Thursday, January 31, 2008

Spotlight on Sheryl Luna

Sheryl Luna was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. Her collection of poetry Pity the Drowned Horses won the first Andres Montoya Poetry Prize sponsored by the Institute of Latino Studies and the creative writing department of the University of Notre Dame. The judge was Robert Vasquez. The collection was profiled in "18 Debut Poets who Made their Mark in 2005" by Poets and Writers Magazine. A graduate of Texas Tech University, she earned a doctorate in contemporary literature from the University of North Texas and a M.F.A. from the University of Texas at El Paso. She also holds a M.A. in English from Texas Woman's University. Her work has appeared in Feminist Studies, Notre Dame Review, Georgia Review, American Literary Review, and many other nationally acclaimed journals. She's received scholarships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the Napa Valley Writer's Conference. Pity the Drowned Horses was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and the 2006 Colorado Book awards. Her second manuscript of poems, titled 7, was recently runner-up for the Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize sponsored by University of Notre Dame. She currently teaches at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado.


Once, as a girl, she saw a woman shrink

inside herself, gray-headed and dwarf-sized,

as if her small spine collapsed. Age

and collapse were something unreal, like war

and loss. That image of an old woman sitting

in a café booth, folding in on herself, was forgotten

until her own bones thinned and hollowed,

music-less, un-fluted, empty.

She says she takes shark cartilage before she sleeps,

a tablet or two to secure flexibility and forgets

that pain is living and living is pain.

And time moves like a slow rusty train

through the desert of weeds, and the low-riders

bounce like teenagers young and forgiving

in her night’s dream. She was sleek in a red dress

with red pumps, the boys with slick hair, tight jeans.

She tells me about 100-pound canisters of lard

and beans, how she could dance despite her fifth

child, despite being beaten and left

in the desert for days, how she saw an angel

or saint glimmer blonde above her, how she rose

and walked into the red horizon despite

her husband’s sin.

I’m thinking how the women

in my family move with a sway, with a hip

ache, and how they each have a disk

slip. The sky seems sullen, gray, and few birds

whisk. It’s how the muse is lost

in an endless stream of commercials, how people

forget to speak to one another as our ending skulks

arthritically into our bones, and the dust

of a thousand years blows across the plain,

and the last few hares sprint across a bloodied

highway. Here in the desert southwest, loss

is living and it comes with chapped lips,

long bumpy bus rides and the smog of some man’s

factory trap. And there are women everywhere

who have half-lost their souls

in sewing needles and vacuum- cleaner parts.

In maquiladoras there grows a slow poem,

a poem that may only live a moment sharply

in an old woman’s soul, like a sudden broken hip.

And yet, each October, this old woman rises

like the blue sky, rises like the fat turkey vultures

that make death something beautiful, something

towards flight, something that circles in a group

and knows it is best not to approach death alone.

Each October she dances, the mariachis yelp

and holler her back to that strange, flexible youth,

back to smoky rancheras and cumbias, songs

rolling in the shadows along the bare Mexican hills.

She tells me, “It’s in the music, where I’ll always

live.” And somehow, I see her jaw relax,

her eyes squint to a slow blindness

as if she can see something I can’t.

And I remember that it is good to be born of dust,

born amid cardboard shanties of sweet gloom.

I remember that the bare cemetery stones

in El Paso and Juarez hold the music, and each spring

when the winds carry the dust of loss there is a howl,

a surge of something unbelievable, like death,

like the collapse of language, like the frail bones

of Mexican grandmothers singing.


Danny Lopez was so dark that some thought he was black.

His eyes were wide and wild.

When he ran, his short frame’s stride heated the streets.

Sweat trickled down his bony face, and his throat

lumped with desire, the race, the win.

We used to sit on the hood of my parents’ car,

gaze at the stars. He would win state,

dash through the flagged shoot in Austin,

get a scholarship to Auburn, escape the tumbleweeds,

the dirt floors of his pink adobe home, his father’s rage.

We were runners.

Our thin bodies warmed with sweat, and the moon round

with dreams of release. We lived a mile from the border;

the Tigua Indian drums could be heard in the cool evenings.

Our rhythmic hopes pounded dusty roads, and cholos

with slicked hair, low-riders, were only a mirage.

We drove across the border, heavy voices, drunk

with dreams, tequila, and hollow fears. We ran

trans-mountain road, shadows cast cold shivers

down our backs in the hundred-degree sun.

Danny ran twenty miles, finished, arms raised

with manic exultation.

The grassy course felt different beneath his spikes,

and the gun’s smoke forgotten in the rampage of runners,

his gold cross pounding his chest to triumph, his legs

heedless to pain, his guts burning.

Neither of us return to the cement underpasses,

graffiti, and dry grass, though I know

the drums still beat when we look at the stars,

and our eyes flicker with ambition.

Brown children in tattered shorts still beg for pesos,

steal pomegranates and melons.

Young men with sweaty chests and muddy pants

ask my mother for work, food,

passage to that distant win

somewhere on the other side of Texas.

Today the green trees are wet with rain,

and I am too lazy to run. The desire to run my fingers

down an abdomen tight with ambition, is shaky, starved.

It’s been too long since I’ve crossed that border,

drunk tequila, screamed victorious

at the mountain. The stars seem small tonight,

they don’t burst over the sky like they did back then.

These poems, these books don’t ravish me

the way Danny could, the way the race could.

His accented English, broken on the wind, and his run,

his lean darkness, drove exhaustion to consummation.

The wind seems too humid in this preferred place,

and when I hear throaty Spanish spoken in the lushness,

I long for the grimy heat,

the Rio Grande’s shallow passage,

the blue desert, and the slick legs of runners

along the smoggy highway.

The Cordova Bridge

I’m not writing delicate silver birds or some Southwest

aubade. I am rough in a pebbled and stickered dead sea.

And here, crazy-sad among the flowerless places

I sweat my way through the dirge of horns and radio

blues. Smog- filled air. Sweaty dark-dirty children hang

on my car. Their paper cups hold out a coinless surrender.

El Pasoan’s call them scam-gangs. Bumper to bumper

as a rainbow smears the sky, window-washers beg for dimes.

The streets narrow in Juarez. Gaudy green hand-painted

school buses block signs. The poor wait. A bright scholar

described las ciudades hermanas as unmoving. Blue hills,

the river’s banks deceiving us to see one-sided, blind. Juarez,

me later driving in circles, cursing the mad stops, the move-over

hurriedness. El Paso’s streets are wide, people erect chain-

link fences, bars over windows. They love their small plots

of land, their jalopy cars. A poet once sang a maid’s daily

dread over Cordova. I think I see her sweating away.

I once drew a breath of lush serenity, words danced

as small breaths, gilded beads. But you see, I was cursed

in this dust, crystallized among charcoal frowns and smiles.

At times, anger is an unnamed cry. Must one sing lichen,

lagoons, a glint of sky, creamy white breasts? Here, men

and women living bare dance among crumbling things. A man

without a leg has hopped that bridge for thirty years eyeing

shiny red Firebirds. What was a bird of red-fire to him?

Do we all rise phoenix-like from our tumbleweeds? Rain-

wash twirls about brown knees, rolled jeans, bare feet.

Popsicle-sellers close tiny carts, cigarette boys cover

damp cartons. And I am dry as an American can be.

  • ISBN-10: 0268033749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0268033743

Lisa Alvarado

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