San Antonio, Streetside
Monday, March 26, 2012
I chose for my anthology this week, After Aztlan, published in 1992 by David R.Godine, Publisher.
Aztlan refers to the mythical ancestral home of the Nahua peoples, one of the main cultural groups in Mesoamerica and, by extension, the mythical homeland of the Uto-Aztecan peoples. Aztec is the Nahuatl word for "people from Aztlan".
Nahuatl legends relate that seven tribes lived in Chicomoztoc, or "the place of the seven caves". Each cave represented a different Nahua group: the Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Acolhua, Tlaxcalan, Tepaneca, Chalca and Mexica. These tribes subsequently left the caves and settled "near" Aztlán, or Aztatlan.
While some legends describe Aztlán as a paradise, other sources say that the Aztecs were subject to a tyrannical elite called the Azteca Chicomoztoca. Guided by their priest, the Aztec fled, and, while on the road, their god Huitzilopochtli forbade them to call themselves Azteca, telling them that they should be known as Mexica. Ironically, scholars of the 19th century — in particular Alexander von Humboldt and William H. Prescott — would rename them Aztec. Humboldt's suggestion was widely adopted in the 19th century as a way to distance "modern" Mexicans from pre-conquest Mexicans.
Whatever the historical record, in this book, "After Aztlan" refers to, as the book's subtitle says, "latino poets of the nineties."
As to the photos this week, I was thinking it might be nice to do some San Antonio pictures that had nothing to do with the Riverwalk or the missions, of which many photos have already appeared here.
And, finally, in addition to all that, I have poems this week by two of my poet friends, Alex Stolis and Mira Desai.
Here's the whole shooting match:
there’s a million billion bits of me
In a Word
at the end
One Man’s Family
The Worst of It
Two Mexicanos Lynched in Santa Cruz, California, May 3, 1877
pictures from an American lynching
She Told Me
heard the news?
Dinner for Two
Will to Will
some people do their religion
Luis J. Rodriguez
About Lost Balloons
First Law off Silence
Second Law of Silence
Third Law of Silence
saying what must not be said
Some Things Left Unsaid
so long have I been waiting
California Sonnets: Night Sequence
Saturday night at Crossroads Mall
Poem for Miners
Here's my first poem for this week, written last weekend.
there’s a million billion bits of me
there are a
parts to me
and upon my death
they will all fly off and away
and I will be so many things
in so many places
some piece of me
will fly to the sun, become
fuel for its burning, other parts
will settle like a tiny wafer on the dust of the moon;
parts of me will join the red remains of Mars,
others will circle with the rings of Saturn
and a few will drift in Jupiter’s clouds, become a shade
perhaps it it’s great red circling eye
some bits will make an even further journey,
off on an intergalactic homecoming voyage to the nearest and furthest
stars, journey completed in a time I cannot even imagine,
for, while I will and must die, the parts of me
are eternal, soaring in the great all-nothing,
slipping between black energies and elements
until the expansion stops and universal contraction
begins, big bang cycling to big suck and all
that will not die will die as there is no more
for them to be...
and other bits of me will stay right here, at home on the world
that assembled me than broke me apart like Legos
in their resting corner of a a child’s toy box, the raw materials
of new essence, the essences
of rock or sand on a desert plain,
or essences of dog, someone’s dear companion ,
or of a tick in the dog’s ear
or a hog or a log
crossing a slow dribbling stream,
some of the bits of the used-to-be- me
in the dog, in the tick’s bloody snout, in the bristle
on the hog’s back, or in the log, or in a bump on the log
or in a bubble in the stream, or perhaps another person I'll be,
or a penguin or a pineapple on an island in the Pacific where
beautiful women dance and tell stories of ocean voyages
and great waves, each one a new construction of elements,
just like you and me, created then pulled apart so that the next wave
can rise and roll on the sandy beaches of time forever
until the world ends
and time ends
and all we know or suspect
or have never imagined ends
For my first poet from my library, I have Carol Connolly, from her book, Payments Due Onstage Offstage, published in 1995 by Midwest Villages & Voices.
Connolly, a lifelong resident of St. Paul, Minnesota, was born in 1934. Her first career was the raising seven children. Although active as a volunteer during her twenty-one years of marriage, it was after divorcing in 1979 that Connolly's public life took on a higher profile. Throughout the years since then, she has been variously known as a political candidate, activist, journalist, poet, and playwright.
The first of her three poems below I've used here before. But it's a sharp little piece and I like it, so I'm using it again.
In a Word
A woman I met
"I like your
but you are
than he is."
It had never
occurred to me.
He is taller,
and she's right.
For the 577 demonstrators
arrested at HOneywell
on October 23, 1984)
I want to float in the shallow water
close to the shore
where the sea is still,
the sand is white.
I want to loll
on my back on a puffed-up life raft,
search for the silver lining,
gaze at the sky as blue as blue,
glide straight into the sun,
and be consoled.
Never look back.
I have been in deep water.
tell you stories
you would not
I will be alone now,
I don't want to hear even a whisper
of the syllables in nuclear
the hiss in holocaust,
the murder in mutilation
I don't want to smell the sweat
in demonstrate or lobby or elect.
The kingfishers will roar by
I won't even wave.
Far in the distance
the heat shimmers.
You may decide
to board a big bot,
chain your body to a war machine.
Remove all sharp objects
from your pockets
so you won't hurt yourself
or wound the cop who arrests you.
The steel door will bang behind you.
The jailor will say your time begins.
Keep in mind
what is legal is not,
and as you pour strength
into the deep ocean
that floats my raft close to the shore,
I will be safe in the sun
hold back the dark
with your bare hands.
When the light is right,
the sweet perfume of hyacinths
rolls around me.
I say thanks to everyone
I bow low to my mother
buried in 1959,
to my father
buried on the same day,
to my brother
who moved to Edina,
to a husband
who had the sense
to divorce me,
to my children
who followed nature
and grew up,
to the man in a hat
who says he adores me,
to the men who say nothing.
When the sky is dark at noon
and the hyacinths
are dead and dank,
I blame no one
Last week, I did some old poems with some new work done on them. This week I have more old poems, without so much new work.
This next one is from 2002.
at the end
at the end of Bob Hall Pier
First from the anthology, I have two poets.
The first poet is Ana Castillo.
Castillo, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the author of two novels and a book of poetry. She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and an American Book Award in fiction from the Before Columbus Foundation.
If i were you, Zoila,
i wouldn't be here
in English class
with the disturbed child
who sits in the back
with the husband
who doesn't work.
i wouldn't laugh,Zoila,
if my first winter up north
was without boots
and the only thing to
warm me was the photograph
of Jorgito dressed as a
little indian in white
pajamas and sandals on
Guadalupe's Day, just before
he was killed by a truck
that carried oranges.
i wouldn't bathe, change
my dress, look for work,
hold a pencil upright
after this summer when
the baby ran a high fever
and the hospital people in
language said, "It's okay.
Take her home."
She died that night.
You'd thought she'd just
i would die, if i were you,
Zoila, a million deaths at
the end of each nightmarish day
with its miniscule hopes like
snowflakes that melt on one's
teeth and tongue and taste of
The next poet is Rosemary Catacalos, winner of the The Texas Institute of Poetry Prize for her collection of poems, Again for the First Time, is also a former recipient of the Dobie Paisano Fellowship. She directed the Literature Program at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, then the Director of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University. She left that position in 2003 to return to San Antonio to direct Gemini Ink, a nonprofit independent literary center which offers master level workshops and classes as well as readings by nationally recognized poets and others, as well as a drama performance series.
One Man's Family
in memory of Bill Gilmore
There was the Dog Man again today,
bent under his tow sack
making his daily pilgrimage
along St. Mary's Street
with his rag tied to his forehead,
with his saintly leanness
and his bunch of dogs
and his clothes covered with
short smell hair.
Pauline, the waitress up at
the White House Cafe, says
he used to be a college professor.
In a college. Imagine.
And now he's all the time
with them dogs.
Lets them sleep in the same room
with him. Lets them eat
the same thing he eats.
Pauline don't like it.
All them eyes light up in the dark
I imagine he carries his mother's
wedding dress around in that filthy sack.
I imagine he takes the dress out on Sundays
and talks to it about the dogs,
the way he might talk to Pauline
if she ever gave him the chance.
About how to him those seven dogs
are seven faithful wives,
seven loaves, seven brothers.
About how those seven snouts bulldozing
through neighborhood garbage and memories
give off a warmth that's just as good
as all the breasts and apple pies and Christmas trees
and books and pipes and slippers
that a man could use on this earth.
But mostly about how they're dogs.
Friends that don't have to be anything else.
About how nothing could be more right
than for a man to live
with what he is willing and able to trust.
Here's another piece from last week, prompted by a reader's response to my first poem this week.
is a creation of the shell
that holds together the meat that is me
and chemical reactions that cease
when the meat ceases
and the electricity and chemistry fades
the best of me,
the diaphanous interweaving of grace and hope
that makes me wish
I was a thing apart,
lives and dies, makes it’s place
for it’s time, then dissipates like a cloud of smoke
in a summer breeze
the least of me,
the meat in all it’s constituent parts
in all their bright essences
live and die;
and, as creatures of stars,
inheritors and progenitors
of the is that is,
you or I should expect neither more
this is the part
wants to believe,
but it is one explanation
of our mysterious
in the dark
Next from my library, I have four short poems by Catherine Tufariello. The poems are from her book Keeping My Name, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist published by Texas Tech University Press in 2004.
Born in 1963 in Ithaca, New York, Tufariello graduated from University of Buffalo, and, later, Cornell University with a PhD. She taught at Cornell University, the College of Charleston, and the University of Miami and currently lives in Indiana, where she and her husband teach at Valparaiso University.
Trying to offer comfort, friends remark
How lucky it is we never had a child.
I nod agreement, knowing in the dark
They'll wake me,wild, inconsolate. You smiled
Good-naturedly when we debated names
After the wedding, wondering whether your
Features or mine would make the stronger claims -
My hazel eyes? Your hair, a black so pure
It is tinged with blue? Back home in Hawaii, you said,
Hapa children are known for special beauty.
I hoped they'd have your cheekbones, and instead
Of my pale, your golden skin. Now I mourn the pretty
Darlings I carry but cannot have, the ghost
Children whose face are mirrors of all we've lost.
The Worst of It
The worst of it is not the bitter shame
Of being left,but living a cliche.
"Good thing," my mother says, "you kept your name."
No thrill of wondering what the neighbors say,
But only the dull burden of our news
With power, perhaps, to sadden and surprise
But the to shock the hearers who must choose
Sides in our common struggle to revise
Our common story: we are the one of two
Couples in the marriage gamble who come to grief.
Too bad it didn't work; nothing to do
But wait for time's predictable relief.
I know these scenes, yet must enact them all
In our melodrama familiar and banal.
Our house still harbors memories of you
In haunting pentimento - like the faint
Unfocused images that flicker through
From a distant channel, or surface in the paint
Of a landscape grown translucent with the years.
A lake develops depths, from which a drowned
Nude body glimmers, or a dim face peers'
Between two trees, half-hidden in the ground.
Fugitive shadow, fed on my regret,
Made strong by my refusal to forgive,
You inhabit the house in silvery negative.
How long before my body will forget
Your scent and touch, recorded in its pores?
How many times it held and harbored yours.
This story is full of surprises after all,
That seemed in prospect so unpromising
I nearly closed the boo. The lovers fall
in love on schedule, to be sure; and spring
Follows their winter of mutual despair
And reunites them, as we knew it would.
Put thus, the plot's familiar: nothing new there,
In the grand scheme. Look closer, now. Who could
Have guessed old Ivan had it in him to fall in love -
Really in love! - in the first place? Or that Anna,
so childlike and conventional, would prove
So brave? Canaan follows exile - but that manna
Would feed the wanderers? Oh, who would guess
Such bread could blossom in this wilderness?
The next poem is from 2000, early in my return to writing. I had a tendency at the time to sometimes squeeze a metaphor until it squealed.
The centered format is not from the original version. I'm trying it this time because it seems to me the text kind of supports centering.
horse and rider,
the fluid movement
of two as one,
becoming a single thing
through the dust...
that's the way of
best done when horse
and rider are evenly
I had a horse once
who always threw me
on the second
and a long time
lover who did
just a little better
at the game
The next poem from the Aztlan anthology is by Martin Espada, a poet and professor of poetry at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Born in 1957 in Brooklyn, he was introduced to political activism at an early age by his father, a leader in the Puerto Rican community and the civil rights movement. Espada received a B.A. in history from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a J.D. from Northeastern University. Before publishing his first collection of poetry in 1982,he worked for many years as a tenant lawyer and a supervisor of a legal services program. He continues to be a dedicated political activist.
Niggerlips was the high school name
So called by Douglas
the car mechanic, with green tattoos
on each forearm,
and the choir of round pink faces
that grinned deliciously
from the back row of classrooms,
droned over by teachers
checking attendance too slowly.
Douglas would brag
about cruising his car
near sidewalks of black children
to point an unloaded gun,
to scare niggers
like crows off a tree,
My great-grandfather Luis
was un negrito too,
a shoemaker in the coffee hills
of Puerto Rico,1900.
The family called him a secret
and kept no photograph.
My father remembers
the childhood white powder
that failed to bleach
his stubborn copper skin,
and the family says
hi is still a fly in milk.
So Niggerlips has the mouth
of his great-grandfather,
the song he must have sung
as he pounded the leather and nails,
the eat that courses through copper,
the stubbornness of a fly in milk.
and all you have, Douglas,
is that unloaded gun.
Two Mexicanos Lynched in Santa Cruz,California, May 3, 1877
More than the moment
when forty gringo vigilantes
cheered the rope
that snapped two Mexicanos
into the grimacing sleep of broken necks,
more than the floating corpses
trussed like cousins of the slaughterhouse,
dangling in the bowed mute humility
of the condemned,
more than the Virgen de Guadalupe
who blesses the brownskinned
and the crucified,
or the guitar-plucking skeletons
on the Dia do los Muertos,
remain the faces of the lynching party:
faded as pennies from 1877, a few stunned
in the blur of execution,
a high-collar boy smirking, some peering
from the shade of bowler hats, but all
crowding into the photograph.
The next poem is an old one, written in 2000.
I was reminded of the poem by the poem above about the lynchings of Mexicans in California. The lynching of blacks continued in this country into near the middle of the twentieth century.
I was inspired to write the poem after reading about a photography exhibition that was showing around the country. It was an exhibition of pictures of lynchings of blacks, mostly in the south, during the nineteen twenties, thirties, and into the forties. The story about the exhibition included some of the photos featured.
I had seen such pictures before, but this time, instead of focusing on the people hanging, I was looking at the white people gathered all around to watch the event; it was as if a circus come to town. What I saw as I looked shocked me, for reasons explained in my poem.
pictures from an American lynching
it's not the hanging black bodies
that chill me,
it's the smiling white faces below.
so familiar, those faces,
the white man standing
under the swinging body
of the young black girl,
beer in one hand, hat cocked to one side
like he was a movie star...
the two pretty girls
arm in arm beneath the carnage,
posing for the camera
like for a picture at the county fair...
in dusty overalls
standing at his mother's side,
holding on to her dress
with one hand.
pointing with the other
to the bare feet of the black man
dangling over his head.
so familiar, these faces,
like from the family albums
I looked at as a child,,
seeking among the pictures there
the story of how I came to be.
so damn familiar.
Next, I have two poems by G.E. Patterson, from his book Tug, his first book and winner of the Minnesota Book Aware published in 1999 by Graywolf Press.
A poet, critic, and translator, Patterson grew up along the Mississippi River and was educated in the mid-South, the Midwest, the Northeast, and the western United States.
The poet's awards include fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Cave Canem, the Djerassi Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the Minnesota State Arts Board.
After living in the Northeast and on the West Coast, he now makes his home in Minnesota, where he teaches.
She Told Me
I have these shoes I put on on hot days
when I have to go out dressed,looking nice,
she told me. I got clothes. Trouble is shoes.
If they don't make my feet sweat,they're so light
the heat can come right up out of the ground
and brown the bottoms of my feet near dark
as the tops. You understand what I'm saying?
When I was young, all through the summertime,
I'd go shoeless and sockless every day
except Sundays, you know, because of church.
And in the spring and fall too I'd be shoeless
long as the mud was warm. No need for shoes.
Let the wind, grass,river water cool you.
I'd put on shoes if my feet got too cold.
Or if that fine boy down the road came walking.
I'd always put on shoes before those hancty
girls could see me barefoot. I didn't need
to give them more reasons to call me country.
Now these shoes I got, I'm happy with them.
They're blue. I wear them with this sleeveless top
and matching skirt of real pale violet.
I'm glad I found them. I like to look pretty.
Seems like some people never get the blues
without Billie Holiday turned up loud
quart of Chivas at their feet - maybe Dewars
cigar cigarette smoke cat piss dark rooms
their man two or three years late coming home
their woman packed up out of town two days
rotten job no job either way no money
some people got to school to feel
what I feel every morning every night
I wake up wondering what new shit's coming
to make me wish I had yesterday back
I go to bed wondering how long I'll sleep
before something wakes me - siren, bad dream
I hear them singing to themselves all night
their lives just turning bad mine been that way
I can do the standard "Texan" accent (which is actually "standard" only to a few counties in central southwest Texas) and usually slip into it when out of state or with visitors from out of state. Wouldn't want to disappoint folks.
But it's fake. I have, naturally, the nondescript accent of your typical national news anchor (except not Dan Rather, who, I suspect, was doing the same accent scam I do sometimes).
heard the news?
at the last booth down,
some kind of electrician from what I heard him say on the phone,
has an accent straight out of East Texas,
right out of somewhere lost in the Great Piney Woods
around Nacogdoches or Huntsville, a kind of soft, sleepy syrup
of an accent that makes you want to shake a fella, “wake up,” finish
the story, a kind of accent that’ll make a folk seem either
drunk on white lightning or stupid
even though it’s best to remember that they may sometimes
be the first but hardly ever are they the second.
listening to the fella
makes me sad, thinking how this “whole other country,”
as we Texans think of ourselves,
is losing all the accents that made it that other country:
East Texas syrup, Louisiana/Tex Cajun, West Texas drawl, Hill Country
German, Coastal Plains Polish and Czech, Houston urban, Dallas chic,
Mexican on the borderlands,
and even the flat, accent-less accent
on the south river delta
where I grew up,
first whites to move in,
land speculators from back east rushing in
on specially chartered railroad cars,
surveying fresh-laid roads lined by fresh-planted palm trees,
followed by mid-west farmers who cleared the brush,
melding, over the first fifty years, a linguistic mash-up
that seems to come from nowhere/anywhere…
all coming together so that we all sound the same,
refugees from nowhere/anywhere,
except for the sleepy-sounding fella at the last booth -
a museum- ready artifact in size 13 workboots,
even as his kids grow up sounding like that news anchor on TV
Next I have a couple of shorter poems from the anthology by two poets.
The first poet is Demetria Martinez.
Born in Albuquerque in 1960, Martínez is an author, activist, lecturer and columnist. Her books include the widely translated novel, Mother Tongue, winner of a Western States Book Award for Fiction, and Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape Chicana, winner of a 2006 International Latino Book Award. She is also the author of two books of poetry, Breathing Between the Lines and The Devil’s Workshop, both of which I've used here before. She also writes a column for the independent progressive weekly, the National Catholic Reporter, and is involved with Enlace Comunitario, an immigrants’ rights group which works with Spanish-speaking survivors of domestic violence. She lives in Albuquerque.
Decked in October light adobe grows gold.
On one house a fresco of Jesus in thorns.
Red chiles strung by the decade,
Slung from porch beams.
Buckets of apples for sale.
Someone roasts green chile to peel and freeze.
Look, the Santuario de Chimayo,
Its steeples,like pencils
Sing the sky.
This is a pilgrimage, not a tour:
Make the sign of the cross.
Behind the church a mountain
Kneels in a field.
Sap on my fingers, plucking mushrooms
Someday when I sleep with you
It will taste like this.
The second of the two poems is by Francicso Alarcon.
The poet was born in California in 1954 and moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, when he was 6. He graduated from California State University, Long Beach, and Stanford University, and now teaches at the University of California, Davis.
you met me
my hair was
with your hair
I'll make the finest
you would tell me
and I would run
with my black
like a colt
its black mane
with your gray hair
I've made now
a long rope
you tell me
around my neck
I originally started writing short stories in the mid-sixties, then, feeling I lacked a flair for the narrative, switched to poetry. (The attention span of a five-year-old doesn't help either.)
When I returned to writing in the late nineties, I continued to try to do poetry, even when writing stories that were better fit to short story mode. It was, as I mentioned last week, that I didn't have confidence that I could do anything of story length. It didn't occur to me until much later that short stories could be, indeed, very, very sort.
This next piece, from 2002, was written as a poem, even though it's clear to me now that it's a short trying to break out of its poetry cell.
So that's what I did with it in this re-write.
Dinner for Two
As the sun sets to the west, the moon rises over the bay, a bright moon, a white button in the dark blue sky, deepening to black southern night as we watched.
We had been warned that a hard freeze was coming, the winter's first, and the north wind began to blow just moments ago. The wind whipping around the corner of the house, lashes the wide leaves of the banana plants still green in January, grown through last spring and summer and early winter to near roof high. By this timed tomorrow, its frozen, sogggy stumps will be lying flat to the ground.
The wind blows hard. It rattles the plastic plates we had eaten from for our afternoon picnic beside the bay. The plates and paper napkins were saved from blowing away by the heavy silverware laid across them. They were a gift from my mother before she died, taken from their velvet-lined box and cleaned and shinned on a whim just this morning.
We had completed our dinner,hardly talking at all.
We rarely do anymore. Not like we used to anyway, when the kids were with us, talking about school and friends and comic books and cartoons.
I remember now we didn't talk much then either. Mainly we listened to the kids talk.
Things change, I'm thinking, and things stay the same. And, after a while, it's hard to tell the difference.
"Getting dark," I say.
"Gonna be a cold night," she says.
We gather the rubble from our silent meal and walk back to the house.
She walks ahead, with me behind, listening intently, both os us, to the running commentary of our own thoughts.
Now, I have two poems by Keith Waldrop from his National Book Award winning collection, Transcendental Studies, published by The University of California Press in 2009.
Waldrop was born in 1932 in Emporia, Kansas. is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, and has translated the work of Claude Royet-Journoud, Anne-Marie Albiach, and Edmond Jabès, among others. A recent translation is Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal.
He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and is professor emeritus at Brown University. The French government has named him Chevalier des arts et des lettres.
A new ridge spreads underneath. Volcanoes, often
active, rim the Pacific. It bears little
resemblance to human behavior. She
crushes it in her hand and wipes it
across her sorrowful brow. Two
families of curves, drawn on a surface.
Such tremendous movements on the
surface must arise from internal
forces. Demoniac rage and
the traditional laugh of abandoned
villainy. My eyes fill with tears, my
knees double under me.
The weather is always important in
melodrama. Space is a function of
matter and energy - or, rather, of their
distribution. But how did we get like this - so
suddenly? Despair sits brooking the putrid
eggs of hope. The world's deepest earthquakes.
Under sustained pressure, even granite
flows. The whole of Scandinavia's
still rising, having been long depressed
by an enormous ice cube. The water behind
Boulder Dam is heavy enough to
ooze the crust along the mantle.
Will to Will
an interesting case,the progress of a bird. When
they move, the move quickly, a glittering
line. One's own performance can alter.
As a mere form or fold of the atmosphere, were
our organs sharp enough. I am, as
if I were not. Tendency to telescope.
A thought vanishes and there, before
sunset, someone else is thinking it.A note in
music,as the ordinary accompaniment.
But again, I have this encouragement
not to think all these things utterly
impossible. Purchase new clothes, buty food.
Desperate attempt to escape perplexity. On the
surface too deeply absorbed to conceal
her ignorance. A cowboy leaves the ranch.
Four distinct things are to be borne in
mind: the square, a small body, free
air, the intensity. Went to town.
Mad. Foolish. The sound of an
explosion is propagated as a wave. Nobody
knows him,he's so dressed up.
Not particularly striking. the dog runs to him and
licks him. Reflected like light, refracted
like light, like light condensed by suitable lenses.
Stamp on the air the conditions of
motion. sing a hymn in the passage, but
sing so badly. Haunting tune, idea, phrase.
The dog barks at him when he comes out. He
sells the cow, shops for a wife, builds
a new barn, buys cows. Th rest I'm forgetting.
Somethings I do not, and never will,understand.
some people do their religion
some people do their religion
do their religion
in churches with big steeples
and pews and pews
set in rows for the faithfully
I prefer the night sky
who needs some petty little god
when you have the whole universe of stars
and all you have to do to know them
is lift your head
from the dirt
Next from the anthology I have this poem by Luis J. Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, born in El Paso in 1954, is a poet, novelist, journalist, critic, and columnist. His work has won several awards, and he is recognized as a major figure of contemporary Chicano literature. His best-known work, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., is the recipient of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, among others, and has been the subject of controversy when included on reading lists in California, Illinois, Michigan, and Texas schools due to its frank depictions of gang life. Rodriguez has also founded or co-founded numerous organizations, including the Tía Chucha Press, which publishes the work of unknown writers.
I pause mid-stream to note that, without my meaning for it to be so, every poet I've chosen so far from the Aztlan anthology has appeared often in "Here and Now." It is a reflection of the admiration I have for these poets.
When you bite
deep to the core
of a ripe, juicy tomato,
sing a psalm
for Margarito Lupercio.
Praise the 17-year existence
of an immigrant tomato picker.
But don't bother to look
for his fingerprints
on the tomato skins.
They are implanted
on the banks
of the Delta Mendota Canal,
imbedded on soft soil
where desperate fingers
grasped and pulled,
to silent shadows on shore
as deadly jaws
of rushing water
pulled hime toits belly.
Margarito had jumped in,
so he could keep working;
stares of disdain;
indignities of alienhood
Border Patrol officers tearing across
a tomato field like cowboys,
the iron bars of desert cells
and hunger's dried up face.
a brother of the fields
heard Margarito's cries
as the Migra officers watched
and did nothing.
He tied together torn sheets,
shirts,loose rope -
anything he could find,
pleading for help,
pleading for help
in the anxious tones
that overcome language barriers.
Officers,in your name,
watched and did nothing.
Workers later found Margarito's body
wedged in the entrails
of a sluice gate.
they delivered it to town,
tomato capital of the world,
to the tyrannu of indifference.
The next piece, written in early 2000, is one of the favorite things I did during that period. The fact that so few share that view, simply reinforces my internal conviction that I am surely a most under-appreciated genius.
Well, maybe not.
About Lost Balloons
do you suppose,
to balloons that get away?
You can see them in the sky
on clear, sunny days,
sometimes just a single balloon
soaring on wings of summer breeze,
slipped from the hands of a little girl
at the zoo, or maybe several tied together,
a multicolored cluster of balloons
flow free from some backyard birthday party.
when you see them,
they're always going away.
You never see them coming back.
I think of a book I had when I was a child,
a Little Golden Book about a toy boat
set loose in a small stream by a little boy,
the boat getting away from the boy, glorying
in the excitement of freedom, then growing
frightened as the water grew deeper and wider,
turned into a fast moving creek, then a might flowing river
that led to a harbor with giant ships and then the ocean,
the vast and lonely ocean.
A metaphor for life, this story,
a parable with a happy ending as the little boat is rescued
at the very last minute and returned to the safety of home,
family, the waiting child, the familiar little stream
where adventures always end at dinner time.
But what about balloons?
Once gone, they don't come back,
they aren't rescued by some kindly stranger and sent back
from some far, exotic place like Australia, or China, or
Leola, South Dakota. They're never folded and stuffed
into an envelope with a stamp and a postmark and a note
in a stranger's hand, "for the little girl at the zoo."
So where do they go, these fugitive balloons?
Is there a balloon graveyard, like with elephants, but high
in the stratosphere, somewhere between the vacuum of space
and the pressures of prison earth? Or, past that,
perhaps there's a saloon on an alien planet
with balloon music and balloon beer
where rogue balloons from many planets gather
to celebrate freedom and brag of their exploits
in the heavier-than-air worlds they left behind. Or,
maybe there's a rest home for runaway balloons
where they can sit in rockers on a long open porch,
watching the sun rise over rolling surf
as the last of their air slips slowly away
with little balloon sighs.
Here's some work by my friend Alex Stolis. The think about Alex, you can always count on him to find a new way to see and a new way to write it as well.
First Law of Silence
Silence can neither be created or destroyed
This is nonsense you say; as a matter of fact you insist. All I have to do is not talk or conversely all I have to do is speak. See, [you say; a little smugly I might add] I stop talking and therefore I created silence. I talk [again with the smug; this time a smile as well] and poof, silence is destroyed, vanquished, decimated, disappeared,gone. Don’t worry [it’s me talking now] you needn’t feel embarrassed or inadequate. It’s a common mistake; nearly everyone makes it. What you fail to take into account is the mass of silence. The total amount of silence in an isolated system [this one, small conversation for instance] remains constant over time. The total silence is conserved over time. Consider this: during our conversation a bird flies overhead; it appears to be heading due west. Or this: we are having this conversation in a bar [at the bar, in fact,as the dynamics of table banter differ slightly, yet importantly] we are not yet drunk but not quite sober. Seemingly out of nowhere a woman taps me on the shoulder, asks your name, then slaps me. I smile, take her hand tell her you mean nothing to me [this is the first lie] then I say you and I have just met [the second lie; we fucked only last week; your roommate was out of town; we were loud enough to wake the neighbors] Then [and this is the essential part] I stop talking. You stop talking. The woman stops. Everyone in the fucking bar stops talking; and that bird starts to head east. Its wings smooth against a shiny sky; sky bending to the weight of the horizon. And that horizon becomes a grey wire; the filament that separates disbelief from faith; sound from silence.
Second Law of Silence
Entropy always increases or remains constant in a silent system
Why do we have to go through this again? I’m not saying I’m right but goddamn it every time we have these wordless arguments I leave and you remain, cloister yourself in martyrdom [not out of a higher love; you are more stubborn than me] For some reason [the death of your mother; father; the husband who doesn’t really love you?] you do not seem to believe. You want to live life like there are no laws or physics; you would defy [deny] them for the sake of love, poetry, art [because that is what matters you say]. We have been around the block, you should know how it works by now. There are rules and regs [it is what it is baby; I know how it pisses you off when I say that] And yet you respond with silence [You see, since silence can be modeled as a closed system; silence is considered to be entropic – that is, running down.] You write me notes; post-its on the fridge; legal pad letters under my door; scratch paper questions on the nightstand [always your side, never mine; I wonder what that says about us] then there are the perfumed letters scattered randomly [those seem to appear mostly after makeup sex] Then there was Plan B: you cut your hair [in my bathroom] all Patti Smith; chop chop chop; to look hip/edgy/sexy/cool [and damn you surely did. But really,] all I ever wanted was to be your scarecrow man, black feathers falling at my feet; a lit match, your nothing that you carry in your back pocket; the thing that takes the edge off a sonic boom.
Third Law of Silence
If one could reach absolute silence, all bodies would have the same entropy
Okay, I give up I can’t do this [not the relationship thing; my unwillingness
to let go] I mean, of course I can, it’s all a choice and I’m simply making
a different choice [yeah, I know you don’t believe me and it only feels like
I’ve been saying this forever] it’s all or nothing [for me anyway] and that’s
the biggest problem with us [read: me]. Give me a gun baby and I’ll shoot
the moon. Remember how we met? I bought you a drink; told you I wasn’t
ready for a relationship [half truth; I wanted to fuck you] and you thought
that was so postmodern/honest/what-great-insight-into-yourself. You told
me about some poem written about some woman that was just meant to be
read in a bar [I had no idea; acted like I knew and couldn’t recall the name
of the poem] her name was Celia; you recited the first two lines. I laughed,
told you it was cute [another half truth; I wanted to fuck]. And although one
could say it was wrong, one could say it was manipulative [one can also
approach absolute silence as closely as one desires, though one cannot
actually reach this limit] I believed every word you said [finally; honest].
You didn’t leave with me, said you were married [much later, in bed,
admitted you wanted to fuck me right then and there] said, in a whisper
you couldn’t ditch your friend; it all felt very conspiratorial. By the way,
got your last note, read it as a poem. Keeping this one; not nearly as close
as I would desire; but livable.
I am not (you always have to say this when suggesting all is not well with this country) anti-semitic. But I am fed up with the government of Israel, which stays in power only by kowtowing to the most extreme religious elements of its culture, and its exceptionalist presumptions.
The most recent example of its troubles, its over-reaction to the poem by Gunter Grass, a speaking of truths about their abandonment of their founding principles which they will not acknowledge.
saying what must not be said
so a poet writes
about a nation
that uses history
as a bludgeon
to silent critics
who suggest that
evils of the past
do not excuse abuse
of subjugated peoples
in the present; that do not
based on religious
mythology; that do not
excuse theft of the
property of honest
farmers and merchants;
that do not excuse doing evil
to some as evil was done
by others to you;
that do not excuse, even in the face
of real threat, belligerence
as well as those who
threaten; that do not
excuse holding innocents
as hostage against
enemies real and imagined;
that do not excuse
because truth is not
an acceptable response
to your myth
of moral superiority
there is no excuse
or insistence that
your own self-serving
must be accepted as truth
by all others
if the truth disturbs you,
the problem is not
in the truth but
Here's a poem by Victor Martinez, who died in February last year.
The following is from his obituary which ran in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Poetry is the only thing that can save the world.
So said Victor Martinez, a nationally acclaimed novelist and poet who died Feb. 18 in his Mission District apartment.
He was 56. Mr. Martinez died after a malignant tumor in his throat spread cancer to his lungs.
The self-described workingman's writer drew from his Fresno childhood in a farmworker family for his celebrated novel, "Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida," which was awarded the 1996 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
Centered on the life of a 14-year-old Central Valley boy from the projects dealing with gangs, an alcoholic father and racist classmates, "Parrot" was originally banned in some schools for its violent scenes, but it's now a staple on many school reading lists.
It was his first, and only, major publication.
"It was very important for Victor to be known as an American writer," said his wife, Tina Alvarez. "He was not writing for any specific group. He was writing for everyone."
Growing up, Mr. Martinez worked in the fruit and vegetable fields with his parents and spent time in his room pecking at a typewriter. His first poem was tossed by a grade school teacher who told him even the trash can didn't want it. But he didn't give up.
He enrolled at California State University Fresno through an affirmative action program and was later awarded the prestigious Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University to study creative writing for two years. But when the teaching requirements of the fellowship impinged on his writing time, he left the program. He wrote in the early mornings and supported himself in various jobs as a welder, truck driver, firefighter, teacher and office clerk.
With dreams of creating a West Coast version of the Algonquin Round Table writers group in New York, Mr. Martinez found kindred artists in the Mission District. He helped create Humanizarte, a collective of Chicano poets, and he joined the Chicano/Latino Writers' Center of San Francisco, where he honed his craft. He began writing book, theater and film reviews for La Revista Literaria de El Tecolote. He submitted his writings to various anthologies and literary journals. In 1985 he married Alvarez, his former student at Stanford.
"The language of his poetry was so strong, and so different from the overtly political Chicano culture at Stanford at the time," Alvarez said. "His poetry was more about life and thoughts. It made you think."
There were also practical reasons to their union - her government job came with health benefits, which Mr. Martinez needed for routine polyps that grew on his vocal cords. The benign tumors, which began appearing in puberty, had to be removed by a scalpel, and then after technological inventions, a laser. Over a 10-year period, he had dozens of surgeries, including one that required doctors to put strips of Teflon between his vocal cords and anchor them with wires, Alvarez said.
Doctors said the polyps were often found in people who had grown up around pesticides, and Mr. Martinez always believed his work in the fields contributed to his health problems.
Once he turned to writing full time, Mr. Martinez began writing six hours a day, eventually securing an office at the Writers' Grotto. A book of poems, "Caring for a House," was published by a small Bay Area press in 1992 and is now out of print.
A year ago, he found out one of the vocal cord polyps had become malignant. He tried radiation treatments, which silenced his voice the last two months of his life.
Some Things Left Unsaid
What can you say better than carcinoma?
Or the warty-eyed virus eating at the vocal chords?
the skies, the rivers and forests a brain dreams
get cut away by the same scalpel
that cuts away a malignant tumor.
Look at the boy who can't walk, the lipless girl,
the half-lung man.
there are words, but they mostly go unsaid
in EKG results, in the echoes after a sonogram
has sounded, in the worried ghost of an x-rat.
Over and over in tomography charts, in bloody washbasins,
or the grave histories of lint beside the vacuum cleaner
something is talked out, perhaps explained, analyzed
or trusted to God.
How do you speak about diseased blood?
How do you say,
when cancer spreads it arms inside your arms,
"I'm in love today." or "I'm going home."
But the sun passes over, or rather earth passes over the sun,
with its latest tally of diseases, bringing the light
that brailles another million of megabytes
o the computer disc of global massacres.
It's as if the horizon wants consistency above all,
above all a little consistency.
And so we are swept by the same wind that nourishes the leaves
But let our little children keep playing,
and the tongue of beef keep bubbling in the clay pot;
all of creation just keeps spinning quietly on,
leaving everything unsaid.
Okay, you want to write a poem a day? You better be prepared for days like this.
I see a fella running down the street
flames leaping fiery from his feet
that’s the reason I don’t try to rhyme
in my poems, cause once I get two simple rhymes
in a row I’m done
by the way, is that street/feet thing
one rhyme or two)
I don’t even know something as simple
thinking about putting the poor poetry bizwacks down
and writing a great novel
but pulling that many words
from just my head is ochen pesky
with just a very few words
“the moon settled
into a sharp-jawed marsh of lunatic
screamed at the metaphoric
rending of flesh
Fyodor forgive me,
and he did, saying, as the moon bubbled
and burped marsh gas
like a diesel truck
idlying at Mary Jo’s
Gas and Sqeeze
Here's a poem by another of my poetry friends, Mira Desai.
Born in 1964 in Calcutta, Mira was brought up in the once-princely-but-now-holding-on-to-cultural-vestiges city of Baroda. Like all good middle class Indians, she says, Mira took a technical degree(Pharmacy!) and an MBA and joined a pharma company. She believes the music lessons she'd taken on and off practically all her growing years have trickled into her work, a story or poem here, a memoir there.
Now Mira lives in Mumbai, where she finds stories swimming in the smog-haze. She is, she proclaims, a proud member of the internet writing wotkshop and Blueline poetry where she and I became acquainted though our work.
Her fiction has featured in Birmingham Art Journal, Reading Hour, Pure Slush, Granny Smith, In her Voice, Flashes in the dark, and numerous others. Her translated stories have been published in Indian Literature, Words without Borders, 91st Meridian, Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. As a nonfiction writer, her work has appeared in Frostwriting and is pending publication in Annalemma.
The vocalist begins his performance
Lays out the boundary of the raga
With the patience built of millennia,
Raga that the connoisseur can name with a note or two
Just that--just that quiver, that pitch, that shade between the notes
And in a few notes
Unaware of the sepia of the 1960’s documentary, the long forgotten maestro,
Tender leaves unfurl to the first dawn
Clouds float past a mountainside
Sunshine gleams off
A river that splashes from one bank to the other
A king returns from fourteen years of exile
To the chime of temple bells
His subjects throng the streets, shower petals and sing words of welcome
Even as the cuckoo trills on the distant neem
That half hour of magic
Anchors my days.
Speaking of your creepy poems, this one has to be high on the list. (Hope so, anyway.) I wrote it about ten years ago.
so long have I been waiting
for three months
I waited for you,
this place, this table,
but you have not come...
for three months
I've called you every night,
but you don't answer...
I know you love me
I could see it in your eyes
when I first saw you
at that table in the corner,
for someone like me
I followed you home that night,
but still not sure you loved me,
I was careful to stay out of sight
for three months I've waited for you
and for three months you haven't come...
now, I'll wait no more...
you must be home,
and waiting just for me
My last piece from the Aztlan anthology this week is by Robert Vasquez.
Born and raised in the California Central Valley, Vasquez earned a BA in English at California State University, Fresno, an MFA in English at the University of California at Irvine, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Sanford University.
He has won several literary awards, including three Academy of American Poets Prizes, three National Society of Arts & Letters Awards, a National Writers Union Award, and—for his book, At the Rainbow, the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award.
In addition to teaching creative writing at the University of California campuses at Irvine and Santa Cruz, Vasquez was the King/Chavez/Parks Visiting University Professor in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Western Michigan University in the mid 1990s, and in 2000 he was Visiting Associate Professor and Distinguished Visiting Writer in Residence in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at the University of California at Davis. Since 1991, Vasquez has been on the permanent faculty at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California.
California Sonnets: Night Sequence
for Mary Ann & for the doctor
I look up at the night's broad back
gone crazy with tattoos of light, seasonal
signs almost beyond stoppage, and let
the unsayable build skyward. As it is
I've put off sleep, its gray tunnel
circular and face-filled, to take in blue
pulse-points that work the peninsular dark.
Last night, below the ridgeline that blocks
out the ocean's amplitude, a woman
called me to bed. And slow's the sprawl
of the almost-in-love, their wave and blur
charging their own amplitude. Yielding, we took
to the windowsill, like children almost, the curtains
blown wide as if calling the star-sprawl in, almost.
Witness the Bear's stoked belly, his burning
stupor commanding the rooftops...Of course
this changes nothing; by morning the windows
are wing-sliced; all day the languid ladies
of the field and wild cowpeas still carry
hillsides into spring; the live oaks true
posture of pain deepens. But I know,
due to celestial warp, some stars are black
cinders where they seem to blaze; scars
of light that survive the body. Dead suns
do that; they haunt with their ghost-lit patinas;
they reach us with their fixed and mapped
movements, like old lovers; pliable arcs of light,
they come on inarticulate, glassy, and sure.
For the nightsky''s vault issues insomnia,
someone said, those troubled hours withholding
the passage and balance good sleep drifts back to.
In Los Altos I join the bare-knuckled ones
who browse the neoprene bags and dumpster spillage.
And my nose swells with the road-smear of skunk, not
the living kind that will not scare, but a tire-
smashed stripe, creamy clear, almost afloat.
They say eternity's a channel in the sky.
- As if the skunk soul veers upward and drafts
like a kite. - As if the skunk angels
could spot this small jaywalker, stalled
like the number 1, beneath the intersections
of heaven. - As if I were in love.
Out of the fissured earth, columbine will mount,
suffer, and sustain acres of thistle and mud;
the high, plain shouts of children
half-heard a block away at recess will strive
to twine the day together. bells and mission. But
before you rise from sleep's wash, think of raccoons
arrogant on Dixon Way, who palm chicken bones
before they rehouse the flood drains; think
of me hogging a whole street the way ladles
hog zones in the sky. Think how the wintered
and rolling earth reveals itself, how
everything the night holds out and clarifies,
like love, withdraws suddenly from the limbs
and organs of intake: hands, eyes, and heart.
Here are a couple of poems written ten years ago, just a couple of months apart, that prove that men, no matter how old, can slip back into the fifteen year old they used to be at the least provocation.
bellies are sexy,
and backs down low,
that place where
the waist tapers
to its thinnest
and the flare
of the hips begins,
and right there,
a tattoo, a rose
or a butterfly
for just a flash
with each shift
of a soft jersey,
with every step,
of a tight
of its power,
bellies and backs
and pretty toes
on the beach
around a driftwood
fire, pretty toes
on packed sand
on a starlit
woodsmoke like clouds
across the moon
Saturday night at Crossroads Mall
bright-faced little girls
with tight little butts
and bare flat bellies
dance the night
with squeal and swivel
and the scent of innocence
ablaze with wanting
and the boys,
the poor little boys
strut and posture
and burn for the chase
knowing not who is the hunter
and who is the prey
Here are two pieces by Paula Rankin, one poem and one something that looks like a lost fragment of something else I can't find.
The poems are from here book Augers, published in 1981 by Carnegie-Mellon University Press.
I could not find a complete biography of the poet, just the following short death notice from dailypress.com dated January,1997.
Paula Rankin - the celebrated Newport News poet - had found peace after a decade of illness and addiction and was at her happiest in the year before her death, friends and family said Monday.
A memorial service for the Hampton University professor will be held at 3 p.m. today at Hilton Presbyterian Church in Newport News. She died Sunday at age 53 of emphysema and a rare disease that had attacked her lungs, said her son, Walter Rankin.
Poem for Miners
does everyone wake up one day
to find his vocation is looping
Texas interstate, odd country where,
no matter what pre-Neanderthal cell
his family began in, there is a counterpart,
- ocean, forest, rock, tumbleweed,
boom towns still on the map
and everyone's desert,
as if, with luck, a man might accidentally
veer down a ramp and stake a claim
on a family plot passed down to him
in a will burned before America?
Does everyone sooner or later wake
as I do now, inside so many other bodies,
sifting genes like a prospector panning for gold?
All I have of my Texas father
is a snapshot staring through credit cards,
through the cracked seam in my wallet
towards anything I pretend
is the object of his attention.
Father, I am low on luck, so forgive me
if I walk you up and down the tracks
of the Santa Fe, as if it will help you
lose weight, improve your circulation,
stoke coals into the failed furnace
of your heart. Is there anything here
I can hammer like a spike into railroad ties,
something so true I can finish
the unfinishable novel
about men who walk off
and keep walking
and never look back
except through eyes flattened
to fit inside wallets?
If I say I stand in Sweetwater, Texas,
asking this, I mean it as any town
where no Alamo overshadows other defeats -
one man gong down at a time
one descendant mining for the least
geiger count transmitted
in the unreasoning hope
he will know how to pass it down.
This next fragment is on a page by itself,untitled, seemingly unconnected to anything else and not included in the table of contents as a piece by itself.
it just starts at the top of the page and ends about half way down.
There was no walking on water,
but there were moments we rode like surfers
on ocean breaking under us
with its heave of undertow and silt.
And still the magic
happens: my neighbor's sow
nurses kittens he's give her
to eat; purposes are thwarted
even here, in Tennessee,
where I came to grow mature
and acquiescent, to put aside the child's fascination
with dark mirrors, the faith which swears
she saw hands silvering themselves
across her dimly lit face.
I wrote this poem about 1967-68 while with the military, stationed at an American intelligence outpost on Pakistan's Northwest Frontier.
with a long and gently stick
the shepherd guides his flock to pasture
reserved for this season's sustenance
wooly-bearded and stringy like his sheep
he talks to them
in a quiet language only they and he share
he puts the flock to graze
in the shade of a sun-stunted tree
in the distance,
bleak and barren mountains
rise and fall
in the heat-haze of the intervening desert
That's all, folks.
As usual, everything here belongs to those who made it. Mine, too, but you can have it for the cheap price of proper credit to me and to "Here and Now."
I'm allen itz, owner and producer of this blog, and you can have everything that follows, but it will require money, though not much.
Available for Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony eBookstore and Appple ibookstore -
"Always to the Light"
"Goes Around, Comes Around"
"Pushing Clouds Against the Wind"
For those of a print-bent, available on Amazon
"Seven Beats a Second"