My brother saw a lone hammer on the side of a building in Rockridge: “Take it,” he said; I said no, that’s somebody’s tool, like dad’s. “Then write a poem about it,” he said.
My father had every type of hammer:
Black-handled, rednecked claw hammer, Craftsman, ‘made in America’ (He was proud of that);
Black-handled, rednecked Ball-Peen hammer, Craftsman, ‘Made in America!’ (He made sure to tell me this);
Blondehandled claw hammer; then, a two-pounder, worn, worthy of a warrior who straightened things, metal and moral;
Finishing hammers, hammers that mom did not know about until much after he bought them “This is my money, mijo, don’t tell mama.”
He proudly stated, “look how well-made,” as he showed me the mallets and other hammers that fed us,
And which he used to build the addition to our house, build a garage, frame, shape
He was proudest of those that were his friends, his companions, those he altered, shaped, the steel worn, the ballpeen softened, the rounded ends flattened or bevelled;
For the fence he built on the side of our home, righthandside, as you looked at the house, he used his hammers;
For the metal door he emplaced on the lefthandside, a door he made from sheetmetal He welded, shaped, something from Mexico in the U.S., he used his hammers.
He hammered and hammered, his hearing going as he did so, and I oblivious, was frustrated when he asked me to repeat things.
In Mexico, Papa was a pailero, boilermaker; In the U.S. his work was as a welder, bumper-straightener and chrome-plater;
He wielded hammers at work and at home, forearms bigger than most men’s biceps, biceps rounder than most men’s deltoids.
“Mr. America” is what the pastor of our church called him, if not “Mr. Universe.” He sought priests for counsel and his hammers to shape.
He had a sledge, which as a boy I tried to heft but failed to raise above my shoulders.
He taught me later how to do so safely, effectively, deadly-right. What power I felt and what a gift passed on to me by way of his tool — I felt a warrior, finally.
The accuracy of hammering a nail he taught me, ‘no, mijo, not like that; do it over until you get it right,’ — this time, delicacy.
His hammers went to the four winds after he died: My brothers and their wives borrowed them. They ended up in the back of pickups — stolen; in garages, lost (divorces).
There is an emptiness in my heart and soul for those hammers, like the emptiness I filled when I visited Toledo, España where I found our name, Vela, amidst craftsmen,
Men using, wielding tiny hammers, making out of gold and silver earrings, pendants, wonders, tiny jewels they emplaced with tiny hammers brought me back to him
His work, his name, his purpose.
And I having found that forebears in Toledo used hammers to make of Damascus steel
Swords, shields, and armor for warriors felt closer to him, my hammer my pen, my page metal shape, my words the indentations, impact, bent ideas, but memory all the same.
David Vela was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada to Tlaxcaltecan and Pueblan parents, father and mother respectively. He is the ninth of nine children, five of whom were born in Apizaco, Tlaxcala, Mexico, one in Puebla, Mexico and the others in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Hijo de soldador y pailero, a mother who was indomitable and self-educated in three languages, David studied at Yale and the Claremont Graduate School literature in English, Irish and Latin American authors, and has devoted 25 years to teaching literatures of Native Americans, Latin Americans, French (in French), Irish and British authors; he also loves and reads and has taught authors in Italian, including Dante and Petrarch, Boccaccio and Eugenio Montale.
David was lead instructor in Paris in 2006 in a Study-Abroad program, teaching Latin American and American expatriate authors in a French Life and Culture course, and a course on terrorism and the French experience in Algeria during the Algerian war for independence. David has worked with military veterans and with Social Science professionals as writer and Editor. He was President of the Irish Literary & Historical Society of San Francisco, the only non-Irish or non-Irish American do be elected to that position for and continues to be a Board Member of that organization. He was Chair of the Irish-Mexican Association of the Bay Area for several years, recognizing the common historical and cultural connections between these cultures, and emphasized the prominence of heroes in first-responder professions from these cultures.
David has worked with ambassadors and political personages in valuing and in disseminating culture in Ireland, Argentina, Mexico and in the United States, Northern Ireland and in the San Francisco Bay Area.
He currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada after living in the Bay Area for 28 years.
para mi hermana I fell asleep in my father’s arms though dead he’s been more than 20 years I nestled in his reek of disguised alcohol shaving lotion old spice tropic fantasy it’s easy to forget just how hard it was to earn his love and companionship exile that he was with Guadalajara hair a faint curse was ever on his lips for the routines of Lutheran synecdoche and sarcasm dripped constantly in the twinkle of his cinematic eyes still I burrowed in his post meridian clasp a whole afternoon with his lemon drops and Mexican newspaper headlines in and out of oils and acrylics on canvas street names for unknown saints and incense burning dense as beeswax in the air distance was his propriety and music with Saint John of the Cross at 3 AM blear-eyed from bar-hopping bouts and mornings wrapped in tortilla dough he hustled remote as a pyramid of oil through days of anathema and dialect how could I in his embrace ever fall curtail my living self in his promised death full hours of plight and anguish smoking decks of pall mall cigarettes his hand unwavering holding the subtle brush to splash color over an unwrapped thought a cathedral a half-dead donkey colonial houses muffled in Aztec silver-work filigree of bluish haze his archaic skies riddled with recollections of a mountain and the immense purple mysteries of a Tenochtitlan buried in Toltec grief winding sheets and Amarillo sweat dying the ruffled edges of his floating bed his caravanserai of forbidden paramours a theater of nickel soaps and pulque the brash despair of his uprooted life going in circles long Sunday afternoons when ennui put on a German mask deriding the colloquy of his solitude but to nuzzle up to his bristling breath and die a hundred times just for once before his own soul took to flight five thousand miles from his birth that crazy Mexican of elegance and ire how far however far from the painted rocks and shifting gravel of his planned walk-away only the broken vowels of his idiom the consonants of cactus and parakeet cajole my drowsing ear this ancient day when the whole world tilts drowning in a gold-fish bowl and darkness overtakes drowns in a gold-fish bowl and darkness overtakes 03-19-20
Ivan Argüelles is an 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.
Follow along as Rebecca Granado performs "Tres Millas a mi Libertad"
I could taste freedom from my bedroom window. Where the silhouette of that town was visible. Nothing but dry, barren land came between me, and that town. It was a three mile walk of anticipation, and well worth it back in the day. Blazing that trail, the sun beating down on my shoulders, the hot tar road under my feet. Vultures circling in the sky, helicopters calculating their radius. These were the sights when I walked that stretch of road.
The migra would pass me on that road at top speed in their hummers as they were led to the scene by an anonymous tip. Up ahead I could see a roadblock in the making, marked by orange cones and bright reflectors to warn all traffic that suspicion lay ahead. My route would detour on the halfway point, before the port, before customs, before the suspicion marked by the men in green. The halfway point was the Go For It Café. a.k.a. Old man Bobbos.
What better place to taunt the men in green. They would watch us with their binoculars partying at the café. In the distance on a hill next to a mansion is where they would retreat. How did we know they were watching? We had binoculars, too. Suspicion was all around. We would shout gritos to the migra while we danced, sang, and drank our 40’s to Chalino. What were they gonna do? Nothing. We are American citizens in our every right. These men in green had arrested our antepasados at one point. Maybe it was a long time ago, but we carried that desesperación.
La neta éramos sinvergüenzas en esos tiempos. I mean we would walk 3 miles carrying a box of empty Negra Modelo bottles for refills. We were thirsty. Not only for la crema de la cerveza pero también por la libertad, que nos esperaba en el otro lado. Sabíamos que algo nos esperaba. Cruzamos día tras día, buscando esa libertad. Queríamos escapar! Get away from the rigidity of the red, white, and blue. Al cruzar, presencia militar, cuernos de chivo, chalanes acompañando los jefes. I'm home, I would think to myself. Tranquilidad, protección, ánimo. Where else but home would we cruise in bulletproof trucks, being chased by army tanks, shot at con unos r-15’s.
Yo quería ser la novia de un Mafioso. Yo quería ser adornada con joyas y viajar a lugares exóticos. Llegar a mi destino, pero en un jet privado. Disfrutamos de la comida más rica, usábamos ropa de la tela más fina, escapábamos a las playas más bonitas del mundo. Las mexicanas no nos querían a las chicanas. Ellas veían que cruzábamos dia tras dia. They longed for our life on the other side and we wanted their freedom, on their side. We had it both ways, and they couldn’t, and they hated us for it.
La vida aparece como fantasma y la muerte desaparece al cerrar los ojos. Learning to run, duck and dodge, jumping out of moving vehicles, this was the life, this was the freedom we sought. Cada vez que cruzábamos y regresamos vivos, nos daba mas valor seguir cruzando. Cruzaba la garita a todas horas, en todas condiciones, faltandoles respeto a los aduanales. Me valia madre. When you escape bullets, death, rape, and secuestros no one can touch you, it changes a person. Yo no pensaba lo que a mi me daba valor, le quitaba honor a otra persona.
My intuition guided me all along that road to freedom. It whispered in my ear as I chugged, as I exhaled the smoke from my toke, as my paranoia grew. Constantly having to watch over my shoulder, trusting no one, especially not myself. Now a hundred miles and twelve feet of steel fence obscure my view of that silhouette. I can no longer thirst for that road. The bottles remain empty. Binoculars with no one in sight.
Rebecca Granado, born and raised in Columbus, New Mexico, dropped out of high school and traveled the country by bus, living in tents along the way. “An undeclared social researcher,” as she called herself, she resumed schoolwork and earned a Master of Science in Family and Child Science and Addiction Studies from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. This story in Somos en escrito is her first publication. Rebecca is working on a first novel.
Rinconcito es un rincón pequeño especial en Somos en escrito para escritos cortos: un poema, un cuento, una memoria, ficción de repente, y otros. 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.
Por/By Sylvia Eugenia
Meintren tegas a las botayas something something (we will live with the bottle until we die with the bottle.) My mom had whiskey for the first time at nine; "tu flaca,” a Catholic martyr in the making in Managua. We had more in common that skin would tell. “aww, who’s this cabvrona?!” So, the conversation happens and my brain starts. I could try to talk about my fathers’ fathers’ father in Syria, offer up some patriarchal evidence of who this body is made up of. I would be telling a blood truth; but, nothing in me exists attached to that country or custom or people. I could talk about kibby, silt-coffee, un-filtered cigarettes; what is to be a man. My primary leaned lesson from that truth was not talking about “it.” By “it,” I mean, anything, like, ever. But, let's set aside a part of that part of skin steeped in side-stepping emotions and focus on the Pisces. By that, I mean, the woman. The female, the femme. The bruja of us. The emotional from us. I’ll conjour the grit of the saintly body that takes up the most space in me. My mother. I will tell you about mi mama, deliver my cred. Mira, I am the “simberguensa” crying crocodile tears that will never, could never suffer enough or know what real suffering was like. I’ll tell you about this potty mouth “chavala” that would cause my mother to gasp dramatically (inhale) “Que vulgarite, que vulgar” This is a story from the outside of an insider. Pero, an assimilated gordita. Por supuesto blanco, that is. Que?! I haven’t a clue I speak Spanish poorly, comprehend it fairly and understand it from the warm rain coming through pores. I agonize over this, I abide by this, I lose myself. I instinctually, move forward with the cross. My cross is only second hand but still holds like brand new. Thorns and nails are upkept to fashion my own contemporary guilt. Self-torture and my ability to say words that I didn’t even know existed on my tongue. “Aye dios” without a second thought” has turned into “aye dios; fuhckkkk” A Central American mujer walks away to suffer in silence as the Middle Eastern man stays to have the final say. Look at me, my everything “all nalgas peladas” This is my body, mi corazon, for all to see. Es mi vida.
Sylvia Eugenia combines elements of fiction and memoir into a prose poetry. Her poems have no structure except, the pauses in her breath and metronome of her heartbeat. She graduated from Mills College, Oakland, California, with a BA in English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She has presented her work at many small readings in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2013, she performed at Beast Crawl in Oakland and Lit. Crawl in San Francisco. She lives in Santa Cruz, Cali.