Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guest Columnist: Jean Gillis & the Supersenior. On-Line Floricanto

Editor's note: La Bloga celebrates literature, belles lettres, the sublime. La Bloga-Tuesday brings the weekly On-Line Floricanto, poetry rising above the dross that is Arizona politics. In other words, as a matter of course, we focus upon the higher and highest achievements people produce. Today's guest column by Jean Gillis celebrates an even higher achievement, a kid's turn-around from going nowhere to going somewhere. ¡Adelante, Ventana! Get that diploma.
michael sedano
Guest Columnist: Jean Gillis

The Questions

"Miss, don't you ever get mad?"
"Miss, does a crime record hurt you for college?"
"Miss, you're wearing different shoes! Does that mean you got a place to live?"

Every day students ask me the unexpected. Every day I answer as honestly as I can.

We're in our fourth week of school. The familiarity of routine is established. We're a lucky school in that we don't have fights; the staff is always vigilant for any signs of tension or dispute between students so that we can glide in and intervene before something gets hot. Because of this vigilance, we all cultivate techniques for keeping kids engaged. We give them the space to ask and express what may be bottled up inside, even if it's "off-topic" or seemingly disconnected from classwork. Usually our adult responses involve mild banter. Effective teachers have learned not to use sarcasm or threats. Students don't take to either, and in fact they will drift out of our orbit of influence if we are not mindful.

Bringing a student closer to graduation is much harder than you would think. Right now I am very excited about the turnaround of one young man who used to bedevil me no end. Last year I could not convince him to sit all period; he hovered by the window "Looking out, Miss," so regularly that I nicknamed him VENTANA. He scowled at me for that, but gradually he began to smile a little. He's the one who called our word game "Scramble" despite my puny insistence that it be Scrabble. His pacing, the intractability, the attempts to slip out of class that colored last year have all vanished this fall. What happened? Because even our summer school time remained a struggle of wills. I wanted this student to work through an English text and he was hellbent on tracking the World Cup. I know we met in the middle and he wrote me an armload of soccer essays while I tried to step back from hovering and micromanaging.

In our school lexicon we have a small category called "Superseniors." These are kids who are in the fifth year of high school, so the stakes are high. It is expensive to keep Superseniors in the system until they can graduate, but it's even costlier to cut over-18s loose without doing everything possible to help them earn diplomas. Superseniors can be tough to work with--some drag it out and some just have had such a tortured school history that it's a slog to the final credit. The happy news is that some Superseniors rekindle the spark they may have felt in kindergarten. This is what happened with my soccer fan. It was not my doing. It lay hidden within him, and in some inexplicable way, we've gotten to witness the change. This boy is my right-hand man right now. One of my coworkers got him to organize, photograph, and issue the school ID cards. We entrusted him with necessary school tasks and gave him the freedom to move about campus to accomplish them. We got the blessing of the school principal to put him to work in an unorthodox way. We listened to his concerns and we accepted his suggestions. During these past four weeks I've checked with his other teachers to see how he's doing. Each teacher has marveled over his ability to knuckle down. One teacher remarked, "He told me he just wants to graduate."

Just-wants-to-graduate is a very ambitious concept for students who have skittered along the margins before we meet them in continuation school. The process of coaxing students into scholastic life is freighted with open-ended questions. I never feel I know the answers until I've seen them graduate. But I know I am going to bawl on the day this particular young man finishes, and the principal escorts him to the classrooms as the P.A. system blasts "Pomp and Circumstance," and she throws confetti to mark his passage.

Jean Gillis teaches in a continuation high school in Southern California. Reposted with permission from Jean's blog, "Dating Yourself in Pasadena."

On-Line Floricanto

Francisco Alarcón and the moderators of the Facebook group "Poets Responding to SB1070" select six protreptic gems for your enjoyment and thoughtful consideration:

1. "Memografía / Memography" by Sonia Gutiérrez

2. “Blood song #1” by Jeanette Iskat de Aldana

3. “Overlapping Worlds” by Tom Sheldon

4. “Grave Song for Immigrant Soldier” by Aurora Levins Morales

5.“The Borders Crossed Us” by David Romero

6. “Ghost Braids 0.0” by Israel Francisco Haros

"Memografía / Memography" by Sonia Gutiérrez


Te conozco tan bien
que cuando te veo pensando
y extendiendo tus alas anaranjadas coronadas de negro
sé que te llama Michinhuacan.

Que es allá donde quieres estar—
con los tuyos. Allá donde
recuerdas el olor del Oyamel. Allá
donde tus alas despiertan con la sonrisa
del sol sobre tu cien. Allá
con todas las mariposas
que pasaron al otro lado
en el bosque de los sueños.

Que es allá donde quieres tomar
de los lagos con la trucha
esperando tu regreso. Allá
donde ves tu cara reflejada, vistiendo
de colores el alrededor de tus días,
y tu presencia alegra, haciendo reír
a los árboles hasta la raíz
con el cosquilleo
de tus pies.

Déjate volar, y busca aquél lugar
donde regocijas en los vientos—
húmedos y frescos, donde me espera
mi lugar con el mago
de los sueños, donde el cielo
se llena de aleteos que los científicos
aún tratan de explicar.


I know you so well
that when I see you thinking
and extending your orange wings crowned with black.
I know Michinhuacan is calling.

That it is there where you want to be—
with your own. Over there
where you remember the smell of Sacred Fir. Over there,
where your wings awaken to the sun’s smile
on your temple. Over there
with all the butterflies
that moved to the other side
to the forest of dreams.

That it is there where you want to drink
from lakes with trout
awaiting your return. Over there,
where you see your face reflected, dressing
the surrounding days with color,
and your presence cheers, making the trees
laugh at the root
with the tickling
of your feet.

Let yourself flutter, and look for that place
where you rejoice in the winds—
humid and fresh, where my place
awaits with the magician
of dreams, where the sky
fills with fluttering wings that scientists
still try to explain.

“Blood song #1” by Jeanette Iskat de Aldana

I'm listening

to all

them deaths




Your Town here

death deals made

behind closed doors

death dealt out

in fields




even people


by people


are much worse than they should be

or ever really anyone ever

has to be.

Past those blood deaths

I'm hearing the echo

the death of systems

within myself

blood echoes again.

The blood

moves us

in us

with us


walking oceans

dancing seas


waking up the blood

stirring 3 a.m.

asking me

did I feel that

that tsunami crashing in my veins?

Blood tidings

as I stand

bleary eyed

in front of my



the altar

formed of me

sacred self


in front of an altar

anyone can see


altars of

smaller physical chunks

down past molecules


single celled altars.

I blink

my eyes open


I breathe

my water moves


I listen

my blood again


this is not indoctrination

this is not empty ritual

this is not rote.

This time of gods

this time of nations

this time of humans

this time of creatures

this time of earth

this time of water

this time of blood.

However I choose to define time

will define my time

when am I?

Start braiding the vines.

Plait the rafts.

Husk the sails.


walk red roads

into your children

seven songs


seven songs.


look to your actions

all your actions

seven generations forward

seven generations past.

Do you feel this

carrion cleanse as

your truth splits

open your bones?

Flense yourself with love, flaying down to your purest heart.

Do your dream waters

pound the waking shores


Bathe yourself in love, spiralling down in bluest waters.

Do your dream teeth

grind their lies

into powder

birthing warriors

in each grinning bite?

Taste it all on a loving tongue, spitting out what doesn't nourish you.

As even the unaware

feel it

so that they chatter more loudly

even in their dreams

so that they hide more

even in their dreams

so that they feed themselves

even in their dreams

more lies

shake youreself

fully awake

drain the sleeping sickness

out of your veins.

It hurts

to cut

to bleed

to heal

from these half healed

scars covering

long ignored wounds

hearts full of venom and bile

your poor, bruised tender heart

hurts, hurts, hurts

but know

that it is better

to have this end with pain

than to continue to

have unending pain.

Besser eine ende mit schreck dan schreck ohne ende.

“Overlapping Worlds” by Tom Sheldon

Come to the shrine where the veils drop. Where brothers take the hands of brothers, and sisters without malice. A place with language known only to the old Fire Keepers, where I learned--once and for all--of my half-human state... of why we wear masks in the dance...why we forget our true face. Surrender once again to the Silent Road with that part of us that does not know words , and see with the eyes of a newborn ; to see that we are the offspring of different overlapping worlds; to see that we have reached a time when we won't feel completely at home in any one of them.

This is what it means to be a human. This is what it means to be part of the Giving People, who must maneuver in and through the World of the Takers. Some day we will arise, step out of the dream that holds us. Some day we will tumble back to earth from the stars.

We take a breath, a deep draught of water, and realize through them our cells are pockets of memory... our bones are the songs of the ancestors,the drum beat is our heart,the wind our breath. Through the rooted and sprouting tree, we see the connection of every living thing to every living thing. As we pray, touching the earth,shifting from our human forms to our animal ones, we remember we prayed long, long ago, before the birthing of the sun, never to forget that.

© Copyright Tom Sheldon

“Grave Song for Immigrant Soldier” by Aurora Levins Morales

José Gutierrez, José Garibay, Diego Rincón and Jesus Alberto Suarez were "green card soldiers" who died in Iraq and were given posthumous citizenship. Ezequiel Hernandez was shot in the back while herding his family's goats near his home in Texas, by Marines taking part in border maneuvers.

Part I

I am sitting right here in California this
occupied land ripped with borders,
borders running like red scars
under the city limits and county lines
stitched into our hearts with crimson threads
a thick embroidery of grief
welts of damage criss-crossing
the everyday landscape of ignorance.

The wealth of the world may enter
but its people may not.
Industrial strength needles rise and fall
setting barbed wire stitches,
doing the meaty business of empire,
upon the hacked and reassembled body of the planet
drawing a bloody string through lives
that people living inside the gates
are instructed to forget

I am sitting here thinking Flor,
German, Lola, Manuel, Claudio,
Mercedita, Ricardo, Cristina, Ramon,
the stained gauze of foreignness
binding their fluid caribe tongues.
I think, how many Chinese women
were sent back yesterday morning
wrong papers start over
go back to sewing American flags
for six noodles a day
in mainland sweatshops
waiting for something new to happen.
I think Haitian bodies
dark driftwood on Florida beaches.
I think how many miles
from San Miguel to Tombstone
if you go on foot.

They are playing taps
for José, Diego, Jesus Alberto and José
sworn in with their mouths taped shut,
obscenely wrapped in the prize
they could only win by
going in front, falling first, dying fast.
They have been given their citizenship
in the cemetery of the star spangled dead,
and their officers do not expect any trouble.
I tell them I cannot mourn you
in the small space they have set aside
in the margins of their blood road.
I must carry you with me.

I am thinking about Basra and the Alamo
about mayflowers and leaky boats capsizing
downstream from Port Au Prince, not pilgrims.
about Arizona vigilantes with assault rifles
patrolling an invisible line at the edge of their fear
that runs right through our living rooms,
terrified that Michoacan will conquer Colorado
that bloodbath and bankruptcy will come home to roost
trying to hold their own history at bay with equipment.
I am trying to see the faces of the
ten thousand unnamed bodies
fallen into the gullies and canyons
of the crossing, the ones that are never found
and the two bodies a day they do find
strange fruit of the Mexican desert.

My great-grandmothers made lace,
twisting white cotton strands around pins
until the web could catch the sun, catch
a fall of jasmine down a wall,
delicate and tough, one thread bound into another,
spreading out across their beds and tables.
My great grandmothers wound pain
around pins and fingers.
They made lace out of suffering
and I am unraveling bandages,
pulling weft from the fabric of lies.
I am trying to twist this savage thread
around the pins of what I know,
fastening this to that,
fraying the edges of nations
to make a blanket.

I am making a shroud for immigrant soldiers,
knotting and tying a thousand
journeys to locked gates,
going under and around,
doubling back, knowing that someone
traveled by night,
wore a disguise,
carried false papers
swam the Ohio, the Mississippi, el Río Grande,
jumped a train,
crept through the sewers.
I am untwisting the sharp teeth of borders,
knitting rivers and veins in a fabric
as rough and fertile as earth,
the only cloth I can use
to bury you.

Part II

Someday the river
will be no more than a river
nothing but water
carving its way through earth.
Not a line drawn through our hearts,
not a place of execution, not
a floodground of smothered cries.
And those bones, those
ten thousand chunks of rough ivory tumbling restlessly along the course of history,
will settle into the riverbed.
They will become the fossils
of an age that has ended. No one will remember
where the fences were
in what strange place the scorched
landing strips of an ancient ruthless war
were brought back
from the deserts of Kuwait
to make a deadly wall against which
people broke trying to reach bread.
School children will pause,
somber, trying to imagine what difference
there could ever have been
between one rough mountainside
full of snakes and coyotes,
and another, between your hunger and mine.

Listen José, someday jaguar will move like living flame
from Quetzaltenango to Yellowstone without hiding
in freight trains, without dodging guns, someday
America will stretch from Inuit dreams of
whales arched and gleaming under northern lights
and the crack of shifting ice, uninterrupted plains
where blue shadows chase each other across the wheat fields,
through red stone and grey-green brush smelling of sage
between volcanoes like a string of coral ember beads spanning the night
to where water spills down mountains, air thick and moist
with the smell of leaves opening, and the crimson slash of parrots' wings
copal rising, rain falling, river after river, grasslands again
to the last cracked rocks and icy seas of tierra del fuego
and there will not be one strand of wire, not one
hole filled with massacres, torn shirts bullets burned faces shoes
nowhere on the earth the boot marks of soldiers trained to make orphans,
no one alive who remembers what it was to eat garbage
in the streets of Guatemala City.

Listen, Ezequiel, herding
the ghosts of goats before the crossed hairs
of men devoured by their own weapons
until they see nothing but target,
bleeding slowly to death not
three hundred yards from your door, cooling
under the infrared eyes
of twenty-first century marksmanship;

Listen Diego, wrapped in an imperial advertising banner
halfway around the world from Colombia,
lying in your box between streets as shattered as
the world your family escaped,
where it is easier to buy bullets than beans,
and the most corrupt people in the world
the same ones setting up regimes
and toppling them with your broken youth
give lessons in assassination
and money laundering
to anyone who will deal in white powder,
for the wholesalers of desperation
pumping crack into the gaps
between be all you can be
and twenty years to life
making plastic chairs for twenty five
cents an hour in California prisons.
Liberation or a war on drugs,
its all the same, because
in your country, the dead
are the only ones who can object
without being gunned down.

listen citizens of the countries of breath
all of us illegal alien foreign uncivilized
savage beyond control
someday it will be enough to have been born.

But today,
while the world is still
a maze of borders and fences,
I will not mourn them with this blue
quarter acre of gated stars, this
harrowing of red and white
scratchmarks on the face of our continent. No,

in order to drape the graves
of four immigrant soldiers
shoveled in through the service door
while their starving relatives
stand outside the gates calling for food,

I must imagine an infinite river
of brown smiling children
who do not need documents
and a flag
of six billion stars.

©2003 Aurora Levins Morales

“The Borders Crossed Us” by David Romero

My whole LIFE I’ve been afraid
To say the things that in my HEART I know I must.
Things like
Mexicans didn’t cross the border
The border crossed us.

They say that Mexicans make “bad deals…”
Yeah, our people make bad deals like the U.S., Mexico, and the Gadsden Purchase!
But a gun to your head can make you feel awful nervous!
With a purpose, we’ve been coerced, forced, and hanged.
Shoot, we've been straight up wronged!
Where's anything that constitutes your definition of GOOD
In what's been going on?
I heard my history on tapes, CDs,
Before that, I read it in American history books.
I would sit in class and whisper to some of my classmates,
“Read between the lines, our death you’ll find!”
Lessons of the Mexican-American War and the Mexican Session.
And I would get those looks.
From 1847 through 1849
(California was known as Alta California back then)
California was stolen by President’s Polk’s design.
I ain't lyin'.
He scripted a fake war.
Sounds kind of familiar.
Because the US is always looking FOR MORE
Real estate taken with no room for debate.
31st State, that’s you California,
Let’s make like Henry David Thoreau
Civil Disobedience and a modern-day rallying cry,
"Stop THIS war
(because I guarantee you there will be a next and a next and a next…)

When I talk about Mexican History
With my mother or others
Many are inclined to say,
“I hear you… The US and before them, the Spaniards
May have taken our land...
They may have killed more than a few Mestizos to do it…
But didn’t they give us JESUS?
You think that's some excuse for all that’s happened?
It was, "Love one another"
I report, then retort
The history of Western society, and with it, Western Christianity
Is characterized by: Genocide, rape, slavery, theft, and prostitution.
Where’s the Love in that?
(I’d like to think Jesus would be down with us Mexicans, Latinos, and Indians)
You see, it's clearly confusion.
Because that society looks more like the FINAL SOLUTION.
So I abandon any MANIFEST DESTINY-type conclusions.
I laugh at the footnotes
Because a bunch of racist @ssh*l*s make for some bad quotes.

So, very awkwardly, I yell out!
Viva Mexico!
People in cocktail parties get shocked,
They ask me questions like,
Wait, so do you or don’t you approve of the policies of Vicente Fox?"
Rolls up with Killer Cola
To bring the, 'wonderful MONDERNIZATION'
To f*ck the population!
Those ‘quotes’ indicated sarcasm to let you know that I was just playing.
But then some of you don't even know what I'm saying…
Mexico is plagued by sweatshop factories,
They pollute the rivers with dyes,
The skies with smoke
The North American Free Trade Agreement
That finishes the choke.
I hope we can kick the macquiladoras out.
So I yell,
"Si se puede!"
To let you know what I'm all about:
Zapata, Zapatistas the fields of Chiapas.
We could write a constitution!
We could start a Revolution!
There sure are A LOT OF US …

This isn’t just about Mexicans.
This isn’t the reconquista.
This isn’t just about Latinos.
This is for ALL conquered peoples.
Africans. Asians. Europeans.
None are free until ALL are free.
No imperialist power can give you or anyone that freedom.
No imperialist power can remain if we are to have that freedom.

Regardless of who you are, you have a history.
And if you’re down with me, it’s a history of RESISTANCE.
Know your history.
Mexicans didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.

“Ghost Braids 0.0” by Israel Francisco Haros

"black water (love) wars"

Derelict hues of red and black
Expectations in the black water
Morphing concrete jungles
Black butterflies pouring you into the sun

Expectations in the black water
Obsidian hands pushing jade
Black butterflies pouring you into the sun
Mirrors in womb of tonantzin

Obsidian hands pushing jade
Into the skin of laughing serpents
Mirrors in the womb of tonanztin
Kissing the blue of water light

Into the skin of laughing serpents
Winged hands caressing watered lips
Kissing the blue of water light
Ocean dreams in the middle of breakfast

Winged hands caressing watered lips
Before the sound of coyoxauhqui
Ocean dreams in the middle of breakfast
The line between the sun and moon smiling

Before the sound of coyoxauhqui
Butterflies and jaguars embracing
The line between the sun and moon smiling
A sunset swallowed by hummingbird

Butterflies and jaguars embracing
The taste of water after four days without
A sunset swallowed by hummingbird
It’s a decision not to take it personal

The taste of water after four days without
Ghost braids dancing on the skin
It’s a decision not to take it personal
And watch the water form wings in your mouth

Ghost braids dancing on the skin
I like to touch all the lines your body makes
And watch the water form wings in your mouth
You give me mirrors to breathe

I like to touch all the lines your body makes
Expectations in the black water
You give me mirrors to breathe
Black butterflies pouring you into the sun


1. "Memografía / Memography" by Sonia Gutiérrez
Foto: Esveida Lopez

Sonia Gutiérrez’s poetry and fiction have appeared in City Works Journal, La Revista Literaria de El Tecoloto, Fringe Magazine, Mujeres de Maíz, among others and forthcoming in Turtle Island to Abya Yala. She teaches English at Palomar College and is currently working on her manuscript, Spider Woman/La Mujer Araña, a bilingual poetry collection. To see more of Sonia’s work, visit her bloguita, Chicana in the Midst: Poetry, Prose, and Fotografía by Sonia Gutiérrez, Guest Poetas y Fotographers.

2. “Blood song #1” by Jeanette Iskat de Aldana
Jeanette Valerie Iskat de Aldana a.k.a. J-VIDA, grew up in the United States, Europe and Asia. The daughter and great grand daughter of immigrants, I am very aware of how America both calls to and pushes away the very people that form it, especially the indigenous peoples who have the longest standing claim to it. Actively painting, writing and creating art that deals with all of my individual experiences allows me to process the joy and pain I feel.

I live in Los Angeles with my husband, singer and artist Jesus Aldana. We can often be found in Boyle Heights at Corazon del Pueblo, engaged in the fight for the right for us all to be fully, and simply, human.

3. “Overlapping Worlds” by Tom SheldonI’m Tom Sheldon, I was born in New Mexico on 9 Dec 1958, and come from a large Hispanic family. As far as my own personal history in Art goes, it is brief. I have always appreciated the gift of creating since I was young. I like all mediums and love (Southwestern) nature and organic based topics. While I have had little in the way of formal training and education, I've enjoyed a modicum of success, mostly in drawing/drafting. I teach students on occasion, and have also illustrated for (HWI) Hawk Watch International.
My work has shown in local galleries, as well as the Museum of Natural History here. I have won art competitions at the State Fair level. I also love to write poetry.

4. “Poets Respond to SB 1070: Grave Song for Immigrant Soldier” by Aurora Levins MoralesAurora Levins Morales was born in Puerto Rico. Her ancestors include people from the Caribbean and South America, North and West Africa, Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. She is a feminist poet, essayist and fiction writer whose work is widely taught and has been translated into seven languages. Her books include Medicine Stories, Remedios: Stories of Earth & Iron from the History of Puertorriqueñas,and Getting Home Alive, with her mother, Rosario Morales. Following 9/11 she became Poet On Assignment for Pacifica Radio's Flashpoints, broadcasting regular poetry commentaries on the news. "Grave Song for Immigrant Soldiers" was part of that project.

5.“The Borders Crossed Us” by David RomeroDavid A. Romero is an artist, activist and male model. According to one of his best friends Matt Sedillo, he is always talking about his “his father, his cheese enchiladas, the girls he never got with, and those ‘glory days’ of activism in college.” David will not fail to mention to you that he is a graduate of the University of Southern California, having double-majored in the fields of Cinematic Arts and Philosophy.

People will often ask David what he hopes to accomplish with his poetry, and, depending on his mood, he will answer with either “world peace,” or “world domination.” As a poet he is inspired by both the grand and simple things in life. David encourages you to reflect upon our human capacity for empathy (feeling the joy and suffering of others). He wants you to join in the fight for social justice. David is an artist affiliate of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC).

David A. Romero was the host of the short-lived Diamond Bars Open Mic in, you guessed it, Diamond Bar, CA.

6. “Ghost Braids 0.0” by Israel Francisco Harosxxx

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