"Pilgrim" and "Carved Over" from Mowing Leaves of Grass by Matt Sedillo with Review
Pilgrim See, some were born to summer homes And palatial groves Where pain was only to ever unfold From the pages of Secret Gardens Where the Red Fern Grows But not I See, I come from the stock Of starry-eyed astronauts Who greet the night sky With big dreams and wide eyes Always Running Down the Devil’s Highway Through Occupied America On the way back to The House on Mango Street And all those other books You didn’t want us to read Raised on handball Off the back wall Of a panaderia Born East the river Post Mendez vs Westminster One generation removed From the redlines And diplomas signed That those dreams In that skin Need not apply See, I come from struggle And if my story offends you That is only ‘cause you made the mistake of seeking your reflection In my self-portrait See, this Well this may not be about you Because while some were born To the common core Whose reflected faces Graced the pages Of doctrines to discover And ages to be explored Where old world hardships Crashed against new shores New England New Hampshire New Jersey New York For others pushed off Turtle island Aztlan Do not call this brown skin immigrant Child of the sun Son of the conquest Mexicano blood Running through the veins Of the eastside of Los Angeles Do not tell him In what native tongue His song would best be sung Do not tell me Who I am ‘Cause I was raised just like you Miseducated in some of those Very same schools Off lessons and legends Of honest injuns and Christian pilgrims And a nation of immigrants All united in freedom That is until they pulled aside My white friend Pointed directly at me And said “Scott I judge you by the company you keep And you spend your time with this” And that’s the same old story since 1846 The adventures of Uncle Sam The stick-up man Hey wetback Show me your papers Now give me your labor The Melting Pot Was never meant for the hands That clean it The American dream Has always come at the expense Of those who tucked it in And you don’t know that ‘Cause you don’t teach it Could write you a book But you won’t read it So you know what This is about you And 1492 And the treaty of Guadalupe California missions And Arizona schools And these racists That try to erase us As we raise their kids In cities that bear our names But you’re going to learn Something today ‘Cause from Ferdinand To minuteman From Arpaio To Alamo From Popol Vuh To Yo Soy Joaquin To the Indian that still lives in me From Mexico 68 To the missing 43 They tried to bury us They didn’t know we were seeds From Cananea mine To Delano strike From the Plan De Ayala Emiliano Zapata Joaquin Murrieta Las Adelitas Brown Berets And Zapatistas From Richard Nixon To the Third Napoleon From Peckinpah To Houston From Lone Star Republic To Christopher Columbus All the way down To Donald fucking Trump We didn’t cross the borders The borders crossed us Who you calling immigrant Pilgrim?
Carved Over Draw a map Line the sand Carve the desert Act on land Amend it Eminent domain Indefinite detention Private prisons Public referendum Gentrification Naturalization Americanization Forced sterilization Make America Great Again Mexico will pay The hunt for Murrieta The hunt for Pancho Villa John Pershing’s slaughter of the innocents A severed head Touring California museums Becomes Zorro Becomes the Wild Bunch Becomes whitewash This American Life Experience Its imagination If you can dream it You can see it And if you can see it You can build it And if you build it You can take it And if they resist Manifest a cruelty So complete That for generations They will do it to themselves Build a city Draw its borders Patrol its districts Add silence to injury Insult without memory Protect these borders From language and culture Taco trucks And Dora the Explorer The country is changing And you know it It’s simple mathematics And you know it You have kept us weak By keeping us confused Your grandchildren Will speak Spanglish In the neighborhood You grew up in Greeting their friends On the corner Of your childhood And cherished memories Under the lamplight And faded midst This historic site Of your first kiss Where you learned To sink Before you learned to swim Where you And she Carved your names to trees And promised each other Forever But Memories fade Neighborhoods change And your names will be carved over And there is nothing You can do about it And you know this too So when Donald Trump Says drug dealers and rapists And Kelly Osbourne jumps in To correct him No Donald Those people are just here to clean our shit When you Sit so comfortably Speak so freely About a group of people Who are somehow everywhere Yet at the same time No one Hold your tongue We are far closer than you know
Get Mad and Mow
Review by Scott Duncan-Fernandez We Chicanos still need words to express our occupied experience even after 173 years. Mowing Leaves of Grass by Matt Sedillo has those words, slings out the curses to whomever has it coming. That necessary verbal retaliation of humanity that brown bodies and minds need. Social justice and history books are great, but we live in and by poetry. I’m a Xicano, these words are for me, speak for me. I am impressed how much work Chicano art accomplishes: our art is functional. Sedillo’s Mowing Leaves of Grass lives up to this. You may find yourself in the work, in this too personal political experience of being Xicano in America, or you may come to understand the experience better as fellow human beings.
I’ve lived the poem, “A Chicano in Liverpool,” when the poet is asked do you belong here, though as a Chicano in Brighton, UK. My family and I have been, “Carved Over,” contended with fantasies about us and told we don’t belong in our homeland. I’m sure many folks have commented on the title, Mowing Leaves of Grass, a reference to Mr. Body Electric. I liked studying him in high school and college, but never forgot what soured the milk: Whitman’s excitable thoughts that the Mexican-American War would be the fulfillment of Anglo superiority. In this education system we Chicanos are often forced to study and agree wholeheartedly with statements, literary works, and famous authors that advocate for our troglodyte inherency to servitude or how we are better off dead.
For all his exalting of the body electric, WW ain’t talking about my brown body or African bodies. White bodies need only apply for the full body kung fu glow in his world. Of course, they didn’t teach his thoughts on the matter in high school or college. The American school system likes to sanitize and exculpate northern Europeans, call slaves workers, say the land was empty and just waiting for development, that Mexicans were too lazy here in the underpopulated and underfunded frontier to get anything done. What more proof of this white supremacy than the current Texas Legislature’s further attempt to whitewash history and combat the truth of black and brown humanity and that the system built on us is oppressive and wrong.
I’m quite okay with Whitman getting mowed along with much of the American literary canon, the Anglocentric selection of works that academia advertises and empowers by its own authority.
Mowing Leaves of Grass is a cry against the American experience and for the Indigenous American, one often we Chicanos must steal back as our detractors use the earlier marks of Spanish conquest against us, or make exploitative tourist fantasies of us, as mentioned in “Carved Over.” This poem is a mental overthrow of the USA’s colonial idea of us as foreigners which is accomplished as well in the poem, “Pilgrim.” This poem “Pilgrim” was read at the first Aztlán Report, a state of the raza yearly event started this year in 2021. The Aztlán Report was a gathering of Chicano organizations to inform about the events and activities of the year pertinent the Mexican American experience. I attended as a member of MeXicanos 2070, a non-profit Chicano organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing our culture. A perfect setting for this counter colonial poem.
These poems come from a year ago, el tiempo de naranja, the time of Trump. Sedillo cusses Trump, cusses his followers. Points out that we Xicanos are the future. Mowing Leaves of Grass, the book and the titular poem is mowing the canon, decolonizing the mind of education, American education. At times, it hits the same note, the note of resistance, but we are offered some poems like “La Reina,” where it’s a celebration of women who have persevered and transmitted culture, like my birth city of LA itself.
We need more than witnessing to provide trauma porn for salivating masters, or equally legless rage to amuse them. We don’t have anger issues, we got reasons to be angry. We need that emotion and reason, the chants and incantation in this collection that will heal and forge us. We need to be out of control and have un-colonial thoughts.
We deserve our anger; we need to express it. I needed these words when cops approached me as a teenager, guns on me, asked, are you a wetback? and slammed me against my car. I just knew “Fuck Tha Police” by NWA back then. Now I have the poem, “Custers.” Mowing Leaves of Grass has many stanzas expressing the “ya bastas,” “nada mas,” “best back ups” that Chicanos need.
These poems are angry. I am angry. As I write this, Mario Gonzales is dead, murdered by cops, called on by neighbors for being tall and brown in a public park. He had long hair, the caller said; he looked “Hispanic” or “Indian.” The words describe Mario, me, and the poet. These poems can’t not be personal.
I want everyone to read this. It’s poetry for now, but not limited to it. Mow the canon, celebrate the Xicano electric or find the new words we are on the cusp of speaking thanks to fearless poetry like Sedillo’s.
Born in El Sereno, California in 1981, Matt Sedillo writes from the vantage point of a second generation Chicano born in an era of diminishing opportunities and a crumbling economy. His writing - a fearless, challenging and at times even confrontational blend of humor, history and political theory - is a reflection of those realities.
Suburbano Ediciones publishes a bilingual collection of 32 poems by Hyam Plutzik (1911-1962) translated into Spanish by 14 translators, edited by George B. Henson, with a foreword by Richard Blanco.
Richard Blanco reads the foreword.
Richard Blanco was selected by President Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, the youngest and the first Latino, immigrant, and gay person in this role. Born in Madrid to Cuban exile parents and raised in Miami, he interrogates the American narrative in How to Love a Country. Other memoirs include For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey and The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood. A Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Blanco serves as Education Ambassador for The Academy of American Poets and as an Associate Professor at Florida International University.
I have seen the pageantry of the leaves falling-- Their sere, brown frames descending brakingly, Like old men lying down to rest. I have heard the whisperings of the winds calling-- The young winds—playing with the old men-- Playing with them, as the sun flows west. And I have seen the pomp of this earth naked-- The brown fields standing cold and resolute, Like strong men waiting for the end. Then have come the sudden gusts of winds awaked: The broken pageantry, the leaves upflailed, the trees Tremor-stricken, the giant branches rent. And a shiver runs over the remnants of the brown grass-- And there is cessation.... The processional recurs. I have seen the pageantry. I have seen the haggard leaves falling. One by one falling.
Otoño en Connecticut
He visto la ceremonia de las hojas cayendo-- Sus secos esqueletos marrones descendiendo quebrados, Como viejos hombres que se acuestan a descansar. He escuchado los susurros de los vientos llamando-- Los jóvenes vientos—jugando con los viejos hombres-- Jugando con ellos mientras el sol va hacia el oeste. Y he visto la pompa de esta tierra desnuda-- Los campos secos, fríos y resueltos, Como si fueran hombres fuertes que esperan el fin. Y entonces llegan sin avisar las ráfagas de viento que despiertan: La ceremonia quebrada, las hojas hacia arriba agitadas, los árboles Estremecidos, las ramas gigantes desgarradas. Y un temblor atraviesa los restos de los pastizales secos-- Y hay un cese.... La procesión se repite. He visto la ceremonia. He visto a las demacradas hojas cayendo. Una por una, cayendo. Traducido por Pablo Brescia
The man who gave the signal sleeps well-- So he says. But the man who pulled the toggle sleeps badly-- So we read. And we behind the man who gave the signal-- How do we sleep? And they below the man who pulled the toggle? Well?
El hombre que dio la señal duerme bien-- Eso dice, al menos. Pero el hombre que accionó la palanca duerme mal-- Eso leemos. Y nosotros, los que estamos detrás del hombre que dio la señal-- ¿Cómo dormimos? ¿Y los que están debajo del hombre que accionó la palanca? ¿Y? Traducido por Pablo Brescia
The milkman walks with mysterious movements, Translating will to energy-- To the crunch of his feet on crystalline water-- While the bad angels mutter. A white ghost in an opaque body Passing slowly over the snow, And a telltale fume on the frozen air To spite the princes of terror. One night they will knock on the milkman’s door, Their boots crunch hard on the front-porch floor, One-two, open the door. You are the thief of the secret flame, The forbidden bread, the terrible Name. Return what is let; go back where you came. One, two, the slam of a door. A woman crying: Who is there? And voices mumbling beyond the stair. Is there a fume in the frozen sky To spell that someone has been by, Under the sun and over the snow?
El lechero camina con movimientos misteriosos, Que traducen la voluntad en energía-- Con un crujido de sus pasos sobre el agua cristalina-- Mientras los ángeles malos murmuran. Un fantasma blanco en un cuerpo opaco Que pasa lentamente sobre la nieve Y un vaho delator en el aire helado Para atormentar a los príncipes del terror. Una noche golpearán en la puerta del lechero, En el piso del pórtico anterior, sus botas crujirán duro, Uno, dos, abre la puerta. Eres el ladrón del fuego secreto, El pan prohibido, el Nombre terrible. Devuelve lo prestado, vuelve a dónde viniste. Uno, dos, el golpe de la puerta. Una mujer grita: ¿Quién está ahí? Y voces murmuran más allá de la escalera. ¿Hay un vaho en el cielo helado Para anunciar que alguien ha estado Bajo el sol y sobre la nieve?
Traducido por Ximena Gómez y George Franklin
On the Photograph of a Man I Never Saw
My grandfather’s beard Was blacker than God’s Just after the tablets Were broken in half. My grandfather’s eyes Were sterner than Moses’ Just after the worship Of the calf. O ghost! ghost! You foresaw the days Of the fallen Law In the strange place. Where ten together Lament David, Is the glance softened? Bowed the face?
De la fotografía de un hombre que nunca vi
La barba de mi abuelo Era más negra que la de Yahvé Justo después de que las tablas Fueron partidas en dos. Los ojos de mi abuelo Eran más severos que los de Moisés Justo después de la adoración Del becerro. ¡Oh fantasma! ¡fantasma! Previste los días De la ley incumplida En la tierra extraña. Donde los diez reunidos Lloran a David, ¿Se enternece la mirada? ¿Se inclina el rostro?
Traducido por George B. Henson
A recent traveler in Granada, remembering the gaiety that had greeted him on an earlier visit, wondered why the place seemed so sad. The answer came to him at last: “This was a city that had killed its poet.” He was talking, of course, of the great Federico García Lorca, murdered by Franco’s bullies during the Spanish Civil War. But are there not many cities and many places that kill their poets? Places nearer home than Granada and the Albaicín? The poets, true, are humbler than Lorca (for such genius is a seed as rare as a roc’s egg), and the deaths are less brutal, more subtle, more civilized. Against us, luckily, there are no squads on the lookout. There is no conspiracy against us, unless it is a conspiracy of indifference. But there are more powerful things in the modern world (and people who are the slaves of things, and people who are things) that move against poetry like an intractable enemy, all the more horrible because unconscious. They would kill the poet—that is, make him stop writing poetry. We must stay alive, must write then, write as excellently as we can. And if out of our labors and agonies there appears, along with our more moderate triumphs, even one speck of the final distillate, the eternal stuff pure and radiant as a drop of uranium, we are justified. For history, which does not lie, has proven that our product, if understood and used as it ought to be, is more powerful for the conservation of man than any mere material metal can be for his destruction.
[This essay originally appeared as the Preface to Plutzik’s collection, Apples from Shinar, published by Wesleyan University Press in 1959 and reprinted in 2011 on the centennial of the poet’s birth.]
Un reciente viajero en Granada, al recordar cuánta alegría le había brindado la ciudad durante una visita anterior, se preguntaba por qué lucía el pueblo tan triste esta vez. Por fín se le ocurrió la explicación: “Este es un pueblo que mató a su poeta”. Se refería, por supuesto, al gran Federico García Lorca, asesinado por los verdugos de Franco, durante la Guerra Civil de España. Pero, ¿no son muchas las ciudades y demás sitios que matan a sus poetas? ¿Sitios mucho más cercanos que Granada o el Albaicín? Claro que aquellos poetas son más humildes que Lorca (porque tal genio es una semilla más escasa que el huevo del pájaro rokh), y aquellas muertes menos brutales, más sutiles, más civilizadas. A nosotros, afortunadamente, no nos vienen a perseguir cuadrillas. No hay complots contra nosotros, a no ser el complot de la indiferencia. Pero sí hay cosas más poderosas en el mundo moderno (y gente que son esclavos de las cosas, y gente que son cosas) que asaltan a la poesía como un enemigo inmutable, aún mas horrible por ser inconsciente. Matarían al poeta—es decir, no le permitirían escribir poesía. Nosotros tenemos la obligación de permanecer en vida, de seguir escribiendo, de escribir con toda la excelencia que nos sea posible. Y si nuestros esfuerzos, nuestras agonías, producen—entre los triunfos de mediano valor—aunque sea una migaja del destilado final, esa materia eterna y radiante como una gota de uranio, eso nos justifica. Porque así la historia, que no miente, logra comprobar que nuestro producto, si se comprende y se utiliza como debe ser, puede hacer más para conservar al hombre de lo que podrá hacer cualquier mero material metálico para lograr su destrucción.
Traducido por Rhina P. Espaillat
(Este ensayo apareció en su origen como prólogo al poemario Apples from Shinar (Manzanas de Sinar), publicado por Wesleyan University Press en 1959 y reeditado en 2011 para conmemorar el centenario del natalicio del poeta.)
About the poet / Sobre el poeta:
Hyam Plutzik was born in Brooklyn on July 13, 1911, the son of recent immigrants from what is now Belarus. He spoke only Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian until the age of seven, when he enrolled in grammar school near Southbury, Connecticut, where his parents owned a farm. Plutzik graduated from Trinity College in 1932, where he studied under Professor Odell Shepard. He continued graduate studies at Yale University, becoming one of the first Jewish students there. His poem “The Three” won the Cook Prize at Yale in 1933.
After working briefly in Brooklyn, where he wrote features for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Plutzik spent a Thoreauvian year in the Connecticut countryside, writing his long poem, Death at The Purple Rim, which earned him another Cook Prize in 1941, the only student to have won the award twice. During World War II he served in the U.S. Army Air Force throughout the American South and near Norwich, England; experiences that inspired many of his poems. After the war, Plutzik became the first Jewish faculty member at the University of Rochester, serving in the English Department as the John H. Deane Professor of English until his death on January 8, 1962. Plutzik’s poems were published in leading poetry publications and literary journals. He also published three collections during his lifetime: Aspects of Proteus (Harper and Row, 1949); Apples from Shinar (Wesleyan University Press, 1959); and Horatio (Atheneum, 1961), all three of which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. To mark the centennial of his birth, Wesleyan University Press published a new edition of Apples from Shinar in 2011.
In 2016, Letter from a Young Poet (The Watkinson Library at Trinity College/Books & Books Press) was released, disclosing a young Jewish American man’s spiritual and literary odyssey through rural Connecticut and urban Brooklyn during the turbulent 1930s. In a finely wrought first-person narrative, young Plutzik tells his mentor, Odell Shepard what it means for a poet to live an authentic life in the modern world. The 72-page work was discovered in the Watkinson Library’s archives among the papers of Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar, Professor Odell Shepard, Plutzik’s collegiate mentor in the 1930s. It was featured in a 2011 exhibition at Trinity commemorating the Plutzik centenary.
Hyam Plutzik nació en Brooklyn el 13 de julio de 1911, hijo de inmigrantes recién llegados de lo que ahora es Bielorrusia. Habló solo el yídish, el hebreo y el ruso hasta la edad de siete años, cuando se matriculó en la escuela primaria cerca de Southbury, Connecticut, donde sus padres tenían una granja. Plutzik se graduó en Trinity College en 1932. Continuó sus estudios de posgrado en la Universidad de Yale, llegando a ser en uno de los primeros estudiantes judíos allí. Su poema “The Three” ganó el Premio Cook en Yale en 1933.
Tras haber trabajado un breve período en Brooklyn, Plutzik pasó un año thoreauviano en la campiña de Connecticut, escribiendo el poema Death at The Purple Rim, que le valió otro premio Cook en 1941. Durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial sirvió en la Fuerzas Aéreas del Ejército de los Estados Unidos en el Sur Estadounidense y en Norwich, Inglaterra; experiencias que servirían como inspiración para muchos de sus poemas. Después de la guerra, Plutzik se convirtió en el primer miembro del cuerpo docente judío en la Universidad de Rochester, donde ocupó la Cátedra John H. Deane en la Facultad de Inglés hasta su muerte el 8 de enero de 1962. Los poemas de Plutzik fueron publicados en destacadas revistas literarias y antologías oéticas. También publicó tres colecciones durante su vida: Aspects of Proteus (Harper y Row, 1949); Apples from Shinar (Wesleyan University Press, 1959); y Horatio (Atheneum, 1961), el cual lo convirtió en finalista del Premio Pulitzer de Poesía ese año. Para conmemorar el centenario de su nacimiento, Wesleyan University Press editó una nueva edición de Apples from Shinar en 2011.
En 2016, se lanzó Letter from a Young Poet (The Watkinson Library at Trinity College/Books & Books Press) que revelaba la odisea espiritual y literaria de un joven judío estadounidense por el Connecticut rural y la Brooklyn urbana durante los turbulentos años treinta. En una narración de primera persona finamente forjada, el joven Plutzik le dice a su mentor, Odell Shepard, lo que significa para un poeta vivir una vida auténtica en el mundo moderno. La obra fue descubierta en los archivos de la Biblioteca Watkinson entre los papeles del profesor Odell Shepard, ganador del premio Pulitzer y mentor universitario de Plutzik, y tuvo un papel destacado en una exposición que conmemoró en 2011 el Centenario del poeta.
Pablo Brescia was born in Buenos Aires and has lived in the United States since 1986. He has published three books of short stories: La derrota de lo real/The Defeat of the Real (USA/Mexico, 2017), Fuera de Lugar/Out of Place (Peru, 2012/Mexico, 2013) and La apariencia de las cosas/The Appearance of Things (México, 1997), and a book of hybrid texts No hay tiempo para la poesía/NoTime for Poetry. He teaches Latin American Literature at the University of South Florida.
Pablo Brescia nació en Buenos Aires y reside en Estados Unidos desde 1986. Publicó los libros de cuentos La derrota de lo real (USA/México, 2017), Fuera de lugar (Lima, 2012; México 2013) y La apariencia de las cosas (México, 1997). También, con el seudónimo de Harry Bimer, dio a conocer los textos híbridos de No hay tiempo para la poesía (Buenos Aires, 2011). Es crítico literario y profesor en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida (Tampa).
Ximena Gómez, a Colombian poet, translator and psychologist, lives in Miami. She has published: Habitación con moscas (Ediciones Torremozas, Madrid 2016), Último día / Last Day, a bilingual poetry book (Katakana Editores 2019). She is the translator of George Franklin’s bilingual poetry book, Among the Ruins / Entre las ruinas (Katakana Editores, Miami 2018). She was a finalist in “The Best of the Net” award and the runner up for the 2019 Gulf Stream poetry contest.
Ximena Gómez, colombiana, poeta, traductora y psicóloga vive en Miami. Ha publicado: Habitación con moscas (Ediciones Torremozas, Madrid 2016), Último día / Last Day, poemario bilingüe (Katakana Editores 2019). Es traductora del poemario bilingüe de George Franklin Among the Ruins / Entre las ruinas (Katakana Editores, Miami 2018). Fue finalista al concurso “The Best of the Net” y obtuvo el segundo lugar en el 2019, en el concurso anual de Gulf Stream.
George Franklin is the author of Traveling for No Good Reason (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions 2018); a bilingual collection, Among the Ruins / Entre las ruinas (Katakana Editores); and a broadside “Shreveport” (Broadsided Press). He is the winner of the 2020 Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize. He practices law in Miami, teaches poetry workshops in Florida state prisons, and is the co-translator, along with the author, of Ximena Gómez’s Último día / Last Day.
George Franklin es el autor de Traveling for No Good Reason (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions 2018), del poemario bilingüe, Among the Ruins / Entre las ruinas (Katakana Editores), un volante “Shreveport” (Broadsided Press), y es el ganador del primer Premio de Poesía Stephen A. DiBiase 2020. Ejerce la abogacía en Miami, imparte talleres de poesía en las prisiones del estado de Florida, y es el co-traductor, junto con la autora, del poemario de Ximena Gómez Último día / Last Day
George B. Henson is a literary translator and assistant professor of Spanish Translation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. His translations include works by some of Latin America’s most important literary figures, including Cervantes Prize laureates Elena Poniatowska and Sergio Pitol, as well as works by Andrés Neuman, Miguel Barnet, Juan Villoro, Leonardo Padura, Alberto Chimal, and Carlos Pintado. Writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ignacio Sánchez Prado called him “one of the most important literary translators at work in the United States today.” In addition to his work as translator and academic, he serves as a contributing editor for World Literature Today and Latin American Literature Today.
George B. Henson es un traductor literario y profesor de traducción en el Middlebury Institute of International Studies en Monterey. Sus traducciones incluyen obras de algunas de las figuras literarias más destacadas de América Latina, entre ellas las galardonadas con el Premio Cervantes Elena Poniatowska y Sergio Pitol, así como las obras de Andrés Neuman, Miguel Barnet, Juan Villoro, Leonardo Padura, Alberto Chimal y Carlos Pintado. Escribiendo en la Los Angeles Review of Books, Ignacio Sánchez Prado lo calificó como “uno de los más importantes traductores literarios en ejercicio en los Estados Unidos hoy en día”. Además de su labor como traductor y académico, es editor colaborador para las revistas World Literature Today y Latin American Literature Today.
Rhina P. Espaillat is a Dominican-born bilingual poet, essayist, short story writer, translator, and former English teacher in New York City’s public high schools. She has published twelve books, five chapbooks, and a monograph on translation. She has earned numerous national and international awards, and is a founding member of the Fresh Meadows Poets of NYC and the Powow River Poets of Newburyport, MA. Her most recent works are three poetry collections: And After All, The Field, and Brief Accident of Light: A Day in Newburyport, co-authored with Alfred Nicol.
Rhina P. Espaillat, dominicana de nacimiento y bilingüe, es poeta, ensayista, cuentista y traductora, y fue por varios años maestra de inglés en las escuelas públicas secundarias de New York. Ha publicado doce libros, cinco libros de cordel, y una monografía sobre la traducción. Ha ganado varios premios nacionales e internacionales, y fue fundadora del grupo Fresh Meadows Poets en NYC y el grupo Powow River Poets en Newburyport. Sus obras más recientes son tres poemarios: And After All, The Field, y una collaboración con el poeta Alfred Nicol, Brief Accident of Light: A Day in Newburyport.
Join the Aztlan Libre Press Facebook page on Sunday, August, 30, 2020, from 3-4 p.m. (central time) for a conversation and reading with Edward Vidaurre, moderated by Juan Tejeda. Click here for more on the event!
An Excerpt of Pandemia & Other Poems by Edward Vidaurre
WHEN WE WERE CHILDREN It was fun naming clouds and deciphering shapes, until she showed up, pointed at the sky, at a series of clouds wrestling, and said, that looks like me fighting off my mother’s boyfriend, let’s wait, maybe blood will spring from that cloud, that one there she pointed to, the one that looks like a pair of scissors, or is it legs, with tears already making a pool on her neckline, I never looked up at clouds again during my childhood, my town, where blood seeped not only from our scraped knees and noses after a brawl, but from heaven’s mouth.
NIGHT’S DREAM For Tony B.
It’s Sunday, Father’s Day 2018. I am somewhere in the middle of Luzhniki stadium in Russia following this tall, lanky man in a referee uniform. There are 80,000 plus fans going wild. Mexico vs. Germany and the weather is perfect, mid 70s and the whistle blows. I am aware of the crowd but my eyes are on this lanky, grey haired man running with a whistle hanging from the stickiness of his lips like a cigarette. The man I run behind is Anthony Bourdain.
Bourdain is the referee, and he has studied the languages and tactics of both teams. The crowd of Mexican fans love him. He is known for his love of their country’s cuisine and vacation spots. Germany’s fans react when he blows the first whistle against their team player by throwing onions on the field, a metaphor for the tears in their eyes. He blows the whistle again on the same player and cracks a yolk over the players head, a yellow card of sorts.
During intermission the players head into the locker rooms and I follow him into the dressing room where there is a table set for the entire squad of refs. There is a pig. I remember seeing this pig on the sidelines earlier. We both walk up to a table with a coffee pot and crepes. He doesn’t see me sitting next to him. I am the ghost in my dreams. Anthony retires into a room and sits down to smoke a cigarette that smells like roses.
My dream switches to me riding a mule on a mountain and I feel anxiety. The mule’s hoof slips and we both fall on the side of the mountain, I wake up and I’m running on the sidelines. There’s a free kick coming for the German team and Bourdain tells the player before kicking it to eat a bowl of spaghetti. He does and sends a bending ball just over the net.
The game is tied at 0.
There are 20 minutes left to play and 3 players total have egg yolk running down their faces. A fast crossing run and a pass to the inside, another pass down the middle of the field and the Mexican player falls back like a game of trust and swings his leg to kick the ball into the right hand corner of the goal.
The crowd goes wild for the first goal of the match. Onions are thrown on the field again and the referee sees a melee between two players. One of the players, with egg on his face, spits at the feet of the much smaller player and Bourdain pulls out a chef knife, the pig runs to him, he slices the pig in half and holds the bloody knife in the air. The first suspension of the game. He points at the players with the knife and says, who wants to go next? On the sidelines, where the pig was, children run around laughing.
There’s a delicious hurt that goes without saying, the second it sinks in. Flowers do a thing with their petals you hadn’t noticed before, you still don’t accept that there is a smell when you smash an ant to death, but you take a big whiff and nature plays a trick on you by sending the scent of rain and blood gathered from a day not long ago, that’s what it’s like after a loss, after an earthquake, after a breakup, especially when a person walks away, immediately change occurs, like driving a vehicle off the lot, the value changes, so the moon decides to make its best entrance in forever, and calls for a party with your favorite stars and they’re just looming up there, like saying, “hey!,” and you die a little inside, and the music plays and you take up smoking again and quit in the same breath, again... always again, there’s a horoscope reading you missed last week that nailed this moment, you go back and it all makes sense, you take inventory of your now, your now was yesterday, again, and again the rain comes down, you let it wash you and the ground you stand on softens, you start to sink into the soil, and that delicious hurt doesn’t taste so bad anymore, it just roots you with your existence, again.
Tell me, how does it feel to survive when everything else dies?
Edward Vidaurre’s writings have appeared or are forthcoming in The New York Times Magazine, The Texas Observer, Grist, Poet Lore, The Acentos Review, Poetrybay, Voices de la Luna, and other journals and anthologies. Vidaurre has been a judge for submissions for the Houston Poetry Festival, editor for the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival anthology Boundless 2020, and editor of Cutthroat, a journal of the arts. He is the author of seven collections of poetry, and is the 2018-2019 City of McAllen, Texas Poet Laureate. He is a four-time Pushcart Prize-nominated poet and publisher of FlowerSong Press, and its sister imprint Juventud Press. Vidaurre is from Boyle Heights, California and now resides in McAllen, Texas with his wife and daughter.
Take this glowing script As a burnt offering Of chrism from my brow. Midnight oil consumed By the greedy darkness, When my wick grows dim And words become a relief Of amoebic spectres On the wall.
We are the same, A whimsy of dancing hands, Indigo faces in search Of parchment, Indelibility:
The stealth of youths And the stench of sprayed Rebellion in the trainyard, A lover's vow scratched in oak, Or in wet cement, The bathroom bard, Granite elegies, Scars of melody on vinyl, Frozen images on celluloid, And shadows made fast on wafers Of dead tree.
My own strokes are engulfed By solitude, Like footprints on the moon. They are faint adumbrations, A sack of spores Waiting to be strewn From the folds Of paper birds.
An earlier version of "GRAFFITI" appeared in Sands.
Photo of the author with his abuelita Goya (Gregoria Arispe Galván), whose lighted sign reads: "Sr. G.A. Galván-Partera"
My grandmother's raisined hands Guide a new life through the meniscus of sleep and into the blinding day.
This has been her ritual for fifty years:
The phone rings -- The metallic music of her black bag Answers back as she flies to a neighbor's house. She prepares her fingers in boiled water As if to coax sweetness out of those dried figs And waits for the mother to blossom.
But this one's a breach, Poised as if trying to break his fall, feet first. Calmly, she finds the baby's mouth With her finger; He bares down to suckle And she turns him toward the light.
Age and aches have not dissuaded her For her room is filled With reminders of her faith:
A statue of La Virgen, Bottles of holy water Among brittle blades of palm, And countless gift rosaries That grace the bedposts;
She caresses each pearl And prays for stronger hands.
for Woody McGriff, dancer 1957-94
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed.... -- W.B. Yeats
An obsidian wing glanced my shoulder Amid the languid trance of cicadas Seething in the midday heat.
It fluttered like an errant leaf And summoned the splendor of your dance, Flight frozen like a Rodin bronze, Fixed by a flash of incorruptible light.
But the heavy tide drew you under, The once supple leaps reduced To a lumber toward a distant sea.
Robert René Galván, born in San Antonio, resides in New York City where he works as a professional musician and poet. His last collection of poems is entitled, Meteors, published by Lux Nova Press. His poetry was recently featured in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Azahares Literary Magazine, Gyroscope, Hawaii Review, Newtown Review, Panoply, Stillwater Review, West Texas Literary Review, and the Winter 2018 issue of UU World. He is a Shortlist Winner Nominee in the 2018 Adelaide Literary Award for Best Poem. Recently, his poems are featured in Puro ChicanX Writers of the 21st Century. He was educated at Texas State University, SUNY Stony Brook and the University of Texas.
Even with its trunk arched back and boughs splayed out
like fingers extended from an open palm, I’d never mistake this position for praise
though its name is biblical like my own: Steven-- the first man to die in God’s name, chosen
by my mother who didn’t want my name to sound Mexican. Spanish is dirty,
dirty as the soil that insulates roots, dirty as my left hand after writing
in pencil. And now, when I speak to anybody in Spanish, I’m an imposter.
My thick accent breaks the legs beneath each letter and leaves my words
disfigured like that first martyr after he was stoned and whipped, his face tilted
toward the sky, warm blood escaping his mouth, open and silent.
What I Didn’t Tell You
—for my brother
You can ask me anything, even about my first kiss, which was at your age and tasted like stale beer. I used to feel guilty swallowing the pulse of another man, but now I know there are many ways to pray. There’s a name for that most intimate prayer: la petite mort—the little death. If, when your lover rakes your back, you recall the flock of worshippers surrounding you like raptors when they learned you’re gay, clawing at your shoulders, squawking for salvation, remind yourself you have to die before you can be resurrected. Never forget what the Bible says: when two people worship together, they create a church no matter where they are-- which must include the backseat of a car or the darkest corner of Woodward Park. These are some of the things I wanted to tell you that night in April you called me for help with your history report about the gay-rights movement. Neither of us admitted what he knew about the other. Instead I started with the ancient Greeks, told you it was normal for them, that for one brief moment they were allowed to shape their own history and religion, organizing the stars, forming Orion, for example, flexing in the sky, arms open in victory, belt hanging below his waist. But he was punished for his confidence, a scorpion’s hooked tail piercing his body like a poison moon. When I see Orion, I think of you and remember what it felt like for my knuckles to sink into your stomach, for my fist to collide with your face. Your voice, your walk, your gestures reminded me of myself, your figure bright and fluid, creating a reflection I wanted to break. And now I see your body spill open-- Big Dipper hooked to your ribs, North Star nestled in the middle. I reach for that ladle and drink.
Public altar in San Francisco honoring the 49 people killed at the Pulse nightclub.
Orlando, June 12, 2016
Imagine: the four chambers of my heart each loaded with a bullet, each beat another revolution in my chest, my throat a barrel, my curled tongue a trigger. I believe in spirits, in every fag and queer I’ve heard and allowed to pass through my body and into the next. I believe in possession, believe each metal slug entering our bodies tonight is a history we can’t escape, forged in factories across this country by men who feel threatened by love. And when I stare into my reflection one last time tonight, I know each pupil will become an exit wound. I’ve spent my life learning to lie to myself, but tonight the truth will enter my body, will hurt, will kill, will leave an echo.
Photo: Carmelo Rossette -- Et al. Photography
Steven Sanchez is the author of Phantom Tongue (Sundress Publications, 2018), chosen by Mark Doty for the Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. He is a CantoMundo Fellow, Lambda Literary Fellow, and the inaugural winner of the Federico García Lorca Poetry Prize for an emerging Latinx poet. His poems have appeared in Agni, American Poetry Review, The Missouri Review, North American Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere.
Excerpts from The Canción Cannibal Cabaret, a performance work By Amalia Ortiz
From The Introduction
The Making of a Revolution Performance art does not subscribe to the tradition of High Culture. It is revolutionary art. —Norman Denzin
The Canción Cannibal Cabaret, a collection of poem songs and prose poems set in a post-apocalyptic future, tells the story of the revolutionary leader “La Madre Valiente” who aims to incite future revolutionaries to join in intersectional feminism and activism. After an environmental apocalypse, a refugee raised under an oppressive state, La Madre Valiente studies secretly to become the leader of a feminist revolution. Her emissaries, Black Bards and Red Heralds, roam the land reciting her story, educating, and enlisting allies in revolution. This is the premise of my punk musical.
……. Questioning authority is at the heart of my work. Ultimately, The Canción Cannibal Cabaret constitutes the synthesis of much of my past work. It combines activism, politics, writing, music, performance, costumes, visual arts, and POC aesthetics. It also claims a rightful space in academia as the work of an educated woman of color. What this book cannot capture on paper is expressed in live performance. As Denzin explains, “We should treat performances as a complementary form of research publication.” Like Cynthia Cruz, I am skeptical of the literary world’s new, self-interested embrace of political poetry. As so many grapple with the question of how to move forward in the shadow of a presidency at war with the weakest, least able, and most marginalized among us, I also agree with her assessment that, “The solution is a drastic reimagining.” So suggests La Madre.
From Poem Songs
A Message from Las Hijas de la Madre
Welcome, hijas y hombres. Welcome, fugees and flaggers. Welcome, bossholes, broadbacks, and boots on the ground.
All you civilyoungs and warhorses who daily tow the line. Worm workers in low appointments and Elect allies alike. If you have willingly broke curfew to secret meet and receive the herstory of La Madre Valiente, then we salute you. If any notes of this testimonio ring bona fide, we hope that you not bury these truth bones, but instead ingest them to your memory to spit up and feed others in times of need. So suggests La Madre. So, we swallowed herstory and hid it in the safest place where no law can destroy it—deep inside our own flesh where only death can pry it from us. And so, we now feed you the same nourishment once fed us. And you, when you are full enough to rock rebellion, can continue the song.
As a live performer trying to connect with people, obscuring meaning from an audience does not work. I see nothing wrong with clarity of meaning. But what I see as a strength in my work, other academics have labeled a weakness. These criticisms have not deterred me from trying to create a poetry that is above all else accessible. My poetics highlight the intersection of racial discrimination, poverty, and gender inequality impacting the lives and identities of people of color. I center and claim space for marginalized voices in my writing, therefore, it must be decidedly political and accessible.
As an activist artist, I believe art can inspire change. When I create art it is a selfish act. I feel immediate catharsis in sharing my art. Yet I also claim space for dialogue for other disempowered voices that do not have my luxury of an audience. My art is desperate. It is crude and angry and bleeding. It is didactic and loud because it cannot aff ord to go unheard. “Your silence will not protect you,” the great feminist poet Audre Lorde wrote in her rallying essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”:
Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and ourselves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid. (42) Silence or subtlety will never be my choice.
Las Hijas de la Madre
Re Membering Herstory
In her domestic appointment in a home of the Elect, La Madre Valiente would slip out of her quarters at night to study a restricted device she had stolen away. This was how La Madre began to recover so many herstories lost to the State. Before the Pocked Eclipse, the learning was webfree, but those untangled herstories were burned or flooded during the Fall.
It was sometime after the death of her last son that La Madre Valiente began her recitation of the old folk songs. (Words on paper or the discovery of fugee use of devices is punished with expulsion from the State Gates.) And so, La Madre began to share herstory in secret.
She returned to the old folk songs and repeated them among the mothers and the colored. Her campaign spread faster than violence through the tenements. Her anger gained momentum, as the dark and poor women’s children suffered more than others. Even the Yardie gangs set aside their fracasos with one another to begin to fight for some- thing larger—perhaps true homes instead of block corners in State yards. The herstories La Madre loved most—those that spread quickest through the tenements—were the songs of workers and mujeres past long before the Fall—old folk songs of fugees like us long forgotten.
Rememory of Strange Fruit
with thanks to Abel Meeropol and Toni Morrison
Strange fruit, not hanging but withering in crowded trucks— Loss is expected in transport. Drivers still get paid big bucks. Brown bodies praying for the pardon of our southern breeze— The south still produces strange fruit, just not entwined in trees.
If the fruit survives delivery, it can be bought and sold. Market prices double if fruit is ripe and not too old. Dried and rotting in the desert, trampled falling off trains— Bondage continues in this land, though not with chains.
Growers and traffickers supply consumer-demanded yields. There’s a fortune to be made from strange fruit fertilizing fields. Rememory of blood on leaves, rememory of blood at root— The profits from the bitter crop outweigh our losses of our strange, strange fruit.
Nom de Guerre
You think because we are women we are weak, and maybe we are. But only to a certain point… We can no longer remain quiet over these acts that fill us with rage. And so, I am an instrument who will take vengeance.
--Diana, Huntress of Bus Drivers
I eat the cries of the dead. I am a hunter a huntress of men. Some people think me a monster. For others, fantasies of vengeance I foster. I am Diana the huntress. We are Diana the huntress.
I wear the moon on my head. I am a hunter a huntress of men, born in the barrio in a mass grave threatening to those holding chains to enslave
I am Diana the huntress. We are Diana the huntress.
Hello, from the gutters of Juárez. Hello, from the slums of Mumbai. Hello, from the brothels of Thailand. Hello, from sweat shops in LA. You will know my name. You will know my name.
Hello, Malala assassins. Hello, Boko Haram. Hello, from my Pussy Riot. Hello, from my Gulabi Gang.
You will know my name. You will know my name.
My hounds are free and unfed. I am a hunter a huntress of men. My Wild Hunt’s broken loose— ghost riders crunching bones beneath their boots.
I am Diana the huntress. We are Diana the huntress.
Join me all you who have bled. Become a hunter a huntress of men. Fight corruption. Protect the powerless. Left with no recourse, unleash your huntress.
You are Diana the huntress. Become Diana the huntress.
Hello, from the classrooms of Yemen. Hello, from Radical Monarchs. Hello, my Arming Sisters. Hello, Hijas de Violencia.
They will know your names. They will know your names.
Hello, auto-defensas. Hello, Nevin Yildirim. Hello, my Ovarian Psycos. Hello, to my Red Brigade. And they will know your names. They will know our names. They will know my name. They will know my name. justice frozen in our crosshairs--
Amalia Leticia Ortiz is a Tejana actor, writer, and activist who appeared on three seasons of “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry” on HBO, and has toured colleges and universities as a solo artist and with performance-poetry troupes Diva Diction, The Chicano Messengers of Spoken Word, and the Def Poetry College Tour. The first of many other awards, her debut book of poetry, Rant. Chant. Chisme (Wings Press), won the 2015 Poetry Discovery Prize from the Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards and was selected by NBC Latino as one of the “10 Great Latino Books of 2015.” The Canción Cannibal Cabaret is due for release July 27, 2019, in San Antonio, Texas. For more information and to purchase copies of the book, contact Aztlan Libre Press at: firstname.lastname@example.org and aztlanlibrepress.com.
For Caraza, poetry, like the Greek and Roman gods of antiquity, is half-deity and half-force of nature. She communes with it—or, rather, it chooses to commune with her, and she wholeheartedly surrenders to its voice. —Hector Luis Alamo
Un extracto de / An excerpt from Sin preámbulos / Without Preamble Por / By Xánath Caraza Traducido al inglés por Sandra Kingery / Translated into English by Sandra Kingery Sin preámbulos
Violeta es la mañana sin preámbulos
se filtra la luz en las grietas
se escurre el delirio en los pétalos
saetas de color rompen la superficie que tocan
tiñe aurora los recuerdos polícroma melodía
violeta fue la luz se desvanece
con la brisa ráfaga de fuego
tiempo violeta delinea la partida
tic-tac, tic-tac tic-tac, tic-tac
Violet is the morning without preamble
light filtering through crevasses
delirium sliding down petals
colored arrows broaching the surfaces they touch
polychrome melody tinting memories dawn
violet was the light it dissipates
with the breeze bursts of flame
violet time delineates the departure
tick-tock, tick-tock tick-tock, tick-tock
Nacarada luz golpeas la intimidad perforas la soledad.
Se arrastran luminosos rayos en los pisos de piedra canto lunar.
Inhalo el opalescente aroma y descubro las manos que fijan las letras.
Las sílabas intersecan con los recuerdos refulgente oleaje.
En el horizonte la rutina invade las páginas.
Las cadenas se abren. Una lluvia de tinta inunda el papel.
Pearly light you strike privacy puncture solitude.
Luminous rays crawl across stone floors lunar chorus.
I inhale opalescent aromas and discover the hands that deploy the alphabet.
Syllables intersect with memories glistening waves.
On the horizon routine invades the pages.
Chains open. A shower of ink inundates the paper.
Es la lluvia saturada de perlas
Sólo es la lluvia que perfora el mar.
Voz de fuego.
Llevo enredado un collar de perlas
traídas de donde nace el trueno.
Voz de agua.
Los tatuajes engañan seducen las páginas.
Iguanas de oscura tinta zurcidas en el papel.
El viento ulula llanto es la lluvia saturada de perlas.
It is Rain Saturated with Pearls
Only the rain pierces the sea.
Voice of fire.
I wear twisted a necklace of pearls
obtained from where the thunder is born.
Voice of water.
Tattoos deceive pages seduce.
Iguanas of dark ink mended on the page.
The wind howls sobs it is rain saturated with pearls.
Entierro las manos en el barro. Guarda mi esencia. El agua me rodea.
Isla de palabras sembrada de luz donde las sílabas brotan. Dadora de versos.
Ritmos luminosos en la montaña sombras lunares dan vida a mi silueta en esta isla.
Aquí enterré mi corazón. Ulula, viento, espárceme. Cenizas lunares renacen.
I bury my hands in mud. It preserves my essence. Water surrounds me.
Island of words sown with light where syllables sprout. Giver of verses.
Luminous rhythms on the mountain lunar shadows give life to my silhouette on this island.
Here I buried my heart. Howl, wind, scatter me. Lunar ashes are reborn.
Xánath Caraza es viajera, educadora, poeta y narradora. Enseña en la Universidad de Missouri-Kansas City. Escribe para Seattle Escribe, La Bloga, Smithsonian Latino Center y Revista Literaria Monolito. Es Writer-in-Residence en Westchester Community College, Nueva York desde 2016. En 2018 recibió de los International Latino Book Awards primer lugar: “Mejor libro de poesía—un autor—español” por su poemario Lágrima roja y primer lugar: “Mejor libro de poesía—un autor—bilingüe” por su poemario Sin preámbulos. Su poemario Sílabas de viento recibió el2015 International Book Award de poesía. También recibió mención de honor como mejor libro de poesía en español por los International Latino Book Awards de 2015. En 2014 recibió la Beca Nebrija para Creadores del Instituto Franklin, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares en España. En 2013 fue nombrada número uno de los diez mejores autores latinos para leer por LatinoStories.com. Sus poemarios Donde la luz es violeta, Tinta negra,Ocelocíhuatl, Conjuro y su colección de relatos Lo que trae la marea han recibido reconocimientos nacionales e internacionales. Sus otros poemarios son Hudson, Le sillabe del vento, Noche de colibríes, Corazón pintado y su segunda colección de relatos,Metztli. Ha sido traducida al inglés, italiano y griego; y parcialmente traducida al náhuatl, portugués, hindi, turco y rumano.
Xánath Caraza is a traveler, educator, poet, and short story writer. She teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She writes for Seattle Escribe, La Bloga, The Smithsonian Latino Center, and Revista Literaria Monolito. She is Writer-in-Residence at Westchester Community College, New York since 2016. In 2018 for the International Latino Book Awards she received First Place for Lágrimaroja for “Best Book of Poetry in Spanish by One Author” and First Place for Sin preámbulos / Without Preamble for “Best Book of Bilingual Poetry by One Author.” Her book of poetry Syllables of Wind/ Sílabas de viento received the 2015 International Book Award for Poetry. It also received Honorable Mention for best book of Poetry in Spanish in the 2015 International Latino Book Awards. Caraza was the recipient of the 2014 Beca Nebrija para Creadores, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in Spain. She was named number one of the 2013 Top Ten Latino Authors by LatinoStories.com. Her books of verseWhere the Light is Violet, Black Ink, Ocelocíhuatl, Conjuro and her book of short fiction What the Tide Brings have won national and international recognition. Her other books of poetry are Hudson, Le sillabe del vento, Noche de colibríes, Corazón pintado, and her second short story collection, Metztli. Caraza has been translated into English, Italian, and Greek; and partially translated into Nahuatl, Portuguese, Hindi, Turkish, and Rumanian.
On the road to Taos, in the town of Alcalde, the bronze statue of Juan de Oñate, the conquistador, kept vigil from his horse. Late one night a chainsaw sliced off his right foot, stuttering through the ball of his ankle, as Oñate’s spirit scratched and howled like a dog trapped within the bronze body.
Four centuries ago, after his cannon fire burst to burn hundreds of bodies and blacken the adobe walls of the Acoma Pueblo, Oñate wheeled on his startled horse and spoke the decree: all Acoma males above the age of twenty-five would be punished by amputation of the right foot. Spanish knives sawed through ankles; Spanish hands tossed feet into piles like fish at the marketplace. There was prayer and wailing in a language Oñate did not speak.
Now, at the airport in El Paso, across the river from Juárez, another bronze statue of Oñate rises on a horse frozen in fury. The city fathers smash champagne bottles across the horse’s legs to christen the statue, and Oñate’s spirit remembers the chainsaw carving through the ball of his ankle. The Acoma Pueblo still stands.
Thousands of brown feet walk across the border, the desert of Chihuahua, the shallow places of the Río Grande, the bridges from Juárez to El Paso. Oñate keeps watch, high on horseback above the Río Grande, the law of the conquistador rolled in his hand, helpless as a man with an amputated foot, spirit scratching and howling like a dog within the bronze body.
En la esquina Photo by Frank Espada The Puerto Rican Diaspora Documentary Project, 1979-81
Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World
For the community of Newtown, Connecticut, where twenty students and six educators lost their lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School, December 14, 2012
Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze. Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say: Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass, and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate, and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons, but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells.
Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street, a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House, the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence. Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say: Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells. Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say: Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells. Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried. Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds.
Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest, heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells. The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon. The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.
Young Man Holding Puerto Rican Flag Photo by Frank Espada The Puerto Rican Diaspora Documentary Project, 1979-81
Martín and his father, Frank Espada, 1964
For Frank Espada (1930-2014)
The Spanish means: I died, I lived. In Puerto Rico, the leaves of el moriviví close in the dark and open at first light. The fronds curl at a finger’s touch and then unfurl again. My father, a mountain born of mountains, the tallest Puerto Rican in New York, who scraped doorways, who could crack the walls with the rumble of his voice, kept a moriviví growing in his ribs. He would die, then live.
My father spoke in the tongue of el moriviví, teaching me the parable of Joe Fleming, who screwed his lit cigarette into the arms of the spics he caught, flapping like fish. My father was a bony boy, the nerves in his back crushed by the Aiello Coal and Ice Company, the load he lifted up too many flights of stairs. Three times they would meet to brawl for a crowd after school. The first time, my father opened his eyes to gravel and the shoes of his enemy. The second time, he rose and dug his arm up to the elbow in the monster’s belly, so badly did he want to tear out the heart and eat it. The third time, Fleming did not show up, and the boys with cigarette burns clapped their spindly champion on the back, all the way down the street. Fleming would become a cop, fired for breaking bones in too many faces. He died smoking in bed, a sheet of flame up to his chin.
There was a moriviví sprouting in my father’s chest. He would die, then live. He spat obscenities like sunflower seeds at the driver who told him to sit at the back of the bus in Mississippi, then slipped his cap over his eyes and fell asleep. He spent a week in jail, called it the best week of his life, strode through the jailhouse door and sat behind the driver of the bus on the way out of town, his Air Force uniform all that kept the noose from his neck. He would come to know the jailhouse again, among hundreds of demonstrators ferried by police to Hart Island on the East River, where the city of New York stacks the coffins of anonymous and stillborn bodies. Here, Confederate prisoners once wept for the Stars and Bars; now, the prisoners sang Freedom Songs.
The jailers outlawed phone calls, so we were sure my father must be a body like the bodies rolling waterlogged in the East River, till he came back from the island of the dead, black hair combed meticulously. When the riots burned in Brooklyn night after night, my father was a peacemaker on the corner with a megaphone. A fiery chunk of concrete fell from the sky and missed his head by inches. My mother would tell me: Your father is out dodging bullets. He spoke at a rally with Malcolm X, incantatory words billowing through the bundled crowd, lifting hands and faces. Teach, they cried. My father clicked a photograph of Malcolm as he bent to hear a question, finger pressed against the chin. Two months later the assassins stampeded the crowd to shoot Malcolm, blood leaping from his chest as he fell. My father would die too, but then he would live again, after every riot, every rally, every arrest, every night in jail, the change from his pockets landing hard on the dresser at 4 AM every time I swore he was gone for good.
My father knew the secrets of el moriviví, that he would die, then live. He drifted off at the wheel, drove into a guardrail, shook his head and walked away without a web of scars or fractures. He passed out from the heat in the subway, toppled onto the tracks, and somehow missed the third rail. He tied a white apron across his waist to open a grocery store, pulled a revolver from the counter to startle the gangsters demanding protection, then put up signs for a clearance sale as soon as they backed out the door with their hands in the air. When the family finally took a vacation in the mountains of the Hudson Valley, a hotel with waiters in white jackets and white paint peeling in the room, the roof exploded in flame, as if the ghost of Joe Fleming and his cigarette trailed us everywhere, and it was then that my father appeared in the smoke, like a general leading the charge in battle, shouting commands at the volunteer fire company, steering the water from the hoses, since he was immune to death by fire or water, as if he wore the crumbled leaves of el moriviví in an amulet slung around his neck.
My brother called to say el moriviví was gone. My father tore at the wires, the electrodes, the IV, saying that he wanted to go home. The hospital was a jailhouse in Mississippi. The furious pulse that fired his heart in every fight flooded the chambers of his heart. The doctors scrutinized the film, the grainy shadows and the light, but could never see: my father was a moriviví. I died. I lived. He died. He lived. He dies. He lives.
Photo by David González
Martín Espada was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. He has published almost twenty books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His new collection of poems from Norton is calledVivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016). Other books of poems include The Trouble Ball (2011), The Republic of Poetry (2006),Alabanza (2003), A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (2000),Imagine the Angels of Bread (1996), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (1993) and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands(1990). His many honors include the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Creeley Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, an American Book Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Republic of Poetry was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The title poem of his collection Alabanza, about 9/11, has been widely anthologized and performed. His book of essays, Zapata’s Disciple (1998), was banned in Tucson as part of the Mexican-American Studies Program outlawed by the state of Arizona, and will be issued in a new edition by Northwestern University Press. A former tenant lawyer in Greater Boston’s Latino community, Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.