the English on the opposite page.
I spoke Spanish until the age of two and a half. I then lost it, but began studying it starting in junior high school. I am not fluent in Spanish. I have a knowledge of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese but, save for Spanish, have nothing approaching conversational competence. I can, however, read all of these languages tolerably well.
LC: You wrote a series of poems intended to memorialize a generation of Chicano/a poets, who were our contemporaries and have left us. All except for one: Lorna Dee Cervantes, who thankfully is still with us and writing her outstanding poetry. Among those taken from us are José Antonio Burciaga, Víctor Martínez, Alfred Arteaga, among others. I liked very much that you chose to use their names as the titles of their individual elegies, as if they were written on the stones that mark their resting places.
Perhaps you have already collected all of these tributes in a chapbook or publish them individually. Have you? Any plans to do it, if not yet?
AM: Some were written as elegies, some while the subject was still alive. I wrote the one for Arteaga about a month before he died. I wrote two for Alarcón, one quite some time ago and another a few days before he died which I read at Café Bohème. I started writing poems about poets when I started hosting poetry readings back in 2001. Instead of reading off some idiotic bio that the poet provided touting all their publications and how they had three PhD’s from intergalactic universities, I would introduce them with a poem…about them. Some people liked it, others thought I was trying to upstage the poets.
I have written about 60 of them, and about five are lost, so I’ve got a sizable collection. I would love to publish them. I have found that the biggest impediment to publishing is publishers. I’ve tried to pitch my dedicatory poems to a couple, but no dice. If they are ever to appear in book form. I will probably have to go the vanity route. If anybody out there wants to save me from such a humiliating act, I welcome their help.
LC: Would you mind listing some of your book titles and where your fans might be able to purchase them? Any other literary, publishing projects that you would like to mention?
AM: List of publications: As far as books are concerned, my own: Memories, Cuentos Verídicos y Otras Outright Lies is a collection of my short stories and some prose poems. Out of print, but some copies are out there somewhere.
Before the Dark Comes, a book of poetry, written by my heteronym Jose Primitivo Charlevoix
I have had five books of translations published, possibly available at Alley Cat or Bird & Becket bookstores in San Francisco, but most likely at Amazon.
1) My Naked Brain (collected works of Leopoldo María Panero) 2) Like an eye in the hand of a beggar (ditto) 3) The Sick Rose (a translation of Panero’s Rosa Enferma) 4) Chance Encounters and Waking Dreams (collected works of Francisco Ferrer Lerín) 5) Poetry Comes out of My Mouth (collected works of Mario Santiago Papasquiaro).
I have a number of things in progress that will probably never see the light of day: My translations of the translations that Leopoldo María Panero wrote of Lewis Carroll, Catullus, Edward Lear, John Clare, Browning, etc. Yes, translations of translations.
I have translated ten of García Lorca’s drawings and plan to keep going until I have at least 30 completed. Yes, translations of drawings. He stated that his drawings were poems, so I figured I’d call it translation rather than ekphrasis.
I am working on a version of Gawain and the Green Knight narrated by Morgan La Fey. In the same Arthurian vein, I have written a prose poem about King Arthur and the Cath Palug. In my version, the huge black cat kills and eats Arthur and assumes the throne of Britain. If it is ever published, I will be amazed. And I am currently in the pleasurably painful throes of writing a novel of manners set in Finland and replete with masters and servants, witches and giants. I will probably finish the first draft soon, although I am considering abandoning any idea of revisions and may let it fly off with little or no editing.
THE CASE OF ARTURO MANTECÓN AND WINSTEAD MACARIO.
LC: As you know, Arturo and Winstead, I am a poet and a P.I. crime fiction writer. I write my poetry in Spanish, my detective fiction in English, both published under my name. Often, my readers ask why I went from writing in Spanish to writing in English, my second language. Most importantly, why I went from “rhyme to crime.” I try to explain. I don’t always succeed. It isn’t that strange that writers and poets might publish or write under another name or in a different language or mode. It’s not unusual for two distinct creative personalities to co-exist within the folds or interstices of their shared-yet- separate creative minds. So when Arturo told me about Winstead Macario, I immediately wanted to know how Arturo and Winstead made their acquaintance and to read Winstead’s poetry. But first two poems by Winstead Macario:
La Santa Muerte by Winstead Macario
Holy Death Santa Muerte Maa Chamunda, come unto me. Santísima Muerte Most Holy Death Seventh of the seven mothers, Sapta Matrika Siete Madres… Mother Chamunda Madre Muerte Eternal crone Queen of addictions Protector of the outcasts Protector of the queers Protector of the mad and deranged Protector of the weak and the untouchables Protector of those who must carry off the shit of multitudes, I beg your help. Mata Devi, Madre Divina protect me guide me shield me from bullets open the doors tear down the walls that oppose me lead me to the mothering darkness lead me to the river under the earth… Light of the moon, let me see let me darkly see the god trees, the tree gods gods and trees engendered not from nut and seed But gods and trees that spring forth from the underearth roots of our souls gods of our making gods for the kindling of our fires Trees and trees gods and gods bearing near identical heaven wood with self-same birds and sustaining self-same beasts with their green hair and glabrous fruits creased and rugated fruits… tree of Chamunda tree of Santísima Muerte Santa Muerte, you carry sickle and severed head scythe and orbis mundi… scythe and sickle that cut the silver thread of the self… y el tecolote, la lechuza, le hibou, albowmetu, the uloo the ululating owl-- your vaahan-- is the bearer of your spirit, owl ever at your feet owl ever on your shoulder… owl of the heavens of gloom, the messenger of the Dark Goddess of la Blanca Niña of the Kaala Ladakee The land of Quetzalcoatl and the land of the four-handed Brahma know the black shade tree of the Most Holy Death know the black shade tree of Chamunda the ever-starving… Chamunda of the peculiar limbs great pestilence calacking bone music auspicious corpse white death Victory to Chamunda! Victory to La Santísima Muerte! killer of the guilty, suckling strangling murderer of innocents in the splendor of the night Goddess of fortune goddess of ignorance goddess of the slow, flowering whirlwind goddess of the fetus goddess of tantric lust goddess of the sweet delivery goddess of the sweeter abortion adorned with the strung necklace of dead, honey-dipped hummingbirds adorned with the strung necklace of the heads of the still-born Lady of Oblivion protect me Lady of Death take me underground Lady of Darkness confound my enemies Santa Muerte Santa Chamunda stop my breath halt my heart show me all that is blank show me all that is black.
THE BLACK MASK OF MERLIN by Winstead Macario
The Ever-White queen, the cup and the bowl of the heavens and waters, and the Blade-Bright king, the mountain pinnacle of the earth and the green, are only the wedded shine of the happenings in our eyes, and when the usages of time fail, when the hurtling boar will eat the sun and will steal away the moon to bring on the all and nothing night... When that end of time comes, Merlin the Black Man, Merlin the crab apple growing furled inverted beneath the crust of the world, Merlin will emerge... Merlin the excrement infertile, Merlin the stink-wild food of the dreaming gods. And then will Merlin the Black Man have no more need for his black mask. The Ever-White queen and the Blade-Bright king will be drowned by the black waterless liquid mask of Nothingness, and in the crushing embrace of Nothingness will the Ever-White queen and the Blade-Bright king breathe out and be reduced to the absurdity into which all truth and all falsehood must vanish.
***** ***** *****
In conversation with Arturo Mantecón about Winstead Macario:
LC: Tell me, Arturo, when did you first become aware of Winstead’s presence?
AM: I have felt his presence for years, perhaps 20 years, but I didn’t know what to make of him or an even stronger character that I felt living within in me, José Primitivo Charlevoix. My aspiration to “high art” kept both of them suppressed and locked away where I felt they couldn’t do any harm. José Primitivo cared nothing for the niceties of poetic expression and kept urging me to write in a wild, uninhibited way without caring for logic or letters. Winstead was very much interested in historical figures as archetypes and wanted me to obliterate the boundaries between legend and fact. Winstead got out later. The main difference between them is that Winstead is a very disciplined thinker. José Primitivo has no understanding of the word “discipline.”
Another heteronym emerged fairly recently. His name is Atanas Peev. He is a Bulgarian who writes in Spanish. He wrote me an email some months ago saying that someone had directed him to a poem that José Primitivo had written about Hammurabi. He sent me a beautiful poem about Lilith and a week later a poem in praise of slivovitz, both in Spanish. He promised to send me more things.
LC: Did his presence surprise you? Or had he been there most of your life?
AM: I was aware of him as a “voice” in my head. I didn’t think he was real until he started to write, and what he wrote was far more interesting than what I can produce. I think I was aware of other people within me fairly late in life. When I was young my ego was so strong that they must have been completely overwhelmed.
LC: What was happening in your life at the time?
AM: Well, I remarried, and my new wife kept urging me to break out of my almost formulaic way of writing. It was then that José P. and Winstead began to gloat and ridicule me, saying that I was incapable of accomplishing what my wife urged me to do, that they would have to do it for me.
LC: Did you welcome or resent Winstead’s presence at the time?
AM: I welcomed him. I wasn’t quite so sure about José Primitivo.
LC: While he’s been with(in) you, Arturo, in what ways has your life changed if at all? I ask because I’ve noticed how different, perhaps somber, the mood is in the Winstead poems.
AM: I believe my life has changed for the better. He has taught me to look beyond my own aesthetic inclinations, but I believe he was the voice within me when I would read a novel or poem that I thought was excellent. He was that voice that said, “The writer didn’t go far enough. I can do much better!”
LC: Will there be more future collaborations between both of you? Could you give us an idea of those future projects if any?
AM: Winstead has been insisting that he is the true author of my Arthurian poem, that I could not possibly have written it. We’ll see who wins out. There will be nothing more from José Primitivo Charlevoix because he died in around 1963, leaving only one book. There might be another work of his found, but I doubt it.
LC: Are you two planning or have been scheduled to read or present your work in the near future?
Calendar of events and readings please:
AM: There are four of us, but, no…no plans of that sort until the plague is under control.
LC: Amen! Thank you, Arturo. Thank you, Winstead.
Mil gracias, Scott Duncan y Armando Rendón. And Somos en escrito (SEE) literary magazine por hacernos posible esta serie de entrevistas con poetas latinos-as, y promover su presencia y sus obras.
Lucha Corpi, poet and writer: author of Palabras de Mediodía/Noon Words (poetry) & Confessions of a Book Burner: Personal Essays and Stories(Arte Público Press, Houston) Oakland, California 2020
Andar en equilibrio no es fácil -- pisar tan ligeramente que la hierba no se doble, pisar tan firmemente que nuestra huella señale el camino por la maleza.
En verdad nuestra naturaleza parece ser sin balance, un pie pisando tan ligeramente el otro tan firme que perdidos en el desierto siempre caminamos en círculo.
Hay peores destinos; entonces aprendamos a caminar el círculo en gozo. Las estaciones voltean y vuelven y no hay a donde ir; la Tierra es hogar suficiente; el camino, demasiado breve, a nada nos lleva.
Para aprender a andar en balance practica el baile.
Advice for the Fall Equinox
Walking in balance is not easy -- to step so lightly the grasses are not bent, to step so firmly one’s track points a way through the thicket.
Indeed it seems our nature to be off balance, one foot stepping so lightly one so firmly that lost in the desert we always walk in a circle.
There are worse fates; let us then learn to walk the circle in joy. The seasons turn & return one upon the other & there is nowhere to go; the Earth is Home enough; the walk, all too brief, leads Nowhere.
Girafa - Giraffe (Detail) Mixed Media, 12” X 28” Painting by Vanessa Garcia www.vanessagarcia.org
Two Poems/Dos Poemas
Por/By Carlota Caulfield
Inner chamber of the seashell (divine whisper)
And they will say: “A bit of smoke writhed in each drop of his blood.” -- Gilberto Owen
It would seem that I possess a religious bent; a proof: a tongue sufficient It would seem that I possess a religious bent; to contain, direct, refined, and solid has led me to the five points of the universe: Quincunx.
Four rooms courtyard that inclines its multiple forms that resides in matter that has vital layers ceremonial passageways of other architectures.
Just as the divine spark engenders in the earth Guillermo Marín, Mitla, City of the Dead life in all its richness, thus the Quincunx, seed of a revealed cosmology, flowers in a dazzling system of images and architectural designs that, by being part of the universe of forms, suffers frequently from a deceptively elemental logic.
What completes this text are monumental stones there where a hand learned how to move, sculpt and assemble.
Eduardo's voice traces a map of Mexico on the earth while he tells of how “the colonial chroniclers never referred to the architecture of Mitla without combined aversion and admiration… Thus to speak of Mictlán (place of the dead) we must detach ourselves from the Western concept of death…”
My absurd dizziness no longer rocks in the branches of the tule tree; now, in the land of the spirits, it is content with a puff of wind and a bold guffaw that perforates my eardrums. Yes, the church bells have begun to set loose a timely splendor and murmurs: Think of it this way, that amid the rubble of my energy suddenly looms a presence, like that of a hallowed place, door of musical allusions.
I detach myself from the group. I am content to see. It matters. Several bolts of air swerve around my unfailing audacity and city of voices there where the wind does not sound unfamiliar to the ear nor is seeing spirits an act of inner shadows.
What could be loved is erased and eyes and lips, light and humidity are stripped bare.
The enigma of flavors is also resolved. The night before kisses Crossed two linguistic points. Now there is no dialogue.
From the four cardinal points will soon rise a cold and ungenerous gust of wind. You will dissolve.
My death is associated with the earth, but the other dead man in question will have to cross a long and mighty river.
Techichi the little dog will guide him: naked he will cross spiky peaks and drink terrible storms. The wind will slice his skin like an orange.
More than any heartbreak, worse than death Albius Tibullus, Book I, Poem VIII itself, “What hurts is touching the body, long kisses, and pressing thigh to thigh.”
With transfigured vision, Friar Bernardo of Alburquerque ordered built between 1535 and 1580 the façade of the north side of the Oaxaca cathedral in the image…
From the four room courtyard flow moving friezes of water. I read: the gods' anger with those who are ungenerous in spirit was not placated by sacrifices of armadillos, rabbits, birds and deer. Misers were condemned to a subterranean palace to hoist dark shadows.
Once again Eduardo's voice blends with my mental torrent that encircles the marvelous mountains, copulates with the stone And drinks milk droplets from the tree that used to nourish dead children. Inhabitants of the clouds. Branches from which I hang. Schumann lieder that fuse with my own visions. Copious tongues of rock: to listen, to recognize, to descend to the interior of a jacaranda: to design the interior patio “was to get back onto the trail of my poem Propertius, Book I, Poem IV after biting my hands unreasonably and stamping my feet in doubt and anger.”
Some elegiac distiches pound me with excessive skill. What am I doing in the center of the city of the dead humming a thousand popular tunes and with all those poems breaking over me?
What is my skin doing turned into a spongy substance enjoying each voicemark and stroke, each perforation, each drop of blood that seeps from my pores?
Blessed recollection, there where a scornful grimace offers me landscapes. Blessed misery of broken borders that turns the heart into a semi prophet. that “das harts iz a halber novi” that is completed and heard by a system of images: it hits and turns with skill for I was born in a city by the sea with excessively white sands and I never made a pact with its hot winds or its salts projected in my shadows.
If the sea breeze took my breath away, I drowned and was resuscitated. And my mother who couldn't hear the voices that filled the whole house and went with me, spoke alone with nanny Blasa. Later they put an amulet on my chest, There where no one could see presences or memories. I think only of all the courage I've lacked to go back to hearing the voices, raised now, loud, without any semblance of restraint, flowery battle of my own soul.
POEMA BILINGÜE/BILINGUAL POEM
From Quincunce / Quincunx. Translated by Mary G. Berg and Carlota Caulfield.
Te gustaría lentamente tatuarte con las notas del trombón. Decir, no tengo más que esto, lo que abre la epidermis y hace brotar sangre, lo que queda cuando la muerte lo arrasa todo, menos los sonidos del cuerpo. Y así las uñas guardarán su color rosáceo, los senos su firmeza, el cuello su tersidad. Reconocerás el privilegio enorme que se aloja en las venas y podrás descender a un centro de quietud sin aferrarte a nada. Entonces la respiración empezará una vez más, y con ella una salivación anfibia repugnante hasta que tu mano se mueva con rapidez y el sudor pierda su pestilencia. Pero no sufrirás vértigo. La avalancha caerá sobre ti como bendición. Tu boca vibrará y escupirá hilos imperceptibles. Después llegará el viento loco y comenzará el concierto.
You'd like to tattoo yourself slowly with the trombone's notes. Saying: I only have this, this that rips my skin open and makes blood gush out, this that remains when death wipes out everything, except the sounds of the body. And thus fingernails will keep their rosy hue, breasts stay firm, neck smooth. You will recognize the enormous privilege lodged in your veins and be able to descend to a center of quietude, breaking all ties. Then breathing will begin yet again, and with it, a repugnant amphibious salivation until your hand moves rapidly and sweat loses its pestilence. But you will not suffer from vertigo. The avalanche will sweep over you in benediction. Your mouth will vibrate and spit out imperceptible threads. Later the mad wind will blow and the concert will begin.
Carlota Caulfield, a poet, writer, translator and literary critic, has published extensively in English and Spanish in the United States, Latin America and Europe. Her most recent poetry books are JJ/CC and Cuaderno Neumeister / The Neumeister Notebook. The recipient of several awards, Caulfield is the W. M. Keck Professor in Creative Writing and head of the Spanish and Latin American Studies Program at Mills College, Oakland, California. Her webpage is www.carlotacaulfield.org.
Mary G. Berg, a Resident Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, Boston, Massachusetts, has translated poetry by Juan Ramón Jiménez, Clara Roderos, Marjorie Agosín and Carlota Caulfield and novels by Martha Rivera (I’ve Forgotten Your Name), Laura Riesco (Ximena at the Crossroads), Libertad Demitropulos (River of Sorrows). Her most recent translations are of collections of stories by Olga Orozco and Laidi Fernández de Juan.