In memoriam: Vanessa Libertad Garcia, age 29
by Thelma T. Reyna
your sweet face fooled us all, lulled us into
thinking a heart of milk and honey could stave
your soft arms folded us in laughter, tricked
us into thinking your songs and crazy dancing
could castrate demons
your dreams consumed us— your films, poems,
music, art, scripts transporting us to
worlds you grew
but you buried truth in pillows, in journals
shut to daylight, in night clubs cramped with
sweat, malt liquors, smoke, and coke
you buried your soul in keyboards clacking
beyond sleep, churning your brain into
believing fame followed close
vanessa of visions huge, transcending blue-eyed
men who blocked, who slammed doors shut, who
could not see the world you were
vanessa of gentle eyes that wearied of the tug,
the pull, the pressing down, the clouds that hung
like lead around your soul
dreams die hard, you said the day before, but
we were lulled and tricked and blind and deaf and
never saw your spirit’s death.
Published in the San Gabriel Valley Poets Quarterly, Issue #59, Summer 2013.
In Memoriam: Vanessa Libertad Garcia
Thelma T. Reyna
Talented author, filmmaker, and sublime poet Vanessa Libertad Garcia took her own life one month ago at the age of 29. To say that her death struck those who knew her like a thunderbolt in a bright blue sky would be an understatement. To say that the Latino literary world will be diminished by the loss of this beautiful rising star is another.
To say that those of us who knew Vanessa will never fully understand why she left...is the greatest understatement of all.
Yes, she posted a long goodbye letter, and she detailed for us the immense hurt and emptiness in her world. Like all her writing, Vanessa’s “last letter,” as she called it, was fully from the heart, clear with anguish and with the poignancy her life held for most of her existence. We have read her words. “I’ve been miserable for a long time,” she wrote in her final blog post. “I could blame this state of lingering sorrow and bitter dissatisfaction with myself and my life on anything under the sun...but ...it would merely be a deflection from what I’ve come to know as the true underlying reason for this seemingly unconquerable gloom: Me.”
Vanessa, as it turns out, had long wrestled plenty of demons that convinced her she was unworthy, including a persistent melancholia that first struck her in her early teen years. Many of us, however, weren’t aware of her inner turmoil. All we could see was the beauty of her spirit.
I met Vanessa through her mother, Libertad, one of my editing clients. Libby proudly told me one day about her daughter’s passion for writing and of how Vanessa was almost finished with her first book. When Vanessa published this labor of love, The Voting Booth After Dark, in 2010, she sent me a copy, and I was the first to write a review of it. The book, a mixed genre, includes poems, personal essays, and short-short stories that I surmised, at the time, paralleled Vanessa’s own struggles. I feel now that she was beginning to show us her world.
As the years passed, Vanessa and I kept in touch via email, Facebook, professional networking, and serving on author panels at literary events. She always radiated modesty and kindness, her sweet voice and face belying her stubborn sense of social justice and staunch determination to excel at everything she did: writing, illustrating her written work, making indie films, editing these, creating compelling trailers, nailing down the music for her films. Just days before her death, she reportedly critiqued and fine-tuned her new full-length movie, Good Mourning, Lucille. for which she wrote the script and which is now in post-production.
Vanessa was the epitome of someone who enters a major project on the proverbial ground floor, and, through hard labor and high competence, rises to higher levels of responsibility and creativity. Such it was with Anayansi Prado’s documentary film, Maid in America, which depicts the lives of immigrant domestic workers. Vanessa’s perfectionism and love of craftsmanship eventually took her from Intern on the project, to Associate Producer status, helping develop the film’s story line and editing.
In her last letter to us, Vanessa spoke of her “inability to adapt to life’s challenges and assimilate its lessons into wisdom, gratitude, and optimism.” Yet her letter is filled with insights that show the opposite: “I love each and every one of you and will miss you with all of me. Whether we’ve spoken recently or not for many years, you are carved into me and I remember you with deep affection and gratitude.” She lists for us “The Four Experiences I’ll miss most about living: 1) Spending time with people I love, 2) Creating Art: Namely making movies & writing, 3) Experiencing Other People’s Art: Films, Books, Plays, Exhibits, Music, Dance...4) Traveling the world.” This is a young woman full of life and knowing love. How much more deeply her departure hurts!
I remember an interview I had via email with Vanessa earlier this year. I was preparing for an author panel discussion about LGBT writers. I knew that Vanessa was openly gay and also knew her wisdom and insights would guide me. I sent her ten questions regarding the obstacles faced by LGBT Latino authors in particular and the general status of gay writers in America today. With customary honesty and eloquence, Vanessa described the “3 big walls to climb” that gay Latinas face: their gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Gay Latinas are particularly marginalized because of limited audience appeal, Vanessa believed. Funding for artistic projects, films or books, by gay Latinas is rare and limited. Despite these challenges, Vanessa ended her interview responses thus:
“My vision and dream for the status and viability of Latina/o LGBT authors is that our stories become as widely accepted by readers, publishers and funders as those of our Caucasian counterparts. I dream that one day our stories will stop being considered merely minority stories and be given the true acknowledgement they deserve: Our stories are as necessary, interesting and telling of the American landscape as [mainstream] stories. My dream for Latina/o LGBT authors in the field of literature is equal opportunity.”
Such was Vanessa’s heart, her humanity. Ever conscious of injustice, she had chafed under it yet had seemed to push beyond it. As an artistic overachiever, Vanessa had pushed the limits of excellence all her life. She earned high grades in school, graduated from a prestigious university, “struggled for [her] dreams day and night,” doing what society has always taught are the right ingredients for success. She showcased her films at prominent national and international festivals, including the LA Film Fest, Habana Film Fest, and HBO’s New York International Latino Film Festival. She had a new full-length film, Dear Dios, in development, and had made admirable progress on her new book, a collection of poems and essays about her love life. Observers might have said: She’s got the world on a string.
But the string was broken, and the world was a deflated balloon. She wrote: “I am the greatest disappointment of my life on all fronts: professionally, physically, financially, romantically…I feel as if I’m watching from behind a glass shark tank as the world unfolds in all of its majestic glory. I’m just not a part of it anymore...I wish I’d made more of a positive impact and meaningful contribution to society and the planet before I left it.” Vanessa, our dear lady, you did, you did, you did! If you only knew!
I’m weeping as I write this. I’m weeping for the frailty of self-esteem and life itself. I’m weeping not only for Vanessa’s blindness toward her goodness and merit, but for our collective blindness in not seeing her pain more clearly so many years ago. I’m weeping because the love and warmth generated by those around us who care is not always sufficient to make us choose life over death when we suffer.
But, above all, I weep because we’ll never know the full impact that Vanessa’s dedication, talents, and amazing humanity would have had on our world.
Thelma Reyna, a Pasadena poet and writer, author of The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories (2009, Outskirts Press), which has won four national awards.
www.ThelmaReyna.com. A frequent contributor to La Bloga, Dr. Reyna publishes a series of reviews of Chicana writers for Latinopia.
Thelma Reyna’s review of Vanessa’s book can be found in The Dactyl Review.
Henry VIII Reimagined by Madrileños Arrives in SoCal Next Week
Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII” will be performed at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica on September 26 -29 and the production will have a distinctly Spanish viewpoint.
Madrid-based Rakatá re-imagines the play from a Spanish perspective, with the thrilling clarity they bring to their productions of Spanish Golden Age work.
The play -- performed in Spanish with English captions -- was a smash hit at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London and makes its US debut on The Broad Stage.
The Guardian UK described the performance as "a supremely accomplished retelling of this most notorious episode in English history.”
It was, of course, also a notorious episode in Spanish history. The Spanish were enraged when Henry VIII divorced Catherine de Aragon after 20 years of marriage to marry the bewitching and younger Anne Boleyn. Rakatá’s superb production reframes the story from the Spanish point of view though the action never strays from the English court.
Dale Franzen, Director of The Broad Stage, says it is the best production of “Henry VIII” she has seen worldwide and knew immediately that it would resonate with local audiences.
“The Broad Stage is committed to bringing the world’s best Shakespeare productions to Los Angeles, so we are thrilled to start our season with “Henry VIII”, performed by Madrid's premier classical theater company Rakatá. A play that offers great historical insight mixed with political intrigue, romance and scandal, Rakatá’s “Henry VIII” presents a fantastic perspective on Shakespeare and a thrilling audience experience.”
“Henry VIII”, adapted by José Padilla, Rafael Díez Labín and Ernesto Arias and directed by Ernesto Arias, has received praise for its dramatic stage direction.
The most memorable moments on stage include the meeting between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Boleyn’s coronation, the baptism of the future Elizabeth I, the beheading of Buckingham, and Catherine’s death.
“There is no doubt,” adds Franzen, “that this is one of the highlights of the season for Los Angeles.
“The world finds royalty fascinating as witnessed by the recent royal birth of Prince George and the success of an increasing amount of TV and films focusing on royal history. Rakata’s ‘Henry VIII’ is a fascinating story from a Spanish perspective.”
Opening Night on Friday, September 27, will include a Red Carpet event with Spanish and Latin artists and VIPs.
On-line Floricanto With Poets of Resistance
Sonia Gutiérrez, Ramon Pinero, Rafael Jesús González, Francisco X. Alarcón, Elizabeth Cazessús
"What Poems Do / Lo que hacen los poemas" by Sonia Gutiérrez
"The Bridges / Los Puentes" by Ramon Piñero
"The Towers" by Rafael Jesús González
"Canto” by Francisco X. Alarcón
"El cielo que buscamos no es de fuego" por Elizabeth Cazessús
WHAT POEMS DO
Let me tell you what poems
do. With letters hanging from their chipped
beaks and sharp talons, poems
with their immense wings
fly over tempestous oceans,
where an eye of a hurricane
and spits them out.
Because some poems, not all,
I must confess
are difficult to chew.
They are arrive worn out
with their wings plucked by the winds.
And there, they arrive at their destinies—
forever and ever disguised as paper birds.
And once more, before the eyes
of the reader, their feathers
sprout and words take flight.
LO QUE HACEN LOS POEMAS
Déjame te digo lo que hacen
los poemas. Con letras colgando de sus picos
y garras afiladas, los poemas
con sus alas inmensas
vuelan sobre mares tempestuosos,
donde el ojo de un huracán
los espera—se los traga
y los escupe.
Porque algunos poemas, no todos,
son difíciles de masticar.
Ellos llegan agotados
con sus alas desplumadas por los vientos;
Y ahí, llegan a sus destinos—
vuelven a nacer
por los siglos de los siglos
disfrazados como pájaros de papel.
Y una vez más, ante los ojos
del lector, sus plumas
vuelven a brotar y sus palabras
Copyright © 2013 Sonia Gutiérrez.
The bridges are closed
no one from the other
side may cross.
do not attempt
to come near
keep your god
on that side
or we'll shoot
The bridges are closed
side is not welcomed
do not allow
one true path
The bridges are closed
no need to talk
that their god
cannot get past
to all manner
The bridges that reach
from one side to the
other have been raised
the lines are cut
reason has been
The bridges are closed
the others cannot cross
we are safe from their
of love and
The tenders know
we are safe.
© Ramon Piñero 2013
"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.
(September 11, 2001)
Rafael Jesús González
The towers fall as if,
seen through crossed eyes,
a Goliath fell brought down by a David.
Behind the myths
who of us is the guilty?
Who the innocent?
What is the distance
between justice and vengeance?
Death is inevitable, not fair.
And when the innocent are caught
in the webs of violence, it is terrible.
May the Earth hold them in rest.
If we would make a monument
worthy of their deaths,
in honor & memory of them,
let us pledge ourselves
For if death be not just
let just be our lives.
© Rafael Jesús González 2013
Rafael Jesús González (rjgonzalez.blogspot.com) was born (October 10, 1935) and raised in the bicultural/bilingual environment of El Paso, Texas, U.S.A./Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico with family on both sides of the Río Grande. Just graduated from El Paso High School, he joined the U.S. Navy in the hospital corps and served in the Marine Corps with the rank of Staff Sergeant. At the end of his military service, he attended the University of Texas, El Paso (then Texas Western College of the University of Texas) in pre-med taking time to attend the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México where he studied archaeology y Mexican literature. He is recipient of the 2012 Dragonfly Press Award for Outstanding Literary Achievement. He currently sits on the Latino Advisory Council of the Oakland Museum of California. He resides in Berkeley, California.
Francisco X. Alarcón
guiados por el olor de la esperanza
de reconocer hasta a los extraños
y llegar al ayer y encontrarnos
en la orilla bañados de futuro
y mirar en cada rostro una puerta
abierta que nos invita a pasar
y hallar refugio en el recuerdo
como pan y agua, como lecho y sol
e hilar cada experiencia en un larga hebra,
cada instante, cada sueño, cada lágrima
y tejer el gran manto colectivo
de la historia de todos los suspiros
y salir descalzos con la primera
lluvia del año a abrazar la ternura
y dar sombra y gozo, fuerza y sostén
como encinos macizos de montaña
y florecer como campos revertidos
y ser ancla, remo, compás y mar
y entonar el mismo canto del viento
con una sola voz frente al silencio:
sólo seremos libres cuando todos
y todas en cada casa, cada barrio,
sin distinción de condición humana,
dondequiera, seamos de veras libres
sólo seremos libres cuando libres
revuelen los salmones en los ríos,
cuando libres recorran como mapas
oscuros los búfalos las praderas
sólo seremos libres cuando abuso
hambre, enajenación, soledad,
ya no sean palabras sino el rumor
olvidado de un tiempo muy lejano
sólo seremos libres cuando niños
y niñas nos volvamos otra vez
y nos felicitemos por descubrir
como una maravilla al universo
Francisco X. Alarcón
guided by the scent of hope
to even meet up with strangers,
and arrive at yesterday and find
ourselves ashore, bathed in future
and to see in every face a door,
open and inviting us in
to find solace in memories
like bread and water, a bed, the sun
and spin each experience into a thread,
every moment, every dream, every tear,
and weave the great cloak
of the history of every sigh
and to run out, barefoot, into the year’s
first rains to embrace tenderness,
and offer shade, joy, strength, support
like solid, mountain oaks
and to flourish like tilled soil,
and to be anchor, oar, compass and sea,
and sing the wind’s true song
with one voice, in the face of silence—
we’ll only be free when every man
and woman, in every home, street,
every shade of the human race,
everywhere, is truly free
we’ll only be free when salmon
return up wild rivers,
and buffaloes once again, like dark maps
roam the open prairies
we’ll only be free when abuse,
loneliness, hunger, alienation
aren’t words, but forgotten
rumors of a far, distant past
we’ll only be free when we become
little boys and girls once again
who squirm with joy as we explore
the marvels, the wonders of the universe
He created the Facebook page, POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070
El cielo que buscamos no es de fuego
El cielo que buscamos no es de fuego
ni de agua, ni de viento
es un cielo imaginario que la luz
dispersa entre las nubes.
Música del tiempo entre los pinos
Ålamos, encinos y laureles:
hermanos que te abrazan al paso
y su sombra es el predio del descanso,
la alcoba nupcial de los migrantes.
La montaña del cielo
hace de los rostros horizonte
a semejanza del hambre
que nos cubre y nos transporta
en imágenes a otros cielos
cada día nunca vistos.
Un lugar donde las piedras
son infinito asombro
y la sed de sentimientos
se hacen uno con la noche
y sus deseos.
El canto de las ranas y los grillos
celebran la danza del murciélago:
temblor de alas, sombra ala luz
y es agua de manantial la risa.
Cielo que al instante llega,
a cerrar las bocas,
a liberar estrellas y galaxias
a despojarte de la piel de la serpiente
y los ojos del viento se entornan
encendidos con la leña,
del lenguaje oscuro de las uvas
un himno nocturnal