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.
Excerpt from visual poetry book GHROMYT by J. M. Calleja and Carlota Caulfield
"GHROMYT captures 24 hotels that became unique zones of our lives. We played with words and images until finding the expression of our recollections."
From Introduction by Jordi Marrugat Hotels appear in our space-time fabric as conjunctive nodes that collect the countless threads of the travelers' trajectories and open them to the current physical environment, to its supra-historical cultural projection and to inner personal intimacy. They are transit locations to which one abandons the familiar collective to come into contact with another before returning transformed: GHROMYT offers in terstitial zones of detached observation in which memory and novelty exchange flows to turn the traveler into some one else with new experiences, new memories, new images of himself/herself and the world. Linked to space and time, though, they seem like an opening or a pause in which everything momentarily becomes possible above and beyond everything. lts concretion is hardly seen or remembered. lts often homogeneous aesthetic undoubtedly contributes to this. The hotel is not experienced as a zone with its own entity, but as a portal to the wonder of the imagination renewed by contact with a place that, does in deed, impose its concreteness--unfortunately, though, one that is increasingly strained and diffused through rampant globalization.
The beauty and strangeness of GHROMYT's poems lies precisely in offering this multiple experience of the hotel in images. This is indicated by its no less strange and beautiful title: a combination of letters in which the random combinatorial nature of any trip seems to have intervened, the names of the travelers (the r and the o of Carlota, the m of J.M. Calleja), the h of hotel and a visual and playful use of language (the o to the center, as a nucleus, a mirror, a clock, a zero,a multidirectional starting point followed by "myt," evocative of "meet," the hotel as meeting place).
Each GHROMYT poem builds the image of a hotel as a gathering of experiences of different orders: personal memories, the silhouette of a city, its representative works of art, its known inhabitants, elements of the national flag, the rain... The language that Calleja and Caulfield construct, with its combination of concrete and visual poetry, its collages, paintings, and objets trouvés, proves magnificently capable of transcending the simplicity of the superficial, unconscious, linear gaze. The mixture of artistic resources within the book of poems accounts for the essential complexity of the conjured experience. The achieved form is already by itself the content of each poem. lt is not limited to giving an image that tries to re cover what has already been lived, but one that becomes a new experience enriched by the meeting of two poets. It transforms the personal memory from the shared present: it is projected backwards and forwards: photography is immersed in the future. Each page of GHROMYT does not seek the incautious evocation of a stay in a hotel, but is fully transfigured into a hotel where you can live, having new experiences.
J. M.Calleja was born in Mataro, Spain in 1952. Visual poet, multimedia artist and performer. Formed in the world of the image (photography-cinema), the artist realised various experimental films (8mm) between 1976-81. Coordinator and curator of different creative events.Expo sitions: Poesia Visual del'Estat Espanyol. Lleida1989(trav elling 1 year) and Poesia Visual Catalana. Barcelona 1999 (travelling 2 years). Anthologies:1 7 (Spanish Experimental Poetry) withJ.A.Sarmiento (1980),Poesía Experimental-93 (1993), Vl(r)US (2005), Poéticas Experimentales Catalanas with JordiMarrugat (2018),.•• xyzA-Cdef... (Anthology of Argentine and Catalan Visual Poetry) with Claudio Mangifesta (2019) and Vl(r)US-dos (2020).
lnstallations realised in Greece, México,Uruguay,Germany, France, ltaly and Spain. Performances realised in México, Brazil, Argentine, Uruguay, Italia, Germany, France and Spain Personal books: Llibre de leshores (1981), + Que mai per als ulls (1988), Mixtures (1993), Transfusions (1996), Alfabia (2000), Desfilada (2003), Homenajes (2007), Pets (2009), Mes de Maria (2011), ABCDarum with K.P.Dencker (2013), Huellas. Poemas visuales 1974-2006 (2013),Album 013(2016),Travessia with C.Mangifesta (2017),Dietari 015 (2018), Aquiahoraotravoz with A.Thornton (2021) and ln édits deis setanta (2021). www.jmcalleja.com
Carlota Caulfield was born in Havana, Cuba.A poet, essayist and translator, she has been recognized with many awards, among them the 2016-2019 Mills College W.M. Keck Professor in Creative Writing, the First lnternational Poetry Prize "Dulce María Loynaz," (Spain-Cuba 1999), and the lnternational Poetry Prize, Poets of the World, ("Ultimo Novecento") ltaly,1988. She has been a Visiting Scholar / Poet in Residence at the University of London, University College London, University of Grüningen, New Mexico State University, Pomona College and the University of Barcelona. She is Professor of lberian and Spanish American Studies at Mills College (California).
She is an active participant in Experimental and Visual Poetry events. Caulfield also co-organized art projects and exhibitions in Spain, Mexico, New York, Holland, Oakland and SanFrancisco. She is the producer of the documentary Llígans. The Art of the Catalan Painter Carme Riera, directed by Ona Vega in 2008.Her work Le malheur d'aimer. Home naje a Dora Maar (piece of art) was exhibited in "Gráfica contemporánea y poesía experimental." Sináptica Exhibi tion, Mexico, 2021.
She is currently finishing a poetry book about New Mexican birds and completing her collection "Dreaming birds," drawings from the red dessert house (2020-2021). www.intelinet.org/sg_site/Caulfield
El viento soplaba, estrujando los surcos y dunas de arena, tanto agitando con ánimo, conchas, estrellas y todo el aserrín marino.
Que noche, y éste viento que me canta en lo oscuro, y las olas que me lloran, golpeando como sin abandono la arena con lágrimas frías, saladas.
Cuando miro hacia el cielo, un soplo de aire remolca las nubes, abriéndole paso a una lazca de luna, y al acarecer mi espalda, me arrastra con mágica vela.
Los misterios que esconden los caracoles de mar serán míos, vida de pescador con sudor en la frente será ésta, la mía.
En el mar contemplaré las sirenas chismeando sobre amores perdidos y de paisajes marinos, donde tempestas curiosas hunden secretos profundos.
Mientras miro al horizonte, pronto todo cesa, y la frialdad en mi espalda no me deja descansar Un punto de luz lejano, fijo trás las olas, papadeando vez en cuando como faro en la distancia.
Es hora de dormir, y con falsas esperanzas espero de que al cerrar mís ojos, mis huellas quedarán allí, en arenas de mis sueños, escondidas bajo las olas.
Y cuando el sol me despierte le pido que como un beso en mi frente, mi amante, el mar, me traiga calor y luz, y brizas frescas en la mañana.
An academic physician and scientific writer, Ricardo José González-Rothi has had his fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry featured in the U.S. and in the U.K., in Acentos Review, Hispanic Culture Review, Biostories, Foliate Oak, Lunch Ticket, The Bellingham Review, Molotov Cocktail, Star 82 Review, Wingless Dreamer, Litro and others. Born and raised in Cuba, he came to the United States as a refugee in his teens and now resides in North Florida.
Ode to the Fears of Children / Oda a los miedos infantiles
by Byron López Ellington
The snakes and arañas that skitter through the night Cucos y creepies and ghostly, ghastly creatures Llorona and shadows and things that just aren’t right Death too young, life too old, vastly nasty features Abandon and lying and truths too grand to know Solo, con miedo, y nada hacer puedes The earth itself can scream and wither, be your foe And trap you in darkness por años o meses Alive in your veins, sentimientos de raíz They crawl and creep and slither and wriggle in strife Te forman, te moldean, you are them, so nice Y el mundo los necesita for its life —For who you are is what they were, that old mess-- —Porque tu ser será lo qu’estarán, después.
Byron López Ellington is a Mexican-American poet, fantasy novelist-in-progress, and silly fellow from Austin, Texas. As of fall 2022, he is a student of creative writing and Spanish at the University of Iowa. You can find his other published works at byronlopezellington.com.
I want to hold my food Feel it with my fingers The texture on my skin Before I taste it I want to feel The oily tortilla of my taco al pastor I want to feel that rough tostada de ceviche That loses toppings As I crunch it
I want a warm tamal in my hand Salsa y queso y crema Dripping off the sides I want to eat that birria right: Con tortillas, en tacos, quesabirria Consomé dripping off my chin I want that chile verde in the gorditas And on the sopes to end up All over my fingers So I can lick it off I want to mop the mole off my plate With a warm tortilla
My daughter wants to eat salad or eggs With her fingers? Enjoy Roll up a pancake and eat it Like a taco? Go for it Hold those little trees of broccoli Pick up those peas and frijoles one by one Like they’re gems Touch that food, shape it, arrange it Some call it “playing with food” I call it “art” and my mom let me do it Orange Mexican rice teokalli Little flat-topped pyramids de arroz Were my recurring sculptures
Table manners are for tables Not for people who know How to experience their food Long before it gets in their mouth
Some would judge my way of eating But so what if my elbows Are on the table At least I’m not putting My codo on the minimum wage
So what if I slurp my caldo de pollo At least I’m not slurping All the profit off someone else’s labor
So what if I lick my fingers, smack my lips At least I’m not licking or kissing Anybody’s anything para quedar bien
So what if I play with my food At least I don’t play With other people’s lives
So what if I burp It’s better than talking hot air Making promises I won’t keep
There are some things I’ll never know Like why I’ve never Eaten enchiladas con las manos – yet Or why there’s a limit to how high I can pile the pozole on my spoon
But what I do know is that When my napkin stays on the table You can bet I’m leaning over my food, breathing it, Holding it, savoring it, The way food was meant to be handled
I leave nothing on my plate Snatch up those bits of carnitas Every last crumb of milanesa Belongs in my mouth And I’ll enjoy the leftovers con salsa Mañana
That’s how to handle comida ¡Con las manos!
Crunch those buñuelos Let the crumbs of criticism fall On a tapete of repurposed judgment Reduced hierarchy Recycled capitalism
Elizabeth Jiménez Montelongo is a visual artist, poet, and facilitator. Elizabeth's work is informed by her Indigenous ancestry, Mesoamerican philosophy, Mexika & Mixtec art, Mexican culture, Chicano history, and her experiences as a woman. Her paintings and sculptures have been exhibited across the United States and her poetry is published widely, including in print and online journals, and in anthologies such as: Nos pasamos de la raya/We Crossed the Line (2017), Azahares (2020), and Harvard’s PALABRITAS (2020). She was 2021 Creative Ambassador of the San José Office of Cultural Affairs. She is a Board Member of Poetry Center San José and Editor of La Raíz Magazine. www.ejmontelongo.com
Los hispanohablantes ya somos viajeros extraterrestres, ya hemos traspasado los límites de fronteras entre países, mundos, idiomas y la atmósfera misma.
Nuestras lenguas ya saben pronunciar los verdaderos nombres latinos de nuestro planeta, la tierra que recibe la luz de sol, con ocho minutos de retraso.
Para conocer el sistema solar y la vía láctea, solo hay que pedir el plano del metro de Madrid o un mapa de las islas Caribeñas donde allí se encontrarán toda la complejidad de una galaxia entera.
Los que hemos sobrevivido huracanes y tormentas ya hemos sentido los vientos feroces interestelares, habiendo pisado tierra firme cubierta en nieve y hielo como un asteroide.
La inminente destrucción cultural y ecológica de nuestra zona habitante nos impone a diseñar cohetes en Patagonia y construir bases de lanzamiento en el corazón de la cultura incaica cerca del ecuador.
Nosotros los que hemos sobrevivido lenguas cortadas por la conquista, memorias culturales asimiladas por los maestros en las aulas de inglés, ya sabemos lo que significa ir hacia las estrellas, ad astra per aspera.
Cuando las futuras generaciones cuentan nuestras historias, ya destacará la vitalidad de nuestras culturas e idiomas, la humanidad de esta tierra, sana y salva para nuestros descendientes.
Ad Astra, Our Motto
Us Spanish speakers are already extraterrestrial voyagers, we already have crossed the limits of borders between countries, worlds, languages, and our very atmosphere.
Our tongues already know how to pronounce the true Latin names of our planet, Earth that receive the light of sol, with an eight-minute delay.
To know and understand the Solar System and the Milky Way, simply request a map of the Madrid metro or Caribbean islands where all of the complexity of a whole galaxy can be found.
We who have survived hurricanes and storms have already felt fierce interstellar winds, having planted firm footprints covered in snow and ice like an asteroid.
The imminent cultural and ecological destruction of our inhabitable zone imposes a need to design rockets in Patagonia and design launch pads in the heart of the Incan culture, close to the equator.
We who have survived tongues cut from the conquest, cultural memories assimilated by teaching in English classrooms already know what it means to go beyond the stars, ad astra per aspera.
When future generations tell our stories, the vitality of our cultures and languages will emerge, the humanity of this earth, safe and sound for our descendants.
Angela Acosta is a bilingual Mexican American poet and scholar who grew up in Florida. She won the 2015 Rhina P. Espaillat Award from West Chester University for her Spanish poem “El espejo” and her work has appeared in Panochazine, Pluma, Latinx Lit Mag, and Eye to the Telescope. She has B.A. degrees in English and Spanish from Smith College, and she is currently completing her Ph.D. in Iberian Studies at The Ohio State University.
Listen to Sylvia perform "...the city.s killing me..."
the mother in your memory movie reminds me. my own mother in real life. palpably uncomfortable. polite. Puetoricenio en tu vida. instead pero…skin tone…voice tone…thats them (thats us) same but different I want to hear your friend speak in Spanish. Will you tell him? …the street makes us a threesome…I'm Poly for the art scene. When it was once then for a life time, they remember. I see the halo glow of a martyr to a mind. Your brain shares that similar smile to mine and no one knows what resides inside. Between us. Asimilar. dissimilar. unsimilar. to the outside. Someone tugged you out under this sun and brought that bloodline out with it. Pushed out another one constantly cradling their own demons.
Now stuck with the only them, the only I. I dreamt I had your swagger. Alone in a city park at night imagining the world, I'd be terrified. I can't run. The fear comes up fast. Predicted from in between my legs. My night sky is a retired ceiling fan casting shadows like a flower with only half its petals remaining.
This is how I learned to bring a deadish body down the stairs.
Slipping to the trip, my shins would be scraped shreds. Lead legs. Head over heels my arrogance of the assumed ease brings me to the slip and slide plastic of a gurney ride I'm over the concrete edge. gums dangling meat threads ...curbstomp of consequence Sputtering up snake eyes in teeth. rolling against the roof
I've seen parts of this movie, watched gravity pull her to concrete like a desperate, disheveled…lover? beloved? hard-up darling? Flat down hard fuck. Only they share that collision despite those who watch and think they feel the crash. Bone to brick, rail against cheek. A mouth first tastes copper-lemon from the side. An unfinished european kiss
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.
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.
little boy toiling in the beet field watching white people gather for a track meet toil and soil and summer sweat rows extending to the end of dreams melt youthful vigor into puddles of warm despair
across the road they’re gathering ’neath the cover of umbrellas flowering like tulips blooming in the manicured turf they’re sitting on nylon camping chairs ’n sipping cold-sweat bottles of Gatorade pulled from coolers the colors of fire & ice
I’m so hot and thirsty tired and dirty said the little boy to the relentless sun but we don’t go home until the field is done while across the road cheers and laughter and idle chatter waft on breezes carrying the scents of sunscreen ’n privilege
Mom (right), Aunt Jennie (left)
Amah (left), Mrs Mitotes (right)
Aunt Mary circa 1930s
The photos above show some of the author's family members. The third photo the author mentions in his description below is the one used at the beginning of the feature.
In his words: The one of my mom and great aunt Jennie was taken at a migrant worker camp called a "Colonia." The next one is of my Great-Grandmother, the full-blood Yaqui from Mexico; my brother and sister and I called her Amah. Third one is my Great-Uncle and cousin in between members of one of the families who worked the fields with them. Those three were taken in Weld County, Colorado in the early 1940s. The fourth one is my aunt in a beet field taken some time in the 1930s. I included that one because it closely aligns with the poem's opening line even though it's not of a "little boy." They didn't take pictures of themselves working in the fields because once the work started, as the poem says, they don't stop until the field was done.
Joe Menchaca is an emerging writer of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction with a Master of Arts in Professional Creative Writing from the University of Denver. His poetry can be found in Dissident Voice. Joe’s writing is marked by an unpretentious, gritty, and raw yet lyrical style. Unflinching in his examination of self, literature, and culture, his distilled style reflects a sensitive and perceptive exploration of life. Joe, whose parents were migrant workers that settled in Colorado in the 1920s, was raised on farms in Northern Colorado, and in the summers, he worked hoeing beets and picking crops. According to family oral history, one of Joe’s maternal great-grandmothers was full-blood Yaqui from Mexico, and a paternal great-grandfather was full-blood Cherokee. Joe currently lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with his lovely wife of nearly forty years, and Tiny, their Chihuahua.
Three poems from City on the Second Floor with review and short interview with poet Matt Sedillo
L.A. is Full of Pigs
Los Angeles is falling apart In the streets, in the suburbs In the wind In a barely kept Hollywood bathroom Wheezing, vomiting, coughing up blood The past few days, these past few years I have spread myself across this sprawl And now fear this drive may kill me May kill us all and I wander Over to general hospital Between whose walls desperation wears in high concentration upon the faces of the shopworn And prematurely ill alike as they await upon news of illness they cannot afford to have Survival without insurance This may take a while Los Angeles Is full of untold misery A homeless man sleeps next to me and I can smell the years of hard distance between who he is now And who he may have been And all that stands between him and the bitter wind Is chance, is the kindness of a night nurse who will let him sleep in peace Los Angeles is full of good people Who from time to time Can turn a blind eye To killer policy And I wonder how many more bounced checks, free clinics, carry cash And leave the account in the negative Stand between me and him, me and the bitter wind and if so Where would I go from Venice to San Francisco There is an outright war on the homeless A war on the dispossessed, there are fewer and fewer options They got shelters for women and children, all inadequate But for me just man up homeboy To that concrete pillow To that cardboard blanket And freeze your ass to death Yes, this city will leave you to die On the same stretch of sidewalk where banks stretch into the sky And I wonder as even now skid row Is being gentrified As this city As this system As the pigs Push people Past poverty Past hunger Past homelessness Towards the very edge of existence On Skid Row Where all the so-called complexities of an economy Are laid bare, where the rich are literally stacked upon the poor Los Angeles Is full of grotesque absurdity Especially on skid row Where they spend millions Annually policing the misery of people with nowhere to go Because when your pockets are empty And you aint got nothing And change is just not coming There is no real difference Between a booming metropolis and a barren desert And the world of money Passes by you Passes through you As though you Were just part Of the scenery Protected in the knowledge They are serviced by pigs Who speak the language of violence The language Of the nightstick The language Of untold misery That will beat you for begging Beat you for sleeping Beat you for breathing Beat you For doing whatever it is you need to do To survive the night In the bitter wind Los Angeles Is full of pigs
The rich, well they're not like you and me They see an opportunity and they grab it reach for the stars And they, put ‘em in their pocket Company stays in the red But they're backed by the government Snort the public dime into lines of pure profit Research and development
The rich, well they're a different breed Champagne wishes and caviar dreams Thoroughbred stallions, quarter billion mansions on the sea Deepwater Horizon Blood diamonds Golden parachutes Silicon messiahs Feasting on endangered species Served on silver platters in winter palaces carved from the tips of icebergs Six-figure charters Vulture capital Million-dollar cufflinks plucking life like an apple Insured by suicide nets Lifestyles of the criminally negligent But you haven't lived Until you've launched a car into space for no fucking reason Now that's what I call freedom
The rich, well here's how it is Dollars and cents Trademark and rent Facts and figures Lines on a ledger Derivatives and debt Building the future Increasing productivity Union busting back To the hundred-hour work week Trimming the fat Producing monopolies With real money shortages and bets And that my friend is how the rich stay rich While the rest, make poor decisions And it's pure ecstasy Living in the lap of luxury Pushing pharmaceuticals At the markup The market Will bear your body To its altar At a life-or-death bargain The gospel Of wealth Cause it is what it is And that's all it’s ever been The less we spend The more we keep
You see the rich And the poor Well, they're just like you and me Two hands Two feet The sky The sea And everything between One heart that beats And the time To make the most of it So, you'll find no sympathy Reaching into these deep pockets All we ever asked was our fair share And God damn it, that's all of it So, while you're out in the streets screaming for peace and justice We’re sleeping in satin sheets dreaming free and guiltless over oceans and tariffs liquidating pensions then off to bid on porcelain and portraits at billion dollar auctions You know you need us You know we're selling your secrets You know you still send us DNA kits Watching the puppets On television Debate freedom free speech Fascism, democracy while we reach into the earth And fuel the economy With space stations Yes, space stations Hydrating the red planet We’re gonna survive this lava pit So you got pots and pans We got deeds and plans Chopping down rainforest Colonizing the moon We’re the rich, who the fuck are you We’ll privatize the water supply Then copyright the tears Falling From Your Eyes Burn it all down What the hell you talking about The icecaps are already melting You wanna start some shit Eat the rich We're already killing your kids One carbon footprint One gas house emission One oil rig One naval ship One free Trade Agreement at a time And we'll get away with it too Nothing we say or do Is ever held against us Haven't you been paying attention We’re rich
I grew up on television and so did my parents I Love Lucy Lied to them sweetly America's Favorite redhead Desires suppressed In separate beds Censors rest Assured Everything in good taste Everything in its proper place Every traumatic episode Ends with the threat of Ricky's hand Never far from Lucy's face Beaming in glorious black and white Wrong and right Plot lines shade out the gray On John Wayne's Shining silver City on a hill Of guns and butter Where every School child's desk Doubles as bomb shelter Praying to the altar of the unquestioned So Pledge your allegiance Seal your documents And lock and load Your freedom Because it is not free Now fall to your knees And praise be To the only God In which we trust The Atom The Manhattan Hiroshima Nagasaki The nuclear family Nuclear testing In the nuclear age Gave way To nuclear waste That's me See I grew up In the eighties Morning in America Ronald Reagan And Mr. Belvedere Fresh at my door Telling me life was More than mere survival That I Might live the good life Yet when my time came Homer Simpson Peter Griffin Al Bundy Were all lying in wait To convince me I could raise a family In a two story On the single income Of a shoes salesman They lied And I cry Not for myself But for this oncoming generation Of IPAD kids On the Hulu and Netflix Where you pick your poison But it rots your mind Just the same See them at cafes Sit sipping Job seeking Asking the net For deeper meaning Who am I Where do I belong Of what use can I be In days such as these Kids born of go go gadgets Wired to networks Connected Directed To the latest trends Surf the web In search of themselves No different From medieval serfs Waiting on the bells Of the Catholic Church For the latest in Holy writ Holy script Holy this Since The golden rule Of Pharaohs and Caesars Romulus and Remus Akbar and Alexander Xerxes and Hammurabi Since the days of scribes And the books of Kings Since they from on high Convinced us down below That we Ever Needed Their Code Of law To tell us We were free
Reading by Matt Sedillo and short interview.
Cutting Noise, a review by Scott Duncan-Fernandez
Why should you read City on the Second Floor by Matt Sedillo to hear something anti-greed or anti-colonial? Can't you got to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to see posts counting coup with the may or may not be true and the armchair warriors armed with glibness and not even one sentence memes, instant espresso shots of thought?
Poetry can cut through the noise. Needed now more than ever. Poetry can serve us Chicanos as it did in the Chicano Movement and before, our activism and words melded. The earth is dying, working people are abused and it’s the rich driving it with their pharaonic greed. It’s a message that needs to be believed acted upon and repeated. City on the Second Floor has the tradition, has the words and message and cuts the distraction.
Sedillo can see us. He knows we are entertained to inaction and death with the violins of streamed shows as the world burns in “Hammurabi”: “Of IPAD kids On the Hulu and Netflix Where you pick your poison But it rots your mind Just the same See them at cafes Sit sipping Job seeking Asking the net For deeper meaning”
We, our bodies and minds, are commodified to the same kind of internet glibness, smiling and disposable as he points out in “Post”: “Smiling at your service to gig economy Side hustle, millennial, post industrial standard Hire me as an adjunct Fire me as contingent Into a city I cannot afford to live in Tell me my credit score Better yet, tell me yours Promise me the world, then show me the door”
More than exploited, we are commodified and vilified so the system for the rich can keep eating us. Keep us inactive and watching the television we grew up on. In the “The Rich” he lays the destruction of this planet at their feet, they escape culpability, they don’t even have to look at the misery down below as they live on “the second floor.”
Sedillo says they even want to colonize the heavens in the poem “The Sky.” I love the poem as it mentions our ancestors, compares the “beautiful brown mobile proletariat native to the continent” and the connection and guidance from the monarchs. These butterflies are like hummingbirds, messengers from the underworld, and masses of them traverse California and more of Turtle Island. These creatures are threatened by the ruining of the environment as tourists and towns commodify them, not listening to their message in their journey:
They are dying, we are dying.
It’s the Space Force Sedillo mentions vs butterflies. The suffocation of the void vs breathing.
We get a lot of witnessing of trauma in the literature of raza; we get the much more needed denouncing and recrimination in Sedillo’s work. No settler is slumming his way through these words for titillation of viewing traumatic experiences. Sedillo isn’t smiling. This isn’t a sideshow for masters. This is not Taco Tuesday.
Support this poet. Poetry is spellcraft and ritual to heal and name what must be changed. Read City on the Second Floor. Cut the noise.
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.