"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.