My brother saw a lone hammer on the side of a building in Rockridge: “Take it,” he said; I said no, that’s somebody’s tool, like dad’s. “Then write a poem about it,” he said.
My father had every type of hammer:
Black-handled, rednecked claw hammer, Craftsman, ‘made in America’ (He was proud of that);
Black-handled, rednecked Ball-Peen hammer, Craftsman, ‘Made in America!’ (He made sure to tell me this);
Blondehandled claw hammer; then, a two-pounder, worn, worthy of a warrior who straightened things, metal and moral;
Finishing hammers, hammers that mom did not know about until much after he bought them “This is my money, mijo, don’t tell mama.”
He proudly stated, “look how well-made,” as he showed me the mallets and other hammers that fed us,
And which he used to build the addition to our house, build a garage, frame, shape
He was proudest of those that were his friends, his companions, those he altered, shaped, the steel worn, the ballpeen softened, the rounded ends flattened or bevelled;
For the fence he built on the side of our home, righthandside, as you looked at the house, he used his hammers;
For the metal door he emplaced on the lefthandside, a door he made from sheetmetal He welded, shaped, something from Mexico in the U.S., he used his hammers.
He hammered and hammered, his hearing going as he did so, and I oblivious, was frustrated when he asked me to repeat things.
In Mexico, Papa was a pailero, boilermaker; In the U.S. his work was as a welder, bumper-straightener and chrome-plater;
He wielded hammers at work and at home, forearms bigger than most men’s biceps, biceps rounder than most men’s deltoids.
“Mr. America” is what the pastor of our church called him, if not “Mr. Universe.” He sought priests for counsel and his hammers to shape.
He had a sledge, which as a boy I tried to heft but failed to raise above my shoulders.
He taught me later how to do so safely, effectively, deadly-right. What power I felt and what a gift passed on to me by way of his tool — I felt a warrior, finally.
The accuracy of hammering a nail he taught me, ‘no, mijo, not like that; do it over until you get it right,’ — this time, delicacy.
His hammers went to the four winds after he died: My brothers and their wives borrowed them. They ended up in the back of pickups — stolen; in garages, lost (divorces).
There is an emptiness in my heart and soul for those hammers, like the emptiness I filled when I visited Toledo, España where I found our name, Vela, amidst craftsmen,
Men using, wielding tiny hammers, making out of gold and silver earrings, pendants, wonders, tiny jewels they emplaced with tiny hammers brought me back to him
His work, his name, his purpose.
And I having found that forebears in Toledo used hammers to make of Damascus steel
Swords, shields, and armor for warriors felt closer to him, my hammer my pen, my page metal shape, my words the indentations, impact, bent ideas, but memory all the same.
David Vela was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada to Tlaxcaltecan and Pueblan parents, father and mother respectively. He is the ninth of nine children, five of whom were born in Apizaco, Tlaxcala, Mexico, one in Puebla, Mexico and the others in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Hijo de soldador y pailero, a mother who was indomitable and self-educated in three languages, David studied at Yale and the Claremont Graduate School literature in English, Irish and Latin American authors, and has devoted 25 years to teaching literatures of Native Americans, Latin Americans, French (in French), Irish and British authors; he also loves and reads and has taught authors in Italian, including Dante and Petrarch, Boccaccio and Eugenio Montale.
David was lead instructor in Paris in 2006 in a Study-Abroad program, teaching Latin American and American expatriate authors in a French Life and Culture course, and a course on terrorism and the French experience in Algeria during the Algerian war for independence. David has worked with military veterans and with Social Science professionals as writer and Editor. He was President of the Irish Literary & Historical Society of San Francisco, the only non-Irish or non-Irish American do be elected to that position for and continues to be a Board Member of that organization. He was Chair of the Irish-Mexican Association of the Bay Area for several years, recognizing the common historical and cultural connections between these cultures, and emphasized the prominence of heroes in first-responder professions from these cultures.
David has worked with ambassadors and political personages in valuing and in disseminating culture in Ireland, Argentina, Mexico and in the United States, Northern Ireland and in the San Francisco Bay Area.
He currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada after living in the Bay Area for 28 years.
little boy toiling in the beet field watching white people gather for a track meet toil and soil and summer sweat rows extending to the end of dreams melt youthful vigor into puddles of warm despair
across the road they’re gathering ’neath the cover of umbrellas flowering like tulips blooming in the manicured turf they’re sitting on nylon camping chairs ’n sipping cold-sweat bottles of Gatorade pulled from coolers the colors of fire & ice
I’m so hot and thirsty tired and dirty said the little boy to the relentless sun but we don’t go home until the field is done while across the road cheers and laughter and idle chatter waft on breezes carrying the scents of sunscreen ’n privilege
Mom (right), Aunt Jennie (left)
Amah (left), Mrs Mitotes (right)
Aunt Mary circa 1930s
The photos above show some of the author's family members. The third photo the author mentions in his description below is the one used at the beginning of the feature.
In his words: The one of my mom and great aunt Jennie was taken at a migrant worker camp called a "Colonia." The next one is of my Great-Grandmother, the full-blood Yaqui from Mexico; my brother and sister and I called her Amah. Third one is my Great-Uncle and cousin in between members of one of the families who worked the fields with them. Those three were taken in Weld County, Colorado in the early 1940s. The fourth one is my aunt in a beet field taken some time in the 1930s. I included that one because it closely aligns with the poem's opening line even though it's not of a "little boy." They didn't take pictures of themselves working in the fields because once the work started, as the poem says, they don't stop until the field was done.
Joe Menchaca is an emerging writer of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction with a Master of Arts in Professional Creative Writing from the University of Denver. His poetry can be found in Dissident Voice. Joe’s writing is marked by an unpretentious, gritty, and raw yet lyrical style. Unflinching in his examination of self, literature, and culture, his distilled style reflects a sensitive and perceptive exploration of life. Joe, whose parents were migrant workers that settled in Colorado in the 1920s, was raised on farms in Northern Colorado, and in the summers, he worked hoeing beets and picking crops. According to family oral history, one of Joe’s maternal great-grandmothers was full-blood Yaqui from Mexico, and a paternal great-grandfather was full-blood Cherokee. Joe currently lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with his lovely wife of nearly forty years, and Tiny, their Chihuahua.
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
Excerpts from The Shadow of Time by Robert René Galván
The Shadow of Time New Year’s 2018 – Bear Mountain
The International System of Units has defined a second as 9, 192, 631, 770 cycles of radiation corresponding to the transition between two energy levels of the caesium-133 atom.
The star glares through the glass; A frozen lake between two mountains; The world turns on its spine as it has for billions of years.
What’s a year?
An accretion of eddies within a vast storm, An endless trek, but more than the distance Between two points, a resonance we feel compelled to track, First with arrays of stone, then with falling grains of sand And complex contraptions of wheels within wheels, The heartbeat of liquid crystal, the adumbrations of an atom.
I listen to what the geese tell me as they form a V in retreat, The toad as he descends to his muddy rest, The perennials as they retract beneath the frost, The empty symmetry of a hornet’s nest, And the choir of whales fleeing in the deep.
They all return like the tides, so tethered to the sun and moon, While we chop at time with a pendulous blade, Doomed to live in its shadow.
And then, the machine stopped; the sky began to clear when the great gears groaned to a halt; the ground ceased its shivering, stars appeared and beasts emerged in our absence, wings cast shadows over empty streets.
In the gnawing silence, a distant siren reminds us of a gruesome tally; we peer from our doorways for a ray of hope, long to walk the paths we barely noticed.
In the ebb and flow of life and death, we inhabit the low tides, a scant respite from irresistible waves.
After a time, most will return to normal, become mired in old assumptions and petty desires, to the ways that failed us,
But a few will awake to find that the world kept turning and changed:
They will walk into the sun And shed their masks.
Hommage à Neruda
What does the horseshoe crab Search for in the murk With its single hoof,
Or the she-turtle In her lumbering butterfly Up the shore?
Does the quivering hummingbird Find solace as it probes The dreaming delphinium,
Or the velvet worm As it reaches with its toxic jets?
Are the choral cicadas Worshiping the sun After emerging from seventeen Years of darkness?
What of the myriad species That have come and gone, The gargantuan sloth, The pterosaur that glided Over a vast ocean From the Andes to the coast Of Spain, Saw the seas rise and fall Back upon themselves,
Just as I slumber and wake For these numbered days.
L’heure Bleue – The Time of Evening
The sun has set, but night has not yet fallen. It’s the suspended hour… The hour when one finally finds oneself in renewed harmony with the world and the light…The night has not yet found its star. -Jacques Guerlain
As the world folds into shadow, A grey tapestry descends:
The coyote’s lament from the wild place Across the creek and the fading chorale Of the late train awaken crepuscular birds Who inhabit the rift like rare gods.
Abuelo sits in the cleft of a mesquite, His rolled tobacco flickering With the fireflies as a dim lantern Receives the adoration of moths;
A cat’s eyes glow green In the gloaming light And a cloud of mosquitos Devoured by a flurry of bats.
The outhouse door moans open And the boy treads quietly On the moonlit stepping stones, Through the corn and calabacitas, Under the windmill as it measures The October wind;
Pupils widen like black holes, Ingest the night spirits, And he cannot yet imagine A world beyond these stars, Or that he will someday Live in a place where it’s never dark.
for Zuzana Růžičková
She clutched the leaves in her hand as she waited to be loaded onto the waiting truck.
Somehow, an angry wind lifted the notes and they sailed down the street like runaway kites,
But the music rode along in her heart, persisted through every kind of horror, from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen, antithesis of the camp accordion and broken strings’ blithe accompaniment to endless roll calls in the bitter cold, starvation, dehydration, executions and the merriment of the guards.
Those pages looped in her head even as she wrestled a stray beet from the cold ground, digging with her fingernails to feed her dying mother.
When she returned to Prague, her hands were ruined, and new monsters would soon appear in the streets, but the Sarabande sang in her insistent fingers until it circled the soiled world like a golden thread.
* Harpsichordist, Zuzana Růžičková, is considered one of the great musicians of the 20th century. She survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.
The work in question is J.S. Bach’s E minor Sarabande from the fifth book of English Suites. Růžičková had written it out by hand at the age of 13 to take with her during her internment.
Robert René Galván, born in San Antonio, resides in New York City where he works as a professional musician and poet. His previous collections of poetry are entitled, Meteors and Undesirable: Race and Remembrance. Galván’s poetry was recently featured in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Azahares Literary Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal,Gyroscope, Hawaii Review, Hispanic Culture Review, Newtown Review, Panoply, Sequestrum, Somos en Escrito, Stillwater Review, West Texas Literary Review, and UU World. He is a Shortlist Winner Nominee in the 2018 Adelaide Literary Award for Best Poem. His work has been featured in several literary journals across the country and abroad and has received two nominations for the 2020 Pushcart Prize and one for Best of the Web. René’s poems also appear in varied anthologies, including Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change and in Puro ChicanX Writes of the 21st Century.
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.
In these times, you and I share, amid air you and I breathe, and opposition we meet, we take inspiration from day to day thriving. The sacred conch shell calls us, drums beat, prayers send up; aromatic smoke of the pipe is our pledge to the gods.
An all-night fire vigil burns where we may consume the cactus messenger of the Huichol and of the Pueblo people of New Mexico. Red seeds of the Tlaxcalteca, mushrooms of María Sabina, tes de mi abuela from herbs grown in coffee cans on a Chicago back porch, tears of my mother on an assembly line in Lincolnwood, Illinois, aid us in calling upon memory, in these times.
In other days, when memory was as unshakeable as the African continent and long as Quetzalcoátl’s tail in the underworld, whipping against demons, drawing blood, potent as Coatlicue’s two-serpent face and necklace of hearts and hands (to remind us of our much-required sacrifices for the sake of the whole). We did what we could to take memory like a belt chain around the waist to pull off, to beat an enemy.
But now, in these times of chaos and unprecedented greed, when disrupted elements are disregarded, earth lashes back like the trickster Tezcatlipoca, without forgiveness if we won’t turn around, start again, say aloud: This was a mistake. We have done the earth wrong and we will make our planet a holy place, again. I can, with my two hands, palpitating heart; we can, and we will turn it around, if only we choose.
In these times, all is not lost, nothing forever gone, tho’ you may rightly think them a disgrace. Surely hope has not abandoned our souls, even chance may be on our side.
There are women and men, after all, young and not so young anymore, tired but tenacious, mothers and fathers, teachers and those who heal and do not know that they are healers, and those who are learning for the sole purpose of returning what they know. Also, among us are many who flounder and fall; they will be helped up by we who stumble forward. All of these and others must remember. We will not be eradicated, degraded, and made irrelevant, not for a decade or even a day. Not for six thousand years have we been here, but millions.
Look at me. I am alive and stand before you, unashamed despite endless provocations railed against an aging woman. My breasts, withered from once giving suckle and, as of late, the hideousness of cancer, hair gone grey, and with a womb like a picked fig left to dry in the sun; so, my worth is gone, they say. My value in the workplace, also dwindled, as, too, the indispensable role of mother. As grandmother I am not an asset in these times but am held against all that is new and fresh. Nevertheless, I stand before you; dignity is my scepter. I did not make the mess we accept in this house. When the party is done, the last captive hung—fairly or unjustly-- children saved and others lost, the last of men’s wars declared, trade deals busted and others hardly begun, tyrants toppled, presidents deposed, police restrained or given full reign upon the public, and we don’t know where to run on a day the sun rose and fell and the moon took its seat in the sky, I will have remained the woman who stayed behind to clean up.
They say in the Underworld one wanders through a perennial winter, an Iceland of adversity. Some end in Hades, consumed by ¨res that Christians and Pagans both abhor. <#> My ancestors too imagined a journey that mirrored Earth. Nine corridors-- each more dreadful than the one before-- promised paradise. You kept your soul but not your skin.
When my time came to return to the womb, I wasn’t ready. Anti-depressants, sex, a trip, prize, company of friends, love under moonlight or generous consumption of wine-- nothing did the trick to ease my mind.
When the best, which is to say, the worst rose from swamp, elected to lead the nation-- I presumed my death was imminent. Eyes and ears absorbed from the media what shouldn’t have been. Had I time traveled back to 1933? Perhaps I’d only woken to a bad dream, or died and this was, in fact, Purgatory-- (Did being dead mean you never died?)
The new president and appointed cabinet soon grabbed royal seats happy as proverbial rats in cheese. An era of calamity would follow. Holy books and history had it written. ¦e Book of Wisdom, for example, spoke of the wicked rollicking down the road, robbing the in¨rmed and the old. ¦ey mocked the crippled and dark skinned-- anyone presumed weak or vulnerable.
Election Night-- I was alone but for the dog, moon obscured by nebulous skies; sixty-odd years of mettle like buoy armbands kept me afloat. Nothing lasts forever, I’d thought.
Two years passed, world harnessed by whims of the one per cent. I managed-- me and the dog, me and the clouds, contaminated waters, and unbreathable air-- to move, albeit slowly, as if through sludge, pain in every joint and muscle. Sad to behold, equally saddened of heart, and still we marched.
Sun came up and set. Up and down, again. My throbbing head turned ball of iron. Thoughts fought like feral cats. Nothing made sense. The trek felt endless, crossing blood rivers infested with scorpions, lost in caverns, squeaking bats echoed, µying past, wings hit my waving hands.
I climbed jutting flint, bled like a perforated pig, ploughed through snow-driven sierra, half-frozen—lost gravity, swirled high, hit ground hard. Survived, forged on. Two mountains clashed like charging bulls. Few of us made it through.
(Ancestors’ predictions told how the Sixth Sun would unfold with hurricanes, blazes, earthquakes, & the many that catastrophes would leave in their wake.)
(Demons yet abound, belching havoc and distress. Tens of thousands blown by gales of disgrace.)
(I hold steadfast.)
The Berlin Wall was coming down. One afternoon beneath gleaming skies of Bremen, Dieter was dying (exposure to asbestos in his youth). “My only lament in dying would be losing memory,” my friend said. “All whom I knew and all whom I loved will be gone.” Once a Marxist, after cancer—reformed Lutheran. (It was a guess what Rapture would bring a man with such convictions.) A boy during third Reich, Dieter chose to safekeep recollec- tions—from the smells of his mother’s kitchen to the streets of Berlin that reeked of rotting flesh as a boy. Men had always killed men, he concluded, raped women, bayoneted their bellies and torn out the unborn, stolen children, stomped infants’ heads, commit- ted unspeakable acts for the sake of the win, occupy land, exact revenge, glory for the sake of a day in the sun.
(Do the dead forget us? I ask with the lengthening of days each spring. Do they laugh at our naïveté, long for what they left behind? Or do they wisely march ahead, unfazed?)
Xibalba (Ximoayan & Mictlán & Niflheim, where Dieter rightly should have gone) cleansed human transgressions with hideous punishments. You drank piss, swallowed excrement, and walked upside down. Fire was involved at every turn. Most torturous of all, you did not see God. Nine hazards, nine mortal dangers for the immortal, nine missed menstruations while in the womb that had created you-- it took four years to get to heaven after death.
Xibalba is a place of fears, starvation, disease, and even death after death. A mother wails (not Antcleia or la Llorona but a goddess). “Oh, my poor children,” Coatlicue laments. Small skulls dance in the air. Demon lords plot against the heavens
I wake in Xibalba. Although sun is bright and soft desert rain feels soothing, fiends remain in charge. They take away food, peace of any kind, pollute lakes, water in which to bathe or drink, capture infants, annihilate animals in the wild. (These incubi and succubi come in your sleep, leave you dry as a fig fallen on the ground.)
There were exceptions to avoid the Nine Hells. Women who died giving birth to a future warrior became hummingbirds dancing in sunlight. Children went directly to the Goddess of Love who cradled them each night. Those who drowned or died of disease, struck by lightning or born for the task, became rainmakers-- my destiny—written in the stars. Then, by fluke or fate, I ended underground before Ehecátl with a bottomless bag of wind that blew me back to Earth.
Entering the first heaven, every twenty-eight days the moon and I met. When I went to the second, four hundred sister stars were eaten by our brother, the sun. Immediately he spit them out, one by one, until the sky was ¨lled again.
In the third, sun carried me west. In the fourth, to rest. I sat near Venus, red as a blood orange. In the fifth, comets soared. Sixth and seventh heavens were magni¨cent shades of blue. Days and nights without end became variations of black. Most wondrously, God dwelled there, a god of two heads, female and male, pulled out arrows that pierced skin on my trek. “Rainmakers belong to us,” the dual god spoke, his-her hand as gentle as his-her voice was harsh. Realizing I was alive I trembled. “You have much to do,” he-she directed. Long before on Earth a Tlaxcaltec healer of great renown crowned me granicera, placed bolts of lightning in my pouch. I walked the red road. Then came the venom and the rise of demons like jaguars devouring human hearts. They brought drought, tornados, earthquakes, and hurricanes-- every kind of loss and pain. The chaos caused confusion, ignorance became a blight. (Instead of left, I’d turned right, believed it day when it was night. I voyaged south or maybe north through in¨nity, wept obsidian tears before the dual god-- “Send me back, please,” I cried. “My dear ones mourn me.”)
The Plumed Serpent’s conch blew, a swarm of bees µew out from the shell. Angels broke giant pots that sounded like thunder. Gods caused all manner of distraction so that I might descend without danger. Hastily, I tread along cliffs, mountain paths, past goat herds and languishing cows. A small dog kept up as we followed the magenta ribbons of dawn. I rode a mule at one point, glided like a feather in air at another, ever drifting toward my son, the granddaughter of copper hair, sound of a pounding drum-- we found you there, my love, waiting by the shore, our return.
Ana Castillo is a celebrated author of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama. Among her award-winning books are So Far from God: A Novel; The Mixquiahuala Letters; Black Dove: Mamá, Mi’jo, and Me; The Guardians: A Novel; Peel My Love Like an Onion: A Novel; Sapogonia; and Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (UNM Press). Born and raised in Chicago, Castillo resides in southern New Mexico.
This photo is of the Mireles family men who were vaqueros in South Texas. Third from the right, front row is the patriarch, Julio Samudío Mireles, my great, great, grandfather who was born in 1830. Next to him on the right are his son-in-law Dario Talamántez and his son. He also had 5 daughters with his wife María Francisca Silva, known as "Mama Kika."
Vaqueros by Robert René Galván
Inspired by the Moorish horsemen, the Castellanos set out in wooden ships across an alien sea with stalls of stallions treated better than men, fed and lovingly groomed for the day they would dance upon the land to the music of cruel spurs.
The Aztecas had never seen such a creature and thought it was an enormous, sweating stag of which the rider was a part – a mystical beast to be feared, and yet the indios became its master with lazos and chaparras, estribos and botas, and when strays escaped to the north and multiplied masteñeros gathered and broke them for the gringos.
Alla en el rancho grande, Grande Julio Mireles went out with his nine sons after a pot of café del campamento and cigarros, huevos rancheros.
He taught the Tejanos his craft, his charros begat Kings in the fields claimed by barbed-wire and rifles (to steal a horse meant hanging), and when the dueño learned all his secrets, vaqueros gave way to “buckaroos” with their chaps and lassos, stirrups and cowboy boots, mis padientes, mojados.
Robert René Galván 11.6.21
Robert René Galván, born in San Antonio, Texas, resides in New York City where he works as a professional musician and poet. His poetry collections include Meteors (Lux Nova Press), Undesirable – Race and Remembrance (Somos en escrito Literary Foundation Press), and The Shadow of Time (Adelaide Books). His poems also appear in Puro ChicanX Writers of the 21st Century and various magazines, including Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art and Thought, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Azahares Literary Magazine, Gyroscope, Hawaii Review, Hispanic Culture Review, Newtown Review, Panoply, Somos en escrito Magazine, Stillwater Review, West Texas Literary Review, and UU World. He is a Shortlist Winner Nominee in the 2018 Adelaide Literary Award for Best Poem. Two poems by Galván have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and another for the Best of the Web for 2020.
Rafael Jesús González, Prof. Emeritus of literature and creative writing, was born and raised biculturally/bilingually in El Paso, Texas/Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, and taught at University of Oregon, Western State College of Colorado, Central Washington State University, University of Texas El Paso (Visiting Professor of Philosophy), and Laney College, Oakland, California where he founded the Dept. of Mexican & Latin-American Studies. Also visual artist, he has exhibited in the Oakland Museum of California, the Mexican Museum of San Francisco, and others in the U.S. and Mexico. Nominated thrice for a Pushcart prize, he was honored by the National Council of Teachers of English and Annenberg CPB for his writing in 2003. In 2013 he received a César E. Chávez Lifetime Award and was honored by the City of Berkeley with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 13th Annual Berkeley Poetry Festival 2015. He was named the first Poet Laureate of Berkeley in 2017. Visit http://rjgonzalez.blogspot.com/.
Ode to the Fears of Children / Oda a los miedos infantile
by Byron López Ellington
The snakes and arañas that skitter through the night Cucos y creepies and ghostly, ghastly creatures Llorona and shadows and things that just aren’t right Death too young, life too old, vastly nasty features Abandon and lying and truths too grand to know Solo, con miedo, y nada hacer puedes The earth itself can scream and wither, be your foe And trap you in darkness por años o meses Alive in your veins, sentimientos de raíz They crawl and creep and slither and wriggle in strife Te forman, te moldean, you are them, so nice Y el mundo los necesita for its life —For who you are is what they were, that old mess-- —Porque tu ser será lo qu’estarán, después.
Byron López Ellington is a Mexican-American poet, fantasy novelist-in-progress, and silly fellow from Austin, Texas. As of fall 2022, he is a student of creative writing and Spanish at the University of Iowa. You can find his other published works at byronlopezellington.com.