Mi Mama. Mi Pelo.
by Marissa Phillips
Mama, I still struggle to grasp our native tongue
Pero, I want to say gracias
For the thankless job you toiled at
At a time when I hated myself
Y mi pelo
When you fell in love with papa – his dark skin, coarse hair
Did you ever consider the result?
You weren’t ready for these curls, this frizz
You didn’t quite understand
The social currency of straight hair
In a white rural school
Because you love me
You figured they would too
First, we tried to contain it
Hair ties as restraints seemed like a good idea
But only brought me attention
The biggest ponytail that school had ever seen
“Fluffy” the boy called me, with a smile
Deemed me the class mascot, as if it were an honor
Next, we tried to hide it
Sulfuric smell filling the room as chemicals killed my curls
Made my hair break off
Burned my scalp
But I was beautiful
For a few months every year I was almost beautiful
Remember how mad I’d get when you couldn’t do my hair right?
Right was limp and lifeless
My hair always too big, too full of life
I’d wish boys would say
“Wow, you take up so little space”
Even your best attempts left tiny curls at my scalp
Like dirt I could never wash off
My hair is different now
It’s lived a thousand lives
My curls are bent, misshapen
Gnarled by decades of discontent
Pero, I’ve come to accept them
Even embrace what they are
A reminder that, against her better judgement
Mama tried her best
To make me feel beautiful
Despite always knowing
You cannot fix lo que ya es hermoso
Marissa Phillips is a Puerto Rican writer and artist living in Harrisburg, PA. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.
Rinconcito is a special little corner in Somos en escrito for short writings: a single poem, a short story, a memoir, flash fiction, and the like.
by Michele Shaul
Were I to subscribe to reincarnation
I would call him
Men interested in their own aggrandizement
In the guise of stabilizing the whole
Contemporaries abound that offer parallel
Egos and interests
Bonding in their embodiment of self-interest,
exploitation, and greed
But even those bonds were not enough to fulfill his insatiable needs,
to maintain his self-absorption,
To bolster his insecurities
His counterparts quickly fell short in worshipping at his shrine
Escalation of efforts to uplift his need pushed ahead
No concern for consequences
No shame at deception
Yet soon, God willing,
Our own defective incarnation will disperse just as the edge of twilight slides into obscurity.
Michele Shaul was born in Oakland, CA to a Kansas farm boy and a Key West girl. Her mother’s maternal family immigrated to Havana, Cuba and subsequently Key West, FL in the 1800s. Her paternal grandfather was born in Havana and moved to Key West where he married her grandmother and managed the local tobacco factory until his death.
Michele currently lives with her family in Charlotte, NC where she is the Director of the Center for Latino Studies and a professor of Spanish at Queens University of Charlotte, formerly serving as Chair of the World Languages Department for 22 years. She is co-founder and co-editor of the e-journal Label Me Latina/o and is involved in several arts and social outreach projects that use art as a vehicle to address the topics of diversity and tolerance. Her writing has been predominantly academic in orientation although in recent years she has had the opportunity to write more creative pieces. Her critical essays are published in a number of journals and collections. Her translation of the novel The Suitcases was published in 2005 and her poem “Vida cercada” appeared in Minerva (5 (2), septiembre-diciembre 2005. Mellen Press published her book A Survey of the Novels of Ana Castillo: A Contemporary Mexican American Writer (2016). Her short story “Mixed Reviews/Reseñas mixtas” has been selected for inclusion in Nos pasamos de la raya/We Crossed the Line Vol. 2 (Slough Press, 2021 anticipated). The collection of essays Not White/Straight/Male/Healthy Enough: Being “Other” in the Academy coedited with Michael Moreno and Kathryn Quinn-Sánchez was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2018). Her essay “We Met Pregnant at the Snack Bar” is included as part of the collection. The book Contemporary U.S. Latinx Literature in Spanish (Palgrave, 2018) was co-edited with Kathryn Quinn-Sánchez and Amrita Das. Teatro latino: Nuevas obras de los Estados Unidos, coedited with Trevor Boffone, Amrita Das, and Kathryn Quinn-Sanchez, was published by La Casita Grande (2019). The collection of essays Whiteness in the Workplace edited with Michael Moreno and Kathryn Quinn-Sánchez was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2020). Her translation in partnership with Erin Debell and Liliana Wendorff of Miguel Orosa’s play Brave Women and Laughter (Quite a long night’s journey throughout Latin America) was published by Proyecto Ñaque Editorial (2020) and her translation of Enrique Weichs’ Anteayeres (Before Yesterday), also teaming with Erin Debell, is currently seeking a publisher. Michele directs the Latino Studies Project which is a student/faculty research project that seeks to document the story of the Latino population in the Charlotte region. She is the recipient of the Queens’ 2016 Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award.
to get burned in places unseen
"Orphan," "The Landing," "The Food's Delicious, You're Not Welcome," "The Contrition Between US" excerpted from at the foot of the mountain by Tak Erzinger.
When your mother decides to leave,
do you tell the world?
What if everyone thinks it’s your fault?
You could pretend it didn’t happen,
never talk about it and over-compensate with many things, become an awesome painter
share your artwork full of hidden meaning.
Maybe people will forget to ask.
It will push you to develop in ways you never imagined, maybe ways she would’ve been proud of, if she’d been around.
Like how you can really dance, the way she could always dance, the way you followed her steps to the beats of all the albums she bought you,
holding hands, she’d swing you around and around, pulling you close and pushing you back,
keeping you spinning,
you’d hear, I’ll always be there for you.
It’s not what she said though.
She was only singing.
When they tell you, you’ve
had a nervous breakdown
you become like an astronaut
you find yourself drifting,
pleading for someone to provide you
with the right equipment.
In the right space
you can deploy like the Eagle
confronting the “magnificent desolation” resolutely.
To be able to sink your feet into the
lunatic surface will be a revelation
tip-toeing through craters formed
long before you were born.
If you run low on fuel
at least you will have finally seen
what those wounds look like
up close and personal and like
the dark side of the moon
allow the parts unseen to be
tucked back into the envelope
of your universe.
every exploration takes time
The Food’s Delicious, You’re Not Welcome
Once adults become a certain age
it’s a matter of time before they reminisce
to talk of the past
and say it was better
Ethnic food piled high
they’ll question Why, dear friend,
aren’t you afraid?
and lick their lips in satisfaction
It requires a stranger, light-skinned
without a funny surname
to offer up dishes, exotic recipes
on familiar ground
This individual, welcomed like a pet
loves the taste of cheeseburgers
heats up the grill
to fire up their lies
The irony of being accepted
the memory of a childhood
chewing her up and spitting her out
just a little taste
garlic sautéed softens
too much spice can ruin the meal
adulting in measured cups
does not guarantee the right flavour
The common denominator loves the food
but does that mean its balanced?
I’ve learnt to share those dishes while I continue
to get burned in places unseen and am
left with scorched pans, unable to replace them.
The Contrition Between Us
We are like two cats circling,
insecure, heated, fearful.
Each one vying for his place,
seeds that have scattered haphazardly
breaking cracks in the cement,
vulnerable and strong at the same time.
It’s like we’ve forgotten what brought
us to this place: the promises,
like a wide and clear spring sky, its
passing clouds, whispers tucked under
our pillows. The scent of love lingers,
over empty plates and glasses, still warm
from the summer’s evening sun
easing the tension, making us forget
a moment about the family we will never
TAK Erzinger is an American/Swiss poet and artist with a Colombian background. Her poetry has been featured in Bien Acompañada from Cornell University, The Muse from McMaster University, River and South Review, Wilkes University and more. Her debut chapbook entitled, “Found: Between the Trees” was published by Grey Border Books, Canada 2019. Her then, unpublished poetry manuscript “At the Foot of the Mountain” was short-listed by the Eyelands Book Awards 2019 and Willow Run Book Awards 2020. It has now been published by Floricanto Press out of California, 2021. Her first audio drama Stella’s Constellation has been produced by Alt.Stories and Fake Realities Podcasts, out of the UK.
She lives in a Swiss valley with her husband and cats.
"The rub recipe that’s been in your matriarch’s lineage before your hombre was even a thing"
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.
Dial M for Machismo
by Marisol Lozano
Men, Mensos, Machos, Mamones.
Los hombres tell me my shorts are too short, I’ll make the older men think bad thoughts.
Los hombres tell me to cook, clean, be a woman.
Can’t you see, estupida? The machistas mow the grass you lay your head on while you think.
Los hombres are turning me into a consumable chick, breed as many kids as you can, in the baby mill inside your body.
You fucking dog.
Starve your kids, starve your hombre, bury them and roast them like winning hogs.
Salivate thinking about the man who has been roasting underground with potatoes, onions, chilies. Think about the sweet basting sauce that was carefully poured over his thick light skin. Basting liquid that was slowly and carefully massaged on his body making sure it made its way down the scores on his body.
Think, think, think.
Think about the rub recipe that’s been in your matriarch’s lineage before your hombre was even a thing. Let your mouth water as you think about crisping his skin on the grill
over coal. Watching carefully making the skin glassy and crispy for a midnight snack.
Los hombres no son Buenos hombres.
Los Machos stand by the wall, one foot planted on the ground one touching the wall.
Los machos say ‘en mi casa yo mando’ Code for, ‘My women. Eat my shit.’
Los hombres y los machos van a ver.
Los hombres y los machos are allowed to get angry.
They grab you like a doll and throw you to the wall.
Los machos named, Mario, Mariano, Marco, wrap their thick big hands around your neck and refuse to let you breathe.
Los machos suffocate you. Finish you off on the floor kicking and dragging you around your home.
Clumps of hair scattered on the floor, scratch marks on the floor trying to save yourself, broken nails, ruined face.
Grab a fistful of el macho’s hair and bring his skull to your direct vision. Slowly bring a dull knife to where his forehead and hairline meet, scrape the knife against the soft sweaty skin, and stab. Slowly, insert the dull blade into the skin making sure to hit the right spots that make him squirm.
Remind el macho why you’re doing this, he needs to learn.
Go around his head forcing the blade on him making him wince, feel the same pain you do. Hum a soft tune while you dig deep into his tissue scraping, digging giggling. Pull his scalp and listen to slurping and pulling of his tissue.
Listen to the cries of the demon, relish in his pain. He deserves this, he needs to learn and become broken. Do it for the failed women, who were fooled by these men.
Los hombres, los machos, y los mamones do as they please,
And we’re supposed to be okay with it.
Marisol Lozano is a BA English student with a concentration in Literature and a minor in Film Studies at UTRGV. A Chicana from the Fronteras trying to seam her Mexican and American identities together. A daughter of a Mexican man who was never swayed by the American dream and a proud Tejana. She loves her parents, sisters, dog, and grandparents.
Tres Millas a mi Libertad
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.
Excerpts from The Canción Cannibal Cabaret, a performance work