NANCY AIDÉ GONZÁLEZ
THE POET: A PERSONAL NARRATIVE
I was born on a hot day on July 3rd at 12:24 PM in the Imperial Valley to my parents, Amelia and Jose Luis González. I am told I came out of my mother's womb crying for life with a full head of black hair that stuck straight up. I was named Nancy because it means “Grace of God.” My mom felt that I was a gift from God because she almost lost me several times during her pregnancy. She was fragile when she was pregnant and skinny. To her, it was a miracle that I was born because she had endured a painful pregnancy. My middle name was chosen to be Aidé because my mom loved a novela that had an actress named Aidé in it who was intelligent and beautiful. Aidé is a variant form of the name Heidi which means “of a noble kind.” When I was born, both sides of my family were at the hospital. I was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. I was greeted with an abundance of love.
My story is interwoven with the story of my mother and father. My mother, Amelia, was born in El Paso, Texas, and was raised in Mexico by her Tía Cuca. Her father and mother had separated when she was a baby. Neither her father nor mother could raise her, so she was sent to live with her Tía Cuca in a peach-colored adobe house in Delicias, Chihuahua. Tía Cuca took in my mother, her twin sister, Tita, and youngest sister, Armida. She and her sisters worked to earn their keep at their Tía Cuca's who had them clean, cook, and feed the chickens and pigs. There she went to school and attended a very strict Christian church. My mom came to the United States when she was 16 to live with her aunt. She worked in the fields of the Central Valley, picking fruits and vegetables. Then she moved to San Bernardino to live with her Tía Cholita. My mother always felt like an outsider. She encountered racism in high school. She was told to “go back to Mexico” and called a “beaner” by her classmates. My mom learned English in high school.
My father, Jose Luis, was born in El Paso, Texas, and his family moved to San Bernardino, California, when he was a child. He did not know Spanish well. His father worked picking up garbage for the city as a sanitation worker, and his mother was a housewife. My father had four siblings. They were devout Catholics who attended church on Sundays. My father grew up playing baseball, chess, and wrestling. In high school, he was on the wrestling team. My father played saxophone in the school band.
My mother and father met at San Bernardino High School. My mother was enamored with him. He was popular and considered handsome by the girls. They went on dates, but my mom's aunt was strict and would only let my mom stay out until seven in the evening. My mother was very religious and conservative while my father went to parties and dated other girls. After they graduated from high school, they continued to date and fell in love. Eventually, they got married in a church in 1976. There are photos of them at the wedding in an album. My mom wore a white dress made of lace and looked radiant. My father had a light blue bow tie and cummerbund. They are smiling in their wedding pictures while they cut the three-tier cake and have their first dance. In the wedding photos, they are full of hope and joy.
They were young when they married. My mother had me a year later when she was 23 years old. She decided to go to junior college. My father worked at a carpet business for a while, laying down carpet in homes. My brother, Michael, was conceived two years later. Then my father started to work for the Santa Fe railroad. He began traveling to lay down tracks and fix the railroad tracks in different cities. My brother was born when my father began working for Santa Fe railroad. Then one day, my father injured his back, laying down the tracks for the railroad. The doctor gave my father prescription drugs for his back pains. The prescription drugs were not enough. My father turned to illegal drugs and alcohol to escape the pain. He began hanging out with people who did illicit drugs and became an addict. I was three years old at the time.
Once someone becomes addicted to drugs, their lives change, and priorities shift. The addiction takes over, the person's personality changes, this is something I learned as a child. My father's addiction affected our family. My mother did not allow drugs in our house. My father was angry, jobless, and in pain. He would leave my mother, brother, and me for weeks, then months. Each time he returned, my mother and father would argue. My father would beat my mother. I would hide in the closet among the softness of clothing in the darkness. My brother would be crying in his crib. After my father beat my mother, he would leave the house as quickly as he arrived. The door would slam and shake the house on F Street. The engine of his yellow Duster would rev then speed away. I would come out of the closet to find my mother on the floor. She usually had a black eye and was bleeding from her nose. I would lay on the floor and hug her. We would cry together. Then my mother would eventually get up off the floor. She would clean her face and put ice on her eye. We would sing Christian hymns until we were tired. A few days later, my father would come home and beg my mother for forgiveness on his knees. He would promise he would change and cry. My mother would forgive him. For a week, there would be peace. We would go to church together. My mom and dad would hold hands while watching TV. Then my father would leave.
The last time he left, I was five years old. He called my mom from a crackling payphone in September 1982. He told my mom that he was going to make a lot of money on a business deal. The money was going to change our lives, and everything was going to improve. A few weeks passed, and my father was found with fifteen bullet holes in his chest. Joggers in the Arrowhead mountains discovered his body in the bushes. The autopsy report indicated the last thing he had eaten was blood oranges. The police did not investigate or look for who killed my father. Due to the condition of my father's body, at his funeral, the casket was closed. I remember people at the funeral whispering while looking at me, “Do you think she knows she won't see her father again?” I remember staring at the black and white tile of the funeral home while a woman from our church sang “Amazing Grace.” I understood that my father was no longer alive, and I would never see him again.
A recurring nightmare during my childhood was that my mother and brother were in a car accident. In my dream, they were in the yellow Datsun driving by in front of the house on F Street in San Bernardino. Then a semi-truck would come out of nowhere and crash into the Datsun. I would witness the crash in slow motion. In the dream, I would want to move from the porch to run towards them, but I could not move. I would be frozen, and when I screamed, nothing would come out of my mouth. I would wake up in a sweat, unable to move.
I learned early on that words had power. I learned that the words my father yelled at my mother hurt her. I learned that the words of the lullabies my mother sang to me soothed me. I learned that lyrics in music I listened to by the record player could move me to dance. I learned in church that the words of the Bible were important. Words could build up or tear down. They could hurt and create invisible scars.
My mother taught me my letters and numbers when I was four years old. She was in junior college and then attended San Bernardino State University. She wanted to be an elementary school teacher. She worked as a teacher's aide when I was in kindergarten while going to University. My mother would read books to me. I loved when she read me Goodnight Moon, Curious George, Little Red Riding Hood, and Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. I would ask her to read the books over and over. When she took me to the library, I was overjoyed to pick new stories that ignited my imagination.
I struggled with reading in first grade. It wasn't until mid-first grade that I was taken to the optometrist. I had acute astigmatism and chose glasses with dark purple frames. I was delighted to have my glasses because, for the first time, everything was clear. Then to my dismay, I wore the glasses to school, and children made fun of me. They called me “four eyes,” and a boy told me, “You look ugly.” I sobbed in the bathroom all recess, and when I got back to class, I shoved my glasses to the back of my desk. I didn't wear my glasses at school. However, I needed my glasses to see, so I did not know what was going on in class. I couldn't see the letters on the board; everything was a blur. I disliked school, and I would daydream. I was seated in my chair in the classroom, but my mind was somewhere else. I would imagine being “Wonder Woman” and sliding down rainbows. It wasn't until third grade that I began to wear my glasses at school. I learned to read in third grade because I could actually see the words on the page without squinting. I had a reading anthology that my teacher sent home with me. I would practice reading every night with my mom or stepdad.
One of my favorite teachers was Mrs. Whitfield. I had her for both fifth and sixth grade in El Cajon, California. She had us read Johnny Tremain, which is an historical fiction novel written by Ester Forbes set before the American Revolution. I remember that Johnny hurts his hand as a silversmith and could no longer use it. I felt empathy for his character, who had one hand and had a love interest named Cilla. It was the first young adult novel that I read that moved me. After reading Johnny Tremain, I became an avid reader. I would go home and read until it was time for me to go to sleep. Mrs. Whitfield also had my class memorize a poem a week. I remember we had to recite poetry to her and get graded. I memorized “Eldorado” by Edgar Allen Poe and “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. She also let us pick poetry to read in front of the class. I was timid and I remember I chose to read “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes in front of my class. I was only 12, and I did not fully understand all the concepts the poem addressed. I remember the line, “Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed-…” I remember shaking while reading the poem, each word was loudly spoken with conviction. The class clapped after I read the poem, and Mrs. Whitfield said, “Nancy is a poet!” Mrs. Whitfield believed in me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. She expected a lot from me as a student, and I excelled in her class. She made me feel seen. She awarded me a student of the year award in six grade.
I don't think there is an exact moment that one becomes a writer. I just know that I liked to write. I remember writing a short story about a grandfather and granddaughter in seventh grade. My English teacher read the story to the class and said I was talented. After class, he took me outside and told me I should consider going to college. I told him I planned on going to college when I grew up. My mom and stepdad had ingrained the idea into my mind that I was going to college when I was six years old.
My mom would take my brother and me to daycare to attend afternoon classes at San Bernardino State University. After class, my mom would let my brother and me run in the grass. My mom met my stepdad, John, in a Mexican history class. They were friends at first then they began dating after my father passed away. I did not trust John when I met him. I would not talk to him and did not make eye contact with him. Then he slowly became an integral part of my life. He would take my mom, brother, and me to pizza. He would babysit my brother and me. My brother and I did things with him that we were not allowed to do when my mom was around, like jump on the bed and dance. He took us to have chili dogs for breakfast. He told us dad jokes, and he still does. My stepdad accepted my brother and me as his own. John and my mom got married when I was nine years old. My brother and I were in the wedding. I was the flower girl, and my brother was the ring bearer. My mom and stepdad have been married for thirty-four years. It is from them that I know how love can change lives.
In high school, I would write in a journal about my thoughts and feelings daily. I took Honors American Literature, where we read The Scarlett Letter and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I took Honors World Literature, where we read Things fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and other African literature. I never saw myself in the books and stories that I read until my sophomore year at California State University, Sacramento. I took a Chicana Literature course taught by Professor Graciela B. Ramirez who assigned books by Chicana authors that impacted my life. I read Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza , a semi-autobiographical work by Gloria E. Anzaldúa. I read Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma by Ana Castillo. I read This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, the feminist anthology edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa. I read The Moths and other Short Stories by Helena Maria Viramontes. I devoured these books because I saw myself in the essays and literature. I found myself and my culture described within the pages on these books, and it was empowering. It was the first time in my life that I thought I could be a writer. I was published in Calaveras Station, the literary journal at Sacramento State. I was overjoyed when I saw my poem in print.
Years went by, and I became an elementary school teacher. I would write poems in journals and napkins, but I never shared my work. It was not until 2011 when I decided I was going to take my writing seriously. I became very depressed because I wanted a child. I had been trying to conceive a child for a year. I have polycystic ovary syndrome, and I was put on metformin by my doctor. It made me ill, but I stayed on the metformin. Then one day, my mother said, “I hate seeing you sad. Perhaps you should accept that you might not ever conceive a child.” I contemplated this idea for a few weeks. Then I decided that if I could not conceive a child that I would give birth to thoughts and words in the form of poetry.
Poetry brought me back to life. I began writing poems and joined Escritores Del Nuevo Sol. At my first meeting, I read a poem about my female ancestors called “The Ones that Live On.” It was my soul that urged me to write the poem. Francisco X. Alarcón was a member of Escritores Del Nuevo Sol; he encouraged me to keep writing. Francisco X. Alarcón had a significant impact on me as a poet. He asked me if he could publish my poem on Poets Responding to SB1070 on Facebook. There, on Poets Responding to SB1070, I met other writers who were activists from across the nation. Joining a community of poets helped me gain confidence and discover my voice. I also joined the Sacramento Poetry Center and began hosting a poetry reading series called Mosaic of Voices for three years. I met brilliant poets while hosting the reading series. The readings were on Sunday afternoons; they became like church. Each poetry reading was spiritually and intellectually moving. I began submitting my work, and my poems were published in several literary journals and anthologies. My poetry friends became like a second family.
When I begin writing, I don't know where the poem is going or what will spill out onto the page. Sometimes I write poetry, then take a few lines and write another poem. Other times, a whole poem will come to me in the middle of the night, and I will get up and write it. Poetry that comes to me in the middle of the night rarely needs to be edited. Some poems I revise and re-edit until I feel they are done. I know when a poem is done when I feel it in my heart that there are no words I want to change or images I want to insert. Writing allows me to explore my emotions and communicate ideas about the world around me. Poetry has helped me heal and has forced me to deal with pain. It has helped me understand my life experiences. It has helped me forgive others and myself. I have written poems about my father and my infertility. It has helped me transform into a more introspective individual. Part of being a writer is observing and experiencing each moment. I notice the smallest things, dust in the air, the smell of earth, and sunshine through leaves. Poetry allows me to take my pain and make it into something heartbreakingly raw and beautiful. My soul moves me to put pen to paper and give birth.
THE POETRY OF NANCY AIDÉ GONZÁLEZ:
“…something heartbreakingly raw and beautiful”
La Virgen de Las Calles
for Ester Hernandez
She stands on the
busy street corner
selling delicate red
and white roses
hugged by baby's breath
and luminous cellophane
resting in a
She understands the innate
beauty of roses,
their fragrant hope
as they grow slowly
from bud to emerge
as they flush into
She knows of
and truth of crossing
barbed wire borders.
the prickling sting,
of being an outsider.
She wears a large
sweatshirt with USA
emblazoned in block
print across her chest
but she misses Mexico
and the small town
she was raised in.
A red and green
rebozo hangs down
upon her head shielding
her from the fulgent sun,
a gift from her mother,
a reminder of home.
People stride past her
lost in their own thoughts
hustling to work,
on pressing errands,
wandering down the tangle
of the Los Angeles landscape.
She is La Virgen de las Calles,
waiting with a
full of yearning,
a fountain of
and abounding love.
La Virgen de las Calles
nature of roses,
their need for nettle.
Riding in the ’63 Impala
cruis’n el corazón del barrio
carnalitos y carnalitas running through sprinklers
abuelas y abuelos on the porch talk’n about the old days
cholos playing handball at the high school
women in the beauty shop getting their hair did
taquerías panaderías heladerías
I’m Your Puppet
La La Means I love You
Thin Line Between Love and Hate
Sabor A Mí
through the streets of Califaztlan
Chrome spoke wheels spin
low and slow
variations of pink paint layers glisten
hard top covered in a garden of hand painted gypsy roses
lean back upon velvet pink interior
flip the switch
hit the hydraulics
dip and raise
dip and raise
hop hop hop
off the ground in the intersection
the journey has just begun
let’s chase the immensity
of the moment
I become earth’s
remembrance of everything
creviced skin of red rock
endless pregnant season
I want to understand this world, your scars
stay cradled by tree arms
delve in splinters
my womb is filled with clay
barren it throbs
I want to say many things
but my words are trapped in caverns
where bats hide from redundancies
no one told me of the gritty essence
of the residue that settles
Black star dying
innumerable deaths in this life
we have come here to the waters
we are he and she
or man and woman
scent of copper and jasmine
we sip smoldering gravity
separated space fills
a serenade in golden afternoon
unborn twins sob
otherworldly whimpers timeless
they can be heard by the bees and ants
they enter this wasteland we inhabit
nameless they will remain, my infants
Adrift we are. Come to me. I am alone.
wild horses turnover the headstones
take my ovaries spine skull
take the truth I search for in crushed leaves,
in the fading contrails of fading light.
Zapata y Frida
By chance they meet at a bar
she drinks tequila shots
she wants to be life itself
he caresses his gun
he longs for uprising.
he strokes his mustache, his wet lips glistening
she touches her brow, her eyes aflame
they speak of monkeys and flowers, of war and borders
in the corner they become the world itself, spinning off axis
they laugh loudly and don’t notice people staring
“Take me away,” she says.
She places her hands on his face
studies his indigenous features
examines his eyes
“I know you” she says. “I have known you all my life.
You will cause my slow death.”
She unbraids her hair
her pink ribbons fall to the tierra
he take off her embroidered dress
he places his hands upon her small breasts
they devour each other’s skin
thrusting and precise piercing
moaning until night melts into brightness
there are no promises made
upon the wet grass
after she places her head upon his chest
and hears the drum of his heart
“You will remember me.” she says.
They ride horses through Morelos
near sugar cane fields
“It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees,” he says.
“Death knocks at my door,” she says.
“I have no mercy,” he says.
“Please have mercy on me,” she says.
The next time they make love
she unhinges him
touches the wilderness with abandon
hunger drives them deeper into
the topography of vermillion desire
An eagle sits on a cactus
and watches them dance to corridos
she pulls him close with her rebozo
“We are home,” she says.
That night she has a dream
she is in the forest alone
she is a deer and arrows puncture her flesh
she awakes sobbing and gasping
paint splattered on her face
She reaches for him.
“No llores,” he says.
“I want to be your soldadera,” she says.
He vanishes in the middle of the night
he leaves her a rifle with a rose in the barrel
she takes her brush and paints.
Smell of dirt and sweat
Mingled with whiskey and cigarettes
the train resounds, he is home.
All day he mends railroads
comes home & takes of his dusty boots,
the sour aroma of twilight.
I watch his face
think of the softness of the figs
growing in the backyard,
play with dolls.
He calls me outside
talks to me as he smokes a joint
about constellations and the dangers of night,
I tell him of the butterfly I caught and set free.
The red porch paint peels,
nearby the cactus grows entangled
this is our small space
his jagged hand caresses my face,
above a shooting star scars the sky.
Then he and my mother fight
A blur of fists, blood
his departure marked with dissipating smoke.
I don’t want to know the details
of where he went
or how he felt as all those bullets
punctured his flesh.
All I hear is his distant voice on the cracking
phone line saying, “I will be home soon.”
On the way to the funeral
we stop as the train roars
car after car after car speed by
weight & rhythm of wheel on steel,
he has gone home.
I am a foreigner in my own country
there is torment in the disconnection,
I examine the geometries of mountains and
pass by clamorous rivers,
the land remains the same.
The land remains the same
in the mirror, reflection
my face is my own
my wide brown eyes
my carefully drawn red lips,
the world has changed.
The world has changed,
I send a letter to a good friend
Wait for an answer that might never arrive,
the mailbox is empty
I must fill my own emptiness.
I must fill my own emptiness
the dirty laundry piles up,
politicians recite alternative lies on television
lying has somehow become the norm,
I march with millions in protest against injustice
raise my voice for the voiceless,
raids round up “unauthorized” immigrants
to be sent to Mexico,
there is an unraveling of fear and hate.
There is an unraveling of fear and hate
my soul knows the unsayable,
I drive to work and back home
throw things on the ground to see
how they fall,
pick up wilted flowers
try to revive them,
find a dead seagull on the path
blood encrusted with dirt
broken wing hanging,
I search for the bare skinned essence of
light within darkness.
I search for the bare skinned essence of
light within darkness,
at the park a small girl holds a red balloon
she becomes distracted by laughter
lets go of the string
watches the balloon float to meet the sun,
I want to peel the sun
lay my fingers on permanence.
I want to peel the sun
lay my fingers on permanence,
rays illuminate a thick black arrow tattooed
on the cashier’s forearm,
I want to follow the arrow
to where it might take me,
so I may arrive at the unseen,
I am a foreigner in my own country
the land remains the same
yet my world has changed,
memory filters through lace wings
those I thought I knew,
have become strangers.
Expedition of the Heart
for Christina Fernandez
A woman’s voice whispers in español
there is no silence during daylight hours
only memory arranged and scattered days that become years
map charted life
air thick with absence, un canto.
1910, Leaving Morelia, Michoacán
Through Michoacán the fishermen throw
nets into clear waters
fish sink heart sick
light is submerged
revolution leaves dust
thick insurgent shapes arc
She clasps her hands gazes out
in the womb a child stirs
door-heart creaks in the empty house
resolve ripens becomes honeyed
she has died and has been resurrected
she must leave the river that sings
now the monarch beckons.
1919, Portland, Colorado
Stains have been scrubbed in laundry detergent
bleached in stark bubbles
that shine like prismatic marbles
creating rhythm on washboard ridges
soft hands massage grime, bitterness
Wooden pins fasten three shirts and a bed sheet
alabaster they flap in the breeze
She knows she must travel lightly
to float feathered
and bask in the impermanent sunlight.
1927, Going Back to Morelia
What is known, will be known
what I take in this black chest is not mine, it is ours.
These tracks will take me back
to the smell of copal and agave nectar
where I will kick the scorpion and hold the snake
I will invoke la Virgen.
I clasp these words written on crumpled paper
words that have carried me through vacant terrain
I hold these needles which I will use to thread together shreds
mend each emotion filament by filament.
I am not who I was
you will know me anew
I will rename each radiant blade of grass
each distant storm after you.
1930, Transporting Produce, Outskirts of Phoenix. Arizona
Be careful not to bruise the apples
that is not to spoil the flesh
I was told to twist the stem gently
leave the tree as it is
fruit is placed into wooden crates, carried to the truck
We were told there would be water and a bathroom there wasn’t
we were told we wouldn’t be sprayed with pesticides, we were
we were told many lies.
We watch majestic seasons clinched in foliage shift
follow the crops in old cars where they lead
we are strangers yet friends
we are hombres y mujeres
always leaving behind something someone each other
always searching orchards and rows for distant secrets, trying not to bruise.
1945, Aliso Village, Boyle Heights, California
I trust one and perhaps I trust none
I wear an apron
sweep and mop the houses of others, then my own
I clean mirrors so I can see
what is and what is not
wipe reflections with rags
as solitude encloses
After dusting, motes remain and gather
these granules the soul accumulates.
How far I have come,
each sepia detail crisscrossing
small daily miracles.
1950, San Diego
Faith has brought me to where I am
These things I touch with my two hands:
a hot stove, pots, pans, a cup of tea, my children
I belong to myself, to others.
This space is mine
this spot where the floor is illuminated
and love collapses
I need to tell you, you are enough
you will leave pieces of yourself scattered through the world
you will be drawn back by generations
of madres, padres, hermanas, y hermanos
you will envision your ancestors existed
far removed from desolation
that they were not lost
You will scrape together details of their lives
become the author of your history
tell their stories with your words
Our narratives will continue
we will find our way home.
© Poetry: Nancy Aidé González
Nancy Aidé González is a Chicana poet, educator, and activist. Her work has appeared in Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, La Tolteca, Mujeres De Maiz Zine, DoveTales, Seeds of Resistance Flor y Canto: Tortilla Warrior, Hinchas de Poesía, La Bloga, Fifth Wednesday Journal and several other literary journals. Her work is featured in the Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice, Sacramento Voices: Foam at the Mouth Anthology, and Lowriting: Shots, Rides, and Stories from the Chicano Soul.
Edited by poet and writer, and member of Círculo de Poetas y Escritores, Lucha Corpi, for Somos en escrito Magazine.