Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In memoriam review: Parrot in the Oven. On-Line Floricanto 22Feb

QEPD, Victor Martinez

Another writer falls. La Bloga learned last week that Victor Martinez, poet and novelist, not yet 60 years old, has died. Que en paz descanse.

Victor Martinez and his family have many friends. Their eulogies mention the popularity of his novel, Parrot in the Oven, among high school teachers. I am happy to learn this, as I’m sure Victor derived satisfaction that his words found their audience.

I will never get the privilege of shaking Victor’s hand—he’s my tocayo in the middle name and we could have talked about that—or telling him how much I enjoyed his novel. Carpe diem.

I read Parrot in the Oven back in July 1998. Here is my review from that day. A version of this appeared—I’m pretty sure—on the Usenet board, Soc.culture.mexican.american. Or maybe CHICLE. Quién sabe.


Martinez, Victor. Parrot in the Oven, Mi Vida. NY: Joanna Cotler Books (Harper Collins), 1996.

Michael Sedano

“Mi Vida”, subtitle of Victor Martinez’ novel, Parrot in the Oven, tells a story high school kids could enjoyably read and teachers could teach from. Martinez writes an easy reading storyteller's style that emphasizes visual elements that focus on the landscape as an easy reference point. Parrot's characters take much of their identify from this background, e.g. the project's empty lots mirror the kids' apparently bleak futures, or their identities are held in sharp contrast to their space's ambience, e.g. the storm during the mugging episode echoes the emotional storm inside the kid.

Parrot tells stories about country-bound chicanos that urban kids comprehend in their entirety despite the setting: no jobs; pregnant sister; neighborhood bullies; long-suffering mother; tyrannical father; worthless siblings. Among them all, only the main character possesses the fortitude to make good on the dreams and potential that lie tantalizingly just out of the character's reach--the school across town; his $20 gift; the anglo social scene; a hassle-free walk out his own front door.

A capable high school teacher will want to ask students about a world with only a few positive images. There is the grown sister. She gets pregnant by a lowlife. We meet only two other chicanas. They are sluts or teases. There is a father--an abusive drunk. The long-suffering mother remains a helpless victim of her own indecision. There are several other chicanos, the brother and the kid's friend and neighbors, and each of these is a loser. The young anglos we meet are universally jerks, especially the putative girl friend.

There’s always one hitch in a dramatic coming of age story subtitled “Mi Vida:” the foreknowledge that fictive events will somehow work out. Hence, the reader knows without being told that the kid never fully commits to gang membership, that the strong arm robbery near the end will turn out right for the kid. Knowing in advance, the reader misses the page-turning stress growing from unresolved passions and traumas.

Parrot in the Oven is a book high school readers will enjoy because they will want to see their own world in Parrot's exaggerated view of the world. But these readers most likely lack the critical facility that a conscientious teacher must provide to guide the reader to understand the hyperbole of the Parrot's world: surrounded by danger, enemies, and plain mean spiritedness, a boy or girl has to take strength from wherever strength comes: the news hawker, one's own empathy for strangers, the good that resides however deeply in one's flawed parents.

La Bloga Facebook FYI

There's a place for everything and everything in its place. That's now become a social media truism,
what with the pan-Arab movimiento mobilized by, an eponymous big motion picture with award nominations, hasta La Bloga is socially mediaed. Socially mediated. Social media'd. Looks as if we need yet another new verb to go with "friend," "follow," and Watson-knows what other verbs owing existence to the mero mero of social media, Facebook.

La Bloga at FB consists in a reminder service to gente already friending La Bloga, or in networks with La Bloga friends. You can Follow La Bloga via Blogger's notification system, or FB. Here at La Bloga, in the upper left corner of the screen note the white Search box field. To its right is the link "Follow." Click and elect public or otherwise following. Most elegant and simple.

Just as effective is Blogger's Comments notification system. When you leave a Comment, click the option to receive notification when someone engages your Comment. We've enjoyed numerous excellent interchanges, but as often have noted a follow-on Comment sit there unresponded. Evidently the first Commenter did not check that "notify me" option.

To Follow La Bloga at FB--to receive reminders of a writer's topic--click and continue the FB follow process.

On-Line Floricanto, Penultimate Domingo of February

Owing to recent changes in Facebook software, finding the Index of poems submitted to Poets Responding to SB 1070 has become anything but intuitive. Used to be you saw the workd "Index" and mouseclicked. Now one has to go a-hunting, a bit like seeking a decent person at an Arizona GOP confab. Ni modo; here is the link:

1. "Capitol Poetry" Nephtalí de León

2. "Invocation / Invocación" by Francisco X. Alarcón

3. “Of the Land” by Patrick Fontes

4. "Tú" by Melissa Castillo-Garsow

5. “In My Barrio (An Improvised Tune)” by Jose Hernandez

6. “Filling in the Circles” by Ricardo Villalobos

(on the cold winter steps of the U.S. Capitol,
Washington, D.C., Saturday, Feb. 05, 2011 )

by Nephtalí de León

it was bitter cold
old snow was on the ground
from many places poets came
each with a brave bold heart

Tláloc’s tempered rain
came down to bless
each poet on the list
from time to time
Ehecátl the wind
softened his winter blast
millions of relatives
joined them there
the many back home
and spirits of the past

ghosts danced
each word gave truth
to their power voice
word-arrows hit their mark
on the steps of the capitol stones

unequivocal voices rose
a native hymn to the parent sky
and there before the world
amerindian verses spoke
stop the genocide stop the raids

truthfully they but no bitter heart
spoke for the folks back home
we won´t be silent by the side
we´ll talk about your illegal claim
and keep u warm in the cold cold rain!

© Nephtalí de León


to the poets and all the people
who in person or in spirit stood
with “Poets Responding to SB 1070”
on the steps of the US Capitol
on Saturday, February 5, 2011

by Francisco X. Alarcón

we first form a circle
hands holding hands
warming each other

under a cold drizzle
wanting to turn Winter
into a Spring of Solidarity

a human Stonehenge
standing in front of
the US Capitol in DC

we then call the North
the Land of our Ancestors
so we can have the Wisdom

with the deep roots
and the heights of Grandpa
and Grandma sequoia trees

we call forth the East
the Direction of Fire
where the Sun daily rises

so we can turn into living
torches giving out light
throughout the night

we also call the South
for the might of Water
to empower us here

and now to become rivers
carving canyons all the way
to the Sea of Freedom

we face and call the West
taking in this cold Wind
exhaling this warm Breath
we‘ll fight and resist as we always have
as long as Tláloc has rain and mist
as long as the wind blows we´ll insist
we´re home, you can remain

forming a single cloud
that rises up as an offering
as a true Prayer of Unity

we come from the four
Directions of this Land
from plains, rain forests

from mountains, valleys
from deserts, towns
cities and nowhere

we are a dozen bards
rhyming in a single beat
springing from the heart

weaving with our voices
a tapestry, a posting banner
seeking Peace over War

we might be few but
our Spirit is boundless
unbroken, and free

we are Moses speaking
to Pharaoh: “let our people
already here live in peace”

“stop the deportation
of veterans and bring
the deported home”

“for a humane comprehensive
immigration reform now
& civil rights for all”

may the deaf hear our plea
may the blind see our banners
may the classic columns dance

to the tune of tropical drums
of our new emancipation:
“aquí estamos y no nos vamos”

we are also sons and daughters
of this Land of the Brave and Free—
running buffaloes coming home

© Francisco X. Alarcón
February 7, 2011

Valente and Manuel Valenzuela holding their banner in front of the US Capitol (Feb. 5, 2011). Photo by Javier Pinzón.


a los poetas y a toda la gente que
en persona o en espíritu estuvieron
con los “Poets Responding to SB 1070”
en las escalinatas del Capitolio de EE.UU.
el sábado 5 de febrero 2011

por Francisco X. Alarcón

primero formamos un círculo
con manos estrechando manos
dándonos mutuamente calor

bajo una lluvizna pertinaz fría
deseando convertir el Invierno
en una Primavera de Solidaridad

un Stonehenge humano
erguido en frente del
Capitolio de EE.UU. en DC

luego invocamos al Norte
la Tierra de los Ancestros
para tener la sabiduría

con las hondas raíces
y las alturas de los árboles
abuelos y abuelas secoyas

invocamos al Este
la Dirección del Fuego
de donde diario sale el Sol

para que podamos ser
antorchas vivas que dan luz
a través de toda la noche

llamamos también al Sur
al Poderío del Agua
para aquí y ahora poder

convertirnos en ríos
que tallan cañones hasta
llegar al Mar de la Libertad

de frente llamamos al Oese
inhalando el Viento frío
exhalando este Aliento tibio

formando una sola nube
que se eleva como ofrenda
como Plegaria de Unidad

venimos de las cuatro
Direcciones de esta Tierra
de llanos, forestas

de montañas, valles
de desiertos, pueblos
ciudades y de ningún lugar

somos una docena de poetas
que hacen rimas con un ritmo
que nos sale del corazón

tejiendo con nuestras voces
un tapiz, una manta cartel
por la Paz sobre la Guerra

seremos unos cuantos pero
nuestro Espíritu es inmenso
sin ninguna atadura y libre

somos Moisés pidiéndole
al Faraón: “a nuestro pueblo
que ya vive aquí deja en paz”

“alto a la deportación
de veteranos y regreso
de deportados a casa”

“por una reforma general
de inmigración humanitaria
y derecho civiles para todos”

que los sordos oigan nuestro clamor
que los ciegos vean nuestras mantas
que las columnas clásicas bailen

al compás del tambor tropical
de nuestra nueva emancipación:
“aquí estamos y no nos vamos”

somos tambien hijos e hijas por igual
de esta Tierra de seres valientes y libres—
búfalos corriendo a éste nuestro hogar

© Francisco X. Alarcón
7 de febrero de 2011

Of the Land

by Patrick Fontes

Wrinkled hands gliding atop small beans
Las noticias blare on a blinking screen
next to an altar Maria glows with sun rays
on her face
as a rooster crows in the moist fields
Nana sorts pintos
with hands painted like raw frijoles
darker brown with beige spots
one by one with love
cleaning beans
sorting dirt balls
at sunlight

As weathered hands divide dirt from food
Tata arises to the early morning fragrance
of dew on oleander
that line Fresno’s southern border
sinewed body with hands like leather
bleeding cracks reopen daily
as earth, pesticides, sun and sweat
vie for brutality on his aged flesh
nails thick as tortoise shells
yellowed from decades in the mud
come home packed with dirt
at sunset

As Tata’s old Chevy truck rumbles
enters the unpaved driveway sending dust
into the air like an explosion
his tires and fenders frosted with earth
like a giant chocolate birthday cake
Tio Bobby’s construction boots
sit on the back porch
covered in plastered tumors like cancer
cement and dirt bake

As Tio Bobby scrapes plaster and dirt from his body
Tata chisels stubborn earth beneath his nails
Nana begins to scrub the day’s soil
from workmen’s clothes
Tia Annie rolling tortillas in la cocina
next to a pot of simmering chile verde
tells her own story of tierra
of living as a little girl
in Camulu, Mexico
in the 1960’s
of her home, a small shack
no windows, no doors,
no screens, no plumbing
but coyotes and dirt floors


Dedicado a mi prima Edna, 19, who I never met, porque fue asesinada el 19 de Julio de 2010 en Ciudad Juarez, México.

by Melissa Castillo-Garsow

Tú eres diferente
From me.
You had to:
cross the border everyday
take out your passport and
sit in traffic, staring.
the barbed wire
to remind you of tu Mexicanidad.


Thousands of miles away
I never knew your border
Mine was different:
piñatas and enchiladas
Mariachis and flan
La virgen above my bed
bright pink cheeks when my friends said
“I can’t understand your dad.”


We used to wear matching bracelets
“best friends forever.”
We promised we would never become
“just primos” –
separados por un pais that makes
“nosotras” sound wrong.


is a word we never use;
don't know how to use.
You lived in Tijuana
I lived in translation.
Vosotros is a word we don’t want to use.


She has a border too –
In a state where I tell her to carry ID everwhere she goes.
Revise: Mexican Colombian-American.
Chimichangas, cactus, cumbia.
Half sister. Three passports.
answering only en Inglés.


can’t tell the difference.

© Melissa Castillo-Garsow

In My Barrio (An Improvised Tune)

by José Hernández Díaz

In my Barrio
An abuelita
Sits on a
Breezy porch
An elaborate sweater
For a weekend
Baby shower

In my Barrio
A mural of
The Virgen de Guadalupe
Adorns a
Liquor store’s
Outside wall
Where even
Gang graffiti
Doesn’t dare

In my Barrio
A Chevy lowrider
Cruises through
The aves
Equipped with
Shiny rims
And a blasting
Stereo system
That rattles
Every window
It slowly passes

In my Barrio
Primos play
A game of
Futbol in the park
Pausing only
To buy an
Ice cream
From the local

In my Barrio
A mother pushes
A loaded
Shopping cart
As her
Hums an
Improvised tune
And tightly holds
Onto a balloon string

In my Barrio
You do not
Need to know
A single word
Of English
To survive
But it helps
To roll your
R's with style.

Filling in the Circles
By Ricardo Villalobos

First grade
Please fill out this form:
What’s that?


Aren’t those Crayolas?
Papi, can I mix them
to get brown?

What race are they
talking about?
Running or skipping?
Where’s the finish line?

Who’s that?
Not even sure if
I’m “us”

That funny language you speak
Do you mean
how I talk en mi casa?
Warmer, rounder,
with more emotion

“You’re one of those!”
Confused head
clenched chest
shallow breath
glued tongue

Illegal alien
Alien child
My knee cuts and bleeds,
and I pick the scab like you.
My blood flows like yours
Or does it?

Born here
Born there
Political lines
Different rules
determine who gets what
and where I live
But where’s the finish line?

"Capitol Poetry" Nephtalí de León
"Invocation / Invocación" by Francisco X. Alarcón
“Of the Land” by Patrick Fontes
"Tú" by Melissa Castillo-Garsow
“In My Barrio (An Improvised Tune)” by Jose Hernandez
“Filling in the Circles” by Ricardo Villalobos

Patrick FontesCurrently I am a PhD candidate in history at Stanford University. My research involves border issues, Mexican religion, the Virgin Mary, Mexican immigration into the Southwest, and the criminalization of Chicano culture.

I grew up in Fresno, in a working class Chicano home. My father was a construction worker, my mom, a waitress. My father grew up in makeshift tent communities, picking crops up and down California in the 1950s and 1960s.

During the Mexican revolution my great grandfather, Jesus Luna, crossed the border from Chihuahua into El Paso, then on to Fresno. In 1920 Jesus built a Mexican style adobe house on the outskirts of the city, it is still our family’s home and the center of our Mexican identity today. Nine decades of memories adorn the plastered walls inside. In one corner, a photo of Bobby Kennedy hangs next to an image of La Virgen de Zapopan; in another, an imposing altar to Guadalupe. My poetry is living with the sounds, smells, dreams and souls of family who have gone before me.

Melissa Castillo-GarsowMelissa Castillo-Garsow is a Mexican-American writer, journalist, and scholar. She completed her Bachelor of Arts at New York University in Journalism and Latin American Studies in 2007 and is finishing a Master’s degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing at Fordham University where she is a graduate assistant for the American Studies Program. Melissa was awarded the Sonoran Prize for Creative Writing at Arizona State University and was a finalist for Crab Orchard Review’s 2009 Charles Johnson Student Fiction Award. She has had short stories and poems published in Shaking Like a Mountain, the anthology A Daughter’s Story, The Acentos Review, The Minetta Review, The 2River View and has a forthcoming novel with Augustus Publishing. She also has forthcoming articles in The Bilingual Review, Women's Studies, and Words.Beats.Life: The Global Journal of Hip Hop Culture. For more information visit wwww.melissacastillogarsow.com

José Hernández This spring José Hernández Díaz will graduate from UC Berkeley with a BA in English Literature. He plans on applying to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics’ MFA Program at Naropa, along with other creative writing schools. Jose’s favorite poets are those of the Chicano Renaissance and the poets of the Beat Generation. This summer José will take his annual trip to Gunajuato, Mexico,--his parents’ hometown.

Ricardo VillalobosRicardo Villalobos is a psychotherapist in Washington, DC who works with mentally ill Spanish-speaking clients. His poetry has been published in Poems Against War: A Journal of Poetry and Action and blueink. Villalobos is a Chicano from Chicago and spent many years as a civil rights activist organizing against the death penalty and police brutality, developing leadership for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and as an organizational development consultant for many nonprofit organizations.

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