I’ve seen all kinds of wild jive on high school tee shirts; pornographic graphics, praises to those who drug traffic, mean defamation of people from other nations, angry tweeties and sweeties, amid shout outs to dead family and friends, oversized visages of villains like Al Capone, Scarface Carlitos el buey, Marilyn Manson and CD gangsters with their gats blasting. Occasionally brown eagle and snake over red, white and green, school of hard knocks drop outs, Phat Farm crop pickers, (Farmers Used to Beat Us), NASCAR cultists, surfer symbols for those that perch 1,000 miles from an ocean, there’s even Commies como el Ché with rainbow beret suggesting he was gay. Then there’s sport’s insults like the Cleveland Indians Illinois’ Chief One Lamewick, political campaign slogans for schmoes not worth the voting, and logos from South Pole, el gringo Tommy, even Puffy’s ex-mommy, there are tee-shirts for beer drinking, and tee-shirts that prove no one was thinking when they went shopping.
But why haven’t I seen one with the greeting, “MexicaTiacauh” on even one pinche tee-shirt? Maybe because we don’t speak Mexican, and Español clashes with words prior to Mexico lindo losing its own kapullis, which made the 15th century Spanish arsonists happy. OK, what’s kapulli, you say?
That’s Nahuatl or Aztecan for school, but maybe you don’t like skool or escuela tampoco, and there’s barely a kapulli that’s open while you’re sleeping in the middle of the day, but imagine what our tee-shirts could say if Nahuatl had it not been smothered under the tongues of the foreign ones? Mokalli Kuate could be today’s “homie” carnal, have you ever thought this really means? “My house is your house?” or “Mi casa es su casa” (don’t you especially love it when Anglos tell you that?) in turn we need say, tú tierra es mi tierra, “This land is your land, and this land is my land” como dice el folkie Woody Guthrie,
Entonces Mexica Tiacauh, Kah mokal mokalli ese kuate! Don’t be afraid to say it! We affirm that it’s our turn to go forward, advancing as you help others. In Nahuatl, yo soy un xochitlahtoani, that’s flowery speaker or poeta, but so many juicy words were reduced to fragments over the draining amargo centuries, leaving but a few palabras to heat our chocolate and our chili, mi estimado amigo con su cara del nopalito let me ask you, tehuatzin ti Mexikatl*?
*(are you Mexican?)
Wake up, moco, it’s just after three in the morning, my Tejano connections have sent me some direct impeccable proof from the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Attached is a plethora of film footage, it’s what we’ve been waiting for because experts found no image manipulation of this elusive fast-footed creature now captured on a sheriff’s dashboard camera. Deputy Zavala and Ms. Dulce Mora of Falfurrias offered indispensable first-hand testimonies with even a notarized statement from a priest Raúl Niño de San Benito.
I think we’re beginning to agree éste chiquito Chupacabra is no more mito than you or me. It’s no fable, it’s neither unicorn nor minotaur, It’s not some hydra-headed Argus from days of yore, this ain’t no Monterey-mountain-top flying bruja causing a piss-ant rookie to camera cry for primero impacto.
We know the critter’s etymology comes straight from Spanish with Latin roots, for to suck is chupar and cabra is goat. Question numero uno is where did this diablo came from? Where indeed did this beast first appear – was it on the Carib island of Borinquen, or do you still say Puerto Rico? Lest we forget its initial reports, how this creature dashed about old Rich Port with the speed of a swiftly pitched baseball, until one night, when people on an old jibaro’s farm stopped still in their tracks to witness the union of the yet unclassified beast having a liquid meal out of a skinny goat’s neck.
It’s as if some strange hurricane flung this crypto-species critter out from the bowels of deepest Africa with no documentation, always on furlough from the annals of discoveries, this genetic cul-de-sac just appeared, all weird dog and Komodo dragon-like, with bristles and quarry-ripping claws, red eyed and ready to roam off shore, coño scary perro! some barrio kids said, when pictures and drawings of it appeared in San Juan’s news the next day. Relax, we’re safe in Humboldt Park (but watch out Hyde Park) por que esa sucker wouldn’t find enuf blood to live on after Chicago’s mosquitoes do their picnicking in July.
Carlos Cumpián was born and raised in Texas and now lives in Chicago. He is the author of the poetry collections Coyote Sun (1990), Armadillo Charm (1996), and 14 Abriles (2010), as well as the children's book Latino Rainbow: Poems About Latino Americans (1995, illustrated by Richard Leonard). His poems have appeared in many anthologies, including Emergency Tacos: Seven Poets con Picante, With a Book in Their Hands: Chicano Readers and Readership Across the Centuries, Hecho en Tejas: An Anthology of Texas Mexican Literature, Dream of a Word: The Tia Chucha Press Poetry Anthology, and El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry. Cumpián edits March Abrazo Press and teaches high school English in Chicago.
Hector son of Hector ! myth and hieroglyph and drizzling sun of Teotihuacan the many vowels it takes to make a rope that climbs to the heavens rock over rock masonry of the gods chiseled out of basalt and quartz doorways and portals to infinity blood-stone and flint and the myriads of hearts tossed against the angry walls of eternity Corazón ! if nothing is sacred then everything is Holy ! up and down the ghostly ramps and suddenly the horse is invented and ruddy beards and white masks and gun-powder reeking clouds all in Spanish boats that sail the eternal skies above Texcoco Madre de Dios ! sunslant and orient of the New World megalopolis of serapes and Calaveras de azúcar sleepless hydras and footless vendors of chili verde rites of the necklaces of the dead and talking mummies stalking the Zócalo and Paseo de la Reforma remunerations of saints who have never seen the Cordillera or the Carretera Panamerican and who have never slept in the roofless motels of Yucatan’s insomniac peninsula or deciphered thought-patterns of the Mayan prophets twenty eight perfect days on a wheel that never turns ! Hector son of Hector ! you travel back and forth on an invisible thread of saliva talking backwards to priests of Coatlicue and dredging liquid infernos that slumber beneath Avenida Insurgentes when you wake up it’s in Los Angeles wearing Boyle Heights mambo zoot suit but when you pull night over your embroidered skull it’s in Coyoacán and you are Cuauhtémoc on your knees before a shrine to Frieda Kahlo and the histories of five hundred years unravel on the destroyed syllables of Quetzalcoatl and the wind is great with abortions and embryos wrapped up like tamales and loud sirens of mediodia in the midst of Zapatistas and Cristeros who are packing a movie theater and shooting stars on the painted ceiling putting civilization to an end there is no frontera no nocturnal bus ride to a urinal just south of Ciudad Juárez where the uncounted assassinations of women keep being ignored there is only the imperfect literature of papel higiénico and the eyeless stumps of beggars pidiendo limosna stoned on illegal vats of pulque or mezcal and the enormous illegible map of Distrito Federal crumpled shat upon and ripped into uneven hemispheres where mindlessly jaywalking the mad poet Santiago Papasquiaro meets death for maybe the second time devuélveme la vida !
Photo by Scott Duncan-Fernandez
APUNTES PARA LA MEMORIA
am I the equivalent of my father ? how can we be who we are ? his was the gift of music 66 years ago drove through Oklahoma and Texas into Mexico on the Carretera Panamericana all the way to Teotihuacan which was a revelation like a Sanskrit dictionary full of sun syllables both pyramids to be climbed and conquered the heights ! everything happened then when he died it was the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s Ninth // waves of sound Aztecs transformed into shirts of light transparencies of back and forth up and down fireflies woven through the string section followed by the lonely and brief horn solo motels adobe stucco sleep heat oblivion pan mohoso joyezuelas cazabe cues the world is defined by the vowel it lacks nevertheless twilight sacrifices of grass and fingers blood : the planet Mars ! it’s in the dictionary and like music must be mysterious shapeless drum and drifting into the rust of the cosmos the ear in the rust of the cosmos corn fields and motels motor oil seeping through clouds higher than Tenochtitlan siesta on stone pillows dreaming ancient // scarab and Toltec heat ceremony black sun in the center of the lizard’s eye yellow grain reaping tears modulated skies in the key of Delta home in a refrigerator ! what are words for ? wearing corn skirts the serpent goddess flint knife obsidian blade , mi corazón ! the book of canonical divides photocopies of a language possibly Anatolian in origin , rogations and a fierce god imitating human sorrow descending above the milky cordillera when it will be dawn again and forever his breath always masked by sweets to hide the alcohol hands deftly on the Wheel moving through topographies of rock vastness of pre-history and sandstone up to the wrist in water the flowers dazed corollaries of thought migration of names like birds in the depths of dreams rings inks mosquito coast with canoes ambush ! Aiyeee flechas y rodelas tell me with what you write and I’ll tell you who you are pésimas cartas ! a fling with memory each photograph precisely measured for shade the way the bedrooms slant the oval where they keep vanished cigarettes prayer wheels and monographs about ant-hostilities stylistics and devouring human cause the greater gods on their tight-rope drove several thousand miles across the Rio Grande hurts the eyes the desert light how did we become who we thought we were ? in front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes posing for a portrait in cinematic sepia hair glazed brow smoothed by flat conjecture guitars splashing nostalgic fountains la hija de Don Juan Alba dice que quiere ser monja ! it was in high school on the fortieth floor a señorita with bougainvillea for hair grammar lessons annexed to a single verb to dispel dust and twilight listening to the broken dream-speech recover from memory the outline of distance // transformed by the march up-country returned to photographic chiaroscuro as if scouring the sun for wounds the cicatrix of identity 66 years in a thumbnail sketch childhood’s dead actors who once lit up the summer stages performing cigarettes and shoe-wax the lifetime it took to get this far Spanish and its suburban pools dereliction of the Path righteousness and fireflies in which porch did one era end and another begin ? the world’s toxic dance ! in the finish each gets his role and sooner forget than drive into the Sierra Maestra calling out Oh Diego ! Oh Diego ! escribir más es una locura ! set sail in eleven ghost ships a crew of three hundred and fifty hidalgos all indebted to the king promised more gold than it was worth a life a breath a ransomed leaf mountains shivered into hemispheres and questioned the half a dozen who were at the bar that night no one remembered seeing María de la Luz // the biography of Enrique Sabino concludes here its tonal architecture of neo-baroque fugue and spit the land goes down dark and hear no more the cadence of footfall and lung death the señorita shaking her life-length hair and guitars splashing endless inks la hija de Don Juan Alba dice que quiere ser monja ! am I the equivalent of my father ? September 15, 2019
Editor's note: Hector Zamudio is a young poet who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. A poem of his about Tenochtitlan inspired Arguelles to write this piece.
Ivan Argüelles is an American innovative poet whose work moves from early Beat and surrealist-influenced forms to later epic-length poems. He received the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award in 1989 as well as the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award in 2010. In 2013, Argüelles received the Before Columbus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. For Argüelles the turning point came with his discovery of the poetry of Philip Lamantia. Argüelles writes, “Lamantia’s mad, Beat-tinged American idiom surrealism had a very strong impact on me. Both intellectual and uninhibited, this was the dose for me.” While Argüelles’s early writings were rooted in neo-Beat bohemianism, surrealism, and Chicano culture, in the nineties he developed longer, epic-length forms rooted in Pound’s Cantos and Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. He eventually returned, after the first decade of the new millennium, to shorter, often elegiac works exemplary of Romantic Modernism. Ars Poetica is a sequence of exquisitely-honed short poems that range widely, though many mourn the death of the poet’s celebrated brother, José.