Excerpts from Z is for Zapatazo by Ruben Rivera published by Atmosphere Press
Z is for Zapatazo
I started learning my ABC’s before I could even read. The first lesson involved a woman collapsed in the back lot of the Bronx tenement where we lived. Something had scared her nearly to death. There in the pouring rain she lay writhing and screaming out her wits while neighbors watched from the covered balconies and fire escapes. R is for Rat.
Another lesson was connected to chickens in that time when “children should be seen and not heard.” The Spanish version had, as usual, more syllables as well as color: “Los niños hablan cuando las gallinas mean.” “Children talk when the chickens pee.” Those who relate to chicken only in conveniently dismembered extra crispy form may ask when or how often do chickens pee? Never. We Nuyoricans, Spanglish-speaking Gothamites, who had never seen a chicken except when it arrived steaming aromatically on a plate with rice and beans, nevertheless knew well that chickens don’t relieve themselves like little boys and girls. C is for Chickens.
We moved to California, that hub of social contradictions. There I was raised on breezy primetime shows, punctuated by interruptions about some protest march, police suppression, riot, space-race launch, cold war threat, assassination, or other scary event. For a while it seemed like “We Interrupt This Program” was part of the regular TV line up. Maybe that’s why there were so many sitcoms and family shows – diversions from the worry and sheer terror. The shows conveyed placid American suburbs lined with houses that never needed painting, populated by families like the Andersons, the Nelsons, and the Cleavers, lovingly and rationally ruled by parents that never yelled or hit or even had sex.
Meanwhile, on this side of the fourth wall, verbal and physical discipline was natural. So natural in fact that it was conveyed in a Spanish-language ABC book for children. The benign English version that the Cleavers read had, “A is for Apple, B is for Ball, C is for Cat” and so on, to the last letter, “Z is for Zoo.” A logical entry for the Spanish Zeta (Z) would have been Zapato (Shoe), something every Latino child would know. But instead it read, “Z esporZapatazo” (paraphrased: Z is for Shoe Missile). The expounded letter was accompanied by a drawing of a dark-haired child with its wincing face cocked to the side from the impact of a flying shoe. A friend recalled the book to me years later and we responded with equal parts laughter and loathing at the kind of mentality that would include such a casually violent lesson in what is perhaps the most basic childhood introduction to an intelligible world.
History reminds me, however, that Anglo American ways of child rearing were not so idyllic as the TV shows portrayed. In colonial New England, a child’s education went hand in hand with physical discipline. The 1691 edition of The New England Primer for children had ABC lessons that included: “F: The idle FOOL is whipt at school,” and “J: JOB feels the rod, yet blesses God.” And even as the belt-free world of “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It To Beaver” was being beamed into televisions across North America, teachers in schools who looked just like Robert Young and Barbara Billingsley blistered our tender behinds with every device imaginable, from ping pong paddles to a cricket bat perforated in wood shop by one particularly sadistic misanthrope to cut wind resistance.
I can at least affirm that I advanced in my ABC’s fairly early in the game – my older brother, not so much. If I say that too frequently I followed a crowd of kids to an afterschool fight only to discover that my brother was one of the young gladiators, you’ll understand what I mean. The same feckless pugnacity repeatedly got him into needless trouble at home, where there was no immunity of non-combatants. K is for Knucklehead.
Years later, my mom and stepdad divorced. (My birth father I knew only through an old wedding photograph and mom’s spectacularly imaginative comparisons to our misbehavior.) By then I was married, living at the other end of the country and going to seminary. I did not know the degree to which their split had affected me. Then one evening, after my wife had gone to bed and I stayed up studying, I sank into an abyss of grief, crying and shaking uncontrollably.
Gone were the family parties when we kids listened to music and played while our parents did…whatever parents did at parties, until the sensuous Puerto Rican food appeared miraculously on the table to be gobbled up by gangly calorie-burning urchins, leaving the mess to be cleaned up by elves while we slept soundly wherever our bodies happened to land. Gone was the Monorail, and the Matterhorn, It’s A Small World, and the Adventure Thru Inner Space courtesy of Monsanto. Gone Knott’s berry pie. Gone the excursions to Pacific Ocean Park, Redondo Beach, and Newport Dunes, the broiling burgers, the quenching watermelon.
Gone the chilly early hours of Christmas when we’d sneak out of our beds to peek at the gift-wrapped silhouettes under the tree and imagine they were what we wanted. Gone a mother’s tender ministrations when any of us kids were sick. Gone her tears when she saw mine after a broken wrist ended high school gymnastics. Gone the rosary prayer circles and sleepless nights when my brother was in hospital with brain tumors. Gone the frantic calling for my sister lost in a Tijuana bazaar. Gone the tears of joy when she was found. Gone the dreaded daily tablespoon of cod liver oil and the sting of Mercurochrome on scraped knees and elbows.
Gone dad’s brutal six-day workweek that underwrote our lives. Gone when the family sat around the only television in the house after eating dinner at the same table, at the same time, and the wild symphony of everyone talking at once. Gone the laughter, I’m talking Puerto Rican laughter, the world series of laughter, now only faint bells in the distant steeple of my memory. Z is for Zapatazo.
The Fall of Middle Earth
One day, I went to that land between home and school, shocked to find it invaded. The scene looked like a horde of dragons, their plated skin clattering, their movement stuttering like some Harryhausean nightmare, and generals commanding troops in white helmets from blue paper battle plans. The noise cracked the sky’s thin blue shell and soot from organ pipe nostrils nearly blocked out the running yolk of the sun. Mandibles dropped open dripping an earthy stew then clammed shut with the metallic squeal of lightning, like colossal hinges on the gates of Mordor, maws of these steel-veined horrors engorging and disgorging dirt, rocks, grasses, trees, nests, warrens, dens and cloisters, secret gardens, fens and shires. Fangorn, Moria, Rivendell...
How I started hating conspiracy theories
How often the truth is just not sexy enough. But the lie? Now that’s an orgy. In the fifth grade I caught the flu so bad I missed two weeks of school. When I returned my teacher got down on one knee to look me in the eyes and said: “Ruben, are you OK? I heard you got in trouble with the law and went to juvenile detention.” “Home with the flu,” I said. “Nearly died. Didn’t you get mom’s letter?” “I heard you were really in juvie.” “Nope. Home sick. Nearly died.” He walked away disappointed, in the same way dogs find catching cars disappointing. That year I was “Juvie Rubie,” hang all my protestations for truth. Even today, I’m Juvie Rubie.
I Don’t Mean
I don’t mean to doubt your faith but why doesn’t it make you good to me?
I don’t mean to question your scriptures but why are the sweet parts applied to you and the harsh parts to me?
I don’t mean to be aloof but why does god love you unconditionally but me conditionally?
I don’t mean to sound unpatriotic but why does the god of the universe bless America over other nations, and before that Rome, or France, or Germany, or Spain, then England?
I don’t mean to risk your wrath but why does god look and act like the latest rulers?
I don’t mean to appear radical but why does god favor your race over mine?
I don’t mean to feel cheated, but why does god answer your prayers and not mine – when you got the job I didn’t, and the traffic lights you believe worked for you made me miss my friend’s last moments?
I don’t mean to impugn your justice but why does god love sinners like you more than sinners like me?
I don’t mean to question your motives but why does accepting your religion put me and mine under you and yours?
I don’t mean to sound bitter but why is there no room for me in the land, the neighborhood, your family, your heart?
I don’t mean to dislike your god of grace but why gift the one truth to you and leave others in damning ignorance?
I don’t mean to be impertinent but how come god welcomes prayer in any language but only English can be spoken here?
I don’t mean to be skeptical about the universality of your religion but why do I have to amputate my culture but you get to keep yours?
I don’t mean to be in your face but why can’t you see me?
I don’t mean to speak so loudly but why can’t you hear me?
I don’t mean to doubt your faith but why doesn’t it make you good to me?
Click here to order a copy of Z is for Zapatazo today!
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Ruben Rivera is Emeritus VP for DE&I and Associate Professor of History at Bethel University in Saint Paul, MN. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife Anita. Although his poetry has won awards in various contests, Z is for Zapatazo is Ruben’s first published collection.
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.
Two Poems by María (Jesú) Estrada
I can hear the eternal mumbling Of el Rosario In the other room. And I am alone in the living room With dirty blue walls. More alone than my first day of School, Where I sat in the aisles Looking at a woman I didn’t understand ‘Cuz she was a gringa And I am a wetback child. And I Hated her and her sick colored skin. I hated all the kids who didn’t Know what I was saying. I hated how They stood up. Looked at the Cloth With bright red and blue and put Their hands over their hearts. Mumbled on and on like my Abuelita, when She runs all the words together From el Rosario.
The gringa’s eyes were full and new. Not like Your eyes that are Dying colors. And You! You didn’t help me! And now You’re Looking at me with those blue eyes Like all those dumb kids who didn’t know When I said hello. You know everything, and theydidn’tknownothing ¡No me mires con esos pinches ojos! ‘Cuz you’re looking at me like I’m no good ‘Cuz you know my Dad’s a mojado And I can’t mumble the way they do When they stand So tall To pray
"Jesucristo Santificanos" was originally published in A Language and Power Reader: Representations of Race in a "Post-Racist" Era by Utah State University Press; 1st edition (October 15, 2014).
"Red Wine, Roque"
Roque You taught me Red wine Was close to a Lonely Morning Orgasm
A poem set on the Moon.
A revolution Set in my Soul.
MARIA J. ESTRADA is an English college professor of Composition, Literature, and her favorite, Creative Writing. She also runs her union chapter with amor and pride. She grew up in the desert outside of Yuma, Arizona in the real Barrio de Los Locos, a barrio comprised of new Mexican immigrants and first-generation Chicanos. Drawing from this setting and experiences, she writes like a loca every minute she can—all while magically balancing her work and union and family obligations. She lives in Chicago’s south side with her wonderfully supportive husband, two remarkable children, and two mischievous cats—one of whom has killed at least one laptop. You can learn more about her writing happenings and favorite books on her YouTube channel Radical Books and Politics.
Breve historia de un grito / Brief History of a Cry by Rafael Jesús González
Breve historia de un grito
Trescientos años después de la conquista se alzó el grito de dolores, grito de un pueblo adolorido por independencia del imperio. Veinte y unos años después de ser independiente México perdió mas de la mitad de sus tierras al más joven impero del norte. Y expulsando otra invasión y sufridas otras tiranías se hizo por revolución el grito dolorido. De eso hace cien y más años. ¿Qué puede decir una historia del hambre, la sed, el dolor, la pena, el sufrir de la que se hace? La injusticia echa raíces muy largas. Deshacerse de un yugo no es ser libre, deshacerse de un yugo no es lo mismo que lograr la justicia. La lucha sigue. Pues ¡adelante! mexican@s, chican@s, adelante mundo. La lucha sigue hasta la justicia. ¡Hasta la justicia sigue la lucha!
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/.
GHAZNI, AFGHANISTAN - NOVEMBER 2010: An Afghan boy rides his bike as a Polish and US soldiers from Task Force White Eagle patrol his village. Photo by Ryanzo W. Perez.
New Poetry by Ivan Argüelles
THE FALL OF KABUL
carpet-baggers locusts cannibals lice the head turns to stone the moon is drawn out of its well and decapitated in a dust flurry minutes before the evacuation promises of paper-flowers fruit without vermin bread ! for two decades a series of statues come and gone artillery composed of offal and headwinds ox-carts bearing sultans of medieval dialects everything a matter of renunciation movies cosmetics opium military footwear the greatest Demon in the world has just surrendered his vices in a big photograph swap history is written on mattresses with bedbugs remember the Soviet carrion ? remember the big Buddha at Bamian ? five thousand years since the Aryans bruited the Vedas in the Hindu Kush and today nothing but a reversal of system and value blond poster-girls peeling off bloodied walls hoodwinked soldier boys from Iowa City haunted by the part they played dismembering the carcass of progressive Reform Jihad ! Mujahideen ! turn the volume up ! the Twin Towers were destroyed by fireflies a nuisance of idioms and heresy monstrous illiteracy of social media lies verbiage and tattooed air multiples of Zero Balkh the birthplace of Rumi surrenders ! President of USA suffers from PTSD a painted screen a flutter of Chinese diplomats wearing poisoned masks an x-ray of Night what good are stealth bombers and drones ? red ants versus black ants ! civilization ! mendacity of General Petraeus and the CIA operatives who drill like moles through earth nothing is solid and even less is holy the Beloved ! houris wearing burkas on Main Street Yea this day is Paradise and Gehenna above and below and forever !
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.
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.
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.
A Letter A Mis Amigos “Patriotas” by Raymond A. Benitez
Today I take back my birth right
without fear or hesitation.
You, who believe you have as much right to deny me my heritage like conquistadores in foreign ships.
Yo soy Boricua! Aunque no lo sepas!
Yo soy Boricua! Aunque tu me niegas!
I know how it drives you insane, that my Spanish sounds like heresy.
Do you not recognize your own brother?
I am the product of our mother’s violation, the bastard son of history, the crumbs that the mainland left behind! I am the echo of our past!
And I see you. I see throughyou. You foam at the mouth, ready to spit rejection into my face.
As I speak, I see your lips curling like bows taking aim at my chest. Your tongues are pitchforks starving for blood. Your words are salt encrusted and stink of vinegar left to dry.
Your fingers slowly creep, crawl, and wrap themselves around stones. Accusing me of adultery, pharisees of my flag.
Me acusan de traición!
Me han dicho que abandone mi patria!
Por no estar sufriendo con ella! Luchando por ella!
Accuse me of poverty instead!
Accuse me of loving a family I could not provide for! As if being Puerto Rican eight thousand miles away from home was not suffering enough.
As if representing our pride and defending our honor to those who believe we have none left isn’t enough of a fight!
But I see that your eyes still speak silence and rejection.
Sin embargo, I know who I am and where I am from.
Yo soy el jíbaro triste, migrando a la cuidad de Nueva York.
I am the sleepless nights in the heartless jungles of concrete and traffic.
I am the desperation of the immigrant.
I am the weeping eyes of mothers praying for their sons.
I am all of their “Hail Mary’s” and “Padre Nuestro”.
I am the uncertainty of choice. To leave or to stay?
And pack your whole life inside a bag of luggage…
I am the isolation of our single star.
Quiet seed of the Caribbean.
It wants to scream out from beneath the earth, to be acknowledged by the world.
We are taught that injustice is our daily bread. To be thankful that we are not like other Latin countries, “republicas hambrientas”
Justice is too much to thirst for, because “no estamos listos para la soberanía.”
As if freedom is something we must learn, as if it wasn’t already seared into the very skin of our souls when we are born! As if it wasn’t already carved into our bones and written in verse within our hearts!
Tell me, do you think we felt loved when the President threw paper towels at us when there was more blood running in the island than water?
Neither did I.
I am Judas, who betrayed himself and sold his flesh for thirty pieces of silver and a loaf of bread to give to his mother.
You would have me crucified for being born into the same skin as you.
The sound of my rolling r’s is flat and deformed, my skin is a shade of American to you, but I will never be what you want me to be.
I will not confess to crimes I did not commit.
Because you cannot abandon a home,
that has never left your heart…
Y confieso con mi cantico triste,
Yo soy Boricua, aunque no lo sepas.
Yo soy Boricua, aunque tu me niegas.
Raymond A. Benitez was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico and spent his childhood growing up mostly in the United States. He moved back to the island with his mother and younger brother at 12 years old and stayed there for nine years until Hurricane Maria required him to migrate from the island to support his family in 2017. He is currently finishing a Bachelors in Journalism while serving in the United States Army with the dream of returning to Puerto Rico which he considers to be his home. This is his first time being published individually, but he was previously published in a poetic anthology titled Vuelos del Vertigo from the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao.
"Pilgrim" and "Carved Over" from Mowing Leaves of Grass by Matt Sedillo with Review
Pilgrim See, some were born to summer homes And palatial groves Where pain was only to ever unfold From the pages of Secret Gardens Where the Red Fern Grows But not I See, I come from the stock Of starry-eyed astronauts Who greet the night sky With big dreams and wide eyes Always Running Down the Devil’s Highway Through Occupied America On the way back to The House on Mango Street And all those other books You didn’t want us to read Raised on handball Off the back wall Of a panaderia Born East the river Post Mendez vs Westminster One generation removed From the redlines And diplomas signed That those dreams In that skin Need not apply See, I come from struggle And if my story offends you That is only ‘cause you made the mistake of seeking your reflection In my self-portrait See, this Well this may not be about you Because while some were born To the common core Whose reflected faces Graced the pages Of doctrines to discover And ages to be explored Where old world hardships Crashed against new shores New England New Hampshire New Jersey New York For others pushed off Turtle island Aztlan Do not call this brown skin immigrant Child of the sun Son of the conquest Mexicano blood Running through the veins Of the eastside of Los Angeles Do not tell him In what native tongue His song would best be sung Do not tell me Who I am ‘Cause I was raised just like you Miseducated in some of those Very same schools Off lessons and legends Of honest injuns and Christian pilgrims And a nation of immigrants All united in freedom That is until they pulled aside My white friend Pointed directly at me And said “Scott I judge you by the company you keep And you spend your time with this” And that’s the same old story since 1846 The adventures of Uncle Sam The stick-up man Hey wetback Show me your papers Now give me your labor The Melting Pot Was never meant for the hands That clean it The American dream Has always come at the expense Of those who tucked it in And you don’t know that ‘Cause you don’t teach it Could write you a book But you won’t read it So you know what This is about you And 1492 And the treaty of Guadalupe California missions And Arizona schools And these racists That try to erase us As we raise their kids In cities that bear our names But you’re going to learn Something today ‘Cause from Ferdinand To minuteman From Arpaio To Alamo From Popol Vuh To Yo Soy Joaquin To the Indian that still lives in me From Mexico 68 To the missing 43 They tried to bury us They didn’t know we were seeds From Cananea mine To Delano strike From the Plan De Ayala Emiliano Zapata Joaquin Murrieta Las Adelitas Brown Berets And Zapatistas From Richard Nixon To the Third Napoleon From Peckinpah To Houston From Lone Star Republic To Christopher Columbus All the way down To Donald fucking Trump We didn’t cross the borders The borders crossed us Who you calling immigrant Pilgrim?
Carved Over Draw a map Line the sand Carve the desert Act on land Amend it Eminent domain Indefinite detention Private prisons Public referendum Gentrification Naturalization Americanization Forced sterilization Make America Great Again Mexico will pay The hunt for Murrieta The hunt for Pancho Villa John Pershing’s slaughter of the innocents A severed head Touring California museums Becomes Zorro Becomes the Wild Bunch Becomes whitewash This American Life Experience Its imagination If you can dream it You can see it And if you can see it You can build it And if you build it You can take it And if they resist Manifest a cruelty So complete That for generations They will do it to themselves Build a city Draw its borders Patrol its districts Add silence to injury Insult without memory Protect these borders From language and culture Taco trucks And Dora the Explorer The country is changing And you know it It’s simple mathematics And you know it You have kept us weak By keeping us confused Your grandchildren Will speak Spanglish In the neighborhood You grew up in Greeting their friends On the corner Of your childhood And cherished memories Under the lamplight And faded midst This historic site Of your first kiss Where you learned To sink Before you learned to swim Where you And she Carved your names to trees And promised each other Forever But Memories fade Neighborhoods change And your names will be carved over And there is nothing You can do about it And you know this too So when Donald Trump Says drug dealers and rapists And Kelly Osbourne jumps in To correct him No Donald Those people are just here to clean our shit When you Sit so comfortably Speak so freely About a group of people Who are somehow everywhere Yet at the same time No one Hold your tongue We are far closer than you know
Get Mad and Mow
Review by Scott Duncan-Fernandez We Chicanos still need words to express our occupied experience even after 173 years. Mowing Leaves of Grass by Matt Sedillo has those words, slings out the curses to whomever has it coming. That necessary verbal retaliation of humanity that brown bodies and minds need. Social justice and history books are great, but we live in and by poetry. I’m a Xicano, these words are for me, speak for me. I am impressed how much work Chicano art accomplishes: our art is functional. Sedillo’s Mowing Leaves of Grass lives up to this. You may find yourself in the work, in this too personal political experience of being Xicano in America, or you may come to understand the experience better as fellow human beings.
I’ve lived the poem, “A Chicano in Liverpool,” when the poet is asked do you belong here, though as a Chicano in Brighton, UK. My family and I have been, “Carved Over,” contended with fantasies about us and told we don’t belong in our homeland. I’m sure many folks have commented on the title, Mowing Leaves of Grass, a reference to Mr. Body Electric. I liked studying him in high school and college, but never forgot what soured the milk: Whitman’s excitable thoughts that the Mexican-American War would be the fulfillment of Anglo superiority. In this education system we Chicanos are often forced to study and agree wholeheartedly with statements, literary works, and famous authors that advocate for our troglodyte inherency to servitude or how we are better off dead.
For all his exalting of the body electric, WW ain’t talking about my brown body or African bodies. White bodies need only apply for the full body kung fu glow in his world. Of course, they didn’t teach his thoughts on the matter in high school or college. The American school system likes to sanitize and exculpate northern Europeans, call slaves workers, say the land was empty and just waiting for development, that Mexicans were too lazy here in the underpopulated and underfunded frontier to get anything done. What more proof of this white supremacy than the current Texas Legislature’s further attempt to whitewash history and combat the truth of black and brown humanity and that the system built on us is oppressive and wrong.
I’m quite okay with Whitman getting mowed along with much of the American literary canon, the Anglocentric selection of works that academia advertises and empowers by its own authority.
Mowing Leaves of Grass is a cry against the American experience and for the Indigenous American, one often we Chicanos must steal back as our detractors use the earlier marks of Spanish conquest against us, or make exploitative tourist fantasies of us, as mentioned in “Carved Over.” This poem is a mental overthrow of the USA’s colonial idea of us as foreigners which is accomplished as well in the poem, “Pilgrim.” This poem “Pilgrim” was read at the first Aztlán Report, a state of the raza yearly event started this year in 2021. The Aztlán Report was a gathering of Chicano organizations to inform about the events and activities of the year pertinent the Mexican American experience. I attended as a member of MeXicanos 2070, a non-profit Chicano organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing our culture. A perfect setting for this counter colonial poem.
These poems come from a year ago, el tiempo de naranja, the time of Trump. Sedillo cusses Trump, cusses his followers. Points out that we Xicanos are the future. Mowing Leaves of Grass, the book and the titular poem is mowing the canon, decolonizing the mind of education, American education. At times, it hits the same note, the note of resistance, but we are offered some poems like “La Reina,” where it’s a celebration of women who have persevered and transmitted culture, like my birth city of LA itself.
We need more than witnessing to provide trauma porn for salivating masters, or equally legless rage to amuse them. We don’t have anger issues, we got reasons to be angry. We need that emotion and reason, the chants and incantation in this collection that will heal and forge us. We need to be out of control and have un-colonial thoughts.
We deserve our anger; we need to express it. I needed these words when cops approached me as a teenager, guns on me, asked, are you a wetback? and slammed me against my car. I just knew “Fuck Tha Police” by NWA back then. Now I have the poem, “Custers.” Mowing Leaves of Grass has many stanzas expressing the “ya bastas,” “nada mas,” “best back ups” that Chicanos need.
These poems are angry. I am angry. As I write this, Mario Gonzales is dead, murdered by cops, called on by neighbors for being tall and brown in a public park. He had long hair, the caller said; he looked “Hispanic” or “Indian.” The words describe Mario, me, and the poet. These poems can’t not be personal.
I want everyone to read this. It’s poetry for now, but not limited to it. Mow the canon, celebrate the Xicano electric or find the new words we are on the cusp of speaking thanks to fearless poetry like Sedillo’s.
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.
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.
Two poems by Vincent Cooper
Before the election I saw Chicano veterans holding up Vote for Trump Signs outside of schools And libraries. Some Veteranos Don’t know they’re Chicano, They want that towering wall Dividing America and Mexico To smite gay pride and the rainbow flag. Trump-sates the blood-thirsty hate from within The void of my father Was filled by a Veterano, Who in 1967 (Dropping out of Brackenridge High School) Heard the war song of A westside Marine Corps Recruiter.
“Go defend our country son make Uncle Sam proud. Don’t worry about a High School Diploma, You’ve got the Viet Cong to think about.
You’ll be physically fit, cock strong, in your dress blues All these westside chicks are gonna want to fuck you
You’ll have medals pinned on your chest, a career as a cook or custodian Benefits with a steady paycheck, a cheap little house with an iron fence
C’mon be a real man with a rifle in your hands And tell them all, later on, about the young heroes of war Jungle sounds, Khe San and how things were in’ Nam.
Vietnamese rats Chasing like rabid dogs So large you couldn’t swallow Shooting women And children Coming back To be a Little League coach For your kids- A hero? A patriot?
Wearing a red and gold cover That reads: 1967-1969 Reconnaissance USMC Raising a Devil Dog flag in the front yard Next to an American flag. Everyone driving by knows where you stand. Who you are A Veterano What you did For this country That is not yours A dream you’re not in.
A Real Marine
You’re a marine? Thank you for your service
is physically fit, says OORAH when they see another marine, has American pride, honors the eagle, globe and anchor, has a bulldog named Chesty, tells war stories, while polishing his medals, banks with USAA, psycho tough, ready to kill, never hesitates, knows martial arts like Chuck Norris, is an alcoholic with a side chick, has PTSD, a racist in denial, attends air shows with the silent drill platoon.
A real marine says this country has gone to shit, doesn’t want to die, because their grandson is gay, on the flip, he wants gays in the military to serve as bullet-catchers.
A real marine gets shafted by the corps, years later, thankless service, wearing a red cover, USMC t-shirt, won’t stop until the job is done, flashbacks, hates Asians, haircut high n’ tight, originally from Parris Island, is sometimes a tio taco, not that amphibious, a cock boy in dress uniform, marching at grocery stores.
A real marine trains people of color to kill people of color. A United States fucking Marine, trained to kill anyone, anything, even himself.
I didn’t go to war.
VincentCooper is the author of Zarzamora – Poetry of Survival and Where the Reckless Ones Come to Die. His poems can be found in Huizache 6 and Huizache 8, Riversedge Journal, and Latino Literatures. Cooper was selected to the Macondo Writer’s Workshop in 2015. He currently resides in the southside of San Antonio, Texas.