Amelia M.L. Montes (ameliamontes.com)
Even though the month of April (designated “Poetry Month”) is soon to give way to the month of May, my poetry books are not going to disappear. I will continue to whisper lines of poetry to amuse myself when walking, driving, or riding my bike, or when sitting in an office, waiting to be called. Poetry is a moment of beauty I can enter anytime, anywhere. It’s a space of meditation.
Permit me, then, to share with you some of my favorites. I really could fill many books with so many lovely poems. It was difficult to choose which ones to share with you. I’m noticing a theme in my choices, however. A theme regarding immigration, familia, crossings. Some of these are older and some newer. Here is one that I use in class when I begin to teach Gloria Anzaldúa. It’s a good poem to introduce Anzaldúa’s theory of Nepantla to the students.
To Live in the Borderlands means you
are neither hispana india negra española
ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed
caught in the crossfire between camps
while carrying all five races on your back
not knowing which side to turn to, run from;
To live in the Borderlands means knowing
that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years,
is no longer speaking to you,
the mexicanas call you rajetas,
that denying the Anglo inside you
is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black;
Cuando vives en la frontera
people walk through you, the wind steals your voce,
you’re a burra, buey, scapegoat,
forerunner of a new race,
half and half – both woman and man, neither—
a new gender;
To live in the Borderlands means to
put chile in the borscht,
eat whole wheat tortillas,
speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;
Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to
resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,
the pull of the gun barrel,
the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;
In the Borderlands
you are the battleground
where enemies are kin to each other;
you are at home, a stranger,
the border disputes have been settled
the volley of shots have shattered the truce
you are wounded, lost in action
dead, fighting back;
To live in the Borderlands means
the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off
your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart
pound you pinch you roll you out
smelling like white bread but dead;
To survive the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads.
(from Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza)
Here’s celebrating Eduardo C. Corral’s work. This poem comes from his collection, Slow Lightning which won the 2012 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.
Immigration and Naturalization
Service Report #46
After the body was bagged and whisked away, we noticed a scarlet
pelt on the sand. “This guy had it nice, sleeping on a pelt for days,”
Ignacio joked. He paused mid-laugh, bent down, ran his hand
through the fur. One of his fingers snagged. “This isn’t a pelt, it’s a
patch of wolf ears,” he said. “No, they’re too large,” I replied.
“Then they must be coyote ears,” he murmured. Sweat gathered in
the small of my back. “Ignacio, should we radio headquarters?” I
asked. Two ears rose slowly from the patch. I said a few more
words. Nothing. I uttered my own name. Two more ears unfurled.
We stepped back from the patch, called out the names of our
fathers and mothers. Ramón. Juana. Octavio. More and more ears
rose. Rodolfo. Gloria . . .
for Javier O. Huerta
--Eduardo C. Corral
Our own La Bloga writer, Melinda Palacio’s newest book of poetry is How Fire is a Story, Waiting. It was named a finalist in the Binghamton University Milt Kessler Book Award.
How Fire is a Story, Waiting
My grandmother caught the flame in her thick hands.
Curled fingers made nimble by kaleidoscope embers.
Fire buns hot and cold if you know where to touch it, she said.
I watched the red glow spit and wiggle as it
snaked down the thin timber, a striptease,
born out of the festive sound of a half-filled matchbox.
Through orange windows framed by obsidian eyes, I saw the child she once was.
A little girl who raised herself because her mother had a coughing disease.
Blood on her mother’s handkerchief didn’t stop her from dreaming.
Maria Victoria was going to be a singer with her deep, cinnamon stick voice.
She watched novelas in the kitchen while waiting for dough to rise.
Her body, heavy with worry for two families and three lifetimes. She tucked
Mariachi dreams under her girdle. Lullabies escaped on mornings
Warmed by her son falling into gas burners turned on high.
The flame on a stove was never the same. It had a bad hangover,
didn’t remember the many matches lit when its starter broke down.
My grandmother rolled paper into a funnel,
Stole fire from the pilot to light the stubborn burner on the right.
Crimson burned blue on the white paper, its folded edges
Curled black like a lace truffle on a skirt.
The finicky flam can’t comment on its magic.
The thousands of tortillas and pancakes cooked over the years.
How I burned myself roasting a hot dog campfire style.
How a melted pencil smudged under my sister’s eyelid make her beautiful.
My grandmother noticed the time, almost noon.
She needed to make three dozen tortillas to feed her family of thirteen.
The show over, she blew the match into a swirl of gray squiggles.
Snuffed before it had a chance to burn hot on her finger.
Funny, how fire is a story, waiting.
This is one of my favorite poems by our Presidential Inaugural Poet, Richard Blanco.
Queer Theory: According to My Grandmother
Never drink soda with a straw---
Milk shakes? Maybe.
Stop eyeing your mother’s Avon catalog,
And the men’s underwear in those Sears flyers.
I’ve seen you . . .
Stay out of her Tupperware parties
and perfume bottles—don’t let her kiss you.
she kisses you much too much.
Avoid hugging men, but if you must,
pat them real hard
on the back, even
if it’s your father.
Must you keep that cat? Don’t pet him so much.
Why don’t you like dogs?
Never play house, even if you’re the husband.
Quit hanging with that Henry kid, he’s too pale,
and I don’t care what you call them
those GI Joes of his
Don’t draw rainbows or flowers or sunsets.
I’ve seen you . . .
Don’t draw at all—no coloring books either.
Put away your crayons, your Play-Doh, your Legos.
Where are your Hot Wheels,
your laser gun and handcuffs,
the knives I gave you?
Never fly a kite or roller skate, but light
all the firecrackers you want,
kills all the lizards you can, cut up worms—
feed them to that cat of yours.
Don’t sit Indian style with your legs crossed—
you’re no Indian
Stop click-clacking your sandals—
you’re no girl.
For God’s sake, never pee sitting down.
I’ve seen you . . .
Never take a bubble bath or wash your hair
with shampoo—shampoo is for women.
So is conditioner.
So is mousse.
So is hand lotion.
Never file your nails or blow-dry your hair—
go to the barber shop with your grandfather—
you’re not unisex.
Stay out of the kitchen. Men don’t cook—
they eat. Eat anything you want, except:
croissants (Bagels? Maybe.)
Don’t watch Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie
Don’t stare at The Six-Million Dollar Man.
I’ve seen you . . .
Never dance alone in your room:
Donna Summer, Barry Manilow, the Captain
and Tennille, Bette Midler, and all musicals—
Posters of kittens, Star Wars, or the Eiffel Tower—
Those fancy books on architecture and art—
I threw them in the trash.
You can’t wear cologne or puka shells
and I better not catch you in clogs.
If I see you in a ponytail—I’ll cut it off.
What? No, you can’t pierce your ear.
left or right side—
I don’t care—
you will not look like a goddam queer,
I’ve seen you . . .
even if you are one.
This next poem is from another one of our own La Bloga writers, Olga García Echeverría. It is from her collection, Falling Angels: cuentos y poemas
Nobody ever looked up to see her
sitting against splintered window sill
She liked the sight of the city below
lights orchestrating traffic
cars honking buses screeching
Her mother would scold
tell her it was no good
to stare out windows
with so much longing
You only 13 mija get away
from that damn window!
And her brother would tease
frighten her with stories
of young girls falling
said he’d seen heads bust open
like watermelons breaking on concrete
seen arms where legs should’ve been
bare bones popping out from skin
Falling ain’t pretty mensa pero you
keep leaning out that window
You hear me?
They didn’t know it but
she had already fallen
it was never like her brother said
she never tumbled or screamed
on her way down
never cracked open her head
her flight was always
body gracefully ascending
arms and shoulders opening softly
--Olga García Echeverría
Wishing you all excellent poetry readings, writings, celebrations!