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.
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.
Rinconcito is a special little corner in Somos en escrito for short writings: a single poem, a short story, a memoir, flash fiction, and the like.
by Michele Shaul
Were I to subscribe to reincarnation I would call him Hugo Augusto Anastasio Fidel Men interested in their own aggrandizement In the guise of stabilizing the whole Contemporaries abound that offer parallel Egos and interests They connected, Bonding in their embodiment of self-interest, exploitation, and greed But even those bonds were not enough to fulfill his insatiable needs, to maintain his self-absorption, To bolster his insecurities His counterparts quickly fell short in worshipping at his shrine Escalation of efforts to uplift his need pushed ahead No concern for consequences No shame at deception Yet soon, God willing, Our own defective incarnation will disperse just as the edge of twilight slides into obscurity.
Michele Shaul was born in Oakland, CA to a Kansas farm boy and a Key West girl. Her mother’s maternal family immigrated to Havana, Cuba and subsequently Key West, FL in the 1800s. Her paternal grandfather was born in Havana and moved to Key West where he married her grandmother and managed the local tobacco factory until his death.
Michele currently lives with her family in Charlotte, NC where she is the Director of the Center for Latino Studies and a professor of Spanish at Queens University of Charlotte, formerly serving as Chair of the World Languages Department for 22 years. She is co-founder and co-editor of the e-journal Label Me Latina/o and is involved in several arts and social outreach projects that use art as a vehicle to address the topics of diversity and tolerance. Her writing has been predominantly academic in orientation although in recent years she has had the opportunity to write more creative pieces. Her critical essays are published in a number of journals and collections. Her translation of the novel The Suitcases was published in 2005 and her poem “Vida cercada” appeared in Minerva (5 (2), septiembre-diciembre 2005. Mellen Press published her book A Survey of the Novels of Ana Castillo: A Contemporary Mexican American Writer (2016). Her short story “Mixed Reviews/Reseñas mixtas” has been selected for inclusion in Nos pasamos de la raya/We Crossed the Line Vol. 2 (Slough Press, 2021 anticipated). The collection of essays Not White/Straight/Male/Healthy Enough: Being “Other” in the Academy coedited with Michael Moreno and Kathryn Quinn-Sánchez was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2018). Her essay “We Met Pregnant at the Snack Bar” is included as part of the collection. The book Contemporary U.S. Latinx Literature in Spanish (Palgrave, 2018) was co-edited with Kathryn Quinn-Sánchez and Amrita Das. Teatro latino: Nuevas obras de los Estados Unidos, coedited with Trevor Boffone, Amrita Das, and Kathryn Quinn-Sanchez, was published by La Casita Grande (2019). The collection of essays Whiteness in the Workplace edited with Michael Moreno and Kathryn Quinn-Sánchez was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2020). Her translation in partnership with Erin Debell and Liliana Wendorff of Miguel Orosa’s play Brave Women and Laughter (Quite a long night’s journey throughout Latin America) was published by Proyecto Ñaque Editorial (2020) and her translation of Enrique Weichs’ Anteayeres (Before Yesterday), also teaming with Erin Debell, is currently seeking a publisher. Michele directs the Latino Studies Project which is a student/faculty research project that seeks to document the story of the Latino population in the Charlotte region. She is the recipient of the Queens’ 2016 Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award.
Malinallitzin and Hernán Cortés in the city of Xaltelolco, in a drawing from the late 16th-century codex History of Tlaxcala
A Letter From Malinallitzin by José E. Valdivia Heredia
A quien lea mis penas:
Me llamo Marina; o quizá Malinche; o quizá Malinallitzin; o quizá la madre de Martín, a veces temaktekauani, la puta traidora que me llama mi gente… En estas noches eternas, en la penumbra de mis penas, no recuerdo mi nombre, no recuerdo quién soy, ni creo tanto que me importe. Aborrezco cada día que pasa y no tenga a mi lado a Martín, piltsintli, amado hijo; aborrezco el día que Hernando se lo llevó a ese infierno lejano que es España; aborrezco el día que mi lengua pronunció el primer sílabo de esta lengua diabólica que es el castellano, kaxtitl. Me siento enferma. El mundo alrededor de mí se derrumba. Mikistli: La muerte subsiste en estas tierras abandonadas por los teteo, los dioses. La plaga se roba mi tranquilidad, se roba mis recuerdos y deseo grabarlo todo antes que los teteo me despojen de este cruel mundo.
Algún día yo era de Paynalá; algún día yo era la hija de un cacique, venía de una madre poderosa, de una madre que tuvo que sacrificarme para salvar a mi gente de los mayas invasores, tlapoloani. La perdono porque sé que no fue fácil y sé que mi destino me lo obligó, que yo tuve que llegar a las manos de los españoles aunque mi gente me lo despreciara. Fui esclava de los Tabascos, quienes me regalaron a los sucios españoles, gente que atraía y repugnaba a la vez. Algunos decían que eran dioses, pero yo lo sabía diferente. La gente contaba de las bestias, tekuani, que montaban, que eran parte hombre y parte animal, que eran profetas venidos a rescatarnos. Otros decían que eran tsitsimimej, demonios blancos, que venían a matar con sus armas mágicas. Mikilistli: yo reconocí su humanidad, su mortalidad, su repugnante egoísmo.
Naturalmente, al saber los idiomas y las costumbres de estas diversas regiones, me encontré obligada a ser nenepili, la lengua, y auiani, la santa puta, de Cortés. Me regalaron de un hombre a otro como si yo no tuviera el derecho al amor. Y amor sí encontré en el hijo que me dió y después robó Cortés. En los días que pensé no más poder, mi hijo Martín, piltsin, me animaba a seguir luchando, y todo lo di por él. Ahora me encuentro en estas tierras vastas, abandonada y enferma de la plaga con la que nos castigaron los dioses. Alguna gente me mira y me adora; para ellos soy diosa aunque me sienta yo menos que un pobre insecto. Otros me miran y me desprecian; no saben que más me desprecio yo por haber pronunciado las palabras que serían mi fin; no saben que más me desprecio yo por haber sido vendida como animal entre hombre y hombre; no saben que más me desprecio yo por haber perdido lo que más me importaba en la vida, mi dulce Martín.
Si alguien lee estas penas mías, recuérdenme. Recuerden lo que sacrifiqué y justifiquen mi vida, que en estos últimos días no puedo justificar ni estas miserables palabras, ni mi miserable respiración.
Tonameyalotl, la sombra de una pobre mujer.
José E. Valdivia Heredia is an undergraduate student of Religion and Latin American studies at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. They are a Chicanx writer from Northern California born to two parents from Michoacán, México. José has published a short poem in the Harvard Latinx literary publication Palabritas.