Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Down to the Bone. Oedipus Rey. On-Line Floricanto Ultimate in November 2012

Second Time’s a Charm. Review: Mayra Lazara Dole. Down to the Bone.Tallahassee FL: Bella Books, 2012. ISBN-13: 9781594933172 

Michael Sedano

Back in 2008 and 2009, La Bloga wrote enthusiastically about a Young Adult novel, Down to the Bone, detailing the heartbreak of a girl exploring her sexuality in the worst way: outed by a viciously evil high school teacher, ostracized by childhood friends, and thrown out of her little brother’s life when Shai’s mother kicks the daughter out of the house. “Don’t come back until you like boys, degenerada” is the mother’s curse.

Bella Books, a dynamic “publisher of vibrant and irresistible fiction for and about lesbians” has not republished the out-of-print title but instead has given Mayra Lazara Dole the opportunity to let the book grow up from YA to literary fiction. Although the publisher continues to class the novel as YA, Down to the Bone is a book for parents, relatives, and young readers.

The book keeps readers on edge. The retrograde attitudes of the mother and several of the supporting characters are constant reminders of all the ways US society, and in this case, Cubans in Miami’s US society, practice blind intolerance. Can they be overcome? Down to the Bone tells how Shai rebounds from ugly abuse to nest in the warmth and love of gente who love Shai for the content of her character and her spirit, who don't need to forgive her for whom she loves.

Dole’s characters introduce a broad range of sexual identities. The enthusiastically herterosexual best friend Soli, Soli’s boyfriends du jour, and her mother, Viva, define Love. Soli and Viva throw open their home and their arms unconditionally to the rejected kid. Marlena—Shai’s only lover—is terrified her parents will learn she likes girls. Confused and ultimately dishonest, Marlena marries her parents’ chosen mate. She comes back looking to rekindle the flames but Shai looks for honesty in people and Marlena proved herself heart-breakingly confused and ultimately dishonest.

Lazer’s story adds yet another edge to the novel. Dole invariably elects male pronouns to describe the boi, who comes on to Shai with desire. But, while Shai finds Lazer’s genderqueerness attractive, he’s not Shai’s preference and Lazer regretfully moves on. They can be friends, just friends.

Some of the abuse Shai suffers comes self-administered. She’s just sixteen. Confused by her mother’s absolutism, Shai throws herself into faking it, taking a boyfriend in hopes she will learn to love him and thus change into someone her mother will welcome home. When Shai realizes the immense damage she does to the hetero boy—who's a real jerk--it helps push her over the Niagra Falls of deception she’s been riding toward a precipice.

Shai makes attempts at hetero play--sex games without "going all the way"—with the putative boyfriend. But that life is a lie that Shai can’t stomach. Shai heaps guilt upon herself because she understands pretending to be heterosexual is just another lie, and she’s already lost a lifetime of friends who had no idea Shai is a…

A what? Shai’s confusion and mom-induced guilt leads the child to reject labels that fly everywhere. Gay. Lesbo. Lesbian. Tortillera. Faggot. Dyke. Hetero. Lezzie. Dole skillfully plays out Shai’s labelling perplexity, using that as a signal of Shai’s growing health. When Shai finally breaks through that lexical wall to call herself “lesbian”, a new Shai emerges: self-accepting and unrelentingly honest, lovingly out of the closet and finding her way into her new society.

With acceptance comes freedom. Difficult, painful freedom in some ways, but grandly liberating in the best ways. Finding and building strength upon her decisive self-assurance, Shai confronts and explains the facts of life to the unrelenting mother and sets the terms of their ongoing relationship.

Down to the Bone is not a morality tale--though readers will find that. Dole's crafted a cautionary coming of age story that says a person is entitled to whatever happiness she can create. It says we live in parallel worlds, the gay world, the haters world, the world of the rest of us. Some of us pass back and forth into those worlds while others shut themselves and others out. All own the consequences of their acts.

When a parent or classmates make it a point to bully or punish a gay offspring, that is hurtful and absolutely unjust. Because Shai is no longer in the home, her little brother will fall behind in school and suffer the consequences of an education deficit. Shai abandons schooling to work full-time in landscape design, thinking she can autodidact higher education and forge a career. In order to force her mother’s acceptance, Shai blackmails her mother, threatening to tell mom’s rich new husband the whole story and redefining the mother-daughter relationship to something inherently unhealthy.

Bella Books lists a growing catalog to enjoy. Visit the publisher's website to order the book in paper or ebook, or to get the details so your local independent bookseller can order as many copies as you'll need to read and share with friends.  Down to Bone brings not only enjoyment but a vitally important story not to be missed.

News from the email bag
Oedipus el Rey in the Northwest

This time, it’s Seattle’s turn to share Luis Alfaro's version of Oedipus tyrannos, its chicano version Oedipus el Rey, coming to Seattle's eSe Teatro in early December for an abbreviated run.

La Bloga has enthusiastically followed Alfaro’s retelling. Alfaro curses today’s pintos and street gangsters with the core of Sophocle’s Athenian tragedy. In the version I saw at Malibu Getty in 2008, the concept stunned me with its revolutionary stance. That Getty production was exquisite.

Bloguera Olga Garcia found the experience of Oedipus el Rey scintillating when she joined a 2010 Pasadena audience for a characteristically limited-run on a tiny stage.

The play remains a work-in-progress. When it’s completed and ready for the main stage downtown, Oedipus el Rey will be sublimely historical and undoubtedly award-winning.

La Bloga welcomes guest reviewers. If you're among those who get to enjoy this performance, please let La Bloga share your experience

La Bloga On-Line Floricanto 

“America I Need To Talk To You” by Diana Lucas Joe

"Volcanoes Here Speak Up! / Los volcanes aquí toman la palabra" by Francisco X. Alarcón

“Nameless” by Joe Navarro

“Why Do You Cry, Mother?” by Ramon Piñero

America I Need To Talk To You.
by Diana Lucas--joe

America, I need to talk to you.
I need to tell you what I see.
I see you go wild.
Going out to other places.
Acting all big.
I ask you to stop!
Sit down!
This is not going to be easy.
I want to begin by saying I love you.
I always have, since I was little.
I wore my hats for you.
I sang my songs of you.
Oh! How I Celebrated you!
But I need to tell you that I will not tolerate your insensitivity.
You go to other places and stay too long.
Killing, killing.
Shame on you.
You have become too filled with vanity.
Others celebrate you grandly too!
Haven't you had enough?
Sit down!
I speak truly to you, as it is all I ever did for you.
I am not just a number in your books.
I refuse to be just that anymore.
I am going back to my father, the sky.
I am living with my mother, the earth.
I needed to tell you that.
You can change too, America, you really can.
Come back.

by Joe Navarro

Nameless...eaten by weather
And animals litter the desert
They previously had names and
Families, people who loved them
Who said, "Goodbye," perhaps
With a blessing, sharing in
The hope of a new beginning
But that all evaporated somewhere
Between disorientation, hopelessness
And futility, or disillusion
Voices and memories washed away
In tears that smelled impending
Death, which screamed in
Hunger pangs and sandy swallows
One final memory of family and
Friends escorted their dreams
Across the final border

--Joe Navarro
© Copyright 2012

Why Do You Cry, Mother?
by Ramon Piñero
 She birthed
both; dark
hair, dark
eyes, a
joy to
any father

She watched
as they played
sand castles
at the beach'
innocently, but
(as children
are wont to
be) exasperating

as time
between them
stones grew
where once
there were
moss covered
their tongues

further than
far and
stranger than
the brothers
they no
longer spoke
now than
when they
were young

their castles
by moats
filled with
broken promises

to speak
the peace,
distort the

The adversary
between them
uses mortars
of hate as
bulding blocks
making larger
with higher

and with
stones where
their ayes
once were
and tongues
with moss
the entreaties
of the dead
and dying
go unheeded

their mother
birthed them
both, with dark
hair and dark
any father would
be proud

now they
are like the
grains of

stones where
there eyes
once were
covered in

when they
the shrieks
drown out
their words
the adversary
gains new
and little
reach back
chasing their
back to
peace of


A mother
cries out
a father
rends his
their children
are dying
and the
with a
knowing smile
slinks through
the underbrush
and preaches
from the
the minaret
the pulpit

a mother
birthed them
a proud

but stones
grew where
once their
eyes were’
their tongues
once sang
odes to joy;
songs of
now covered
in moss
sing no more

their eyes
gleam no
the wonder
of being, the
lantern of
life, slowly

the adversary
smiles knowingly
soon he shall
add to his

“America I Need To Talk To You” by Diana Lucas Joe

"Volcanoes Here Speak Up! / Los volcanes aquí toman la palabra" by Francisco X. Alarcón

“Nameless” by Joe Navarro

“Why Do You Cry, Mother?” by Ramon Piñero

Diana is a grassroots barrio Chicana poet and writer, song writer and composer from Brownsville, Texas. Born in 1960 to a generational migrant family, she grew up in federal housing projects in South Texas, attending public school there, as well.

She enjoys writing poetry on Chicano and indigenous peoples' political and social issues. She has been writing since age eight. Her writing began as she was a community advocate for those with community members limited in English reading, writing, or conversational skills. She writes about Mexican American International Border Issues, and has been inspired to do so because of the ever present border and migratory upset with communities in these territories she calls ancient corridors.

Diana's work has been published in numerous local, state and city newspapers, college newsletters, magazines, and books throughout the border states in the US. and Mexico. She is an activist for indigenous people's rights from the US, Mexico, and the world. Her favorite quote published in the Brownsville Herald in 2006, as she did a hunger strike along the banks of the river there, against H.R.4437 was, ''The Earth Was Made To Contain All Of Us!"

Francisco X. Alarcón, award-winning Chicano poet and educator, is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, including, From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002). His latest book is Ce•Uno•One: Poemas para el Nuevo Sol/Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press 2010). His most recent book of bilingual poetry for children is Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008). He teaches at the University of California, Davis. He is the creator of the Facebook page, POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070.

Joe Navarro is a literary vato loco, teacher, poet, creative writer, husband, father and grandfather who currently lives in Hollister, CA. Joe integrates his poetic voice with life's experiences, and blends culture with politics. His poetic influences include the Beat Poets, The Last Poets, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Alurista, Gloria Anzaldua, Lalo Delgado and numerous others. You can read more from Joe at www.joenavarro.weebly.com.

Ramon Piñero. "Ex Bay Area poet living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, aka Florida. Where good little boys and girls grow up to be republicans who vote against their own interest. Father of three and Grandfather to six of the coolest kids ever.

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