“The Jolly Chicano Poet A Chicano Poet Remembered: Francisco X. Alarcón (d. 2016)”
by Agustin Medina, Jr.
Larger than life Both in girth and spirit
He lived his life as a poem A poem without boundaries
Even his poetry book titles Eran preciosos: Mariposas sin fronteras
He believed a poem was never complete
It took death to provide a final stanza To his own poetic journey
A progenitor of much fine poetry
His verse landed on the page Filtered through a Chicano lens
His style was eclectic
Using any form that conveyed The content of his soul
His verse favored exploring Chicano culture Mesoamerican history and Latino identity
Most of all, he was a progenitor of bilingual children’s poetry He proclaimed such poetry his crowning achievement
He thought children natural poets And encouraged them to versify
Gay and married He felt an outlier
Gay and Chicano He had to tread lightly
But he approached life’s dilemmas with doses of humor Such as daily “thanking God” he was an atheist
On his death bed, he allowed his priest brother to give him last rites “If you keep it short”
When his mother heard he had agreed to take communion She exclaimed: “Does he know what he’s eating?”
Let us nurture the glory of the Chicano poet, too few in number Select a poem by the poet Alarcón and shout it out to the world
Do this in remembrance of him
Agustin Medina, Jr. is a semi-retired attorney whose affiliation with Chicano activism goes back to the 1960s when he was part of a circle of Chicano students at UCLA and at Stanford University who established the first Chicano college student organizations, UMAS/MECHA. For 28 years, he has served as General Counsel to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials on a pro bono basis. He has also mentored several Latino youth during their educational journeys to college and graduate work. He continues to be passionate about social justice issues as concerns the Latino community. In addition to his immersion in poetry and literature, to clear the mind, he engages in mountaineering, canyoneering, rock climbing and hiking.
Yellow wallpaper peels behind faded pictures in dusty frames, falling to the floor in ashen drifts—ephemeral-- of births and wakes, stabbing to the heart like first kisses or cold sips of Mexican Coke but dulled from memory (and time) like giftless Christmases and old housedresses, drying on the line. What ghosts roam these halls, Haunting bowls of waxed fruit and glass doorknobs, lingering ‘round saints’ alters, dust bunnies, and jelly jar glasses like palls or the bitter of burnt almonds. As a pale pink echo of rose peeks through the air’s must, a voice whispers, “Recuerdas esto, ahora,” leaving me to chuckle and smile.
How silly it is to mourn life as we live it.
Caja de memoria
Fingers, gingerly sifting through ecos de lavanda, praise spirits of modest treasures in silent prayer. Ribbon-tied letters. A lock of hair tied with blue ribbon. Viejos dólares de plata. Tarjetas de oración a los santos (two for St. Jude). Pressed flowers in wax paper. A faded scapular. Old report cards (Never was any good at Math). Broken reading glasses. Una camelia encerada and the smell of her. Amén.
David Estringel is a Xicanx writer/poet with works published in literary publications, such as The Opiate, Azahares, Cephalorpress, Lahar, Poetry Ni, DREICH, Rigorous, Somos En escrito, Hispanecdotes, Ethel, The Milk House, Beir Bua Journal, and The Blue Nib. David received his BA in English at the University of Texas at Brownsville and his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Currently, he is a working on his PhD in English (World Literature) and a Graduate Instructor of Composition at Texas A&M-Commerce. His first collection of poetry and short fiction Indelible Fingerprints was published in April 2019, followed his second and third poetry collections Blood Honey and Cold Comfort House in 2022. David has written four poetry chapbooks, Punctures (2019), PeripherieS (2020), Eating Pears on the Rooftop (2022), and Golden Calves (coming March 2023). His new book of micro poetry little punctures, a collaboration with UK illustrator, Luca Bowles, will be released in December 2022. Connect with David on Twitter @The_Booky_Man and his website www.davidaestringel.com.
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.
DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS – 11/4 (JOE & MAX) by Ivan Argüelles
i Brooklyn a park bench a quart bottle of malt liquor and a brother how did that happen late spring early death drone of skies ready to annihilate themselves an ear wrenched from its rock formation a buzz of intonations from the Mahatmas stoned and iridescent in their vanishing perched like quetzal birds on the telephone wire high above planet Nothing all comes back to this moment realization of these deaths the masks of infancy withering yet beautiful and Hey ! did you hear the eloquence emanating from the jazz trumpet of Miles Davis ? basements in accolades of marijuana smoke decadence and livelihood waiting for births for nomenclatures to disclose their irate vowels in a backyard next door to Betty Carter mind soaked in tequila playing boyhood one Last Time and it all falls down the sudden repetition of a life experience the onset of seizures the rest of breath reduced to a red parenthesis inside which the conflagration of ideas and love recycled eerie representations of store windows masked and hooded figures demons alluring and baleful and after that what is there to know a trip to the outback a dozen hospitalizations mysterious tumors ventilators bad x-rays memories of Mayo Clinic cold spells long periods before and after that no one remembers but for the poignant high notes the small echo in its shell and the massive but absent seas
ii the little red clarinet case pushed under the bed sheets wrung out turning yellow from ichor of the gods transpiration and head-wounds tilted off the moving wagon on to the sidewalks of inferno and whatever could that mean the isolation wards and always the stranger at the door bare-knuckled with a bag to capture whatever malignant spirits trying to escape the maps were drawn tight around the peninsula and causeways and trampolines for the kids to jump up and down inside the coma where an excised cosmos auto-destructs with all its plastic passengers most of whom have traveled to the Yucatan and harbored nights in Teotihuacan with vessels of ether the countdown hasn’t even started before the finish is a fait accompli the forlorn hills of dialect and twilight the way they reappear in dreams half-beings bereft of intellect and side-swiped by planetary diesels plunging like headless horsemen down the Pan-Am Highway motels and endless waiting rooms dismantled telephones ambulances and more ambulances the wrong address and finality of sliding curtains hanging like angels left to dry from the wars and the doctors of hypnosis and mercury just staring into the abyss devoid of language the cuneiform of their brains working overtime to excuse themselves from all culpability and soon it’s another Halloween trick or treating on the doorsteps of a missing basement and phantom music ascends The Monster Mash with calaveras de azúcar and the jingles and marionettes of memory dancing sing-song in the cavities I got the shakes I’m going fast
iii cada día es el día de los muertos
Ivan Argüelles is a Mexican-American innovative poet whose work moves from early Beat and surrealist-influenced forms to later epic-length poems. He received the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award in 1989 as well as the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award in 2010. In 2013, Argüelles received the Before Columbus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. For Argüelles the turning point came with his discovery of the poetry of Philip Lamantia. Argüelles writes, “Lamantia’s mad, Beat-tinged American idiom surrealism had a very strong impact on me. Both intellectual and uninhibited, this was the dose for me.” While Argüelles’s early writings were rooted in neo-Beat bohemianism, surrealism, and Chicano culture, in the nineties he developed longer, epic-length forms rooted in Pound’s Cantos and Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. He eventually returned, after the first decade of the new millennium, to shorter, often elegiac works exemplary of Romantic Modernism. Ars Poetica is a sequence of exquisitely-honed short poems that range widely, though many mourn the death of the poet’s celebrated brother, José.
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.
Photo by John C. Mannone
Two Poems by John C. Mannone
I cannot see through glass frosted with shadows. Greener grass edges the pane, beckons.
Mosaic of rainbow colors, collaged on this side of the door, intones the music of promises
bound with hope, the strength of iron, to buttress my own frailty I pray will not easily fracture.
A dove perching next to me once whispered in the ears of my heart in a dream.
Though bedside promises blur with uncertainties, I hear your voice. I’m opening the door. I’m coming home.
My long-lost sister Lidia came from Argentina I rushed to be with her
but waited in the car that I left running, prayed for courage to climb the steps
and pass through the door so I’d see her once again even though she was gone Her body left in a casket
John C. Mannone, an Uruguayan-born Sicilian, has published poems (some bilingual, some in Spanish) in various magazines. In 2017, he was awarded a Jean Ritchie Fellowship in Appalachian literature and served as the celebrity judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies in 2018. Two forthcoming collections are Flux Lines: The Intersection of Science, Love, and Poetry (Linnet’s Wings Press, 2021) and Sacred Flute (Iris Press, 2022). He edits poetry for Abyss & Apex and other journals. His parents migrated to the U.S. when he was 4-1/2 years old and he grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. A retired physics professor, John lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Excerpts from Sueño del insomnio / Dream of Insomnia
by Isaac Goldemberg
PAZ El soñador despierta mientras duerme con la mirada fija en el techo del sueño. Confía en el espíritu que promete el triunfo en la derrota. Hace lo menos útil para seguir con vida. Calla lo que nunca tose en su garganta. Come aire, nunca la solidez del alimento. Despierta en lo mas profundo de sus ojos. En la superficie la tierra se ha hundido, están abiertos sus espacios y ya obrando. El soñador se cruza de brazos, la muerte es suave y alimenta. Es mejor no despertar, el mundo real invita al sueño y la paz se esfuma en su carroza blanca.
PEACE The dreamer wakes while he sleeps with his gaze fixed on the ceiling of the dream. He trusts the spirit that promises triumph in defeat. He does what is least useful to keep alive. He silences what never coughs in his throat. He eats air, never the solidity of nourishment. He wakes in the deep end of his eyes. The earth has sunk on its surface, the spaces are open and already working. The dreamer crosses his arms, death is soft and nourishing. It’s better not to wake up, the real world invites to sleep and peace vanishes in its white hearse.
SEÑALES El soñador cruza los desiertos prometidos, los bosques oscuros. Las lluvias de fuego golpean su féretro alumbrando el silencio, endureciendo el espíritu como una señal. El espacio es la boca del lobo, y los dioses del humano callan sus lenguas. Delante de las llanuras, detrás de los bosques, las ruinas exhuberantes, el aire y los golpes del lejano templo, las escamas del pez, la piedra apagada, el altar del sacrificio supremo. El soñador ignora a dónde va y por qué. Ignora las formas de los escondites y el arte de las travesías sin fin. El pasado lo hunde. El soñador va envuelto en la luz. Con el día y su falta de fe se alzan los astros sobre él.
SIGNS The dreamer crosses the promised deserts, the dark woods. The rains of fire strike his coffin lighting up the silence, hardening the spirit like a sign. Space is the mouth of the wolf, and the gods of the human hold their tongues. In front of the plains, behind the woods, the exuberant ruins, the air and the blows of the distant temple, the scales of the fish, the lifeless stone, the altar of the supreme sacrifice. The dreamer does not know where he is going or why. He does not know the shapes of the hiding places or the art of endless crossings. The past sinks him. The dreamer is shrouded in light. With the day and his lack of faith the stars rise above him.
DESAPARICIONES El soñador penetra en la velocidad de la luz y sus manos se aferran otra vez a los instrumentos del viaje. El planeta no prometido, los negros espacios del invierno sideral lloran en pie de guerra, la desconfianza hace olvidar el venidero fervor de la batalla. El soñador ignora los bienes de la tierra olvidada, ahora estrecha, los meridianos quebrados y su mansa aridez, desprovista de lo conocido. El día se aleja de él con sus sucias sombras. No siente la apertura en el centro espacial, no pierde el aliento ante la magnitud del misterio. El soñador ama la vida entre graves jadeos y dulces maldiciones de lo por venir.
DISAPPEARANCES The dreamer penetrates the speed of light and his hands grasp once more the instruments of the voyage. The planet not promised, the black spaces of sidereal winter weep up in arms, the distrust makes them forget the oncoming fervor of the battle. The dreamer does not know the goods of the forgotten earth, now narrow, the broken meridians and the gentle aridity, devoid of the known. The day moves away from him with its dirty shadows. He does not feel the opening at the center of space, he does not lose his breath at the magnitude of the mystery. The dreamer loves life in between severe panting and the sweet curses to come.
Isaac Goldemberg was born in Peru in 1945 and has lived in New York since 1964. He is the author of four novels, a collection of short fiction, thirteen collections of poetry and three plays. His most recent publications are Libro de reclamaciones (Palma de Mallorca, 2018), Philosophy and Other Fables (New York, 2016), Dialoghi con me e con i miei altri/Diálogos conmigo y mis otros (Rome, 2015), and Remember the Scorpion (Los Angeles, 2015). He is also the author of El gran libro de América judía (The Great Book of Jewish America, a 2240-page anthology, 1998). In 1995 his novel The Fragmented Life of Don Jacobo Lerner was selected by a committee of writers and literary critics as one of the best 25 Peruvian novels of all times and in 2001 a panel of international scholars convened by the National Yiddish Book Center chose it as one of the 100 greatest Jewish books of the last 150 years. His work has been translated into several languages and included in numerous anthologies in Latin America, Europe and the United States. He has received the following awards, among others: the Nuestro Fiction Award (1977), the Nathaniel Judah Jacobson Award (1996), the Estival Theater Award (2003), the Luis Alberto Sánchez Essay Award (2004), the Order of Don Quijote (2005), the Tumi Excellence Award (2014), and the P.E.N. Club of Peru Poetry Award (2015). In 2014, the House of Peruvian Literature in Lima, presented “Tiempos y Raíces” (Times and Roots), a Homage/Exhibition devoted to his life and works.
Isaac Goldemberg nació en Chepén, Perú, en 1945 y reside en Nueva York desde 1964. Ha publicado cuatro novelas, un libro de relatos, trece de poesía y tres obras de teatro. Sus publicaciones más recientes son Libro de reclamaciones (Palma de Mallorca, 2018), Philosophy and Other Fables (Nueva York, 2016), Dialoghi con me e con i miei altri/Diálogos conmigo y mis otros (Roma, 2015) y Remember the Scorpion (Los Ángeles, 2015). Es autor también de El gran libro de América judía (antología de 2240 páginas, 1998). En 1995 su novela La vida a plazos de don Jacobo Lerner fue considerada por un comité de escritores y críticos literarios como una de las mejores novelas peruanas de todos los tiempos; y en el 2001 fue seleccionada por un jurado internacional de críticos literarios convocado por el Yiddish Book Center de Estados Unidos como una de las 100 obras más importantes de la literatura judía mundial de los últimos 150 años. Su obra ha sido sido traducida a varios idiomas e incluida en numerosas antologías de América Latina, Europa y los Estados Unidos. Ha recibido, entre otros, el Premio Nuestro de Novela (1977), el Premio Nathaniel Judah Jacobson (1996), el Premio Estival de Teatro (2003), el Premio de Ensayo Luis Alberto Sánchez (2004), la Orden de Don Quijote (2005), el Premio Tumi a la Excelencia (2014) y el Premio de Poesía del P.E.N. Club del Perú (2015). En 2014, la Casa de la Literatura Peruana en Lima, presentó “Tiempos y Raíces”, una Exhibición/Homenaje dedicada a su vida y obra.
Four poems of remembrance and loss by Lupita Velasco
A note from the author: These poems were written after my father, Antonio, took his own life—losing his battle with depression and alcoholism.
No Me Quieren Escuchar I run around with my insides in my hands taking them to you, to him, to them. No one knows what to do, so you all watch as I stuff them back in and conceal them with a cloth. All is well even though the blood drips out. You can ignore it, just mop it up y ya se esconde. Todo está bien, no mal, just bien. Hay que seguir aguantando the pain. Porque él se fue sin tí, sin mí corriendo del dolor de aquí.
They Move On
I want him remembered, not forgotten. But, I’m not allowed to grieve. Obscurity, sadness, pain is what everyone sees. Uncomfortable, intolerable, so they don’t speak. As if erasing him erases the pain. Now that he is gone the pain is gone. Life goes on. All is well. Package it up with a neat little bow, and away it goes. Away from you. He lives in me. It’s hard for you to understand. So, we pretend that you don’t see, the sadness living in me. See, you walked away from him long before he walked away from me.
Lo Que Dejo
Will I ever feel safe again? Did I ever feel safe before? No yo creo que no, el alcohol siempre tuvo el control. Querían descansar de él, y no saber más.
Pero ya se fue, ya no está, y en el vacío no podrán descansar. O alomejor sí, pero yo no. Yo siempre lo espere ver mejor. Que algún día ya no iba tomar y ya nomás sería buen papá.
El, todos, yo, nomás ocupábamos amor, pero nos dejamos llevar por el dolor. Se nos olvidó, que para sanar el dolor nomás ocupamos demostrar más amor. Es fácil tenerles compasión a las personas buenas, pero la compasión también es para las personas enfermas.
Never Coming Back
A little girl looks to her dad for strength, the rock that keeps things in their place. I never knew how safe I felt until I went one day without the strongest man I ever knew the funniest one too. But he is gone, and this I know: I have never felt this much alone.
Lupita Velasco was born in Calvillo, Aguascalientes, Mexico; but grew up as an undocumented immigrant in Oklahoma. As a sheltered immigrant, Lupita found comfort, adventure, and refuge in literature from a very young age. Reading is Lupita’s favorite escape and writing her favorite form of expression. Lupita graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2011 with a bachelor’s in International Studies and a minor in Criminology. Lupita currently lives in Bethany, Oklahoma with her neurodivergent husband, two daughters, and four chickens.